A place to belong

A thought occurred to me the other day – I have finally found a place to belong. A place where my heart beats in sync with those around me. Where I feel accepted. Beneficial. Wanted. A place where I am not judged or misunderstood. Quite the contrary, a place that wants to hear what I have to say. What I think. It wants to hear my voice.

I’ve waited my entire life to feel like I was actually a part of the conversation. Not being humored. Ignored. Tolerated.

I can count a thousand places where I didn’t fit in – no matter how hard I tried. No matter what I wore. How I spoke. What I owned.

And the things that make me unique are celebrated and encouraged – not snubbed, laughed at, or discounted.

This place fuels the fire in my soul that perhaps I have found a way to be myself and feed the God-given passion inside me at the same time. Neither part of me has to sit down and be quiet. For the first time, these two parts of me work together…in tandem.

But lately, this place has been judged. Criticized. Spoken harshly about. I get that there are people who won’t agree with my place, but do they have to be so vocal about it? Are generalizations beneficial? Even if some of their stereotypes are true, they may not be true about me, personally.

And, to my utter surprise, this hardness comes from those I thought would support this place. They come from the same team.

The other night, when I had enough of hearing their unwanted opinions, I began to cry. Once I started to cry, I couldn’t stop.

My teenager came over and held me the way I used to hold him when he was little and his feelings were hurt by this world. He whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, Mom.”

He held me in his long, lanky arms.

Tears of a broken heart are very different than tears of anger, bewilderment or shock. When a heart cries, it cries deep. The tears it spills replace words we can’t find to express the pain.

When a heart wells with tears, and fills to overflowing, in that moment no words are necessary.

Eventually, Humpty Dumpty’s heart was put back together and the tears stopped. It doesn’t mean my heart was never broken. The fracture lines are still there. And, it will probably break again.

But for now, I have a choice. Do I listen to the critical judgments of others, who paint with a broad brushstroke of generalizations, or do I believe what my heart knows is true and press on?

This is really hard. Discouragement is a weakness for me and it can make me quit faster than just about anything.

I choose to look at three little sticky posts I keep on my desk: One from my husband that says, “I love you!” Another is a quote I wrote down from a speaker, “Lean into the discomfort. Let yourself be seen.” And the last one that has been a go-to for a long time now, “Breathe.”

More than these, I read again the Scripture that sits apart from these sticky notes on the other side of my laptop by itself, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” – Proverbs 3:6

It won’t be easy. Pressing forward feels like when I’m at the beach and am trying to break through the tide line to get to deeper water. With every step a wave slams into me and knocks me off my feet. Sometimes I fall on my bum. Other times I get a mouth full of salty water and can’t catch my breath. Other times they slap me square on my back and sting my eyes.

But, I know very well that the way to get to the beautiful deep, where mysteries are discovered and God’s will is revealed, is only possible by pushing through the pounding waves.

I will keep pushing. There is a place where I finally found I belong, and it’s worth fighting for. Any place that’s worth it, is worth the effort to get there.

The day I touched fear

Copyrighted photos for Real Deep Stuff - Page 193It was a hot, sunny day on the west coast of Florida.  I was with my husband and his family visiting his younger brother in college.  Beach-dwellers that we are, we embarked on a day of sun, sand and water.

I stood at the tide line and gazed out at the watery horizon.  We were planning to snorkel, not something I’m crazy about doing.  There just seems something really unnatural about breathing through a tube underwater.  I usually wind up semi-hyperventilating because I am unable to regulate my breathing.  I imagine all kinds of what-if scenarios:  a drop of water spilling into the snorkel causing my airway to close, a wave engulfing my snorkel with the same result, etc.  Let’s just say it, I don’t like to snorkel, but was willing to be a good sport and go along with the family plan.

A long, thick, dark line rippled in the water.  Squinting, I saw it was a large band of seaweed that stretched across the water in both directions as far as I could see.  To make matters worse, the seaweed began The Deep.  You know, where the tidal shelf drops into oblivion and  creatures of the sea play in their playground.

I love, love, love the sea and all that is in it.  From sharks to angler fish to sea urchins, I will never stop getting a kick out of God’s creativity, imagination and ingenuity that is so proudly displayed in the creatures of the sea.  But, I also know humans weren’t meant to live in it, and thus we enter their territory. I fully respect that it is their home and not mine.

Splashing around in shallow water is one thing.  Venturing into the deep, dark unknown is another.  I swallowed hard and felt my stomach turn.  I reasoned that as long as I didn’t touch the seaweed, I would be in the safer, shallow water.

Got it.  The seaweed is my marker.  It was the beginning of The Deep.  I will tolerate snorkeling as long as I don’t touch a thread of the nasty stuff.

Bruce, his brother and I waded out into waist-high water, fighting against the crashing waves and stubborn under toe.  They both dipped headfirst into the water with only the tips of their snorkels spouting up in the air and an occasional flipper kicking behind them.

My turn.

I took a deep breath then practiced a few normal breaths through the snorkel.  My chest was already heaving.

Just go already, I said to myself, not wanting to fall behind.

I leaned forward and fell face-first into the murky water.  Phase 1 complete.

I began to kick my flippers, swimming parallel to the beach as the current tried to pull me toward the shore.

Don’t touch the seaweed, Kristi.  Whatever you do, don’t touch the seaweed! I reminded myself over and over.  I didn’t want to be anywhere near the abyss that housed mysterious creatures lurking who knows how closely by.  Florida, after all, is home to some of the largest shark populations in the world.  Love them!!!!  But, I don’t need a close encounter with them unless its through a cage.

I tried to follow the shadowy figures of my husband and brother-in-law.  It was really hard to see in the water thick as pea soup.

All of a sudden, you guessed it, I felt the seaweed.  It brushed up against my left arm, then my left leg.  It tickled my stomach, and longer strands grazed my hair.

Before I knew it, I was completely tangled up in the mess of it!  It was all over me as if I were a small fly caught in an enormous spider web.  The more I struggled to break free, the worse it got.

Couple this moment with the fact that I’m definitely hyperventilating through the dumb snorkel and I can only imagine the show I must have given the sun worshipers on the sandy beach.  I probably looked like I was wrestling an alligator (which have been known to make an appearance!).

My body was flailing horizontally on the water’s surface as I struggled to remain clam.  Nope.  I was too far gone for that.  My lungs grew hot as I held my breath, not wanting any water to fill my snorkel, and my arms and legs were utterly caught in the disgusting seaweed.  I could no longer see my husband or brother-in-law and knew I had been separated from them.  I was in big trouble.  I had been pulled into the seaweed by the current and was in The Deep – alone.

Just don’t try to stand up, Kristi.  Then you’ll know how really deep you are and that will make matters worse, I counciled myself.

No such luck.  The will of self-preservation kicked in and I shot out of the water like a rocket, breathing a huge, obnoxious gulp of air with eyes bulging and body shaking.

To my surprise, and embarrassment, I nearly tackled my poor brother-in-law!  He was only about a foot in front of me, and I landed right in his face.  He had turned toward me in the same moment I sailed through the air like a swordfish with a sheer look of horror on my face.

When I landed, my feet plunged into the sand much sooner than I expected to in The Deep.

Well, that is because I wasn’t actually in The Deep.  I stood up and realized the water was barely to my waist.  There I stood, with seaweed draped on me like a swamp monster, heaving, snorkel floating nearby in the water, trembling with mouth agape at the whole escapade.

He looked with shock and bewilderment at the scene I had created.

I quickly gathered my composure (on the outside), gave a sheepish smile and apologized for my weird behavior and told him I was fine.

He gave me an Okay, but I don’t really believe you, you crazy woman glance, then turned around and continued snorkeling.

I, however, could only stand there and process what had happened.  I looked again at the band of seaweed, and from where I was standing in the water, it wasn’t drifting as far out to sea as it looked like from the shore.  Nor could I judge how deep the water was with sand in between my toes.

We were, in fact, a safe distance from The Deep.  Everything changed when I saw it from a different longitude and latitude.  Boy did I feel ridiculous!

That experience has never left me – nor the lesson it taught me.

I learned that fear is powerful.  Very powerful.  It can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically.  Fear of the unknown allows much room for us to fill in the blanks with worst-case scenarios.

What began as a fun day at the beach with my extended family turned into, in my mind, a life-or-death situation where I was being pulled out to sea and straight into the mouth of something much larger and stronger than me.

There were multiple layers of fear that day.  Fear of being separated from my family.  Fear of being alone.  Fear of not being able to control the situation.  Fear of what may have its eye on me.  Fear of just how deep the trouble I was in – way over my head.  Fear of not being able to breathe.  Fear of being helpless and being beyond help.  And fear that this horrible moment will never, ever end!

Were any of those fears real?  Well, some – to a point.

If I had been separated from my family, I guess I believed I would have been lost forever.  This stems from abandonment issues – 20 years later I am still working on courtesy of childhood scars.  The truth is, my family wouldn’t have left the beach without me.  They would have, at some point, noticed I was gone, and felt like I was worthy enough to come find me.

I don’t know many people who like being alone lonely.  Let me clarify that.  I love being alone, but have a very hard time handling loneliness   I had that in spades growing up, and if I never feel lonely again it would be too soon.  I thoroughly enjoy time by myself, but that’s not the same as being lonely.  Being lost in the ocean would have been the bad kind of being alone, but again, I didn’t believe at the time that I was worth searching for.  Enter lonely and afraid.

Fear of a lack of control.  Please raise your hand if you struggle with this, too!  Don’t we all want to be the captain of our ship in some way?  It’s our carnal nature to turn our compass in the direction we want to go.  And, if we could control the weather, the water, the sun and the moon so as to plan our trip, well, that would be even better.  In the moment of sheer panic in the ocean that day, trusting God for my safety was the last thing on my mind.  Was He not watching?  Seeing?  Still sovereign on His throne? (Psalm 121)  Does He not care for us all of the time? (Matthew 6:25-34)

And yes, anytime we venture into a world where we are the minority, the foreigner, there is risk.  Listen to survivors tell their stories of being lost in the Amazon, on the African plains, in ice caverns, etc.  When we are in these places – we play by the rules of nature there.  Sure, there could have been something in the water, but again, I had total amnesia as to God’s hand of protection or His plans for my life.  Even if I had been attacked by a shark, could God still not find a way to use it for my good and His glory?  He can…with our cooperation.

Sometimes we get into trouble over our head either by choice or by default.  I had lost sight of God as Rescuer either by the hand of a loved one or stranger, or any other creative means He may choose to save me.  I believed the situation was bigger than me and God.  That is wrong.  Lots of things are bigger than me, but nothing is bigger than God.  I never asked Him to save me.  That makes me sad.  He is my Good Father and I forgot to call on Him when I needed help.

Life feels suffocating sometimes.  We feel helpless.  This is a recipe for panic and anxiety.  God is God of peace and order.  He controls all, all the time.  Nothing happens to us that hasn’t passed through His hands first.  He can never be surprised, shocked or unprepared for what life may bring. We can be blindsided.  He never closes His eyes.  When we are at our worst, weakest and most helpless, He is our superhero, our Savior.

Ah.  The last fear – that the moment will never end.  That was a low blow from the enemy.  Nothing on this earth will last forever.  No, I take that back.  There are two things – God’s Word and our decision as to where to spend eternity.  Everything else will fade away (Matthew 24:35).  Everything.  When we are caught in a moment that feels like a downward spiral pulling us further from the oxygen we need so badly to get through a tough situation, it is easy to merely see the darkness enveloping around us.  But, broaden our lens and we see that even darkness is as light to God.  Nothing is hidden from Him (Psalm 139:12).

I’ve been thinking about this experience lately in regards to missions.  I’ve let fear take me hostage on a runaway train of imagination and exaggeration and have felt every fear that I did at the beach that day.  There are risks to missions, but there is risk walking to our mailbox, driving to work, and anything we do.  Anything.  When deciding what to do about missions this year, it would behoove us to deliberately, intentionally, boot fear to the curb.  It has no place in God’s calling.

What are you fearful about?  Have any big decisions weighing on you?

I think God understands we feel fear because He remembers we are made of dust (Psalm 103:13-14).  We aren’t superhuman like He is.  But, when we choose to see things from His longitude and latitude (a heavenly perspective, I might add), we are reminded of just how much He loves us and never takes His eyes off of us (Psalm 17:8).  And, the more we turn from our natural instinct to fear and choose to think like Him, the more we can see His divine plan at work in our lives.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2

Whether heading out for a fun day at the beach, or stepping out in faith on mission, there is one Truth that remains – and it is enough for all who call on Christ as Savior…

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9

Dear Lord, lead on.  Amen.

Sand and Water #3 Perspective

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

Sitting on the beach, I was quite content to people watch for a while.  My youngest son and I had finished playing a fun game of frisbee and other beach games, so he set off to try to make a home made kite from a plastic bag, 2 boogie boards and red plastic string.

A family nearby had also enjoyed a full day playing in the sun – mom, dad, toddler and grandparents.  Nearing late afternoon, the mom, grandmother and daughter ventured into the surf together – hand in hand.  I watched them with curiosity.  Then, it happened.

My heart sank, and I instantly knew why I felt like my heart weighed a 1,000 pounds.  There were 3 generations enjoying the beach together.  Something I will never have with my mom and children.  Once again, reality has a way of sneaking its way into a dreamy moment.  One moment, the grandmother and mother were swinging the toddler above the waves with me blissfully watching on the sidelines, then, in the next breath the stark reality of what I will never feel, hear, see or experience hit me like a roaring wave of sadness.

However, what happened next totally caught me by surprise.  As fast as my heart sank, it was as though a life preserver had been thrown my way.  With fresh eyes, ones given to me by believing God in all things and living by faith, what I watched through a grieving filter of a hollow past was now something I could look forward to enjoying in the future.

I may not be able to have this kind of beach moment with my mom and daughter, but hopefully I can have it with my daughter, or daughter-in-laws, and grandchildren.

Ah ha!  Everything looked different.

It is our choice to walk backwards on the path of life on which God has allowed us to journey.  It is also our choice to walk forward.  I was caught up in a moment of walking backwards over things that have already taken place, and in doing so I temporarily forfeited the opportunity to get excited about what I hope is to come.

Is there a guarantee that I will ever get that moment?  No.  But, without hopes and dreams, the reality of life can mercilessly pound us like relentless, crashing waves.  For today, I look forward to the many moments God will prayerfully give me with my family – but I will also treasure the ones He’s given me right now.

Yesterday, we had an awesome day together.  In the sand, sun and water, we made the most of the day and went to bed delightfully exhausted and a little sunburned.

I snapped a photo (above) of the family, our sandy neighbors, whom I had the pleasure of watching. Instead of bringing despair, they offered me hope.   Instead of walking backwards, I will walk forward to whatever awaits on my path.  And, I will soak in every laugh, every hug, every tender moment with my family that God gives me right now.  They are balm to my heart and water to my soul.  I have a smile on my face this morning, over precious memories made thus far on this trip and with hope for more special moments to come.

Sand and Water #2 Intuition

While packing for this trip, I contemplated what we really wanted to schlep bring with us.  After getting all 5 bikes out, I looked long and hard at our helmets.  We obey helmet laws on a regular basis, but at the beach, you seldom see people wearing helmets on the sand.  I remember our last beach trip, and the helmets were in the way more than anything.

I threw them in the van, but then considered taking them back out for more usable space for luggage.  In a moment, I decided to leave them.  Something inside me told to let them come.

Yesterday, the kids were riding their bikes on a slippery street where we are staying.  My daughter’s handle grip slipped off recently at home, but we stuck it back on and never thought about it again.

She turned a corner, the grip slipped off, sending her front tiring spinning sideways.  Down she went.  We got her back in the rental and cleaned up the many scrapes, cuts, etc.  Her elbow and hip were hurt.  After a triage assessment by my husband, I helped with some band-aids, pain reliever and ice.  We bought her a sling and she wore it the rest of the day.

At bedtime, she said her prayers and thanked God for her helmet several times.  When she finished praying, I asked her about the helmet because my back was turned when she fell.

Mom, that helmet saved my head.  When the tire turned, I fell directly on my elbow and head – my head bounced several times on the road.  My stomach sank and my heart rejoiced.  The thought of her fall upset me, but knowing she wore her helmet was a saving grace.

At her age, many teens don’t think it’s necessary, or cool, to wear a helmet.  Not wearing one would have badly hurt her and abruptly ended our trip.    Rules are there for a reason, and I am SO thankful God nudged me to pack these bulky things.  I now recognize it was the Holy Spirit who convinced me to literally remove my hand from the helmets and leave them in the van.

My baby girl showed me her helmet today, and it’s noticeably banged up.  That would’ve been her.  She’s out of the sling today, and her hip is a little bruised, but it hasn’t slowed her down one bit.  In addition to the sling, I bought a brand new pair of handle grips which have been successfully installed. 🙂

God spared her and the trip.  Watching her splash in the waves and dig in the sand, I am so very grateful for God’s hand of protection through some common sense and obedience at the small cost of inconvenient packing. 🙂  Party on…

Sand and Water #1 Rest

Stand at the crossroads and lookask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

~ Jeremiah 6:16

I am sitting in what feels like a painting.  We’re at the beach, and it is lightly raining.  I’ve perched myself on the balcony of our rental, and as I write it’s hard to imagine this is real.  Quite comfortable on the large, swinging bench, my dog leans against me – head up, ears cocked, eyes alert – she is protecting the alpha female…me.  On the swing, I’ve got with me my Bible, my camera bag, a devotional, this blog and black raspberry sparkling ice.  The only thing missing from the big rocks in my jar is my family who are delightfully playing in the ocean – despite the rain.

Not a sound.  Just rain falling softly on tin roofs and palm fronds sleepily swaying in the wind.  A beach vacation certainly assumes time in the sun, but as much as we anticipate that, we need rest.  I’ve learned that in life, sometimes the rain has to fall to make us stop and rest.

We’ve vacationed so hard sometimes that we were exhausted when we returned home.  That was more of a trip than vacation.  This time is intended as a respite.  A reconnect.  A refreshing as we gear up for a busy school year.  Let the rain fall if it means I don’t feel the pressure to plan activities or bring out the exasperating person in me who feels the endless need to be everything to everyone.

The breeze is beautiful.  The scenery divine.  It’s all good.

Reminding myself it’s all good is why I am writing today.  I have said goodbye to one season of life and am anticipating a new one.  It brings a lot of change with it, and although no life is perfect, this new season has perfect timing.

I take yet another lesson from my dog.  She drove with us many hours and miles, never having a clue where we were going.  She was patient in the car though she didn’t understand the GPS or our may stops.  Once here, she just wanted to know where her food, water and bed were.  After that, she is content just to be with us no matter what we do.

We are each on a journey of our own.  Only God knows where we are going – and He controls the GPS.  Are we patient traveling along the long roads, in traffic, in rain, at night, when we’re tired, when we take an unexpected trip to urgent care en route, when we are bored and are really done with this part of the journey?

When God leads us to our appointed destination, are we content with the basics of trusting Him to provide for our needs – or do we automatically begin foraging for ourselves?  Do we have and exercise faith that He knows what we need and will help us?

Once we are convinced He has our best at heart, are we content to simply be with Him throughout the days, following Him without complaint regardless of where, when or for how long He walks the sandy shore?

Is His presence enough to satisfy us without asking, “Yeah, I know God, but what else are we going to do?”

Lots to think about as I look down at my dog who involuntarily sways back and forth to the rhythm of the swing.  She’s just happy to be with me.  I want that blissfulness with God rain or shine, beach or home, good days or bad, rough waters or smooth sailing.  That is the desire of my heart.

Sunday Selah

One thing I ask of the Lord,
    this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

In Psalm 27, David reminds himself of God’s strongarm against his enemies.  He reiterates God’s mercy, goodness and safety.  Yet, in the middle of wrestling with fear, weakness and unstable circumstances, David breaks away in his heart and seems to pause mid-thought.

He is in crisis.  He feels unsafe of where he is and unsure of what the future holds in the hands of his enemies.  However, I can almost see David stop his heart’s plea and set his gaze on the horizon.  Although his feet stand on a place of longitutde and latitude, his heart escapes to another place and time.  There it is peaceful, quiet and restful.  Indeed, God’s house is a respite, a place of refuge.

Until God calls His chidlren home, we are called to seek Him now – every day.  Where do you find rest in God?

One place I find Him is at the beach.  I am reminded of His greatness of strength, creativity and control.  The rythmic waves crashing on the shore slow my own racing heart, and I come to a place of surrender.

I’m not at the beach today, but I can still find my way to God’s house – in my heart.  His children are His temple, and He dwells in us.  When I surrender myself to Him, I find rest, peace and stillness not found anywhere on this earth.

I encourage you, also, to look and listen for God today whever you are.

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. ~ Psalm 29:11

Lord willing, I’ll see you tomorrow back here for more real…deep…stuff.

Have a wonderful Sabbath,

Kristi