Planting Seeds

Little did I know it then, but I think God was planting seeds.  He does that sort of thing.  I was about 8 or 9 years old when I first heard her name.  Naomi.  She had come to our church to talk about her life as a missionary.  It felt odd.  Foreign.  A different world that I couldn’t imagine relating to or living in.

She seemed old, and far away, but somehow I could sense this woman was a saint and I felt drawn to her.  I was both strangely curious and yet terrified that someday God would call me to Africa.

In that church, missions were not emphasized, so this time with Naomi was even more foreign than it should have been. I had so little exposure to God’s heart for the world.

As the years went by, God still planted seeds.  A hunger to learn French in high school.  A mission trip to Egypt in college. Studying a semester abroad and finding a sense of adventure in me.  Studying Greek, and loving it, in seminary.

Little did I know when I planned a birthday party for my son with an international theme, that the nations were being birthed in my heart.  He was just in kindergarten then.  Before long, he will graduate from high school.  And all that time God was planting.

God has brought me to serve in orphanages in Ecuador, China, Haiti, and Mexico. I’ve attempted phrases of Spanish, Mandarin, Creole, and French.

Sometimes when I go to a country, all of my languages and phrases surface with incredible life. I dream and I pray in foreign languages, just bit by bit.  I only know phrases, but they bridge me to relationships and hearts and ultimately nations.  One heart at a time.

I am in awe of Him, how He unfolds visions and dreams over a lifetime.  God grew this heart for the world, for the nations.  When we lived in Wilmore, the Bible Study I went to was vibrant with missionaries on furlough, different languages to hear the scriptures, different countries to hold up in prayer.

I didn’t know when we prayed for our neighbors’ adoption from China that we were fertile ground for more seeds.  About five years later, God called us to adopt from China too, and now the nations feel ever present in our home.  Kingdom fruit.

I’m about to embark on a Conversational Chinese class at a community college next week.  In preparation, I read an e-book called How To Learn A Foreign Language.  Suddenly it all clicked.  I had inklings of how God had a purpose behind my dreams, but this book seemed to solidify them for me.  Here is a quote…

This whole process is as much about THEM as it is about you. There are people waiting to come into contact with you whom you will never have a chance of having meaningful communication with unless you invest this time and effort in learning their language. In doing so, you are honoring their culture and declaring that you have something to learn from them.

That is a vision God has put on my heart.  To enter into a nation, build a bridge to the hurting, and honor the creation of humanity that God so loves.  Because He has reached this orphaned heart, I want to go to the ends of the earth to show others the value and worth of being loved by God.  

Not forgotten.  Seen.  Heard.  Understood.  

If God translates that to COSA’s here in my own world, or to orphans in every nation, the calling is the same.  Build bridges.  Reach hurting hearts.

All of this takes a stretch.  Out of our comfort zones.  Out of busyness or apathy or familiarity.  It takes  a seed of wonder… curiosity… a spark of adventure to go where God leads.  Allowing God to open our hearts to connect with someone else.

It begins with the seed. Being open to what God is planting in you. Search your own heart. Are you being stirred?  Do you have fertile ground for the Master Gardener to cultivate some incredible dreams in you?

Colliding Priorities

I’m surrounded by kleenex, hot tea, blankets and books.  If I felt well, it could be a refreshing retreat to soak in some studies.  Instead I’m trudging my way through a week of not feeling well, day after day.  You can only have so much echinecea, airborne, tea and tissues before you start to feel fed up with dragging.

 

I’m sick of being sick, without the energy to keep walking and keep growing.  My body won’t let me do what my hearts want to do.

My old self by nature pushes hard and cannot slow down.  My old self wants productivity, drive, determination, order.  It is my inner critic that says I need to do more and be more.

It’s as if an invisible clip board hangs over my shoulder, reminding me of the tasks at hand that I seem to have no strength to do anything about.

What I wouldn’t do to have taxes done, filing sorted, and things crossed off my lists.  And here I am — I can’t.

I’ve been learning I can’t push so hard.  I’ve been learning humanity and limits.  I’ve been digging deep into nurture and self care.  Isn’t it ironic that I’m now in a week of testing to see if I get it???

Julie, do you understand grace?  Are you good to yourself?

I have done a tremendous amount of work to understand what recovery looks like for me.  It is a whole new world to factor in my own needs and feelings.  It is brand new for me to accept and live into my humanity without always pushing myself for more.

So on weeks like this one, where my body feels heavy in need, I see these two inner worlds collide.  My old self pleads to please find productivity (translate: WORTH) somewhere.  I need to DO something.  Other people are done with their taxes, after all.  Why can’t I?  I don’t want unfinished things weighing me down.

I am self critical and self defeating.  I fret over time and my lack of accomplishment. I want to feel better, and do more, and still be nurturing to my needs.  I wish I could have both.

I want  to give more of myself to my children.  I want to work hard in my home.  And I have nothing right now to give.  The whole week has had such limited functioning.

I’m grateful for this post.  It is bringing my honesty and conflict to the table.  It’s showing me my colliding priorities and how I want my new self to rise.  It’s a test that I want to come forth with new outcomes.

The same temptations persist.  Can I push more, do more, be more — but ultimately hurt myself?   Or can I accept that things have to wait?  To live with my own sense of disappointment that not everything can get done when I want it to.  It’s uncomfortable growth.  But I’m hopeful that in the midst of this messy lesson, I’m starting to get it.  It’s starting to sink in.

Daily Steps

I continually wrestle and battle with grace.  My humanity comes to the surface, longing for acceptance and welcome.  My shame batters it and beats it down.  Pressure comes as a familiar foe.

I have to intentionally plant my heart in hope.  I’m surrounded by distress and anxiety, fears that tempt to encroach me.  One by one, I have to set them aside. Choose Hope.  Life.  Healing. Growth.

Recovery comes in the moments.  The daily steps.  The choices we make in how to frame the opportunity before us.

Perhaps the ongoing trauma feels so heavy, so life threatening, that we just want out. Internal stress pile up.  No end in sight and endurance chokes.  Who can survive?

I go back, again and again.  Daily.  In those moments,  I get grounded in truth and light and perspective.  Solid footing.  Without it, the storm would destroy me.

Julia Cameron writes of the grace that needs to accompany our journey.

…it is necessary to go gently and slowly.  What we are after here is the healing of old wounds — not the creation of new ones…. Progress not perfection…

Too far, too fast, and we can undo ourselves.

Grace beckons me to come and rest.  Be still here.

Allow the calm to soothe my spirit.  There is purpose in timing.

Accept that where I am is okay. This step. This one small step is significant.

Slow down.  Live just this moment, and live it well.

 

Growing in Grace

The words don’t fall easily off my fingertips.  I am bewildered.  My heart is heavy in pain.

Oh how a battle stirs my soul….. I’m being tossed about with the weight, the pressure and anxiety, and continually trying to hone it back into serenity, peace, firm footing, getting grounded, gathering hope …..  candle lit, music in my headphones, writing some quotes in my serenity journal — and I can still hear life’s noise in the background, ongoing disruptions.

My heart is churning about so many things it is hard to write.  But I’m here.  Willing.

God is teaching me to wait. To wait on Him. To wait for His timing. To trust what He is teaching us, and what He is leading us to, and preparing us for.

And yet, my heart bleeds.  It cries out for the redemption that is promised.  For rescue.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has set them free. He has raised up a mighty savior for us — he has established for us a saving power in the house of his servant David just as he promised! Luke 1:68-70

My heart cries out.  Enough, Lord!  Mercy!  I’m ready for you to redeem this mess.

But I’m sitting with it.  I’m acknowledging my heartfelt needs.  My confusion and wrestling and churning.  I’m giving it to him.  I’m pouring out my soul with safe hearts that can hear me.

This is real life.  Real faith.  Triumph in adversity.

For as much as life has stormed hard, a hurricane of the soul, here we are.  Living, growing, being.  In the midst of it.

“growing in grace through the very adversity that was meant to harm you.”

No matter what harm festers and storms around me, God brings it for good.  Scripture teaches us all things….  All things, all circumstances, all fears and frustrations, can be worked together for good.  God can take it all and use it all.

I am not in denial.  I’m not avoiding or pretending.  I’m not medicating the pain with addiction.

Sometimes life feels raw, and anxiety doesn’t just disappear because I trust God or recite scripture.  I can’t belittle my experience or make it hurt less. But I can know God is here.  With me.

God comes.  He enters in.

He is not put off by the mess.  He touches pain.

 

Honest Humanity

I have had incredible joy in the past few days.  So much so, that it just bubbled over in me as I arrived at my support group on Thursday night.  I was so elated, it was overflowing.  One of the women asked me to share my story of what brought me such joy.

I didn’t even realize it at first.  In fact, I was caught off guard and speechless.  How could I even pin point it?  It wasn’t until I started sharing that it became so clear.  Something in this day was different.

A very familiar situation had happened earlier that day.  An invitation to test if I was going to respond the same old way.  Enter onto the scene a marked step of growth:  a firm boundary set.  A completely different outcome.  Not in the situation, but in me.

I am being made new.

It’s a one step at a time kind of progress.  Perhaps slow at times, but I’m realizing slow isn’t a bad thing.  It is the time you give to something of quality.  Something that matters.  Something deep.  And how you get there is just one moment, or one day, at a time…  and then the next.

My friend said she hoped I bring the joy back next week.  I laughed and said “no promises, but I can give you this:  I will be honest.”

This morning I saw a precious friend in church who was glad for my writing.  She said it was honest.  Then she said, “People don’t like honest.  Keep doing it.”  I smiled.  So true that honesty can make people uncomfortable.  But we need more of it.  And I have the most respect for people who speak the hard truth.

Anyone who hasn’t faced their own honest humanity will always be uncomfortable when they are confronted by it.

So let me set a boundary and say this.  I promise to be honest.  Being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing.  It is an opportunity to explore growth.  In fact, if something stirs us up inside, it is worth exploring.

I have been stirred up, trying to sort through and untangle some difficult things.  I felt tripped up.  Stuck. And then suddenly, it shifts.

I have been utterly amazed at how it unfolds like an epiphany.  Sudden freedom.  Relief.  Growth.

Seeing the power of boundaries was like that.  Hard work paying off.  Progress.  The pieces of my puzzle coming together, solidifying what I’m learning, and taking me to a better place.

 

Small Steps

I am recovering perfectionist.

I’ve learned enough about myself to know I wasn’t attempting to put on appearances, although I had been raised to do so.  It was more about calming my environment, so that I could ultimately soothe my inner world.  It gave me something to delight in, having things in order and done with gusto and fine attention to detail.

The problem was, it was killing me.

I have come to realize that I had an enormous pile up of pressure.  Decades of demands I have pushed on myself.  Endlessly, tirelessly, expecting more from myself.  Until I couldn’t do anymore.

Suddenly what my soul hungered for was Grace.  Humanity.  Limits.  Recovery.

When you are that desperate, that starved, something has got to change.  And praise God, it has.  An entire shift in my thinking.  A welcome embrace of my own humanity.  Learning less pressure and more grace.  And moving into this new reality, this recovery, I just might be able to live and not die.

I’ve learned it comes in small steps.  One decision, one moment at a time.  A shift in thinking that I don’t have to push harder.  If I kept up the pressure, I’d either explode or collapse.  No longer.  Instead, every small thing I do helps.

Out with the old, in with the new.  We took some Christmas money and I redecorated our kitchen with the smallest touches.

This isn’t where I hung them, but these are the simple daily affirmations that greet me.  I have a few fresh containers for napkins and cooking utensils, a new five dollar rug for under the kitchen sink, a place for fresh fruit.  You would think I have a whole new house, it  feels so good.

Sometimes we feel bound up in fear.  Things feel so desperately hopeless that we get stuck.  If you have battled depression, as I have, it can be empowering to hear how much a small step can help forward motion.

“Over time these small steps lead toward recovery.”

No matter how hard the task may seem, no matter how much you hope to accomplish….or for me — how many books I hope to read and study and sit with (for more hours in the day than what I’m given)….you can do something.

As Jon Allen writes, “You still have some energy and some motivation — at least some of the time.  

We must distinguish between difficult and impossible.  Hope lies in the difference.”

I learned many powerful things through The Meadows this past year.  My husband spent ten weeks in rehab there, and I was deeply blessed to support him through family week.  I spent an additional week working on trauma at Survivors Week.  I highly recommend this place.  God has profoundly used The Meadows to change our lives.

One thing that my therapist at The Meadows taught me was about moderation.  Recovery is a life of balance and moderation.  To be healthy, to have balance, to live in moderation, you often only need to take a few steps toward the middle.  Maybe your life has been out of kilter, on some unhealthy extreme.  Healing is not in moving completely in the opposite direction, or you would be off balance again.

Just take a few steps towards health.

It dawned on me in a life changing way.  Even a few steps of redirection can be the moderation and adjustment I need.  Reflecting on each adjustment, each step, I realized the power it holds.  This very process will lead to transformation.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying: Progress not perfection.  Take the next right step.  (Ahhh.  I sit back and smile.)  And to think we don’t have to kill ourselves with the pressure, and our life can really change.
Progress.  That’s something I can live into.