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.

Judgement Prevents Authentic Connection.

There is a common theme flowing around me. A character flaw I have recognized in many of the relationships I see. Some of my closest, actually. But the only reason I have been able to recognize this flaw in the relationships around me is because I recognized it in myself first. Ugh. I hate to admit it, but it’s true and I’m all about truth here, so we’ll just continue laying it out.

This character flaw I am talking about is the hurtful, soul-crushing, flesh-tearing flaw of judgement. Ding ding ding.

J U D G E M E N T

The word itself makes me cringe. And with it comes a bevy of negative connotations.

If you look up the word judgement, it means rushing to form a negative opinion without reason. (Gut punch.) The adjective judgmental describes someone who forms lots of opinions — usually harsh or critical ones — about lots of people. (Double gut punch.)

A few years ago, my sister brought to my attention that I was indeed judgmental,  and in NOT the most sensitive way, I’ll add. We were in the middle of a heated fight when she said, “You are highly judgmental of people. And you’re highly judgmental of me. I can feel it ALL THE TIME.” I scoffed. “What!?! Who?? Me!!??!! I am not!!!” I was fuming. Enraged. I immediately outwardly rejected the thought, but inwardly I tried to run to a corner and hide.

“Oh no. She sees it too!,” I thought to myself.

You see, deep down, I knew that character flaw was there. It was something I felt in me too. An icky part I hated about myself. Something that had ballooned up over the years that I was trying desperately to hide or ignore. Sure, I knew that I was judgmental. Isn’t everyone to a certain extent? “Nice, Stef. That’s makes it okay.” (Insert eye roll here.) But her saying it was a punch to the gut and more than that, it was a cut to my pride. I fumed because you know what? She was right. Because it was true. There was a part of me that was highly judgmental (it’s still a work in progress but I have come a looong way) and I couldn’t help but take a closer look at what she was saying to me.

So being the curious, nerdy, research heavy person I am, I decided to deep-dive into judgement. I came across an article that listed 9 traits of highly judgmental people and this is what they came up with:

  • You rate others based on their appearance *
  • You constantly gossip about others
  • You form opinions of others based off what people say
  • You assume people are lying without evidence
  • You rate people based off the people they hang out with *
  • You leave no room for mistakes or forgiveness *
  • You are disgusted with people who disagree with you
  • You maintain a negative outlook or mood
  • You always take other peoples inventory *

Well, ouch! Okay, so when I read this list back in the day, the ones that stood out the most to me as things I personally needed to work on were these:

  • Rating others based on their appearances – I hate to admit this, but I still do this at times. I have to consciously choose to care less about people’s appearances than what my natural inclination is, and instead to focus more on their internal traits.
  • Rating people based off of they people they hang out with – You ever hear that saying that you are made up of the five people you spend the most time with? Me too and it just makes sense, so I rest my case on this one. But it still sucks that I do this.
  • Leaving no room for mistakes or forgiveness – this is definitely one I have grown leaps and bounds with even though it used to be difficult to forgive someone when I had a high expectation of them and they let me down. That didn’t leave any room for mistakes or forgiveness. This is probably one of the biggest ones my sister was talking about.
  • Always taking other peoples inventory – And this one. I would think to myself, “If I was in their shoes I would never…” Fill in the blank. I expected them to do things exactly the way I would. To make the choices that I would’ve made. The “right choices.” That’s a horrible way to be. And let me tell you, people feel that. My sister felt that.

One of the biggest symptoms of being too judgmental is the idea of holding others up to your own moral standards (yikes!) and labeling them according to your own expectations. Again, I cringe at the amount of times I’ve done this. But when we do this, all we are doing is looking at the flaws in others, because maybe it makes it easier to avoid looking at and taking responsibility for our own actions. Or maybe there is something in us that is similar and that is triggering for us, so we reject it.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said before that the things we judge others for are really just a reflection of the things we don’t like about ourselves. But instead of tearing ourselves apart outwardly, we instead choose to focus our attention on someone else and point out their defects out of fear or jealousy or pride or immaturity. We then use that information we have extracted to form an opinion and therefore determine a person’s value based on that thing. Sometimes without even taking the time to really get to know who they are.

Double yikes. Totally guilty of that.

So back to judgement. What is judgement really?

I believe that judgement is really just FEAR masquerading itself as being better than someone or something else, in order to not show its true colors. Because if that fear was to really reveal itself, that would mean it was weak. And no one likes weak. You ever hear of anyone picking the weakest person for their team? Of course not. So we in turn, do this with “emotional weakness” as well. We leave them behind. Last one is a rotten egg. When we encounter this “fear” or we see it coming, judgement decides it’s going to put up this wall of division. This separator says, “I’m keeping you over there, at a safe distance so I can control you. And if I can control you, then you can’t hurt me. So you stay over there because we are different and you don’t get me and I don’t get you. And now we’re separate and whew, I’m safe.” When fear does this, all it is doing is protecting itself from having to get close to anyone, having to do the hard work of trying to understand anyone and in turn, preventing authentic connection in any and all relationships.

So that’s one side of the judgement coin and the other side simply comes from a lack of understanding. Man, this was so true for me when I could actually see it for what it was. When I judge a person, more times than not it’s simply because I don’t understand them. I don’t understand something about them. I don’t understand why they are doing what they are doing. Why they are making the choices they make.

I also don’t understand how I feel about them or the situation, which makes me feel out of control. So that in turn, triggers judgement in me as a means of once again, protecting myself. Because their way of doing something; where they come from; their way of thinking, is foreign to me and so out of my norm, that it throws me off and leaves me grappling with questions that I can’t answer.

And that makes me feel stupid.

It makes me feel inadequate. It makes me feel like I should know better, or if I was smarter then I would understand. But the problem is, I could understand or not and still NOT judge, if I simply paused. If I simply took the time. If I simply took a chance to hear them out. Hear their story. Get to know them and where they come from.

Because the truth is, when you know someone’s story, when you know their history,  99% of the time, it completely makes sense why they choose to do the things they do, why they behave the way they do and why they respond in certain ways. It really does all make sense.

Can you relate at all? Yea, me neither. (Insert another eye roll here…geez, lots of these today!)

Isn’t this crazy to think about!?! It felt like a really profound, mind-blowing thing when I took a deeper look and saw judgement for what it really is: FEAR. Plain and simple. Oh man, does that make so much sense on so many levels.

No wonder I judged that girl who made me feel insecure. No wonder I judged the experience and didn’t even give it a go, on the off-chance I failed and looked stupid. No wonder I found an excuse to not go on that date in case they rejected me or it became another disappointment in the long list of disappointments. No wonder it’s easier for me to point out and pick apart the flaws in another person, rather than turn the mirror on myself. No wonder I can’t accept them for who they are, when I can’t even do that with myself. And the list goes on and on.

But friends…that fear. That attitude. That judgement. That harshness.

It’s only keeping you from growth. And connection. And vulnerability. And authenticity. And truth. And honesty. And ultimately love, which is what all of these things are wrapped up in. And isn’t that really what we all want?

I know I do. I want ALL of those things. Every single last one.

But it starts with recognition. It starts with honesty within yourself. It starts with calling a spade a spade and then choosing to do something about it. It was only when I was able to finally take a step back and look at what my sister was saying…when I chose to be brave enough to say, “You know what? You’re right. I am judgmental and that sucks about me. And I don’t want to do that anymore.,” that I was actually able to do something about it.

So friends I ask you this: where is there a spirit of  judgement in your life?

And maybe a more important question is: who are you being judgmental towards? Maybe it’s towards yourself? Self love is a game-changer, by the way. Think on that. Get all up in that if you haven’t already.

Maybe it’s someone else? Maybe it’s that girl in your bible study group who always has the “right” answer? Maybe it’s the friends whose life seems “picture perfect” and make you feel like you’re an eff up? Maybe it’s someone who has more money than you? Or the better job? Or your dream car? Or the baby that you’ve always wanted but are struggling to have? Or maybe it’s the newly single mom who comes to your kids baseball game like she’s going to a bar to pick up men and your husband can’t stop looking at her?

Instead of judging her. Instead of judging them. Why not, seek to understand them? And in the midst of it, why not seek to understand yourself better. What is it in you that you don’t want to look at? What are you really afraid of?

And friend, if the answer is you are actually afraid of connection? If it scares the living heck out of you – please, find someone who is safe that you can share that fear with. We were not made to be islands. We were made to lean on and support one another. We were made for connection. God hard-wired us that way because HE WANTED CONNECTION with his creation. And if we are made in His image, like it says in Genesis 1:27, then we are all meant to be inter-connected with Him as well as each other.

So, COURAGE, my beautiful BRAVEHEARTS!

Don’t let judgement stop you from connection. Don’t let fear stop you from connection. Don’t let anger or pride or jealousy or envy stop you from connection. Stand up and step out into bravery. Because bravery, no matter how big or how small always leads to truth. And the truth always results in FREEDOM.

So go! Break free!

 

 

Answering the Anxiety.

The past couple of weeks have been incredibly challenging for me.  I have had an overwhelming amount of anxiety and this week*…well, this weeks it’s gotten exponentially worse.

Now if you’ve had anxiety, you know how debilitating it can be.

Sidenote: My ex-husband had an anxiety disorder and so I have experience being around it, but I don’t think I could really understand the extent of what he was going through until more recently.

So this anxiety has been affecting me in a multitude of ways. It’s affecting my eating habits, my sleeping habits, me feeling incredibly overwhelmed at work. It’s affecting whether or not I want to hang out with or spend time with people…it’s really been shutting me down and I don’t like the way it feels.

In fact, I hate it and I want it to go away. Yeah, bye, Felicia!

A little anxiousness. Okay. Fear. Fine. Worry. Sure. Concern. No problem. Those are all things have I been familiar with. But full blown anxiety?? This is brand new for me. And truth be told, if I really look at things, I know it’s not coming out of the blue. I’ve had A LOT of insane things happen in the past three years, which would be completely accurate in understanding why I would now be experiencing anxiety.

Here’s a taste: I’ve moved five times in three years, across three different states, I separated from my husband and went through a divorce, I got jobs where I wasn’t making enough money, I moved in with a roommate after ten years of living with a spouse, before moving home to live with my family for a year. I solo traveled through Ireland for three months, I have lost family members, there’s been cancer with loved ones, I have had financial struggles, there have been health related issues, my grandmother checked herself into rehab at eighty-three years old, I changed all my plans and moved back to LA on a whim to work at a friends post production house, (which truth be told has probably been a big part of my anxiety) and I now live alone and feel lonely and work all the time, and the list goes on and on…

So to combat this little villain who has snuck its way into my life, I have been trying everything. I’ve been calling friends to talk through it. Taking epson salt baths. Going to sleep earlier. Having calming tea before bed. Taking CDB oil. Magnesium. Meditating. Going to yoga. Listening to Christian music. Praying. Reading scripture. Going for walks.  Using melatonin before bed and taking Gaba to help my mind focus and even out my anxiety.

I did some of this last night and today* I naturally woke up after an eight hour night of sleep (the longest in awhile) and I felt good. This was going to be a good start to the day. But as soon as I parked in the parking lot at work, out of nowhere, anxiety punched me right across the jaw, causing my ears to ring. And I don’t just mean a little blow – I mean full-blown fear-inducing anxiety.

This one I am talking about comes in a very specific form. Where my heart was racing. I was having trouble breathing and I felt like I was in physical danger, even though I could rationally tell myself I was safe. I was panicking and had to sit in my car until it dissipated. And even then, I was thinking about it for the better part of my day.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen, but I sometimes (maybe six times in my life) have this thing happen where something dark creeps in and causes an irrational amount of fear for my physical safety, while sitting in a safe room with no one else around. It’s actually really hard to explain. It’s like a dark fear, something deep and seedy and something that feels like it’s going to overwhelm me, take me over and swallow me whole.

Sidenote: I have gotten this “feeling” with specific people in my life. Strangely, it’s usually a celebrity of some sort (weird I know), but the most recent one that I felt today was from someone I personally know and have spent time with (that’s a first). The thought of them brought this on. Maybe it’s a warning. Maybe it’s Satan attacking my mind. Maybe it is showing me a little portion of how dark their life really is, so that I might have some empathy to pray for them and also safely keep my distance. I’m not really sure.

But when it came on today, I felt like I was in a really good spot! This past week had been riddled with anxiety for me, lack of sleeping, worry, unable to get my mind to stop racing, worry about the future, finances, future relationships, the idea of grabbing a coffee with someone of the opposite sex and somehow that means I am committing my life to that person. Silly sounding, I know. But its there none-the-less. But I had a great morning. I got good rest, I was on time, I was listening to praise music and felt mentally stronger than I had in a minute. And that’s when it came on. Satan is an a**hole like that. In the moments where you feel tough and solid, he comes in and knocks you off of your sturdy footing.

So anyway, back to sitting in my car. I was feeling super scared. Like irrationally scared, so I ran to my devotional and opened it and the scripture for today was this:

Matthew 6:25-34 (New Living Translation)

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Sigh. Yes, Lord. Yes. This is what I need.

“Do not worry, Stef. Do not fear. For I have you. I will certainly care for you and your needs. Every single last need. No matter how big or how small. I’ve got them all. I AM your provider and protector. Come to me when you are scared. Come to me when you need comfort. Come to me when the darkness feels like too much. For I am light and light ALWAYS conquers the darkness.”

Lord, thank you for your word. You word brings comfort. Your word brings peace. Your word brings life. You word is reassuring. Your word is full of hope. Your word promises you are trustworthy. Your word promises that everything you do is in love, bearing in mind what is best for us – your people.

Thank you, Lord, that you are the calming remedy to my anxious heart. The calming remedy to my anxious mind. Thank you that you are the one to settle my thoughts and renew my mind. Lord, when the anxiety is too much…you are the answer, Father.

You are always the answer, Father.

Help me to run to you first. For in you I find my rest. For in you I find my shelter. For in you there is safety. For in you I am made whole.

 

* This blog post was written about 3 weeks ago, but I’ve just gotten around to posting it now. Instead of changing it to fit today, I thought I would leave it as is.

 

 

Social Distancing Allows For Spiritual Connectedness.

There have obviously been a lot of conversations going around about social distancing in the crazy times we find ourselves in. In the times that will one day be referred to as “the Coronavirus times” or “the COVID-19 times” if you’re being reeeaally official.

Let’s be honest and call a spade a spade.

None of us could have imagined this is where we would be right now, and yet here we find ourselves and frankly, we’re all doing our best to make do and wrap our brains around this entire pandemic.

I know I am.

This has changed EVERY aspect of our lives. Jobs are being lost (yep, me too), the market is crashing, weddings are being cancelled, schools, gyms, restaurants and businesses are being shut down – forcing everyone to work from home, eat from home, workout from home, and even home-school their young children.

Elderly loved ones, young children and those with compromised immune systems are being kept locked away for fear of contracting something that could be life-threatening. And as a precaution, we are all being quarantined to our houses for a month at a time, maybe more, to see if this thing will die down more quickly, with less death counts at the end.

It’s a crazy time for sure. And crazy times cause crazy behaviors.

People are buying mass amounts of food and paper goods (everyone doing okay with the TP fiasco going on!?), small businesses are shutting down or going bankrupt, people are only looking out for themselves or taking advantage of others during a difficult time. Did you hear about the people who bought up all the paper goods they could find and then were selling them on Amazon or EBAY for a profit? They made $30,000.00 in the first hour. I mean, come on people – way to look out for your fellow man! Jeez.

There is so much fear, so much anxiety, so many unknowns surrounding the idea of contracting the Coronavirus and how long this thing is going to last.

Do you find yourself having to stop the mind monsters from coming in and making you terrified of everyone and everything? Or maybe just keeping fear at a minimum as much as possible?

I think there are three categories of people right now:

CATEGORY 1 | Those people who are terrified OF EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. They assume that if they cough or feel tired, then they must have contracted the Coronavirus.

CATEGORY 2 | Those people who feel like it’s a big deal but we’re just going to have to ride this thing out and do our best to do our part.  (I fall into this category)  This category is staying home and making do and this category also thinks that the people who are freaking out for no reason, have lost their ever-lovin’ minds and that everyone needs to calm the frick down! (Or maybe that’s just my own personal opinion and NOT EVERYONE in category 2.) I guess we’ll never know. Moving on…

Then there is category 3.

CATEGORY  3 | Those who have been denying and are still having a hard time believing what is actually happening. These people are in denial, plain and simple, and may still be going out as if everything is normal. They aren’t really taking into consideration the warnings from the CDC.

Now, everyone deals with fear and misunderstanding in different ways, so there’s no judgement here. I think all in all, we are all trying our very best to cope with the phenomena that is going on in the best ways we can.

I’ve been home and “quarantined” now going on a week, which doesn’t seem that long compared to others. I am in Arizona at my parents house riding this thing out with most of my family, minus my one sister who is in Nashville. Sigh. I was in Tucson a week ago slated to shoot a movie for a month: a western period-piece (what a dream!) that got shut down after me being there only a week. I was more than bummed to say the least but thought before I headed back to LA, I would shoot up to Scottsdale and visit my family for a bit, since I was only an hour-and-a-half away.

Yesterday, the Governor of California issued a statewide “stay at home” order until mid-April, and I just found out my job might be letting me go sadly…so it looks like I’ll be staying here in Arizona and trying to make the most of my time by writing and spending time with family, working out and getting good play time in with my nephews.

Being told you don’t have an income anymore and that you can’t leave your house unless it’s to get food or medicine (and for a month!) can seem daunting. Especially when you have bills to pay and especially if you are an extrovert or someone who thrives off of connection with others. This is a time that could feel really scary. Really disconnecting. Really isolating. But my question is, does it have to?

I think the answer is no.

Yes, we are being asked to socially distance ourselves. But instead of looking at what we are missing OUT ON, what we have LOST and what we DON’T KNOW, what if we were to flip our perspective and look at WHAT WE ARE BENEFITTING FROM, WHAT WE ARE GAINING and what we DO KNOW.

Let’s start with the first: WHAT ARE WE BENEFITTING FROM?

One of the huge benefits is that every form of distraction has been taken away. I feel like the Lord has talked to me a lot about how distracted we are as a people. How distracted I can be as a person and how it’s makes it difficult for us to hear from Him with all of those distractions.

Now? Problem solved. Case closed. Distractions gone. Work gone. Hang-outs and social gatherings gone. Busyness gone. And now all that lies before you is…

TIME.

Time, time and more time.

Unlimited time is here. Undistracted time is here. Intentional time is here. Relationally connecting time is here. Mentally engaging time is here. Emotionally healing time is here. Spiritually connecting time is here.

Social distancing is actually giving us all the very thing that the Lord created us for and if we’re honest with ourselves, the very thing we all really want deep down. And that is to be more connected, more engaged and more healed. Mentally. Emotionally. Relationally. And spiritually.

And what does that look like?

Spiritually it means taking time to sit. Without the noise. Without the swirling thoughts and the chaotic agenda. It means creating open space and unhurried time to sit in the presence of God. Brennan Manning talks about this, both in The Ragamuffin Gospel and in Abba’s Child.

Sidenote: If you haven’t read any of his work, please do yourself a favor and check it out. His writings are moving and chalked full of so much wisdom. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Or don’t trust me and they’ll find you later in life when the timing is right.

Open Space. Unhurried Time. In the Presence of God.

What do those three phrases spark in you? Do they make you think? What do they make you feel?

Peace? Maybe relief? Or a sense of rest or comfort? Maybe for you it actually isn’t any of those warm, calm, fuzzy feelings. Maybe for you they spark anxiety? Impatience? Worry? Fear? Shame or maybe regret?

Whatever you feel, it doesn’t have to stop you from spiritually connecting to the God of the universe. Instead it can be a good gauge for where you’re at. And that is a great place to start exploring why you find yourself in that place and how you can move into a place of more spiritual connectedness. More healing. The Lord wants to connect with you exactly where you’re at. However you are feeling. Whatever state you find yourself in.

So maybe this is your moment.

Your reprieve (thank you Coronavirus!) to jump back in. To start again. To explore and expand in your spiritual walk and spiritual journey. To heal. To talk to God for the first time in a long time. Maybe to talk to Him in deeper, more meaningful ways than you ever have before. Maybe to sing praises differently and more authentically than you ever have before. Maybe it’s to worship Him while dancing around your house like a fool, because you’re shut in and no one’s there to watch you anyway. By the way, I highly recommend this!

Maybe this is your moment to get real with the God of the universe. Maybe this is your moment to step into deeper spiritual maturity because the spiritual depth you’ve had in the past served you then – in the past, but He’s asking you to step into a deeper faith walk for the future He has for you. For the next chapter in your story. The one after this Coronavirus chapter.

Maybe in the midst of the fear and the questioning and the worries and the wondering, He is asking you to step into deep radical trust. Outside the box you’ve placed Him in. Outside of what looks and feels like stability and security, success and safety. Maybe He’s asking you to trust Him regardless of your circumstances. Regardless of your future. Regardless of your job or your paycheck or your perfect health or your perfectly healed relationships.

Maybe He’s just asking you to be with Him. To sit with Him. To grow with Him. To talk to Him. To pray to Him. To learn to trust Him.

And while in the midst of getting spiritually connected, it will also open you up to engaging more with where you’re at mentally. Taking care of yourself in ways you haven’t before. It’ll get you in touch with your emotional life and create deep healing in ways you haven’t before. It will allow you to engage with others in relationally healthier ways as well.

And these lessons, friend, are the greatest benefit of all from this social distancing.

The second: WHAT ARE WE GAINING?

Good old-fashioned ways of connecting and learning are back. Social distancing is asking us to make a phone call. Write a letter. Read a book. Maybe write a book (I’m talking to you Ziza!). Watch a movie. Go for a walk. To really talk to each other. To get creative. To play music. To dance. And play and sing and paint. To play some boardgames or do a puzzle. It’s asking us to write in a journal. To finally sit down and write that screenplay or that blog post. To pick up a new study or a new hobby or maybe an old hobby that’s been put on the shelf because we simply didn’t have enough “time.” Well, you know what? That can’t be your excuse anymore because now you have unlimited time. (Thank you Coronavirus!) Well, at least for a month.

So what are we gaining?

So much access to all the things we have been putting off. All the things yet to be checked off our to-do lists. And my question is this – what are you going to do with it? What am I going to do with it? Hopefully we will take full advantage of using these opportunities wisely! To expand. To grow. To learn. To live. And I mean really truly live. I think some of us have forgotten how to do that.

And the third: WHAT DO WE KNOW?

We know that in the midst of the fear and the chaos; the worries and the unknowns, God promises He is right here with us. And not only is He in it with us, He is actually in full and complete CONTROL of ALL OF IT. None of this caught him off-guard or confuses Him. None of this worries Him or causes anxiety that keeps Him up at night. Because He is OVER EVERYTHING. He sees everything. He knows everything. He already knows the outcome. And because He loves us.

Romans 8:28 | “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him who have been called according to His purpose.”

Psalm 33:11, 20-22 | “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever. The purposes of His heart through all generations. We wait in hope for the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice. For we trust in His holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord even as we put our hope in you.”

I was reading in Hebrews this morning and these comforting words stood out to me:

Hebrews 11:1 | “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Hebrews 10:23-25 | “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. But let us encourage one another.”

He who promised it faithful. That is what we know beyond a shadow of a doubt. And He promises to never leave us or forsake us.

So during times like these, let us hold to hope. Let us remember that He is faithful. Let us spur one another on toward love and good deeds, looking for ways we can serve others and not just be selfishly looking out for ourselves. And let us not give up meeting together in whatever form that is (phone, FaceTime, text, in-person (gasp!) and most of all, let us encourage one another in kindness and in love.

Because what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

 

The Unplanned Plan.

I am sitting in my darkened apartment in West Los Angeles crying. I don’t tell you this to gain empathy, but more to share where I’m at and why the dam finally broke.

About a month ago, my life plan drastically changed in the course of one meal with some dear friends while on a short trip out to LA for a wedding. I shared that I was moving back to Tennessee from Arizona after the first of the year and within a day, they offered me a job to come back to LA instead, and within 3 days I had to give them an answer.

I wasn’t prepared for this change. For this unplanned plan that presented itself. But sometimes the Lord asks us to step out in faith before we’re fully prepared. Before we feel ready. Before all of the puzzle pieces have come together and before we can see the big picture. The unplanned plan.

A couple of days went by. Along with some “no ways.” Some holding onto the old plan. Some tears and hard phone calls. Some convincing and reminding that was needed. And after all that, I accepted the job. A new role that was literally offering me everything I’ve been praying and hoping for deep down. And now here it was being given to me on a silver platter. Even now, the thought of it chokes me up.

“What is actually happening?” was all I could say. It all felt too good to be true. And that got me thinking….

Isn’t that who God is? He is the God of too good to be true because HE IS too good to be true. So it’s only natural that is what He offers His children. But the problem is, when we’ve been tainted, it can sometimes be hard to remember His goodness. Sometimes hard to see it that way. To see it as a gift and not some trick or trap. When the shroud has been over our eyes for so long, we forget. I forgot. But with the help of my tribe, I was reminded. Thank God for memory keepers disguised as family and friends in my life.

So a couple days later, I accepted the job and would be going back to LA just two weeks later to train and look for an apartment and potentially a roommate. My parents jumped in the car with me and said (as they always do!) they’d go with me to help me out. And while I was training, they even offered to go scour and look at more apartments to see what they could find.

Sidenote: Here’s an example of the unplanned plan God had working behind the scenes. Now I know this is going to sound weird, but about a year ago, maybe more, I was praying and asked the Lord where I was supposed to live. At the time, I had just moved to Arizona to stay with my parents following the divorce, and what I heard in my spirit was, “Cheviot Hills.” Now, I had heard of Cheviot Hills, I knew it was in California somewhere, but I had NO CLUE where – I was thinking somewhere far, maybe past Burbank. I also felt like California was out of the cards for now, so MY PLAN was likely to go back to Nashville and establish myself more as a writer/director there before coming back out to LA. So, I tucked Cheviot Hills into the back of my mind and thought perhaps one day.

So back to my parents and I looking for apartments in West LA. Cheviot Hills came back into mind. I told my parents about it and they said, “then that’s where it’s going to be. Let’s go look.” So I looked up where it was.

If you type Cheviot Hills into Google, this is what it says: “Cheviot Hills is a neighborhood of single-family homes on the Westside of the city of Los Angeles, California. Founded in 1924, the neighborhood has been the filming location of countless movies and television shows due to its convenient location between Fox Studios and Sony Studios. The neighborhood has also long been home to many actors, television personalities, and studio executives.”

Whoa. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. “Oh, Lord. You are good. You see me.”

So we went and looked. We actually tried to get in to see this one apartment we thought was going to be the one, three times, to no avail. We finally let that one go. It was a long four days – we were exhausted and had exhausted all our efforts when my parents left to head back home, I still hadn’t found an apartment. I was still going around to see places myself in the mornings before going in to train in the afternoons and I remember writing down an address to some cute little bungalow style apartments that we drove by and I said, “Gosh, I wish those were for rent!”

After my parents had left, I looked the address up and turns out there was an apartment in the building leasing after all. So I went and looked at it and remember it was so cute – it was indeed a bungalow from the 40s/50s with a cute little courtyard with citrus trees, hardwood floors, updated doors and blinds, a sweet vintage bathroom complete with retro tiles, an updated kitchen with beautiful Carrera marble and the place had plenty of storage space. It was everything I had asked for. The only cherry missing was a fireplace.

It was also in a perfect location a couple minutes from downtown Culver, a 12-minute drive to work in Santa Monica, close to the metro so I could easily take the train in, in case I didn’t want to drive. And guess what?? It too was smack dab in-between Sony studios and Fox Studios – either studio was at both ends of the main street this apartment was on. And to top it off, there was no security deposit and the first month was free! “Wait what!?!” Unheard of in LA. And the sweetest part was, when I walked out the front entrance and looked to my right, there is the Windsor Care Center of Cheviot Hills, and to my left, there at the end of the street is the tower for Sony Studios. Like a beacon. This was the place. It was like the Lord gave me a little nod and said, “I see you, Stef. And I’ve got you. Trust me and just wait and see. I have only the BEST in store.”

I burst into tears.

So I sent in my lease, my check and secured my new spot. It was official. I had a job and an apartment. Now I just needed to get my things across the country from Tennessee to my new home in Los Angeles, buy a car, and prep for the new job which entailed reading a 300 page technical book on post-production. How hard could all that be? Easy, right!?

Somehow my parents and I managed to do it. Just the three of us. Can I just say thank God for parents!? I don’t know where I’d be without mine. Likely homeless on the side of the road with all of my belongings scattered about. But thankfully, they would never allow that, so I managed to keep my belongings in tow, my head under a roof the past year, and we even managed to secure me a car to carry me back to my new home. Ka-ching!!!

I was well on my way. I had a job. Check. An apartment. Check. My things packed in a pod and shipped. Check. A car. Check. And insurance for everything in my life EVER. Half-check. So, just as a frame of reference, I’m going to give you a timeline of the past two and a half months of my life? I call it the “when my life changed timeline…”

  • October 17-27th – I was out in LA for my friends wedding on the 19th.
  • October 27th – My other friends who own a production company offered me a job.
  • October 29th/30th – I accepted the job.
  • November 9th-16th – I went back to LA to train and look for an apartment.
  • November 28th – Thanksgiving week.
  • December 4th-13th – I went to to Nashville to pack up my pod.
  • December 4th-6th – Mom and dad and I packed up my pod.
  • December 7th – The pod got picked up and that night attended a friends wedding.
  • December 7th-13th – In the following week, I had to sell my leftover furniture, take things to Goodwill, move a washer and dryer by myself that I was donating, and see whatever friends I was able to. I also got super sick and basically slept for 3 of those days because I felt nauseas. I had to take my bike to be shipped, I had to help take care of my sister because she had a horrible migraine (she gets these often). I had to take her car to be fixed because the window got stuck down and it was raining and starting to snow in Nashville. I managed to squeeze in going to a friends Christmas house party.
  • December 13th – Flew back to AZ on what would’ve been my 11 year wedding anniversary; 15 years together total.
  • December 17th – 3 days later was the year anniversary of my divorce. Congrats???
  • December 18th – My parents and I got back in the car to go back to LA to unpack my pod that would be arriving on the 18th, where we would have to get the keys to my apartment for the first time (which was a huge pain in the butt!), go buy supplies, clean the place, and rest.
  • December 19th – Went to pick up a u-haul, take it to the pod storage facility, and load everything from the pod into the u-haul. Drive it back to my apartment, unload it all and then try to organize and start setting things up.
  • December 21st – We drove back to AZ and got in at 1am.
  • December 22-25th – Christmas week festivities with a house-full (and I mean 17 people).
  • December 26th – Found and purchased a car.
  • December 30th – Headed back to LA with the rest of my things to get settled and finish buying furniture items and unpacking.
  • January 2nd – My first day of work at the production company.
  • January 7th – First week under my belt. Officially dead.

Now do you understand why I’ve been crying? So here I am. A week into my new life and truth be told, it’s been a really hard week. Incredibly hard. Yes, it’s the start of a new year. A new decade. A new life. And boy did I choose to start it off with a bang.

I moved to a different state. I started a new job that has basically thrown me into the deep end with little experience and during their busiest time. It’s day 3 and I already feel like I’m drowning. I work 9 hour days, jet straight to a yoga class if I make it in time, come home, cook myself something to eat, sit in a half darkened apartment with half-unpacked boxes scattered across my floors, clean up after myself, try to write or read (if I don’t fall asleep), and then hop into bed and do it all over again the next day. Groundhog day. That’s what my new life feels like. An exhausting groundhog day.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “yeah, Stef, welcome to the party; the real world. The rest of us have been doing this thing our entire lives.” And yet I’m sitting here in my apartment writing this and the truth is simple. It’s not really the job or the apartment or the hectic life schedule, or the lack of unpacking and chaos of my apartment. The truth is, I feel…

Alone.

Very alone. I’ve cried about it a few times this week and to my older sister tonight. I don’t know if that’s just exhaustion or actual loneliness, but I think it’s the latter and the former just exasperates it.

I can’t help but sit and look at my life and just feel sad. I feel sad and lonely. This is not what I thought it was going to be. Here I am. I’ve started a new job at a production company (in the field I want to be working in), living in my own apartment (personal space I had been craving for 3 years), and living back in California (something that was a down-the-road goal) and yet I find myself with a whole range of emotions and none of what I thought they’d be. Another unplanned plan that creeped up on me.

You ever feel this too? Funny how that works isn’t it? We think we want something and then we get it, and we realize it’s not as great as we thought it was going to be.

So here I am, sitting in the dark with boxes scattered everywhere and all I am thinking is, this isn’t it. This isn’t the thing I wanted. This isn’t fun. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I feel so unbalanced. There’s so much to do. How will I ever see friends with this schedule? Is this sustainable? Will I really get to do the thing I want, which is act and write and direct? I think it’s just a moment I’m having and that’s okay. I can let myself have it, but the deeper question I want to ask myself is, “What’s this all about, Stef? These sad feelings? This anxiousness?”

And while we’re on that topic of pondering and self-discovery and realization, I am also recognizing how triggered I am by things I didn’t even think would trigger me. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

Some friends invited me to a bible study tonight and since I have been feeling lonely, I thought it’d be nice to see them and hopefully meet some new faces. So, I decided to forgo my daily yoga class and head to the study. I was grateful to be there but by the end of the night, let me tell you, I wanted to run away from there as fast as I could. This place was so heavily saturated with Christianese (yes, that’s a real word in my book) church verbiage and vibes that I wanted to puke. That sounds harsh, I know. But bear with me. There was talk of how we “must send disciples out”, and “let’s put a number on how many people were going to bring to the Lord in the next year”. And “how many disciples we can make that can in turn make other disciples.” I mean…I just…

Look, here’s the thing…they didn’t do anything wrong. They didn’t. They weren’t saying bad things. They were saying good things. They were saying the things the Lord placed on their hearts. Their intentions are good. They may have been saying things differently than I would have said them and perhaps they were approaching situations and people differently than I would have, but I found myself strangely triggered by it all and uber judgmental. My skin was crawling. I had to get out of there. Inside I was screaming, but I wanted to be polite so I stayed until the end, thanked my friends and left with little intention of ever going back to that gathering. I prayed about it on my walk home. “Lord, help me to calm down. I am clearly triggered.” Again, the question, “What’s this all about, Stef? Where’s it all coming from? What’s really going on?”

I know it has to do with my past. No doubt. Being heavily steeped in all kinds of Christian church culture. Being around inauthentic Christians. The facade. The half-deep feeling. My ex-husband was a pastor (yep, ex-pastor wife here!) and used a lot of that Christianese verbiage, sometimes just out of his schooled nature and sometimes as a means of controlling. Some of this Christian verbiage I used too. Maybe I still do sometimes. Who knows. But it also reminded me of the family dinner group I used to be a part of, which frequently brought up how we could be doing better as Christians, doing more. It often felt like there was a lot of pressure, a lot of shame and guilt and the feeling I got from this group tonight, raised a whole bunch of red flags for me.

This week I also came to the realization that my socializing habits may be a little out of whack. I think when you are removed from your normal life, from your usual week to week hangs with friends, and then you move to a new place where you’re no longer doing that, it can be hard. When you are living with family for a year, and mostly only seeing them and a couple friends here and there…let’s just say I have felt out of practice socializing, which is not something I would have said in a million years.

I sometimes feel like a doll on display. A very raw and vulnerable doll. Truth be told, this is probably more in my head than is actually true, but if I run into old friends who haven’t seen me since before my divorce, I feel like they look at me and they don’t know how to talk to me anymore. It’s like they wanna ask me questions, but they don’t know where to start, so they just don’t. And unless I bring it up, it just feels like they’re staring at me and there’s this big elephant in the room.

I don’t feel this with my friends in Nashville. Maybe because they know me more as someone separated, divorced, or single rather than married. And I didn’t feel it at all with anyone I met while I was solo traveling abroad. Curious. Maybe it’s the old settings bringing all of this out. The old friends. All things from my past. Maybe it’s even honestly something I am doing or putting out there; making it into more than it is. Overanalyzing everything.

There’s a good chance. Like 100% chance.

And then there are the new people I meet…that’s a whole ‘nother ballgame. Especially with guys. See before, when you’re married – you can talk to anyone and be friendly and no one would read into it or think anything of it because you’re married. But when you’re not married anymore and you start to talk to someone, just trying to be friendly, it’s hard to know if you need to watch what you say or how you say it…

Any of my single girls out there understand this? Anyway, you get the picture…

All that to say, I am freaking spent. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. Just utterly exhausted. So all of this together, it’s seriously been a helluva week. And it’s literally week one. Someone send help! None of this was a part of the plan.

But the Lord continues to gently remind me, there really can’t be a plan on our end. Or, I guess there CAN be, but there SHOULDN’T be. Because ONLY HIS PLAN matters. And if we are willing to be open to the unplanned plan – the thing we can’t see – the thing that jumps out and surprises us. The unexpected door that is flung open…He has the most incredible things in store. Really He does. It may look different than you expect. But that just teaches us to adjust our expectations, to learn how vitally important it is to be in line with His will and His plan.

The unplanned plan. When we do that, we can jump in with both feet, fully on board, regardless of the packaging.

So here is my question to you:

Where is the Lord asking you to jump in with both feet in 2020? How is He asking you to fully get on board the thing He’s calling you into? Where is He asking you to be brave? I pray that we all may have vision to see things the way He does and to be prepared for the unplanned plan He has in store for each and every one of us this upcoming year.

So, happy new year! May your 2020 be full of wonderfully surprising moments and deeper clarity into what the Lord’s got in store for you.

Identity Defined.

I was out to dinner with my mentor the other day and we got into a conversation about identity. And she asked me how I would describe my identity.

I paused. No one had ever asked me that before and I wasn’t sure I had an answer.

I immediately said I was a child of God… “Okay. Got that. And?”

And…

Nothing. Crickets. I know it sounds silly to say, but I was a bit stumped by the question. What did she mean? Maybe I needed to go back and look up the word identity again.

So I started talking about things I love. “Well, I love to write. And I love my family. And…” Again, she stopped me and said, “Stef, those are things you like or love, but those don’t describe who you are. Why do you think you’re not able to connect those things to who you are?”

And so I sat for a few moments while she quietly waited.

You see, I’m not sure why I was disconnecting myself or disassociating with qualities. Let me explain more. Instead of saying, I am a writer. I said, I like to write. Instead of saying, I am a daughter and a sister. I said, I love my family. Instead of saying I am a kind and compassionate person and friend. I said, I love my friends.

I felt stupid. Like this was an easy exercise I was failing miserably. But more than that, it really got me thinking about identity.

Identity is defined as who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define you. I started doing a little bit of research on Identity and those who studied it intently and this is what I found. A man named Erik Erikson (1902-1994) became one of the earliest psychologists to take an explicit interest in identity. Not only are his thoughts on identity fascinating, but He himself is a fascinating individual, with a rather interesting story. Feel free to click on the link attached to his name to learn more about him.

The Eriksonian framework rests upon a distinction among the psychological sense of continuity, known as the ego identity (sometimes identified simply as “the self”); the personal idiosyncrasies that separate one person from the next, known as the personal identity; and the collection of social roles that a person might play, known as either the social identity or the cultural identity.

Erikson’s work, in the psychodynamic tradition, aimed to investigate the process of identity formation across a lifespan. Progressive strength in the ego identity, for example, can be charted in terms of a series of stages in which identity is formed in response to increasingly sophisticated challenges. The process of forming a viable sense of identity for the culture is conceptualized as an adolescent task, and those who do not manage a resynthesis of childhood identifications are seen as being in a state of ‘identity diffusion’ whereas those who retain their initially given identities unquestioned have ‘foreclosed’ identities (Weinreich & Saunderson 2003 p7-8).

On some readings of Erikson, the development of a strong ego identity, along with the proper integration into a stable society and culture, lead to a stronger sense of identity in general. Accordingly, a deficiency in either of these factors may increase the chance of an identity crisis or confusion (Cote & Levine 2002, p. 22).

psychological identity relates to self-image (one’s mental model of oneself), self-esteem, and individuality. Consequently, Weinreich gives this definition of identity:

“A person’s identity is defined as the totality of one’s self-construal, in which how one construes oneself in the present expresses the continuity between how one construes oneself as one was in the past and how one construes oneself as one aspires to be in the future”; this allows for definitions of aspects of identity, such as: “One’s ethnic identity is defined as that part of the totality of one’s self-construal made up of those dimensions that express the continuity between one’s construal of past ancestry and one’s future aspirations in relation to ethnicity”.

That’s a lot of construing if you ask me. But for real…fascinating right?

How do you construe yourself? What is it that you believe defines you? Is it your job? How much money you make? How big your house is? What car you drive? Too often we get caught up in believing that it’s things that define us. We identify with things so much, I think we forget that they are NOT our identity.

Or maybe it is in relation to other people. Do you have people in your life who proclaim things over you? Sometimes good things. Other times bad things. You are a good friend. Check. You are un-nurturing. Cut. You are a hard-worker. Check. You are selfish. Cut.

But the bigger question is who does God say you are? What is the identity He proclaims over you? Well I’ll tell you. He calls you His beloved. His child. His heir. His chosen one. His son or daughter. His creation. He tells us who we are.

Maybe you’ve forgotten this. Maybe you’ve been believing lies. Maybe you’ve never thought about this. Or have never been told this before.

But friend, be affirmed that you are valued and loved because of WHOSE you are and not what you do, how you look, how successful you are or what you offer the world. It’s not about that. You are good enough to come just as you are. And where we lack? Christ fills in the gaps. We should be spending way more time focusing on what’s inside of us rather than what’s going on with our exterior.

Keep working hard. Keep building up. Keep learning wisdom and growing strong. Keep loving yourself and others. Keep pushing away the lies and seeking boldly after the truth. Keep planting your roots deeper and deeper. But don’t stop believing that you are enough. Because the Lord has deemed it so.

Take time to ponder this. To dive into the word and see what the Lord says about your identity. To get to know Him personally so you can see yourself through the frameworks He has defined.

Be happy in the skin you’re in. Be brave amongst the critics. Be blind and deaf to the comparisons. Be bold and proudly stand in who you are. For there are far too many people confused and unsure (🙋🏼‍♀️ yep, me too some days) of who they are. And there are far too many people willing to step up and tell you who you are if you’re unsure. But we are not meant to be defined by others views or opinions and how they see us. We are meant to be defined by the Lord’s opinion and how He sees us.

And really, that’s the only opinion that matters.

Trick or Treasure.

With it being Halloween this past week, this felt like a perfectly appointed title for the topic I wanted to discuss. I wanna talk about recognizing TRICKS versus TREASURE in your life.  This week something happened. Something I wasn’t expecting. Something I didn’t quite know how to handle. Something that felt like a trick. We’ve all been put in this scenario before, right? Where something throws us off balance and leaves us more than a little shell-shocked. Have you ever been there? Don’t worry. Me too.

So this unexpected thing happened. I’m sure you’re wondering, “Oh man, what awful thing was it?” And you know what? It wasn’t an awful thing at all. It was actually an incredible thing. An amazingly profound, enlightening, perfectly good thing that I had specifically been praying for for quite some time. And you know what? I couldn’t see it clearly. And not only could I not see it clearly, I didn’t know how to handle it. Even though it was a good thing, it still threw me off kilter and left me questioning whether this was a trick or distraction or Satan trying to confuse me and get me off course. I had made a plan and this. This was not part of the plan.

In fact, it caused a lot of crazy things to come to the surface for me. Things that I thought I had a handle on. Triggers that, in my mind, shouldn’t bother me anymore. Things that frankly, I felt pretty darn sure I had conquered. Nope. Wrong. I haven’t conquered them. In the last week and a half, I have been tested and have come up short in the growth department. Now, this isn’t me getting down on myself, but more just gauging where I’m at. This good thing made crazy fear well up in me. I felt entirely confused. Overwhelmed. Felt like my heart was being pulled in two different directions and I that if I was looking at the thing on paper, it was so blatantly obvious which I should choose (both my parents and my sister told me this), but it was not where my heart was being led. It caused major doubt for me again. Doubt in trusting myself. “Come on, Stef. I thought we had this thing under control.” It caused doubt in me trusting my instincts. Trusting my feelings. And the thing about feelings…I am learning more and more (even though my mother has told me this time and time again and I just kinda shrugged it off as something mom’s say) is that our emotions, if not in check and not measured up against the truth can lead us way off track.

The good thing that I had been praying for was a job opportunity.

I was in Ireland for three months this summer and I knew coming back I was going to have to decide where I was moving to begin again. And now being a single lady again, I was going to have to get a great job to provide for and take care of myself. There were two options: Nashville or Los Angeles. Both fantastic choices. You can’t go wrong, really. While in Ireland, I was wrestling with choosing the “right” one. I just felt the Lord say, “Stef, you can choose. There is no right or wrong choice.” So I chose Nashville.

My heart leapt at the thought. I love Nashville. I love the South. I love country music and southern accents (especially on a guy!), lightening bugs and the lake, being barefoot, porch sitting and unsweet tea with a splash of sweet in it, thank you very much. I had a laundry list of why this was the best, most life-giving, and you guessed it, “right” choice. Besides the other things, the heart things I just mentioned, it was also practically speaking, more economically viable, I had my sister there, my mentor, a church I loved, two of my best friends and a thriving and hungry community of filmmakers that I had spent the better part of the past two years growing my relationships with. That and maybe down the road I was going to meet and fall in love with a country singer. Hey, a girl can dream, right!?! So I was fully on board and counting down the days until I was back in the South! I had even called my friend Adam to see if he could connect me with his brother, who might be able to get me an in at a production company. I wanted to move in that direction and thought it might be the right fit. And it would certainly be better than a restaurant job. ANY restaurant job. Now, I just needed to find said job, an apartment, a roommate and a car and I’d be set. Ya know, just a couple major life things. No stress.

  • Side-note: Things like that could indeed feel incredibly overwhelming. But if/when you trust the Lord, and I mean really trust Him, trust that He is in control and He’s working all things for your good, then you really don’t have to strive and stress. You can just be diligent with the things He places in front of you and just walk forward one step at a time. I fail at remembering this ALL THE TIME. But I’m just a work in progress over here.

When I got home from Ireland and declared that I was moving back to Nashville, everyone was excited for me and the new chapter ahead. That is until I got the news that my ex-husband had recently moved back there. I was a little surprised considering how much he despised Nashville while we were still together and living there. I mean, he hated it. But he had chosen to go back there and I was makin’ my way South for the winter. Now, it wouldn’t have been my first choice to have us living in the same small town, but it also wasn’t make it or break it for me. I thought plenty of divorced people live in the same town and I believe the Lord is always very intentional with what He’s doing, so there must be a reason we were both going to be back living there. Still, in my uneasiness I prayed,

Lord, if Steve and I being in the same town would hinder either one of our growth and ability to move forward in any way as individuals, then let one of our jobs take us out of Nashville.

Verbatim that’s what I prayed.

Jump forward to being out in Los Angeles for a dear friends wedding where I got to see countless faces of people I love and have missed the past three years. I got to spend time doing some of my favorite things: laying on the beach in the sunshine, swimming in the ocean, eating at all my favorite local spots, deep talks with my best friend and having EVERY SINGLE meet-up I had with people who are near and dear to my heart end with someone encouraging me in my career or talking about finding ways to work together, or offering to take my writing and scripts to people in the industry as a means of helping me get my work out there. Because they believe in me. In my writing. In my being a storyteller. I was speechless at the love and support, the encouragement and the ways doors seemed to be flying open. People kept saying, “I think this is your year, Stef. I think there are big things in store for you.” “What a crazy moment this is,” I thought. “I hope this allows me to get my writing out there and in some way can give me the push to be directing more. That would be amazing!! Thank you Lord for the ways you are connecting the dots.

Then, on my last day there, one of my friends who owns a production company called me and said,

Stef, after you left, I was thinking about what you were talking about at dinner last night, and I know you’ll probably say no, but Clau and I were both thinking about you and when we woke up this morning we both had the same idea. We are hiring someone right now to work at our production company. This is what we can pay you and it would be putting you around the right people, it would allow you to know the other side of the business, we have to put out three films this year, and we could get you moving forward on the things you want in terms of your writing, directing and acting. And by the way, the person who was in this position a year ago, is now one of our full-time producers. We know it’s probably a no, but we thought we should offer it to you just in case. Think about it and let us know.

Again, speechless. “I’m sorry, what!?!” It. Was. Blowing. My. Mind. The next thing that happened was a crazy spontaneous flow of a billion different thoughts.

No way. That’s not the plan. I’m going back to Nashville. I have to. Abbi is there. Rachel is there. Anne is there. Man, but I don’t have a job or a place to live. I think I could find a place to live here in LA pretty easily. I know a bunch of girls have already offered. Plus, I felt like when I prayed, the Lord told me I was supposed to live in Cheviot Hills. Cheviot Hills? Where the heck is Cheviot Hills? Is that close to this job? Taking this job would mean I would have financial security and a job working at a production company, like I had said I wanted. And with my friends no less! How weird is that? That’s what I said I was going to try to look for once I got back to Nashville. And now I’m being offered that here. This is crazy! And I was just getting sad about having to leave LA because I’ve had such a full time since I’ve been here. But I’m going to marry a country musician. Really, Stefanie? Are you? No, this can’t be real. It is too good to be true. It’s literally everything  have been saying I wanted. This was too easy. It can’t be this easy. It’s never been this easy. Things have always been really hard. I don’t trust this. Something has to be wrong. This is a trick. It can’t be trusted. Why would they offer me this job? I’ve never worked in production. Could this ruin our friendship? There’s gotta be a catch? I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe they’re just saying that but they’re going to change their minds. What if I hated it and then I changed my mind? What if it’s too expensive and I’m not being financially wise or responsible? What if I don’t actually get to make my stuff because I have a 9-6 job? When will I write? In Nashville at least I know people are hungry and making things and if I’m going to write and direct, I can at least start on a small scale that way if I fail, it’s  not as big of a splash.

Now I’m going to pause.

I know that was a lot of information, and I just wanna say thanks for sticking with me through this long-winded story. But the reason I’m telling you all the minute, tiny details is because they are important and so significant to what God is doing. To the master tapestry He is weaving and has been weaving all along.

All these fears; all these questions popping up. Red flags and triggers and excuses and what if’s. This was the way my old brain worked. The one that hasn’t been fully healed and renewed and strengthened and fortified. And that’s the brain I was working from. So, an unexpected thing came up and my brain started throwing every fear-based, doubtful, let me give you reasons why it won’t work or why it was the wrong choice, BS at me. And I was flooded. I just thought, “this is Satan trying to distract me and get me off course. I am going back to Nashville. That’s it. That’s the plan. End of story.” So I got in my car to drive the 6 hours back to Arizona and thought about the job the entire time. I pondered and prayed. Plotted and planned. Talked myself out of it, but had this little thing in the back of my mind saying, “What if…”

Joseph Campbell wisely says, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” 

Mmmm. Mmmm. Joseph Campbell, you brilliant man you. And isn’t this so true. Here I was being offered just the thing I wanted. The job I had specifically prayed for. This was the job. This was the answer to that prayer and out of fear and worry and the unknown, I almost rejected this good thing, this treasure the Lord had clearly laid before me. I had almost traded truth for lies. All because I was allowing something to creep in from my past experiences. Those past hurts have colored the way I see the world and in turn, they have colored the way I choose to respond to it. It took other people in my life, those closest to me (thank God!) and those I sought counsel from, to take the away the pain cracked glasses that were marring my view, in order to see the treasure that was laid out on a red carpet before me. Forgive me, Lord that I couldn’t see it. Thank you Lord that you surrounded me with others that could see it so effortlessly. That you for answering my prayer and for surrounding me with all good things. This, Father, is a good good thing.

Today, I was reading a devotional and this is what stood out to me:

Prayer is about a relationship with God, who happens to be a loving father. Just as a loving father would not give his daughter a snake when she asks for a fish or a stone when she asks for bread, so our loving Father will not try to trick, disappoint, or punish us in response to our requests. If you’ve ever earnestly asked God for something good and instead received something devastating, you need to hear these words from Jesus. Prayer is relational. Your Father loves you. Keep praying, because He cares about your wellbeing. He wants you to continue to draw near. It’s not a formula that works exactly the same every time; it’s a relationship. And your Father’s end goal is to bless you. Lean into that as you pray. 

Matthew 7:7-11 says, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents – if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.”

I think this is where keep on keepin’ on comes from, wouldn’t you agree? Who knew!?! 🙂

But seriously, God is not in the business of tricking. Let me repeat that.

“GOD IS NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF TRICKING. HE IS IN THE BUSINESS OF BESTOWING TREASURE.”

And not just any kind of treasure. Treasure beyond our wildest imaginations. Treasure bigger than the dreams we hold deep within our hearts. Treasure so glorious and so tailor-made for us, that it’ll blow our socks off. Treasure found in the person of Jesus and the salvation He freely and lovingly gives. He is the ultimate treasure. And all the other things, like the perfect job you couldn’t even think to ask for, or the cutest vintage apartment with all your favorite things like hardwood floors and a fireplace, or the vintage 4×4 car you’ve been dreaming of your whole life…yeah, sure. Those are treasures and maybe even one day realities. But they are nothing compared to the ultimate treasure of Jesus and the ways He wants to show up and blow your mind because of His goodness and faithfulness.

Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So Lord, attune my heart to yours. I am beyond thankful for this job. I am excited to be stepping out in trust into the place you are calling me. My heart is beyond grateful for the ways you have shown up and answered my prayers. And I know you’re just getting started, Father. But keep my heart satisfied in you and you alone, Lord. Help me to continue to trust and believe and know that any and all the treasures you give come from you and your storehouse of wealth and goodness. And anytime I feel like I’m being tricked, please take away those shattered glasses and help me to claim what is a lie and what is truth, and then just continue moving right along into the treasure that awaits me. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! I’m ready.

 

She Chose. I Choose.

She realized she had this one. This big, bold, and beautiful life. And she realized she didn’t want to live it chasing and crying and apologizing. Starving and fearing and regretting. She realized she wanted to live it proudly and freely and creatively. Lovingly and fully and sweetly. She realized she could choose. And so, she chose.

Today I choose YOU Lord.

I choose YOU above all else.

I choose to walk confidently where you lead my weary feet.

I choose to rest safely in the shadow of you wings.

I choose to be upheld in the strength of your mighty right hand.

I choose reliance on you instead of self-reliance.

I choose to trust in the story you’ve already written for my life. You know the beginning, middle and end.

Today I choose fullness of life, found in the joy and peace that only you can bring.

Today I choose bravery and trust over cowering fear.

I choose your clarity over my confusion.

I choose your opinion over human opinion.

I choose the truth found in your word over lies meant to tear me down.

I choose strong faith over weak doubt.

I choose your perfect peace over the chaos that swirls around me.

I choose joyful dancing over sorrowful weeping.

I choose your insightful and patient wisdom over my angry and impatient rational.

I choose resting in your sabbath over endless striving and doing.

I choose great courage in the face of grave danger.

I choose to praise even when I can’t see the next step.

I choose to be diligent while I allow you to be effective.

I choose bold confidence over constant worry.

I choose self-care over self-hatred.

I choose waiting in the stillness over anxious striving.

I choose fervent prayer over endless complaining.

I choose great freedom over great oppression.

I choose unconditional love over anything that is not the real deal.

I choose hopeful victory over soul crushing defeat.

Lord, thank you that we have a choice.

Today, I choose YOU. And all that is wrapped up in your goodness.

Never Going Back.

The idea of ever going back made me panic. My chest tightened. My breathing started to quicken. My palms started to sweat and I felt anxiety start to rise up in me. Going back to that marriage. That relationship. To the way things used to be. The whole idea of it felt nauseating. Felt crushing. I couldn’t do it. Didn’t want to do it. I wouldn’t do it. Ever.

But not my will, but yours be done, Lord.

I started praying,

“Lord, this is not something I ever want to go back to. I feel such freedom. Such relief. Such peace. Going back would feel like being sent back to a prison, Lord. So, tell me no, Father. Tell me not again. If there’s any remote possibility that that is something you would have for me down the road, Father, then I would need you to completely transform and change him, Lord. And I mean a Saul to Paul transformation. Not some small thing. But a complete transformation. Unrecognizable. Completely different. And not just him. I’d also need you to change me, Lord. To fix me. To heal me. To grow me. I would need to you somehow turn my heart back towards him. To be open once again. To desire that. Because right now, it’s long gone. I’m long gone. And the concept of going back seems more than daunting. It seems soul crushing. Like my own personal hell. Like I might not come back from it.”

Let me preface by saying, I don’t think that the Lord is calling me back to that. I really don’t. I think He has bigger and better things in store for me. But again, I want to be open to the possibility that if the Lord is doing something bigger than all this. Something I can’t even begin to fathom or see, that I would walk wherever He would lead me, trusting He sees me. He hears me. He knows my heart and my every need. That He knows what’s best for me. And that He wants to give me just that. Only that. The best. Because that’s who He is and that’s what He gives.

This journey really is all about surrendering complete trust to the one who is completely trustworthy.

And He is friends. He SO is.

Like Sherlock Holmes, look for the clues He’s dropped. Look where He’s been trustworthy in the past. Look at the lives of the people around you to see where He’s shown up and done what He said He’d do. Read his word tirelessly. Search for the truth. The areas where He shows He’s trustworthy and good. And when you find Him to be just as He says He is (and you will!) you’ll want to follow Him to the ends of the earth, no questions asked.

Okay, maybe some questions asked, but He’s okay with that. He delights in conversation. He delights in your questions. And even more, He delights in your trust. In your belief. In your obedience even when you don’t know where that obedience is leading. For HE IS GOOD. HE IS TRUSTWORTHY. HE LOVES YOU. TRUST HIM.

This is what He’s been speaking to me for years, so much so, I am planning on getting it tattooed on my forearm.

I AM GOOD. I AM TRUSTWORTHY. I LOVE YOU. TRUST ME

So follow Him to the ends of the earth, dear ones. Even if the ends of the earth seem like the end of your world. Because we aren’t meant for this world. We are meant for more. And He wouldn’t lead you on a journey to the end of the earth if He didn’t have glorious things in store! And He does, sweet one. For you and for me.

That’s why He doesn’t call us to move backwards, but forwards. And that’s why I’m never going back. Never going back to placing other things before Him. Never going back to allowing another voice to be louder in my life than His. Never going back to having scales over my eyes from seeing the truth. Never going back to lies and deceit. Never going back to less-than. Never going back to living like I have in the past. In order to move forward, you have to leave the past where it belongs. In the past.

So stop looking back. Turn your face forward. Hold your head heavenward and keep moving forward with your eyes fixed on the giver of life and all the glorious future that awaits you.

You’ve got this. Courage, Bravehearts!!