Posted in Write 31 Days

This Is My Mission Field

For the Write 31 Days Blogging Challenge, I selected the topic On a Mission for many reasons. Of course, the fact that I’m going to fulfill a childhood dream of doing mission work in January is very much in my thoughts and on my heart these days. But, even more than that, I’ve had a phrase that I’ve tried to focus on for the past few years. For full disclosure, I got the idea from a Steven Furtick sermon I listened to a few years ago. The sermon made me realize that as much as I have a desire to do foreign mission work, my mission field is actually any place I am. My office at work is my mission field. My car in the middle of rush hour traffic is my mission field. The grocery store, the soccer field, the gym, these are all my mission fields. I realized that no matter where I am, I can always minister to those around me without ever saying a word. If I’m living my life as a reflection of Christ, then my actions should  reflect Him. I can show grace, forgiveness, love in every situation I’m in.

Now, do I? Do I shine a light where  ever I am? No, not even close.  Am I able to do it more than I could 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 5 hours ago? You bet I am. When I find myself in a stressful situation, and I can catch my thoughts before anger and rage take over, I’m able to recite five simple words to bring me back to where God wants me.

This is my mission field.

THIS is my mission field.

This is MY mission field.

Whatever the situation I’m in, this phrase serves as a reminder that I don’t have to be in a village in Africa or an orphanage in Central America to show others what it means to love and be loved by God.  My everyday provides me with golden opportunities to do this.

I struggle so much with allowing my emotions to take my thoughts in directions I know my Father would not be proud of. I beat myself up about this fairly often. Each time my mouth explodes with a slew of profanities over a frustration at work, or I find myself gossiping about a coworker, I know I am failing God. But, the beauty is, God knows my heart. He forgives me when I struggle and fall. He also provides beautiful reminders that He’s there in those situations. He makes sure I remember.  And when I remember He’s there,  it’s my job to let others know He’s there, and  it all turns around. My thoughts come back to a more peaceful place and my emotions become less explosive.

I have the following bible verse in two different places in my office.

Philippians 4:8  And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

This verse helps me to refocus my thoughts so that my actions better align with my dream of being a missionary for Christ. Even if that mission field is a small office on Kennedy in South Tampa.

31days

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Posted in Inspired by Music, Uncategorized

Crossroads

A week ago Gil and I headed down to St. Petersburg to see one of our favorite bands perform at The Hideaway Café. It’s such a great venue and the perfect spot to catch Sarah Mac Band when they’re in town. Of course, with any favorite band there must be favorite songs. Here are my Top 5 SMB songs, in no particular order:

Baptised
Crossroads
Gloryland
Satisfied
I’m Not Scared

In looking at these 5 songs, I realize there are very distinct reason why each one is special to me. Satisfied, because…well, just because. I’ll leave it at that for now. Gloryland is precious to me because of the memories surrounding the first time we heard it live, and it is now at the top of my list of funeral songs.  And of course I can’t hear it without crying, although it’s not the only one in the list above that leaves me in tears. Crossroads is a song that wrecks me every.single.time. I can’t help it. It’s spontaneous crying, kind of like when I’m in church during worship and my soul starts overflowing out of my tear ducts.

When I hear Crossroads I find myself transported back to certain moments and events in my life. I think it’s human nature to think about all the crossroads you’ve faced and what your life would be like if you went left instead of right, north instead of south, straight ahead instead of taking the detour.

“It’s funny how we don’t know then the weight of what we’re choosing at the crossroads”

Memories of the choices I made as a child often slip up out of nowhere to haunt me. If I had run faster for help, could my grandfather have been saved?  If I had not wrestled the gun away, would we have survived in the wake of suicide? If I hadn’t gotten into the truck with my crush, would my innocence have lasted a few years more?

“Spent so much time thinking about how it might have been
How my life could’ve turned out
It’s long gone and part of history now
No turning back and no regrets
No room for doubt, no holding debt
‘Cause from here on out, I’m gonna just forge ahead
It’s funny how we don’t know then the weight of what we’re choosing at the crossroads”

As my teenager years drew to a close, my wrong turns were numerous and with abundant  regrets.  I was a strong willed teenager who had a weakness for the boys. I didn’t go to art school because of a boy. I did start junior college because of a boy. I left a boy and embarked on a solitary journey that led me toward too much alcohol, sexual promiscuity, irresponsibility, bankruptcy, and one of the deepest depressions I had ever faced.

“In the dark, all alone, I tripped on a dead seal washed up on the shore
The smell was on my hands when I handed in my visa at the border the next morning
Left behind, something died, washed to Asia by the pull of the Pacific that night
But it made room for something new and it brought me to you”

When I hear these lyrics, I can’t help but think of where I am today. I have a job, a home, a car, and a healthy family. I have a husband who takes care of me and loves me without reservation. I am blessed. My life is blessed. Had I taken the straight path instead of staying on the winding one, any one of these blessings might not have happened.

“…But it made room for something new and it brought me to You”

Even though I could easily apply these words to my relationship with Gil, it’s often not him that I think about when hearing this song.  I think mostly about how my bad decisions, stupid mistakes, careless behavior, and sinful transgressions have all allowed me to experience God’s grace and love. God was at every crossroad I’ve encountered, and He allowed me to choose my own direction. While I wandered aimlessly, He held on and He loved me.  When I took the path that led me away from Him, he would just wait at the next crossroad, ready to show me which direction to take. For so long, I just turned away from Him seeking acceptance and love from other sources.

There was a point several years ago that I realized how tired I was from all the years of running down roads that never seemed to go anywhere. And sure enough, when I stood at that crossroad, my God was faithfully waiting for me, just as he had been my whole life.

I hope one day I don’t look back at my journey through a lifetime of crossroads and feel regret and shame. I hope that I will someday cherish my wrong turns and know they were not wrong at all. Each of them was preparing me for the greater God has planned for me as I serve His kingdom here on earth. I try to look at my trials and tribulations as blessings, because with each one I have come to know grace and forgiveness in ways I never thought possible.

Posted in 40 Bags in 40 Days, Inspired by Music, Uncategorized

First Love and Transformation

I took a vacation day today so I could go spend some time with my first love. Now, don’t go thinking I was stepping out on Gil today. It was nothing like that. The first love I’m referring to is the first BAND I fell in love with – The Oak Ridge Boys. I think they were the first band, or artist, that made me feel what one is supposed to feel when music touches your soul. You know, that feeling deep down, the one where you know a spark has been lit. And then every single time you hear their music or see them live, the spark just grows brighter. Well, I can tell you that today I’m absolutely beaming.

Even though my first concert was not The Oak Ridge Boys, I do think it was my second and third concert (my first was Marty Robbins and I was very young and have almost no memories of that). I have such fond memories of TORB on Hee Haw, or some music awards show. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, we were lucky to catch our favorite artists on one of the three channels maybe 2 or 3 times a year. But when we did, it was a family affair. For me, The Oak Ridge Boys represent a time of innocence. It was before I discovered boys and rock and roll,  and my dad was the only man in my life.  He loved this group of musicians, and because of his and my mom’s love for them, I loved them too.

As I developed into a teenager, my childhood innocence faded. It was replaced by boys, and booze and even a few drugs along the way. The Oak Ridge Boys were replaced by Iron Maiden, Ozzie Osborne, and Judas Priest. Family time was no longer spent watching silly variety shows. Actually, family time became much less important as time with my friends took priority. What was a simple child who loved God, family, and country music, became a teenager who wanted none of that.

I drifted far away from the things that were important to me, not the least of which was God. It seems that overnight, I went from a child with a dream to become a missionary to a young woman who wanted nothing to do with God or His churches. I’m not even sure what happened, or even when it happened. All I know is that for many years, God was nothing more than an afterthought, much like the music of The Oak Ridge Boys during that time.

IMG_8736Now, fast forward 30-35 years. As much as I love TORB’s county and crossover music, their incredible harmonies when singing the Lord’s praises is what melts me now. During the show today, they all came together on stage and sang Life’s Railway to Heaven, a capella. And it was truly Heaven inspired.  As the Boys beautifully sang these lyrics, my heart opened up and was filled with the knowledge that no matter what path leads us to God, the important thing is that it LEADS us to Him.

Life is like a mountain railroad
With an engineer that’s brave
We must make the run successful
From the cradle to the grave

Watch the curves, the fills, and tunnels
Never falter, never fail
Keep your hand upon the throttle
And your eyes upon the rail

Blessed Savior, Thou will guide us
Till we reach that blissful shore
Where the angels wait to join us
In that great forevermore

As you roll across the trestle,
Spanning Jordon’s swelling tide.
You’ll behold the Union Depot into which your train will glide.
There you’ll meet the superintendent,
God the Father, God the Son.
With a hearty joyous greetings:
“Weary Pilgrims Welcome Home”

The beautiful thing about God is that he extends His grace to the lost and fallen. God loves me as much today as He did when I was a young girl living for Him. What I didn’t know during those dark years was that God was faithfully pursuing me. I was running and turning my back, but He never did. Every sin then and every sin now is forgiven. He is waiting for me with His arms wide open, ready to welcome me home.

**************************************

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2

Today’s 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge was another small success, but a success nonetheless. Because I took the day off work, I was able to get in several hours of quality computer time this morning. I caught up on several blogs and even cleaned out several hundred emails. These are two items on my declutter list that I hope to work on each day, little by little. Even though these non-stuff items don’t get a bag sticker today, I did check two items off my list.  I headed off the the bathroom with the intent to only clean out my medicine cabinet, as task that should have taken me only a few minutes. Because so few items needed to be tossed, I decided to go ahead and tackle my other cabinet of miscellaneous items and my makeup. The result was another stuffed grocery bag in the trash.

Sadly, though, I failed to start YouVersion at the beginning of my task and missed out on about 15 minutes of more bible time. I wasn’t going to let that discourage me though. I came back to the computer and pulled up an unread email from Joyce Meyer’s 3030 Challenge. I read her devotional and several bible passages.  I love the verse above. It speaks to my blog post today, as well as this project I’m working on. I’m changing my mind, my habits, and my life.  God is transforming me and I’m loving it!

Posted in Post A Day Challenge

Mean Girls

Poor Natalie. Today she got schooled in the way of the bitches. It’s such a hard lesson for a middle schooler, but a lesson we all learned. You know it’s true. We are bitches. We are catty and mean to each other for no apparent reason. And this seems to happen around the time we enter middle school. It’s like a switch flips inside our little female brains that tells us to do evil to each other. I talked to a couple of friends today and they confirmed that middle school was that difficult time for them as well. When I was younger we were known as pre-teens but I really like today’s terminology of Tween to describe this age group. It really is a developmental stage caught in between childhood and early adulthood and for me, these years were the most difficult I can ever remember experiencing.

I remember the first time I realized my friends were lying to me. One girlfriend was going out of town for the weekend and had invited me to join her and a third friend. Woohoo, we’re going to the beach! Lucky me! The night before we were to leave I received a call from friend #1 to say that her parents told her she could not bring any friends along. I was disappointed but ok with that. I called friend #2 to wallow in our sorrows together. The problem was that friend #2 wasn’t wallowing at all. She was packing. That was an ouchie that hurt for a long time.

I had a chance to talk to Natalie about what happened today. She was mad. Really mad. I asked if she was going to talk to her friends about what happened and she said no. Apparently this isn’t the first time these two so called friends have been mean to her so she knows from experience that talking to them won’t help the situation. At 11 years old, she’s already realized some very harsh truths about how her friends behave. She said she’s been with one when that one was saying bad things about the other so she knows they talk about her when she’s not with them. This is so sad. I wanted to hug her but she had her game face on and I could tell she was happy just venting so I let her do that. She even said to me that she didn’t think she wanted to be friends with them anymore. The sad thing is these are her two best friends and have been for years.

I shared my little story with her and she laughed at me and said my story was way worse than hers. I’m really happy to see that she’s not letting it get her down. She said she was going to be silently angry and just not hang around them, which made me a little happy on the inside. Now that I know what these girls have been doing to her this year, I’m fairly relieved. But, I also know that the female of our species is fickle. We change our minds like we change our underwear. And, we easily forgive. I expect to hear stories soon about the things these three girls have been up to. However, I think that Natalie is going to be a bit more cautious going forward. Unfortunately, for each of these two girls, there are dozens more just like them. My hope for Natalie is that she finds that one real girl who will be her true friend.

I hope that his little talk tonight helps Natalie realize that, in addition to her mom and dad, I’m here to listen and help when she needs it. I wanted to tell her about all the beautiful friendships she will form throughout the coming years but I think tonight, she just wanted to be mad. I completely get that and saw more than a few similarities in our personalities tonight. I hope that my understanding of her feelings and my experiences will help me be the friend and adviser she will need as she continues through life. I hope that tonight was the first of many heart to hearts shared between friends.

Ok, now it’s time to share. Tell me your worst middle school story. I know you have some and I want to hear them. Mostly, I want to know that I wasn’t alone and I want to be able to tell Natalie that she’s not alone in this either.

(36/365)

Posted in 30 Days of Truth, Post A Day Challenge

A Sacred Romance

(30 Days of Truth – Day 16 – A book you’ve read that changed your views on something)

In September, 2005, I fell in love in a way that I never imagined possible. I met Gil that year but this wasn’t the love of which I’m speaking. However, Gil and our then broken relationship are the very things that led to this discovery of a Sacred Romance.  We had ended our relationship and I was completely and utterly distraught. I was in one of the darkest place I had ever been. I was angry and sad and sure that I was going to die from a broken heart. I was struggling to get through a Monday morning when I opened my email to find my Daily Inspirational email with a story entitled “Romanced by God”. In that email I read that “Life isn’t a series of random events or a litany of facts; life is a story. It is a great story full of comedy, drama, tragedy, horror. There is a God who is the author of the story with invitations to a journey that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful, often bewildering, but ultimately hopeful.” I felt outright compelled to run right out and buy the book that inspired this daily devotional, The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge.

I started reading it that day and devoured every single word.  It really was as if God sat down next to me. I could feel His presence and it inspired me with such a sense of understanding and soothing comfort that I cannot begin to explain it.  Not comfort from what I felt for Gil and our breakup…..but for myself. I have always been a firm believer that no matter how small or insignificant something seems, things happen for a reason.  Coincidences do not exist; it is all part of a much larger and majestic plan that we may never understand. I truly believe this book was a gift from God to me. In this book I found holes in ideals I had been taught my entire life, and I also found the words I needed to patch those holes. Within the pages of this book, I found the ability to forgive and let go of any and all negative emotions I was feeling at the time. After reading this book, I was so overcome with feelings that I had to release them. The only way I knew to do that was to just start writing down everything I was feeling. What came of that was an 8 page letter to Gil. I’m going to use my words from that letter to describe how this book changed my view on my entire belief structure.  Below are some excerpts from the book, a follow up booklet by John Eldredge, as well as my letter to Gil.

“The southern culture she grew up in demanded that she literally divide her soul in two to be acceptable:  a helpless Southern belle who was non-threatening to men and Southern society, and a competent, independent career woman who could make up any family deficiency.”

No truer words were ever spoken to describe me.  This is exactly how my father raised me, almost as if he came back from the grave to remind me.  Except, he forgot to tell me about the helpless part or maybe somewhere along the way I just forgot the helpless part and it became more of a reflection of weakness, rather than the need for rescue. I forgot to remember the fairy tales that we loved to hear as children, both as boys, the heroes, and girls, the beauties.  As strong as I want to be, and as independent as I need to be, I have to finally admit that I want what all little girls want. I want to be fought over and cherished and rescued.  The book reminded me of that.  I have just been looking for the wrong rescuer and expecting each one of them to fail.

During my week-long self-reflection I have tried to figure out what went wrong with my thought processes. This is not to say that anything ‘went wrong’ but it certainly gives me a clue as to why I think the things I do and feel the way I feel.  I can only imagine how my life would be different if my father had read this little 52-page booklet, You Have What It Takes.  I don’t remember my father ever telling me “You’re lovely”.  I do remember being told over and over again how smart I was.  Sometime during my childhood I remember the comparison made between my sister and me…Lee’s the smart one and Tammy is the pretty one.  I can’t remember who said this and thinking back, it may have even been me, as a result of how I felt, that smart was more meaningful than pretty. How would my life be different if my father had stopped every now and then to tell me I was beautiful, or pretty, or worth fighting for?  If he did say those things, I have absolutely no memory of it.

I remember the lessons of my father very clearly.  Do not be like your mother. Get an education and become a strong independent woman who does not need or require a man to support you or take care of you.  I know that his goals were absolutely earnest and well-intended.  He was trying to break the cycle of the women he had known and to make me feel commendable.  Unfortunately, he was very misguided in his actions.  I truly believe that my self-image is a direct result of his teachings.

I kept thinking about your children while I read.  I’m not sure why they were on my mind but I kept thinking how your life now, affects their lives forever.  Teach Daniel to be the hero and show Natalie that it’s ok to want to be the princess, the beauty, and it’s ok to want to be rescued.  Teach them both that it’s ok to reverse those roles on occasion.  Teach them about hope and remind them never to forget.  God is pursuing them, the same way he has been pursuing you for so long now.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-   I took the one less traveled by,    And that has made all the difference.

God has been pursuing a romance with my heart since before the beginning of time; I just need to stop and let him catch up.  I am standing at the chasm, still not ready to make the choice but at least I’ve been reminded that the choice is MINE to make.  This book is about me and the way I perceive my life and my choices and, no offense, was really not at all about finding liberation from my despair over you, even if it was my despair that led me to this awakening.  There was a time when I thought I loved myself but I know I was only participating in the indulgences of life.  I have to be more willing to allow God to rescue me and less distracted by the aforementioned indulgences. … I want to be the star in my story, with God standing center stage, with me, within me, as writer, director and producer.

If I had not been open to let you touch my heart and soul, and leave me wounded and hurt, I would not have been awakened and reminded of God’s true love for me.  I want to share in a story, a fairy tale of love and hate and monsters and disappointment and more love and then…complete forgiveness.  That is the message I want to share.

“…trying to free ourselves through willpower is futile. Only God’s Spirit himself can free us or even bring us to our senses.”

I have to let go of the idea that I’m different from every other girl, because I am not.  I am every woman. This book gives me hope that there is something better out there, yet to be experienced and just waiting for me.  And this has nothing to do with finding my one true love or even a false love, but finding myself first.  Everything else will come.

My feelings for you are MY cross to bear, not yours.  And I fully intend to bear that burden with grace and as much dignity as I have left…I forgive you and I pray that you will forgive me…in the meantime, I have God’s romance to fill my empty heart and this letter is my way of letting the excess flow into you.  I don’t want you to ever regret anything that you did with me because in the end, they did live happily ever after, just not with each other.  Please dismiss any guilt that you have in your heart because of me. You have been forgiven and there is no need for you to continue to torture yourself.  You have enough demons to battle, to defeat, to prove your heroism with. In your darkest hours, know that you are loved….by God….and me.  And remember, there is hope.

Posted in 30 Days of Truth, Post A Day Challenge

Tyler Perry – God’s Messenger?

(30 Days of Truth – Day 3 – Something with which you struggle)

Whenever I’m wronged, be it real or imaginary, intentional or by accident, I struggle letting that go. I struggle with forgiveness. I’ve held onto grudges for months, for years, even for decades. I blame my mother for passing this little character flaw on to me. When it comes to forgiveness, I’m completely paralyzed. I’m incapable of moving on from some hurts. Don’t get me wrong, this is not always the case. Sometimes it’s easy to shrug it off and forget. I can forgive, I am capable of it. There are just some times when I can’t and I don’t know why that is. Hell, I’m still mad at my best friend from elementary school who ditched me for the cool kids when we transferred to a new middle school. See….it’s bad. It’s very bad.

We can all be hurt but so many different people and in so many different ways. What do you do when it’s your family who hurt you? How do you let go when you know it’s not intentional but the same behavior happens again and again? It’s your family. You should forgive and move on right? What if you can’t? What if every time you think about this situation the pain you feel manifests and completely blinds you to what you know you should do.

What do you do when it’s a friend? Not a best friend, but someone you care about, admire and have a genuine affection for? What if one day, they don’t like you anymore? What if one day, they turn hostile, accuse you of things you haven’t done? Do you talk to them and ask what happened? That seems like the logical thing to do right?  Not for me. This is where I’m broken. I hate confrontation. Nothing frightens me more. Nothing. I would rather hold on to the hurt and anger and let it fester. I would rather lose that person altogether than ask them what happened. What if I ask and they tell me it’s me, that I was the one who did something hurtful to them and this is why they hurt me in return. Maybe my actions simply triggered a fight or flight response in them. If I never ask, I’ll never have to deal with that possible truth. So I don’t ask.

What if someone you care about doesn’t necessarily do a hurtful thing to you but simply disappoints you with their actions. What if you suddenly discover they are not who you thought they were? What if you had ideals about this person and they simply failed to live up to those ideals. This happened to me recently. I’ve struggled letting this go. This friend did not do anything malicious or deceitful or mean. They just didn’t live up to the expectations I had for them. This made me so angry. So hurt. I can’t even explain why this devastated me the way it did. I spent days crying over this. I’ve tried so hard not to be mad, to not be angry, but I just can’t let it go. My solution was to just cut them out of my life. I have so many people around me that constantly surpass their own potential so why would I continue this friendship.

During the past week, I came face to face with two of these people. Let’s call them Thelma  and Louise. I had once had a solid friendship with Thelma and with Louise, a budding new friendship that truly excited me. Both of those relationships came to sudden and abrupt ends.  With both reunions, there was a moment of awkwardness and then with Louise, a feeling of forgiveness. With Thelma, I immediately knew that although we were cordial and friendly to each other, we would never again be friends. I’m ok with that. I still don’t know what caused our little breakup to begin with, and I’m not even sure what forgiveness needs to be granted but I do know I need to let it go. I will continue to struggle with this one.

As for Louise, I realized that I need to say “I forgive you”, if only in a whisper to myself. Louise has no idea that I’ve been angry. How could she, I’ve never said a word. I did have a recent conversation with another friend and she doled out some advice that I didn’t want to hear. I did not want to hear it one bit. I told her that I was ready to tell Louise how I felt. She asked me why? My immediate response was so that I would feel better, so that I could let go of the anger and move on.  I told her that Louise needed to know so that she could recognize the bad behavior and possibly correct it going forward. Maybe Louise didn’t even know she did anything wrong. Maybe by telling her, I could change her life for the better.  My friend said to me that if I told Louise that she had hurt me, it would do nothing but cause her pain in return. (Humph. What does she know anyway?)

Now fast forward one day. Yes, ONE day. I’m watching the movie The Family That Prays and thinking that Tyler Perry is a GD genius. I’m loving the story and then the line he wrote for me – yes, he wrote this entirely for me to hear – presented in a scene.

“You can’t make yourself happy by bringing misery to other people.”

Well now. Dear God, I hear you loud and clear. You sent one person to warn me not to confront Louise, but when you had Tyler Perry deliver the message, I knew this was serious. I almost immediately began to let go just a little. I haven’t entirely forgotten the hurt but I’m certainly letting it go. I’m learning how to forgive from within myself. I’m learning that I don’t have to hurt others to make my pain go away.

I know that asking God to help me let go and help me forgive is the answer. I know that when He feels that I’m ready, He will lift those burdens from me. However, I also know that God gives us freewill and I often feel that the devil is trying to gain control of my will. I feel that he is poking me and agitating me and keeping me riled up with anger and hostility. I’m tired of feeling like I’m being eaten from the inside out. Nothing good can ever come from holding onto this hatred, hurt and pain.  I’m embarrassed that I struggle with this and I don’t share it with many people so let’s just keep it between us. OK?

Now I’m going to ask you for help. How do you let go? Please take a moment to offer me some advice. Tell me a personal story. I want to know if you, too, struggle with forgiveness or letting go. Leave me a comment, shoot me an email or message me on FB or Twitter. Do you have a favorite quote? Do you recite a specific mantra when you feel wronged? What exercises do you do to help you let go? Sometimes knowing that you are not alone can be a huge help so I would like to hear your story. How do you know when you’ve forgiven?