Posted in Faith

Grief, life and the in-between

We tend to think of grief when there is a mortal death. A family member or close friend, a pet even, leaves this life and we have to learn how to move on without them. Why? Simply because our lungs still have breath.

Anyone fresh in this period will tell you the heartache is real and the loss unbearable at times. So it makes sense to associate grief with death of life. Physical loss is evidence of a physical presence no longer existing and we hate waking up to that reminder.

But what about when we lose a relationship? Someone we deeply loved, or a dear friend who seems more distant. What about when a job ends unexpectedly or someone rejects us without reason? When those doors close and that pain is felt, it also is a death of life – just not physical. And unfortunately, we are not afforded the same time to grieve, as one would have for bereavement. So we walk around at our jobs, at the grocery store, in church, at gatherings, etc. carrying the hurt with us.

We all know other people around us and even ourselves if we’re bold enough to admit, who are grieving millions of little griefs daily.

And I’m writing about grief because I think it deserves to be talked about. I can say personally in the past I’ve struggled with grief and loss, but most recently have learned to address and work through grief more quickly for my own mental health. Taking care of our minds truly does wonders for our physical health.

Recently I took a personal trip to a small cottage and began praying for God to help me recognize where I was “stuck”. I had noticed some things in my speech and behavior that were evident of being bitter and resentful, and I wasn’t okay with it. Being a writer, I began to journal. And I didn’t necessarily need to leave my home to do this, but the change of scenery was helpful.

I went through my life and memories chronologically as best as I could and began to see a pattern in relationships, in events surrounding certain memories and in my responses to them. And many times, I reacted irrationally or in unhealthy ways. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What it revealed was that I hadn’t worked through old hurts and therefore was hurting others as a result.

Newsflash: Hurting people hurt people.

Let that sink in for a second.

WOW! What an opportunity to give grace to each other.

Most commonly in counseling, five stages of grief are recognized, known as the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.

The first stage of grief is denial. We end up in shock at received news. Our minds cannot comprehend what we’ve been told, read or experienced, and we make a choice not to believe it. It doesn’t make the event less true. We just tend to not want to accept this new reality, so we live around it as best we can.

It’s the ostrich effect in FULL EFFECT.

Then, when there is no getting around it, we get angry and many times rush to bargaining. We get upset at the inability to have had a choice made for us, and now we have to live with the resulting consequences or circumstances and we are mad, raging and frustrated! And sadly, anger is a comfy chair.

This stage especially frustrates us because we have to admit we had no control over the situation. And I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but life is great at proving over and over again just how out of control we really are. We don’t like being reminded of that.

A clue to know if you are “stuck” in this area is to ask yourself how often you talk about said event, circumstance or situation. Are you seeking validation from others when you share your story? Do you ruminate over and over? Do you stay angry and feel justified doing so?

This is a healthy stage, especially because you’re no longer denying, but not where one should camp out. Walk through this, give yourself time to get upset and seek a counselor. I cannot stress enough the value of having an unbiased, neutral person who can assess your emotions from a distance.

Once anger is processed in a healthy way, we move into depression. That doesn’t sound right, but it is. In a way, we begin to accept the outcome and in this stage have to actually process the loss. Reality begins to set in. There is simply no way around it. And it will be painful in a new way, but in a way that leads to acceptance and freedom to move forward.

Getting to the point of acceptance takes time. It takes patience in ourselves and in others. When we’re hurting, our fuse tends to be a little shorter. We don’t walk around with badges on our shirts or signage of what we’re dealing with or walking through. It would be great to have porcupine quills that would allow us to show others when we’re approachable or not. Strangers have no idea what we’re facing or processing. Sometimes we even keep this from family members and those closest to us. And yet we operate out of hardened hearts that haven’t completely processed a moment – DAILY.

There are many reasons for “deaths” and each one has to be dealt with. Each time we die a little death, we need to process the timing, circumstances, people involved, situation, our emotions, responses, etc. There is so much to loss that we don’t think of our lives as “deaths” and yet they are. We just don’t have a memorial for each and every time.

Physical distance from people can create distance in relationship – it’s just normal to lose friends to proximity. And yet it still hurts and is still painful. When someone moves, they tend to move on. Choosing to stay connected to the past requires a choice and definitely more effort so the past can stay the present.

We may have differences of opinion on certain topics, and all of a sudden, we drop a friend or family member with whom we can’t seem to agree. We are a disposable society – something gets old or doesn’t excite us anymore, we drop it and buy/get new. And so our friends and family fall into the same areas.

We have little mini-computers in our palms daily and can connect to the world around us, yet lose touch with those closest to us. We are backwards in our approach to intimacy and community. We don’t like being vulnerable. We don’t like sharing because we don’t know whom to trust. And we continue to live without actually living.

Pain in grief is also described as suffering. And I can admit that I don’t want to admit that I suffered for a long time without realizing I had/have the power to let go and move on. It’s all within my reach and will. But it would require effort.

Kara Tippetts, a young mother of four, blogger of “Mundane Faithfulness” and breast cancer victim, died two years after her diagnosis of cancer. Most would question God’s goodness, she stated, because of her years of life (she was 38 when she passed in 2015) and her diagnosis. But in her own personal grief and processing of her own mortal life pre-death, she shared some wise words:

“Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live.”

Kara Tippetts, And it was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Goodbye

What if God allows things so we could turn to Him for solace and comfort? Because at the end of the day, God is somehow the One we turn to for answers, believer or not. We either blame Him or question Him, right?

One of our pastors, Bob Bauer, wisely said once,

“What if we keep praying away the one thing God is using to bring us closer to Him?”

After hearing that, it truly became a step of deeper faith for me. What if every time I’m uncomfortable, I ask God to remove the pain and hurt and He doesn’t? Does that make Him any less good? Or does it just make me the lukewarm Christian who wants the easy life and loves God when things are good, but can’t stand when things take me out of my comfort zone?

Another newsflash: He’s not a genie. He’s our Heavenly Father.

What if we took the time to process grief? What if we MADE TIME to process grief? Everyone I know says that their lives are busy. Too much to do, not enough time, yada yada yada. Busy-ness can be a distraction from dealing with reality. It actually can keep one locked into denial because they don’t have to face the painful loss. And why don’t we want to go there? Because it IS painful.

It requires admitting pain was experienced and in order to move forward, we have to accept circumstances we may not have had an opportunity to make a choice in. Perhaps someone else made the choice for us and we’re now living/operating in the fallout of that choice.

When I think of grief, I think of the sister word “lament”. To lament is to express the grief or sorrow. Biblically, we see this best in the Psalms.

Psalms are a great way to read about loss, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I know, I can hear you, “Seriously, Grace? When I’m hurting, the last thing I want to do is read about other people going through hurt.”

I get it. Truly. I’ve been there too. Hear me out…

Each of the writers of Psalms have demonstrated the ability to relate to us in this area. I was taught to read this book of the Bible early in my life to assist in “pain management”, if you will. And the truth is that I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in them at times of hurt. I could identify and I would read about the emotions these writers experienced. I could validate their hurt and frustration. I could see them shaking their fists at God and questioning His all-sufficient sovereignty. And when I would take the time to read all the way through a Psalm, I learned they usually end in praise.

Wait, what?

Yes, dear one. Praise.

Each time grief and loss is dealt with, it results in acceptance, just as a believer in Christ recognizes the truth that we are indeed “out of control” and technically never had it in the first place. So we extend praise to the One who IS in control.

We accept that God has reasons for what He allows and why He doesn’t allow other things, and though it hurts like hell sometimes, we cannot change the outcome.

We realize human beings are selfish by nature and sometimes hurt other people.

We recognize our own ability to wound and inflict pain on others, and should the Lord prompt us to deal with our own failings, we need to extend our apologies to those we’ve hurt. The Bible gives an outline of how to do so.

Scripture instructs that whether we are the offender or the offended, the onus is on us to seek restoration in our relationships.

In Matthew 5:23 – 24, we are instructed: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift” . In the next chapter of Matthew, we are told: “If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6: 14 – 15 Today’s NIV).

Jennifer Thomas, https://www.christianitytoday.com/women-leaders/2007/july/apologies-that-work.html

We, as believers, give grace and do not have to be doormats to pain, but can create healthy boundaries where we can forgive and love from a distance, thus still honoring our Lord and His commandment to love Him first and our neighbors as we love ourselves.

We can grieve and literally cry over events and not believe that we are weak in doing so. Cleansing ones’ soul due to pain and hurt is something we can only do this side of Heaven. There, God will dry our tears and we will never have to deal with sin again.

We can go to those we trust to pray with us, to share the stories that need to be told, and to help us mourn. Our friends carry burdens and these are some of those.

We also do not grieve earthly lives as the world does. See 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Physical death takes us into the presence of God and if we’ve made Jesus our Lord, our future is secure. Our bodies will be changed to heavenly bodies and our sin will be eradicated. We are no longer separated by death/life. We get to LIVE ETERNALLY with Him and therefore rejoice when one we love dies. It makes us ache more for Home since we are foreigners here. There will be reunions of believers when we take our last breath here.

Healing is acceptance. Acceptance is healing. These are interchangeable.

And it’s mandatory to be able to function in healthy ways without being stuck in unhealthy grief patterns.

Scripture shares this story about Isaiah and Hezekiah:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 

2 Kings 20:1-5

When grieving, we have a Heavenly Father who is aware, still loves us, and gives us the ability and direction to go to Him with EVERY and ALL HURT.

He is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. He picks up our Humpty Dumpty selves and puts us back together like mosaic in the best way. Why? Because He is the Potter. We are the clay. And He gets to restore what was once broken with something that is made beautiful.

God will end all suffering, pain and eventually death. There will be a time when it will all end and we won’t have to deal with all of the weight of this anymore. Jesus already took onto Himself the pain of every hurt ever dished out, and God punished Him for what we are guilty of. This brings hope and forgiveness even to ourselves. The cross is our example of the lengths He would go to show us how valuable we are, even when we mess up. He is the ULTIMATE RESTORER and gets All Glory!

Heavenly Father, give us the ability to trust You when life hurts. Please allow us to say no to things that hinder our proper healing and time to grieve. We know You know what grief is like and you get the ultimate glory when you get to restore us. Give us the patience for ourselves and the grace for others daily, who struggle with things we know nothing about. May we love with Your love, give grace that can only come from You and share the love of Jesus no matter the rejection. We know You love us, and walk with us through every moment. May we remember to turn to You and seek Your face, knowing You will provide the right answers and peace during the trials. It is not up to us to fear, but to follow You. We love You, Lord.

In Jesus’ Name. AMEN.

Here are some helpful resources for dealing with grief:

When God Weeps by Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The God of All Comfort by Dee Brestin
And It was Beautiful by Kara Tippetts

https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/grief-and-loss-resources

How To Grieve Like a Christian

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Free Resource on Grief

Posted in Faith, Stepfamily

Open letter to stepmoms and some reflection

Recently, I was on a website for stepparents who struggle with their issues, need encouragement and are dealing with heartache.  I don’t read the stories to get stuck in each individual encounter, nor do I read them for feelings of affirmation for myself.  I read them to remind myself that my own situation as a stepparent has grown remarkably in the last three years, and the family I’ve been a part of, for over five. It helps me to celebrate the small milestones and to thank God for what He is doing/has done.

This past spring, I completed a study on forgiveness and began to put into practice the steps necessary to release the hurts/anger/offenses.  The change in my heart was proof of Christ’s conviction, release and freedom.  I couldn’t shut up about the changes, the prayers, the weight lifted!  It was no surprise that when our class ended, I was asked by the leader if I would teach the study out of my own home, for the benefit of women who struggle with areas of unforgiveness in their lives, not just stepfamily situations.  Without hesitation, I said yes, and I can truly see God’s hand in it.  It’s been amazing!  And I pray it continues.

In reading the post for this particular day, one of the moms who was sharing her heartache was at the end of her rope.  Normally I would skip past and move onto another topic, but I felt compelled to share some hope with her.  Below is my response.  Keep in mind I have no idea of the woman’s faith or lack of, and am just sharing my heart with a complete stranger.

As a stepmom of a little over three years, and dealing with the BM for over five, I want to share hope. I still deal with painful moments, and heartache. I’ve got many moments of ambushes, intended public humiliation, childish behavior in my memory, and am praying forgiveness through them. I have learned/am learning that my reaction to intended hurt says a lot to those who watch: primarily the children I’ve come to love as my own, and to my husband who chose me as part of his journey, and extended family, friends, extras. Ladies, we aren’t machines, so pain still hurts. But I’ve found my faith in the Lord is my mainstay. I keep praying to Him for strength He has willingly given, and I keep the long-term in my focus. When my girls are a little older (they’re 20/17 now), I know in my heart, they will know that I kept myself from retaliating, spoke kindly of the BM even when she didn’t deserve it, and put them first MANY TIMES over my own happiness.

As stepmothers, we end up on the backburner many times. IT HAPPENS (much more often that we feel we deserve), but we chose to enter into an already existing family, with hurts/damaged feelings/ high emotions, etc. It’s not as much about being the bigger person, as it is about remaining strong in the commitment between your husband and yourself, and your value in Christ.

Remembering every incident that created a wound had begun to make me bitter and hurtful. Having learned to give my hurts to Christ who died for these moments and asked me to let them go so I can live, I am finding it easier by saying, “Jesus, take this moment from me. Help me to love with Your love and remember this moment no more. Thank you for the grace you freely give that I don’t deserve. Help me to continue to give it to those who hurt me.” Does it take away the wound? No, it leaves a scar. Does it remove the memory? No, sometimes seeing the repeat offender makes the memory more vivid. But I have to continually give the hurt to Jesus. He has helped me heal and look at my scars lovingly. In the palms of His hand are the scars I’ve given to Him that He didn’t deserve either.

With time, comes healing, and with Jesus, the freedom to not stay in bondage to bitterness, but to free ourselves to love those who hate us, and to show our children how to be overcomers. All of the children have pain we can’t imagine, and loyalty issues we wish they could move past. We have to be mindful of that and allow time to work in their lives too. But I do know from Scripture that LOVE heals a multitude of sins.

When I let my guard down and began to treat the BM like another human being, even when she didn’t want to acknowledge my physical presence, I saw Jesus at work. Over a few months, she began to talk to me like a human being, and I kept praying for Jesus to soften her heart as well as mine. I believe in miracles because I see evidence of forgiveness everyday. My prayer for all of you is the same. Go to God and let go…continue to love the kids, and your hubby, and even your enemies. It changes you, and you can still live. The ex, if she wants to remain in the past, chooses bondage. You CAN be free!”

I proofread it and hit send.

And then I read it again.

And I read it once more.

And then I cried.

Happy tears for the growth in my heart and faith,

and sad tears for the moments I’ve given up to the BM that I couldn’t be a part of.

Happy tears for the girls who are loved regardless of their behavior toward me at times,

and sad tears for the bad moments I pray they forget.

Happy tears for the man who loves me and whispers words of encouragement and praise when he sees my growth,

and sad tears for his heartache at missing his girls at times.

The life of step-anything is hard, rough, rewarding.

I know when I was younger, I never thought, “I’ll grow up and become a stepmom.  I’d love to be name-called, made fun of, judged, slandered, alienated, pranked, stalked, brushed aside, etc.”

I wanted children of my own, a small version of Gracie who would love books like me, and show off wit to impress me and make me belly laugh, and have a heart of selflessness that would be evidence of Christ in her life.  My dream daughter would exhibit a love of working in the garage with her daddy, and run the mower for him, and tinker with electronics like he does.  She would love to write, and snuggle.

And I don’t have that.

At least from my own blood.

I have two girls who came prepackaged, with their own abilities, humor, mindsets, and gifts.

I had schematics and formulas for the child I was supposed to have, but God has been changing my heart to show me what He did give me.

The booklover I wanted happens to be BOTH of my stepdaughters.  They are relentless readers who escape for hours with huge books.  Their memory retention blows my mind.  And I’m amazed at their lack of having to study.

The wit I throw around at family gatherings happens to also be in both of my stepdaughters.  The youngest is always pushing the envelope to get me to laugh (and she succeeds) and I love to return the favor.  When she throws her head back and silently smiles, it makes my heart beam.  And it’s even better when she emits sound!  That really makes me happy!

Selflessness is coming…I can see it. 😉  Kids and these darned electronics…

Our youngest does work in the garage with her father, is mesmerized by helping him take things apart and put them together.  She’s never been afraid to make sure that things work and if they don’t, she wants to know why.

The writer is our oldest.  For Christmas, I got her a real leather-bound journal with fresh, paper.  If she gets it wet, it’s TOAST!  It even has a really cool emblem on the front, like it’s from the Hobbit or something… 😉  Since I’ve known her, she’s had notebooks, diaries, journals and paper somewhere on her person.  I don’t know what she writes, or about what, but just cultivating that practice is healthy.

Snuggling…well, I’m settling for sidehugs and leg pats.  Both girls have an issue with personal space, so I respect that.  My nieces fill my love tank with their hugs, “I love yous” and lap-sittings.  And my husband is an incredible snuggler.  Even at night, when he’s dead asleep, he still reaches for me.

I am also entranced by what they are capable of.  The youngest loves tennis and finished her varsity tennis career this Senior year.  I’ve sat through almost every match, watching her do her best, and watching her get upset with herself when she blew it.  The oldest is in school for nursing, and where she lacked motivation in her high school senior year, she now prioritizes things for her classes, meets deadlines and even changed schools to get the program done faster.

So, in a way, I do have what I’ve prayed for.  Either through osmosis, or through the power of God and what He is able to do, or both, these kids have somehow embodied the essence of me, and I am content.

Two amazing young women who challenge me every day
Two amazing young women who challenge me every day

Could there truly be light at the end of the tunnel?  Or maybe better yet, instead of looking to the end, I should enjoy the journey itself.

When I said this life is rewarding above, I meant that it is truly rewarding.

I dish out time and money like crazy, but I would have done the same with my own children.  I can’t imagine missing something that is important to them, because I know it matters to them, and it matters to me.  And it makes me feel extra special when they ask me to be a part of something.  I easily would slip into the shadows, but they don’t make that happen.

Time has healed, and is still healing.  Forgiveness is a practice that must be utilized daily.  Assumptions have to go out the window.  Judgment has to take a backseat.  Humility is forefront.  And Christ MUST BE the head.  The enemy would love nothing more than to keep us hating and playing games.  But I refuse.  We have lives to live, and so do the kids.  And honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Posted in Faith

Encounter- Being Romanced

In the woods of Du Bois, Pennsylvania, I encountered God in a way I’ve never encountered Him before.

Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA
Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA

Leaves were changing and the air was becoming cooler.  It was fall 2013, and I had been given the gift of time and money from my husband to leave home from October 24-29, to go through an intense personal spiritual journey with four other women from my home church, and get away to a secluded place to spend time with God.  We studied, cried, laughed, studied some more, answered deep questions, studied more and took personal time.  In between, we drank coffee, shared personal stories, cooked for each other, sat around in our pajamas, and gave each other personal space.

On Sunday morning, October 27, in lieu of church, our leader requested that we go to a place on the grounds of Treasure Lake that could allow us to have our quiet time with God, and to ask some deep questions our hearts had, because she was sure that He would answer them for us.  I had been on retreats before, so my personal “go-to” was my Bible and a journal in hand, but this time, I felt like I just wanted music.  I decided on a walk.  To where, I had no idea, but I knew I had an hour and a half to kill for my own personal “church”, so I figured I would just start walking and end up wherever the road took me.

Our leader took her earbuds and music, and headed left from our front door.  Another woman took her journal and went in another direction.  I put on my tennis shoes, coat and grabbed my iPod touch.  I checked my phone for the time, and headed out of the cabin.

Starting my journey, I prayed, “Lord, I want to experience you.  I love being outside, and I want to see you in a new way.   Thank you for this time with you this morning.”  

Going left, the road wound to the left, then right, then down, and I thought, “This will be interesting to just follow the road.”

I hit Play on my “Power in the Blood” playlist and then selected Shuffle.

Music filled my ears, and I tuned out the cold, brisk air that was hitting my face, and started walking.  I followed the curvy road for about five minutes, listening to Chris Tomlin, and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something to the left of me.  I had passed a dumpster which was located in the back of one of the cabins, and when I had passed it, there was nothing there.  But when I turned back to see what my peripheral vision had caught, I saw the back part of a deer.  It had its nose to the grass and after sniffing slightly, it started to move forward, on the opposite side of the building I was on.

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My interest was piqued.  I grabbed my phone from my pocket and made sure all sounds were off, then turned the camera on.

So I began to modify my journey and I walked back around the building, careful to walk slowly.  The grass still had dew from the morning, and it had covered my tennis shoes already.  I wanted to be quiet, as not to startle the deer, and I wanted to know where the deer was going.

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He led me down a path that was not a path.  It was the center of the grass, in between the townhomes located on the property and he didn’t go in a straight line either.  I still listened to my praise music, but I had the volume low in my ears in case something scared the deer and I would have to reroute.  I followed slowly and tried not to step hard.  I was about twenty feet behind him.  And the whole time, I kept praying, “This is so cool, Lord, I wonder where he’s going…”

When we reached the bottom of the hill, the deer started to walk left a bit, and I must have made a noise in the grass.

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He stopped and looked back directly at me.  I held my breath, and didn’t move.  This shot was taken from my mid-abdomen and I was able to catch him looking directly at me, without having him get startled.  After about a full minute, he began his journey to the woods again.

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Another silent prayer: “Lord, is this you?  You knew that I would follow a deer, because I love your animals.  And you know I am curious.  Did you send him for me?  Is he taking me someplace special?”

Silence.  And stillness.

About this time, I was about twenty-five feet away from him, and walking even slower as the grass was super wet.  I didn’t want him to catch me, but I stayed behind him.  He was walking to the entrance of a wooded area.  The deer made it to the entrance and then it appeared that he went downward.

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I quickened my steps, checked my watch (I had been following him for a half hour already, and the townhomes were no longer in sight), and continued forward to the entrance.  Stepping over the log that was laying on the ground at the entrance, I scanned left and right.  The deer was not to be seen.  I tried to comprehend what I could remember.  When he was at the entrance, it looked as though he went over the log and down, but stepping over the log, the height of the ground did not change.  Where did he go?  The deer had completely disappeared.

“Lord, you led me here, didn’t you?”

Peace.

“Wow, what is this place?”

“Sanctuary.”

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Stepping into the wooded area, the bright orange, yellow and brown leaves were still clinging to the trees that canopied the entire area.  I took a few pictures with my phone, and then began walking.  The area I was in, was surrounded by trees, hills, and ledges, and they were covered with fallen leaves like a beautiful fall carpet.  It was a sanctuary.  There was a rock seat that I sat on, and prayed.

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I thanked God for the time to get away, relax and have my perspective changed about the women who had come.  We didn’t previously know each other very well, and had only had small encounters with each other at church and in small group studies on Wednesday evenings.

Over the course of our time together during that retreat, we admitted our fear at coming to an unknown place and spending so much time with people we didn’t know, and God changed all of that.  I thanked Him for the time to be still, to see the deer, and to be led by it.

He told me to explore, so I did.  I climbed some of the hills, took pictures, climbed down and walked further into the woods, sat and took pictures, and then at one point, after I said again that I wanted to experience Him, the following happened.

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I was walking forward down a small path inside of the wooded area, and I heard in my spirit, “Get low”, so as I was standing, I bent my knees.  He said, “Lower”, so I bent my knees even lower.

Then, the previously still, soundless wooded area seemed to come to life.  

To the right of me, I heard wind starting, and I turned my head, keeping my knees bent as requested.  I saw leaves dance on the trees with the wind’s movement, and slowly they cascaded to the left of me.  I felt the rush of wind go over me, and I closed my eyes as I felt the air pass.  And then the leaves continued to dance.  It was like a heavenly hug.

I will never forget that.

The feeling of the wind passing over me, the sound of the wind, the movement of color.  And then as my eyes watched the leaves to the left of me, where the wind seemed to stop, a deer began walking.  How long he had been there, I had no idea.  He looked smaller than the one God had used to lure me to the sanctuary.

 “Be still.”  

So, I stood, holding my breath again, and this time, the deer passed five feet in front of me, from the left to the right.  He didn’t stop to smell me, or get startled, he just slowly walked.  I have no idea how he didn’t sense me.

I was in awe, and wanted to shout from the treetops, but didn’t want to lose this precious moment.

The study over the course of the retreat that we had been working on, is called Captivating by Stasi Eldredge.  In her book, she explains that God has placed desires in our hearts as women: to be seen as beautiful, to have an irreplaceable role, and to be romanced.  These core desires are because God Himself has these desires, and since we are created in His image, we have these desires.

Praying while in the sanctuary, I learned that God is beautiful.  The leaves, the hills, the deer, the brook, the trails, the unbeaten paths, all of it is from Him.  We assume beauty is something of femininity, but it is of God.  Beauty is not just women.  It is the desire to produce something that can be delighted in, and appreciated.  Even when men work on cars or airplanes, they name them female names, because the objects are delighted in and appreciated.  Beauty is something we are all capable of producing.

God knows that I love adventures.  As a child, I never hesitated to explore the woods, ride my bike to new paths, and get away from the city streets.  I loved the woods, nature and quiet.  There was an area at the end of my street that would run behind some homes.  And at the end of it was a creek with trees all around.  I dubbed it, “My Walden” and would write and journal there as a teenager.  That has never left. me.  And He has used that desire within me to continue to go on adventures, with my husband in our marriage, in our faith, in our lives.

And the gift from the Sunday morning of my retreat was that God romances us.  Think of the many times in a fairy tale that a woman waits for someone to romance her, to be seen from across the room and make eye contact.  Many women want that feeling of being desired.

God drew me toward Him.  He answered my prayer for an encounter, to see Him in a new way.

He knew I would follow an animal.  And to follow that deer to the entrance of the place that God wanted to have “church” with me that morning was solely His doing.  He took me to a place that had a tree seat (not man made) and I was able to sit, listen to my music in there, be quiet, explore the many areas within the wooded area, and then to witness another deer pass directly in front of me.

I would never have been able to see that part of Him, had I not stepped away from the city, my crazy schedule, or my life.  I needed to get away, have a new perspective of Him, and He was willing to meet me in that place.  He wanted me to see how much He loves me, that He knows color excites me, and that He knew what it would take to get me to a place where He could romance my heart, and reassure me that He is real and loving, good and true, and aching to step into the empty places in our hearts that other desires have left bankrupt.

He desires that for all of us.  He wants to meet us in the places of our hearts that are so empty and alone.  He wants to heal the wounds that have left scars, and drained us emotionally, and tested our faith in Him.  But He wants us to take the first step.  It has to be because we desire to let the great Healer do the work.  He is our Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals”.

He won’t force us to do anything we don’t want to, because He has given all of us the ability to make our own choices.  But He will call you again and again and again and again, because He has a relentless pursuit for your heart.  The love that He has is incomparable to anything humans provide for each other.  We get just a small taste of the romancing that is offered to us by our King.  Human love is beautiful and adventurous, and it is because of our Father that we love and desire those things.  But the ultimate healing of our humanity is through what God did through the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection to make sure we know it.

I pray that all of you are able to have an encounter with Jesus.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, with no other distractions (although I highly recommend shutting off the smartphone with notifications to hear Him more clearly).  It needs to be a sincere question to our Heavenly Father.  “May I encounter you?  May I see you?”  He will gladly answer yes.

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Posted in Faith

Ready for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving means many things to all of us.  I’m not going to go into details about my life history of Thanksgivings or give a history of the holiday (seriously, you’re not disappointed that I’m not going to rant and rave…).  I’m just going to state that I’m extremely excited about Thanksgiving this year.  I’m going to be celebrating the wonderful holiday twice, just not on the actual day everyone else is celebrating it.  It’s a bonus day off of work for my hubby and me, and this year, I’m going to be thankful without a turkey, or the trimmings.  My delight is in being next to my husband for twenty-four full hours!

My husband works for a car company that has been in such high demand, that it recently went to four ten-hour shifts and the workers are on scattered crews working 24/7 in the plant.  He works a crazy schedule where he’s working some mornings-afternoons, and other days he works evenings-early mornings.  Needless to say, I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like with him, and we’ve been married just over a year, so I’m still madly in love with him and I miss him terribly.

Yes, I have homework for my degree and my AVON business to keep me busy when the kids aren’t here, but I really love the “curl-up-on-the-couch-and-watch-Mike-and-Molly” days, or the “grab-a-controller-we’re-playing-Black-Ops-on-Xbox-Live-all-day” days…and especially the “let’s-take-Bella-for-a-walk-at-the-lake” days.

My babe and I are like big kids….scratch that, we ARE big kids.  Yes, we own a home (thank you, Lord), have two vehicles, two daughters, a dog, full-time jobs and pay bills and taxes.  But we never want to grow up.  The main thing we had in common was a passion for talking and laughing together.  We’re constantly goofing off and it’s something I’ve come to love.  It makes me so happy to be in love.  It’s such an aphrodisiac, and it’s a great way to connect (and leads to even greater connections)!!

Working opposite shifts has definitely given us something to think about this year, and has made our hearts grow fonder.  We were used to coming home from our day jobs at the same time, having dinner together, catching up on the days’ events and planning the next few days before going to sleep at the same time.  Going to sleep by myself in our house was an adjustment.  I was so used to curling up next to him, resting my head on his chest, he would pull me close and we’d curl our legs around each other.  Now, I stretch out (for five glorious hours) while Bella curls up next to me, until she hears the garage door go up at 3:30am.  He then slowly sneaks in next to me for an hour before my alarm goes off for work (how am I up before roosters??).

So since my heartache (“kidney-ache” as we’ve come to lovingly call it after reading in the Bible that people historically thought your kidney was your heart) drove me to write this post, I’m simply thankful for a day together, to sleep in with him, to get up and make coffee and breakfast with, and then to not have anything on the schedule until I have to wake up for work on Black Friday.  We’ll be celebrating with our girls over the weekend, and my parents in the beginning of December.  But just having one day to be still with no schedule/time constraints is blessing enough for me!

I wish all of you, wonderful readers, a blessed Thanksgiving, complete with stress, chaos, family, turkey, trimmings, but most of all, an appreciation for what the craziness brings…love, laughter, hugs and thankful hearts.  However you choose to celebrate what our Lord has given you, may you take a moment to enjoy the loudness and noise of the holiday.  Family can be stressful, but it means you’re in the company of those who love to spend time with you.  May you reflect on the wonderful things this year has brought.  There is still much to come.  And if you feel so moved, look into helping out at a homeless shelter or food bank.  This time of year is wonderful to step out and give of ourselves…volunteering helps those who help others, and the rewards (internal and eternal) will put a smile bigger on your face than a twenty-pound turkey.  God’s blessings!!