Just For You

photo(3)There’s something about being up before the rest of my world awakes. Birds gather in the trees and flutter this way and that, seeming to chat about where to find the best morning snacks. I leave the warmth of my house with dogs in tow, and the chill of the winter air whips at my face. Still, I am warmed by all I experience around me, the things I’d miss in the busy-ness of the late afternoon. I notice intricate, frosty patterns on my windshield, soon to melt with the rising sun, while the usual roar of the interstate traffic is only a slight hum in the background. My dogs happily lick the moisture off the grass, leaving a winding trail of paw prints behind them. And I breathe in the chilly air, which seems fresh and alive with the newness of the day.

I love the quiet and stillness of the morning. Here, I get away from the weightiness of the day that ended hours before and will soon begin in a frenzy all over again. This is when I relax into the good that surrounds me. In this stillness, my thoughts are uncluttered and my mind moves towards God and his love for his creation.

I heard someone say God knows exactly what speaks to us and hands it to each of us in a way that we can understand. I’d never considered that before, but it makes sense when I think about what I believe about God. We are his works of art. He knows exactly the number of hairs on your head and mine (which is different before and after a shower and hair drying and all of that getting ready, so he’s really something). He is always ready for us to tell him about just everything. He has time for us to pour out our sometimes endless web of worries, fears, hurts and doubts but also listen as we gush about all the good. And he doesn’t just act like he’s listening.

So if it’s true–if he truly knows what gets to us, he speaks to one person through relationships and another through music or art. He speaks to others through written skywords, quotes, verses and a multitude of other ways at just the right time. It’s many of these things for me, but in these early morning moments, I feel his love in the stillness. And when the night breaks into day, and the sunrise is a mixture of purples and pinks mixed with blue, I choose to believe he’s saying to me and to all who marvel at the beauty of nature,

“This is just for you.”

Just For You was first published on Hope Walks In on 2.9.14.

A Birthday Surprise

I didn't make this graphic and don't know who did. In the words of a friend, "I love/ hate it."
I didn’t make this graphic and don’t know who to attribute it to (the teacher in me would add an apostrophe) ; however, I agree with a friend who said, “I love/ hate it.”

I’m not sure what I had in mind exactly for the future; I guess more time at the same jobs we’ve loved for years. It was out of my hands, though, as much of life is. Next year, my work will look a little different than it does now.

When we make life decisions, we have to live with them, but sometimes it’s even more difficult when life makes a huge turn, having zero to do with our choices. We are left a little lost and bewildered, wondering something along the lines of…

What did I do to deserve this? (And for me…during my birthday week?)

But after the shock lessens, it ends up having more to do with what we actually do with what happens to us. When things are out of our control, it can feel terribly lonely. Fear creeps in, and there are more questions than answers. Hope? Well, it feels impossibly far away. Trusting God has a plan, roller coaster-like as it may be, brings me some peace even when what’s happening makes zero sense. I’m learning when I feel worried and anxious about exactly what next year will look like, I have to say out loud, “Okay, God, I know you got this.” I am not an expert at it, but I’m finding more and more, um, opportunities to practice it. Hearing myself helps me believe it when time stops at the top of the roller coaster. It’s there, when my eyes are closed, and I’m edging closer to the next breath-stealing, hurtling ride into the unknown.

So, at first, this change felt like a deep, dark question, but it has become instead a big, bright possibility. I don’t know how it all will work; I have no idea. But, I realized something else as peace replaced my initial fear. Somewhere deep down, I have longed for time to pursue some other things but expected that would only happen at retirement (in a million years). Don’t get me wrong; I love my job as it is now, but here it is, this surprising gift placed in my open hands.

 

Why the New Blog Name?

This blog began as A Little More Than I Was.  Now it has grown into Hope Walks In, simply because I write about the messy adventures of life and finding hope in the dark spaces (If you haven’t read this month, click here. It’s the same blog with a new name, and this year I’m focusing on Hope and Healing: Little by Little). 

Always, the unknown exists, bringing times of joy, heartbreak and everything in between. Life does that, over and over — laughter and fun, followed by tough stuff that sneaks in when we least expect it. Each time, we can sink as the waves crash down or learn to swim–asking for help and hope along the way.

Hope walks in all types of ways:
a whisper
earth-shaking like booming thunder
a hint of yellow light or red sky
a line in a song or a poem
a stranger’s words
a prayer
a hug from a loved one
a place you’d least expect  (like on the bumper sticker stuck on the car that cut you off)
the stories of others

While hope doesn’t air lift us from our troubles and place us on a lush island, free of sickness, war, poverty and daily challenges, it helps us to believe this uncomfortable-growing-stretching-sometimes-devastating space may not last forever. Maybe we’re not alone. Maybe there’s more to life than what we see at this moment. Maybe there’s something to learn.

Life happens in all its mystery, full of adventure, sadness and beauty. We find we’re a little more bruised up from life’s challenges, yet somehow wiser, stronger and braver than we knew we could be.

When we let go and search, begging, trusting God and even waiting for it to show up, hope walks right in the door.

Where else do you find hope?

 

 

On Finding Hope and Healing

As many of you know, I was tested for numerous autoimmune issues including Lyme Disease last year. It was a mystery, but in the summer I was diagnosed with Sjogrens Syndrome and Hypogammglobulinanemia (immune deficiency). It took a lot of time, ruling out other diseases with blood work results from various doctors and integrative health practitioners through the years. During that time and even before then, friends and acquaintances had their own health struggles and also found answers that led to their own healing. Then, they went a step further and selflessly took the time to tell me their story. And there, I found hope.

Over and over, we all hear of people devastated by disease and cancer, but over and over, I am hearing of those who are thriving by intentionally making major life changes…and not using medication. Nothing makes it more real than when your own body proves it has the potential to heal itself with the right nutrients from whole food and supplements to boost the immune system, as well as detoxify the body. Every body is different, so the challenge lies in finding direction through prayer, reducing stress and resting.

When we share our stories, challenges and victories, it’s powerful, like unlocking a hidden door for ourselves AND others. Since so many spoke to me through conferences, books, blogs, over the phone and during long dinners, it made an impact in such a way that I had hope. Hope that healing would indeed come. And it has in many amazing ways.

So, how can I not do the same?!

2015 is a year of intention for me, and here is my plan for this space starting next month: Finding Hope and Healing…Little by Little

Healing is usually slow, after all, whether from sickness, disease, past hurts and other emotional issues. The common thread? Healing also must be intentional!

Week 1 — an inspirational, hope-filled post (much like my usual writing, including stories of the pups, the joys and pains of marriage, infertility, sexual abuse, my health journey, and finding God in the struggle, etc.)

Week 2 — a post about useful healing books, quotes, music, art, and/ or recipes

Week 3 — physical and emotional healing tips I’m learning along the way

Week 4 — re-posting of interesting topics from other writers

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Oh, and I’m (obviously) working on a new look and even considering a new title for my blog. Any ideas?

 

Where Are the Birds?

cottoncloudsWhere are the birds? I wondered as I drove. It was as if they went further south for the winter, except it was almost summer. I couldn’t remember seeing them for a long time. Strange, especially since I looked for them, high above the stretch of interstate I traveled practically everyday.

As I drove, I noticed the trees had grown green and full, almost overnight. When did that happen? The sky was blue, and the clouds were fluffy like expensive cotton balls, flung in all directions.

It seemed the days had been dark and grey for months.

I felt like I’d been in the sticky mud and murky water of a swampland for quite a while, not getting anywhere fast and in fact, lost. I didn’t know which direction to go because there was no arrow pointing the way, only silence although I’d been begging for something more. Asking and praying and wondering and searching, crying and hurting and desperate (and Googling because that’s easy, instant and sometimes helpful).

The birds always seemed to soar through the air with powerful wings, weightless and graceful as they circled the trees and played above the interstate, heavy with cars. As a kid, I had heard about God taking care of all of us, even the tiny sparrows. And if he takes care of them, he cares even more about us and holds us with his great big hands. I guess seeing the birds reminded me of that.

But if God was holding me in the palm of his hand, it sure didn’t feel like it. I felt left and lonely, afraid and anxious. No! What if that’s not enough for me? What if I need more than that? Why are YOU taking so long? I don’t know what else to do. I cried angry tears and felt a little guilty for talking to God like that.

But I also felt a little relieved.

Heard.

Maybe even understood.

And then I saw a single bird swooping around the deep blue sky with cotton ball clouds, and my face felt hot as it hit me. It wasn’t the absence of beauty but the heaviness of life that had been my focus.

The birds hadn’t left; I’d stopped looking. My mind was too full of the what-ifs, whys and hows to even notice what was around me, yet the beautiful scenery had been there all along. Just like God, who holds me in the palm of his hand when I’m angry about being lost in the swampland, waist-deep in the mud, with no arrow pointing the way.

 

Waiting For the Light

photo(9)There were violent storms in much of the southeastern U.S. this week. Forecasts here predicted hail, strong winds, possible tornadoes and heavy rain up to five inches. All of this happened (and more) in some states with terrible destruction. People’s lives are torn apart by wild weather, and just like that, everything is different.

But here, what everyone geared up for ended up being plain old rain mixed with a few thunderstorms for a couple nights. The days were tricky though, since it looked as if things were right on track for the dangers that were predicted. But in the early morning hours, the light broke through the dark clouds, and the sun finally returned.

Maybe we’re waiting on news about a loved one in the hospital, a job situation, a dream to finally come true, a diagnosis or something else. We worry about what it will be like afterward, even 24 hours from getting the answer, from the knowing. We hear others’ stories and see pictures of horrible destruction and sadness and expect this will also be our fate. We believe this, too, will be happening right where we are. After all, that’s what the experts say, and they know. That’s why they’re experts, right?

Brightly-colored weather maps show the exact minute when the storm will come. So we wait and watch, expecting the worst (which comes occasionally). At other times, the maps show calmer colors that once screamed alarm. Sometimes patterns and storm paths change unexpectedly, and experts can be wrong.

So, we can choose denial or accept the forecast. Sometimes it might be with fear, worry and anger. We can cry and think, Why me? We might even respond by crawling into our safe spot for a while and passively wishing for it all to pass.

All of this is okay…and then.

And then, with courage we can read and listen to the stories of those who have weathered the storms and emerged with scars but stronger somehow. We can learn and trust God in his all-knowingness and take a step forward. It’s never easy. It’s always painful, it seems, but we just might see the light eventually break through in ways we’d never expect.

 

 

If God Sent Me a Letter

Last week, I wrote about some hard questions for God. If he answered me in a letter, I’m sure it would be much more beautiful than my attempt. Here’s what I imagine and what speaks to my heart.

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—————————————————————–

Dear Jen,

The time will come for answers, but it’s not here just yet. I can tell you there are big things up ahead for you. I’ve known you before you were YOU, and I know there have been so many times in your life that have been complicated and mysterious. I’ve seen you search and search for answers, but there are some things you aren’t ready to know.

I’ve seen you cry, shoulders heaving, and I cry heavy tears with you. I’ve also seen all the things that make you giggle and fill you with joy–the silly songs you make up when you’re alone, the dark chocolate you leave in the freezer, the way your eyes light up every time you see a beautiful sunset or the way blue sky and mountains seem to take your breath away. I smile when I see you smile, and guess what? The corners of my eyes crinkle up just like yours.

I know you are tired. Don’t wish your days away. Each one is filled with my goodness just waiting for you. It’s okay to rest your mind and let me do my work. I’ll let you know if I need your help. Rest.

I know you look back at carefree times and wish them back. Know the hardest days are not pointless. You are learning to trust me, and I know that is not easy. But, I am the Creator of the Universe. Don’t you think I can handle what hurts and scares and puzzles you most? I created YOU; why would you worry I’d leave you in the middle of it, alone? All I ask is that you trust me. I have your back whether you see it or understand it or even feel it.

Just believe it.

This tough stuff right now, it won’t be like this forever. Just as the seasons change and winter is giving way to spring, the times of your life change, too. Keep moving forward. You’ll see up ahead, just around the corner is a new season for you, too.

When you are afraid, I am here. When you have nothing left to give, I am your strength. You have been through hard things before and will make it through again, this time and the next and the next. There is joy right here, every day, just waiting for you. Look for it. Marvel in it.

I love you. I am so proud of who you are. You are enough.

Love,

God

If God sent YOU a letter right now, what do you think it would say? ~Jen

Moving to the Edge

Our dog Glory loves riding in the car, but it hasn’t always been this way. When we adopted her, she trembled in the backseat until we got home, even though my friend talked to her gently the whole time. She’s had a lot happen to her; much of it we’ll never know. She came to us with scars on the inside and fears of all kinds. In those days, it was mostly about being abandoned.

Things are different now with two dogs, but there are times when those old fears return. When we went to the dog park, what should have been fun with other dogs seemed scary to Glory. After walking around the fence with us once, we took her off the leash, ready to let her run. Instead, she made her way to the front gate and just sat there. Eyes red and breathing deeply, she did not, would not move, no matter what we said. I guess she connects that kind of freedom with being left without her family. I want to tell her what I know about the dog park: This is fun. Dogs LIKE this place. You are safe, and we’re right here. And I feel sad because she doesn’t understand. Maybe she will one day if we keep trying.

I wonder if God sees us the same way. He leads us to a place that might ultimately bring us more peace than we’ve experienced, but all we know is we don’t like change. Yet, we try it out, tiptoe-ing down that bumpy path and turning back when it gets too hard to navigate the way. After all, we make a cozy bed in our comfortable place, put our feet up and prepare to stay for a long, long time. Things aren’t bad there, right? We become used to okay. I wonder if God feels sad about this because he knows things could be so much better for us.

When I am challenged to move to the edge of what I know, I am like Glory–heart pounding, deep breathing, trembling. My head believes even this has meaning, but all I really want is to burrow into my still-warm bed and hide my head under the weight of the comforter. I don’t know how I will handle feeling lost, and I worry I will be unsettled forever because somehow this is hauntingly familiar. I trust there is goodness on the other side; still I am scared. Why would anyone want to revisit this?

And then comes my reassurance:

Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Do not fear, for I am with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9

It’s when I remember right smack in the middle of my wavering– God is here, too, and has never left–that I start to loosen my grip, one finger at a time. This is a long, slow, seemingly never-ending process because I move forward, push back, take a step, jump back, want to control. I cry and breathe and pray.

Then, I’m shocked because I realize I’m fighting against my own release.

And although my fear makes sense to me, pulling away from what I ultimately need does not. So, I bravely push back the covers and get out of bed. Once again, I’m taking one step at a time further and further into the unknown but closer and closer to the edge of freedom.

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Just For You

photo(3)There’s something about being up before the rest of my world awakes. Birds gather in the trees and flutter this way and that, seeming to chat about where to find the best morning snacks. I leave the warmth of my house with dogs in tow, and the chill of the winter air whips at my face. Still, I am warmed by all I experience around me, the things I’d miss in the busy-ness of the late afternoon. I notice intricate, frosty patterns on my windshield, soon to melt with the rising sun, while the usual roar of the interstate traffic is only a slight hum in the background. My dogs happily lick the moisture off the grass, leaving a winding trail of paw prints behind them. And I breathe in the chilly air, which seems fresh and alive with the newness of the day.

I love the quiet and stillness of the morning. Here, I get away from the weightiness of the day that ended hours before and will soon begin in a frenzy all over again. This is when I relax into the good that surrounds me. In this stillness, my thoughts are uncluttered and my mind moves towards God and his love for his creation.

I heard someone say God knows exactly what speaks to us and hands it to each of us in a way that means something. I’d never considered that before, but it makes sense when I think about what I believe about God. We are his works of art. He knows exactly the number of hairs on your head and mine (which is different before and after a shower and hair drying and all of that getting ready, so he’s really something). He is always ready for us to tell him about just everything. He has time for us to pour out my sometimes endless web of worries, fears, hurts and doubts but also listen as we gush about all the good. And he doesn’t just act like he’s listening.

So if it’s true–if he truly knows what gets to us, he speaks to one person through relationships and another through music or art. He speaks to others through written skywords, quotes, verses and a multitude of other ways at just the right time. It’s many of these things for me, but in these early morning moments, I feel his love in the stillness. And when the night breaks into day, and the sunrise is a mixture of purples and pinks mixed with blue, I choose to believe he’s saying to me and to all who marvel at the beauty of nature,

“This is just for you.”

Content

Christmasornament

This has been the most peaceful Christmas yet. I can’t remember, ever, another holiday time when I felt as calm and joyful as I have felt today. We opened our present (yes, one) after a long, drawn-out breakfast of cereal and berries and Monkey Bread that I made and cannot eat. It’s been sunny and cold today, and I haven’t stepped outside. I didn’t wear my best clothes or think about what else I could be doing. I didn’t worry about who I wish I could talk to or be with just because it’s Christmas. This day has been full of the present–not the one I unwrapped or a list of met expectations. This day has been one of love and laughter of family. It has been pure joy, and that is peace. I am breathing the precious gift of contentment, and I want to stay.