Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reaping Joy

Last week I slid on a patch of ice while driving and bent my tire rim.
My car wobbles. 
Yesterday my cup leaked an inch of water into my car’s cup holder. 
Today I read an email from a woman who wishes I’d stop sending her those church updates while I’m filling in administratively.  She’s done with that church.
The weight of a conversation with my father presses heavy. 
And one more person asks me about my job search.  Then another. 
Ever so subtly, failure settles in. 
My heart hurts.

Too much flesh revealed, too jaded of an expression on her young face, and the evidence of too much sex and drugs appear in her vacant eyes.  My heart squeezes as I look at the latest photo of my foster daughter.  It squeezes and breaks to think that I have held this girl, still so young, when she cried on the anniversary of her miscarriage.  I’ve tucked her in, heard her prayers, cheered her on (in totally embarrassing mom style—which earned me a huffy sigh and eye roll) at sporting events, and wrestled with English homework.  I love this girl, and it hurts my heart to see her like this.  And so I click off her facebook page so I can regroup, try to numb my heart by distracting myself with something else.  I push the sense of loss far away.

A few nights ago I headed off to Target to buy a birthday gift for a one year old.  He’s precious, and growing up way too fast when I compare the 6 month garments to the 12 month ones. 
Being an only child, I don’t have siblings with children.  Which of course gives me full license to appoint myself as this wee boy’s God-Aunty.  (In case you were wondering, Target does not sell onesies with the slogan “My Self-Appointed God-Aunty Loves Me Best.”  You’ll probably have to settle like I did for a plain ole “Aunt” onesie.  C’est la vie.)  In wandering the aisles of these darling little clothes I hold up rompers and the tiniest little shoes, and yes, even a clip-on tie.  My uterus is quick to cheer “Yes!  We need two of everything!  It’s so stinkin’ adorable!”  My brain will have none of this nonsense and promptly sends a response back “Traitor.”  If looks could kill, I’m sure my brain would’ve murdered my uterus many times over. 
“Pierce Brosnan and George Clooney are NOT available.  Simmer it down down there.”  Cue evil glare.
“You don’t even have a house, WHERE are you planning on putting that tasty, modern furniture set?”  Followed quickly with a belittling look, maybe even a headshake.
“Enough with the baby clothes—you’re not getting one of those anytime soon.  Probably never.” 
And so on.  These internal dialogues happen a lot in the aisles of Target.  *sigh*

Although I momentarily grin at this internal dialogue, I’m aware that much deeper, hidden underneath it, my heart pinches and twinges. 

No baby.
No husband. 

And not even a prospect of one.

 At one time I would have been A-Okay with that. 

But I’ve had time to heal and process, and now every so often…in the quiet spaces…sheltered deep where no one can see or touch or laugh at…
I know I yearn for these things. 

And ever so quickly, I push the thought out of my mind, because although the healing is significant, the lies still raise their voice. 

The sense of inadequacy and shame wraps me close, deeper than flesh, fighting to remain part of my identity.

This week my morning readings have focused primarily on peace.
Yes.  I breathe it deep.
I let the word flutter through my mind and try to settle on me.  In me.  And it won’t.  My thick heart-skin is tough with the pains of life.  Peace is a heart word, and right now my heart wants protection and lets nothing close.  Except pain.  The unintentional wounds.  I wish I could embrace that peace, but my thoughts are too busy, too dense, too something and I am reminded that the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I strive to take those thoughts captive.  And again.  Again.  Again.  They persist and the weight of failure presses me down.  I see it, I know it, and it angers me because I feel so feeble, my attempts so futile.  I fail.  I am not good enough.  I cannot do it.  My worth…well, what little there may have been, it’s dwindling fast.  My shattered heart yearns to throw a fit, to yell, to push back because I know, I know, better. 
I am angry with myself.  Psychology tells us anger is a secondary emotion, that it is the product of either pain or fear, sometimes both.  I see it in me, the pain and the fear.  I know it…  I know…

I know the truth, and the Truth sets me free.  I know.
I know. 
But where oh where is it?  I must be doing something wrong.  Straight away my head corrects that thought.  Puh-leeze.  Head knowledge schools me, but my heart…  Oh my heart throbs for the experiential knowledge of a victorious giver of life, and life to the full! 

I slow.  I think of these things, look close at them, feel their shape in my hand, turn them in my mind. 
I think of this week and the snap shots I’ve experienced above.  And I stew.  These things I’ve pondered an embarrassingly long time in recent days.  In what has felt like self-preservation, I’ve tried to not look at them, but even without my eyes on it, the feelings edge in, pressing close, not seen clearly but felt. 
But as I slow and allow myself to focus, to examine the mess that rages chaotic, I hear another voice.


Beloved, I love you.
You are mine.

The voice is slow, quiet, not at all hyper or bitter like my own thoughts.  In the past I have been told that I belong to another, but this…is different.  Not ugly with entitled possession.  It is the voice of the Shepherd.  My Abba Father.  My Jesus Savior.  And the voice seeps slow and rich like honey, golden heavy, into my heart.  I sit quiet in His presence, my focus finally shifted from the sin ugliness of self.
Beloved, I hear you.  Let me step into those aches and ask you
what is beneath them all?  Hmmm?

Good question.  Long have I felt worthless, known it.  Seen time and time again that my striving and seeking after perfection to earn love, well, it’s not good enough, and I ache with the realization I can do nothing to be loved.  I cannot cover enough the scars cut and branded on me, in me. 
I.  Fall.  Short. 
It is that knowledge that throbs dull, that I try to tune out.
Again, the voice…

Beloved, I have good news for you.  I bind the brokenhearted, proclaim you captive no more.  No more!  You are free and released from darkness, no longer a prisoner.  I comfort you as you mourn.  I do the work, a new work, in you.  I take your ashes, and give you a crown of beauty.  I restore you, because I chose you.  I paid a great price for you—not merely to own you as an object, but as my Beloved.  I took your dead self, breathed my life into you, and you live.  You live the full life I give to you.  I have taken your shame and given you a double portion.  I have taken your heart of stone, and put in you a heart of flesh.  It is for freedom that I have set you free.  It is you I woo Beloved, you who I am shaping to be my bride.

And there it is, in the quietness, the leading of the One who knows me through and through.  The voice that spoke stillness into the storm speaks stillness into my heart.  The hurts and worries and shame, they turn transparent, empty, in the pure light of the Word.

I am loved.  Loved.  And the longer I hold those God-truths in my heart-hands, turning them over, memorizing their shape, weight, feel…the more real they become.  
Falling into my being like a rounded rock plunks through cold water, substance sinking deep. 
I breathe.  And breathe again.  Gone is the claustrophobic cage gripping my heart and lungs.

That peace that seemed like mockery?  It is soft now, pliable and tender and saturating.  My heart skin has thinned thinned thinned.  Warmed free by the love of my Abba Bridegroom.  It matters not what cares and worries have weighed me.  Even if I had none, (none!) I would still not be enough, and I am freed from the striving, free to just be, free to look beyond self and see Him. 

It is good that I stop to savor, process, and record these God-experiences.  All too soon I am going to forget the truths that bring me life.  All too soon I will flail in failed brokenness.  But here it is, a captured moment to soothe and heal, to woo and nurture.  I will rest in the vine branch, abiding in Him and He in me, authoring the gift of peace and love.  Cheap words, pretty ideas.  But oh the beauty of their full substance!  Lavished upon me time and time again. 

I will waste it, careless at times, and still it will be poured on me.  Why?  Because I am His and He delights in me. A mystery.  But there you have it, truth nonetheless. 

And now I grin easily.  My thin-skinned heart light in the knowledge that I am enough for the I AM. 

When we were freed,
released from captivity,
it was like a dream for us all.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
And all around us people said with wonder
“The Lord has done great things for you.”
And it’s so true, isn’t it?! 
The Lord HAS done great things for us and we are             
filled, filled, with joy!
                 Restore us, O Lord, like winter-fresh streams through the
                                       desert sands.
                        Do it again, Papa God!
            Those of us who sow in tears, our hearts heavy,
                        we will reap with songs of joy.
            That Dear One who weeps?  Carrying that seed to sow? 
            Guess what?
                        Dear one, along with a full harvest
                                     you return with songs of joy!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

More Humility and Compassion, Please!

     Call it my "Type A, Firstborn, Only-Child, Rule Following Rigidity," but there are times when I am a little over zealous in my schedule keeping.  This tendency plus a teenaged foster daughter suddenly plunged into my care, well, the phrase "oil and water" comes to mind...
     In a lot of ways, my little Chickadee enjoys the structure.  It lends stability and normalcy to her life (and mine!), and it's nice for her to be doing the things other high school aged girls are doing.  Chores, school, swimming and martial arts, church.  All good things.  And just as good and needed are the therapy groups, coping skills classes, and doctor's appointments.  Chickadee needs all these facets in her life right now to help her heal, recover, and be equipped for a successful healthy future.
     I confess that my love of school has maybe tipped the scales of what I thought was "important."  I mean, the girl's gotta graduate from high school, right?  And then the fall semester started, and we weren't doing summer school easy peasy stuff any more.  Hours of history, algebra, biology, and english.  Not to mention PE and reading.  Hours and hours every day.  Was I up for the challenge?  Why yes, my school-nazi self was certain we could attain our goals.  Never mind the fact that my girl is here to recover, to process and heal, to untrain past ways of living as she's training herself in new ways to live life and establish relationships.
     Yesterday was quite a busy day for us, and I knew it was going to be tough to fit in alllll that school.  We had our therapist on the schedule, as well as a doctor's appointment.  All that to say, when we arrived home at 4:15 yesterday, Chickadee had only completed 2 hours of school that day, and we needed to do 4-5 more hours.  So true to form, I get her settled in and push her to go, go, go!  Normally she's a little trouper, and will work like crazy to get it done.  But yesterday...yesterday was different.  Around 5:00 she started melting down a little.  My first response was not one of compassion, my thought process was running down the track of:  you knew what our schedule was like today, why are you surprised that you still need to do a couple more hours of school?  We've been out of the house for hours, that was a good break, right?!"
     Once I looked into her overwhelmed face, I decided it was time for a break.  I sent her off to swim, and after some laps and splashing, she started to relax.  We never finished our hours of school yesterday.  I was reminded that although school IS important, so is everything else that we do (insert "so back off, School Nazi!!!).  Later that evening, in a different frame of mind, I found out what she and her therapist had talked about yesterday.  It was deep.  It was painful.  I was ashamed of myself.  This past week I've been so gung-ho on getting Chickadee caught up in school I've overlooked the emotional traumas and healing.  Can I just say my heart was stung and broken last night?
     I don't always get it right.  (Who does, huh?!)  I sometimes lose sight of what's important, and get caught up in agendas of my own making.  But I think I'm starting to come around.  I need that humility that asks "is this the most important thing right now" when I'm dead set on something.  I need that humility that says I don't know everything all the time, so get off my high horse and listen to those who speak into my life as I'm raising this girl.  And the compassion...oh heart broke last night.  Lord God, help my heart to care like Yours about the heart of my sweet girl(s).  I need it.
     And so, here we are.  The next day.  A day already brimming with fresh mercies, and fresh grace.  Thank you Jesus!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Who Knew?

This rather unattractive picture of me is a pretty accurate glimpse of me these days.
Why, you ask?  Because I have joined the ranks of those women with a teenaged daughter.  And I have no spouse to help me with my sanity.  (Longish story.  I'm a foster mom, the house mom for the place I work.  Very good stuff, even if does mean constant sleep deprivation!)  Yes, a spouse...
Someone to lean on, someone to help parent, someone to take over when my last nerve is frayed into twenty split ends and my teenager is yelling "Timmery.  Timmery!  TIMMERY."...  I gotta say, that sounds pretty magical right now.  *grin*  I guess God really knew what He was talking about when He created the family unit to have a mom AND a dad!
These days find me scheduling dentist appointments and eye exams.  Shuttling my girl Soccer-Mama-Style to community service projects and martial arts classes.  In between all the doing and stuff, there are these amazing sparkles of joy that take my breath away some days.
Like when Chickadee asks me if she can read to me at the end of the night, when I'm irritated that the air conditioner is out and I'm fielding phone calls between two owners about the workman coming.  And there's sweet Chickadee, wanting to read to me from the Bible reading plan her High School church group is doing.
In the morning when we're doing our daily reading from Jesus Calling, I'm not sure if anything is soaking in.  We get off topic regularly during those discussions.  I try to not make it a big deal so it doesn't become a serious time Chickadee starts to dread...  This morning out of the blue she redirected the conversation back to our reading all by herself, and had some really good insights.  My heart was touched, that's for sure.
It's an adventure that doesn't seem to have much downtime.  An adventure I don't always enjoy.  But its an adventure with eternal implications.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In Recent Days

Hello everyone!
I've recently started a crazy, whirlwind adventure, of which some of you know bits and pieces. So please consider this an update of sorts, as well as a prayer request.
About six weeks ago I had a phone interview with Susan Munsey, the executive director of GenerateHope.  She was looking for someone to come on staff to work with their brand new phase:  minors.  And as this is something that grabs my heart, we had excellent discussions and interviews, and I've now been on staff for about three weeks.  It feels good to be back in sunny SoCal!
GenerateHope is a non-profit that works with young women who have been sexually trafficked and exploited.  In some cases we have girls who have experienced the "slave" aspect TV may depict.  But for the most part, trafficking in the US looks a little different, involving young women who look like any other woman you see out and about.  She looks like your neighbor, the lady in the produce aisle at the grocery store, your daughter's friend.  These young women come in all ages, weights, colors, personalities, and from every type of family.  I tell you this, because in the US, sex trafficking usually takes the role of prostitution.  What happens when you hear the word "prostitute"?  My guess is that there is a stereotype that comes to mind, and maybe even a string of phrases come to mind as well:
"Why doesn't she get out of that and find herself a real job?"
"Put some decent clothes on."
"I'd rather die than sell myself."
"She could leave that 'profession' if she really wanted to."
"She's despicable."
Let me offer you a different perspective to the stereotype that is "out there" running through our society.  No little girls says she wants to grow up and work in the sex industry.  No young woman starts out thinking that selling her body is her dream.  Dig a little deeper into these womens' stories and you'll find that they sell their bodies--not because they want to--but because they've run out of money and resources.  Or maybe they were sexually abused as a child, or raped when they were young, and the message imprinted on them was 'this is all you'll ever be good for.'  Most of our ladies learned very, very early that they didn't have any rights to their body.  Couple that with physical and emotional abuse with a controlling, dominant person in their life, and you start to see how these girls have a major identity//value//worth struggle on their hands.  All it then takes is a predator that recognizes that desperation and that uncertainty of self-value in a woman, and that predator will use varied means to commercially exploit these women in the sexual arena.
Sobering stuff, huh?
Before you duck out because this is "just a little too much reality to handle right now,"  let me give you some encouragement.  (Whew, we were in need of some, huh?!)  When we expose the sin in the dark, we allow the light of Jesus to shine upon it and He can bring healing truth and restoration.  So let's shine some Jesus-light!

The first GenerateHope house is for young ladies ages 18-35, and has been open for 3ish years now.  They have a main house, a transitional apartment, and an education building on site.  The newest phase is the one I'm a part of, and that is a house for minor ages 12-17.  The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 (that's junior high, people.  Girls fresh out of elementary school).  We're hoping to reach these girls early and get them the help and healing they need.  Since I actually live in the house with these girls, I have to become a foster parent--whoa Bessie!  I've never envisioned myself foster parenting, but God nudged me right into this with surprising ease, so I trust He knows my skills and limitations and will use me anyway.
Last week I met with our foster organization for the first time, and they've been delightful.  I have so much relief knowing that they are Christian, and when they told me they'd be praying for me, I was so blessed.  It won't be a walk in the park, and they've told me a few horror stories.  I hope those won't be true for us here, but I'd rather be prepared than blind-sided.  *Gulp!*

"My" house is gorgeous, and sits on 15 acres of orange groves (organic oranges for Sunkist--fun, huh?!).  I'm hoping the beauty of the house and land helps the girls in their healing journey.  They've been so abused and broken, and it will be wonderful to lavish some goodness on them.  We don't yet have girls in the house yet (we have room for 4 girls), because we are waiting for the county to sign off on the house.  We've been waiting on that signature for about 8+ weeks now, which is a little longer than it normally takes.

On that are a few specific ways you can pray for me, and for GenerateHope:
1.  We need the county's signature on the house!  That is all that is standing in the way of accepting girls right now.
2.  I have a slew of paperwork and documents to fill out and retrieve.  DMV, bank, insurance, medical, identifications/certificates--you name it.  I need patience, and in some cases money.  I fortunately will be reimbursed for most of this, but right now my bank is in Missouri, and I am in California, which causes some inconvenience right now.
3.  Our women are sweeties, but still come with baggage they're working on.  Some are stand-offish, others are defensive, some are angry, some shut down.  Please pray that I will love them well, and healthily, with good boundaries ,and lavish grace and truth.
4.  GenerateHope is faith-based, so I can live out my faith in God publicly in front of our young women, but they are not required to participate.  I'm asking if you'll be willing to lift these ladies up to God.  Pray for their healing, which ultimately only comes from Jesus.  Pray for theyr hearts to soften towards God, and to understand God's love for them is complete.  Some girls have backgrounds in church and faith, and sometimes that is a good thing, and sometimes its a negative thing.  Pray that God will reveal His Truth to them in a way they will grasp, and that they begin to hunger for Him.

Thanks for reading my mini-novel today!  Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or encouragement!
Much love,

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Pursuit of Being Leaven-less

     I've recently been meeting up with a wonderful group of women on Thursdays.  We eat together, with conversation packed full with laughter and home made deliciousness.  And once we've {partially} worked the talkative giddyness out of our catch-up time, we settle in.  Together we're going through the Psalms of Ascent.  I know I am learning so much, both about the psalms, but also about these dear ladies.
     One lesson from about 10 days ago has been rustling around in my heart.
     You see, these Psalms of Ascent are about a pilgrimage, a journey.  Three times a year the Jewish men would pack themselves off to Jerusalem to celebrate 3 different Feasts.  Part of the journey involves recognizing where you are, and anticipating the goodness ahead, which has had me doing some self-inspection.  We learned that the first of the Pilgrim Feasts is the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It began at the tale end of Passover and lasted for a week.
     I totally understood that unleavened bread would be a part of Passover--after all, it was an indication of the readiness of the Israelites to move when God said on that fateful night in Egypt so long ago.  But there is so much more goodness to unpack!  In Hebrew the word leaven means "sour", because it initiates fermentation.  As someone who enjoys a tasty loaf, a ciabatta, and definitely a foccaccia, I tend to enjoy that yeast and it's fermenting process!  And yet I had to pause when I learned how the ancient rabbi's considered leaven to be imagery of evil and corruption.  And what does leaven do?  It works it's way through and through a lump of dough, causing the mass to expand and grow.
      You can use just a wee little bit of that fermented dough to mix in with a fresh batch of flour, and you'll get a whole new loaf--that little bit of yeast will activate a whole new set of ingredients, causing them to bubble up and expand.
      It reminds me of how I can confess my sins to Jesus, and yet sometimes, sometimes I hold onto it just a little.  Like how I say I forgive, but maybe I hold onto that little bit of anger and bitterness.  I say I don't want to engage in that activity or thought process any more, but its there, and like a glutton I find myself right back at it.  That wee little bit of corruption I hold onto spreads all the way through me and blossoms.  It doesn't take much sourness to saturate the whole.  What would it be like if we were to get rid of our "yeast":  the gossip, the bitterness, the lust, the gluttony, the self centeredness, the carnality?
     You know how we take communion at Passover, just as Jesus did at the last supper?  How we break that unleavened bread and know that it is Christ's body, broken for us?  Well, just think about that--Jesus compares himself to that unleavened bread:  not sour, not corrupt.  Pure.  Blameless.  Sinless.
     I want that.  I want the leaven to be stripped out of me, every last bit.  It's probably a lifelong pursuit.  A good one though.