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View the Uphill from Under the Hill

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In Florida, we don’t have hills, but we have bridges. On my out and back 5 mile training run, I began the tackle of the bridge and was at the peak when I hit mile one. I could say it was smooth sailing after that, or all downhill from there… but I hate cliches. I felt great though. Sure, it was humid, but the temperature was a good ten degrees cooler than my usual Saturday morning runs, so I considered that a win. The path I chose had small rolling hills, but nothing I couldn’t handle that morning. I guess I was in the right place mentally and physically.

I did the turnaround at 2.5 miles and headed back towards that bridge. I knew I would hit mile 4 right before I got to the peak. The run had felt exhilarating and I figured I’d just blast up that hill, er…bridge and be done with it.

The thing is, though, that for some reason I saw the bridge looming ahead, and it seemed more intimidating from this side. The incline is steeper headed inland, and my legs suddenly hurt. My breathing got out of whack. I was floundering. For about ten seconds, my mental battle just about clobbered me physically. I thought I would throw up. I began to fear being able to run over that bridge twice the day of the half marathon I am training for.

But I wouldn’t let myself quit. I wouldn’t allow myself to walk. I hated myself for those ten seconds, but I knew that I could do it if I just kept moving my legs. I had the strength. I was almost to the top, and I only had one mile to go. Downhill would be so much better, if I could just make it to the top. And then I did. I wanted to have a Rocky moment, but that would have held back my time if I stopped to jump up and down with my arms in the air at the top of the bridge, so I just smiled and kept plugging.

That has been my life for the last couple years. I have scaled, hiked, crawled, and run hills I thought would defeat me, but I have tried to remember that I am not in it alone. Peter walked on water. Maybe not for long before he doubted himself, but Jesus was there to catch him, and when I feel like I cannot crest the next hill, and it hovers over me, I remind myself I have never really been alone. Jesus is always there when I cannot do it by my own strength. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). I want to picture myself running into His waiting arms at the top of the hill.

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Then, when I completed my run, I stretched and walked along under that bridge that had almost defeated me, and I saw it from a different perspective. I saw its height and vastness, and I knew I had made it over the top, and I now rested in its shade. Getting over our hills can be a mental, emotional, or physical challenge, but once we make it to the other side, we can rest in its shade.

My Story

If you’ve been in a church, you’ve probably heard about peaks and valleys. Life is full of them. About a year ago, I was checking out a pretty great view on my own mountain peak… and then was shoved from behind into a canyon. Every time I think I’ve found some hand and foot holds to start to climb back up, I slip.

The thing is, as miserable as this experience has been, I know I won’t be down here forever, and what I do while I’m down here matters.

Because one day, I am going to have an amazing story to tell.

I am a writer; however, God is the author of my life. All truly good stories have several intertwined subplots, and as the reader, we don’t always see how all those subplots fit together, but the Author and Creator always sees how it will all connect in the end.

I am learning that I am not the author of my life. God is. I cannot get out of this valley on my own. I have to trust He is working behind the scenes to pull me up. He is giving me an amazing story to tell. He didn’t knock me down here, but He knew I would fall. He already had a plan to raise me up.

My story is not finished yet. One day I can share the story and the happy ending of eternal life.

(I had this post fermenting in my mind as the first of 2016 over a week ago, and then my pastor gave a message last Sunday that confirmed this was the right thing, right down to the video I had already decided to include. God is funny that way.)

Bad Religion

You don’t need religion to have God. There is no specific prayer you need to pray, no certain clothing you must wear, nor special buildings you must utilize. God wants us in whatever fashion we choose to come to Him, because He just wants us.

Through Jesus, God gave us an example of a prayer in what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer,” but we can come before Him in prayer in many ways, with our own sincere words. Our clothing matters little, as long as it does not send wrong messages to others. After all, John the Baptist wore animal hides and was said to be a wild looking man. A church building, no matter how beautiful, is still only a building. The church is the people, and we must not forget that.

Religion is like food these days. Additives. Preservatives. Genetically modified. And all sorts of words and fillers that nobody can pronounce and have no nourishing qualities. I just want some non-GMO, all-natural, organic God. It’s as simple as reading, studying, and following the Bible.

It’s not about following a strict set of rules. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus made it really simple, and no matter how many hoops religions make for their followers to jump through, no one can earn the grace that God has already offered to us. It is about having a personal relationship with Him and loving people…all people… not just the ones in our church building.

This is why I love the church I attend and helped launch so much (Epic Church). We call it “a church for people who don’t do church.” This last Sunday, we gathered in our usual building (which is actually a cafeterium at a local middle school), and then headed out into various places throughout our county in order to serve our community by cleaning, painting, building, feeding, loving, and just generally serving through projects to fill needs through an event called 3G Sunday (Go, Gather, Give). At least 341 people signed up to be part of this, and I am so blessed to be part of a church that does something as cool as this. I’m not telling you to come to my church; after all, you could be reading this from the other side of the globe. I’m just saying that you should think about what your church really stands for and what it really means to accomplish. Is it in line with real biblical truths? We are meant to love one another, serve others, and have a strong community.

Seasons of Friendship

The most telling test of a true friend is what they do when your life hits its lowest point, like mine did this year. I was hit with one thing after another, each compounded by complications of those circumstances. That’s vague, but that’s all you need. If you’ve been through a time when all you waned to do was stay in bed and hide from life, but you knew you couldn’t, so you robotically went through the motions, then you know what I mean. Basically, the only way I could have felt worse would have been by the death of a loved one, which thankfully never happened.

In this time, I desperately needed friends. The thing is, people are busy with their lives, and the formalities of one text to check in on me one time may have come, but only a few continued to check on me, knowing my introvert self was unlikely to reach out on my own, but that I still needed to know people cared. I am so grateful to those people, even if all they did was repeatedly send me texts to check on me, and for the ones who got me out of the house and just let me talk it out. I was surprised when certain people I had always thought would be the first at my side seemed to shrug their shoulders at my pain, seeming never to give it a second thought, while others who I really didn’t know all that well yet reached out and helped me through.

I didn’t even realize that I’ve been dealing with anger and rejection until recently. What happened to the friendships I had valued so much before? They disappeared in my darkest time and sometimes even seeing these people in passing actually made me feel sick and angry, smiling and hugging, and going about their business, or should I say busyness.

I hope when my friends need me that I am not too blind and busy to see. I would hate to ever make anyone feel that pain.

Then I heard the song “Seasons of Love” from the play Rent, and I started thinking about how our lives go through seasons, and our friendships fall into that as well. Admittedly, I do not easily open up and truly connect with people, so when I do, I obviously hope such a friendship will last forever, but life doesn’t work that way most of the time. Some of our friendships are just for a season, and when that season passes, new people enter our lives. Even in my hurting, God knew what I needed, and He brought me comfort and love, even if it wasn’t where I would have thought to look. But that’s why He’s God and I’m not.

Love One Another

I was poking back through a few drafts of posts I had saved when I discovered a post I had actually trashed two years ago because I was afraid of the backlash I might receive if I actually posted it, afraid people may only read the parts they wanted to in order to be offended. Lately, being offended is the hip thing to do. And that made me realize that maybe my message is even more important than it was when I originally wrote this. I just ask if you read it to know that I did write this in love and am sharing it in love. I pray anyone reading this sees my heart:

God never asked for our assistance in judging one another; He called us to love Him and to LOVE one another, and this was put above all the other commandments.  If we could all stop looking for each other’s faults and begin to see and repent of our own, wouldn’t it be easier to love others?  After all, not one of us is perfect.

I want to address an issue that has been heavy on my heart for sometime now.  Unfortunately, though I do this in love and with good intentions in hoping to make others see love, I am sure some will find a way to be offended.  This is why I’ve not addressed the issue earlier.  So, please read with an open mind, no matter which side you take on the matter.

As a straight person, I admit I do not understand anything really about being gay.  I do know that I have now and have in the past had several gay people come in and out of my life whom I have thought were amazing people, regardless of their sexual orientation. People are people, whether black or white, gay or straight, and we are called to look at each other’s hearts and to love one another.

Sometimes the discussion of whether being gay is morally right or wrong comes up because I am a Christian.  This is always an awkward matter that I try to avoid.  Why?  Because I have to admit that I do not think this is what God intended; however, I also feel that it is not my place, nor any other Christian’s place to pass judgment on those who are gay. I want to love people, no matter their orientation.

Again, no person is perfect.

Whatever our imperfections, impurities, vices, etc., we all have them in some form.  Let’s try not to focus on these things in one another, but to see the good instead, and to see that deep down we are the same and everyone just wants to be and equally deserves to be loved, because God loves us equally.

As far as I can tell, there are people like me who try to generally stay out of the crossfire when it comes to this matter.  But I also see people thrusting themselves in and hating one another.  I see Christians condemning gays and I see gays condemning Christians.  What will this ever solve?

On the side of gay people, I see them often feeling they are being backed into a corner.  We cannot deny that hate crimes do exist, and hurtful comments are uttered under breath. A basic reaction to this is always to attack back or to stay as small as possible in that corner, hoping not to be noticed.

Then on the side of Christians, I often see and hear comments about how all Christians are hypocritical and hateful, yet most of the people I know who claim to be Christians really do not hold any animosity towards gay people.  This is an unfair stereotype based on a small percentage of loudmouths making us all look bad.  Coming down on all Christians as being hypocritical and judgmental then becomes just as hypocritical and judgmental on the other side. Christians have been persecuted around the world for over 2,000 years now, something that doesn’t seem like it will end any time soon.

This post isn’t about taking sides.  There should not be sides.  This post is to encourage love.  We will all be judged eventually…by God.  Let’s let Him take care of it and just do as we have been commanded by Him to do, and love one other.

Keep Making Me Better

My husband and I have wanted to be missionaries or some sort of heroes in the battle against human trafficking. Wanting to stand in the gap for others makes us good people, right? I guess I was feeling like I was a pretty good person. I left my teaching job in order to begin reflection and finding our place in this (also because I felt God urging me to leave it since the job consumed me). I spent a year recovering from my career, writing, and wanting to get in touch with what God’s plan was for me. However, I found myself lacking in the spiritual revelation area.

Parenting in any form had never crossed my mind. That would get in the way of what we really felt we should be doing in helping others. We were so much the unparents that people joked about how unparent we were.

Then, through a series of events still unbelievable to me, we ended up agreeing to take in a four-year old girl, related to me. We knew it was the right thing and were beginning to see how God had made a way for us to be in place for this child when she needed us, but it was hard, and we were only beginning to see it, after all. At first, I felt like this might get in the way of us doing the big plan we knew God had for us. I also was selfish because I didn’t know how I was going to have time to be me anymore. This was a legit worry for a couple who never planned to have kids in over 14 years of marriage. And it was a legit shock to my world since I had just experienced a year of total freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted. But, still, I was being selfish. I had to grow up and look beyond myself.

We were doing the best we knew how to raise a displaced little girl, but my inexperience had me wondering why God would have her with me, of all people. There had to be someone better equipped. People seemed to think my husband was made for the role, but all the jokes from the past of me being such an unparent were messing with my confidence and making me feel overwhelmed and sorry for her having been placed in my care. Surely God had made a mistake. Oops!

One day, I picked her up from school and had to take her for a school physical. Maybe she hadn’t slept well the night before, because she was moody…or maybe she was just picking up on my insecurity. She threw a fit I didn’t understand and I didn’t know what to do. When we arrived at our destination, I could no longer hold back my tears. I apologized to her for having to live with me because I wasn’t sure what I was doing and she deserved better than me. She looked at me with big, loving eyes and began to cry too. She hugged me so tightly. In that second, I realized this little girl had been traumatized by rejection, and I had to pull it together for her and give her the sense of security all children need, because she was acting up only because she was scared and living with hurt from the situation that had brought her to me in the first place. We couldn’t both be scared. I was the adult. I had to reassure her and be strong and loving. I let her know then that I was going to do my best to be better. It’s still not always easy, and many sacrifices have been made by my husband and I, but she has been every bit as much a blessing to us as I hope we have been for her. We’ve learned routine and shared in love and learning…and I feel God has been using her to help me grow up just as He is using us to be her protection and love. When you love someone, selfishness has a way of going away, and without resent. It has to, or someone will suffer. I refuse to see her suffer any more.

I never would have planned this for my life, but it wasn’t my plan. It was God’s. He has allowed us to be the security, love, and safety she was afraid she no longer had, and He has helped us to be more like Him, which is what the Bible tells us to do.

Are we there yet? Of course not. We are constantly learning, but this blessing wrapped in a child has truly opened our eyes. We’ll never be perfect, but we are constantly learning more about how to love like God loves and to put others before ourselves. He has equipped us in love, finances, and support from so many people around us. It’s a continual adventure, but we’ve learned to trust God in all of it.

When I heard the following song one day and truly listened to the words, I knew God was using it in that moment to speak to me. Maybe it can speak to someone else right now too.

 

Where My Feet May Fail…

My husband and I took a dive into a world we had no experience in, and we did it by the faith that God would be in this with us no matter what, because we feel we are doing what He called us to do. It’s been the most emotional experience of my life. It would be easiest to just give up and stop, but even though we lose sleep and our lives have changed completely, we press on, because the reward is so great.

LOVE. It’s what we are here to do… be like Jesus and LOVE. I know I’m far from being Jesus, but with His help, I can do all things, and if I keep in the right mindset, and in prayer, I trust Him to pull us through this.

Lately, the song “Oceans” by Hillsong United has really spoken to me, so much so that I try to sing along every time I hear it, but my voice cracks and tears fall. I know my husband and I cannot do this alone.  What an exercise in faith this has become.