A Wife’s Secret to Happiness: don’t miss this!

     A wife’s secret to happiness.  What is this elusive thing, happiness, that we all seek after, we all hang our worth upon?
     We want so much to be happy, to feel that deep down satisfaction and peace in life, and possibly more than any other area, in our marriages, the most foundational of all relationships.  The adage “Happy wife, happy life” comes to mind, seeming to urge husbands to keep that girl of theirs in a good place so they can reap the benefits in their lifetimes together.  While that’s all well and good, and rather smart advice, our husband’s efforts aren’t our true source of happiness as wives.  We  want this most intimate relationship to be a happy one, but it is a grave and most basic error to think your husband can truly be our source of happiness.
     I have an amazing husband.  Ah-mazing.  We have been very happily married for almost 27 years. (Yes, we were infants when we got married, thank you for noticing how very youthful we are).  But as exceptional as my husband is, he cannot be my sole source of happiness.  He’s human.  A very good-looking and hilarious human who knows me better than anyone and treats we incredibly well, but human nonetheless.  And, like me, he makes mistakes. And has bad days. And doesn’t always say the exact right thing.  And what’s a girl to do when confronted with imperfect?  When human bumps into her happiness?  Well, that depends on the foundation holding up that girl’s happiness.
     I recently read A Wife’s Secret to Happiness by Jen Weaver.  This book articulates so much of what I’ve learned through my marriage, and so much I wish I’d understood as a younger wife, earlier in my walk with my husband.  Jen cuts to the bedrock here, the foundation in God that holds our happiness.  This book is filled with gut-honest and authentic struggles and joy, hands-on practical ways to apply God’s word to your marriage right now, and great downloadable bonus content to encourage and help you on your way. This is a great read, perfect for today’s young wives.  And some of us who are, um, less young.
     The secret of a wife’s happiness is truly seeing herself, her marriage, and her husband through the lens of her loving Savior.  To see how this team fits together, whose role is what, and looking to God for joy and fulfillment.  When I, a human and flawed wife, am in harmony with God, soaked in His grace, I am far more able to give grace to my awesome but also human husband, look to his best interest, and seek God’s plan for what our home and family should look like.
     When I was a younger wife, earlier in the journey of our marriage, less experienced and less in tune with what God was calling me to in my family, I thought this wife’s secret to happiness would be having this hot husband and getting my way about how things ran. Having a certain house, having a certain lifestyle, having our kids at a certain time, having my husband read my mind and do things because he wanted to.  I thought the secret to my happiness was, essentially, all about me.  Not about we.  But I, and I suspect many other wives who may see these words, had it so backwards.  We is the operative.  In A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, Jen emphasizes the importance of fighting alongside your husband in this great battle of life instead of against him.
     A wife’s secret to happiness, as Jen Weaver outlines it in her book, is the same in so many ways as a human’s secret to happiness.  Love God first, seek other’s best interests. When we let God provide and let our husbands love us rather than us seeking our own self promotion or demanding our own way, life is better. So. Much. Better.
     Will frustrations come?  Of course they will.  Again, human people involved in this situation.  But if you need to vent, to complain, give it to God.  Don’t be that contentious woman that drives your man to live on the corner of your rooftop instead of sharing your bed (Proverbs 25:24).  Fight for the we over the me.  This WILL make you a happy wife with a happy life.
     If you’d like to win a free copy of Jen Weaver’s excellent book, A Wife’s Secret to Happiness, please comment on this blog post AND be sure you’ve liked my author Facebook page, Kathleen Tysinger, before April 5.  I will draw a winning name and announce it in a live video on my Facebook page on April 6

A Prodigal Perspective: Hug BEFORE the speech.

     I want to be the one who hugs before the speech.  Odd thing to say, I know, but bear with me.
      I have recently taken some time reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son.  Take a look at Luke 15:11-24 (NIV):
     11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
     17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
     21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
     22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
     Such a beautiful picture.  That father wasn’t just glancing out the window by chance.  He walked to edge of his property. Every. Single. Day.  Waiting for his son.  Wanting his child home. Looking with expectation and hope.  He had be greatly disrespected and wronged by this son he loved, who he had given all to.  But what the father wanted most was not a big explanation, not the restoration of the riches this kid had squandered, but the safe return of the son he loved.  So he waited and he watched and he hoped.
     Meanwhile, this wayward son, broken and alone, long-abandoned by the friends attracted to money and a good time, came to the place of realizing just how much he and lost (not just the money) and how deeply he had hurt his father.  He had the whole talk prepared, rehearsed in his head every step of the long journey home:  the apology that poured from a hard-born place of humility, the request to be considered a servant to the household where he was once a son and heir.
     Remember, his father was waiting and watching, hoping every day just to have his son. Not an apology, not groveling, not a “you were right and I was so wrong, how could I be such a jerk” speech.  But his son.  Home. Safe. Present.
     This father, wealthy and respected, ran- not walked, not stood and waited until his son got to him- full tilt and swept that beloved, filthy, smelly young man who had broken his heart into a full embrace before the kid could get those well-rehearsed words out.  He hugged before the speech.  Because that boy was his.  And his boy came home.
     I tear up as I type this.  My loving Heavenly Father hugs me before the speech, because He already knows just how thoroughly I’ve blown it with my arrogance, my thoughtlessness, my willful plans.  Yet He runs to me, sweeps me- smelly, filthy mistakes and all- up in His arms.  He doesn’t wait until I have it all together, because, let’s face it, that won’t ever be the case.  He Loves me where I am when I just turn to Him.  Because I’m His.  And His girl turned back home.
     This heart of my Father, it makes me want to forgive like He does.  I want to hug before the speech.  I want to love like He loves.  I want to be open to the people around me and not make them work so hard for my forgiveness because it’s been so freely given to me.
     Our God rejoices over restored relationships, with Him and His children, and between His children here on earth.  Don’t you want to be hugged before the speech?  And doesn’t that make you want to be the one distributing pre-speech hugs yourself?  Ask yourself where God seeks restoration in your relationships and where you can give that hug this week.

Spring Pruning for the Soul

     I have always loved springtime in a garden, warmer days, fresh air after being inside, promise of good times outdoors with friends and family in the coming months.  But I don’t always love the work of springtime in the garden.
     It’s our first spring in our Texas home, and I had an uncharacteristic burst of energy last week, propelling my chronic-illness-self outside to attack some of the to-do list screaming in the back of my head.  A freeze in December had decimated the tropical plants along/in the koi pond and the wreckage had stared at me, brown, crunchy, droopy, and overall ugly, for some weeks now, demanding attention.  Something had to be done.   I set forth to do battle in my backyard, armed with clippers and gardening gloves at the ready, prepared to attack the old dead plant growth around my koi pond and along my back fence.  I won’t tell you how lovely and warm it was here in Fort Worth in the last week of February, lest I cause some of my non-Texan readers to think decidedly un-Christlike thoughts toward us Texans.  Ahem.  I digress.
     As I set forth on clearing the dead growth, I was amazed at how much was there.  I kept clipping and cutting, and there were still more stalks that had to be pulled back and trimmed, more tendrils to hack off near the root, and more leaves to be scooped out of the pond.  The koi were appreciative.  Or at least I like to think they were.
     As I worked, however, I was delighted to find that, under all the dead things I cleared away, there were beautiful brilliant-green sprouts of new growth, just ready to catch the springtime sunlight, just ready to spring forth and grow like crazy, into the lush and beautiful plants that will make my backyard beautiful again very soon.  But if that dead growth hadn’t been removed, the new sprouts couldn’t get the light they needed, impeding their growth, and they’d remain invisible, covered by dead things from seasons past.  Now that all the dead plants have been removed, I can clearly see the sunlight-bathed new sprouts from the seat by my desk at the window.
     There are seasons, so many seasons, in life that require me to cut back the dead, unused, past-season things in my heart that choke off the light I so desperately need to grow.  These things could have been good and healthy in the season they were meant for, but now are dead, wilting, taking up important space, and no longer what is best for me.  And so I prune.  It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s excruciatingly slow.  The more I cut back, the  more I can see what still needs to be removed.  And then I find weeds that were never meant to be there: things, habits, people that are decidedly unhealthy for me, things that really choke out my growth.  And I cut some more.
     In John 15:1-2, Jesus is talking to His disciples right before his betrayal, on a stroll through a vineyard.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
     Oh yes.  It’s not always me who does the pruning in my heart to make way for the sprouts of new life to cautiously peek through.  God has had to do some serious bushwhacking in my life, sometimes forcibly removing the things that are too big for me to uproot on my own, things would choke out the healthy and keep me from His best, things that keep me from being fruitful.
     It’s hard, and it’s draining, much like working in my backyard (did I mention I was on the couch the day after my pruning-fest?), but the reward of a clean slate and a peek at new growth is worthwhile.  So worthwhile.
God has new seasons for each of us, but to flourish in those new seasons we have to be willing to prune back last season’s dead things.  Get our your pruning shears, my friends, and allow God to use His.  You won’t regret it.  The struggle may take a while, but overall it’s short term, and the growth that will take place is truly a thing of beauty.

Not your average Family Reunion (Originally posted 3/6/11)

I wrote this post 6 years ago, and much has changed in my life. But this is a mile marker that bears revisiting.  Many people who know me know don’t know this particular story of God’s faithfulness, so I wanted to share.  Please feel free to comment below.

 

How I have struggled with putting this to paper. I’ve talked about this, thought about this, blogged in my head, but have stopped short of writing. Which baffles me a bit. Possibly because it’s too big and too emotional. I hesitated because of a fear of being misunderstood, seeming ungrateful, hurting those I love, or exposing myself a bit too much. I’ve struggled with how I’m even supposed to feel about this and how much I should share with others. There isn’t really a guide book. I never sought this out, at least not as an adult, but it found me nonetheless. Today I will come to the end of a long journey and the beginning of another. Today I will see this brave, selfless woman who chose. At age 19 she chose to give me life when it wasn’t convenient or easy, when it reminded her daily of a choice she regretted, when it was an overt label of her misstep in 1966-1967 when such things weren’t the norm.

How did I get here? Long story. I’ve known my whole life, due to the truly wonderful parents I received, that I was adopted, that I was chosen by God to be part of their family, and I was always wanted. Mom always said I wasn’t born to them but I was born for them. And I fully embrace that. I was a bit restless in my early college years and wanted to know more about my birth mother, but my very wise mom encouraged me to wait until I finished college, wait until I was settled, wait until I was a little more comfortable with myself and then make the decision about whether or not to seek further. Good choice. I waited, graduated, married the man of my dreams, and found truly who I was (and am) in the Lord. I didn’t have a hole to fill, didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, blessed as I was. No desire to look further. This, again, is nothing I sought.

But try to understand, when you look around a family reunion and everyone looks alike, looks like they belong, you can point out every family trait, where the traits came from and who has them, there is a bit of hollowness. A bit of a question mark. I never lacked in love and I adore my wonderful family, every single one of them. But inside there were quiet back-of-my-mind questions: why do I look this way? Who do I look like? Do I share any of the same abilities? What am I passing on to my own kids biologically? These never dominated my thought or my life, but have been present most of my life. Hard to understand if you’ve never been there, if you can see your own eyes in the face of a parent, a sibling, a cousin. If you can look at family pictures from generations past and see who you resemble the most. People who aren’t adopted MUST feel this curiosity to an extent, though, because pretty much everyone I know likes to know their family history, even looking into distant ancestry, to know where they came from and who they are. Again, I was (and am) very content, not looking to fill in where anything is missing in my family life or identity. And then there is this.

Last spring when I became sick with what was first diagnosed as TIA (mini-strokes), then changed (praise God) to Migraine Aura, we found we needed more genetic background. So we had to ask Mom to make some phone calls. You see, my adoption was private. We were friends of family members of my birth mother, though that branch of the family was distant from our friends. So Mom, wonderful, concerned about my health Mom, made those difficult phone calls to some of my birth mom’s cousins, found out there was no medical history that related to my condition or would help with my diagnosis, and that was the end of it. Except my birth mother was concerned, got my parent’s phone number, and called them. Over last summer they spoke several times, Mom updating her on my condition and letting her know I was doing better. I didn’t know any part of this at the time.

Last fall my parents let me know they’d been in contact with her and that she was living in Carson City, 3 hours from my home. She’d been there my whole life. She had a son from a marriage after I was born (not my biological father) and had adopted a daughter of her own, was now a grandmother. I was kind of floored, and tried to understand that they hadn’t said anything sooner because they were working through some of their own feelings about this contact. Where exactly was this going? I could only see one end to this path, and, admittedly, it kinda freaked me out. I had just started back to work at school and had no emotional energy for thinking this through or taking any action, so I let it sit for a while. A couple of months later, more contact had been made and it was becoming clear what the end of this path might look like. She let my parents know she would be open to talking to me. Then I got her phone numbers. On a slip of my mom’s floral stationary. It hung on my fridge for over a month, I’d glance at as I went by and think to myself that I should call, but not take the time to do so. I was experiencing a full range of emotions about this whole experience, not knowing how this phone call would go and if I wanted to take another step. How does one even begin that phone conversation? Curiosity finally outweighed apprehension, and I made the call. We talked for more than an hour, and I was surprised by the ease and instant connection in the conversation. The first thing she told me was that she had loved me every day of my life. Wow.

After talking to her I was preoccupied for several days. I thought through the details of our conversation, the ease with which we conversed, and the stories of how she loved me. Did I expect any different, having carried two children of my own, loving them from the moment I knew I was pregnant? I was (and am) sure one of the reasons for our contact is so she could truly know that I never once (again, due to my awesome parents) felt that she abandoned me, but had grown up knowing she sacrificed for me to have a life she couldn’t give me herself. Since that first phone call we have exchanged many e-mails, found many similarities in our taste, talents, and personalities, and I feel as though I’m getting a glimpse of who she is. She loves Jesus. She’s a musician. She was an English major in college and hoped to be an English teacher. She is intelligent, well-read, and witty. We decided we should meet. After all these years I had a face and a name to whom I could attach my wonderings and my gratitude. As my 44th birthday neared, I reflected on all the years I had wondered, especially around my birthday, and thought of who this woman was. I wondered so much about whether she was loved and supported during her pregnancy, what she was feeling as it came time to deliver, and how hard it was on her to walk away from the hospital after I was picked up. You see, she never had a moment’s doubt that giving me to my family was the right thing to do. She never saw me once, but her cousin, who was with her during the labor and delivery, told her I was a girl and I had red hair. My bracelet at the hospital read “Baby Girl Pickett.” My first fashion accessory and it took me nearly 44 years to know what it said. But that’s okay.

So the date was set. March 6, 2011. This was on the horizon. I was excited, but have for the past several weeks, deliberately distanced myself from this emotionally. The enormity of God’s plan in this was overwhelming, and I could really only think about it in small pieces. He put all of this in motion long before I was born, and I feel I am, not so much getting “another mom,” because nothing and no one can replace the amazing parents who raised me and the years of love and understanding they have given me, but I am gaining a piece to my puzzle, a friend, a connection to who I am I didn’t really know was missing. He has a purpose and a plan for this, and has had this meeting in His day planner since before I was born.

Nearly three months after our initial phone conversation, we are in South Lake Tahoe. The hotel room is beautiful, we have enjoyed the snow, a lot of fun family time and laughter, and some wonderful meals, and I’ve continued my emotional distance. Except last night some cracks began to form in my wall and all the feeling started to come through. Before we went to sleep James asked me how I was feeling about today. I expressed to him some of what I have written here (all of which I have written since we arrived in Tahoe Friday night), and I can honestly say I expect nothing but good things from this morning. But I know my emotional distance from the situation is wearing down to nothing. As I tearfully asked James last night, how do I even begin to thank a person who gave me life?

So I’m up early this morning, hours before our meeting, knowing she is a short distance away, and wondering what this will be like. Wondering if I’ll be a sobbing mess in the corner of a Starbuck’s in South Lake Tahoe. Actually, counting on it. James will drive me over to the Starbuck’s in a couple of hours and then, a couple of hours later, come back with the kids so they can meet her, too. I will hug this relative stranger and look into the eyes, for the first time, this woman who carried me for 9 months and prayed for me all these years.

It is now hours later, I am home in my kitchen with rain pouring down outside. Words are a cheap to medium to express everything. It was such an enormous blessing for us both, and eventually James and the kids as well. We hugged and cried at first sight, talked (and cried intermittently) for a couple of hours, then James and the kids came to meet us for lunch. I saw pictures of her as a 20 year old and as a child, pictures of my biological half-brother (her son) who has red hair and blue eyes, and pictures of my biological father, whom I resemble more than I resemble her. She is exactly my height and a wonderful, kind person. She talked of her life, her triumphs, her pain, how blessed she is, and how she wanted the same for me. I heard of her parents (she was also adopted at birth and has a unique understanding of how I feel), how they loved and supported her through her pregnancy, and how they all thought of my as God’s child. Such joy. It was over too soon, we wanted to get out of the area before the snow started, and we talked of meeting again later in the spring. She hugged us all good-bye and my heart is so full.
What a gift that God gives us, that we never come to our end of the capacity to love more people, and there’s no such thing as having too many people who love us. Does it detract from those we love already, to love someone else? Certainly not. There is always room in our hearts for another. This is, as I said at the start of my writing, the end of a long journey and the beginning of another

Crash

We all heard it.  Without a warning screech of tires, a deafening crash sounded just outside, another to follow.
My family rushed outside from our evening of cozy TV watching, sock footed, into a cold winter night, blurry with smoke.  Twenty feet from our front door an SUV faced the wrong way in our street, the corner streetlight lay along the sidewalk, broken glass scattered into the street.
Thick smoke, acrid and abundant, billowed from a fire under the car.  It was hard to see (what with no streetlight and all), but we knew we had to take action.  It became clear what had happened: the driver didn’t make the curve that bends slightly to the left right in front of the house, slammed into the corner streetlight (crash one), the force of which swung the vehicle around 180 degrees, completely uprooting the huge metal streetlight and sending it toppling to the sidewalk (crash two).
My husband made his way inside to call 911 while I rushed to the driver side of the vehicle. As I approached I heard the loud, semi-coherent moaning and swearing of it’s only occupant.  “Can you move?” I asked, grateful the driver was conscious.  The woman behind the wheel said she could, so I urged her to get out immediately, describing in the most animated terms that there was a fire blazing away under her.
I was taken aback by her response: “No, there’s not.”
I replied that there was indeed a fire, I could see it, pointing out the smoke billowing from under the ruined front of her vehicle.  Continuing her protests, the driver reluctantly climbed out of the SUV, stumbling around a little, clearly disoriented.
While a quick-thinking neighbor employed a fire extinguisher to snuff the fire, the ruined vehicle continued to leak fuel onto the street.
The driver’s agitation increased as we waited for the emergency responders.  “Don’t call the police,” the woman insisted, “I don’t need help. I’m going home now.”
I watched in astonishment as she climbed back into her car, intent on getting on with her evening.  Refusing to accept to the level of ruin, and wanting to move on with life, she decided to simply drive away in the destroyed vehicle she had been operating under the influence of what appeared to be a variety of substances.
A passer-by gently but firmly insisted that the driver stop trying to put the key in the ignition for fear a spark would reignite the fuel still draining under the car.
“I don’t need any help.”  “I’m not trying to drive away, not trying to start the car, there’s no fuel all over the street, there’s no broken glass, it’s all fine.”  “Everyone leave me alone.”
Belligerent and profane, she rebuffed any offer of help, water, blanket, comfort.  She had it all covered herself, thank you very much, and “none of this was real.”  Deny, deny, deny.
We stayed outside, trying to help, keeping watch to prevent her from reentering the car, until we heard sirens and saw the flashing lights approaching our usually quiet neighborhood.
Heading back into our warm house, we were all shaken by this, my family and I, and if nothing else it reiterated to my young adult kids to never drive under the influence of anything.  Ever.
I still think about this woman who didn’t quite make the turn in front of our house that cold night.  She was truly lucky to be alive, not a visible scratch on her.  She was unwillingly taken away by ambulance that night, and was, most likely, in police custody after being released from the hospital.
But I wonder how she got there.  What led her to the place of ruin, the place of denying she needed help, insisting that it was all fine, and trying to restart a car with no front end?  As we watched this all play out mere yards from our front door, I couldn’t help but wonder.  And I wonder still.
Don’t I deny that I need help, that I am struggling, misguidedly trying to figure out everything on my own?  Don’t I try to shove my key into the ignition, to restart a broken situation on my own, risking the inevitable explosion if spark meets spilled fuel?   Deny, deny, deny.
But here’s the reality of the situation. I do crash.  I make a mess of things that I can’t fix.  And I’d venture to guess that you do, too.
How often our lives crash.  A curve sneaks up on us that we don’t quite make, and we come to a screeching, crashing stop. We think we can just keep going without help, pushing away those who are trying to offer support and bless us.  We put all we have into to getting the wreckage moving again, having arrived at that place of destruction under the influence of all the wrong voices.
How, then, do we come back from a crashing ruin in our lives, whether of our own making or the resulting someone else’s choices?
  1. Stop denying there’s a problem.  Look for the place you veered of course, acknowledge where you’ve missed the turn, and be willing to take some steps to repair the situation.
  1. Stop insisting you don’t need anyone’s support.  Then listen to those around you who are offering that blanket, water, fire extinguisher, or advice to not climb back into the fuel-leaking wreckage of your life.
  1. Stop thinking you can fix the situation without Expert Help.  Hold up this brokenness before God, who loves you, and let Him do more than just some body shop repair on your life, but let him replace the engine, fuel pump, and transmission.  Our lives don’t just need to look like they’ve been repaired after a crash, we need them to work again.  What better way than a complete rebuild on the inside?
When we refuse to see our devastation, God can’t begin our restoration.  Let Him take the wreckage and make it new.

Faking OK

I recently got to tag along with my husband on a work trip (for him) to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where I had daytime hours to myself to explore, play, and sight see as my energy levels allowed.  So much to see there.  And so much more I probably didn’t want to see.  But I digress.
There are an incredible variety (and number) of casinos up and down the strip, all of which make it a primary goal to make you think you’re somewhere wonderful,  somewhere exotic, but somewhere other than where you actually are.   The resort owners craft an impressive counterfeit; the details and atmosphere are pretty and engaging, all harmonizing with the casino’s chosen theme.  But.  Mere yards away from the beautifully executed illusion, throngs of people are driven by the express purpose of gambling, drinking, partying, barely noticing their surroundings. The décor in a resort might transport you to a Paris street, or a cafe table by the canals of Venice while a passing gondolier pours out beautiful Italian songs to the couple in his gondola, but then the whiff of cigarettes from the casino and the sound of the slot machines shatter the carefully wrought illusion that you are anywhere but, well, where you really are.
Much like those Las Vegas resorts, I’ve spent my lifetime developing a skill for putting up a facade.  I can look like I have it all together, giving the impression that I’m a woman with a plan, one without stress or worries, one who keeps a perfect home or has a perfect life.  And it looks pretty good for a while.  Until something happens, my life gets rocked a bit (or a lot), and the edge of reality slips a little from behind the illusion, allowing a whiff of desperation, loneliness, or the fear that people will find out what I really am.  Not perfect.  Not all together, not as strong as I seem, not as confident as I seem, I don’t keep a perfect house, and there are oh-so-many-many things that I don’t do well at all.
If I ventured a guess, I would say I’m not alone here.  That there are many of my sisters out there in the same boat (or Las Vegas gondola, in keeping with the motif) with me.  We want to seem like we have it together, and we can, until a circumstance collides with our visage of perfect and we have to come face to face with the illusion.
One thing I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that it’s ok, really, not to have it all together.  It’s ok to be who you really are rather than putting up a front. God created you and gifted you perfectly, and you don’t have to be Paris or Venice to be amazing.  So I’m making progress in this area, but there’s a particular place that this authenticity eludes me still: Seeking or accepting help.
In my life experience and my observation of my sisters walking this earth, when asked if we need anything, even on the worst day, we (more often than not) reply, No thanks, I’m fine.  When we are SO. Not. Fine.  Which makes me wonder: Why aren’t we honest about this?  Why the mask? Why put the Vegas veneer on our life when there’s a need clamoring to be met?
Two reasons that I’ve bumped up against: one of my own and one a close friend shared with me when we were having a conversation about this very thing.
For me, it’s often prideful self sufficiency that stifles honesty about the real ache and desire of my heart, that causes me to move on in isolated silence.  It’s incredibly hard to admit I can’t make it all work.  Because that makes me less than.  And deep down it’s scary for light to shine on this  weakness for fear of being hurt.
For my friend, the hesitation to share a need stems from a gut-level doubt that the one offering really wants to help.  There’s an underlying question mark about whether the person offering (regardless of who it is) actually wants to enter into the situation with her and try to help OR that they can help at all.  It often feels, she explained, that they’re just being polite because offering help is the proper thing to do as humans rather than having a real desire or ability to help.
What would we really say if we were straight-forward, if we actually spoke out loud what we really needed? But what if we dropped the facade and let someone in? What if we admitted that we need someone?
A recent message I heard said when we don’t allow others to help us, we are robbing them of the chance to serve God.  Let that sink in for a moment.
Maybe their God-assignment for the day was to fill the need of your heart.  Or to make a quick run to the store you can’t do because you’re home with sick kids.  Or to bring you a can of soup and a box of lady products when you’re stuck at the hospital with your sick husband (seriously, I once did this for a wonderfully transparent friend who answered honestly when I asked if there was anything she needed).  If people are asking, they typically really mean it and are truly happy to help.
So I write this to myself as much as to you: Let people in.  Let them help you, let them bless you, let them KNOW you.  The Vegas facade is exhausting: life improves exponentially when we admit we can’t do it all alone.
As I unpacked this topic, a glaring parallel drifted into focus:  don’t we do the same “I’m fine” song and dance with God?
“I don’t need anything, thanks for asking,” we say, when our need for him is so very soul stiflingly great.  “I’m good,” we reply, when we’re really not at all good.  We arms-length the Creator of our universe, the Lover of our souls with our prideful self sufficiency because we just want to deal with it on our own because we think we should be able to, thank you very much.  Or we don’t accept His help because, on some level, we struggle to believe He really cares, really wants to help, or can really fix our broken place.
But I promise you, He cares, He can, and He will.  But we have to choose to allow His help in our lives.  He’s offering.  We just have to accept.
  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   -Matthew 11:28-29

Who’s in the Spotlight?

Fabulous Las Vegas.  Glitz, glamour, bright lights and anything you can imagine (and many things you don’t want to imagine) at every turn.
Years after our last visit to the world renowned desert city, I took the opportunity to tag along on a business trip with my awesome husband.  While he was at his conference, I took did some sight-seeing out and about, visiting the other hotel/resorts up and down the strip to see a few specific exhibits and other spectacles. Avoiding driving in an unfamiliar and very busy city, I called a Lyft most of the time I ventured out, but one day I found myself taking the time to stroll back to my hotel along the strip from a nearby outing.
It was a warm afternoon as I walked, unusual for February, sun pouring down on my shoulders, spring-like and welcome.  Tourists teemed up and down the sidewalk.  But it wasn’t only tourists peopling the thoroughfare.  Every few feet on the strip, regardless of the time of day or night, someone was performing: singing, playing guitar, playing saxophone, dancing, doing magic, posing for tourist photos with all their, um, assets on view.  I paused to listen, to watch, to appreciate, as I wandered back to my home away from home.  So many talented people, truly, just waiting to be discovered, trying to snare an audience (anyone at all!) who will validate them with some spare change in their hat or guitar case.
As I later reflected, it occurred to me that every one of these performers had something in common aside from their geographical location.  They desperately wanted to be seen, recognized.  Here I am!  See me!  Tell me I’m good at this thing!  Appreciate my contribution!  See my value!  I worked hard at this, please acknowledge my effort!  Notice me!
And in them, I recognized myself, street corner notwithstanding.
Don’t we all desperately crave acknowledgment on some level?   Validation, affirmation that we matter?
I’m pretty confident you feel me, here.  We work hard, pour our hearts out, do all we can for our families, our jobs, our  ministries, our world.  And we want to be seen.  Truly seen.  I know I really do, more often that I want to admit.  Look at me!  Tell me I’m significant!  Notice what I’m doing here!
Which leads to an elemental question: how do we fulfill that core-level hunger for approval?  Where do we go to fill that longing?
Am I desperately dancing on a street corner for the spare change of someone’s afterthought attention?
Or am I quietly lifting my truest heart-song to the Audience of One- the One who sees me most deeply- the only One whose approval truly counts?
If I’m looking to the audience of humans around me to validate me, I will ultimately be disappointed.  My life will be focused on pleasing people, waiting for them to notice my 7 shades of awesome.  But I’m pretty sure the world won’t notice.  They’re too busy wanting people to notice THEM. Because we’re all human creatures, seeing to find the validation that our soul craves.
If I’m looking to the audience of One, my God, my Heavenly Father, to validate me, He will truly fill that need that no one else, no matter how much they love me, can fill.  He notices.  He sees.  He created my 7 shades of awesome.  And He will never disappoint me.
Who is my audience?  And who is in the spotlight?  That’s what I need to consider.  Because that makes all the difference.
May my heart cry be “Hey Dad, this is for YOU!” rather than “Hey everyone, look at me!”

Evidence

 

Isn’t it strange what you miss when someone leaves your home?  After much anticipation (on my part at least!), our college student daughter spent four weeks with us to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, her first visit to our new home in Texas. Looking around the house after she returned to college in California a couple of weeks ago, I found I not only missed her, I missed the evidence that’s she’s here. During her visit, even if I couldn’t hear her voice in the house or see her face, I could always tell she was staying with us.
When she’s in our home she comes into my bathroom every morning to get ready with me, preparing for wherever the day will take us.  This is a practice I love, one started last summer before she went away to college.  We chat, drink our coffee or tea, put on makeup, do our hair, and watch Dance Moms on my iPad.  (Don’t judge.  We moms do whatever we can to get our young adult daughters to hang out with us, am I right?)  Her makeup (in colors not meant for a woman my age), her impressive assortment of makeup brushes, and hair products that aren’t mine are on the counter or next to the bathtub. Evidence that she’s spending that time with me.
And they’re not there when she’s at college.
When she’s in the house (now and before she went away to college) there’s always a thin layer of flour on the kitchen counters from the baking she loves to do, one of the ways she shows love to those around her.  There’s always a scrunched up pillow and fuzzy throw in “her” corner of our family room couch.  No matter how often I straighten them up, minutes later the couch is again in disarray.  I know she’s made herself comfortable.
And it’s not that way when she’s not here.
When our daughter is with us, ALL the small forks get used.  Every day.  And there are always multiple water glasses sitting on the counter.   I can tell she’s eaten and is staying hydrated.  Evidence that she’s here.
But when she’s gone, none of the small forks get used and far fewer glasses are seen.
There’s evidence that I’ve been with her, too.  She loves fun and creative makeup so she encourages me to try things I wouldn’t necessarily do on my own: a bold lip, green eyeshadow, contouring.  She often does my makeup for me when we’re together, in fact.  I can tell I’ve been with her when I look in the mirror and see her influence.
I know these artifacts are evidence of our daughter’s presence in our home because I know her.  I known her stuff.  I know her habits. I know what she likes and what makes her comfortable.  I know what it looks like when she’s working, living, and active in our family.
How often do we struggle, my friends, with not hearing from God or seeing His face?  I know I’ve been in that place so many times, feeling so dry and so removed from his presence.
What if, in those hard times, I could remind myself to look for the evidence around me that He is right there, even if I can’t see or hear Him?  The places that wouldn’t be the same if He hadn’t touched them, the situations that wouldn’t work if He didn’t work in them.  Evidence that He is there even if I can’t hear Him or see Him.  I know He is always at work behind the scenes.  Always.  Even when I can’t see His face, but I have to remind myself to look for the evidence, He is still at work.
And can I see evidence of His work in  me?  Showing that I have spent time with Him, been worked on by Him?  Things that I wouldn’t do (or COULDN’T do) on my own look different because I have been with Him.  More evidence.
Just as I know my daughter’s stuff because I know her so well, may I learn more and more to know my Father’s fingerprints on my life, my circumstances, my world, because I know my Father.
May I Look hard and notice.  He is working.
For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it.  He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls in people as they lie in ther beds. He whispers in their ears and terrifies them with warnings.  He makes them turn from doing wrong: he keeps them from pride.  He protects them from the grave, from crossing over the river of death.  Job 33:14-17
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Fighting My Fear: What’s Stopping You?

It was almost exactly a year ago, those dark and cold hours that are the slippery ice bridge between one year and another, leaving behind one of the hardest years of my life and hoping for something better or at least different on the other side.  Eager to push out of 2015, a year of great loss- losing my health, and subsequently my career, to a sudden onset of chronic illness, losing my dad just days before Christmas, struggles with my teenager- and stepping into the unknown of 2016, wondering what other things lay in wait, straining to see if things would be less frightening.  I was deep asleep in a hotel room in Grass Valley, California in those dark and cold hours, preparing for the wedding of a family friend the next day when this slipped across my sleeping brain.  The most vivid dream.  Unlike any I had experienced before. The kind where all of your senses are lit up and you truly believe you’re really there.
I was sitting across the table from someone in a conference room in what felt like a job performance review.  Stale smell of old coffee in the air, I could feel my hands on the table, my body in an uncomfortable chair, and the sense that I would rather not answer any questions.  Across from me was my reviewer, all authority and confidence.  I couldn’t see my companion’s face, or discern if I knew them or not, but there they sat.  A pile of papers sat on the desk in front of me, covered with indistinct writing, blurry meanings.
“So, Kathleen,” began my companion, “what is it that’s holding you back from what you really want to do?”
I was taken aback.  What?  Such an odd question.  I could feel the sweat on my palms and the waistband of my skirt feeling a bit too tight as I squirmed in the rigid metal chair, pantyhose cutting off my circulation.  How do I even respond?  How real was my dream-self willing to get?  But subterfuge wasn’t part of the dream equation.
“Fear,” I choked out.  “I’m just afraid.”
“Well,” replied my companion, pushing back from the table, “that’s not a good enough reason.”
And it was over.
I kept on sleeping.  I woke the next morning with this experience burned on my brain.  I NEVER remember my dreams unless they’re extra frightening, but nearly a year later this one still walks with me.
And it makes me wonder, how many of us are stuck and stunted because we’re afraid to move forward?  How many dreams are set aside because it’s just to scary to step out, to risk? How many things are left unsaid?  How many injustices are unchallenged because we are frozen in fear?
So many of things are addressed in a book I read recently, Fear Fighting by Kelly Balarie.  I waded into this book recently and encountered so much of what runs around my brain on the pages inside.  I was taken aback at how this book offers so much wisdom, and has helped me on my journey through (if not past) the fear that freezes me.  And maybe freezes you.
One thing I am learning through this hard process of my chronic illness is that my fear is often rooted in relying on my own ability rather than God’s sufficiency.  I have learned over again I am not enough.  But He is more than enough.  I have found Holy Ground in this illness, and am learning to sit and listen, to rely and be restored.  And to fix my eyes on him.  And his power is made perfect in my weakness.  In myself I can’t step out and do the thing that terrifies me, but in Him I can.
A year past that dreamy New Year’s Eve night I am still struggling against being afraid, allowing fear to scream “stop” when God is whispering “go.”  But I am learning.  I am learning to take of my shoes on the holy ground of my pain and fatigue and see those really bad days as God’s ongoing refinement of this broken vessel (Fear Fighting, page 33).  I am learning that just because I’m afraid doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do the thing that’s scaring me.  Which is why you’re reading this.
This is terrifying, putting my heart out there for all to see on a computer screen, publicly wrestling with the insecurity that looms behind the confidence I show (and sometimes even feel).  Biggest insecurity?  I think it’s common to all writers:  What I have to say doesn’t matter, it’s all been said before by someone else who said it better.  I’m totally fooling myself if I think I have what it takes to do this thing God is asking of me.  And NO ONE reads what I write.  Or maybe just 10 people.
But then, aren’t those 10 important?  Yes!  So very important. ONE is important to God, and therefore important to me.  And again I am reminded: I don’t have to be good enough.  Because He is more than enough.  And He will make sure the one who needs to read what I share will read it.
I choose to fight fear as my God opens His way.  Not the way to notoriety, but the way to serve Him.  Not the way to a national platform, but the way to reach those who He would have me reach.
I will not fear obscurity, but embrace the path.  I can’t, but He can.

At Just the Right Time…

A typical piece of my morning routine, I scrolled through my email inbox in my yoga pants and t shirt, rehydrating after my morning yoga practice.  Not that I don’t wear yoga pants when I’m NOT doing yoga.  But that’s another story for another day.  I opened an email from one of my favorite ministries, a blog post penned by one of my most-admired writers and ministry leaders, looking forward to some of the encouragement that these blog posts always provide.
And then my stomach dropped.
As I scanned through the post I recognized so many of the same themes that I had recently spent hours putting into words on my laptop, pouring out what God was putting on my heart.  And there they were, staring me down, written by someone famous, someone with a platform of millions, someone who already wrote them into a book.  A book I had hoped to write and she had, unbeknownst to her, beaten me to the punch.
Like a tidal wave crashing over me, I was flooded with the feeling that all I had done/felt/said/written was for nothing.  Irrational ranting coursed through my brain: anything I would put out would be compared to hers, people would wonder if I had taken ideas from her work, no one would read me when they could read her, since she’d already said it (and said it far better than I), I should just stop entirely and realize I would never be anything…  I choked back a sob.  Tears, stinging my eyes, would not be held back.  Good thing it was pre-makeup and shower. Deflated and defeated.  I was so sure this was the path I was to follow, that God had put this topic in my heart and it had poured so easily from my fingertips, and I had been chomping at the bit to continue- there was so much more to be added!  And then it somehow felt as though it was pulled out from under me.  My soul sighing deeply, somehow raggedly, I deleted the email and pushed back from my desk.
Then an hour or so later, showered and made up I sat down to my daily portion of the Word in 1st Timothy and Titus.  And there it was.  “at just the right time, Christ will be revealed…” “at just the right time, God revealed His message…”  “at just the right time…”  That phrase echoed around my brain. God had orchestrated all of history for “just the right time” for His Son to come, for His message to be preached.  At just the right time.
It’s so hard when it seems like the perfect time to us and it’s just not.  Maybe you’ve had that stab of disappointment, too, that longing for the waiting to be done now and it to be your “at just the right time.”
As hard as it was to see that “my idea” had already been taken, isn’t it more than possible, likely, in fact, that God will use the message He is birthing in me “at just the right time?”  Now may be the time for her blog and her book but my “just the right time” will be when God decides it is, not just for this writing, but for all my writing, any speaking or ministry he has planned for me.  So I will wait.  And I will write.  And I won’t “get tired of doing what is good.” My God is faithful, to  me and to you, my sweet friend.
It will happen “at just the right time.”