The Squeeze

Skinny Girl Squeeze beginning

All I can seem to think about the last few days is what it is to be squeezed. Maybe you can relate. You know that feeling when the walls, the ceiling, the air above, and the floor beneath you, seem to be closing in. It’s that sensation of not knowing if you’ll make it out…not knowing if that elusive light at the end of the tunnel will bring warmth to your face. It is the season of the uncertainty, the uneasiness of tight places, the wondering in the wandering.

When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we spent some time among the rocks and trees in the Northern Alabama. The wonderful man from whom we’d rented the cabin we stayed in took us out on his land one afternoon to explore, hike, and get lost in the majesty of it all. In the spirit of adventure he talked us into going through a few tight places where the rocks barely gave access. First, we wriggled our way through what he called, “Fat man’s squeeze”. It was a little tricky for my husband to maneuver, but my scrawny frame didn’t object so much.

A little further down the path, we came to an opening in the rocks that he informed us was “skinny girl’s squeeze”. He didn’t fit so he’d never been that way, but one gentlemen who worked for him had made it through and told of the gorgeous view from the other side. Maybe the wonder and majesty of the journey had awakened a bravery and sense of adventure in me that had been dormant for a while, but I thought, “I’m a skinny girl…bring it!” and decided to give it a shot.

Everything was fine until about halfway through. The walls of stone around me had narrowed a bit and I wasn’t sure if I was as skinny as I thought I was. Size zero or not, it was getting tight in there. Then my shoe got stuck. By this time, my feet had to be turned sideways, as if I was ready to plié my way through. There was no room to turn in any way. In an effort to free my foot from its prison, I leaned a bit toward the end of the crevice until I was almost lying down. I heard my guide from behind yelling for me not to lie down or I’d never make it. They wouldn’t be able to go in after me either and help wasn’t a possibility. I HAD to keep going, upright; there was no other option.

I’m not quite sure how I did it, but I eventually got free and made it to the other side, an inch and wiggle at a time. It was beautiful there. There was something magical about knowing I was one of very few who’d been where I was standing. I felt alive in a new way standing there in the open, knowing I’d made it through the squeeze. I drank in the beauty surrounded by stone that had kept so many out. There, in the openness, where the sun shone free, I was a conqueror, a warrior who’d fought through the obstacles and made it to freedom.

Lately, I’ve been in a place that reminds me of the rock. I’ve been squeezed, hard-pressed on every side as scripture describes it. I know now, just as I did then, that God will never put me somewhere without providing a way out. There is a light on the other side. But, I have to keep moving forward to reach it. If I lie down, I’ll end up stuck. Even when my feet seem wedged into the rock, there’s a rock that’s higher than I that is faithful to bring me to freedom if I just keep on standing. I have to keep moving forward, there is no other option. He, my guide and comfort, is faithful, and He calls to me words of instruction and encouragement even when I’m beginning to panic.

On the other side, there is a beauty I’ve never known. On the other side, I am stronger. On the other side, the sun is shining and I am wiser and more prepared for the next obstacle. I will never forget the squeeze. I will always keep moving forward. The other side is so worth the journey.

squeeze

Peace Out!

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“Praise the Lord!  I will praise the Lord with my whole heart.” Psalm 111:1

“Life’s full of tough choices isn’t it?” Ursula in The Little Mermaid

Let’s be real…life can be hard! We live in a culture that seems to chant the mantra, “Whatever makes you happy must be right.” Where did we get the idea that we were meant to be happy all of the time? It’s an unrealistic expectation to put on ourselves. Life will hit us with all kinds of tough stuff. Job loss, divorce, sickness, pain, relational drama, car accidents, stress, the list is long. The reality is that the good stuff is often born in our response to the bad stuff. We have a choice to respond in faith or in fear.

When we allow circumstance to drive us, we end up fractured. We kick and scream against the pain. We worry. We lose sight of the light in what appears to be overwhelming darkness. We forget that the light doesn’t ever stop shining even when it is blocked by the storm. Even when we can’t see it well, the sun is still shining. Our trust and faith should allow us to find it regardless of the current view.

I choose to live my life from a whole heart. I choose not to allow circumstance to dictate my joy and my compass. I don’t have to be happy, but I can choose to be whole. I WILL praise the Lord with my WHOLE heart. My heart is full even when my world seems empty. My heart is whole though the world seems broken all because I choose to believe in a God who sees me, who loves me, and who makes a way for me when there seems to be no way. He has always provided and He won’t stop now.

If life hits hard today, just keep moving. Realign your focus and choose to praise when you feel like panicking. Adjust your eyes to find the light. You have the choice. Peace isn’t the absence of trouble. Peace is the knowledge that trouble doesn’t win, doesn’t define us, doesn’t get to control us. Peace is found in praise and trust. Peace out everyone!

The Greatest of these is Love

Though Angels’ tongues could escape my lips and sentiment sweet should flow

When grace extends my patience thin

When arms become empty, hearts heavy, feet ready for escape, eyes drifting, head aching, song quiet, candles huffed to cooled wax, all seems lost around me, I remember. 

Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for a friend. 

Perfect love casts out fear

Love suffers long and is kind

Love thinks no evil, bears all things, believes all things. 

Love never fails. 

Love is not about what I can get. 

For love, I empty myself 

I give all

I prefer another

I am fulfilled 

Love

Refocusing

  
Blurs are often ended with the bluntness of a break. A single straw that interrupts the momentum long enough for sanity to creep in and remind me that I am more than this. 

In the quest for perfection, I lost sight of the adventure. In the race towards better, I steadily slipped into worse. In the pursuit of holiness, I forgot to trust in grace. Somewhere in between it all, I stopped breathing. I lost myself when I quit looking. 

Today, I’m thankful for the straw. Small fractals of light that shine through offense, wake me from my hypnotism. Freedom often comes when I least expect it. Thank you straw man! Lord, please block my path when I get stuck on auto-pilot. 

Give me some Sweetness!

honeycomb

Proverbs 16:24 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Words are powerful! They bring sweetness or mayhem, joy or pain. Our words can uplift and encourage or knock down and well, discourage. (Deep huh?)

I was thinking about this scripture today. A bee wanders around from flower to flower, collecting from beauty, working diligently to find sweet nectar and, at the same time, serving to pollinate the area. Then it brings what’s was gathered back to the hive and uses it to make honey. I’ve oversimplified the process of course, but I couldn’t help but think about what that looks like for us.

We encounter words everywhere. Some from our own mouths, some from media, some from the lips of others. I think it’s our responsibility to dig through them for nectar. We don’t have to internalize or accept everything we hear. We can choose the Philippians 4:8 route and think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and of good report. We can find the virtue, the things worthy of praise, the good reports. This isn’t the ostrich mentality where we choose to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the bad. It is living intentionally and making a decision to change our perspective.

Years ago, a single word became my mantra in the faith. “Focus!” I realized that I had the power to take my thoughts captive and focus on The Lord in all things. I would have to remind myself throughout the day by repeating it to myself, “focus, focus, focus”. At times it can be hard to see Him or hear Him over the noise. The ever-constant barrage of busy can steal from the things that matter. Suddenly, the to-do list pushes our quiet moments off into the abyss and we are left reeling by the time our heads hit the pillow.

Even there at the end of the day, our minds can go a mile a minute planning for tomorrow or beating us up for whatever we messed up or didn’t finish today. Therein is the moment of decision. We can dig deep in those moments for the nectar. We can find the good. We can cast off the things that bring us down and remember who we are and how we are loved. Then when tomorrow comes, as we dig deep for the marrow of life, we can’t help but spread that joy to others. It’s a side-effect of the intentional life. We pollinate the world with the light of truth and the goodness of God’s love. We speak life and peace to the tormented. We bring hope to those who struggle. Never diminishing the severity of sorrows, but offering comfort and healing in the midst of them.

We’ve been taught a lie. So often the contemporary, American church teaches that we shouldn’t suffer, that life should be lived wearing rose-colored glasses and never admitted that things are tough. This is totally contrary to scripture and, quite frankly, insulting to those who are suffering. We’ve believed if we only had more faith, if we were better, things would be okay. It’s just not true. The Bible says that we WILL suffer for Christ’s name sake.

Try telling Paul, who was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and (my personal favorite) bitten by a viper (AAGHHH!), that Christians shouldn’t ever suffer. The difference is that Paul made a decision to glory in his sufferings that the power of Christ might rest upon him. (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was a diligent bee. He found the nectar and made honey despite circumstances few can imagine enduring.

I think what the world needs to see in us is perspective. We are deeper than our situations. We serve a God who is always faithful no matter what it may look like or feel like at the time. We have the power to choose to believe it or be overtaken. Dig deep and find the good. It’s in there, like a hidden treasure waiting to be recovered. And in it, we find our sustenance.

I Had an Unplanned Pregnancy and I Gave My Baby Away

I was 18 years old and had a brief crisis of faith. I’d been raised in church and had served God faithfully the majority of my life. Life is still “life” and sometimes hits us with curve balls we don’t expect. It just so happened for me that all those curve balls knocked me flat. I found myself suffering from a broken heart and things just weren’t working out as I’d planned. I vividly remember the day I told The Lord “I’ve served you my whole life and done everything right and look where it’s gotten me. From now on, I’m doing the opposite.” I’d decided to go the other way and try to find happiness on my own. It wasn’t my finest moment.

A couple of months later, I’d lost my virginity to a man I barely knew and found myself staring at a line on a stick. My friend and I examined it again and again.

“I think that’s a line.”

“Do you see a line?”

“It’s very faint does that mean anything?”

“Maybe it’s a mistake.”

“Surely my period will come any day.”

It didn’t.

A couple of weeks past, and I took another test, and it was DEFINITELY a line. I was pregnant.

Timing could not have been worse! I’d been kicked out of my parents house and was living with friends. Actually, I slept on the floor in my best friend’s bedroom. I’d planned on going to a Christian college to study music but seriously doubted they’d accept me now that I was an unwed mother. I worked at Wal-Mart and didn’t exactly have a grand salary. The “father” didn’t want anything to do with being involved. He already had a child for whom he was paying child support and he made it clear that he had no intention of paying for another child.

I had never known fear and hopelessness like I did then. There was no way I could tell my parents. So I hid it. Only my closest friends and my boyfriend knew what was going on. So I decided to run.

What I saw as an opportunity presented itself in another state so I moved. My best friend moved with me and we kept the secret to ourselves. I broke up with the boyfriend and didn’t even tell him where I was going. I would have nightmares of him coming after me, showing up in the middle of the night to take care of the problem and get rid of both me and my baby. The only thing I knew was that I needed to make a good life for my child.

I ended up working at Wendy’s making $4.75 per hour. When I told my boss about the pregnancy, she cut my hours. Things went from bad to worse, until one night I found myself in a puddle on the living room floor of my apartment crying out to God. I decided to come back home. I was 8 months pregnant, and I moved back in with mommy. Something I swore I’d never do.

My mother was a godly woman and she showed me grace instead of condemnation. She welcomed me home like the prodigal, arms open and willing to help. Not everyone was so supportive. I received a lot of negative reactions as well from people who were supposed to love me and that was heartbreaking. It’s funny how some sins are looked at differently than others. People who had admittedly had promiscuous pasts looked down on me as if I were a leper. It drastically changed my perspective on how to love others and I strive to show others unconditional love now regardless of the messes they find themselves in, but I digress.

God took my ashes and made beauty. I looked into the eyes of my daughter for the first time that summer. I found a love I never knew existed. She was my world. Raising her alone would be hard. I worked hard! I enrolled in college and took on a full-time class load while working full-time and mothering full-time. It wasn’t easy but it was SO worth it. The truth is that God is faithful. He knew exactly what my wayward, aching heart needed to draw me back to him. He gave me exactly what was best for me, my precious girl. She changed me in more ways than I can list. I have never regretted having her. I’ve never thought I messed up my life. Sure it changed my plans a bit but ultimately, it just brought me new plans.

A few weeks ago, I walked my girl down the aisle in my backyard on her wedding day and gave her away to a wonderful man. She was brightness embodied, the most beautiful bride I’d ever seen. She has grown to become everything I could have hoped for and more. A high school graduate, now a wife and a college student, she’s beginning her own life. She’s serving the Lord.

I know firsthand the fear and confusion surrounding an unplanned pregnancy. I know the anxiousness of wondering how on earth you could ever provide for a child when you can barely provide for yourself. I know aloneness and what it’s like to be in a bad relationship or be carrying a child whose other parent wants nothing to do with you. I lived it. I’m not here to pass judgment on “choices”. But I want to offer this, often what we feel is the end is really the beginning. Sometimes the “bad” things we go through are really God’s perfect plan to bring us to something better and propel us towards his purpose.

I hear so many debates these days about abortion. I am fundamentally opposed to abortion but I understand the emotions that would draw someone to a place of such desperation. It breaks my heart. Some rant about “rights” as though they are talking about getting highlights or changing dentists. We spout overpopulation arguments or talk about how no one should bring a child into a situation where the parent can’t provide for it. That would be unloving so elimination is a somehow more humane decision. We could be advocating to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place rather than using abortion as a means of birth control, but somehow such arguments are deemed hateful and unrealistic. I’m often appalled by the callousness of the human heart when it comes to this topic.

So rather than argue about those things, I offer you this, my experience. I chose to have my baby and it was the best decision I ever made. What felt at the time to be overwhelming and impossible turned out to be such amazing grace! God knows what we need better than we do. He proves it all the time. My girl was the best gift he could have given me. I want to encourage you to look beyond your circumstance whatever it may be and find the hope that is hiding in it. It’s there somewhere even when you have to dig for it. And when it comes to abortion, don’t forget that you’re talking about more than ideology. You’re talking babies and mothers and fear, hopelessness, desperation, anxiousness, and the desire to do the right thing for everyone in the face of the most monumental situation. Don’t forget to be kind! But never negate the possibility that there is a purpose for that child and that it might just be the miracle you’ve been hoping for.

I chose life and I got to give away beauty to the world. You’re welcome!

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Image by Kaitey Brawley Photography

Image by Kaity Brawley Photography

Confessions from the Prodigal’s Brother

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 I have spent too many hours concerning myself with others. True, godliness demands looking outside oneself in love and serving others, but there is a difference between service and true humility.

My brother was a squanderer. I was faithful. My brother left. I stayed home. My brother was careless. I was careful. I’ve always been “the good one”. Surely, fairness would dictate that I would reap the rewards of my labors and he would reap the shame of his. Yet, here I sit, watching the party in his honor, feeling alone and slighted.

A father’s love is a beautiful thing. It is not predicated on good behavior. A lost son is loved and longed for just as a present son is loved, appreciated and cherished. Still, in moments of celebration it’s easy to feel lost and forgotten. If one is not careful, those feelings turn to bitterness, an equally grievous evil.

 Years ago, I found myself in my closet weeping. The closet became my only place of solitude where the kids wouldn’t look and the husband didn’t care to follow so I spent too much time there hunched on the floor feeling sorry for myself. My husband (at the time) was addicted to drugs, sex and pornography. He would disappear for days on end binging on whatever he could get his hands on. I wish I meant that figuratively. The infidelity and repeated betrayal took its toll on my fragile heart. I blamed him for all of our problems. I hadn’t yet learned to take responsibility for myself and not allow myself to be treated and abused. I hadn’t learned proper boundaries. I hadn’t realized my true value.

Still, I took the blame upon myself for his actions. If I were better, surely he wouldn’t do these horrible things. If I were more attractive, surely he wouldn’t feel the constant need to look elsewhere. If I were a better wife, he wouldn’t run. I wrongly believed my actions dictated his and consequently, his actions dictated mine. I worked hard!

I began to believe that God must love him more than he loved me. When he would return home, everyone rallied around him in support. Forgiveness was freely offered and readily available whether or not his repentance was sincere. He was celebrated as brave and heroic for his perceived effort of coming back to the Father’s house. I knew forgiveness was essential for me to survive and felt I’d be chastised if I didn’t pursue reconciliation.

It took years for me to figure out that forgiveness didn’t mean removing consequences. It took many years for me to learn that it was right to establish boundaries and not allow myself to be mistreated. It took years for me to turn my backbone from jelly to solidity. I finally made a stand and got out despite the criticism of many. I couldn’t be more thankful for the freedom and peace that decision brought me.

Being a godly wife doesn’t mean ignoring the misdeeds of others. It involves taking a stand for righteousness. It involves looking inward and finding God’s love and grace in ones’ own life and acting in accordance with right principles and Biblical truth. Never has God demanded his little ones to accept abuse as a part of submission. In fact, scripturally, we are not to keep company with a man who is “called a brother if he is a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. With such a one [we] are not even to eat.” 1 Corinthians 5:11. Such scriptures can be difficult to reconcile in the midst of a marriage though sexual immorality is clearly a justifiable cause for divorce biblically. (Matthew 19:9)

Divorce is a horrible thing and though I had the support and love of many, I was heavily criticized by many also. Well-meaning brothers and sisters would tell me I needed to be more forgiving and just stick it out. Vicious believers even got in my face a time or two to try to convince me I was in sin for choosing to leave. Despite what anyone else said, I am responsible for my own actions. I am responsible for my own freedom. I am responsible for my own destiny.

As the prodigals brother (or sister in my case), we have a choice. We can allow bitterness to take root in our hearts and grimace at the celebration around us. Or we can choose to take responsibility for our own happiness. Life and joy require active participation. I was notorious for being a victim. I allowed circumstances and other people to drive my life. Now I’ve learned that I am in control. Dr. Henry Cloud has said that no one can control us. We are responsible for allowing others that power. We can take control of our own lives and say no to abuse, no to self-pity and doubt. We can actively pursue God’s love for ourselves and understand that it is vast and endless. When we do, we will find that our rewards are ours and no one else can take them from us.

I am the keeper of my own destiny. I refuse to be driven by the recklessness of someone else. Rather, I will make choices based on the word of God and what is right for me. This may seem selfish to a heart that has spent years in codependency, however, the truth remains. No one has the power to steal the joy set before me. No one else can make me do anything. I decide.

When we take back the responsibility, blame disintegrates. When we take back our happiness, no dart fired from an enemy can quench it. When we decide to walk with our heads high and our eyes fixed on the infinite love of our God, nothing external can steal our peace and our focus. We become warriors!

Spin

I confess that I was the prodigal’s brother. Today, I am free to love without abandon because no one can hurt me. My hope isn’t in the approval or disapproval of anyone else. My hope is in The Lord and in the promise that he sees me lovely. And now I see myself free!