The Truth About Pain

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“More than anything else, I learned to stop filling the gaps of my faith with religion.” Angie Smith – Chasing God

This quote hit me between the eyes this morning….probably because I have done it…I have tried to fill the gaps in my faith with religion.I have tried to justify my existence by existing solely for myself because existing for something bigger than me scared the heck out of me.  There were times I was so confused about who God is that I was tempted to deny Him altogether.  And even when I acknowledged His existence, I couldn’t imagine Him loving the broken vessel that is me.  And if I am honest about it, sometimes I still have trouble believing His unending, unconditional love applies to me….Because I am a mess ya’ll…and a HOT mess at that.

I won’t bore you with the details of my mess.  I am sure there are many of you who are dealing with things much worse than anything I have ever experienced.  And if you’re like me, when someone starts whining about their paper cut while you’re standing in front of them with a gunshot wound, it just doesn’t seem right, somehow. So, here we are, in the midst of my mess (and yours too, I’m sure) wondering where to go from here. I am going to be real with you….although there is a part of me screaming “WALK AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD!” and my palms are sweating, and my stomach aches, I am going to be real, because there is an even greater part of me that believes the world needs more real. We need to know we are not alone in our messes and that someone else experiences pain and tries to hide it from the world.

So here goes:

There are places within me that seem broken beyond repair.  There are cracks in my heart that run deeper than even I can measure.  There are nights I lie in bed on a pillow soaked with my own tears and there are days I cry with such harsh, gut wrenching sobs, my voice is hoarse for hours afterward.  I share these things because I believe there are others who speak with broken hearts and tear stained voices.  But somewhere along the way, we have convinced ourselves it is not OK to not be OK.  We feel we have to lie about our pain and go about our business as if everything is fine.  Ya’ll, WHY have we bought into this lie??? Is it because we want people to believe our lives are fairy tales? Do we see pain as weakness?  Or is it just too painful to talk about our pain?? I think it is a combination of all of these.

I know I hide my pain from pretty much every person who knows me, with very few exceptions.  On those rare occasions I choose to share, I almost feel like it causes me more pain to put myself out there.  I am very much in the habit of holing up when I am hurting.  Kind of like a wounded animal.  I hunker down with my God, my Bible, and my tissues.  While I see nothing wrong with hunkering down with God, I am convicted that sometimes I use Him as an excuse to hide.  I mean really, who is going to argue with you when you decline due to “spending time with Jesus”? 🙂

This last year has been tough for me, ya’ll, and just when I think I am on the other side of it, it gets even tougher.  But here is what I am learning.

God loves me….Every broken, messy, part of me.  And when I let Him, He begins to mend those broken places within me and He shines His light through those cracks in my heart.  He holds every tear I cry and He hears every gut wrenching sob that escapes me.  He even sends His people to minister to me through my pain and I am learning to let them in, little by little, bit by bit.

So for those of you who are hurting, let God do His work in you and heal your brokenness.  For those of you He sends to minister to us broken vessels, thank you, and please don’t give up on us even when we decline to “spend time with Jesus.”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Father God, thank You for Your unending, unconditional love. Thank You for healing our brokenness and mending the cracks in our hearts. Thank you Lord, that even when I feel alone, You are with me. I love You and I praise You in the midst of every storm. In Christ’s name, Amen

Trading in my labels

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Not good enough. Unkind. Fat. Ugly. Liar. Drunk. Promiscuous. Unlovable. Selfish. Loner.

These are just a few of the labels I have worn over the years. The unbearable weight of them managed to crush my spirit and convince me I would never be more than I was.

As a result, I spent most of my life chasing after success. Thinking when I climbed high enough up that ladder, I would finally be somebody.

Many years ago, I found myself in my corner office in NYC, looking out onto the Statue of Liberty, thinking…FINALLY – this small town girl from South Georgia has made it. Leaving the office late that night, as I waited for a cab in the pouring rain, I felt that familiar emptiness creep into my heart, stealing any joy I may have felt over my worldly success. Fast forward a few years and many promotions, paychecks, and heartaches later, and you find me sitting on the balcony of a luxury apartment in South Florida, feeling more isolated and alone than ever. As I cried out to God, asking Him what He wanted from me…..He spoke into my heart these simple words: “Be still, and know that I am God.” I knew this was a verse from the Bible, so I looked it up. The NASB version of this scripture says “Cease striving, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10) If you’re like me, you have probably read this verse many times….and in so doing, you’re convinced there is nothing new here. But, please bear with me as I share with you what God showed me by speaking this verse into my heart.

God was charging me to put down all my idols…..my job, my paychecks, my title, my friends, my material goods, my boyfriend…..and recognize Him for who He is. There is a promise in this scripture, that when I cease striving (to be successful, have a perfect life, be the perfect person) and let Him be God, giving Him his rightful place in my life, I can be still and allow His grace, peace, and love to replace all those labels that crush my spirit and draw me away from God’s best for me.

Are you allowing the labels whispered into your ear by the enemy of your soul to crush your spirit and keep you enslaved by lies? May I encourage you today to BE STILL AND KNOW THAT HE IS GOD? Rest your weary soul in His embrace, renew your spirit with His grace, and energize your life with His great love. We can live free from our labels because of the work Christ did on the cross.

REDEEMED, FORGIVEN, NEW, CHOSEN, HOLY, LOVED.

These are my new labels…I’d love nothing more than you share them with you.

Father God, we come before you today in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Lord, thank you for your redeeming love. Thank you God, that when we remove the idols from our lives and allow you Your rightful place, Your grace, peace, and love will fill all of our empty spaces. Father, I pray you would give rest to the weary and strength to the powerless. I pray that as we seek You, we will find You and as we retire our old, spirit crushing labels, You will replace them with Your life giving love. We praise You for who You are Lord, and thank you for who we are to You. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Flowers on Mother’s Day

flowers

I woke up dreading the day…..not a great start, I know. But Mother’s Day is tough for this non-Mama and as much as I want to wake up praising the Lord EVERY day, some days are tough….like Mother’s Day.

But I got up, got myself ready, checked a few emails, read a sweet text message from a fellow non-Mama and was on my way. Riding to church with another sweet friend and her family kept my mind occupied so I didn’t even have time to think about anything but driving and enjoying their company.

I got to church and grabbed my stuff and began to ready myself for the day….breathe in, breathe out….

Before I even made it to the door, I saw one of my precious girls hurrying across the parking lot with flowers….UGH….it’s beginning already, I thought.

But God forgive my wretched soul, this sweet girl was calling my name and as she approached me, she handed me the flowers and a card. “These are for you, Mrs. Nichole.” I hugged her so tight, I’m pretty sure I fractured one of her ribs. Ya’ll, it was all I could do to hold it together.

But hold it together, I did. I walked into church and found my fabulous husband with a smile and a hug just for me and as I stepped from his embrace, I turned to find one of my favorite boys at my side….and then he hugged me and said “Happy Mother’s Day Mrs. Nichole.” I hugged him so tight his face turned red. Another one of my sweet boys gave me a necklace he made out of a beautiful sparkly rock….and I hugged HIM so hard he started to cough.

It was all I could do to hold it together.

But hold it together, I did. I made through Sunday school as we taught about idols (Ok, God, I get it) and I sang my heart out during worship. But once the songs were done, I started to fall apart a little…because I knew the ever alienating “stand up if you’re a Mother” call was coming. Breathe in, breathe out.

It was all I could do to hold it together.

But hold it together, I did. I made it through the handout of the special mother gifts, and I sang my heart out some more. Then I was handed one of the special gifts for Mother’s….by someone who knows I have no children. As I tried to give it back, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You are a spiritual Mama.” Ya’ll, by this point I was hanging on by a thread…..like there was a dam of tears waiting to burst forth at any second. But I managed to hold it together. Until now.

As I sit here thinking about all the amazing things God did in my life yesterday, I am OVERWHELMED. On a day I dread EVERY year, a day I wish I could just stay in bed, God blessed me. He surrounded me with people who love me. And He answered the prayers of all of you who were praying for me.

I shared my struggle about this day with you, so I felt I should also share my blessing.  And thank you, each of you who prayed for me, loved on me, and encouraged me yesterday.

And thank you, Lord, for your sovereignty, Your love, and Your perfect plans. Amen.

Mother’s Day for the Childless

I write this post in protest.

So much so I am tempted to lock myself in the closet or get lost in the woods where I have no access to writing materials. But then God would just have me write this post in my head and it would continue to prick me in the brain until I put it on paper. So, here I am, writing this post in protest.

 

I would like to preface this by saying that this is in no way meant to disrespect you or insinuate that celebrating Mother’s Day is wrong. PLEASE celebrate your blessings and allow them to celebrate you! I ADORE my sweet Mama and you can bet I am praising God for giving me such an amazing woman for my Mama! Happy Mother’s Day , Mama!!  🙂

 

This is just one childless Mama heart sharing her pain.

 

There are some times in my life that I have wanted to disappear….like POOF! Gone into thin air. One of those times is Mother’s Day….especially Mother’s Day in public.

I can almost hear the breaking of my wanna be Mama heart when it seems like every woman within a 150 mile radius is standing up to receive their special Mama recognition while I remain seated. Again. Childless another year.

Measurements of time are tough for women who are trying to get pregnant…especially those of us who have been trying for awhile. While our Mama friends measure their lives and their years by what their children are accomplishing, we measure our time by the occasions on which our childlessness is most evident. For example, I will be 40 on May 21st. I have been trying to get pregnant for almost 5 years now. 40 is considered an ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE (who comes up with this stuff??) and it just keeps getting more advanced from here. Tick tock. Tick tock.

While I realize it is tough for people to know what to say to people like me, I would like to remind us all that sometimes silence is golden. I really don’t need to be reminded that I am getting older (no one is more aware than I), I do not need advice on how to make babies (Todd and I are pretty sure we’ve got that one down pat), and I certainly do not need to hear about so and so and the time it took them 2 months to get pregnant and they thought they would just DIE from all the waiting.

And PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t tell me you ‘just know’ we will have children one day…Seriously, ya’ll…..the only time this is acceptable is if God has personally come down and had a conversation with you about how He will be giving us children.

I really do not know what God’s plan is for Todd and me. He may plan to give us more babies than we can hold at one time, but it may also be that we will have none. I need to be ok with this. Wait, no. I don’t just need to be ok with this, I need to be praising Him for this. But how? or better yet, WHY praise God for the dreams that haven’t come true?

Because if I believe my God is who He says He is, then I have to TRUST that His will and His purpose in our lives is better than anything we could plan on our own. While I TRUST Him, I am asking Him to help me rejoice, pray and give thanks in all things…..even those things I do not understand.

WHEW!!!! This is a process ya’ll. I want to sit beside you on Mother’s Day and praise God for your children while I praise Him for my lack thereof. But please forgive me if Mother’s Day is still tough for me and all the other childless Mama hearts out there. It’s not that we aren’t happy for you, it’s just that we’re trying to find our place on a day that celebrates a dream that may never come true for us.

Father God, thank you for your sovereignty. Thank you that you have a plan for each and every one of our lives. Help us Lord, to trust your plan even (especially) when it doesn’t look the way we thought it would. On the days that are hard, Lord, I pray we would praise you through the pain and I pray we will allow you to use our pain for You glory. May we encourage one another as we go through trials, being obedient to share what You have laid upon our hearts….even if it is in protest. 🙂 I love you Lord, and I ask you to continue to walk with us through our stories, and I pray that You will be honored and glorified as You do your perfect work in us and through us. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Alone in a Crowd

I almost always feel alone in a crowd. I have been this way most of my life and more often than not, I’m ok with it. But there are times that feeling alone makes me question everything about myself…and I mean EVERYTHING! Too loud? Too quiet? Too short? Too boring? Too happy? Too sad? Too rich? Not rich enough? Am I over dressed? Underdressed? Does this dress make my butt look fat? GEESH!!!

Yes, I know, they are all ridiculous questions, but they run through my mind more often than I care to admit.

I often feel like an island….and not one of those exotic beautiful islands, ya’ll, I’m talking about the barren, uninhabitable ones. It’s enough to make a girl want to give up on socializing all together.

I have talked to a lot of women lately who are tired of shallow relationships. We’re done with trying to be people we are not in order to fit into a certain group and we’re totally OVER finding out the hard way that someone is not trust worthy. Good grief, ya’ll….we make it so hard. We complicate the relationships in our lives to the point that they cannot withstand the pressure and before you know it, another one bites the dust.

Truth be told, I have very few women in my life who make an effort to nurture our friendship. (side note – I am OVERWHELMINGLY thankful for the few who do!!)  It’s sad, but true. When I say nurture, I don’t mean those half ditch efforts to say Hi for the 30 seconds it takes us to cross paths in public, I don’t mean a text message every 2-3 months, and I sure don’t mean the gossip sessions many love to pass off as ‘prayer requests.’ Nope, I am talking about the real deal, ya’ll. Nurture is defined as follows: To support and encourage, as during a period of training and development. WOW – Support and encouragement. Wouldn’t you love to be consistently supported and encouraged through this training and development we call “Life?” Me too, sisters, me too!

So how do we do this? How do we nurture our relationships and how do we give the love, honor and friendship we ourselves long to have? We invest our most precious commodities, ya’ll….our time and our love.

Scary stuff, huh? Yes, but it is worth it. Because it is what God has commanded and because He commanded it, He WILL honor it when we obey.

“This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

Father God, thank you for your love that empowers us to love one another. Thank you for the relationships you have placed in our lives and for those that have yet to form. I pray over each of them, Father and I pray they would be honoring to you. Help us to nurture one another, and build deeper relationships. Let us not be satisfied with imitation friendships that have no depth or honor and empower us to give up the relationships in our lives that do not bring you glory. God, I know this will not be a popular post or prayer by the world’s standards, but I pray you will use it to make a difference for eternity. We love you, Lord. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Unlovable Me

What if we really treated others like we want to be treated? What if we really loved them like we love ourselves?

I find myself heartbroken and frustrated over the divisions I see in so many relationships around me. We take the smallest things and make them into mountains no human can ever scale. Someone looks at us sideways, talks differently, dresses differently, or worships differently; and we jump at the opportunity to rip them to shreds with our poison tongues.

 

No wonder the world calls us hypocrites……we can’t even love on one another, let alone those outside our “Christian circle”

When we refuse to see beyond ourselves, we miss the opportunities God gives us to minister to and encourage one another. God tells us what He expects of us and His instruction is very clear:

“and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

Ya’ll….I am going to be very real with you. I am writing this because God has convicted me that I fall terribly short when it comes to loving others.

I try to love people, but have mercy, some people are just hard to love.

Of course when I started whining to God about how “I’m tired of trying to love on so and so” and “I don’t feel like loving on people today,” He showed me:

I am one of those hard to love people.

UGH. It’s true.

And you know what else God is showing me? He doesn’t command me to love people when I feel like it, or when they do things I approve of, or when they deserve it. The commandment to love others is not conditional.

Let’s not miss this.

God’s commandment to love others is not conditional.

It is not dependant on how we feel or whether someone deserves it.

It is dependent upon God and the love He has shown us and commanded us to show others.

Here is my challenge for us.

LOVE on someone you find difficult to love. Reconcile a relationship that you have allowed to falter. Encourage someone who needs encouragement. Pray for the people God has placed upon your heart today.

Be proof that God’s love is true and that His grace can really change a heart.

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 4:12-14

Father God, forgive us where we have placed ourselves and our opinions above Your truth. Help us to see people as you see them, let us see beyond the surface and minister to their hearts. God, help us to live lives that honor You. Help us to love like you love and where we have hardened our hearts, soften them and draw us closer to You. Use us as instruments of peace and do not allow us to be used for division. We love you, Lord, because You first loved us. Thank You for all that You have done and that which You have yet to do. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Peaceful, hopeful, joyful

I have been trying to get pregnant for six years.  Six frustrating, disappointing, heart wrenching years.

While these words have broadcast through my mind a trillion times, I have never written them down. Because for me, writing them makes them real, it means God is going to make me share them, and frankly, I am not ready to share this part of my life.

But God is funny, and sometimes (read: A LOT of times) He charges me to do things I am not ready to do.  He urges me to step out of the boat, into the stormy sea and as the waves crash around me and the current tries to pull me under, He speaks to my heart and reminds me I am not alone. So, with His quiet urging and His assurance that He is with me, I will share my story.

I married my husband at the ripe old age of 33.  We IMMEDIATELY (like fresh from the altar) started getting a lot of advice about starting a family ASAP because, ”your biological clock is ticking,”  and the ever cheerful “pregnancy and childbirth are SO much more difficult for women of advanced maternal age.”

And yes, this is an actual medical term.

Thankfully, Todd and I dance to the beat of our own drums.  We’re not go with the crowd kinda people….and we were SO EXCITED to be married, we wanted to enjoy it.  So we waited a year before we even started trying to have children.  I must admit I never thought I would have trouble getting pregnant. I expected to be sharing joyful news with our family and friends the next month, or the month after that at the very latest. But the months began to drag on and each of them found me on an emotional roller coaster of hopeful highs and disappointing lows.

I was so vulnerable, so emotionally weak, and so fragile.  I began to listen to the lies satan whispered in my ear.  “You can’t handle motherhood, so God is withholding children from you.” “The child you aborted? That was your chance and you blew it.” “You can’t even train a puppy, what makes you think you can raise a child?”

Ya’ll these lies were destroying me because I was allowing them to replace God’s Truth. I was so focused on the one thing I did not have, I was ignoring and taking for granted all the amazing blessings I do have.  I was becoming my worst nightmare….that bitter old woman who never had kids. I felt surrounded by other’s joyful baby news, and while there was a great part of me happy for them, my happiness was always accompanied by heartache for the child we did not have.

But our God is faithful, ya’ll. As Todd and I are obedient to Him and as we trust His plan for us, He has worked in our lives and blessed us in ways we could never have imagined. God has been clear that if we are to be parents, it is He who will bring that to fruition. He has instructed us to WAIT on Him, and as hard as it is to stand on this when the world around us is trying to push us toward the latest fertility trend, He has continued to bless us for our obedience.

I am not the person I was when this journey started six years ago. God has molded me, shaped me, chiseled me and refined me.  As I promise to praise Him through this storm and as I commit to serve Him, worship Him and seek Him while I wait, He is doing something amazing.  He is empowering me to praise Him not only in the midst of the storm, but FOR the storm. By and through His amazing grace, He has brought me to a point where I can praise Him for my struggle with infertility. Because without this struggle, my heart would still be divided between what I want and what God wants. But because of it my heart is aligned with His.

And I am peaceful. I am hopeful. I am joyful.

I cannot tell you this journey has been easy, but I can tell you it has been worth it.  I am still not pregnant and I may never hear someone call me Mama, but I believe in the depths of my soul, that even without a child to call my own, my life is blessed beyond all I could ask, think or imagine. I am choosing to focus on the plans God has for me because He promises to prosper me and give me a future and a hope. This is the mighty work of a God who loves us more than we can fathom.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Father God, we come before You in the name of Your son, Jesus Christ.  Lord, THANK YOU for the storms. Thank You that You have used the storms in my life to bring me closer to You. I pray God, that You will use our stories for Your glory.  May we seek you first in all things and Lord, please help us to trust You when things don’t look the way we expect. God You are sovereign and You are worthy of praise.  We love you Jesus, Amen.

Ungodly me

I like to play God. 

 

It’s a shocking statement….and I must admit my stomach cramped up a little when I saw it in black and white. But as shocking and sinful as it is, unfortunately, it’s true. 

 

I like to control things, I like to direct paths, I like to fix stuff, I like to instruct, I like to maneuver, and if I am not very careful, I find that to accomplish all of these things, I also like to manipulate.  Wow. Not a very pretty picture of me, is it? 

 

Over the last year or so, I have been asking God to show me my heart.  This has to be one of the scariest prayers I have ever committed to praying, ya’ll.  My heart is wicked.  I think, say, and do things that are completely contrary to God’s instructions to me.  There are times I am not kind, loving, or patient….and I absolutely miss the mark on that whole gentleness thing.  When I see these things in me, I get discouraged.  I allow satan to convince me I am the same selfish, prideful, impatient, unkind, manipulative, unsaved woman I was 10 years ago.

 

But you know what?  Because of Jesus Christ, I am not that same woman. God tells me I am chosen, I am holy, I am dearly loved.  Because of Christ, I am not who I was, He is making me new.  Therefore, I can clothe myself with compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience.  All those God honoring things I am unable to do in my own strength, I can do through Him.  And so can you. 

 

Are you allowing yourself to live in the shackles of your past?  There is freedom in forgiveness and there is new life in Christ.  If you know Him, allow Him to show you who you are to Him, you’ll be amazed at how precious you are to Him.  If you don’t know Him, may I encourage you to ask Him to speak to your heart? He can take away that bitterness, hurt, and shame…..and give you lasting Hope.

 

Father God, thank you, that You are good.  That Your love endures forever. Lord, only you can institute lasting change in our lives and You are the only unshakable foundation that infuses our lives with love, compassion, patience, kindness, and gentleness.  Forgive us, Lord, where we have tried to play God.  Where we have tried to manipulate people and situations and in turn seek to glorify ourselves and not You.  God you alone are worthy of our praise.  Help us to remember who we are in You and mold us in to the God honoring people You intend us to be. We love You, and we praise You. In Christ’s name, Amen.

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12