Before & After

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Nearing the anniversary of our house fire 2 short years ago causes me to reflect yet once again on what’s important in life. Although I lost everything I owned in this world, minus the few clothes we had packed in a suitcase (we were away on a trip), my husband, Mike and I saw so many people extend their hands and arms and surrounded us with love and devotion. The biggest things for me were my mother-in-law’s hand-made quilts, my grandma Jordan’s quilt pieces that I had yet to put together, my grandmother Scott’s homemade, home-stitched crazy quilt, countless hankies from my mom, grandmothers and mother-in-law and my kid’s school pictures and artwork, including the many Christmas ornaments that my kids had made throughout the years, our wedding and honeymoon pictures and memorabilia, and my many beloved books. (OK, well I could go on.) My husband grieved over losing his dad’s and his granddaddy’s guns, his granddad’s tools, old coins collected for many years and of course the same sentimental things that I cherished as well. My family has since given me some old things that they had treasured (returned to me) and my mom rallied my extended family and I received Christmas ornaments from many states that first Christmas to put on my “sad” tree. I’m grateful.

I have “decorated” my home with odds and ends that I have collected the past 2 years from friends and loved ones and I’m grateful. My friends have lovingly put together a recipe book, angel figurines and given me other such small things but mean so much to me more for their thoughtfulness and love than anything. I’m grateful.

Recently I have begun to feel the excitement and creativity that comes with healing. Although through other diverse circumstances, we have moved and moved again, I can happily say that I’m beginning to feel the stirring of settling in a nest of my own once again. My walls were empty for a long time. I couldn’t get myself to feel anything except “usefulness” for the items that now belonged to me. Gone were the things that I could lovingly smooth with my hand and say where it came from, who had given it to me or where I had acquired it. Only memories remain now. Some days I think of an item and as it appears in my mind’s eye, my memories are wistful and sad that it is gone forever. Some days I think I have a certain item but upon further futile search, I realize that it must have been before the house fire. Thus, a landmark has formed. Before fire and after fire.

Yes, some things can be replaced. The things that cannot be replaced though valuable–beyond price– are still in the memory banks and hopefully will never be withdrawn. I’m grateful.

Today, although I may be feeling quite wistful, I am not in grief. I realize that if I put stock in all of those things, I may become “tethered” to my grief and it will keep me tied and I won’t be able to move on. Like a death, a divorce, you never get over that kind of grief. The love you harbored, the sorrow you felt, the ties that were broken in two will remain with you forever. But you can move past it because you aren’t tethered to it. It doesn’t keep you bound. There is pain. There is grief. There is sorrow. But I realize as I heal, that just like the pain of loved ones that have gone to be with Jesus, one day…we will look up and see Him and the pain will be gone. One day, faster than we can imagine, we will see those loved ones and our joy will be overflowing. The THINGS of this world will pass away. The sorrow will be gone. The sadness will disappear. But our souls will be living on in an endless moment called eternity. I can’t wait for that day and long for it to come. Like the Apostle Paul says, eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2) Lift up your head, your redemption draws near!!

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Solitude. Who’s the Loser?

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IMG_0102Solitude

Words wound. Thoughts, impressions, suspicions can hurt all in themselves but when someone places the impression into words- the misgiving becomes real. The thought becomes tangible. It may be better than what was originally believed or it could be drastically worse. It can even be severely different than what was suspicioned and it can cut to the core of one’s soul.

Pride is wounded. Love is rejected. A place; a position that I imagined I held is now being turned away. I was deceived. Maybe I deceived myself. Maybe the affection I perceived wasn’t even there. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Something I invented to make myself feel accepted and loved. Stark reality now put into words that hurt my ears as they sink into my understanding.

I had created a safe place but a stranger intruded. What was once warm and inviting, shared with those I love is now dark and cold. I shiver. With my arms that were open wide being turned away; shunned…instead I close them around myself, giving myself an embrace.  Who’s the loser?

Gleaning Between the Lines

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Gleaning Between the Lines–A book review for “Audacious” by Beth Moore

I realized a few years ago that if it is based on the Word of God, that I could glean something from every sermon, even if the delivery was weak or I didn’t agree with each of the person’s points and/or opinions. Once I determined to do this, it has greatly helped me to set my mind on what is true, what lines up with the scriptures and what to decipher as personal opinion.

Having said that, I have gleaned a lot from Beth Moore’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed watching some of her videos. Her words have spoken to my soul and given me new resolve. In her new book, “Audacious”, I have been impressed by several things. The overall premise was basically spot-on in my opinion. However, I was also sorely disappointed. What I feel I gleaned from it were nuggets of reminders of things I have already learned and that boils down to: love God with wild abandon and that will influence you, help you, strengthen you and get you through the best times and the worst times of your life. He is there and your love remains and His love for you will stand ready when everything else has passed. Passed all earthly relationships, favor, jobs, money. Passed all heartache, resentment, disappointment, confusion, trials and storms.

Hopefully this will be a true ‘revelatory’ word for the readers of this book that have not yet experienced this great purpose and vision in life. Some Christians—more than I can probably imagine, have this perception that God wants all of us just to be happy and have great lives. If that isn’t happening the way that they envision, they feel that it must be something that they have done or left undone; to work harder or to be “better”. While God desires for His children to be happy, He is much more interested in our being holy. (1 Peter 1:15-16 “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” NIV) Whatever hail storms it takes to beat off all the veneer we have fooled ourselves with and reveal the true, rich wood underneath—He’s going to allow for our ultimate good. Sadly, like the rich young ruler who could not give up his riches for the sake of following Jesus, (He does not force us into anything) we walk away angry, disappointed, and unhappy. Grieving our lost “treasures” so much that we can’t see that our true treasure is standing behind all that we are wistfully looking at or pursuing, waiting for us to get it out of the way so we can see that he is reaching for us. All we can see is that our arms are empty.

Life’s battles have almost gotten the best of me. I have faced spiritual persecution, experienced cruel people “in the name of God” lie, cheat, abuse and be rude and mean to others who have laid down their lives for the gospel. There were times when I almost gave up hope, almost lost my mind as well as my faith but at the end of the bloody battles, Jesus wrapped me in His arms. This earthly life is worthless if we don’t have hope of a life beyond. That’s what Jesus is preparing us for and preparing for us. This earthly life crucified Him but didn’t defeat Him. He won the victory to give us eternal life. It won’t defeat us either unless we choose this life over eternal life.

This is the audacious vision that Beth Moore speaks about. He is with us in the nitty gritty. He is with us in the mess. He is with us in the mistake. He is still with us after the wrong choice. He never leaves nor forsakes us! When everything is stripped away—He is there.

The thing that left me disappointed with this book is that it seems unedited. Beth uses so many adjectives and metaphors to drive her point home that you almost forget what the original point was! Many, many words (and I love words and tend to be wordy) are used to draw a mental picture, but the mental picture I get is of a cluttered closet. I feel that if someone had greatly edited this book, it would have been a much easier and quicker read. Granted, it would have been much thinner but I feel, more dynamic.

Be audacious to Jesus and you will see that He is always giving audacious love to you. He IS audacious love.

Purchased, Redeemed, Restored: Relationship

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A dusty old rocking chair sat in a thrift store. Paint and veneer peeling, wood scratched and weathered. It had had some serious use in its day. Now, abandoned and alone; for sale to a low bidder. Most pass by the lonely rocker unnoticed. The ones who do notice and give the chair a nudge hear the creak and groan, feel the wobble and uneven tilt and keep on going. It might have been beautiful once but that’s long past. Too much abuse and overuse to be worth anything now.

Until a man walks in one day, runs his hand lovingly over the slats, feeling each crevice of the etched wood. Carved no doubt with love and care, created for a purpose. The man smiles as he sees each nick and scratch, not bare and ugly but in its glory. He worries not about the loose wobble but tenderly sets the rock in motion, detecting the excellent craftsmanship.

The rocker is bought with the asking price. Worthless to the shop owner until the coin was placed in his hand, happy to have made the sale of this long forgotten piece. The purchase complete, the man takes the rocker home. No matter what the price of the rocker was—little or much—the value was not realized while the lonely chair sat dusty in the shop. It took someone willing to cover the expense.

The rocker was placed in the man’s own living-room, cleaned and polished. It was clean. No longer dusty or grimy but with the dirt fully removed, sitting on a nice warm rug instead of a cold cement floor, the rocker was now redeemed. Cleansed from the musky layers of dust, the wood showing so much potential. True, there were deep scratches, big splinters missing in places, but clean nonetheless and redeemed from its discarded, useless life of before.

The man was happy to contemplate the chair sitting in the corner. He could see the potential in his mind’s eye. He could picture the redeemed piece in its former glory as he traced his fingers over the carved back. He loved the chair and was happy to pay the cost and give the chair a new home. As he looked at the nicks and scars, he envisioned the tiny feet that kicked against the arms. He grinned as he saw in his imagination the hands that patted and rocked several generations. However, it wasn’t enough to understand the original purpose. It wasn’t enough to comprehend the events that battered and scarred the wooden slats. There was still work left to be done.

One day, the gentleman knew the time was right to start the process of restoration. If the chair had a mind, it would wonder why it was being removed from the cozy corner. “Why is he taking me off the wonderful, soft rug by the fireplace and out in the cold garage?” “Why am I being thrown from the house, out of sight?” “Maybe he realizes that I can’t be used…I’m broken, bent and wobbly, not fit any more.” Then, the man begins the work. First with sand paper, then removing splintered pieces altogether, rubbing, sanding, causing new abrasions. “Why? Why? Why is he doing this to me?”

Then…the tools. Taking pieces apart. “Now, I’m completely useless! Torn apart, laying here, you can’t even tell I’m a chair!” “I was purchased and redeemed, and now this doesn’t make sense why he has abandoned me! When he does come, it’s to remove more, sand more, open more wounds, pouring stuff in! I was looking pretty good there for a while by the fireplace, in the living room! Why was I banished and torn apart in this manner?”

But the man knows. He knows what the chair was created for. He knows the abuse and use it had gone through. He also knew the true worth even while sitting dusty with a worn price tag, ready for the first taker. He knew the place where the rocker would go, once clean and free of dust and grime. But he also knew the work wasn’t done until the chair was fully restored. He knew what it would take and set the pace of the task. Sometimes waiting for the glue to dry, sometimes re-sanding and filling in cracks, sometimes setting the clamps and leaving it for days. He wasn’t willing to settle at the purchase. He wasn’t ready to leave things as they were even after the redemption, but he desired full restoration for the relationship to be complete. Better than ever before. More sturdy. More beautiful. Functional and fully operational. Shining, loved, restored.

Occasional cleaning would still be done. Nicks and scratches still buffed out from time to time. Relationship. Continual care between creator and the creation.

Capture This Moment

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November 10, 2015. Missouri. The time. The date. The place. As if somehow I can capture this moment and trap it so that it stays. Too many moments pass me by too fast. Too many dates grasp something bad; something good and then run past before I can perceive them, understand them, hold them. They are yanked from me. Just as they come unbidden, they quickly depart leaving me either poignant or wounded. I’m forced to be shocked into reality of the following day or healed, but sometimes I can’t tell which. A conglomeration of both swirl inside me and as I try to make sense of it all, God sends me a message through a friend that I haven’t met and says:

“Be still and know that I am God!” Psalm 46:10

Thoughts Like Oceans

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Its “funny” how a thought will trigger the memory that has been put away. Whether a good-feeling memory, or whether a catastrophic event, or even a hurtful circumstance. One word, one smell, one simple thought about something seemingly unrelated and the little leak springs out wetting all other thoughts that follow. Sometimes we can merely patch the little hole and go on. If it’s a good memory, we can dwell on it…let it linger just a bit; savoring the sweet moment.

At other times, the thoughts come like a sudden downpour, filling and attempting to overflow the ditches. It takes a little longer but eventually the rain stops and the water ebbs; the ditches drain into a lake, the sea or the distant ocean, by that time already forgotten.

If you’ve passed through a horrifying experience, a deep agonizing, hurtful situation, a thought can be a wave of the ocean that knocks you down and drags you out; tumbles you around, over and over and you can scarcely catch your breath. You try to get up but another wave hits you in the back before you are able to get your bearings. Do you keep fighting or do you give up to the overwhelming swell? That in itself is terrifying enough. But keep fighting you must as you know that the waves will subside. You will make it back to shore. You will be drenched. You will drag your feet through the soggy sand that sucks every step. You choke up the salt water that burns your nose, your eyes, your throat, but you’re stepping on more solid shore and then on to dry sand. Safe. Drained. Weary. But safe.

I’ve Got a Marriage Tip or Two

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I can’t believe it! My blog is about marriage advice? Actually, yes. Well, a book review about marriage advice: “Four Secrets to a Forever Marriage (Marriage Tips From a Not So Perfect Husband)” by Michael Letney with Karen Hardin.

Wow! This is not your average marriage advice book, folks! I was dubious at first when I agreed to review this book. For so many reasons that I cannot or will not go into right here, basically I am turned off by marriage advice books of any kind. To give you sort of a quick background-catch-up, I am happily married to a perfect husband but (big but) I have been divorced twice. At the time of my second round, I was convinced that people who do not know the circumstances would pretty much think that I am high risk and wouldn’t approach me for fear that it was catching. Even though my dad said that he had been praying for me a mate, and I trust my dad’s fervent prayers, this one was a no-brainer. It wouldn’t reach the heavens. I didn’t want it to reach the heavens. I wasn’t putting myself through that again. But God heard and God answered. It was pretty funny actually. If I had of been praying myself for a husband, he met all the criteria that I would have asked for, had I been asking, which I wasn’t. But I digress…My parents are 60 plus years married. I grew up spoiled, seeing first-hand how two people can completely love one another through thick and thin. I knew it was hard work, and I knew it wasn’t always as easy as it seemed, but I also believed that was what I would have. I didn’t! Twice, I didn’t.

I’ve been to numerous marriage seminars, counseling sessions – couple’s and single (that would be me) counseling groups, recovery groups, and even facilitated and led a few. Needless to say, I’ve been able to categorize what I hear coming across the podium into categories. My categories would be “You’ve got to be kidding”, “You haven’t lived long enough to know”, “I wonder if your wife agrees”, “Wow, where did this couple come from?”…etc. From one who has been through the gambit of marriage problems and back (somber note here: from physical abuse to drug abuse), there’s just something about hearing some things that leave you wondering where people got their credentials. It’s just not real world!

Having said that, I’ve often wondered who would be the perfect person to give marriage advice? The so-called marriage experts who have studied and classified and psychologized? (I’ve read a few of their books.) The “perfect couple” like my parents who are working on 65 years of it? OR…. Me? Why are you laughing? I mean, get real, I’ve been through 2 lifetimes as married with kids, single mom raising kids-twice, and now, happily married with kids and step kids and 14 grandkids! What you are going through, chances are, I’ve been there already! I know what definitely not to do, should do, shouldn’t do, could do, and ideal in a perfect world to do. Ok, so I’m joking, but seriously I have given it some thought. Do we listen to perfect advice from a perfect couple having a perfect marriage experience? Because, that’s just not your average couple! (We go away saying something like, “Well, that might work for THEM, but my mate would NEVER….” Or possibly: “They’ve never lived with my Harry (or my Sally)!”) Right?

Then, I lay my hands on this book. It’s small but packed full of interesting stuff! It’s real. It’s you and it’s me. It’s our sister, or our brother or the neighbors. It’s about transparency, truth, trust and unity. It’s about stuff that has gone through the thrashing and taken a beating and comes out on top. It’s painful and real but amazing and great. It’s healing, powerful and…well, it’s just plain honest. It’s something you can believe in about relationships, commitment and love, even if you need a miracle to get there. I promise! And I ought to know.

Skinny Life by Crystal Dwyer Hansen- a Book Review

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Author Crystal Dwyer Hansen uses the word “skinny” in a slang connotation, like “here’s the data or fact about…” However, many people take offense at the word. Persons who are very thin may have the emaciated definition of skinny come to mind. Other people feel that no matter our body style, we need to embrace ourselves and to not feel inferior or compare themselves to model-thin images that are unattainable. I agree, and therefore I was put off by the S-word!

Ms Hansen’s book, though, is to reveal what she calls a “secret” to physical, emotional, and spiritual fitness. In this connotation, she is spot on. Our lifestyles need to change. We desperately need to morph from the destructive, negative beliefs and habits and take on a whole new health and well-being attitude. We need to replace guilt and shame with self respect and to nourish our bodies in a way that improves our total health. So, to give her credit, there are a lot of good, positive truths that will be keys to changing our bodies, our minds and ultimately our lives.

God made our bodies to work perfectly. From birthing babies to using our muscles to move and work and thus energizing ourselves, our physical bodies, our emotions, our mindsets, all were made to work together for wellness sake. We, on the other hand are always stepping in to take short cuts, to avoid pain or anything that looks difficult or requires changes. It’s get rich quick, go on a crash diet, lose 10 pounds in 5 days, worried about scale numbers, clothing sizes, comparisons to body forms and sizes…it’s enough to drive you crazy! We worry, we compare, we avoid, we feel powerless, and we basically sabotage our total wellness of minds and bodies.

In this sense, Crystal Hansen helps us to understand and unwind all the negative patterns and beliefs that work against us and form a new mind-set that will move us into a new “us.” It is still a self-help book and you have to acquire a certain amount of belief in what she is saying to embrace this new identity. Maybe you are completely tired of all the tried and failed things you’ve done and will be ready to move into a new identity for your mind, the food you eat and the movements that you make that will make you settled and happy. That is totally preferable to the self-defeating thoughts and emotions, for sure! One most certainly does have to set boundaries and take responsibility; make commitments and proceed to self-care. This book will inspire you to do that.

Chasing God – by Angie Smith (A book review)

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I have to tell you that I don’t know where to begin with this review. Angie states that we are predisposed to see things from the angle that makes us feel the most vulnerable. She is right. How often do we turn circumstances and events every which way, trying to focus on the why’s, how’s, and what’s of the thing and usually end up with another long list of questions with no answers. We honor God by trusting Him, Charles Spurgeon says because we don’t have eyes good enough to see what good is wrought from affliction. We cannot see it, we must believe it.

Here’s a quote from the introduction: “We shape theology to suit our taste, our times, our situations, and our desires. It’s the mess we’ve made by desiring to understand [God] more than we want to know Him, and we’re growing more exhausted than inspired every day.” And… I’m hooked! Because yes, I do chase God. I do look for Him and spend my time going after the wrong objectives, trying to please Him with my chasing but end up weary. To understand and to know God is all about being in a relationship. I can try and understand my husband, figure out what he likes and what he doesn’t like. I can figure out what pleases him and know his tastes but all of that knowledge about him isn’t understanding him and it sure doesn’t take place of my relationship with him! I never saw myself as more “religious” than just living out my faith but the more I read, the more I realized that I have categorized my beliefs into these very neat little packages. I spend more time looking for God than looking at God. I strive…yes, strive, to understand and my Bible clearly says that His ways are past finding out. His thoughts are so far above my thoughts that all of my striving just leaves me exhausted. I can never attain to them anyway, so why not just embrace it for what it is? “Stop chasing the song, child, and let Me teach you to sing.”

Once we surrender ourselves to what He wants to teach us, He does! I know that it takes that total submission. I have learned so much from God just by loving Him and realizing that He loves me more than I can even imagine. I’m inspired; stoked, really when I come to the realization of the lesson and vow to learn better (and maybe quicker?) the next time. Slowly, once again, I realize that it’s so not about me wanting to learn, but to be taught. How do I get it so mixed up? How do I forget so easily? Just a simple twist of words make such a difference. A vast difference. It’s all about knowing Him in deeper ways, not about making sense of it.

I love being inspired by books. They make me feel like I can climb the mountain in front of me, and I feel eager to start. I have several favorites that I have read multiple times. Each time gives me fresh insight as well as great reminders of things I don’t ever want to forget. This book will definitely make it on the favorite shelf.

All the way through, I was taught. Not just one part, not just a few chapters. All of it. You might think I’m just gushing, and maybe I am but I’m just that serious about it. I’m very thankful for getting to “know” Angie Smith in these pages. I kind of feel like I’ve been on a trip to a different country and am richer for the experience. Thank you.

Dead Dog Like Me – A Book Review

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Max Davis is the author of this novel, but I could almost swear Nick Gregory, Mega-church pastor, depressed, empty, regret and guilt-ridden Nick himself, penned his autobiography. I don’t read many novels because they are either too “clinical”, to straightforward, too simplistic, or too shallow…too SOMETHING with nothing in between. I want real life. I love reading fantasy, but make it believable and you’ve got to get me hooked from the first chapter or I may put it down for another day. This book has both as Nick sinks from his stinking life into a comatose state and then he is Mephibosheth, another broken man from a different time.

From the first, I’m so sucked into Nick’s miserable life that I can’t hardly put the book down. I’m attached to him. I’m relating to him. I can see him in my mind’s eye and can hear his humiliating thoughts in my own head. This is real life stuff. This is human brokenness of our own little homes being displayed on the big screen for everyone to read about. Loss. Faced with divorce and death and all the emotional pain that goes with it, here’s someone who has surely read my blog and heard my story, writing it down and making me cry because I get it. Same kind of dead dogs just like me.

But wait, that’s not all! There’s more. There’s outrageous grace for all dead dogs.

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