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Continuing to Grow: The Scandal of Grace & Love

I am sitting at my kitchen table doing homework while the snow falls listening to John Mayer. Three classes and a Capstone project are all that stands in the way of me completing my Masters in Strategic Leadership. It has been a challenging chapter in my life. It has spurred incredible growth in me, personally and professionally.

My pace of life these past two months have been insane, even for me. Every year I ask God what He wants to do in my life this year. There were two words/phrases that came to mind and three Scriptures. The words were ‘No” and “Slow Down”. It must be opposite month because these first fifteen days of January have been the exact opposite. Saying “yes” and going at warp speed. Most of it is the nature of ministry. Saturday I began to take back some control.

 

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This painting hangs in my office. Every stroke meant something. I have things hidden in the painting. This is my reminder for the year. Writing & painting help me process.

 

Jeremiah 2:25 says in the Message, “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? But you say, “I can’t help it. I’m addicted to alien gods. I can’t quit.”

Eugene Peterson says busyness is a form of laziness. I agree. I also think it is a self-imposed form of self-importance.

My other Scripture us found in Titus 2:11 -14. It says “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age…”

I am saying no to things and slowing down to experience what the Apostle Paul prays in Ephesians 3. The length, the depth, the height and width of God’s love. I have been praying this Scripture over my family, my inner circle of friends, and my Church. I am making sacred space so I can grow in the knowledge of God’s love.

My pace will still be hectic but I know what this means to me.

God has used working on my Masters to bring about a total renovation of my heart and life. IT has been extremely painful but oh so needed. It all culminated in the craziest forty-eight, most freeing hours of my life. God unexpectedly dealt with the shame and guilt of some serious sin in my life from years ago. Once everything had been stripped away from me, the things I used to alleviate and run away from the pain (drinking before Jesus, food, sex, work, busyness, shopping…did I mention that the challenge for this year is to not buy one article of clothing. Not one!), God could work. He used a precious friend to deal with it. Actually, back in the fall, another situation began to crack open the wall of shame I had built. The conversations we have had over the past 24 hours on God’s grace, love, and forgiveness will mark me the rest of my life. We are two sin torn, battle-weary broads whom God has tremendously loved and forgiven. We cannot grow and heal alone. We need community. We need people.

While I was cleaning today, I thought about how my whole life I have been moving towards healing and wholeness. I have been doing a lot of reading on integrated living while working on my Capstone project, which basically means there is no compartmentalized living. I am on the outside who I am on the inside. They match. I’m not hiding anything. These past six months, God has been integrating those things that I have done (good and bad) and the things that have been done to me (good and bad) into my life. Dealing with them, helping bring sense to them and forgiveness where needed. I have not run from the hardness of it all. I have embraced it through gritted teeth. These past 48 hours have pushed me over the cliff into the amazing ocean that is God’s grace and love.

There is worship song I have been listening to called Scandal of Grace. The lyrics say:

Too much to make sense of it all
I know that your love breaks my fall
The scandal of grace, you died in my place
So my soul will live

I worked at a pizza place for years. It was the real deal…homemade crust which you had to roll out with a rolling pin and you could twirl the dough in the air. You would have to work the flour into the dough ball in order to roll it. You did it slowly because you could put too much in and ruin it. That is what integrated living is for me. God kneading the stuff of life into the fiber of who I am. Romans 8:28 says that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpse. He works ALL things, the good, the bad and the ugly. He causes them to work for our good. It does not mean that every thing that has happened to me is good but if I give God a chance, it could work out for my good. I do a whole teaching on this in most of the studies I lead. I cannot erase the things I have done or the things that have been done to me. I can give them to God and allow Him to bring sense to it.

This year, 2018, I am going to live free. I am going to slow down, say “no” so that I can experience the overwhelming, reckless love of God. And I am not going to buy one article of clothing.

 

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Showing how to roll out pizza dough.

 

 

 

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You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But sometimes you get what you need)

2017 is winding down. I can honestly say I will be relieved to see this year go. It was a hard year. A transformative year. A painful year. A year in which I finally allowed myself to feel every painful feeling even when it was suffocating. A year that saw a breaking in me that is still taking place. Through it all, God was faithful, walking me through every moment. As painful as it has been, I don’t think I would trade this year for anything. I just do not want to repeat it.

Last week I climbed a steep cliff. On the spur of the moment. I was hiking through the woods with my niece and a friend. It was snowing and beautiful. And icy. My friend told me that I could not climb the cliff. It kind of made me mad. So up I went. I had to claw the mud and make holes for my knees. I crawled between trees. It was cold and muddy and wet. Very symbolic on how I feel I have gotten through this past year. I have had to claw my way through the dirt of life, the mud of my past to get to the summit. The view once I got to the top was breathtaking. I forgot about my wet gloves, cold hands and muddy knees. It was exhilarating (until I found a dead carcass). Anything worth having is worth fighting for. I just get tired of the fight sometimes.

 

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Made it to the top! 

 

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The view from the top. This was not taken in black and white.

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This was a carcass of an animal I stumbled upon. Kind of freaked me out.

 

 

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Beautiful winter day on the Vermilion River

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Love this picture and grateful for who I get to do ministry with. I have great people in my life. 

 

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It is much steeper than it looks.

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My niece Kennedy & me.

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It was a day of hearts. Todd made a snow ball into the heart and I peed in the shape of a heart in the woods (yes I took a picture, and no one was around to see).

 

 

Today is my spiritual birthday. Thirty-two years ago I made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. I was fifteen years old. I did not grow up in church. I knew nothing of the Bible. God and Jesus were swear words to me. On Christmas Day of that year, I remember laying in bed praying to God, “If you are real, you need to show yourself to me because I cannot do this anymore.” I was not suicidal but I was headed down a path that was making me miserable. I knew I was headed for a big crash if something did not change. Four days later I was at a friends house who had become a Christian the summer before. As I poured out my heart and troubles, she handed me a Bible and said, “I don’t know what to tell you but this has helped me. Why don’t you read it.” She left me in her bedroom. She went and watched MTV. I had no idea what to read or what it was even about. I opened to the Gospel of John and read it in one sitting. I knew none of the fancy theological terms but I did know these four things when I had finished reading; 1. God was real, 2. I had really screwed up, 3. The decisions I was making were not my mom or my dad’s fault or the way I was brought up…they were my fault, and 4. God somehow was real and had provided forgiveness and a way out.

I called my friend back into the room and asked her what I needed to do. She didn’t know. She said, “I think you pray.” So I did. I know it was not eloquent and probably had some swear words interspersed in it but it was real and raw and heartfelt. I immediately felt a lightness and knew something radically had changed inside of me. That night completely changed the trajectory of my life. 

Here I am 32 years later. Two days away from this year ending and a new one beginning. Twelve days away from turning another year older.

And I feel more like the 15-year-old Heidi tonight than the soon to be 48-year-old Heidi.

I have never been more unsure of myself and what the future holds. 

These past 32 years have been full of heartbreak, loss, failure, tears, and anguish…

But they have also been full of joy, laughter, hope, adventure, and success.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if that night never had happened. Who would I be today? Where would I be today?

I have been doing a lot of questioning lately. Not about God. He is more real to me than anything or anyone else in my life. Time and experience has proven Him real and true over and over again. What I have been questioning are the consequences of my decisions. The decisions I have made, the good ones and the bad ones. They all have consequences. Did the bad ones thwart God’s plan for my life? Can you negate the consequences to the negative ones? How can I lay to rest the “what ifs” and simply acknowledge some things have died due to my decisions? I don’t know. I so wish I did. The struggle is so very real. Sometimes I think I am too introspective. I feel and think things too deeply. I do know the sum of all my choices has led me here. To this moment. To who I am today.  To who God has molded me to be despite my interference and attempts of self-sabotage. And for the most part, I like who I am (with the exception of the past month…I’ve been a little difficult to be around).

There are things I still want that I don’t know if they are in the cards for me. And I’m a little resentful. And a lot sad. Intensely sad.

I think it was the Rolling Stones that sang, “You can’t always get what you want”.  They go on to sing, “But you might find you get what you need”. I acknowledge and am thankful that I have always gotten what I have needed. God is so good and so kind to me. More than I deserve.

The more I follow Jesus, the more I understand how messy and complicated life is. We want things to be black and white, nice and tidy. Life is simply not that way. Following Jesus is not easy.

I am a big Dr. Who fan, which surprises even me because Sci-fi is not my thing. This Christmas was the final episode with the current doctor (I won’t even try to explain it because it is complicated but this one has been my favorite and I cried. A lot.). Basically, he was dying. In the episode before the Christmas one that sets up the finale, he has this speech in which he explains why he does what he does and lives the way he lives (saving the universe), “Life isn’t about winning. It is not because it is fun — God knows it’s not because it’s easy;  it’s not because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right because it’s decent and because above all, it’s kind”.

As another year comes to an end (2017) and I close the door on the 47th year of my life and celebrate another year of following Jesus, I am learning to live in the tension. I follow Jesus not because it’s easy, or it’s fun or because it works the way I think it should. I follow Jesus because it’s right. And it makes me decent. And it makes me kind like He is. I understand I can’t always get what I want. I don’t know what this year holds. Life is hard, beautiful, messy, full of wonder, joy, pain, tears, and laughter. All at the same time. In the words of Cold Play “Life has a beautiful, crazy design.” (And I do crazy well).

I simply choose to live. And follow Jesus. Like I did thirty-two years ago.

Lessons from Journaling ’17

I have always loved to journal. I do not do it every day but often. I do it to process good things, bad things, and decisions that need to be made. I started journaling when I was 11. Back then I called it writing in my diary 😉 I still have my very first one. I wrote about it in Living Sensibly I just finished my current journal. This year has been one of the hardest of my life. But one of the best. I have grown so much through the tough times. As hard as it has been, I would not trade it for anything. God has worked in areas that I thought were too far gone to ever be healed. He has walked me through the darkest night of my soul. I am still not completely out but I am emerging more whole (though crazy Heidi is grasping for one last chance to rule). I have always run from pain and heartache. Not this time. I felt so very strongly that if I ran this time, I would spend the rest of my life maintaining. And that would be death to me. So onward I went. I apologize to those who have been around me these past few months. 😉 I read through my journal from this year. As I read it, I jotted lessons I learned throughout the year. And here they are:

  1. My cancer scare at the beginning of the year taught me that I want to be an example of how to face tough stuff. I want Jesus to be seen in me, not just talked about. 
  2. What could my life look like completely surrendered to Jesus?
  3. And you can grow up and still retain your child-like faith.
  4. Strive to be fully functioning, not high functioning.
  5. Stop believing everything I think and feel.
  6. Am I the person I have always wanted to be? (This is everything)
  7. Life cannot be balanced. It is fluid. Time is not a pie.
  8. Do I really have to be in control all the time?
  9. People matter. Their stories matter.
  10. It’s exhausting always trying to do and be better.
  11. You don’t have to remember every thought and epiphany…for that moment, that moment alone it is what your spirit needed. Don’t try to capture every little thing. Enjoy the moment.
  12. As a church, we are to have one arm around our community and one arm around the world.
  13. My pace of life is not the same as others and that is okay. I will probably never slow down.
  14. While my assignment may change, my calling remains the same.
  15. I really do walk with God (8/6/17, 12/1/17).
  16. Everything I am for His Kingdom’s cause — even my pain and insecurity.
  17. God cannot bless who you pretend to be.
  18. Humility proceeds breakthrough.
  19. My tribe has been vital to me this year. 
  20. There really is beauty in the brokenness.
  21. The best way to point people to Jesus is to live it. Word matter but words can be cheap when not backed up with a life that demonstrates the power, love, and goodness of God.
  22. He is expanding my community to communicate (8/17/17).
  23. Don’t tap out.
  24. In the darkest of nights and deepest pits of hell, there is always glimpses of goodness and light if we look.
  25. It’s okay to admit you’re tired.
  26. It’s okay to admit you need help.
  27. It has been a year of Holy discomfort/growing pains — faith doesn’t grow in a vacuum but in the arena of life. 
  28. No one can keep you from being “all in” except you.
  29. Grace is not neat and tidy. It is loud and messy and uncomfortable. 
  30. I cannot be concerned with what my faith looks like but what it actually is.
  31. You can minister out of brokenness, but you cannot minister out of nothingness.
  32. Thompson is the best dog ever. ❤ 
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    All my journals I have. There are some I have lost probably on purpose 😉

     

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    My new journal!

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    This one is from 9/11/01. Pivotal time in my life

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    These five are from 2014 through now. These represent the biggest spiritual growth season of my life. I am amazed at what God has done in 3 years.

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    My very first one. 1981.

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    This is my favorite. My trip to Israel is in these pages.

My closing prayer of my journal:

Jesus, I am so grateful for Your presence in my life. Thank you for Your faithfulness demonstrated to me in these pages. You have been better to me than I deserve. I am so glad Your faithfulness and character is not dependent on me. May I always strive to bring honor and glory to You. Thank you for the adventures and here’s to many more! Where you lead, I will follow.

The Tale of a Veteran, His Daughter, and Her Whiskey Dog

Today is Veteran’s Day. My dad was a veteran of World War II. One of his brothers told me at my dad’s funeral that my dad left for the army a young man and came back an old one. He also struggled with alcohol the rest of his life. Two months before he passed away, I was up late. My dad had a vivid flashback to 60 years prior when he was under attack in a pasture somewhere in Italy. He came rushing out of his room like a young man (he only got around with a walker at this point). He thought I was a German. He was in his 80s and it was as real to him as if it had just happened. Veterans pay a price to protect us that lasts a lifetime. I have blogged about my dad and his service in Lessons from the Greatest Generation and Veteran’s Day: WWII in Pictures.

I have been thinking about my dad a lot lately. I recently got a new dog, Thompson. My dad would have absolutely loved him. He is actually named after my dad’s favorite whiskey, Old Thompson. There are things this dog does that makes me think of my dad daily. Thompson is a rescue dog. I was not looking for a new dog. At all. My family has this belief that you don’t find the dog, the dog finds you. I had lost my last rescue dog, Woodstock back in June. I had decided not to get a new one for awhile. I am not even quite certain on how I came to get Thompson. The past ten days have been a blur.  I feel like somehow I was manipulated by my good friend, Todd, who was looking for a playmate for his dog Captain. Anyway, I decided to look online at dogs, too. Just one time. And I saw Thompson’s picture on the Erie County Humane Society’s page. I just knew I needed to see him. I thought you could only see them by appointment but my friend called. He informed me that he and his sister would be there in two minutes to get me. The rest is history. As soon as I met him, I knew he was mine. He’s a pointer mix mixed with some other kind of hound. I cannot believe I got a hound!!!  My dad was a hunter and we always had beagles, walkers, blue ticks, or some sort of hunting dog growing up.

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Todd & Captain. His plan backfired. Thompson is great with people but struggles with other dogs, I am working on it 🙂

 

It was a family endeavor to name Thompson. There was a family group text that had over 200 texts in it. There were good names mentioned; Kluber (Indians pitcher), Jethro (NCIS), Champ (family song), Clarence (Clemons from the E Street Band), Sipe (for Brian Sipe), Tait (Joe Tait)…can you see our love of Cleveland sports? Thompson was suggested by my sister, Nancy. And it fit. His eyes are the exact color of the whiskey. And he reminds me so much of my dad. I received a text that said this, “Thompson is not ordinary, sounds distinguished, masculine, would remind you of dad, its origin is well known to those who should know, it’s not about a specific time, but in honor and memory of someone who was good and bad but we love ’em just the same…just like you’ll love this little guy. Each time you call the name, it will make you smile as it will the rest of your siblings, and we’ll laugh, cry and remember…forever. It’s a no-brainer.” We, Stricklers, take naming our dogs very seriously. We are a family of dog lovers.

This afternoon, I went on a hike with Thompson. A friend had suggested Edison Creek Metro Park and it was perfect. Halfway through the hike (before we got lost…we ended up hiking at least 6 to 8 miles), I realized we were in the woods by Smokey and Frailey Road. My dad grew up there (in the Ogontz). He would have me take him for rides often and would point out his homestead, his one-room school house, and his old stomping grounds. I realized I was in the very woods he hunted in as a kid and a teenager. I was so overwhelmed and felt so connected to where I had come from. I was with my hound, in the very woods my dad hunted in.

I am so grateful for where I come from. Growing up was not easy. It was messy. It left some scars. But it made me who I am today. There is a song that has been the song of my heart this week. It’s called Reckless Love. I have listened to it over and over again. While I was in the woods, the lyrics came to mind and they became my prayer of thanksgiving. I was overwhelmed with how good and kind God has been to me over the years. He knew the family I needed to be born into, the difficulties I needed to overcome to make me who I am today. God’s reckless, raging love has so captured me. His vastness, goodness, and love overwhelmed me in the woods today.

Before I spoke a word
You were singing over me
You have been so, so
Good to me
Before I took a breath
You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so
Kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it
I don’t deserve it
Still You give yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

I am thankful for my dad. Thankful for his service to our country and the price that he paid. I am thankful for my dog whom God has used to teach me some lessons and to bring me so much joy. I am thankful for my friend, Todd, whom God used to bring me Thompson. Most importantly, I am thankful for the reckless, raging love of God that has pursued me, protected me and looked out for me throughout the years.

Dark Night of the Soul Part 2: My Journey to Physical Fitness

Tomorrow is a year since I embarked on my physical fitness journey. Since August 24, 2016, I have lost 65 pounds, gone from a size 16/18 to a size 4/6. I have a resting heart rate of 57. I am off blood pressure medicine and a whole host of other health benefits. I can run nine miles without stopping. I am actually training for a half-marathon that I will be running in the fall. I did it by completely changing the way I eat. I have cut out all processed sugar and grains. My doctor is the one who suggested this way of living to me. Sounds harder than it really is. I have never felt nor looked as healthy as I do now. I wrote about my struggle with losing weight and the “why” in a previous blog.

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August 24, 2016, through August 24, 2017

 

Yet these past couple of weeks have been the hardest of the whole journey. I don’t know why…scratch that….yes, yes, I do. God has gotten to the very heart of my stuff. And it has been painful. I have had the choice of facing it or ignoring it. There have been numerous times, especially these past few weeks, that I have wanted to ignore my stuff, put hands over my ears, tightly shut my eyes, and pretend everything was okay. l recently blogged about this difficult part of my journey in the Dark Night of the Soul.

I am daily amazed at the response I have received from that blog. It is my most viewed blog ever, times 600. My dark night of the soul resonated with so many people. The texts, e-mails, phone calls, and messages have been overwhelming and humbling. When I wrote it, I was simply processing where I was. But my honesty gave others permission to be honest. And that is where healing begins, in the acknowledgment of who we are and where we are.  I knew that as the responses poured in, that I would need to do a follow-up blog. I have gone back and re-read it numerous times, trying to understand the impact. This is the follow-up. It is not coincidental that it coincides with the anniversary of taking control of my physical health. This decision to becoming physically fit was birthed spiritually.

I wish I could say that I have come through the night…I am still walking through it but I am beginning to hear the birds chirp and know that dawn will soon be here.

But back to my choice on whether to face it or ignore it.

Deep down, I know I won’t ignore or pretend. Not this time. I can’t go around this mountain one more time. I can’t. I won’t.

I will not accept this as normal. I will not coast through the rest of my life saying, “Well this is how it has always been and will always be.” When you stop growing and transforming, you start dying.

I want to be the best version of me I can be.

I want to fulfill all the good works God has for me (Ephesians 2:10).

I want my life to express the wonderful grace of God (Acts 20:22)

The only way to overcome in a HEALTHY way, in a way that promotes healthy growth, is to face it. As painful as it is.

It is so important to me that the way that I LIVE first and foremost demonstrates the wonderful grace of God. I am not striving for perfection or to please people but I genuinely want to live the abundant life Jesus offers and wring out every purpose and plan He has for me. I want to do it authentically. Who I am on the inside needs to match the person everyone sees. That is called integrated living. Integrity is living out your beliefs. And I want my life to be an invitation to others to see how good God really is.

Last Monday night, I was hosting a family night. I started family nights a few years back. Normally we get together on a Sunday night and eat and play cards and celebrate birthdays. I always get an ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen and get sparkling grape juice. Everyone gets a glass and we have to say why we are glad the person we are celebrating was born. My family moans and groans about it but I know they secretly love it. Why wait until someone is dead to let them know why they are important to you? Once everyone is done, we lift our glasses and toast to them. I say something to the effect, “May this year be their best yet, full of love, happiness, joy and God’s blessings”. This particular one, we were celebrating my sister’s 50th and my goddaughter’s 28th. Sidenote: The best family night we ever had was last August when my god-daughter and husband used the toast and cake to announce they were expecting their first baby. So this year, having baby Luke with us, was absolutely perfect!!!

 

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Baby Luke with his parents!

And the family that comes is not all blood family. It says in the Bible that God puts the lonely in families. I love the family God has created for me over the years. (And how many boyfriends have my nieces brought to family night? 😉 That’s how you know it may be serious. Once, one of my nieces brought a boyfriend and they broke up not long after family night. We are loud, obnoxious and a little overwhelming and we all hate to lose. It has been known to happen that when someone wins, they run up and down my street barefoot in the middle of winter…not mentioning any names Mckinley. 🙂

 

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Family Night Pic

 

 

During family night on Monday, I commented on how my house is a little tacky as I was plugging in my palm tree. 😉 My house is decorated with flip-flops, palm trees, and pink flamingos on the outside as well as the inside. My niece, McKinley, said “Your house is perfect. The inside looks exactly like you would expect it to look based on the outside.” I don’t know if she was saying I was tacky or what 😉 …but God really used that comment to drive a point home.  That comment demonstrates authentic living to me…the inside of my life, my inner life matching the outside.

 

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My beautiful niece, McKinley and me.

 

 

So striving to be the authentic person I long to be, here are some things I have learned about myself in this year-long journey towards physical fitness:

  1. I can do anything I set my mind to do. I am stronger and way more powerful than I ever thought I was.
  2. Eating healthy is expensive. I have had to completely re-adjust my budget. Real food should not be more expensive than processed food. Poor nutrition and obesity will continue to be higher among poverty-stricken populations. This should not be.
  3. I don’t need Ben and Jerry’s or Romp’s or Reese Cups to deal with my emotions. I can now eat all those things without feeling guilty…I just choose not to do so as often.
  4. Counting calories gives food control over me. It makes me fixate on something that has bound me for years. I broke that. In this past year, I have not counted one single calorie or fat gram or carb. NOT ONE. And it is glorious.
  5. The worst reason to exercise is to lose weight. You exercise to strengthen your heart, build endurance, handle stress, etc. Once I really understood that exercise became my friend. I actually love going to the gym and running now (thanks, Vinnie – my NSNG guru).
  6. My self-esteem is not as strong as I thought it was. The insecure, 15-year-old teenager is still inside me. There’s some positive to that but a lot of negative as well.
  7. Jesus is not enough. (Shocking statement from a follower of Jesus but hear me out). Jesus never meant for us to live this life alone.I started experiencing true freedom when I found a tribe to confess my real thoughts, my real fears, my real struggles, my real sins, and my real wins.

    There are seasons we need to learn to trust God but isolation is never His intent. The world Jesus walked in – discipleship, growth, and life happened in community. When I went to Israel a few years back, I learned the importance of having a “haverim” which is a group of friends. In the Jewish world, it is a group you learned, studied, and lived life with. Our culture teaches that we mainly encounter God through solitary times of prayer and study. Jesus seems to imply in Scripture that His presence is most often felt in a community.

    I strongly believe that community is a spiritual discipline we neglect. We need friends.

    I read a book that having a “haverim” is like having a training partner. They help you train harder than you thought you could, go faster than you thought possible, and go further than you thought you could ever go. They also make it more fun.

    We need each other. (The night my last blog came out, I went to dinner with three friends and that night was so healing and cathartic to me…just as much as writing that blog was so thanks, Liz, Tonya, and Carey. And thanks to Cristi who has continually been real with me and allowed me to be real).

  1. Eating real food is actually enjoyable.
  2. I love clothes. I love shopping.
  3. The SAD (standard American diet) is killing us as a nation. White sugar will one day be identified as the nicotine of our generation. Our health care system is not collapsing from the Affordable Health Care Act but from the weight of our obesity.
  4. Though I am a size 4/6 now, I still see fat Heidi in the mirror.
  5. Being overweight was a protection for me. When I finally lost the weight and had more confidence and the boy still did not ask me out, I thought, “The problem must be me. There’s something inherently wrong with me. I am not enough. I will never be enough.” I completely spiraled out of control emotionally.  (How’s that for honesty?) And honestly, that is the crux of my issue. Dealing with my addiction to food stripped away my coping mechanism. It made me deal with the stuff. The painful stuff. Due to circumstances that happened when I was younger, I never felt like I was enough. I never felt like I mattered or was worth fighting for. And you know what? I really didn’t like the boy that much, I just wanted to be asked, to be validated. (Seriously, he dodged a bullet!) It reminded me of how crazy I could be and that there was still much in me that needs to die and be healed.
  6. I want to get married. Up until three years ago, I was happy and content being single. I don’t know what changed but something has. I have come to understand that it is not a sign of weakness to desire it. Marriage is a good thing (I have not always felt that way).
  7. I love Brussel sprouts. And hamburgers. And dark chocolate.
  8. There are other areas of my life that need to be addressed as I continue to follow Jesus (hear that financial fitness…we are coming after you next! 😉 )
  9. I love Jesus so much more than I did a year ago and am so grateful for His presence in my life. He has been there every step of the way, guiding and protecting me; especially from myself and my own self-destructive ways. In Him, I am truly finding who I am.

It is important to me that those who have followed this journey of mine, especially since that last blog, understand that as I have dealt with all this crap, I have never stopped living. I have never stopped loving and serving people. I have never blamed God. We so often want to take a time-out while we “re-group”. Life is too short to take a time-out. Serve God, serve people, live life with your limp. With your stuff. Healing comes along the way.

I am not through this darkness yet. I am still wrestling. But I am still going to Niger, Africa in November. I am still calling that homebound lady from our church that needs to know she is not forgotten. I am still helping plan a huge church/family celebration this weekend for our church. I am still praying for people and sending encouraging cards. I am still serving my community. I am still having family night.

I am still living. With tears streaming down my face sometimes. Limping. But I am still living. And following Jesus.

Dark Night of the Soul

I know most of the time I come across as positive and that everything is always going well. After all my blog is named “Faith In Flip Flops”! What’s happier than summer and flip flops?  This is not Sunny and Happy Heidi. This is raw. This is real. This is me. I do not know if I will actually publish this or not on my blog. I am transparent but this is even deeply personal for me.

I was up all night crying. I rarely do that. I can count on one hand the times I have done that (the death of my mom, my dad, and my brother are three of them). I cry easily when it comes to things that move and inspire me, but not from pain and anguish. I hate the empty feeling that envelopes me when I am all cried out. So I avoid at all costs.

Last night was triggered by a discovery that is quite personal and not really important to the story. The trigger is just what re-awakened a part of me that has been lying dormant in me for years, the broken part – the part of me that is so full of pain, hurt, anguish, and anger that it makes it difficult to breathe. It is the part of me that drove me to party in high school before I encountered Jesus. It is the part of me that drives me to find comfort in food, spending, and every other self-sabotaging behavior that helps me keep the pain at bay…to keep it from crashing over me like a tsunami.

Last night was a dark night of my soul. It came so suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

All I want to do is withdraw from people and life and lick my wounds.

I have been on this journey to wholeness my whole life. And as God has peeled off layer after layer, He has brought me peace and comfort. But He has never brought me healing.

This past year has been a journey of overcoming self-destructive behavior, especially in regards to food and how I treat my body. The attacks have intensified this summer. Our church is currently in the midst of a month long season of prayer and fasting. My last time of an extended time of prayer and fasting (a complete food fast for 40 days back in 1999) led to one of the most difficult seasons of my life. I haven’t really fasted consistently since. I know what it brings to the surface. And it ain’t pretty.

I feel so broken and helpless. And crazy.

While showering this morning, I had a moment of clarity. This broken part of me cannot be healed. God can comfort and bring insight, but the pain, hurt, and anguish is real and has had a real impact on my life.

Sidenote: I come from a denomination whose theology believes in healing. I believe in healing. It is a gift of the Spirit. But the reality is no one gets out of here alive and no one gets through life unscathed. When God heals it is for His name sake and out of compassion. This me-centered Gospel Western Christianity has embraced is frustrating and does not work in most parts of the world.

Back to the shower…the realization that this part of me cannot be undone, or healed, or erased. It has to be faced. I thought of Jacob from the Bible who wrestled with God. I read the story again this morning.

Jacob’s name means deceiver. He was a deceiver. His whole life he had consistently made poor choices and done some shady things. He betrayed his twin brother Esau. The story finds Jacob having to face his brother in the morning. This is the first time in years encountering him since he betrayed and screwed Esau over (with the help of his mother).

Jacob truly thought his brother could kill him the next day and rightfully so. He sent everyone and everything else ahead and he stayed in camp by himself for the night. And wrestled with God. All night long. Jacob would not give up.  When God saw this (Jacob’s tenacity) and that He could not win (God couldn’t win? What an amazing thought)…He gave up. Scripture says God had to say to Jacob, “Let me go”. Jacob insisted on a blessing before letting God go. Before God blessed him, He asked Jacob “What is your name”. Jacob had to say “Jacob”. Basically, Jacob stood before God, dripping sweat, bloody, hip hurt, scared, and tired and he confessed, “I am a deceiver”. He didn’t hide it from God. He was honest and raw. God changes his name from Jacob to Israel, from deceiver to one who fought with God and man and won. How do you beat God?

But God also marked him. He touched his hip. Jacob had a limp from that day forward. So he would remember. The pain was a reminder that the deceiving part of him died that night…that dark night of his soul.

Everyone knew Jacob’s deceptive ways.

Jacob could have blamed the way he grew up. He grew up in a dysfunctional home. His dad favored his brother, Esau, because he was a hunter and a manly man. His mom favored Jacob and pitted the two against each other. But he didn’t play the blame game. He was a deceiver because he chose to be. And God brought Jacob to the end of himself so he could rename him.

I will always walk with a bit of a limp – with pain and anguish that sometimes gushes out. But I take responsibility for the wrong ways in which I have tried to cover and appease the pain. The sinful ways. The ways that have left me empty and hurt and even more broken.

God has always been in the business of changing names. He changed

  •             Abram to Abraham
  •             Jacob to Israel
  •             Saul to Paul
  •             Simon to Peter (John 1:42)

All had broken, less than stellar pasts.

What would God change my name to? Am I ready to have my name changed?

I don’t know where I go from here but I am completely undone. The pain and hurt still come crashing over me in waves. I have to trust as every wave that is crashing over me, it is cleansing and taking the parts out of me that need to go. Following Jesus isn’t easy, safe, pretty, or graceful.

 

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The waves crashing over the break wall at the mouth of the Vermilion River. Depicts how the waves of pain and anguish feel.

It is actually, at times, heart-wrenching, hard as a hell, and ugly. My ugly cry last night was not for weak of heart. My puffy eyes this morning are not attractive. Nor is my mood.

But it is worth it. I want the tenacity of Jacob or as my friend, Cristi texted me today, I want to be fierce, strong, and brave. I want to wrestle with God and win. Pain will mark that journey. No way around it.

I want to be like Peter and come to the conclusion he did, “Where else would I go? Jesus, you alone have the words of life?”

I may not know where to go but I do know the starting place even as frustrated, angry, and hurt as I am and that is to the foot of the Cross. I take my hurt, my broken pieces, and thoughts there. I find it ironic that I am leading our congregation in communion this Sunday morning.

I feel so ugly and insecure and trying to hide all of that at the same time as trying to fix it myself leads to self-destructive behavior. I want to be free. I want to be enough. I want to be valued. I want to be fought for. (How’s that for real?).

God has brought me full circle. It is 20 years since I graduated from College and went into ministry. For the most part, I have enjoyed every moment. It has been hard and messy but amazing and fruitful at the same time. I would choose it over and over again though it has cost me a lot.

Eighteen years ago, after a dark season, instead of admitting I was broken and wounded, I indulged in self-destructive behavior. I don’t want to do that again.

I have spent most of the day in the sanctuary of our church, setting up for Sunday, preparing for communion, and writing. I am reminded how much I need a tribe of people around me. I am thankful for Pastor Jim and my friend Cristi who have allowed me to be incredibly raw and real. I haven’t been fired yet. And especially Cristi, who gets my inappropriate way of talking about things. I am an open person but in my life, I have never experienced a friendship in which I can confess my sins, fears, and insecurities and not feel judged. Or have it used against me. That is what James was talking about in Scripture when he admonished us to confess our sins one to another so we can be healed. I am also thankful for another unexpected friend that has helped me through this season in ways in which they have no idea. Their impact has been immeasurable. I hope I can someday repay the favor.

Texting Pastor Jim I eventually said this, “God is good but He is definitely not safe”.  (From a quote from my favorite book by C.S. Lewis). He responded “No He is not safe and we are not either. I wore a T-shirt yesterday that said “Pursue peace – Prepare for war” words to live by”. He went on to say, “You are that kind of dangerous also. Don’t be surprised or over reflective of your weakness. Rely on your strength…it is what makes you dangerous”

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I now understand why King David wrote so many Psalms. He wrote himself off the ledge. I write myself off the ledge. Even in the midst of this, God is good and He is worth it all. And I am grateful He allowed waterproof mascara and foundation to be invented.

Whack-A-Mole Living

This blog has been about six months in the making. It began percolating last fall. The Women’s Bible study I teach fueled it further. The tipping point was a couple of weeks ago.

A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a good friend. We were talking about some serious stuff…struggles, sins, victories…it was an incredibly real and raw conversation. She, too, is getting her physical health under control. She said what I have thought, said, and written many times over the past nine months, “It seems as I get one area of my life under control, three other areas that need attention pop up.”

I call this Whack-a-Mole freedom. You know the game at a carnival or Dave and Busters where you have a mallet and you have to hit the mole in the head? And once you hit one mole, two more pop up and pretty soon those stupid moles are popping up everywhere! And by the time the game is over, you are exhausted.

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Everybody is fighitng some “mole” in their life. This game frustrates me. I am not coordinated enough

That is exactly how many of us view following Jesus. This is how I have felt for years. We are constantly trying to fix ourselves, to make ourselves presentable to God and to the world.

It is similar to pulling weeds. We pull one out and notice five more that need to be pulled instead of focusing on the beautiful rose bush that is in full bloom with vibrant reds and a fragrance no perfume could ever match. We focus on our stuff instead of the really beautiful work Jesus is doing in and through us as we simply follow Him.

 

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My mom’s rose bush. It is over 30 years old and survived many weeds and transplants. Still blooming beautifully.

 

We try to be better, to do better, look better and it is simply EXHAUSTING.

I have been discouraged, exhausted, frustrated, and angry all in the name of trying to be and do better. And we Christians know how to spiritualize it. We call it becoming holy. Or constantly remind ourselves that we are Jesus’ representatives in the world. The pressure can be overwhelming.

But when do we enjoy Jesus? And the abundant life He called us too? When do we live with joy and peace? When do we stop worrying whether we are good enough? One of my favorite books, How People Grow by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend says, “Imagine that: Doing good, enjoying good, and not even thinking that we were “good”. Instead of being concerned with “Am I good enough?” we just lived and experienced life?” God simply wanted us to live life, not worry about whether we were good enough. Not worry about whether we were enough. I am tired of not being enough. Sin screwed that up for us, but Jesus fixed it. That’s the beauty of the cross.

I am not saying we do not have to continue to grow. I am the most introspective person you will meet. One of my life mottos is, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” I am on a quest to be physically and financially fit by 50. I have to address some demons in my closet. But I’m not doing it for someone else…to get their acceptance, respect, affection. I am doing it because I want to live this life fully, with joy and peace. And these areas will hinder me.  Jesus shows us how to live like that. Free. Unhindered. Arms wide open. Soaking up and enjoying every moment.

When do we stop trying to fix ourselves?

When do we stop trying harder?

When do we stop always looking at what’s wrong with us and start looking at what’s right with us?

When do we stop looking at the weeds and gaze at the beautiful rose?

 

What if I simply enjoyed my relationship with Jesus?

What if I stopped worrying about whether I was good enough and just accept Jesus’ love, acceptance, and forgiveness?

What if I simply relaxed and stopped trying to improve every part of my life, every second of the day?

What if I simply learned to appreciate and love who God has made me to be?

Weeds need to be pulled. Moles need to be whacked on the head. I get it. But we don’t have to go looking for them. When they come our way, God will show us. And we deal with it. And in the meantime, we simply enjoy our relationship with Jesus and His people. Jesus really did mean it when He said that He came to give us abundant life.

I have realized that I will never, ever have it all together here on Earth. No one will. Striving for perfection kills. I am 47 years old. I love Jesus. I have made some horrific mistakes and committed some heinous sins. I am tired of trying to whack the guilt down. I am tired of trying to fix myself. I am tired of thinking that I am too much. I am tired of toning down my personality and who God made me. I am forgiven and I choose and am choosing to enjoy my relationship with Jesus and the people in my life. I am choosing not to punish myself by closing myself off to certain areas of life because I feel like I don’t deserve it.

I choose freedom. I choose life. I choose love. I choose Jesus. I choose to follow Him wherever He leads.

 

It Ain’t No Sin to Be Glad You’re Alive

I love the beginning of a new year. I love reflecting on all God did in the previous year and look forward to all the challenges and adventures that await in the coming year. My birthday is January 10th so it seems like everything is new at the beginning of the year. I love it. It truly is a new page. Every year, I pray to God for a Scripture and word that will set my path for growth for the year. I ask Him, “What new thing do you want to do in me this year? In what area do I need to grow?”

Last July I started working on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. (I have discussed much of this in a previous blog). It is the best decision I have made in a long time. I love learning and I am very impressed with the program I am in. The very first class we took was The Personal Life of a Leader. Basically, the premise is if you want to be a great leader and lead others well, you first need to learn how to lead yourself. This class changed my life. My dear friend and mentor, Harriet Mouer, always tells me that you cannot say something is life changing until six months have passed. It is only then if you can see if the event’s impact went beyond your emotional reaction and led to changed behavior. This class met her criteria for changing your life. At our residency and in our reading there was a lot of talk about finishing well; ministry and life. We had to identify things that would keep us from finishing well and make a plan with measurable goals for the next two years (the duration of the program) on how to grow in these areas. After prayer and contemplation, the two areas I identified were physical and financial fitness.

Since I was in middle school, I have struggled with my weight. I have tried every diet known to mankind. Atkins, Southbeach, Cabbage Soup (what?!?), Weight Watchers (multiple times), the apple diet (made that one up on my own…don’t ask…I was 13), starving myself, and the list goes on and on. I knew if I was going to finish well, I needed to get serious about taking care of my body. I want my body to last as long as my mind. I want to be able to serve Jesus with all of me until my last breath…as much as it depends on me. I also want to be an example to my nieces and youth that watch me. It matters how we treat our bodies. So I made an appointment with my doctor.

I just have to say that I have the best doctor in the world. He is compassionate, honest, and firm. I told him everything I wrote in the previous paragraph. I asked him to send me to a nutritionist (and I have tried this before as well). He told me “no”. I was shocked. He went on to explain that I would count calories, get frustrated, and give up. He was right. This was my pattern my whole life. He wrote down a podcast to listen to and asked me to give NSNG (no sugar, no grain) a try. He explained the science of it and why he thought it would help me. After much research (that is still ongoing),  I changed how I ate beginning August 24. I have lost 40 pounds, dropped 4 sizes and feel the best I have ever felt in my life, and it seems so easy. Non-restrictive. My schedule is pretty busy and I now have endless energy. I am way more productive and happy. I am working my plan on financial fitness. That is a little harder simply because my profession does not pay as well as others (but there is no way I would do anything else).

At the end of December, I led a team of 19 on a missions trip to Jamaica. Before we left, I was praying for the trip and some of the teaching I would be doing. My Scripture for the year came to me one morning in the shower right after a time of studying for the trip. The Scripture was Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19 which says:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
    He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the height

If I were to put this is today’s language it would say something like this:

Even though I have no money in my bank account,

And I have no idea how I am going to pay for groceries,

Even though my family life is in ruins and my car won’t start,

Even though the doctor has given me a bad report and I don’t know what the future holds,

YET I will rejoice in the Lord!

I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

The sovereign Lord is my strength!

He makes me not only able to stand firm like a deer on a steep mountain,

He also helps me to walk through it without slipping.

My word came for 2017 as well. There were actually two of them. The words were “more” and “healing”.

 

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Our missions team. This is the third trip I have led there. We live as one with our Jamaican brothers and sisters up in the bush. I will blog more about the trip later. ❤ Love each person in this picture. This was at an infirmary we visited. There is nothing like it in America. Very sad.

 

I felt the Lord speak to me that this coming year would have some challenges and from the beginning, I needed to determine that no matter what comes my way, I will be thankful to God and choose joy. Every day. How I walk and honor God in adversity is important. He will not let me slip and He will give me the leg strength to climb the mountains in my way. A couple weeks before Christmas I had my first mammogram. On Christmas Eve (after God had given me the Scripture) I received a letter that they found something suspicious and I needed further diagnostic testing. No phone call, just a letter. On December 27, nineteen of us from my church left for a missions trip to Jamaica. I was leading the team. The last phone call I made before boarding for Montego Bay and being off the grid for ten days, was to schedule further testing when I got home. I didn’t think much about it while I was gone. The trip was physically challenging and very busy. And healing was a primary focus of the trip. God taught us a lot. It was an amazing time. God did so much in and through the team.

The Monday after I got back from Jamaica, I had further testing done. The doctor informed me that what they saw required a biopsy to be scheduled. I have microcalcification in my right breast. More than likely it is not cancerous. Even if it is, it will have been caught so early that all that will need to be done is surgery removing the area affected with no chemo or radiation. I was very surprised. Breast cancer does not run in my family. Diabetes, heart disease, and alcoholism 😉 do, but not breast cancer. My biopsy is next week.

I am not afraid or overly worried. I am surprised. And frustrated. I don’t have time for this. It has made me think through some things. I have always loved life. The great poet of our day, Bruce Springsteen, has a line in one of my favorite songs, Badlands, that states, “For those who had a notion, a notion deep inside, that it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive”. Earlier in the song he sings, “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king, and a king ain’t satisfied until he rules everything”. I think Bruce’s point is to enjoy where you are. Don’t keep wishing for more. You end up wishing your life away. Be glad you’re alive. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy hanging with your kids instead of doing the dishes. Stop and appreciate a sunset. Count the blessings you have, not fixating on what you don’t have.  I truly am grateful every day to be alive. I think because I have lost so many family members and have walked through the valley of the shadow of death numerous times and grief has been a constant companion to me that I have learned cherish life. I am not in a hurry to get out of here. I know the purpose for which I was born has not been completely fulfilled.  And there are still so many dreams that I believe God has given me. A couple of months ago, Pastor Jim was talking about a picture God had given him during worship. It was a picture of someone wringing out a towel or a sponge. You know when you spill water and you are cleaning it up, you have to wring the water out so you can fill up with more water? That’s the picture of how God wants us to live our lives. He wants us to wring out every possible purpose, plan, and gift He gives us. Nothing is wasted. He wants to get the most out of our lives. I want to get the most out of my life so I can give it away.

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So this year I have started telling people what I admire and appreciate about them. (Some of my family and friends have already received sappy texts or cards or a Facebook message from me). When I get good service at a restaurant, I am emailing the manager. I wanted to hug my doctor today when I saw him, but I thought that might be inappropriate ;). And you know those thoughts you sometimes have when you notice a kind act? “Wow, that was sweet” “He’s a good man” “She’s a great mom” but we never say them? I am choosing to say them. In the moment. I think 2017 may be filled with a lot of kumbaya moments 😉 I am choosing kindness and joy over hate and despair. I am choosing to learn once again what it means to die to myself and live for Jesus and others.

I marvel on how back in July how God got my attention to begin to take care of my body.If it were not for that two-year plan, I probably would not have had the physical and mammogram done this year. I marvel at the people He has strategically placed in my life to help me along the way…my doctor, my professors, Vinnie Tortorich (the NSNG guru)…and the list goes on. I pray and thank God for them daily.

No matter what happens this year, I am thankful for Jesus and this amazing life He has given me, I will daily choose joy and love over despair and hate. I will wring every moment of this life God has so graciously given me. Will you join me?

The Riptides of Our Lives

I have spent a lot of time swimming at the beach and floating on my raft this summer. Any time a couple of hours open up, I grab my swimsuit and head to the beach. I keep a blanket, towel, and raft in my car at all times.  It has been so hot and humid this summer that walking and biking have been replaced by swimming. Last Saturday, I had an unexpected few hours free so I thought I would go to the beach and swim and lay out for a couple of hours.

I have a routine when I get to the beach. I sit on my blanket for a while and watch the waves crash to shore. I also people watch. After I get hot enough, I take my raft and swim out to the buoy and then hop on my raft and drift back in. This usually takes me about 45 minutes.

There are markers I use to see if I am making progress. To my left is a flag pole, to my right is the break wall. There are three buoys straight ahead and I aim for the one on the left. Every other time I have come this summer, there have been white caps on the lake which makes it fun but tiring. I need my markers to see if I am making any progress. And sometimes the waves are so big, I can’t swim that far out.

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This particular day was perfect! It was hot with a slight breeze.  The sky was blue and white, fluffy clouds dotted the sky.There were lots of boats, jet skis, sailboats, and kayaks out on the water. Lake Erie appeared relatively calm. In fact, I made it out the buoy the quickest I have all summer.

Once out there, I hopped on my raft and began to drift like I always do. I watched the clouds rolling across the sky and listened to the jet skis and boats zip around the lake. The breeze was amazing. It was perfect. After a little time had passed,  I sat up on my raft to see how close I was to shore. I was surprised to find myself still by the buoy. I realized the current was keeping me out by the buoy. I was in a riptide. I slid off my raft and began to swim to shore. It was not happening. The current had me trapped where I was.

I was not panicking. Yet. I had my raft so I hopped back on and floated awhile longer. I began to notice I was drifting closer to the break wall. I realized I would probably end up hitting the break wall or getting sucked out further into the lake so I got serious about getting to shore.

I was on my raft kicking and making no progress. After awhile of this, I got a terrible cramp in my right calf. It was a Charlie horse kind of cramp, the type that wakes you up in the middle of the night screaming in utter agony. I had to stop and massage the cramp out. Once I did that, I assessed my situation. I realized I just needed to head towards the break wall and not worry about the rocks or whatever was living among the rocks of the break wall. Eventually, I could touch bottom and walked the rest of the way  to shore.

I collapsed on my blanket when I got to shore. My arms and legs were tired and sore. I looked at my phone and realized I had been trapped out there for an hour and forty-five minutes!!!!

As I laid on my blanket, looking up at the sky, I thought about how we get stuck in the riptides of our own circumstances. I thought about the times I was in over my head and never thought I would make it back to shore.

We get stuck in the riptide of  hopelessness. It overwhelms us and makes us want to quit swimming. We have  convinced ourselves this is how it will always be. 

We get stuck in the riptide of anger.  We are mad at God, mad at family, mad at friends, and mostly we are mad at ourselves. And we lash out at everyone around us. And we choose to stay stuck instead of forgiving and allowing ourselves to be forgiven.

We get stuck in the riptide of pride. We refuse to ask for help because of what others may think.  

We get stuck in the riptide of fear. We are so afraid of the “what-ifs” that it paralyzes us and makes us stop dreaming and taking risks. 

Jesus can get us back to shore. He truly is the lifeguard of our souls. He has given us everything we need to break through the riptides of our hopelessness, anger, pride, fear, and sin. We need to let go and trust Him to do it.

It took work to get me back to shore on Saturday.  My arms and calves were sore for a few days after my time stuck out on the lake. I was also sunburnt. All reminders of the cost of getting out of the riptide. The Cross is our reminder of the cost Jesus paid for us so we can get out of sin. Trust Him to bring you safely to shore.

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North shore of  Lake Erie: Main Street Beach at dawn.

 

 

 

Death: A Reminder to Live Life Fully

I lost my Aunt Wilma this week. She was my dad’s sister and was 97. She was the last of 7. With her passing, I have no parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents left. It makes me sad. I have lost a lot of family over the past 15 years since I moved back home including my dad and one of my brothers. And I have officiated most of the funerals.

 

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The seven Strickler siblings: Uncle Jake, Uncle Bob, my dad, Aunt Wilma, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Jerry, Uncle Claude and their Uncle Stub. I officiated 5 of the 7 sibling’s funerals.

These past few  weeks, I have missed my brother, Jerry, terribly. His birthday and death anniversary have both been within the past month.  When I read through my journals from when I was a kid and teen, he was the one I would always talk to about family stuff. He always listened and made me feel like what I felt mattered. And he let me do some crazy things.

 

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My brother Jerry and my dad.

I also lost my mom the summer before my Senior year of high school. She was 46. I just turned 46 this year. I never realized how young 46 was until I was 46. I faced this year with some angst and trepidation. I knew it was irrational but I was relieved when I passed the mark of having lived longer than my mom.

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Me and my mom a month before she died.

Death and loss have marked my life. But not in the way you may think.

King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies–so the living should take this to heart.”

The 23rd Psalm says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death many times. Each time, God walked with me. He never left. Each time, I learned to rely on and trust Him more. And instead of living a life of sadness and depression, it has made me enjoy life to the fullest. It has taught me to be grateful for each day I have because I know how fleeting and precious life is. Living in the shadow of death has pushed me to take risks. Life is too short to wonder “what if?”. Walking through the valley has also taught me to forgive quickly and let go of offenses right away. You have no idea when someone will no longer be with you.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to see a man I respect and love deeply in the nursing home. He has only been in a short time. And he knows he is not going home. As I visited with him, he asked me about a certain Scripture in the Bible that talks about Heaven. And he asked what I thought it would be like. And we just talked. And cried. I asked him if he was afraid to die. He said “no but it is not as easy as you think it is when you are younger. When it’s far off, it doesn’t seem real but now…” He didn’t deny he was having a hard time but in the midst of the pain and grief, he honored God. I think that is how we are all supposed to live! Honoring God and people even when it’s hard. He knows he will be with Jesus when he passes and as I prayed for him and said “Amen”, he just continued on praying Psalm 103 “Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Death is real. No one gets out alive. Rich, poor, black, white, brown, male, female…no one.

I think King Solomon was onto something in the book of Ecclesiastes. If you live with the end in mind in a healthy, hopeful, purposeful, grateful way, life can be truly enjoyed and savored.

Two weeks ago, there was a Perseid Meteor shower that happens every August. This year was supposed to be exceptionally bright. I probably should have slept but 14 of us laid on the beach until 3 in the morning and saw 150+ meteors!!! It was fantastic! As we laid on the beach and told jokes and pointed out the constellations and the north star and marveled at God’s creation, I was overwhelmed with joy,  contentment, and gratitude.

You rarely regret the things you do…it’s the things you don’t do that you regret!

At the funeral dinner yesterday, a family member and I were talking. I was telling her that I started my Masters at the end of July and how difficult it has been with my schedule. I told her I was second guessing myself because of the cost. And there’s my age. She said to me, “In five years from now, you would regret not doing it because it would have been finished. I tell my boys all the time to think 5 years ahead…and see if you would regret not doing it.” You cannot have too much education. Learning is a good thing.

Each family member whose funeral I have officiated, I have gotten to know them better and in turn gotten to know myself better. They each left a legacy. Some were ordinary people living quiet, extraordinary lives. I say all of this to say this: Enjoy life. Don’t waste this one life you have been given on things that don’t matter.Love God, love people, take risks, and leave a legacy that adds goodness and kindness to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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