Finding the Strength to Stay the Course.

Let’s talk about strength for a minute, shall we? 

What is strength? STRENGTH means the quality or state of being physically strong or the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure. Mmmm…the capacity to withstand great force or pressure.

There are different kinds of strength and toughness in life aren’t there?

There’s physical strength. There’s mental strength. Emotional strength and spiritual strength. There’s obvious strength and there is hidden strength. There are times when strength is depleted and someone else steps in to help support you and be your strength.

Sometimes at first glance we only notice the physical or external representation of strength. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized and appreciated the internal strength that people possess far more. Sure the other is impressive, but the quieter internal strength I see far supersedes the external to me. And that strength, the ability to get up each day and look at what lies before you and say, “Okay, let’s go again, in spite of everything.” To keep moving forward regardless of the challenges you face…that my friends, is REAL strength.

In Joshua 1 the Lord commands and reminds the people of Israel to BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS. Four times. Not once; not twice. Not even three times – but four times!! He is reminding them (and us) to hold onto their courage and strength. He is telling them that what’s ahead may cause them to question, to waiver, to weaken, or to stop and freeze in their tracks. But He’s saying, regardless of what’s ahead, regardless of what your eyes see before you, regardless of what you come up against, remember – BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS!

Why would He say this?

I think he said it because he knew we would need a reminder, that we would need the pep-talk to stay the course and push forward. To not get thrown off track. He didn’t ask them. He didn’t request or suggest. He commanded them! This is the speech the general gives before sending his army into battle. The speech Maximus gave his men in Gladiator, the speech William Wallace gave his men in Braveheart, and the speech Joshua gave the Israelites on behalf of the Lord, prior to them crossing over the Jordan. “Men, have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” And He is with us wherever we go, and friends, he is ALWAYS victorious. ALWAYS!

So did they charge into battle with warrior cries? Did they cross over the Jordan ready to claim the land the Lord had already told them they’d conquer? Nope. You know what they did? They stopped dead in their tracks. The Israelites were readying to cross over the Jordan river and had already been told from those who had been there and scouted it out first, that the other side was fruitful, lush, rich and fertile land – exactly what they hoped it would be – and it was theirs for the taking. Yet instead of running wildly towards it, they just gave up. I imagine God was like, “Wait…come again? What gives? What just happened? Why are you stopping?”

How often do we do this? How often do we freeze, dig our heels in and refuse to move? ALL THE TIME!! Or is that just me!? Paul David Tripp talks about this perfectly.

“It was the most wonderful moment of grace in their lives. They were about to be given what they did not deserve and could not earn. Life, rich and full, was on the other side of that border. It was theirs for the taking because the One who had redeemed them from bondage was not just a Deliverer of freedom; He was also a Giver of life. They had earned nothing, but they were about to get it all. But they refused. They would not move. It all seemed unrealistic and impossible. It seemed like a cruel setup; the big, spiritual bait and switch.”

Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

Man, have I felt this deeply. God knew we would be just like them. He knew we would be bogged down with the thought that something that fruitful and lush and wonderfully rich was just too great of an ask. An impossible pipe dream WAY too far out of reach. God couldn’t possibly have that in store for us, so why get our hopes up and imagine that He does, only to be disappointed and heart shattered? This is the bait and switch we oftentimes feel like we receive.

But if they had just believed. If WE could just believe and continue to surge ahead, keeping pace with those commanding words: BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS. If we could get it tattooed on our foreheads as remembrance, then we wouldn’t let fear stop us. We wouldn’t let heartbreak or disappointment stop us. We wouldn’t let broken dreams stop us. We wouldn’t let anxiety and worry and what if’s overwhelm us and overtake us. We would keep going. We would stay the course.

That’s what I heard the Lord say to me recently when I prayed and asked Him what I should be doing in life. 

Stay the course,” He said.

You see, over the past year and a half, I’ve felt frozen. I’ve felt overwhelmed. Panicked, apathetic, incredibly sad, full of fear and anxiety about the present and about the future, and full of heartbreak and confusion about the past. I’ve allowed myself to live in that place for far too long and I’ve just been wallowing without a roadmap or a destination in mind. Wallowing and (it feels like) not growing or healing. Just staying put. Digging my own heels in and sticking my head in the sand hoping things would go away or magically sort themselves out. But that’s not the way it works. No. We must continue on. Continue putting one foot in front of the other. Continue staying on course.

Stay the course. BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS.

Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

So when you are feeling like all your strength is gone… When you are feeling like the least brave and courageous person on the planet… When you can’t see the end in sight and it’s difficult to trust others who have already been there…Keep going. With legs shaking. With a tear-stained face. With doubt and confusion trying to knock you off course. Keep going. Even though you are desperately wanting to turn back around with every step you take. Even though it’s hard and you’re scared. Even though you’re exhausted and wanna give up. Keep going.

For the Lord had a glorious future ahead for the Israelites and He has a glorious future ahead for you. If they kept going, if they listened and were obedient and trusted the God they served, this is what was in store for them:

“I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you—No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”They answered Joshua, “We will do whatever you command us, and we will go wherever you send us. We will obey you just as we obeyed Moses. And may the Lord your God be with you as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your orders and does not obey your words and everything you command will be put to death. So be strong and courageous!”Joshua 1:3-7, 16-18

This too is in store for you! So friends, when you don’t know what to do and your strength is depleted, look at how the Lord commanded His people in the past, and look at how He was faithful to fulfill the promises that came with their faithfulness and trust.

  • Command: Wherever you set your foot —>
    • Promise: I will give you that land and no one will be able to stand against you as long as you live.
  • Command: Wherever you go —>
    • Promise: I will be with you. I will not fail you and I will not abandon you.
  • Command: Be strong and courageous & be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you – do not deviate from them —>
    • Promise: then you will be successful in everything you do. 
  • Command: Study this book of instruction – meditate on it day and night and be sure to obey everything written in it —>
    • Promise: only then will you prosper and succeed in everything you do.
  • Command: Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged —>
    • Promise: for the Lord your God is with you whoever you go.

And remember to pray. Pray for the peace of the Lord to overwhelm you and to cover over you. Pray for the strength of the Lord to empower you to be successful as you move forward. And pray for the wisdom and discernment to walk where He leads you, as you continue to stay the course until you reach the other side. Because it’s fruitful and lush and rich and fertile and it’s yours for the taking!

BE STRONG and COURAGEOUS and stay the course, Bravehearts!

A Call to Kindness.

When you think of the word kindness what pops into your mind? It is a person? A situation? Or maybe a feeling that has left your heart well-cared for or a gesture someone has performed that felt so thoughtful that it’s stuck with you. 

When you look up the word kindness in the dictionary, this is what it says:

kindness

  1. the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.
    • warm-heartedness, tender heartedness, goodwill, affection, warmth, gentleness, tenderness, concern, care, consideration, considerateness, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, unselfishness, selflessness, altruism, compassion, sympathy, understanding, big-heartedness, benevolence, friendliness, neighborliness, hospitality, amiability, courteousness, public-spiritedness, generosity, magnanimity, indulgence, patience, tolerance, charitableness, graciousness, lenience, humaneness, mercifulness, decency, bounteousness
  2. a kind act.
    • service, good deed, favor, act of assistance, help, aid

Dang, that’s quite a list! I think the topic of kindness is an important one always, but especially today. In our society, it’s seems we have somehow gotten away from these basic necessities and replaced them with opposing thoughts and ideas. Maybe not even intentionally, but none-the-less, it’s happened.

Things like thinking of your own best interest and needs and those taking place and top priority over others best interest or needs. And don’t mistake me, I’m not taking about self-care or healthy boundaries here. In my book, those are always important and absolutely needed. But what I am talking about is when a person is selfishly looking towards their own benefit and not considering how it affects others. Why has this become common-place? Are we all really so afraid that if we don’t look out for ourselves we won’t be taken care of and that our needs won’t be met. I think that’s a very real fear for many people and each and every time one person thinks of themself instead of considering another, it then causes a ripple affect where that person also fears that their needs are not going to be met, and so they do the same thing and it becomes a vicious cycle where everyone is looking out for themselves and no one is looking out for their neighbor.

This seems to be the way in relationships today too. This swipe right idea is, if you don’t meet my instant need for gratification, if you don’t look the way I like or the way I think you should look, if you aren’t hot enough, then I’m not wasting my time with you (so NOT kind), so I’ll just swipe left and be on my merry way. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t have preferences, but it does mean that you aren’t taking the time to value another individual as a human person with feelings and needs and desires enough to get to know more about some of those things under the surface before you determine whether or not they are “valuable enough” to be worth your time.

This happens in work scenarios. If you’re in a competitive industry, it’s usually about who you are willing to step on in order to make it to the top and nine times out of ten, it’s looked at as the typical, necessary, normal thing to do or that you’re just being a hard worker who’s trying to get a leg up. And a lot of those who are working their way to the top, aren’t concerned about who they are hurting or burning along the way, as long as they reach their goal. Again, a me-centered mentality. 

This year in particular there have been a ton of areas where kindness has been lacking. In the political arena, with the amount of racial hatred going around, with the ways people are speaking harshly to each other behind their computer screens and phone screens and even worse, spewing hatred straight to each others faces. This pandemic has stirred up a lot of fear and  a lot of anger and that has led to a lot of people doing whatever they want for themselves, instead of maybe considering others through this process. Where has all the kindness gooooonnnneee….that makes me think of that song, “Where have all the cowboys gooooonnnneee?” Where was I? Oh yes, where has all the kindness gone? 

I think when we get tired, we have less bandwidth and our kindness is one of the first things to go. But this friends, this is NOT what kindness looks like. The definition literally covers everything from warmth and gentleness, to sympathy and tolerance, understanding and patience, to generosity and bounteousness. When is the last time you felt this all-encompassing kindness in, through, or from another person. Hopefully more frequently than I imagine. Or a better question is when is the last time you displayed this kind of kindness to someone in your life, or better yet, a stranger? 

It’s easy for us to point the finger at someone else and say, “If only they would ________________________. But it starts with ourselves. We aren’t in control of anyone else and their attitudes and behaviors, but we are in control of our own. And when we start with us, there’s a ripple affect that pours over to the people around us, and so forth.

When there is a lack of kindness, it affects not only every person we come in contact with but also every other area of our lives. Have you ever noticed that? It affects our moods, our work ethic and our ability to get things done, our self-esteem and confidence, our ability to be a support to each other and extend grace to one another, our ability to view the world from an optimistic point of view instead of a pessimistic one, and the list is truly endless. It affects our whole personhood and that is a dangerous thing to mess with. 

I think we need to ask ourselves, what does the world look like when kindness prevails and isn’t that the world we want to be living in? When kindness prevails, people are changed. Lives are changed. Compassion and love thrive. A sense of generosity and helpfulness reign. Gratitude is a given. And when kindness prevails, that’s when we are truly living and breathing in what the Lord created and intended community to look like. What He intended brotherly agape love to look like.

We’ve got to get away from where we currently are and move back into what we were all taught as children. To be kind, to play well with others, to share, the golden rule of treating others the way you’d like to be treated. Because as silly as it is, we knew these things as children and yet we’ve grown up and lost them. We’ve forgotten them. We think we’ve outgrown them or there isn’t space for that anymore, but if we can strip all of that ugliness away and get back to the basics, that’s where peace comes in, that’s where we’re going to thrive and grow as a society instead of using and abusing each other.

Take me back to the good old days, because that’s what kindness looks like and man, do I miss it something awful.

From the Prison to the Palace.

It’s dark and dank. You look down at your dirty, ragged clothes and suddenly you get a whiff of something awful. The stench is unbearable. You suddenly realize…it’s you. Your stomach churns and jumps. As you shift your gaze, you reach your face upwards, yearning to reach the small slit of a window that stretches high above you. Just one single solitary deep breath of fresh air; that’s all you want. But seeing how high it is, you realize, it’s impossible to reach. So you swallow and take a deep breath, you close your eyes and you allow yourself to get lost in a dream for a moment. To imagine you are far away from here. You drift off to a faraway place; a place that is anywhere but here in this deep and cavernous prison you find yourself in.

And as you open your eyes and look down at your hands, you suddenly realize they are adorned with the finest jewels and perfumed with the sweetest scents. Your clothes are white and airy, almost like sheer drapes hanging against your perfectly cleaned and oiled body. The scent of jasmine and orange citrus waft in through the windows as you walk the white marbled hallways. You take a deep breath in and the faint sound of birds chirping and water from a fountain give you a sense of peace. A cool breeze gently pushes your hair across your face. As you pass by a mirror, you catch a glimpse of yourself and you don’t even recognize the woman before you. Your dark hair braided and adorned with strings of gold and jewels. A gold crown furnished with jewels sits atop your perfectly coifed head and you feel the weight of it for the first time. It is heavy and you must have an authoritative posture to keep it perfectly perched in place. And you do. You have a posture that commands authority. It is confident. Assured. Head held high and proud.

Who is this girl and where did she come from? What is it that causes this kind of confidence? This kind of transformation? This way of seeing oneself? Is this girl really so different from the one in ragged clothes covered in filth who can’t breath from her own stench? No, she’s not so different. It’s the same girl inside. The girl in the prison wants this view of herself, but the mirrored image she sees before her of a royal woman keeps changing back to the girl in rags. She doesn’t want to be that girl anymore, now that she’s seen who she could be. She wants to be brought up from the prison to the palace. But how does one get there? How does one change their circumstances? Is it as simple as changing your mindset? Your perspective? Your view of yourself? Some would say it is…

If you’re a follower of Jesus, then you understand the idea of being brought from the prison to the palace. The idea of moving from a place of rags to a place of riches. This is how Jesus sees us. Not as ragged slaves, but as heirs to His Father’s kingdom. He looks past the dirt and the filth, the sin and the things hidden in the shadows and He sees the heart of who we can be in our truest and best form, the one He’s created us to be. Living and thriving. But we can only do that when we choose to partner with Him. But choose Him we must.

And when we don’t. We will continue to stay locked in that prison, staring at those concrete walls, waiting to be set free. Waiting to tap into the life He has for us. Waiting to receive the priestly position He has bestowed on each of us. Hoping that there is something greater beyond those walls. Hoping that we are made for more than rags and filth. Hoping, just hoping that life can look drastically different than the current state. But we forget. We forget who we are and more importantly, we forget WHOSE we are.

My friend, stop striving. Stop trying to do it all yourself. Stop allowing the world or other people to tell you who you are. To tell you where your identity is found. As much as I don’t like to admit it, I’ve done this for a very long time and let me tell you, it is exhausting. It is debilitating. It is a joy stealer, a dream crusher, and a hope robber. Instead of scrambling to do it all yourself, choose to place your confidence and your identity in the Lord. He is the sustainer. He is the healer. He is the fixer, He is the reason we hope, He is the place we find peace and rest, He is the joy-giver, and He is all the other things you can think of and even more things you can’t think of. He is ALL OF THAT. So if it’s not an issue with Him…then that must mean that it’s an issue with us. Right?

So how do we change our mindsets? How do we shift our perspectives? How do we view ourselves the way He views us? Well the truth is, we can’t change those things on our own. But He can help us. One thing is certain…it’s definitely not easy and it takes time and intention. It takes allowing the Lord to speak truth over you and your circumstances and it takes you actually believing and receiving those truths. It takes allowing others who love you and are led by the spirit to speak truth over you as well, and it requires a deep well of trust in the Lord. Trust in His goodness. Trust in His love for you. Trust in the plans He has for your perfectly crafted life.

And so if you’re struggling with this my friend, sit with yourself and honestly look at how you are doing in the trust department. Are you growing and thriving in your trust, or is it locked away in a deep cavernous place in your heart because you’ve been hurt before and that somehow feels safer? If you are struggling, let me tell you, it’s okay. I am too. But we have to be honest with where we are at, we have to run to the Lord, lay those trust struggles at His feet, and tell Him we’re tired. We’re broken. We need help. And we want to be taken from the prison to the palace. He is the only one who has the key to unlock the door and set you free. And He wants to. So how about you shake off the shackles and place your shaky hands into His trusting hands, and let Him lead you out of the prison and up into that palace where you can take a seat in the royal position that’s waiting for you. Because it’s yours for the taking. 

You Are Not Cursed.

So a little over a year and a half ago I was off an adventure…

Have you ever heard of WWOOFING? Don’t worry, at the time I hadn’t either. But years ago, when I first heard about WWOOFING (worldwide opportunities in organic farming) I thought, “Oh, man would I love to do that one day.” And I plotted and planned in my heart that one day, by George, I would.

Fast forward three years later, I was divorced with no strings attached and nothing holding me back from going on this WWOOFING adventure. So about a year and a half ago, I registered with the WWOOFING Ireland website, created a profile and began reaching out to hosts. Pretty quickly, I solidified staying at a few farms. So, I found a decent option on Scandinavian Airlines (never again!), bought a one-way ticket to Ireland, and was going to give my job two weeks notice and be on my way to “The Kingdom of Heaven” (as Ireland is called) for the next three months.

Immediately after booking my ticket, I cried.

I think from everything, really. From saying I wanted to do it for so long, and finally pulling the trigger. From the fear and trepidation of what I had just decided to do. From the unknown. From the things I would miss and be leaving behind. From the divorce. From the idea of being alone in a place I didn’t know without a familiar soul in sight. Would I like it? Would I hate it? It was as if every single thing that could possibly stop me from going or make me question my choice, flooded my mind at that exact moment. And yet, after I calmed a bit and realized it was actually happening, I felt peace and excitement. I just had to push through that initial phase of complete anxiousness.

And don’t we all have to do that sometimes? Push through the fear and trepidation. The questioning and second-guessing in order to convince and remind ourselves of what we actually believe when we’re not flooded? Of what we actually want? This happened to me day one of my trip and taking time to reflect back on it has given me better perspective to speak on it with a clear mind. So here’s what happened:

I was full of excitement, full of possibility and joy. Totally calm and at peace about my trip, about the Lord and I setting off on this adventure together and excited to see everything He had in store. And I think Satan decided,

She seems a little too content. A little too calm and happy right now. A little too trusting and full of faith and hope. So I’m gonna do what I do best. I’m gonna get in there and beat her down and exhaust her, and mess everything up and make her question everything that has led up to this point. All her provision, all her joy and affirmation. All the Lord’s leading and promises. EVERYTHING. This is gonna be good, so come one come all – buy a ticket to THIS show, cause sh*t’s about to go down and you’re not going to want to miss it!

So my flight from Nashville to Dublin had a couple of layovers in-between, which was fine by me. It would allow me time to be off the plane for a moment, to stretch my legs and it was cheaper than the other tickets I had looked at. Bad idea. Terrible idea. I will never NOT do a direct flight again, unless it is the dead last option and there isn’t even a boat or a ferry within driving distance that could take me instead. I’m being a little dramatic, but I mean it, I NEVER want to do this again.

Long story long, I was flying into Newark, then onto Oslo Norway, then into Dublin. There were tornados and awful storms in Newark, so they weren’t letting anyone land, so our flight was redirected to Washington, Dulles. We landed and had a layover in Dulles that kept getting pushed. Five hours later, we were back on the same plane headed back to Newark. They had thankfully pushed my connecting flight as well, so fingers crossed I would still make it into Oslo that evening, just later than expected.

By the time we got into Newark, I had about thirty-five minutes before my flight to Oslo was going to take off. That flight was in a completely different terminal and there was NO WAY I was going to make it before they shut the doors, even if I ran. I was told to step in the hundred-person deep line to wait to be helped in rebooking my flight. “What!?! It’ll definitely be too late! Ugh.” I didn’t see many options, so I got into line and began scrolling through my phone looking for alternative flight options. “Maybe I could fly straight into Dublin from here…”

I found a couple of options that looked semi-promising and looked at the line ahead of me that was not budging. That’s when I saw a woman standing behind a desk at United Airlines. I took the chance and stepped out of line and bee-lined straight for her. “Hi, I’m sorry I have a flight that is supposed to take off in half an hour or less or honestly may have already, I’m not sure, but there was a five-hour delay, and I am supposed to have a connecting flight to Oslo, and eventually make it into Dublin by tomorrow morning…” I told her my sob story while she patiently listened. Then, “I’m not sure I can help you, but…” “Are there any flights heading to Ireland tonight? Any at all that I might have space that I would be able to get on?” She began looking and scrolling and moving at an incredible speed, sensing the urgency herself. She found me one and booked me on it, called a little cart to pick me up and drive me to the gate and waved goodbye, wishing me good luck. “I’m going to make it!” I thought. “And I won’t have to go to Oslo, just straight into Ireland. Never mind I am flying into Galway instead of Dublin – I can get a train ride back to Dublin, pick up my bag and then be on my merry way! Easy!”

I finally get to the gate and they tell me they can’t let me on the flight. “What!?!” Not only can do I “not have an official ticket” but they can’t get a hold of Scandinavian Airlines to release my ticket over to them. See, the first leg of my flight was a United flight, the second and third were controlled by Scandinavian. So even though the nice lady who helped me deal with the mishap from the first leg of my trip, they could not adjust the rest without permission from the airline that I was supposed to be flying on next. And the nail in the coffin? Scandinavian was closed until 9am the following morning and no one was answering the phone. I’m sure I looked like one of those cartoon characters where the steam was fuming out of my ears. I was livid and I watched them shut and close the partially empty flight that was headed for Galway. And then my anger shifted to defeat, and I just started crying. It was 1:00am in the morning and I had had the longest day known to man. They offered to put me up in a hotel and told me to call Scandinavian airlines to sort it out in the morning, but the next available flight to Dublin wasn’t until 6pm the following night. Defeated, I took my voucher and headed toward the shuttles that would take me to my hotel. The next part of this story is unbelievable to me. It was then. It still is now when I think about it.

So, I get on a shuttle that is taking me to this random hotel to stay for the night before trying to sort out my flight the next day. I wedge my way into the back of the shuttle next to a man and his wife as they shove as many people as they can into that tiny vehicle. We strike up a conversation about where they were headed and where I was headed, and where we were all from. And he says, “I’m from Northern California.” “Oh, I love it there. Which part?” “You know Northern California?” “I do. My ex-husband grew up there.” “Oh, I’m from the Moraga/Walnut Creek area.”

That’s weird.

“Oh weird. That’s where my ex-husband is from. He went to Miramonte High.” “Really? That’s so interesting. I’m working with a guy right now who went to Miramonte High. Graduated in 2002.”

Okay, also weird.

“That’s when my ex graduated. I wonder if they knew each other. What’s his name?” And before I knew it, he said, “Steve Smith.”

WHAT. THE. ______. That was my ex-husbands name. 

Sidenote: Now remember, it was 1:00am in the middle of Newark, New Jersey and here I am shoved into this tiny little shuttle on my way to Ireland to “run away” in a sense from my ex-husband and the very man I am sitting next to says his exact name and that he’s working with him, no less.

I CAN’T. I was speechless to say the least and literally felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. In this moment, I felt like this was the straw and my back was seconds away from snapping in two. It was all too much.

Sometimes, as I’ve said in the past, I have felt cursed in life. My family jokes about the “Butler curse” whenever we travel, because something always seems to go wrong. I feel like when I get hit with something tough in life, it’s not just one blow, but two jabs to the ribs and then an uppercut to the chin. I would half-joke about this to those closest to me; I’d say I was cursed, like “Yep, that’s just my luck in life.” This felt like one of those moments. But I had to remember back to this one day when I went to this prophetic ministry and this guy spoke this over me: (Keep in mind, he knew nothing about me or my thoughts on being cursed.)

“I see a daffodil in a glass case, like a protective case, like in Beauty and the Beast. But instead of the rose representing romance, this daffodil represents joy. And you may feel like joy is out of reach in your life, in this season, and you may feel, this is a weird thing to say, but you may feel cursed in a certain way, or you may feel – this is still going with that Beauty and the Beast theme – but you may feel there’s something in your life that has either happened or something that you feel like has been attached to you that makes you immune to joy. Or makes you incapable of experiencing the love of God or the joy of God. And I feel like God’s wanting to encourage you and say that that is absolutely NOT the case. That’s NOT the reality. That that is a facade that has been placed on you. That He wants to encourage you not to agree with it; that you have authority in that, and you get to choose to partner with the hope and the future and the identity that He has placed upon you. And in the same way, when perspective changed in Belle’s eyes and she saw the Beast for who he was, when you see Jesus for who He is, and see yourself for who you are, then the entire world around you changes. And joy won’t feel like it’s something that has to be protected at all costs anymore. You won’t think, “I have to protect what little joy I have”, instead, you will be overwhelmed because you will be surrounded by joy. It will be the world you live in and not the thing you try to protect at all costs. It’ll be your norm. And so, I think He just wants to encourage you, that you’re not cursed. You’re loved. You’re valued and there is great hope in your future.”

Mic drop. Whoa. My eyes were as big as saucers and soaked with tears. I couldn’t believe the words this man was speaking over me. All that to say, I know that I am NOT CURSED but some days I really do have to speak against that. When things start to go wrong for seemingly no reason at all, those feelings and beliefs start to creep back in. Those lies that try to drown me and make me believe that God doesn’t see me and that I am getting the short end of the stick.

You ever feel like this? If you do, I want to tell you I know what that feels like, friend. Truly I do. But I also want to remind you that you too, ARE NOT CURSED and I want to empower you to speak against it. And loudly. Because as followers of Jesus, as children of the Most High God, it is impossible for us to be cursed because God is over everything, he is bigger than any curse, and he protects his people. And besides, believing that kind of thing gives Satan and those lies and that darkness WAY TOO MUCH power. It leaves you with an already dejected mindset and a disposition that says you are lacking, you are less than, you are forgotten, and you can’t ever beat this thing that is pushing you down and holding you back. Satan loves that and he feeds off of it. So, whenever you are starting to feel this urge to believe that the bad things that are happening in your life are something you’ll never overcome or outrun, don’t believe that lie. Stand up. Remember your identity. Speak powerfully in the truth of the God you serve, and that will shrink those tainted beliefs into a minuscule little speck that can be snuffed out.

Long story short, I eventually got a flight to Dublin (albeit two days later) and although my bag was missing for a week before it was delivered to me (not the most convenient), I made it to the green isle. Of the three farms I worked at, two of them were unhealthy “abusive” situations and one was absolutely glorious. But through it all, I learned SO much (including how to stand up for myself and when to leave said unhealthy situations), I made incredible friends, I had meaningful and insightful encounters with strangers, I saw so much beauty, I grew a backbone, and three months later I was on my way home.

Difficult situations will happen in life. You will go through trials and challenges, but at the end of the day, your mindset and your perspective will determine the outcome of your experience. So how will you choose to see yourself? As cursed or consecrated? Might I suggest the latter. Trust me, it’ll save you a world of heartache. Oh and if you are interested in learning more about prophetic ministries, especially during this time, be sure to check out places like Grace Center Nashville and Bethel, who thrive in this spiritual gifting. It’s a powerful tool of the Holy Spirit and it will encourage your heart so much. 

 

From Co-dependent to Interdependent.

Yesterday, I was chatting with my boyfriend and we got into a discussion where he pointed out something in my behavior and then posed a question about what he observed. I took pause because, lo and behold, I was indeed doing the thing he said but I wasn’t really sure where it was coming from. Sure, it was something that I had noticed myself doing in the past, but I kinda let it fall by the wayside or buried it with other swirling thoughts and moved right on my merry little way. But when someone outside of you points something out, you have two choices. To ignore it, or to take a second glance at it. To put it under the microscope and really zone in to see what’s going on beneath the surface. And after he pointed this thing out about me, he then, ever so gently and kindly, so delicately said, “Stef, I don’t want to be the center of your world.”

“Huh? I’m- I’m sorry, what?”

“I’m not interested in being the most important thing for you. I am interested in having a proper place in your heart, but you have other things that are equally important in your life and for you to abandon those or leave those behind and make me the most important thing…well, I’m just not interested in that.” I just stared at him, dumbfounded by how healthy, self-aware, and thoughtfully intentional he is. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Wait a second? Let me get this straight. You’re telling me you DON’T WANT or NEED to be the most important thing in my life. You’re actually asking for me to NOT make you that?” Silence. “Who are you and where did you come from?”

That’s a question I tend to ask him frequently because you see, for as long at I can remember, the primary relationships that have surrounded me from the time I was a small child up until presently, have typically (not always) been relationships that have be co-dependent or enmeshed. And I don’t actually think I can remember being in a romantic relationship that was not. Now these terms have been thrown around a lot more the past few years or so, but for those of you who aren’t aware of what co-dependence is or means, let me catch you up to speed.

A co-dependent person will heavily rely on others for their sense of self and well-being. There is no ability for them to distinguish where they end and where their partner begins. This enmeshing happens when one person feels a sense of responsibility to another person to meet most of their needs, be it emotional or physical, and for their partner to meet all of their needs in return, in order to feel okay about who they are. In essence, if one is not okay, then the other isn’t okay either.

I looked up some traits of what a co-dependent relationship include, and this is what I found:

  • A lack of healthy boundaries or none whatsoever
  • People-pleasing behaviors (uh huh…)
  • Reactionary responses
  • Unhealthy or ineffective communication
  • Manipulating behaviors
  • Difficulty with emotional intimacy
  • Controlling behaviors
  • The need to blame each other/someone (yikes!)
  • Low self-esteem for one or both partners (gulp)
  • No personal interests or goals outside of the relationship (insert eye roll here!)

Codependent relationships aren’t healthy and they don’t allow partners the room they need to be themselves, to grow and to be autonomous. These unhealthy relationships involve one partner, or both, relying heavily on the other and the relationship for their sense of self, feelings of worthiness and overall emotional well-being.

In my previous relationships, and primarily my previous marriage, this is something my partner not only was himself, but he also required this of me in order to make himself okay. And I bought into this kind of enmeshed relationship because the most present examples in my own life had been this, so it seemed completely normal and natural to me. Even romantic in a sense. Yikes!

But the truth is, being each other’s all or everything is NOT the answer. It does, however, get romanticized as being the ultimate, doesn’t it? That is what true love looks like – right!?! You see it in rom coms all the time. It’s the can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t live without each other, have to do everything together, every waking moment, googly-eyed kinda love that we are all striving for.

Or is it?

They don’t tell you in the fine print that that kind of love will leave you exhausted, dissatisfied, disappointed, highly pressurized, and that it will eventually fizzle out or implode. So back to my boyfriend saying he wasn’t interested in being the most important thing in my life. When he said that, something happened to me. Something huge actually. It was like a shift took place. It was like I had been waiting for and needed his “permission” to live my life, to be my best self, and to not sacrifice who I was in order to be with him and be the best for him. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Unhealthy. Enmeshed. Co-dependent. Simple. Obvious. And yet it was also a very profound moment for me. One I’ll continue to thank him for, because I’m not sure he has realized the impact his words had on my heart and my perspective.

So if not co-dependent, then what should a healthy relationship look like? I’d like to introduce something called interdependence. Interdependence is where both partners recognize and value the importance of the emotional bond they share with one another, while maintaining a solid sense of self within the relationship dynamic.

What are some traits of what an interdependent relationship include?

  • Healthy intentional boundaries
  • Active listening
  • Time for one’s own personal interests
  • Clear communication
  • Taking personal responsibility for one’s behaviors and responses
  • Creating a safe place for each other to be vulnerable
  • Engaging and responding to each other
  • Healthy self-esteem
  • Being open and approachable with each other

Only when partners feel loved and cherished, valued and safe, can the relationship create an atmosphere where the couple can be interdependent. They know that they are not alone in the relationship, and that they can turn toward each other safely in times of need and feel secure that their partner will be present with and for them.

This. This is what he was talking about when he said he didn’t want to be the center of my world. This. This is what I want but I didn’t know how to ask for and I certainly hadn’t been offered an olive branch like this in my relationships before. So how do you get that? How do you do that?

First off, the key to building an interdependent relationship is to know who you yourself. You have to know who you are as an individual and know what it is you are looking for in life and in a partnership. Plenty of people get into relationships out of convenience, comfort, fear, or to simply avoid being alone. Without any personal reflection or understanding of who they are, what they value, and their personal goals for the relationship, that relationship will falter. But when you know who you are, when you are solid in your own identity, your wants and desires, your needs and goals and you’re able to communicate that to a partner, that is how you will find yourself in a healthy and thriving interdependent relationship.

My dad sent me something today that also ties into this idea. Check this out:

“AARON BECK, NOTED MARRIAGE AUTHORITY SAYS THAT ONE OF THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE BELIEFS FOR A RELATIONSHIP IS ‘IF WE NEED TO WORK AT IT, THERE’S SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP.'” – CAROL DWECK IN “MINDSET”

When we are rejected by people that we like, it can hurt. But whether we are in a Fixed or Growth mindset can make the difference in how we respond to it. If you have a Fixed mindset the rejection is personal and as Dweck says, it’s as though “a verdict had been handed down and branded on their foreheads: UNLOVABLE! When you have a Growth mindset, your thoughts can still be ones of deep hurt, but you focus on moving on and learning from it so that future relationships will be better off for it. Dweck cites two problems in relationships when it comes to having a Fixed mindset:
 
1. If you have to work at it, it wasn’t meant to be
Fixed mindset people believe that a relationship is either meant to be or it’s not and if you have to work at it, well it clearly wasn’t meant to be. When you have a Growth mindset, you don’t expect everything in your relationship to be perfect. You embrace the fact that there will be some effort and work involved in working through the differences that will come up.
 
2. Problems indicate character flaws
Fixed mindset people don’t expect to see flaws in their partner and when they do see them they become dissatisfied with the whole relationship. When you have a Growth mindset you realize that your partner has flaws (just as you do!) and still believe you can have a great relationship.

This is such good insight. It’s SO helpful. When tough things come up, I always ran to this unhealthy and unhelpful thought: it’s not going to work out, it’s my fault, I must be unlovable, I must not be a good thing for this person, it’ll never change, this is just how it is, blah blah blah…but the truth is, we are all imperfect. We are all flawed. We all mess up. We all hurt people we love. And we are all choosing to work on things or avoid working on things. We are all choosing to grow or we are choosing to stay stagnant. We are all choosing to point the finger at someone else or to swallow our pride and apologize and try try again. The point is, you get to choose. Just because something has always been a certain way, doesn’t mean it has to remain that way. And just because you grew up thinking something was normal, doesn’t mean you have to keep buying into unhealthy ways of functioning. So today you have a choice, friends. Today I have a choice. To be co-dependent or interdependent. To have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. To stay the same or to get better. Today I choose the latter in all of these equations and I’m so thankful to have a loving and supportive partner who sees me for me and chooses to walk alongside me as I move and grow and change into something better. And not just for him. But for myself.

Rejection is Protection AND Redirection.

My mom says this all the time. REJECTION IS PROTECTION.

When she would tell me that after being rejected again and again after auditions, I would just toss it away like the sides I had just used to put myself on tape. “Yeah. Uh huh. Great!” But as she’s continued to say it year after year, almost like a mantra, I have found myself repeating it to myself again and again. And all the repeating has led to me actually believing the words that were coming out of my mouth.

I want to show you why I believe this to be true. An example through a story. Indulge me, if you will.

In early December 2018, I was finishing up my last week at the burger restaurant I had been at for the past six months. A couple weeks later, I would be skipping the celebration of my ten year wedding anniversary, in lieu of the fact that I was going to court to get a divorce. It was a helluva a week, I can assure you. So here I would be, newly divorced and moving back to my parents house in Arizona to figure out what was next. But prior to all of that going down, I was working my last few shifts at the restaurant and then heading to New York for my friend Stefany’s wedding. It was going to be a family affair. Christmas in New York. We were going to be there for five whole days and then I was going to stay on a few extra days by myself to hang with my friend Laura and enjoy all that New York has to offer.

Sidenote: I LOVE New York. The culture. The art. The bustling city. Pounding the pavement. The subway. The Museums and art galleries. The plays and delicious restaurants tucked into every nook and cranny. The fact that you can get to upstate New York, the beach, or the Mountains in just a short train ride or drive. The fact that everyone is too busy doing their own thing to worry about what anyone else is doing. So unlike LA. You can become anonymous in New York. I love that aspect of the city. Always have. Always will. The cost of living, not so much.

I arrived in New York early in the morning and hopped a Lyft into Manhattan with another passenger; a lawyer from Chicago who was there on business. We exchanged small talk. He was nice enough and gave me his card before he left, letting me know I should reach out if I ever needed a lawyer. Thanks man. Sadly, thanks to my upcoming divorce, I’ve got one already. So I probably won’t. But thanks anyway.

I was dropped at my hotel, where I left my bags with the concierge until I could check in later that afternoon. I scooted out of the hotel and walked a couple of blocks to a bank. I was going to need to open a new account. A single account. That way I would have a new debit card waiting for me when I got to Arizona. I love efficiency! Next, I hit the pavement and headed towards Times Square (ugh!). Lemme just say. I HATE Times Square. I hate how crowded it is. The lights. The loud noise. The amount of tourists. But our family friends were staying in the thick of it and they wanted to meet up for lunch. I couldn’t wait to see them, so I met them there. We found this hole-in-the wall Thai place and cozied up with some curry and coconut soup; the perfect meal on a chilly Thursday in December.

Later that day, the rest of my family arrived into town and we all wandered down town to this cute little cozy Irish pub for dinner. The following night we would all be heading to an Italian pizza spot for the rehearsal dinner to celebrate the bride and groom, who are VERY ITALIAN.

This story could get rather long-winded, so I’ll cut to the chase. While at the rehearsal dinner, my friend said, “Oh, you should meet so and so – he’s also an actor and is actually thinking about moving to LA and would probably love to pick your brain about it. Would you mind if I introduce you two?” “Not at all!” What I was thinking was, “Sure, why not, thank God for rescuing me from my own thoughts…anything to get my mind off of being at a wedding, where everything is about love and commitment and how great marriage is and blah blah blah….” Okay, it’s not really blah blah blah, but when you’re sad and going through a divorce the same week as your supposed ten year anniversary, that’s how it feels. And if I got to distract myself by talking about acting and work, then so be it!

So she waves this guy over who…speaking of distracting…was tall, dark and yes handsome, with a great smile, and as I’d learn over the course of our friendly chatting that night, kind, funny, thoughtful, a great listener, and had incredible manners. We spent most of the night just chatting away about acting and film and relationships and the like. He too, was in a tough situation where he had been engaged for years but had just broken it off and was having a hard time because they were still living together because of the cost of rent in NY being so high.

After dinner and speeches, he had to head out early to go to work but I remember him saying, “Gosh, I wish I didn’t have to go. I’m really enjoying talking to you.” He paused for a long moment and smiled. “I’ll look forward to seeing you at the wedding tomorrow night.” My heart fluttered. Like butterfly fluttering all beneath my chest and I remember feeling like my cheeks were flushed and everyone in the place could tell. Truth be told, only my family members and a couple of close friends noticed and kept making embarrassing comments, which I simply shrugged off. We were just talking after all. And please I’m still married and am not looking for anything, thank you DivorceCare for your wisdom! But I remember thinking, “Gosh, I haven’t felt anything like this in a REALLY long time.” And that of course, made me feel sad again. That here I had been married, just shy of ten years, and my heart hadn’t fluttered since I don’t know when.

So fast forward to the wedding. We had great conversation all night and he asked me if I would want to go see a play with him after my family headed out of town, since I was staying on a few extra days? There it was again. The heart flutter. I just smiled and said that sounded like a lot of fun. So the ceremony and the reception were beautiful, and following that, there was going to be an after party at this club where both the bride and groom, and tall handsome man worked. My family was going to skip out on this but he had asked if I’d come, “Please. It’s going to be fun. Plus we’ll get more time to talk.” Three Manhattans in, I decided that sounded like a great idea! Insert eye roll here. I was clearly drinking away my sorrows.

So I headed over to the club with some of our family friends and turned around to head back to the hotel just as quickly as I got there because I had gotten sick in the club bathroom. Classy, Stef. Real classy. I think the swirling lights, pounding music and confetti falling from the ceiling wasn’t helping the cocktails stay put. Any idea of hanging with tall handsome man had gone out the window as I was hanging on for dear life. 

The next day we texted back and forth. I was trying to clear up what he thought was me being upset with him. He thought that’s why I left, even though he hadn’t even gotten there at that point.

Sidenote: Counseling teaches you a lot of things and at this point when he was texting me and apologizing and telling me he would never ask me to show up and then not come. That he’d never disrespect me like that. And although I appreciated those things deeply and they felt thoughtful, they also felt like red flags to me. Like, “We just met each other and chatted for two nights, bro. You don’t owe me anything and you aren’t obligated to me in any way.”

We missed each other entirely and he apologized saying he was really looking forward to spending more time with me later in the week. On another note, someone being vocal about how they felt about me was also something that had been lacking and the compliments were nice to hear. We made plans to hang later in the week and kept in touch through text over the next few days.

My family had left to head home and I scooted uptown to stay with my friend Laura and hang out. It was awesome spending time with her over the next couple of days and I was going to be leaving the next day. Tall handsome man and I made plans to hang out in the morning before my flight later that afternoon and because his work schedule hadn’t allowed for us to see a show, we decided we’d walk around a beautiful cathedral, then grab coffees real quick and just chat. Sounded so fun!

That night, although there was excitement and anticipation about hanging out with tall handsome man, there was also anxiety and fear. I fell asleep praying about it, asking the Lord to calm my nerves, that I would see this an an opportunity to simply hang out with a new friend I had just met, that the Lord would protect me and that I would choose to remain faithful and honorable to my marriage, be it emotionally or otherwise, to the very end. Which would be in less than five days. Great timing, huh?

I remember thinking and asking myself what I would do if he tried to kiss me? I could tell he wanted to and I decided that was never going to happen. Not on my watch, even if I felt attracted to him and we both wanted to. This wasn’t the time in life. For me or him. He had enough going on with his ex-fiancé. I was married through and through and I fell asleep with all of these thoughts and woke up to a text from tall handsome man at 4:22am that said,

“I’m sorry Stefanie but I was up until 3am having a heart breaking conversation with my ex and I’m really hurting/have an emotional hang over. I can’t meet up today. I’m sure if anyone can understand it’s you. It has nothing to do with you. You are a beautiful, bright, funny woman and I wanted nothing more than to spend time with you but I’m really broken right now.”

I sat there with a tiny sting of disappointment. I felt some sadness. Rejection. And yet, sweet relief! Instant peace. And total understanding. I felt like in this moment, the Lord knew what I needed and what was best for me (and tall handsome man). The thing I had fallen asleep praying for. What my heart was lacking and so desperately thirsty for. And I believe in that moment, it was SO OBVIOUS to me that the Lord was protecting me. From myself. From being in a situation that could get dicey. From another whirlwind of unneeded emotions.

So I got up and still went to that Cathedral and I enjoyed my last day in New York. And that space to be alone, to buy leather journals out of these cute little Christmas street stalls, to have a chai latte and a cupcake from Magnolia bakery, was just what my heart needed. Rejection is protection if we can see it that way. But that’s not all it is.

I follow a guy named Jay Shetty on Instagram – he’s inspiring and usually has something wise to share. He makes me think. Reassess. And recently he touched on the topic of rejection and I love what he said.

“Rejection is Redirection.”

Ooo, that’s good. I had always heard rejection is protection, but this new idea that rejection is not just protection but also redirection – I like that A LOT. The Lord will take us and He will protect us from what IS NOT best for us and redirect us to what IS best for us. He knows us. He sees everything. The present, the past, and what He has for us down the road in the future that could be sidetracked by what seems or feels right in the moment.

What I didn’t need was a new friend. What I didn’t need was a distraction. Or a temptation. Or nice words and comfort from tall handsome man, as nice as it was. What I didn’t need was anxiety or fear or complications or emotions being pulled in a million different directions. What I DID need was peace. What I needed was rest. Quiet. A calm in my spirit. His truth. His word. His goodness. His comfort. His peace. What I simply needed was Him. Just Him.

And so I responded to tall handsome man with,

I totally understand. I’m sorry to hear that you guys had a tough night. Praying for you both and hoping that you’re able to heal together if possible and if not, move in the right direction for both of you. I’ll continue to pray for you guys – great meeting you and best of luck in Michigan! You’re gonna kill it. Take your hurt to the Lord – tell Him. He’s the only one that can really give us all we need! 

And with that, I got on a plane and flew home to Nashville. Rejection, yet peace because I knew it was protection. The next day was my ten year anniversary which somberly came and went. Rejection again, yet peace and protection. Four days later, my parents, my sister and my two childhood friends sat with me in court as I went through my divorce. Rejection reminder again, yet peace and comfort and protection from the Lord and my heart people. A week before Christmas, I packed up all of my life and a few days later was on a plane to Arizona. Redirection.

And man am I thankful for redirection because it has led me to where I am today. God is always on the move. He always has plans and those plans will always succeed. He’s always protecting His children and He’s always redirecting us to the better. And although tall handsome man seemed great at the time, he’s got nothing on what God had in store for me today. What He was protecting me for and what He was redirecting me to. So trust when rejection happens. Trust you are being protected and redirected to something so much greater than the seemingly great that’s standing right in front of you. Even if he is tall, dark, and handsome.

Let’s Talk About Death.

Recently, someone I knew and cared about left this world. Her name was Regena and she was my sister’s boyfriend’s mom. And she wasn’t just my sister’s boyfriend’s mom. She was SUCH a light in and to this world. I’ve always described Regena as someone who was meek, faithful, strong, soft and gentle, yet a spark plug. Whenever I left my time with her, I felt my spirit had been ignited and encouraged in such a profound way. I only got the pleasure to experience her a handful of times, but man did she leave an impact on my heart. And I know that wasn’t only my experience with her, but the experience of many others who had the privilege of knowing Regena.

When someone dies, it leaves a void. Regena has left a void. She had been battling breast cancer for the second time and was a literal warrior. I have A LOT of warrior women in my life who currently have cancer. Regena did. One of my dearest friends Rachel does. My childhood nanny and second mom Mary does. Another friend of my sisters. All of which myself and my family pray for on the daily. And that’s just the list of people currently battling. Don’t even get me started on the people in my past who have battled with this a**hole of a disease.

I’ve been surrounded by cancer my whole life. My grandma died from cancer, my cousin had leukemia, my dad’s had it twice (and has thankfully beaten it), my uncle had skin cancer, multiple family friends, my grandfather lost his battle with brain cancer years ago. And the list goes on and on. I’ve also been surrounded by death my whole life. Some of those I’ve mentioned above and then some were friends who passed away far too early in high school to suicide, in college to car accidents, addiction and one friend whose body was mysteriously found in the LA river early one morning, without any answers as to what happened to him. More death followed into my late twenties with friends losing countless babies before their lives even started and others who have unexpectedly lost spouses in the blink of an eye. It’s been heartbreaking to say the least.

Not only did Regena pass away recently, but so did my uncle John who had had advanced dementia for the past seven years. He contracted COVID and died within three days. Just like that. Gone. Being surrounded by all of this sickness and death lately has had me thinking a lot about my own perspective on death and how it’s shifted and changed over the years. Death is inevitable. If you are a living creature, we all will experience it at some point; some sooner than others. The way I used to feel about death was mostly sad. Was it the death itself that felt sad, or the great void it left, or the empathy felt for those left behind? I think it was a combination of all of these things at one point, and still is to a degree. So there was always this sadness that accompanied the thought of death along with the finality that death itself brings. 

But the older I’ve gotten, the more loss I’ve experienced, and the more I’ve come to have a greater understanding of the Lord’s goodness, the more I feel at peace with death and that it’s actually not as final as I once thought. It really is more of a stepping stone or a gateway into the life we’ve all actually been waiting for. This life here…it’s just momentary. A doorway. A “dash” someone once called it growing up. Or as I like to think of it, the opening act to the final show. Now some of you may be thinking, “Hold up. Come again?? Oh no, she’s lost her mind and has really gone off the deep end with this one.” But hear me out…If you are a Christian and you believe there is life after this one, and that this is our momentary home where we are just passing through, then perhaps this makes sense to you. But for those of your who have never thought about this, then the concept might seem silly or even down-right crazy to you. “What do you mean this is just the opening act? This is all we’ve got friend! Live it up! We have no idea what is next.” 

Do you think about death? How often? What do you think of death? How does it make you feel? Scared? Curious as to what’s after this? If there is anything after this. These are questions we have all grappled with and have been searching for the answers to. Some of us may have found them and some of us will continue searching until our last breath. But if you aren’t sure and you feel scared about death or what comes afterwards, might I encourage you to seek and study and find answers so that when your time comes, or your loved ones time comes, you might have peace rather than fear.

I feel at peace about death. For myself. For others. Does that mean I like it? No, of course not. But I do feel at peace with it. What I’ve come to realize is that the Lord, in all His goodness, knows just what is best for us and exactly when it’s best for us. We prayed and believed that the Lord would heal Regena from her cancer, be it on this side of eternity or the other. And as much as we would’ve liked her to stay here with us longer, the Lord chose to heal Regena in His way, which was to take her home. No more pain. No more suffering. No more Dr.’s appointments and medications and needing to sleep from the exhaustion her body was feeling. For my uncle John, no more “living” in the mindless state he was living in. No more pain and no more fear for the rest of us about when he was going to go and worse, how he was going to go. The Lord knew. He knew he would die peacefully in his sleep when he did and I’m so grateful it was that, rather than the alternative most dementia patients face. The Lord’s grace really is sufficient and He, being the sweet Papa that He is, decided to give my uncle John what he needed. And He gave Regena what she needed, and that was rest and the ability to finally be in His presence. How kind and loving He truly is. 

I’m jealous of Regena, in a way. Obviously I love my life and the people in my life and I’m glad for each day that the Lord allows me to wake up and live. But the idea that all of the hurt and pain, all the exhaustion and confusion, all of the worries and sadness and grief we feel here, that all of that will be wiped away and forgotten when we are rendered utterly awestruck in the presence of the Lord…that truly is the heaven we all have to look forward to. And I am looking forward to my day with joyful anticipation.

“For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it.  But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)” – Romans 8:22-25 NLT

And so although death can still have momentary moments of sadness that come with it, when death comes and someone I love goes to be with the Lord, there is also great rejoicing, because I know where that loved one is and I know I’ll see them again one day. And so as I lay my head down on the pillow tonight, praying comfort for those closest to Regena, I can sleep soundly because as the Lord says in Psalm 30:5, weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

“For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” – Romans 14:8 ESV

Keep Moving Forward.

It’s been a minute since I have written anything on here. Five months to be exact. It’s been a difficult past year, to say the least, and staying motivated has been challenging. Staying creative has been challenging. Staying true to my usual routine has been challenging. Anything which would normally be a cake walk has been challenging.

So I made a decision. This is the year where I have decided that instead of allowing any challenges to stop me, I will try my darnedest to keep moving forward, even when the end is not clear and even when my long lost friend – motivation – has not shown up at my front door. 

So, with that being said, I have challenged myself to write every day, in whatever form, for at least one hundred days straight. I already missed day three (insert eye roll here), but the first two days were great!! Ughhh. Why is it SO hard?? This is exactly why I don’t make New Years resolutions. Because I can’t keep most of them and then when I don’t, I’m angry or disappointed with myself and that, my friends, is no way to start a new year, amiright?

Moving forward can be SO HARD. Yes, it’s easier to sit on the couch and watch tv and not go for that run. Yes, it’s easier to keep eating the same crap you know isn’t good for you instead of fueling your body with the best things for it. Yes, it’s easier to keep reliving that pain from the past than it is to do the hard work it takes to heal from it and move forward into your future. 

Sitting still or staying stuck can sometimes feel like the easy way out. Trust me, I get it. But all you’re really doing is making things harder for yourself in the long run. Sometimes when the mountain before you looks so big, it is WAY easier to turn back and head in the other direction. But friend…that will never get you to where you want to be; which is on the other side of that mountain. And there’s only one way to get there! Up and over.

So stand up. Start moving forward. One step at a time. I promise you, if you’ll keep taking little steps daily, eventually you’ll turn around and realize how far you’ve made it. And the mountain that was once before you will seem like the tiniest little hill, with only a short jog to get to your final destination. 

So keep going.

Keep moving.

Don’t stop.

Press onwards.

Your mountain is waiting for you and you’ve already taken the hardest step in your journey, and that’s the first one.

When You Can’t See, Listen.

I’ve been thinking about caves a lot recently. Caves and what they have to do with SEEING and LISTENING. What they have to do with FEAR and TRUST. Anyone know what I’m talking about? Especially in the trying times we find ourselves in at the moment. COVID is no joke and being locked away from your friends, your work and your semblance of a normal life has begun to take a toll. Not just on myself, I’m guessing, but on everyone. While locked away, FEAR has set in and planted its roots. Fear of the unknown asks questions like:

How long is this going to last?

Is there an end in sight?

What if I run out of money?

What if I can’t get a job?

What if I lose my house?

What if I have to move?

What if I get COVID or my family members do?

What if  _____________ (fill in the blank)?

Not only has fear set in, but TRUST seems to be wavering. Trust that anyone actually knows what’s going on. Trust that everything is going to work out in the end. Trust that God’s hand is over everything and that He’s writing the story, whether we see the roadmap or not. Trust that we are going to wind up right where we’re meant to be. Trust that even though we have been blindfolded and led down what seems like the wrong path, what if this seemingly “wrong path” is actually leading us to deeper truth and more clarity about our path? That having been led into the cave, we now find ourselves surrounded on all sides with nothing but sheer walls of granite and no way out, and that that’s EXACTLY where we’re meant to me.

You may feel like you’re holed up in your own cave at the moment. Stuck at home. Unable to connect with others. Watching Netflix, AGAIN. Eating ANOTHER meal alone. Having the occasional FaceTime or Zoom chat when you’re feeling up for it. Maybe having ANOTHER glass of wine in the bathtub while wearing a face mask (not COVID style, but beauty style) and carrying on full conversations with yourself.

No?? Just me?? Crickets….anywho.

Maybe your cave is more of an internal emotional one. Perhaps you’re shutting down. You’re sad and depressed and everything feels dark and hopeless. Maybe you can’t see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and maybe you feel numb after six months of this isolating pandemic. Sometimes the cave, be it your environment around you or the one inside of you, can feel like it is closing in on you and it is going to swallow you whole. But we must remember that even caves have a purpose.

Doing a little research on caves, this is what I found:

A cave or cavern is a natural void in the ground, specifically a space large enough for a human to enter. Caves often form by the weathering of rock and often extend deep underground.

Interesting that in that description it includes it as a space specifically large enough for a human to enter. And historically, humans HAVE been entering caves since the beginning time. Some for the purpose of shelter or protection from weather. Others for the purpose of hiding from danger or as a place of concealment. Some for the purpose of meeting God or communing with Him in prayer. Some as dwelling places and others still as burial places. Jesus was born in a cave and he was laid to rest in a cave. We see this over and over again in scripture. I’ll put some examples below:

1 Kings 19:9
“Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'”

Judges 6:2
“The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.”

1 Samuel 22:1-2
“So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam…”

1 Samuel 24:2-22
“Then Saul took three thousand chosen men from all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds on the way, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the inner recesses of the cave. The men of David said to him, ‘Behold, this is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold; I am about to give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.” Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul’s robe secretly.”

1 Kings 18:4
“For when Jezebel destroyed the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave, and provided them with bread and water.)”

Psalm 57:1
(A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.)
“Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.”

Psalm 142:1
(Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.)
“I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord;
I make supplication with my voice to the Lord.”

Isaiah 2:19-21
“Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
Which they made for themselves to worship,
In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
Before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.”

Revelation 6:15
“Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains…”

John 11:38
“So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.”

Genesis 25:9
“Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre…”

Genesis 49:29-32
“Then he charged them and said to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah.”

1 Samuel 22:1
“So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it, they went down there to him.”

Isaiah 2:19
“Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the Lord
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.”

And did you know that there are over at least 15 different types of caves in the world? I certainly didn’t. And not only different types, but they vary in size, in the length of time it takes for those caves to form and develop, in their geological processes, in their chemical processes, whether or not water erosion was used to form and shape them or tectonic forces or pressure or atmospheric influences, etc. Fascinating.

So why caves, you ask? Why talk about them? Why give them a second thought? Because I’ve started to assess that we are all in our own caves at this very moment and that God has us in them for a very specific reason. And that reason is

He wants to TALK to us and He wants to be HEARD by us. He wants us to work on our ability to LISTEN to Him and receive from Him when we’re in the dark.

Speaking of hearing, have you ever stood in a cave and listened to the acoustics? The echoes. How you have a heightened ability to hear things, even as simple as a drop of water falling from the ceiling? The deeper the cavern, the more the sound echoes.

So if we can’t see what’s ahead of us and we are shrouded by the blindfold of fear…and trusting in the darkness feels impossible…what if instead of wishing we were out of the cave, we fully embraced the one we’re standing in and allowed what we couldn’t see to cause us to use our other senses in a more meaningful and impactful way?

Think about it: as your sight lessons and becomes more unavailable your hearing increases and becomes drastically more heightened and aware.

Being in the cave isn’t about whether or not you have your ability to see anymore, it becomes about your hearing being strengthened and more solidified.

That’s where I believe we are. Where the Lord has led us.

So sitting in your cave at the moment, what are you hearing? Are you able to sit in the uncomfortable darkness before you and just be still and listen? Or is the stress of the unknown causing constant chatter? Are you able to listen to what God is whispering to you? Or are you doing all of the talking? Are you able to listen to where He’s leading you into deeper trust? Or are you making excuses for why He’s not trustworthy? What if you pushed all of that aside and just listened to how He wants to grow you during this unknown, scary, and oftentimes seemingly endless time? Listened to what He is speaking to your heart.

Man, I haven’t been doing a very good job of this at all. My lack of sight has caused me to wander around aimlessly, grasping at any loose rocks I can as a means of trying to pull and outsmart my way out of the cave. But instead of that, what if I allowed myself and my ego to unite with God in this damp and dark place. This place of solitude. Of little distraction. A place that has safely enclosed me in, and is keeping me out of harms way where I can just sit and be with the Father. This is true communion. And friends, let’s not forget that when our ears are attuned to Him, even when we are blindfolded, we can follow His voice and sit before Him in complete safety. For the sheep know the voice of their Good Shepherd. And because He is light, He illuminates the pathway in the midst of those dark caves. He is a clear way out in the midst of a place that feels void of any light. Once He takes the blindfold off, everything becomes SO CLEAR.

So however big or small your cave, whatever length of time you’ve found yourself stuck in it, know that you are being formed and developed within that cave. That the Lord is speaking to you, if only you will stop worrying about your sight being gone, and you would instead focus on listening intently. The Lord is providing for you within that cave. He is gently eroding the things in your life that are no longer serving you. He is shaping you by His gracious and life-giving force, by the delicate pressure of His mighty hand and the end result is going to be glorious, if you’ll simply trust Him and let Him.

He is asking you to meet Him in the cave with your blindfold on, fully ready for whatever He’s got in store. He wants to provide for you in that place. Will you set fear aside and trust that He is speaking to you even when you can’t see? Forget about seeing. The Shepherd is speaking. All you have to do is close your eyes, take a deep breath, and LISTEN.

 

 

 

 

A Non-Member of the Motherhood Club.

Today is a beautiful day for so many reasons. And today is also a challenging day for a couple of reasons.

You see, today is Mother’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate motherhood, this club of growing a baby and bringing that little life into the bright big world that many women are members of. Today is a day to celebrate the person who brought ME into this world, who raised me, who has nurtured me and selflessly stood by me, come what may and is a member of this club. My mom.

But Mother’s Day can be a challenging day for a lot of people.

  • For those who desperately want to be mothers but their bodies simply won’t let them.
  • For those who have lost their mothers and are constantly reminded of the gaping hole that is left in their still beating heart.
  • For those who have maybe lost their babies and feel the immense loss and grief every single day, let alone every year this specific day rolls around.
  • For those who thought they would one day have a family and yet they find that they are all alone.
  • For those who are single mothers and are exhausted trying to manage everything on their own and feel completely overwhelmed and then guilty for feeling that way.
  • For those who are estranged from their mothers and the word mother feels like a sting every time it’s heard because that word doesn’t evoke warmth and comfort and safety and joy and a bonded closeness. Instead, it evokes hurt and heartbreak, fear and mistrust. Sadness and anger.

Whatever your situation, I see you and it’s okay. It’s okay that today maybe isn’t a great, easy, light and celebratory day like it is for everyone else.

Today was harder for me than I anticipated and to be honest, I went throughout the entire day completely fine (celebrating my own mom and my sister-in-law!) until I climbed into my bed late at night to go to sleep and I had this immense feeling of grief and sadness wash over me.

You see, I am not a mother. Nor am I a member of the motherhood club.

Not in the typical sense, at least. Sure, when I was a little girl, I used to mother my baby dolls. In junior high, I would baby-sit others children, imagining they were my own, and I took my job of caring for them and protecting them very seriously. In high-school and college, people called me mom because I was always the one looking out for everyone else, making sure they were okay and were well taken care of. After college, I was mom to about seventy-five college kids and I loved nothing more than to spend Tuesday nights with them, worshipping, talking and listening, praying for them, hugging, comforting and encouraging them. I would have them over to my apartment and care for them as their “mom away from home” as often as I could. It felt like a privilege. Like a gift. And I cherished it. I’ve always mothered my siblings, regardless of whether they were older or younger. So in some sense, you see, I have been a mother my whole life long.

But I’m not a REAL mother. Nor do I think I ever will be. Not really.

And I find that I am sitting here crying after scrolling Instagram looking at all the photos of mother’s with their children and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe because I always thought I would be one. Maybe because at one point, years ago when I was married and looking towards our future, I would stand in front of the mirror and pop my belly out, imagining what it would feel like to be pregnant because I  wanted that so badly with my spouse. But something deep inside me never felt like it was the right timing or that I needed to trust that it would happen when it was meant to happen. I felt in my spirit: “Just wait, Stef.” In some ways, looking back at that now, I believe that was the Lord’s protection and provision over me. Because you see, I’m no longer married and the Lord knew that was going to be a part of my story and I think the loss I felt at the time by not having children of my own was actually his protection over the future pain He wanted to keep me from.

So I wanna take you back to a few years ago, when I was still married to my ex…he said something to me that felt so harsh and soul crushing at the time and I believe it directly affected my desire to have children. At least with him. I believe it closed me up to the idea of being a mother in a very real way because words matter. They carry weight. And they can either be used to uplift and elevate or to break down and crush. I believe in this instance, his were the latter.

I remember we were standing in our bedroom in our apartment in west Los Angeles when he told me that I was the most selfish and un-nurturing person he had ever met.

Sidenote: Now pause. First off, I just want to say, I don’t care WHO your spouse is, I don’t care how “godly they seem,” I don’t care if they are Billy Graham or the Pope himself, you take everything, and I mean EVERYTHING that is said to you and you prayerfully weigh it up against the Lord’s truth. You measure their words (whoever they are) on that and that alone and if it doesn’t line up with who or what the Lord says about you, then graciously but firmly push those unhealthy opinions to the side and speak His truth over their lies. Okay, getting off my soap-box and moving back to me being selfish and un-nurturing.

Wait, what? I’m selfish?” Okay, sure there are times when we can all be selfish. People are innately selfish. But am I really the MOST selfish person you’ve ever met? Like at my core? “And un-nurturing?” Nobody in my whole life had ever associated me with that word – in fact, quite the opposite. I’ve always been told I was the MOST nurturing person and people went-so-far-as-to call me mom because I was always the one taking care of others.

I was gob-smacked by his attack. I was beyond confused and utterly crushed. And unfortunately for me, I made the mistake of believing him; of taking him at his word. Because I trusted him. Because I didn’t want to be blind to the “dark spots” in my life. Because I valued and cared about my husband’s opinion and because I have always desired to be bettering myself in my life.

I said to him, “Do you actually think that about me? Because if you do….if you actually believe that, then there is no way I should be a parent and there is no way we should bring children into this world because children need selflessness, not selfishness. And children need to be nurtured and cared for and if you actually believe I am not only incapable of these things, but that I am the most selfish and most un-nurturing person you’ve ever met, then there’s no way I need to ever be a parent. Ever. ”

I think in that moment, something deep inside of me died. Thinking back on it now makes me angry. Why did I believe him? Why did I believe those critical and unthoughtful, harsh words he spoke over me. Why did I allow the projections of his experience with his own mother to fall as truth over me? Why did I allow his triggered and unhealthy opinion crush me and determine my thoughts, from then on, on my chances of ever being a parent? Why couldn’t I see what was happening? Why didn’t I stand up for myself and tell him he was wrong? I mean, I did, in not so many words, but when you’re married to a narcissist who desperately wants control, they will gaslight you and convince you that you aren’t seeing things clearly, and so you start to doubt your own mind and thoughts. Why did I? Why didn’t I? Why couldn’t I? Why? Why? Why? I could ask myself why until I’m blue in the face…

But the truth is…

It doesn’t matter why, because this is where I find myself now. And asking why won’t change the past. It can’t make things better. It won’t make me feel smarter – if anything it makes me feel more foolish or it just makes me angry or sad.

But something shifted in me that day and I decided and chose to believe that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a parent. Maybe I wasn’t capable. Maybe it wasn’t in the cards for me like I had originally thought. Maybe I needed to do a ton of work on myself to learn how to be less selfish and more nurturing before I could ever possibly think about revisiting that. So I think I just shelved the whole idea of it and pushed it to the back of my mind, thinking maybe one day something might change.

My ex and I were rarely connecting intimately because of some new excuse each week. One week it was our stressful marriage, the next because he was too tired. Or maybe I was too tired or he had hurt my feelings. Maybe one week it was a stressful work environment or I had been mean to him that week and after all, “sex starts in the kitchen,” he’d always say. Maybe it was because I had approached him the wrong way and it felt too pushy to him. But if I didn’t approach, we weren’t getting anywhere either. The following week it would be because of his lack of sexual drive – it just wasn’t something he was interested in (partially from some childhood trauma and the other part because of the emotional intimacy it required). I’m exhausted just re-visiting it while writing this blog post.

So all of this was going on inside the bedroom and yet, for the next seven years of our marriage, he’d always talk about “…one day when we have kids.” Until one day, the dam finally broke and I said, “Please stop saying when we have kids, or when we are parents, because that’s never going to happen!! In order to have children, you have to have sex with your wife and that’s not happening…so please stop saying that. It’s too hard for my heart to handle.” It was like a mind game and I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and I was done playing. I don’t really remember him bringing it up much afterwards and a few years later, days after our ten year anniversary, we were divorced and it was no longer a topic of conversation that we’d have to revisit.

During those last seven years, people would always ask us, “When are you going to have kids? Or why don’t you have any yet? Or how many kids do you want?” And “You know, you’re not getting any younger! I had ______ babies by the time I was your age.” And, “Don’t wait too much longer – you know, you aren’t in your twenties anymore.” Of course, they would say these things, not knowing any of our story that bubbled under the surface. And let me tell you…ugh, every time it came up, I would smile, trying my best to cover the hurt and pain and anger I felt, thinking, “If only they knew the truth,” and I would graciously respond with, “It’s just not the right time for us right now. But we’d like them eventually one day.”

From this response, and because of my job, I later realized that people naively drew lines and assumed it was because of my career. Because I was an actress and I was only focused on furthering my career at the moment and that I wasn’t currently interested in starting a family. “Ehnt!” Wrong answer. But you know what, my husband let me take the fall for that. I certainly  wasn’t going to throw him under the bus and air out our sex life for the world to see, so I became the scapegoat. It was me. It was my fault that we didn’t have a family. That we didn’t have kids. Because I wanted a career.

So here I am today. A spouse-less, child-less 36-year-old divorcee with no family to call her own and today I allowed myself to feel sad about it. It hurts. This is not what I thought it would look like. The chasm of loss is vast and great and some days I need to just mourn that. Other days, I’m so content and thankful for where I’m at. It really just depends. And you know what, thinking on it now, I’m really not sure if push came to shove, I would still want kids anymore. I’m tired. I love holding and caring for my friends babies and my nephews, but I love and value my sleep and my quiet and my sanity at this stage of my life. And if/when I find my person, I am going to want time with them and that time will feel incredibly precious to me and I’m not sure I’ll want to share that with a crying baby.

So one day if that Lord calls me to be a mother (be that biologically, through being a step-parent, through adoption, through mentorship or any other angle, shape or form motherhood takes on) then I’d be all in. But He’d have to give me vision for what that would look like and He’d still have to do some work in me to heal some deep wounded places that still feel raw. Especially on a day like mother’s day.

I want to leave you with this beautiful quote that my friend posted today:

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The women existed, but the mother, never. The mother is  something absolutely new.”                                                                                                                 – Osho

So anything you feel today, be it good, bad, sad, joyful, exhausted, overwhelmed, grateful, humbled, reflective, angry…whatever you feel, just let yourself sit with it and feel it FULLY. For just as the moment a child is born, a mother is born, so just as a new thought or idea is born, a new way of living and believing and moving forward is also born. You are something absolutely and entirely new. So be truthful and honest with yourself. Recognize where you are at. Recognize where you have come from. Recognize where you’d like to go in your future and what you would like your own journey with the word mother and motherhood to look like for you, and then move in the direction to make that vision a reality. Whether that means you’re a member of the motherhood club or not.