Friday, June 20, 2014

The Photo on the Fridge

As I get older, I have learned many lessons in life.  Time really does fly!  But I have learned it flies whether you're having fun or not.  I have never heard a person say, "Man, I thought I would NEVER turn 65!"  Time goes by so quickly and often times we wait until it is too late to discover the best ways to spend it. 

I have a picture hanging on my refrigerator that I found a couple of years ago.  It was a picture that was taken of me when I was 5 years old.  I was the flower girl in a wedding and had a pretty white dress on and a halo...okay, so it wasn't a halo.  Oh, but it was to me!  I felt like a princess and thought I looked (and acted) like an angel as well!

I have looked at that picture countless times thinking about the little girl looking back at me.  This girl had her life planned out!  She was going to get married and have children (in that order).  She was going to be a teacher and change the world...or AT LEAST her world!  She was going to be a good wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.  One who was trustworthy and loyal.  A woman who showed love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control towards herself and others.  A woman who loved God and others with all that she had in her.  She would be a cool mom and a fun-loving wife with a spunky personality! 

As I think back to those childhood dreams I am left wondering what happened?  And what if we really could get do-overs? 

Here I am now, 27 years later and so many of those dreams have died.  No matter what I ever do or don't do, some things are always going to follow me.  Don't get me wrong, I really do love my family, friends and life.  I adore my husband, my son has stolen my heart and I have 2 of the most amazing step-children who bring so much joy to our home. 

But there are certainly some things about my life that I would have never thought would occur.  Titles I never thought I would bear.  Things I am defined by that I would never have dreamed of.

Along with being a wife and mom, I am also a ex-wife...a wife to another woman's ex-husband.  I have done things you would never hear a child say they want to do when they grow up. I have committed adultery.  I have hurt some of the most important people in my life.  And I didn't just hurt them, my choices devastated them.  With time, God has allowed many of these relationships to be reconciled through a lot of forgiveness and grace. 

As I look at that little girl in the picture, it reminds me that that little girl is still in here.  She still has dreams.  They may be buried deep down, stomped on and even crushed.  But they do still exist.  Some of those dreams are on ships that have sailed long ago.  But others are still possible. 

So here I sit with a pile full of regrets and wishes.  Oftentimes, I wonder what God even wants me to do with it all, if anything. 

I never wanted to waste my life on selfish gain, doing whatever necessary to 'be happy'.  It was never part of my blueprints.  It was never Plan A or even Plan B.

That little 5 year old had some pretty amazing hopes and dreams.  But who is to stop me from taking where I am now in life and daring to dream again. To get out that box of crayons and sketch out who I want to be for the rest of my color in the parts that aren't beautiful so they still have some color and blend into the rest of the picture.  So what if I color outside the lines?  Unfortunately, I will.  But unlike a coloring page, I cannot wad it up and just start over.  No matter what, it is art.  It is my masterpiece...and beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. 

There are people in my life who will turn and walk the other direction.  They will not want to invest in my life or my current circumstances.  But then there are far more who have embraced me as I am.  And let me tell you, I am a mess!  But they choose to love me anyway and accept all of me.  The good, the bad and even the ugly. 

So I have challenged myself to be that little girl again.  To view life through the eyes of a child who chooses to see what is possible instead of what isn't.  Who dares to dream.  Who isn't focused on what she isn't or what she can never be...but what she is and what she can be if she doesn't give up!  Years of life have suppressed her, but she is still there.  That picture on my refrigerator serves as a daily reminder to me that we all have that inner child within us that still dreams and hopes.  She is welcome in my home and I will make time for her.  It's time to go get the crayons out!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Heart Restored (Anonymous Guest Post)

 *This is a guest post from a dear friend of mine who felt comfortable sharing some struggles she has been going through.  Her heart is so sincere and her struggles are real.  Unfortunately, she (like so many of us) almost didn't go to someone with the temptations she was facing because she was too afraid and ashamed.  As she poured out her heart to me, I saw myself.  I saw the me that was stuck in the middle of a pit and felt too afraid to say anything.  I saw a woman who wanted to do the right thing deep down inside...and had her feelings gone unchecked or unfiltered, she may have made some choices that would change everything.  A change she IS not willing to embrace.  So she turned the other direction and fast as she could. I am proud of her and she has agreed to share her heart on my blog today.  PLEASE dear friends...never be too afraid to find someone to talk to when temptation finds you.  The enemy wants you to keep quiet, but there is freedom in talking it out with someone you can trust and who cares.

I look in the mirror and wonder who am I? Really. Am I the woman who has devoted her heart and life to serving and loving Jesus? Or am I the woman wrapped up in sin and selfishness who deserves God's wrath? Unfortunately, I am both.  As much as it hurts to admit, it is truth.  The reflection staring back at me doesn't reveal nearly as much about who I truly am as the Holy Spirit inside me.

I am a mom active and serving in my church and different ministries. I have been married over 25 years.  Never would I have believed I would be in the place I found myself. The children's song "Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See" comes to mind. I would change it to "Oh Be Careful Little Mind What You Think."

Grieving over serious issues with rebellion and immorality in our children and a busy marriage lacking romance and fun led to a heart that was discontent. Sin always begins in our mind. Always! And I indulged in too many thoughts on how I wish things were different and how it wasn't supposed to be like this that it led to forgetting all I knew about guarding my heart. Feelings of being unappreciated and taken for granted reared their ugly head. Lies that I am unloved and unnoticed grew bigger and stronger.

We have an enemy who is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. He is no gentleman. He pounces when we are tired, grieving, or vulnerable. When we are weak! He was certainly aware of how I was feeling. Thankfully in our weakness, Christ's strength is made perfect. There is a reason we are told to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ because there is another who is aware of our struggles, our hurts and our temptations. He promises us that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) The problem is that sin is exciting. It's fun. It lures us in with promises it will never keep. Sometimes you don't even want to look for your way of escape.

The world tells me to follow my heart. The world tells me to be happy. But my Bible warns me that my heart is deceitful above all else (Jeremiah 17:9). I haven't found where it says to be happy. It does, however, say to be holy as God is holy.

Holiness. I certainly wasn't remembering to be holy when I listened to someone who wasn't my husband whisper sweet words into my ear. Sin. All sin separates us from God. It grieves His heart. I knew what I was doing was wrong. The moment it began I knew it was wrong. I had red flags going off. But it felt exciting. It felt so good to be desirable, to be wanted, to be appreciated. The lie I listened to was the lie that anyone other than my Jesus could fill that place in my heart. The truth is Jesus already loves me and desires me and appreciates me. He knows the plans that He has for me.  His plans are for me to prosper me and not to harm me. His plans are to give me a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

In that moment when sin was at my door, ready to devour me, I had a choice to make. Do I indulge in the fun and excitement of the moment, forgetting who I am and whose I am?   Do I look for the way of escape? Of course sin is fun and exciting. If it wasn't we wouldn't struggle with it. But sin always takes us further than we want to go and costs us more than we want to pay.

I was so embarrassed, disgusted and shocked at my own behavior. Lies from an enemy who wants to use secrecy and guilt to keep me in bondage to my sin would say never tell anyone the horrible things you have done. But God is so very good! He does not deal with us as our sin deserves but pours out mercy and grace to those who humble themselves in His presence.

How can we avoid the traps of the enemy? Oh my precious friends...Truth. Know God's word, recognize and own your feelings. Don't sacrifice what you want most for what you want right now.  Speak God's truth to your mind. Pretending doesn't honor God. Find a trusted friend who will not judge, but who will love you and pray for you and listen to you. Pour it all out. Saying it out loud releases the power it has to keep you bondage.

Repent! Turn away from the sin AND the temptation. Recognize that although sin is exciting for the moment, the consequences are heartbreaking! Protect yourself and do not put yourself in the situation that can lead to sin. Let it go. Find ways to stay busy where you are focused on the work God has for you. Guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Remember Jesus loves you (and me) with a perfect everlasting love. He does not excuse our sin, but He is not shocked or disappointed and He does not stop loving us because of our sin. No matter what it is. Romans 5:8 says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. Because of His great mercy, He does not deal with me as my sin deserves. Because of His great grace He continues to give me what I don't deserve. Only God can love like that.

Delight yourself in The Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Confessions of a Step-Mom

Okay…so I know this post may be controversial for some.  That is not my intent in any way. But if it can shed some light on a very difficult topic and help someone approach things a little differently, it will be worth it.  This is from the heart of a step-mom…the heart of a wife of a man who, in a perfect world that never sees divorce, shouldn’t be hers.   The heart of a woman who sees things in hindsight…but that is all it can ever be...hindsight.

I adore both of my step-children.  I love our time with them.  However, there is nothing easy about joint custody.  There is nothing easy about a child having two homes, two bedrooms, two ‘families’ and pretty much two of everything.  It is difficult for everyone involved.  As the adults, we only see one side of their world.  We either see Daddy’s home or Mommy’s home.  For anyone in a similar situation, until true forgiveness is granted between both parties, this set up will stir up anger and resentment and never be accepted as the next best option for divorced parents to get to lavish love on their children.  

I am a step-mom.  In my role, I can do nothing but ask for God’s direction and for Him to bestow wisdom onto me in a position where there is no easy fix…actually, there is no fix at all. 

As a step-mom and wife to someone’s ex-husband, there are a few things I have resolved to:

1. I do not communicate with my stepchildren’s mother except in situations that have a dire need to do so.  There are still a lot of negative emotions that would be stirred up if I tried to insert myself.  My responsibility is to my husband, my son and my step-children.  Keeping peace as far as it depends on me is crucial.

2. I support and encourage my husband as he communicates with his ex-wife.  Though hard to remember at times, it is not about me.  I pray someday, conversations will get easier.  I pray that God will be able to do what ONLY HE CAN DO.  Because I know only He can, it completely frees me from the pressure of trying to solve something I am completely incapable of solving. Because of the nature of their divorce and the consequences that are faced in daily life, it is best for me to do whatever I can to help and not hurrt.  In order to do so, the only communication necessary to do so only involves my husband.

3. I am not my stepchildren’s mother.  How insensitive it would be for me to not promote their relationship with their father and mother in our home.  I am Alli to them.  They know I love them like crazy…but I will never be their mother, nor will I ever have the same love for them that their mother has.  In our home, their relationship with members of ALL of their family is of utmost importance. 

I know there are step-moms out there who find themselves in a very different situation or outlook.  There are step-moms who are moms to their stepchildren because their biological mother has passed away or may no longer be involved.  There are step-moms who communicate with their step-children’s mother simply because it is the best way to keep peace and it truly works best for them. 

My main point, in our unique situation, is I cannot carry any sense of entitlement in our blended family.  I should not be the step-mother to my husband’s children.   I should not have become a wife to their mother’s ex-husband.  OUCH!  It pains me to even type out the truth. 

On the other hand, regardless of my past and what got me here.  I am a wife…I am a mommy…I am a step-mother…I am even an ex-wife from my own previous marriage.  There is absolutely nothing that can change these things.  So I press on.  There is no clear cut passage in scripture to give me step by step instructions on how to proceed.  But there is a God who loves me still.  He wants me to do everything I do for His glory.  Keeping peace with my family and all those they love is crucial for God to get any glory from here on out. 

My step-children will continue to see and feel the consequences of our sin.  I hate it…HATE it.  The thought of them facing the consequences for years to come literally repulses me.  Some days I think that maybe this whole joint custody is too hard.  They miss out on so many things.  Between church events, parties and other extracurricular activities…having a rotating schedule effects everyone.  I then sit back and see how passionate my husband is about all of his children.  He wants to be their Daddy and shows it, not just by his words, but by his actions.  He will drive three hours to see a thirty minute school program, or to spend five minutes being there for the first day of Kindergarten. He doesn’t want them to miss out on anything fun.  He doesn’t want them to live life without knowing their Daddy either. 

There is nothing about this life that is easy.  There are so many stress factors that will always exist.  I sincerely pray for peace, forgiveness, healing and ability for us all to take this horrific situation and make it work as best as we all can. 

My motives will most likely always be in question.  The heart behind what drives me to help my husband sort out the yucky details and modifications of joint custody may always be misunderstood.  But here is what I do know.  God holds every one of our hearts.  He holds my husband’s heart.  He holds my son’s heart.  He holds my step-daughter’s heart.  He holds my step-son’s heart.  He holds their mommy’s heart.  He holds my heart.  God knows every one of our inmost feelings.  I can trust Him to work everything out in His timing because I know it is our only hope. 

Until then…what is my responsibility? 
Fear the Lord.  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.   Proverbs 31:30 
Keep my heart in check.  Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  2 Timothy 2:22-24
Take care of my home and the people in it.  The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.  Proverbs 14:1 
Keep my husband from eyeing that corner of our roof ;-)  Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.  Proverbs 21:9 
Pursue peace.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.   Romans 12:16-18  
Press On Without Turning Back.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. [Following Paul’s Example ] All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Philippians 3:13-15 
Pray about everything and for everyone involved. (Pray that God would help me to see and love others the way He sees and loves them.)  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6
In Christ alone, there is always hope and grace.  I am so thankful because I need both daily…life is too difficult to try and live without it!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Bible Says So

Jesus Loves Me.  The Bible Says So.  I have known this song my entire life.  I loved singing it at home, at church, and really anywhere people would listen to me and it was even better if they joined in.  What is it about this song that makes us think it is for children?  I understand teaching it to children early on because of its absolute truth!  Who wouldn’t want their children to have this message engrained in their hearts?

As we get older, we move on to other songs.  When we do hear, “Jesus Loves Me,” we look around for a small child in the room or a group of kids sitting together in a circle swaying back and forth and perhaps adding in a few hand motions ever so often.  

I have found myself singing it over the past few days and marveling at the beauty of its message.  Jesus DOES indeed love me…I know He does.  Why?  Because EVERYTHING in the Bible is absolutely true, and the Bible tells me so.  I am weak in SO many ways.  I spend so much time focusing on not feeling good enough or equipped to do some of the most daunting tasks that lay before me.  But Jesus is strong.  As we sang at church last week…my sin is strong, but JESUS is stronger!

It really is such a simple song that we ALL need to be reminded of often.  There really is nothing about life that is simple.  We all want to be loved.  We all want to be accepted.

We can find so much strength in our Savior…so much hope in His Word.  We can surely know that He will never leave us…because He loves us.  Why?  He just does!  As an extremely wise woman once told me, “Don’t analyze it, just enjoy it!”

This is an adaptation of the song, “Jesus Loves Me”, which my husband put together several years back.  Just hearing it can make even the worst of days bearable.   I may not be the little girl in pigtails running around singing it while at play.  I am older…but deep inside that little girl is still there.  And she needs to hear the simple and extravagant message that Jesus loves her very much no matter what! 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Slowing Down to Enjoy the Little Things

This morning didn’t go as planned.  Wow!  How many days could I start off with THAT sentence! It was a typical morning in our house.  We got up, ate breakfast, I showered, Bryson watched a show, Bryson took a bath, Bryson took another bath…yes, that’s right.  I have always been impressed that he had never ‘dirtied’ the bath water.  There have been times he needed to go and he would stand up and insist on getting out of the tub beforehand.  But not this morning (and I had just bragged on him yesterday about this very thing).  I turned around to put something away and heard the dreaded words…”Momma, yucky!”

The bath water was beyond disgusting and so began the process of getting him out of the tub, draining the tub, cleaning the tub, filling the tub up again, putting Bryson back in the tub and finally giving him his final bath for the morning…sigh.  It wasn’t even 9:00 and a nap was calling my name!  

This may have been fine any other morning but not for today.  We had lunch plans, errands to run, my parents coming into town, a house to clean, a baby shower and Life Group fellowship to get ready for…well, you get the picture.  So we were behind before we ever left the house. 

What happened between the front door and Bryson’s car seat is what stopped me dead in my tracks despite our tardiness.  As I locked the front door, I headed towards the van to put our stuff down and strap Bryson into his seat.  The problem was (and I know no one has ever experienced this but me, right?) Bryson had headed in the opposite direction of the van. 

The next few minutes went something like this…”Bryson, let’s go!”  No answer.  “Bryson, we need to hurry up!  Please come get in your seat.”  No Bryson.  He was always in my line of sight; I just missed what he was doing.  I watched him stare down at the grass and bend over.  I was starting to get annoyed…because when he gets in his own little world, mine stops revolving around me and my schedule. 

As I started towards him, he started towards me with his sippy cup in tow.  But that wasn’t all.  In his hand was a tiny little yellow flower, a weed actually.  He had picked it just for me.  As he walked my way, his precious little voice said, “Momma, momma, momma…look!”  He handed it to me with that sweet dimpled smile.

All of a sudden it was okay that we were late.  My son had taken time out of my rushing him to enjoy something and share that enjoyment with me.  Oh to be that small again and to not know how to tell time and enjoy not knowing what it means to be late or behind schedule.   Oftentimes, it really is the small things that bless you the most. 

So my little two year old has served as a huge reminder to enjoy the small things.  His little act of kindness challenges me to do my best in all things, but in the process, not to miss out on the small things.  What is even more ironic?  We weren’t late at all…we had arrived early.  Which gave me a little extra time to love on this little boy God gave me to put life into perspective. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Time to Get My Move On!

Intentions.  We all have them.  I cannot tell you the amount of time and energy I have exerted on thinking about what I need to do to make our lives better.  I need to start my day earlier, I need to start my day with quiet times, I need to clean out all the closets in my house, I need to have a garage sale, I need to schedule lunch with so and so, I need to develop a routine.  I need to, I need to, I need to.  When what I need to do is BREATHE! 

It is not secret that we all want to be better wives, moms, friends, homemakers and Christians.  We want people to see us as having it all together and living life to its fullest.  Just typing that makes me smile.  I have resolved that if people ever come to that conclusion about me, they just have it all wrong!  I spend a whole lot of time dreaming and wishing for what I want to be and very little time making headway.  Everything looks SO GOOD on paper!  Unfortunately for me, many times, that is where it stays.  God bless my husband who knows this about me and loves me anyway!

I am an all or nothing kind of girl.  We have a garage to clean out.  Every time I go out there, I see huge piles of things I don’t even remember accumulating.  It is a daunting picture.  So generally, I shut the door and just find the room in the house that creates the illusion that I am organized and clean.  I am drawn to the rooms that take my thoughts far away from that garage.  We have lived in our home for over a year and a half and yet still park outside.  Wow!  I actually just made myself laugh out loud at how silly that sounds!  

You know what I have found though?  Anywhere I plant myself, clutter follows pretty close behind.  Ugh!  We are such strange creatures!  

I find my heart is the same.  I have a lot of junk to sort through.  I seem to think I can suppress it until I have to deal with it.  But then I find that suppressing it has never helped anyone.  It is like shoving things into a closet time and time again in order to clean up a room.  I feel better because I don’t see any messes.  All my things are ‘picked up’.  I can relax and enjoy my cozy little home.  That is, until the day finally comes.  I have stuffed so many things in that closet and it can no longer contain my overflow.  I open the door to grab (or hunt for) one item and the heaping pile has turned into a ginormous avalanche that can no longer be ignored.

I have a choice to make.  I can either try to stack everything back into the closet in a way to avoid another mishap (which WILL happen).  Or I can take that time to put a dent in the mess.  To deal with what I have ignored for so long.  Even if it is putting away ten things, that is ten things no longer contributing to the mess.

The other thing I realize is I am not always going to be the one who opens that closet.  I am not the only one that could fall victim to the avalanche that is inevitable.  What if it is our children?  What if it is my husband?  

The truth is, whether it is physical clutter or emotional.  It WILL affect others around us.  What we store up will eventually be exposed…and it can be ugly!  It can hurt people we never intended on hurting.  I have no idea where this blog post finds you today, but it finds me in a place of discovery and hope.  Discovery that I do not have to fix everything today, but I can certainly DO something to start the process, instead of MAKING PLANS to do my best. Hope that God has given me another day to make some headway.  What a gift!  And yet too often, I waste it. 

What I am most excited about in this discovery?  I am not alone.  My Heavenly Father knows my weaknesses.  He sees my trouble spots.  He is aware of my tendencies.  He truly gets my longings to do better.  He even understands my intense desire to avoid the work and be able to snap my fingers to fix everything so I can start fresh.  What I love about Him is He knows me and He loves me anyway.  He knows if it didn’t take some time and effort, I would never learn from my experiences.  I would find myself in the same mess all over again.

God truly wants us to DO and BE our best in all aspects of life.  But He loves us too much to just give it to us.  He wants to be there for the journey to help us sort through the things we don’t need to carry with us.  He has our best interest at heart and sees the BIG picture, when all we see is a pile of stuff.  The pile of stuff that, once dealt with, opens our eyes to bigger and better things.  
So let’s get moving!  Let’s set our minds to BE the change we want to see.  Even if you only spend five minutes of your day doing so, you are five minutes further than you were this morning!