Safe Pasture

“Heather? Hi! Can you hear me?” I recognize the soft, blue eyes of my nurse as she speaks to me. I’m all warm and drowsy and calm. I hear the soft hum of air that fills up the warm “space blanket” that covers me (if you don’t know what a space blanket is, trust me, it’s fabulous!). My eyes fall on my husband’s smile on the other side of the recovery room.

“They only took the cyst and the ovary!” he says. I am a loopy mess, but I am flooded with peace, his words holding an enormous amount of gravity.

No cancer.

Weeks of accumulating stress start slowly shedding off me as I lay there. It’s a strange moment, when you are still feeling the effects of the anesthesia, while trying to process everything you’ve just experienced. In those few hours, time seems to have no place. I’m in and out of sleep, reveling in the fuzzy warmth of this quiet, painless time after surgery.

My husband and I have a few laughs…he recalls how I was crying as they wheeled me back and he called out, there’s no crying in surgery! Always the comedian, that one. I didn’t necessarily laugh, but I did enter the OR wearing a half-smile. I told the nurses that I’d named my cyst Felicia, and if they could please get a picture of her on her way out that would be great (sadly, I never did get that picture). One nurse told me about how she had named the surgery robot Delilah. I joked about how her and Felicia would get along just fine.

The anesthesiologist was a refreshing soul, so kind and funny. As I was about to slip off into my drug-induced sleep, he asked me what my favorite beach was, and I’m all oh no, no…I’ve got to say Psalm 23. He’s like, ok girl, you do you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…

And that’s as far as I got. In what seemed like two minutes later, it was all over. My first experience under anesthesia was a success. I had been so afraid of it, almost as much as everything else…I’m a bit of a control freak that wants to know everything as it’s happening. Needless to say, that’s not possible in the middle of a surgical procedure (thank the good Lord for modern medicine!). Just as everyone said…it truly was the best nap ever.

I’ve always struggled with control and trust, and the anxiety leading up to the surgery was monstrous. Each day was like climbing a mountain; every day I climbed higher and higher, afraid to look down, but knowing I had to keep pace, carefully, and sometimes reluctantly, placing one foot in front of the other. Would my strength carry me? Would there be bad weather ahead? Would I reach the top safely? No control of the outcome, only trust and faith and small, wobbly steps.

The unknown.

To completely surrender control seemed like an impossible task. I knew the cyst on my ovary had to come out. What I did not know, was what answer awaited on the other side of my eyes opening. Until I was on the operating table, there was no way to know the next steps. If there was any cancer, I would have a complete hysterectomy, which meant longer surgery and recovery, and early menopause. If there were no cancer cells, I would only loose my left ovary and the humungo growth that tried to eat her. I was nearing the peak of my mountain, climbing barefoot in a snowstorm. But there was no rerouting this time.

My friends, my family, my faith…I can’t tell you how completely surrounded and supported I was leading up to my surgery day. But I still struggled with trust. The mountain was so huge and daunting; so many rugged, sharp surfaces. It was dark and cold and horrifying.

Lord, I know you’ve got me through this. I know I’m tethered to your safety rope. So why am I so scared of this climb?

A friend of mine sent me a Louis Giglio sermon titled Even Though. I had recently read his book, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table; it was suggested to me by another friend who knew my walk with anxiety. However, I had never actually listened to the sermon that the book was based on. He tells the story of how those nine words forever changed his view of adversity, while referencing the scriptures of Psalm 23.

Last year, as we all spent our second year transitioning into pandemic life, Psalm 23 was one of those passages that kept popping up everywhere. I’d hear it in my favorite podcasts, it would come up in conversations, while reading articles. It is one of the most known and well-loved passages for sure, but it had definitely been in my line of sight for the past year or so. It describes the Lord as our Shepherd; He takes care of us when we are completely helpless, as sheep notably are. It emphasizes how great His love is for us and reminds us that no matter how far we stray, he will rescue us and lead us home.

So I’m listening to this sermon on my phone in my closet (my notorious quiet place), and as I’m putting on makeup, the circle of my face reflecting in the vanity mirror, I hear the next verse…

He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2).

My eyes close, and tears start to roll down my face. In my mind, I’m on the operating table, bright lights above me…and then all of a sudden I’m lying in the soft, bright green grass of a beautiful, lush field. I feel the warm breeze blowing across my face as I lie there, palms open. I feel the sunshine on my face and stare up at the bluest of skies. I can even sense the soft, thick coat of sheep’s wool. A smile rests across my face. I am completely at peace.

I’m right here with you, sweet girl. Don’t you worry. I’m right here. All you have to do is lie down and rest.

I hear the words and feel them all at the same time. He’s there reminding me, it will all be okay. The Lord is my shepherd, I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to fear. I can lie down and rest. I can surrender fully.

Oh, how I love these fleeting moments with the Holy Spirit. I used to think that sounded crazy, talk of these spiritual encounters (my friend and I like to call them “a little bit of woo-woo”), but now I know it’s how He meets with us when we are desperate for his presence. We just have to be willing to receive, to be open to what His Spirit has for us. The direct line to the God of wonders is always available to us, if only we would make the time and space to be still and listen.

I bask in my new super-power of peacefulness, finish with my make up, and pick up the phone to read a text. It’s then that I notice the date… February 23rd. 2/23. Just like the verse that had just breathed new life into me, Psalm 23:2. That made me laugh out loud. I mean, come on!!! Ok, God, I get it! I hear you!

From that day until the surgery, I am washed in perfect peace. Ok, maybe not totally perfect; I am human after all. But sufficient. And with all the conviction I can muster, I do just as He says. I lay down in the soft, green pasture and surrender. Because my Shepherd’s got me. My Shepherd will never leave my side. My Shepherd will lead me down that mountain.

And just like that, as my eyelids lift slowly in that tiny, muted green recovery room, I realize I’ve made it. I’m still there, resting in that lush, green field, the once ominous mountain now only a shadow in the distance.

He’s led me down to safe pasture.

Recovery is slow, but there is stillness and growth in healing. Not only does our body have to slow down and rest, but our faith needs time to sprout new off-shoots, to cultivate the beginnings of new roots. As unwelcome as they are, trials and hardships make for the most fertile soil. You may end up growing fruit to share with others, a tree for someone to lean on, or an endless field of soft, green grass for one to find rest.

Whatever you produce from your pain, His love and faithfulness will shine through you for the all world to see. Not even the tallest, darkest, most treacherous mountain can block your light.

The Shepherd will make sure of that.

In the Waiting

I struggled to get out of bed today.

Despite a bluebird sky and abundant sunshine, my soul was heavy, seemingly anchoring me to the bed. Another day of waiting, another moment of crippling fear and depression trying to steal the day from me. The enemy had his claws in me, threatening to take me away to devour.

I noticed some strange pain and bloating a few weeks ago. Ironically, while visiting a friend who had just had surgery for similar reasons, I voiced my concerns. Thankfully her nudges landed me promptly in my doctor’s office (a place I constantly avoid at all costs) and a few days later with a diagnosis…an ovarian cyst.

Of course off I go, consulting friends and Dr. Google (curse that never-ending worm hole!), my mind spinning with what and why and when and how. My husband and I have a trip and I debate cancelling, but then I figure I might as well get some rest and relaxation in while I can, so thankfully we go. Although I’m mildly uncomfortable and on an emotional roller coaster, I am surrounded by the most amazing people who speak truth into me when I need it most. I spend precious quiet time with my husband and my mom. The giant oaks and Spanish moss and ocean breeze are medication for my soul.

Until the phone call from my doctor.

This isn’t the type of growth that will go away on its own, she mentions…it has to come out surgically. Also I have a slightly elevated levels of cancer markers in my blood test, so they want to schedule my surgery with an oncologist. They tell me my cyst is roughly 10cm. Not too big I think.

Until I’m having a conversation with a friend about all the information I’ve just received and realized I have miscalculated. I was thinking in millimeters.

My cyst is roughly the size of a GRAPEFRUIT.

Oh. My. Goodness.

It’s fine. It’s fine! Everything’s fine. Is it fine? What if it isn’t fine? What should I do? Should I move? Should I lie down? How is it just floating around in there?! Should I go home?! I want to go home!! I want to see my kids! Will I see my kids again? What do I do?!!!

I calm down(ish) and make some phone calls to schedule the MRI and the meeting with the surgeon, which all seem like light-years away. Until then, all I can do is…wait.

Wait and pray it doesn’t burst.

Wait and pray there’s no cancer.

Wait and pray I survive the surgery.

Wait and pray that they don’t have to do a complete hysterectomy.

Wait and pray, wait and pray, wait and pray…

When I was a waitress, almost 20 years ago now, one of my regulars used to tell me I had the patience of Job. Not being raised with bible knowledge, I didn’t really understand the reference. With some quick research, I learned that he was a good and successful man that was tested by God and still managed to keep his faith. But I never did read his full story.

Until today.

It’s not a particularly uplifting story, but definitely one about the pain of waiting. Job was subjected to enormous suffering, an unsupportive spouse and friends, and enormous frustration in trying to understand the reason for his suffering. He claimed he did everything right. He was arguably the first person who cried out, “why, God?”. Since those ancient days, it has been proven time and time again that most likely we will never know why, but our unshakable God does. After extensive groaning and pleading, Job surrenders and humbles himself fully to God, and is eventually provided for ten-fold.

I took comfort in relating to Job’s cries as I read each chapter; I needed someone at my pity party. Although I didn’t loose my children, all my belongings or break out in painful boils (I mean, poor Job had it rough!) I had my own suffering to dwell in and grumble about. An unexpected health scare, of which I still don’t know the outcome. Two canceled winter break trips. Debilitating pain leaving little for me to do but sit around the house (ok, so there’s a silver lining in that…although my messy house is driving me a little nuts).

I look around outside of my own circumstances and see so much pain. I’ve had a friend loose a child recently. Others unsure if their marriage will survive another day. Friends losing parents and trying to best care for sick children. Human suffering isn’t uniquely mine, and I’ve been spared more than I probably deserve. Sadness, despair, injustice…why, God?

Like Job, we’re angry, we are confused, desperate and tired of suffering. We want reasons, answers, justification. We want to know how it all ends.

But then God humbly reminds us…that’s My job.

And so we are reminded, although we stomp our feet and pout about it, that as much as we want answers and want them now, we must wait and hope and trust. While we desperately search for truth on the internet or in people’s opinions or out in the world, that only God is all-knowing and understanding and truth bearing.

It’s in the waiting that we grow our faith.

I managed to drag myself out of bed eventually, and one of the first things I noticed were my houseplants, withering and drooping from neglect. Slowly but surely, I filled up an old plastic cup leftover from a college football game (I’m a sucker for a souvenir cup, mind you) and gave each one some life-giving water.

One by one, I was reminded of how we can become so blinded and distracted by fear that we end up forgetting to nourish our hearts and minds. We forget to just be still in God’s goodness and truth and just sit and hold hands with Jesus and tell him how scared we are. We cry and plead and beg for everything to be okay. We pray our cries are heard, even though answers aren’t always given when or how we want them.

We have to trust the waiting.

We must nourish ourselves, a little each day, not on fear of the unknown, but in the goodness of what is known, the goodness of the small moments in front of us. We must rest in the truth that maybe there is no blueprint for life…maybe there are just next steps. There is beauty and light but also loneliness and darkness. There are small steps forward and maybe a few backwards but always security in knowing we are known and loved no matter what.

If I focus and dwell and obsess about my ability to control the unknown, I will miss out on the moments and the memories and the gifts of what is known, what is true in my life now: that life is good, God is good, and that every minute of this life is a gift.

So here I sit, with my blanket and my heating pad and frozen lasagna in the oven, (also trying to figure out what I’m going to watch now that the Winter Olympics is over) realizing that I am…calm. A little bored and uncomfortable, maybe…but at peace. I’ve fought with God these past few days, grumbled and cried and resisted, but now I’m finally ready to receive.

Okay Lord! Here I am! You’re right…you’re the only one who knows. I surrender it all to You. I’m here to be watered.

And just like that, my leaves start to perk up a little.

When it Just Hurts

You know the feeling.

You wake up at first light, eyes puffy, head aching, processing the emotional hangover from the night before.

Miscommunication. Sharp words. Raised voices. Stomping feet. Slamming doors. Hurt feelings. Tears. Sleeplessness. Self-pity, loneliness, despair, isolation…

Being human is hard. We are all complicated beings, shaped by our experiences and our current situations. We carry these things with us and are triggered by things we can’t identify fast enough to avoid the damage they cause. The ones nearest to us get the overflow, and so on and so on. Hurt rarely singles out the original culprit. It seeps and crawls and oozes it’s way into everything you touch, bringing with it the pain and suffering and heartache that started as only a pinprick on your heart. That is the landslide of the power of hurt.

But God.

Yes, I have a sensitive soul. I’ll be the first to admit it. I can still feel the way my heart broke at 6-years-old, watching my parents fight. I can still feel the sadness in 2nd grade learning about MLK Jr., learning for the first time that people hated each other simply for the color of their skin. I can still feel the tears on my face when my favorite cat died. I can still feel the tears falling on my white butterfly comforter when I was told we were moving in 5th grade. I can still feel the dread of going to school in 6th grade because that kid who made fun of me everyday would be there. I can still feel the grip of my car’s steering wheel as I drove through tears after my high-school boyfriend broke up with me. I can still feel the ache of homesickness when I left for college.

I can still feel that hurt. But what I hurt most for, is that girl.

That was a girl that often felt unloved, unworthy, insecure. A girl who stuffed all her hurt inside to please everyone around her and who felt like it was her responsibility alone to keep her world from crumbling. A girl who’s unprotected heart was free range for the world to manipulate and destroy.

But I’m not that girl anymore.

The girl I am now, the woman I am, is different. Her heart resides in a place built on solid ground, a place so safe and beautiful that evil cannot touch her there. Light beams from the windows and never lets the darkness in. It’s clean and comfortable and full of warm blankets and comfy chairs and fresh baked cookies and scented candles and love and safety.

Safety.

My heart lives in the Father’s house now, where there is safety and security and peace. Hurt sometimes makes it up to the front porch, but Jesus sees it, out of the corner of his eye…he goes and grabs a broom from the pantry and quickly sweeps it away. Sometimes the hurt gets bolder, dares to knock at the door, sometimes even manages to crack it open slightly, but Jesus comes over, smiles and says confidently, “No, thank you. You’re not welcome here. Have a nice day!”

And I remain inside, safe and sound, probably on the couch with my blanket and my coffee and my Jesus.

Our world will throw hurt at us faster than we can handle. It is healthy to acknowledge and feel our hurt. But we don’t have to handle it alone. I’m so grateful that I know that now. I’m so grateful for an identity and a heart that is forever safe in Him.

I pray for continued strength, for patience, for a safe place to go when I am hurt. I pray there will always be a warm, inviting, loving place for me on that couch next to Jesus. And I pray that you will hear the best news ever…that there’s plenty of room for you there, too.

There will always be room for you.

What if You Don’t?

The universe is sending me messages again.

I recently published a blog post three months after I finished it and I’m still stumped on why. Actually that’s a complete lie…I know exactly why! Because finishing things is hard for me. My self-discipline hasn’t always been top-notch (I actually told a friend at lunch today to please write anonymous threats to get me to workout). I am frequently inspired, but rarely do I see my ideas to fruition.

Anyway, back to the messages. While listening to yet another podcast (I promise, I do other things, I swear!), the girl (can’t remember who, but obviously a successful, well-enlightened person) was talking about all the time she had lost being creative due to escaping into things like social media, Netflix, etc. She even described the feeling you get (yes, you know it) when you’ve been on your phone too long and you get that icky sensation that you have completely ignored everything else for a bit longer than you should have. It’s a fun escape at first, until you look up two hours later and wonder where in the world the time has gone, or where your children are, or is that the smell of food burning?!

We are all guilty. Smartphones are amazing tools, but also amazing at being addictive. I won’t lie, I’m writing on one right now. Lately, I’ve been thinking of how I long to use my creativity more, always wonder why and how to do better at it, when I know exactly why…this shiny little screen right here in front of me. It’s just too easy of an escape.

My husband and I love to watch The Crown on Netflix (I know, I know, more screens). One of the most fascinating things I started to notice was how they spent their down time. Reading a book. Drinking tea (of course). Playing cards. Not a screen in sight. Well, part of the series is in a time period when tv’s weren’t in homes yet, but still. You can actually hear clocks ticking in the background. Funny that in a time when we use our phones to escape, I watch actors just sitting around in a quiet room and that seems like the real escape.

I had a rug delivery today (always exciting, I know!) and the delivery guy saw that I had a giant wall version of Connect Four in my embarrassingly large Amazon box pile by my front door. I love that game! he says as he rearranges my furniture. I tell him I hope my kids will actually play it, all they want to play is their phones, yada yada.

“I have a friend, soon as you turn into her driveway…no internet!” he says. “They always playing board games, the kids will communicate with you, it’s amazing!”

I look at him with wonder. Who is this magnificent woman and why is she not the President? Sadly, I too have the power to turn off my internet. I can take back control! But wait- I have to fill out this form online, the kids have to use the computer for school, my husband has work…not gonna happen.

So I guess it’s up to me, my own self-discipline and knowing how to set rules and boundaries for my kids. Adulting…ughhhhh.

Think of all the artists, the musicians, the authors that will never share their gifts because of screen time? The ones who, if exposed to sheer boredom, might teach themselves to play the piano or paint with watercolors or make up recipes? Or will they be sucked into the vortex of the screen when free time allows? I know I am guilty. How much time would I have spent being creative if it weren’t for unlimited episodes of Below Deck or posting vacation pictures on social media or falling into the abyss of an endless news cycle all at my fingertips? Sigh.

And yet, I do this every single day. And I bet most of you do, too. Not meaning to put the guilt trip on, just make you think.

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, she explores the idea that creativity is almost it’s own dimension. That creative ideas flow freely and it just takes one person with enough grit to catch one and do something tangible with it. She mentions how she had thought up a complete storyline for a novel that she kept to herself, always struggling to actually write it down. Eventually, enough time passed not following through with her book writing that one day, she picked up a novel by one of her favorite authors and was stunned to discover that it was the exact same story she had thought of. Ok, so maybe not word for word, but the plot, setting, characters…it was basically the same idea.

This has always fascinated me, this idea of creative thoughts just waiting to be used by the right, willing person. Have you ever read a book, or seen a business idea or invention that you have already thought of? It’s a crazy feeling. My husband actually did a project in college about the idea of satellite radio, in 1998. You learn about people’s innovations in the world and think…wait! That was my idea!!! Until we limit the distractions, muster up some courage and some Olympic levels of self-discipline, sadly that’s all they will remain…ideas in our heads, never to be shared with the world.

What are we waiting for? What ideas and creative gifts do you have that you are holding back from the world? I know I have many. I have notebooks of songs and poems that I’ve started as far back as first grade. I have books and stories half-written. Art half-drawn. Choruses and verses and bridges in my head. I used to dream of breakfast delivery service when I was in my 20’s…and now voila! We have Uber eats. I know I wasn’t the only one with that idea way back when.

But what will they think? What if I fail? What if they all laugh at me?!!

You could spend as much time worrying the opposite…what if I don’t? Chances are, if you don’t run with a creative idea, somebody else will.

I need to hear this message constantly, need the fire stoked so that maybe eventually, I’ll finish something I’ve created. I know, we are all busy raising babies or paying bills or studying or just surviving. But we all have creative gifts inside us. Ideas are everywhere. They just need a little care and cultivating before they can be released out into the world.

Can you see them? Can you catch one? I can’t wait to see what you will do with it, beautiful friend.

Turn off that screen…and make some magic.

From Post to Prayer

Goodness me…where to start.

This year. This few months. This week.

The tension, the noise, the fear, the injustice. All of it is just too much sometimes. And yet what are we doing? We are letting it sweep us away.

It’s happened to me lately and I’m just now realizing it.

I try not to read or watch the news too often. To me it’s only healthy in bite-size, honest doses. But I’ve always defended social media, to some degree. I love seeing what my friends are doing! I love the inspirational stories and causes! Yes, I found this cute dress on my Facebook feed!

But lately I’ve caught myself red-handed. I’ve caught myself scrolling past the good, past the new puppy pics and vacation stories to find the controversy. On purpose. Like it’s some tv show I’m waiting to see play out. What extreme view will this person post today? What names will she be called? How does this side defend themselves to that side?

My Facebook feed has become my favorite new reality show.

Yes, I always try to call people out and remind them to love, no matter what. I try to point them to trust in their faith in the least pushy way possible because I’ve seen the fruit produced from my journey. But even so, I’m still engaging in the endless online banter. I’m still stirring the pot by reacting. And there’s a fine line between acting with love and just trying to prove a point.

But today I spent 30 full minutes just reading the back and forth of responses to someone’s post. The harsh words, the expletives, the public lashings in both directions were terrible, and yet I ate it up. Just couldn’t put it down. It was completely sad and completely entertaining all at the same time.

But it’s just for fun right?

Try to remember…on the other side of the screen are people. Actual, real humans. People with their own stories, their own experiences. People who are being verbally torn down and attacked because they don’t feel real. Because how dare they disagree with you. Because it’s easy to say whatever you want when not looking someone in the eye.

How do I feel after reading that enticing online rant? Or trying to prove a point with my quick-to-judge comment? Refreshed? Satisfied? Justified? Usually not. Maybe for a minute or two, and then I realize the emptiness behind it. Half the time I don’t even know this person. Just because I feel strongly about something, that gives me the right to interject without knowing someone’s story or experience? To think I’m the be-all, know-all on a subject? That because I have emotions about what someone said that I have to react to it just to get my rant out? Oh how I wish we could all go back to old school, hand-written, locking diaries sometimes!

It’s hard enough for my middle-aged brain to comprehend all this online rhetoric right now, but I can’t even imagine how the younger generations are handling all the negative energy out there. I’m so thankful that social media didn’t exist when I was an adolescent…but that’s a whole other topic.

My point is this: what if we took all that energy we want to throw into that post, that online conversation, that thing you just want to scream out for all the world to hear, and said it to the One who can really take it? Who can take your screams for injustice? Who can take your mourning and your anxieties and your deepest fears and use them for good??

What if we turned our posts into prayers?

When I find myself in that dark place, when my heart hurts so bad that I feel lost and alone, I go straight to my Bible app. I search for verses to help with what I am feeling. I seek out a story that will center me and remind me that God is good, all the time. And if I really need to, I will sit down and give it all to Him; whether it’s through prayer, through worship, or just being still and listening. I give it all the One who wants all of me, good, bad and ugly. To the One who has offered to carry all my burden without any conditions.

Will there be a risk of a public mockery? Will I be called names and belittled and shamed for all the world wide web to see? Will I loose friends and followers and risk being censored or banned or exploited?

Not at all.

I will be loved.

Unconditionally, unapologetically, eternally loved.

Seems too good to be true right? In this world where we are turning against each other in droves, where people hide behind screens and tear others down in the name of “justice”, where we label and assume and bully and shame in the name of “love”, it’s hard to imagine that there’s an actual safe place to go. We are all increasingly desperate for that safe, loving place. That place where we are loved and heard and held no matter what our opinions are.

It’s available to me, to you, to all. Jesus doesn’t care about your skin color, your political affiliation, your gender, your sexual orientation. The only thing He cares about is your heart. All He wants is a relationship with you. He wants you to come as you are, to lay everything at His feet, and let go. There’s no risk of cyber bullying or public shaming or losing friends or family. It’s between you and Him, and that’s the simple, beautiful truth.

Be mindful that after you give Him your all through prayer, after begging and pleading and unloading the heaviness in your heart, you may not get immediate answers. You probably won’t hear a big booming voice or a crack of thunder (like in the movies!). In fact, you may not see any change at all. But give it time. Prayer isn’t a magic wand you can waive over a situation to make it all better. It’s a humbling act of spiritual giving that asks for mercy and giving in return. It peels away the layers of our hearts, exposes the darkest parts to the light to be made better. It takes time and patience and trust. It takes new eyes to see and new ears to hear. Sometimes the answers are smaller than dust and quieter than a whisper, but they are there. The more you expose your heart in prayer, the more the answers will become clear. The more you pay attention to the nudges, the more will follow. It’s like seeing the tiniest crack of light in the darkest tunnel, and trusting that everyday, with every prayer, that crack will open just a bit more. It’s our lifeline, our compass, the light unto our path.

Ok, now I’m feeling pushy.

I always hesitate to share my spiritual beliefs with others. I truly respect all people’s beliefs and don’t want anyone to feel that they won’t be loved and accepted because of my views. Most of my blog posts are gentle in my approach, because I get it. I get the scars that people have because of their “religious” friends and family. I get the anxieties of being judged and feeling “not good enough” when it comes to church, even in the eyes of God. I know you think following Christ means you have to follow this ridiculous set of rules. I have heard those lies too and I know many of you still believe them. I have a whole blog about it, in fact.

But these days, when the negative presence and evil in our world feels palpable, when hate is literally breeding at a breakneck pace, where love and humility are being drowned out by all the noise, I can’t not speak up about the freedom that is available to us all through Christ. I can’t sit back and pretend I don’t know the antidote to this madness. In my darkest hours, in my most desperate moments, it’s been my constant. My place of rest.

Be still and know that I am God.

Sometimes that is the only thing I have left to say.

Do you ever see the same number over and over again? Like you always wake up at the same time? Or you keep seeing the same time when you look at the clock? For me, for the last couple of years, that number has been 4:20. When I’d wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night…4:20. When I’d hear my favorite song…4:20. When I heard shocking news about the health of a friend…4:20.

When it started to become more of a “thing”, I went to a trusted friend (who wouldn’t totally write me off as crazy) and mentioned it. She told me to go to the Bible, see if there was a verse with those numbers that resonated with me. Um, okay…I thought, skeptical. But I kept an open mind and kept digging. There were some good ones, words that spoke to me. But I kept coming back to Acts 4:20.

“For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

I have found so much freedom from anxiety through blogging, through sharing my truth. I love to help others through their own journey, but I always hesitated to bring in my spiritual journey. But this verse spoke loud and clear to me. I have seen and heard the love of Jesus. He has helped me through my darkest hours, filled the voids that nothing else ever could, taught me the power of humility and forgiveness. How could I leave Him out of my story? So it was time to speak.

Still it was hard. I didn’t want to loose friends or offend anyone. To loose a chance to help people with anxiety because they were turned off by my beliefs. And then one day, while hiking up in the north Georgia mountains, the alarm on my phone went off randomly. I took it out of my pocket and looked at the screen.

4:20.

I hadn’t set an alarm, I hardly ever do. I’m sure it was one of my kids, let’s be real. But what are the chances of it being for that specific time? It stopped me in my tracks.

It was time to listen to the nudges.

So here I am. Almost contradicting myself because I’m sharing my thoughts online while telling you to put them into prayer…oops! But sometimes we need a little reminder, a little encouragement to get us going. A story that is authentic and hard to share in the name of inspiring others. To speak of what I have seen and heard… not my political opinions, my annoyances with this or that, my frustrations with society.

I want to speak about the good news. The news that we are all completely loved and enough. That perfect love cannot be offended. The last time I checked, I didn’t see that headline at the top of any recent news story.

What I’m not saying, is don’t act on issues that break your heart. If something bothers you to your core, please speak up to a trusted friend or a reliable source. Slow down and do the work and find the right avenues to accomplish the goal. Pray about it or meditate on it and really process your emotions first before you divulge them all on a public media forum. Take a step back and a deep breath and stop yourself before you add fuel to the already blazing fire. Social media sounding boards may not help you achieve anything, as tempting as it is (yes, I’ve fallen for it too!). I bet if we put down Facebook and put in some face time to solve our issues, we would be making way more progress.

The bottom line is this…we all have a lot to say. We see hate and injustice and evil all around us. We want to fight back and do what’s right and speak our minds. But we must be careful, because as humans, we take offense. We offend others even when we don’t realize it. It’s so hard to avoid right now. The atmosphere of media and online chatter is toxic, it’s so easy and so available to us. But there’s a better way to vent. There’s a Savior that’s always available to you, with open arms and a listening ear and a spirit that doesn’t take offense.

So next time you are angered, upset, even enraged with someone or something that you read online, try turning to prayer instead of that keyboard. Give it to God instead of going on Facebook. Shout it to the heavens instead of the internet.

Then be still, and know that sometimes the best feedback you can get is so quiet that only your soul can hear.

Let Your Mess be a Message

Just like that…my kiddos are off to school. How do I have a second and fourth grader? Where are my babies?? Where did the time go??? It flies, I tell ya.

Side note: I realise that it is now November, and school started almost 3 months ago. So as you can tell, I’m a bit slow. My bad. Ok, carry on…

We had a celebratory back-to-school mama breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants the other morning (wait, we don’t have to make or clean up the breakfast?! Our little people aren’t hanging on our legs or calling out mommy every two to three minutes or suddenly have an emergency the exact moment we try to go to the bathroom???I’d say that’s reason to celebrate!!!) and we were all talking about our summer trips. I mentioned how amazing it was driving across the wide-open spaces of Wyoming as I skimmed over the highlights of our two-and-a-half week western jaunt.

“Wait…you did that by yourself?!” a friend looked over at me, wide-eyed from the other end of the table.

I smiled on the outside but even bigger on the inside. Truthfully, I hadn’t really taken the time to sit and recognize my accomplishments. My friend calling me out had reminded me, in hindsight, that my summer trip was a big deal. As little as three years ago, I would have never thought a trip like this would have been possible for me. Yet here I was, on the other side of it, beaming with pride.

Let me sum it up for you…after our trip to California with my husband and sitter, I flew by myself with the kids from LA to Denver, where I rented a car, drove to meet my mom in Cheyenne, Wyoming (after a quick reunion with my dad for the first time in 20 years!) then followed her in her RV for a week across the entire state of Wyoming (stopping at multiple hotels and RV sites along the way) before flying out of Salt Lake City and back to Atlanta. Which sounds like no big deal. Unless you didn’t drive on the interstate without having panic attacks as recently as 3 years ago.

I often don’t give myself enough credit for my accomplishments, or I just keep them to myself. In my own perfectionist, striving way, if I do accomplish something, I tend to focus on how I still could’ve done better. I’ll look back on one thing I’ve done right and 10 things I’ve done wrong. The I’m not good enough lie tries to emerge victoriously time and time again.

As for not wanting to share, it’s like sometimes you feel silly getting excited about things no one understands or you feel like no one is interested in. But then there’s that one person you inspire, and you realize that no matter how uncomfortable or burdensome you feel, someone will benefit from your willingness to share. Which is the why of starting this blog years ago.

Anyway, let me go back to tooting my own horn for a minute…I did it!!! I managed to pull off a trip I used to only dream of doing on my own, and I intend to celebrate it. Way to go me!!! Chest bump, butt slap, high-five to myself!

Trail ride in Dubois, Wyoming

Sunset from 3 Spear Ranch

Grand Teton National Park

Top of mountain in Jackson Hole

To put my accomplishments into perspective (and because I’m a super-slow processor!) I looked back to the first blog I ever published, over 3 years ago. I was struggling beyond belief. I was a prisoner of my own mind, and I’d had enough. I was done feeling isolated and alone in my struggle. I knew there was a message that needed to come out of my mess, and I was ready to let that truth set me free. I knew my message would help not only myself but others, if I could only push through the fear. I remember the anticipation of putting everything out there after typing late into the night, the difficulty of sharing my struggle with anxiety and taking off the mask I had hid behind for so long. I was literally sick to my stomach about it.

What would people think about me?

Would I still be accepted and loved?

How the heck do I hit publish?!!!

And then just like that…I did it. It was all out there. The words poured out from the deepest spots in my heart, free to fall wherever they needed to land. Honestly, just knowing that I was putting everything out there, that I was shedding my mask, probably would’ve been enough. But when people started responding in such a positive way, thanking me for sharing and helping them in a way they never knew they needed, I knew there was a bigger purpose. My mess was the message they needed to hear.

When I wrote that entry years ago, I was knee-deep in paralyzing fear. I hadn’t driven on the interstate in over 6 years for more than an exit or two. I remember thinking, after years of being on various antidepressants and still not being able to jump over this debilitating hurdle, I needed to try my hand at exposure therapy; putting myself in actual real-time panic inducing situations while practicing the management tools I’d learned. Which meant point blank: I had to do the things I was most afraid of. Which for this stubborn girl, realising this meant some eye-rolling and a few temper-tantrums. But if I was ever going to overcome this, I had to put my big girl panties on and just do it. The more I practiced driving and realizing that my brain was actually lying to me, that I wasn’t going to die simply by driving on the interstate (well, hopefully!!), the more comfortable I was doing it.

So that’s exactly what I did. Armed with my new anxiety management tools I’d learned, I spent intentional time just driving. One day my goal would be to make it past an exit without having to get off. The next day it would be two exits. Of course some days I would regress, and I wouldn’t be able to stay on the road for long; rainy weather, traffic, driving at night, those were tough practice days. I had to celebrate my small victories, and realize that they would build upon each other, but it was tough in the moment. Failure threatened to thwart my efforts. But the more small goals I accomplished, the more I started to notice my confidence increase. I was chipping away at the wall separating me from my freedom, ever so slowly.

Soon enough, I was driving longer stretches. I even started driving on the interstate with my kids in tow, which was at the very top of my hierarchy of fears list. Eventually, I even drove myself to the beach, and drove the entire way home from the beach with the kids. I was doing it. Each accomplishment was beyond liberating.

One of my first “practice” drives

Which is why this recent trip was such a big deal. Although I have been driving on the interstate for the past few years, trekking across remote Wyoming and Utah by myself with the kids took things up a notch. I mean there were times on our drive when we wouldn’t pass a building or another car for almost a whole hour. Looking back, I really should’ve had some emergency supplies and a road atlas (duh) but we managed through our travels unscathed. I even flew with the kids by myself, another first for this mama that does not consider an aircraft her happy place.

But I did it!!!

Typical highway scenery in Wyoming

Driving into Grand Teton

My drive from Jackson to Salt Lake City looked like this ALOT

When you lose your GPS signal and have no road atlas, you end up taking the LONG way (the one in red!!!)

I DID IT.

Even though I was scared. Even though I worried about it for months. Even though my husband even worried about it and he’s not a worrier. Even though I had to pull over sometimes just to take a deep breath. Even though one day the winds on the interstate gusted close to 70 mph (at least I wasn’t in the RV like my poor mom!). Even though I got altitude sickness. Even though I lost my gps signal and ended up adding hours to one of my routes. Even though the kids wanted to listen to the same pop songs 800 times. Even though my kids used the bathroom on the side of the road more than once, and poor Allie soaked through a pair of tennis shoes while trying to pop a squat in the pouring rain somewhere in the middle of Utah. Ok, well, you get it.

I DID IT!!!!!! And, it was awesome.

My life will never be as worry-free as it used to be. I’m working on accepting that, as much as I mourn for those carefree days. But I’m doing life the best I can. I still have phobias and fears that rear their ugly heads and occasionally put me in the corner with shame and despair, but I’m also learning to be okay with having some limitations and boundaries when it comes to my triggers. I mean, if I don’t want to ride a subway ever again or go spelunking in a cave anytime soon, my life can still be pretty awesome right? I am learning that being up for everything in life is actually pretty unrealistic anyway.

So today, I will celebrate what I can do. I can travel freely and show my children the world little by little. I can award them the fresh perspective of new places and experiences. I can teach them that even though driving is not one of mommy’s favorite things, I found a way to do it, because we can do hard things if we try. Even if it takes awhile, it’s ok. We just have to try our best.

And that just maybe, if you take off the mask and share your story of how you practiced and worked and overcame the hard, scary things, it might help someone deal with the scary things in their life too. Because we are all struggling with something. We all need a kind word and a listening ear and a cheering section. We need to celebrate our accomplishments every day, no matter how small. We need to be living, breathing, affirmation givers.

Let your mess be a message. You never know who needs to hear it.

Shinrin-Yoku for the Soul

I just took a tree bath.

Yep, I totally meant to say that.

My morning started off with some harsh words and less than kind exchanges. Nothing too serious, just life getting the best of me. My soul was left aching, and I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I needed a walk in the woods.

I didn’t need it for the exercise (well, my lazy self could always use some exercise I guess), I just needed to be there. Surrounded by the beauty and life and oxygen-giving trees.

While sitting in the lobby of the dentist’s office, anxious about being poked and prodded all up in my mouth, I flipped through one of my favorite magazines and saw a quick insert about a place north of Atlanta where you can rent small, simple cabins in the woods. They referrenced the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, which when translated, literally means “forest bathing”. A Japanese forestry expert coined the phrase many years ago, and it has since been a practice widely used and loved by their culture. You simply spend intentional quiet time surrounded by trees.

I didn’t need to read this article to know that I love being in the forest (ok, honestly, I love being on a well-maintained trail in a forest; I get a little freaked out about being lost or surprised by bugs and critters off-trail). I’ve always said I feel the most at peace, most inspired and most spiritually connected when I’m surrounded by nature. So of course when I hear terms like “forest bathing”, I geek out a little.

Some of my best memories and most peaceful moments are when I’ve been immersed in nothing but trees. We grew up going to a quiet cabin in the North Carolina mountains, and were even fortunate enough to purchase our own cabin last summer, nestled among miles and miles of trees. We love sitting on the deck, looking out at the long-range views of nothing but green, listening to leaves being rustled by the breeze or the dancing rain. My husband says he does his best thinking up there. It’s definitely good for the soul.

View from our cabin…ahhhhhhh

So this morning I headed out to one of my favorite trails. I let the rhythmic sound of my feet, pounding the damp ground, lull me into a state of peace. I smiled at the way the sun peeked through the leaves, leaving a golden glow among the darkened forest floor. I watched a black and blue velvet-winged butterfly float by, I passed a field of tall, bushy grass, alive and buzzing with a chorus of grasshoppers, I exchanged a curious glance with a pair of deer. Luckily I didn’t see a snake or get eaten by mosquitoes…I mean, not everything in nature is pleasant.

What I noticed the most on the walks, however, were the trees. I mean, their symbolism for life just amazes me. The way they endure so much. They live through heat waves and frost, too little rain or too much. They lose limbs in storms and become covered in vines or eaten by insects, and yet their root systems are usually so strong, their trunks so sturdy, they survive again and again. They grow and grow and grow some more, some for many more years than I will ever see. Even as I passed trees that had finally fallen or succumbed to death, I notice their ability to continue to give life. Plants were sprouting from within and moss covered the bark. Creatures found new homes in their safe shelter. The tree continued to give, even in death.

One of the trails at Cheatham Hill

I walk on and on, my soul filling up with every step. The trees guide me on. Acorns and branches and leaves are falling all around me, but I head on. I have to keep going. I realise that after a heavy storm, it’s not the best time to hike in the woods, but there’s so much beauty to notice, so much more good, that the benefit is worth the risk.

Life is like that…things are falling apart all around us. We are attacked from every angle, every day. But our roots are strong. We may be covered in fungus and loose some leaves and limbs here and there, but we endure. We are life-livers and life-givers.

Everyone struggles everyday with something. Even the people who seem like they aren’t (I’m looking at you Facebook and Instagram). We are all human and life is hard. Sometimes we search so desperately for something to take away the hurt, that we forget that right in front of us, all around us, God has put everything we need already here on this earth. I think we just forget to stop and notice. We strive, we search, we struggle…but we forget to just be still.

Truth.

So go hug a tree. Ok…just kidding. Kind-of. At least if you do, send me a picture because that will just make my day.

Do take the time to be still and notice. Slow down, breathe deep, go take a tree bath or two. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself one day, when no one is looking, giving those trees a quick thank-you hug.

The Road to Forgiveness

California here we…leave!

We are wrapping up a work/play trip to San Diego/LA, and just boarded the plane for Denver for our third leg of our western summer adventure. We brought the kids (and even one of our favorite babysitters!) and hit up beautiful Southern California, their little eyes wide at seeing it for the first time. We definitely saw our fair share of sights!

From Sea World, Del Mar, and the San Diego Zoo…to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, we soaked up the perfect SoCal weather and slept in the most amazing Air Bnb’s, thanks to my husband’s uncanny ability to find the best last-minute places. We also endured classic LA traffic, whining, fighting kids, the cluster of Opening Day at Del Mar (ok, so that was also fun and perhaps the best people watching ever!) the monstrous line at In and Out Burger, and multiple Uber drivers that didn’t speak a lick of English, but alas, such is the beauty of travel. No one got kidnapped or ended up in the hospital, so I’m calling it a success.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Seeing the west coast for the first time

So now here I am, just me and the kiddos, (our first flight as a threesome without daddy) and I’m trying as usual to hold it together and relax instead of imagining going down in a flaming ball of fire because, you know, being in a plane is my happy place. Oh, and did I mention that when I boarded the plane I discovered that my husband unknowingly swiped my headphones, and after the third baby cried before take off, I was cursing that sweet man a bit excessively in my head while trying not to bang my head against the seat 6 inches in front of me. And then there’s a guy behind me that clearly needs a new iPad because he is banging on his screen with brute force, so hard that it’s shaking my seat my seat as if a toddler was kicking the crap out of it. But hey, the kiddos are knee deep in plane snacks and soda and laughing their heads off together at something, so at least some of us are having fun.

On this next leg of the trip, we are meeting up with my mom, who has finally fulfilled her dream of renting an RV and trekking across the wide open space of the west. We plan to join her for some of the journey in Wyoming before heading back to Georgia for the start of school.

Before we meet up with her, we are spending a night in Denver to catch our breath and see some family. We have some cousins there, and we are meeting up with my “real” dad, who I haven’t seen in over 20 years and who has never met his grandkids. Yep, you heard me right.

So, that’s not awkward at all.

I think I wrote some time ago about how my real dad hasn’t been in my life for quite some time, several decades passing between the time I talked to him on the phone, asking if I could invite him to my wedding (which was a no-go as I’d figured) to about a year ago when I finally got the nerve to return his surprising phone call. We have had several small-talk conversations since then, but he mentioned he would love to see us.

So here we are, about to land in Denver, me trying to explain to my children that they are about to meet a total stranger who happens to be their grandfather. Just another day in the life.

There are all sorts of reasons I could not make this happen today. All sorts of hang-ups and resentment and abandonment issues that have plagued me over the years. But as my sadness and anger and confusion has gradually settled, after I’ve realized that my love and self-worth isn’t dependent on a single person or my past, I know that forgiveness and love are the ultimate healers in any situation. In that truth, I rest assured.

Our meeting today will be brief and probably totally awkward, but it also needs to happen. All I can do is take baby steps in this journey. I must trust the process and be open to it. I will let the past stay where it needs to and focus on an amazing present and future.

Just like two wrongs don’t make a right, two hurts don’t mend a heart. But an open heart, one that takes the first step, one that chooses to forgive…that’s where the magic can truly happen.

Update: Meeting was a success!

Those Summer Nights

Y’all. I just need to gush about how much I love a good, warm, chill summer night. Because sometimes it’s just fun to write about the good things in life.

Down here in the south there’s this golden hour of summer, between about 8 and 9pm. The sun starts setting, the twilight sky glows as clouds start to turn all yellow-orange-pinkish-purple, the tops of the trees catch the last golden glimmer of the sun’s rays.

Birds sing their lullabies and cicadas start dueling with their shrill cries. Children’s laughter echoes off the houses as they finally take to the streets in the cooler air, delighting at the first sight of fireflies blinking in the trees. Crickets start chirping and the frogs start to call out from the retention pond down the way.

It reminds me of an old folk song, which was also made into a picture book I used to read to the kids, All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir”. Nature’s song comes together with an array of sounds, celebrating this golden hour of summer.

And then…a dang mosquito bites me on the ankle. Almost immediately after, I hear my daughter’s tell-tale my-brother-just-hit-me cry. I interrupt my euphoric back porch moment to go check on the situation.

He p-pushed me into the c-c-cabinet! Waaaaaa…aaaaahhh…

I hold Allie close and don’t even attempt to seek justice in this simple brother-sister squabble. I immediately direct her attention towards the back deck.

Come on! The fireflies are starting to come out!

Of course she requests a bowl of cereal first because face it, she’s my child and cereal is life, and then we sit out back in the spinning outdoor chairs (aka, the spinny chairs). I show her the torch candle I’ve lit, brought back to life after finally being filled back up with citronella oil. We spot multiple airplanes in the sky, their underbellies glowing pink, reflecting the last of the sunlight. We ooh at the brightness of the quarter moon as it peeks over a tree branch, and ahh as a fluttering flock of birds race by.

The golden hour is back in full swing.

Jack eventually shuffles out to meet us, casually digging into a bag of goldfish. He points to a few more airplanes, makes some goofy faces and then says excitedly…let’s swim!

My goofy kiddos having some back porch fun

And just like that, they are skipping down the stairs and jumping into the pool, (conveniently still in their bathing suits from this afternoon because duh, its the official uniform of summer) and I take a front row seat to the splashing joy of my children’s childhood. My heart fills up watching them play together (the earlier shoving match long forgotten, at least for the moment) as I sit back and watch the stars pop out one by one. Night officially sets in, and I am grateful for yet another beautiful day.

What’s that? Another mosquito?!

I don’t think so, mister. Go mess with someone your own size. I’ve got a perfect summer night to savor.

Nothing and Everything

Ahhhhh….summer.

As I lay here, minutes ticking away towards 9am, kids still snoozing away in silence, I realize how much we have really settled in to our summer groove.

At the end of May, when everyone is coming down from that tornado of end-of-year-madness, we begin gearing up for summer.

What trips are y’all taking? Are you doing any camps? Swim team? Travel ball? Plans, plans, PLANS?!!!!

All of a sudden I’m plunged back into scramble mode. Desperately feeling like I should have every week plotted and activity-filled. I’m googling camps and scheduling play dates and travel planning like a crazy woman.

Our summer started out with a bang. The day after school ended, we ran off to the cabin, straight down to the beach, and then flew off to Chicago. We did have a lot of adventures, made countless memories. But somewhere during all that traveling, my body just needed to stop.

I drove home from the beach, which is still a huge feat in itself, knowing I had a little over 12 hours before I had to turn around and leave again. I flung open the door and literally made a beeline for the bed. My body ached for sleep. The hundred-mile-an-hour, action-packed summer I was so excited about was already exhausting me.

Then my son really drove it home when he turned to me sweetly and said, “Can we just have a week where we don’t go anywhere?”

Wow.

All my fretting over having enough to do over the summer, and my nine-year-old had to spell it out for me: I just want to do nothing!

Of course he didn’t actually want to do nothing, but I understood. He wanted a chance to be still, to stay home and catch his breath. He didn’t want camps and activities and agenda shoved down his throat like he had during the school year. He didn’t want to spend hours in a car strapped into a seat. He just wanted space and freedom and stillness.

Isn’t that what we all want?

So we did just that. We came home and got some much-needed rest. Yes, we still had chores and errands to do here and there, the kids both spent a week away at camp, and we have another trip or two planned. But we have spaced them out better so we can fully embrace our summer rhythm. We have plenty of nothing days in-between.

Sometimes we aren’t dressed until noon.

Sometimes we have popsicles 4 times a day.

Sometimes we have cookies for breakfast and cereal for dinner.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) the pool counts as bath time.

Sometimes we watch tv for hours.

Sometimes we forget to wear shoes for a whole day.

Sometimes our only outing is to get gas station ice cream.

Sometimes there’s literally nothing to do.

But sometimes, doing nothing is EVERYTHING.

Don’t be afraid of having nothing to do this summer. I admit that I was. I feared every small hole in our agenda. But as I settle in to summer, I’m realizing how much this quiet rhythm soothes my soul. How being bored can actually breed creativity. How slowing down is my love language.

I still haven’t heard a peep from my sleeping children, and that’s a beautiful thing. These sweet days won’t last forever. But soon enough, I’ll hear those thundering little footsteps coming my way, and when they come jump on my bed for their morning hugs, they’ll ask me what we are doing today.

To which I will happily reply… nothing!