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Living simply, loving deeply!

Archive for the category “Life Lessons/Coaching”

Growing Through Failure

My favorite place in the world is the beach. I love everything about it. The smell of sand mixed with suntan lotion, the sound of waves crashing to shore with kids playing in the background. I love the feel of the hot sun beating on my skin and the cold shock of the water when I first dive in. I love the beach in the fall, winter, and spring as well.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the beach. I usually take a cheap raft and swim out the buoy and then hop on the raft and float back into shore. This particular day, I kept slipping off as I tried to get on the raft. I guess I had blown it up too much. I think I tried about 5 times before successfully getting on the stupid raft. There were a lot of people on the beach on this particular day. It was a Saturday and hot. As I was trying to get on, I was afraid I would end up losing my bathing suit and end up on YouTube or someone’s SnapChat. I was flailing trying to get on. I was failing. Kind of how I felt life has been lately.

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Me and my 2 dollar raft.

As I floated on Lake Erie I thought of something that happened early on in ministry. I had to interim Senior Pastor after my boss left ministry under difficult circumstances. I was young and female. One day someone came into my office and proceeded for an hour to tell me everything I was doing wrong. I sat there and listened. They finally said, “I know you’re trying your hardest but your preaching sucks and it’s just not good enough.” I stood up. I was crying (which made me mad at myself). I cry when I am mad. I said, “I am sorry they picked me and not you. Why anyone would want to do this with the church hurting so badly, is beyond me. If my best isn’t good enough for you, maybe you should go somewhere else.”

For years when I would preach all I would hear is in my head was “you suck”. It was on repeat in my head. This person ended up apologizing to me about 7 years ago.

Once I got on the raft, I thought about the past 6 months. I have felt like I can do nothing right. I heard this person saying, “Heidi, you’re trying your hardest but your best simply isn’t good enough.” It has been a hard season. It has been a busy season. People are walking through such tough stuff. There has been a lot of loss.

I started working on my Masters in July of 2016. It is a two-year program. It has been a transformative experience for me. I have discovered so much about myself.  I was supposed to finish at the end of June. With the craziness of life, I had to withdraw from the very last class with two weeks left. I was doing well but I could not finish my final project with my schedule and mental capacity. I would sit at my table and my mind would go blank or I would cry. I will finish in December, six months later than I was supposed to.

This was a tough decision for me. I am goal oriented and driven. I feel like I failed. And the whole world watched. Kind of like my attempt to get on the raft.

The irony? My Capstone Project is on finishing well.

I have chosen to live my life pretty wide open through my writing and social media. If you are going to live an honest life, you cannot just highlight when things are going well.

How do I handle setbacks?

Do I feel sorry for myself? Do I try to hide it? Or do I face it?

I will finish. Once I made my decision, I knew it was the right one. It was best for me, it was best for the church and for the people around me. I will be able to give my project the time and attention it needs.

My graduation gift to myself was to go to the Indians/Yankees game. I had to purchase tickets before I knew this would happen. Going to the game was a reminder that I didn’t finish when I was supposed to. A reminder that I failed. But on the bright side, my Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees and there were fireworks afterward set to rock music. It was the perfect summer night; baseball, fireworks, music, and dollar hot dogs.

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Sitting in the bleachers at Progressive Field (aka The Jake)

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Beautiful night for baseball.

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Watching fireworks.

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Watching fireworks.

In the midst of all this, I had my 30th Class reunion that somehow I ended up helping plan. It was a blast but it did cause me to be introspective. Introspection has been my companion these past 6 months. Am I where I thought I would be at 48? Am I where I want to be? What do I want my legacy to be? Have I made a difference? Am I still making a difference?

Here is what I learned from all of this.

  1. Life is good, even when it is hard.
  2. You only fail if you refuse to get up.
  3. It is okay to admit when you have reached your limit.
  4. People are important. I would choose this path over and over again.
  5. We are not defined by our biggest failure in life, nor are we defined by our biggest success.
  6. Following Jesus is still the best decision I have ever made. So glad He pursued me.
  7. I will continue to grow. If I am not growing, I am dying.

I have a sabbatical coming up in a few weeks in which I will be able to slow down, catch my breath, and ponder all these things.

Life is good, even when it is hard.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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.

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?

Mid-Life Crisis: Good or Bad?

I have been thinking a lot about mid-life crises. By definition, a mid-life crisis is an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that can occur in early middle age. I witnessed a good friend of mine go through one years ago leaving a wake of destruction in its aftermath. I have seen others go through them successfully. I don’t think mid-life crisis are bad things unless handled badly. I think there is something healthy about reassessing your life periodically. I tend to be extremely introspective. One of my life mottos is “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”. It hangs in my office so it must be true. 😉 Scripture talks about examining ourselves in several places. An examined life is a healthy life.

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I think I have been pondering it because over the past two months I have had four different people say something to me that struck a chord. Two of the four were in the form of a question and the other two were observations about my life. Three out of the four were basically asking the same thing, “What are you doing with your life?” They obviously took root and have been germinating in my spirit. I honestly believe God is trying to get me to see something so I can grow. My daily prayer is to be more like Jesus in all areas of my life and to daily walk out the good works He has for me (Ephesians 2:10). These are prayers He delights in answering.

Before I get to the four things people have said to me, let me give a little back-story. In July I began to work on my Masters in Strategic Leadership. I have wanted to continue my education for years. The idea of going into debt did not appeal to me at all. I had a friend tell me that I needed to not look at it as going into debt but as an investment in my future. That resonated with me so I went for it. And I am so glad that I did. Our first class and residency were on the personal life of a leader. The premise is if you are going to be a great leader, you need to be able to lead yourself well. How can you lead others if you cannot lead yourself? We learned a lot of great theory and practical tools in that class. We talked a lot about finishing well: life and ministry. We had to identify what would keep us from finishing well. My two areas were physical and financial health. Our final paper was thirteen pages. The last two pages had to be a personal growth plan for the next two years (the duration of the MASL program). It was a painful process. But healthy and life-giving.

I have two goals to be physically and financially fit by 50. There are concrete goals that I am working on. I will probably blog more on these two areas in the future. Needless to say, after scheduling an appointment with my doctor and some very frank and honest conversation, he set me on the right path of cutting out sugar and grains. I have lost 30 pounds in twelve weeks and feel the best I have in my life. I have a way to go but the accountability and desire are there. I do not want my body to give out on me before my mind and my dreams. Finishing well means taking care of the one body God has given me to do all He has called me to do.

I read a quote somewhere that said, “Men with dead eyes, dead hearts, just waiting for the rest of their bodies to catch up and die as well.” I don’t want to be like that. I think when we hit mid-life, we can choose to tread water (security) until retirement, thinking then we will do what we want or we choose to continue to take risks and grow in the present. We cannot wait for someday to do what God has put in our hearts to do.

In September, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography came out. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge, huge fan. There was a companion album that came out with it. The album had a tag line describing it as, “a hard-working Jersey boy living out his wildest dreams”. I wrote in my journal, “Am I living out my wildest dreams? What are my wildest dreams?” God has given me so many.

At the church I serve at, we are going through some restructuring. It is healthy and exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I love it! In September, I met with our youth pastor to discuss a change in roles and responsibilities. He would be taking some of mine and we were discussing what that would look like and where I would fit into all of that. He asked me the first question that has been causing me to think about the next season of my life. It came the day after I had read the tagline from Bruce’s album. He asked, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” He’s 26. I’m 46. And he so hit the nail on the head. (Side note: our future is in good hands. God is raising up a generation that can fix the things we have messed up. Do not fret! Our best days are ahead!) I have done about everything in church life from children to youth to missions to women to senior pastoring to pastoral care and I love it all. I am living out my wildest dreams. But I sense God is refining my wildest dreams (I am sounding like a Taylor Swift song). I have said from the time I graduated from college that I want to do it all before I die. I wanted to experience every aspect of ministry and life. But I feel God is doing a refining.

In pursuit of living a healthier lifestyle, my doctor encouraged me to listen to some podcasts. There’s a guy I have been listening to plus reading his stuff. The information is so good and makes so much sense. It’s all about the why you should not eat sugar and grains. It has changed my life. I am convinced God has used this to save my life. I believe we will look back on white sugar and it will be this generation’s version of nicotine. My mom and dad’s generation started smoking in the day in which nicotine was “good” for you. It wasn’t until the 70s the government admitted how terrible nicotine was for you. White sugar is killing us. Our health care system will break under the weight of our obesity not the Affordable Health Care Act (though that needs help, too).

I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I remember being in seventh grade and starving myself. I would eat an apple a day because you know what they say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. I have lost the same sixty pounds five times during my life. I have done Weight Watchers, the cabbage soup diet, Atkins, South Beach, counted calories, and on and on. I was honestly quite concerned that I had permanently messed up my metabolism with all the yo-yo dieting. I was on the phone with one of my sisters talking about this new way of eating and working on my Masters. And she said the next thing that made me think. She said, “Heidi, any goal you have ever set, you always achieve it. You do whatever you set your mind to do. You are great at setting goals and meeting them. You are driven. Your problem is once you achieve it, you are lost, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.” That hit me like a ton of bricks. I am so thankful I have people in my life who are honest with me. God uses them to push me and examine my life.

As a result of my conversation with my sister, I began to think through my new lifestyle of eating. I was not viewing it as a diet but I knew eventually I would. What could I do now to prevent slipping back into my old behavior? The guy I have been listening to on the podcast offers paid consults. I have never done anything like that in my life. And remember my goal of being financially fit by 50? This did not fit into the budget. But I knew I needed to do something different if this was going to be lasting so I scheduled it. And I am so glad I did. He was so incredibly helpful. He was firm but genuinely caring. It was like having a personal trainer to get you started. The only way I can describe him is he is the Howard Stern of fitness. Growing up Strickler prepared me for that 😉 He asked me a question on the consult when I told him I was working on my Masters (he wanted a snapshot of my life…age, height, weight, what your schedule was like, etc). He seemed shocked that I was going back to school at 46. I thought it was normal. He asked, “What made you go back for your Masters at the age of 46?” The emphasis was on the age. I never once thought about my age when deciding whether or not I was going to go back for my Masters. It was always money and time. I never want to get intellectually lazy. And I don’t want to coast on what I have learned previously. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our strength, all of our souls, and all of our minds. And I think it is part of whatever God has for me in the future.

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The last incident that happened was a dear friend called me a couple of weeks ago to inform me he had re-married. I jokingly said, “Maybe it’s time for me to think about getting married.” I remember a couple of years ago I woke up one day and thought, “How did I end up at the age 44 not married?” I knew I never wanted children but marriage had always been an option. I just never thought about it much until two years ago. Life has been so fun and so full and time just marched on and before you knew it, here I am. His reply to me was, “You have such a unique life, and it would be hard for someone to come alongside it.” In my journal that night, I wrote, “It (his statement) caused me to think what am I doing with my life?” At first, it stung. That statement made me feel like a freak. For a nano second. In the end, it caused me to appreciate the uniqueness of my life. I have never been lonely. I have amazing friends and family. The community I get to live in and serve is full of great people. I am not rich in material things but I am with the things that matter (now I feel like I’m going all George Bailey on you).

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As I contemplate those four incidents, I am so filled with excitement. God says in His Word, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

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Re-assessing your life mid-way through can be a good thing. It becomes a crisis when you fill it with things that will rob your soul and hurt those around you. The self-examined life is the healthy life.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Days…

 

Today is my last day of an amazing 8 day stay-cation. I had goals for this week. And every one of them was met. It was the perfect balance of getting projects done, fun, and simply relaxing. As I sit in my back yard on my swing enjoying the birds chirping as the sun sets, I am so thankful. For my life, for my family, for my job, for the people I partner with in ministry, and most importantly for Jesus.

Every night with the exception of one, I would lay on my swing and simply listen to the birds sing and the cricket’s chirp. For hours. I would pray some but for the most part, I would just simply swing. I wouldn’t think about all the things I have to do when I get back to work or worry about my finances or wonder if I am where I should be at this point in my life. I was completely in the moment. This has not always come easy to me. I am the type of person before a big event or project is even over, I’m planning the next. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation with someone, I’m already on to the next (ask my friends and co-workers how many times I don’t finish a sentence). That’s not bad, It’s just who I am and how I’m wired. But I have learned I really must carve time to simply be. So I schedule it in. And it makes all difference in the world. It helps me be more spontaneous and enjoy the summer rain and people and all the things that really matter. It also helps me when tough times do come. I have an emotional reservoir to draw from.

And every night in the midst of my relaxing on the swing, I would listen to a song.  Did you ever have a song you put on repeat and listen to it over and over and over again.? And it never gets old? It just hits you where you are? and what God is doing in you?  Well, my current jam is Coldplay’s Amazing Day, It has been my theme song for the week (actually for the past several months). It hits me in the feels EVERY time.

The lyrics go something like this:

 

We sat on a roof, named every star
Shared every bruise and showed every scar
Hope has its proof put your hand in mine, saying
“Life has a beautiful, crazy design”

And time seemed to say
“Forget the world and it’s weight”
And here I just want to stay

Amazing day
Amazing day

We sat on a roof, named every star
You showed me a place
Where you can be what you are

And the view, the whole Milky Way
In your eyes, I drifted away
And in your arms I just want to sway

Amazing day
Amazing day

And I asked
Can the Birds in poetry, chime?
Can there be breaks in the chaos sometimes?
Oh, thanks God, must have heard when I prayed
Cause now I always want to feel this way
Amazing day
Amazing day
Yeah, today

I think there are times in all of our lives we need to “forget the world and its weight” and listen to the poetry of the birds. Have you ever prayed “can there be breaks in the chaos sometimes?” I felt my soul had been crying out for this for months now. It is the major reason I chose to take a stay-cation and structure it the way I did.

God did hear when I prayed. This past week has been a break from the chaos. And I am so grateful. I know I will not always feel this way. Nor should I. God has a purpose for me and I want to be in the midst of the battle. I have a job to do. But for a week, I had a break…a time-out.

Life is beautiful and complicated and hard and busy. And can turn on a dime. Heart ache will happen. Disappointment will inevitably come my way. But for a week, a wonderful week I was able to completely forget the world and its weight. And to have a break from the chaos.

May I encourage you this summer to carve time for you and your family to simply relax and be. Go watch a sunset or a sunrise. Sit on your front porch and watch the cars go by. Waste time. Leave the housework and spend the day at the beach. It is so worth it!

Caught this heron.

Caught this heron.

Getting ready for a 7 mile kayak trip that didn't go so well. Ha. Maybe another blog on this one. Maybe not.

Getting ready for a 7 mile kayak trip that didn’t go so well. Ha. Maybe another blog on this one. Maybe not.

After the water balloon fight with the nieces and nephews.

After the water balloon fight with the nieces and nephews.

Relaxing lunch and stroll to the beach with a good friend.

Relaxing lunch and stroll to the beach with a good friend.

Paying homage to one of the best Dr. Who episodes ever. Ha! :)

Paying homage to one of the best Dr. Who episodes ever. Ha! 🙂

My stuff stuck in the middle of the river from my kayak trip.... :(

My stuff stuck in the middle of the river from my kayak trip…. 😦

Spending time with family. And that's my swing :)

Spending time with family. And that’s my swing 🙂

Got up one morning to watch the sunrise (I'm a sunset type of gal)

Got up one morning to watch the sunrise (I’m a sunset type of gal)

Memorial Day family picnic/water balloon fight! enjoying family!

Memorial Day family picnic/water balloon fight! enjoying family!

Spent a day at the Cleveland Art Museum. Such a great museum. Standing in front of my favorite...Van Gogh

Spent a day at the Cleveland Art Museum. Such a great museum. Standing in front of my favorite…Van Gogh

Mouth of the Vermilion River

Mouth of the Vermilion River

Unfiltered. Beautiful dawn.

Unfiltered. Beautiful dawn.

Nothing is Wasted

I have been getting coached for the past 6 months. I have had to look again at what my dreams are, what I value, what is important to me, dream busters, etc. Yesterday was our last conference call. We wrote our life’s mission statement. It has been a fun and challenging process.

At the same time, I have been leading Beth Moore’s Bible study, Believing God, with two different groups of women from my church. It has been one of the best Bible studies I have ever done. It has really challenged me in my walk with Jesus. I believe it has changed me. As part of the study, she makes you look back at your life and see how God has been at work in your life from the time you were born. We are now in the midst of creating timelines of our lives and recognizing how God has been with us, even in the not so good times. We have been doing this as we have studied the life of Joshua.

All of this reminded me of a seminar that I did back in 2000 called Focused Living. At the time I was living in Virginia and serving as the interim Senior Pastor. The District asked me if I was interested in permanently leading the church. The Pastor (my boss) had just stepped down. I honestly did not know if I wanted to senior pastor at that point in my life. So they sent me to this seminar. It was an intense two-day process of looking back at your life and the lessons you learned along the way. During this process I had to write a Personal Life Mission Statement. God used this process to show me that I was not called to senior pastor in that season. The process, though painful (I had to look at a lot of hard stuff I went through growing up), really did focus me.

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I came home a couple of weeks ago and pulled out the big poster of my life that I had to do during the Focused Living Seminar. It fit so well with what God was showing me through coaching and the Bible Study. On this poster, I had it broken up into segments. I was 30 when I did this and it fell into 3, 10 year segments. The first 10 years was entitled “Turmoil”, the second 10 years was entitled “Preparation” and the third 10 years was entitled “Gaining Experience”. And I had life events under each of them. Good and bad. I also had life lessons that I had learned through my experiences of my first 30 years of life. As I read them, I realized that I still live by the lessons I had learned to articulate in the Focused Living process.  The purpose of this blog is to share my life lessons of my first 30 years of life. I am 44 now. I feel strongly that God, through the coaching and the Bible study, is having me go through the same process that I went through with Focused Living 14 years ago. So I have been looking back at the past 14 years and identifying what has happened,  what God has been doing and what season of life I am in now, where He is leading me and the lessons have I learned. I shared some of this with my pastor and he asked me “What would I entitle the past 14 plus years since I last did this?” I was surprised that an answer quickly rolled off my tongue in response. I will share that in another blog.

Here are the 15 lessons I learned from my first 30 years of life:

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  1. God will never leave me.
  2. God can take the ugliest things and situations and make something beautiful come out of it.
  3. Nothing is wasted if you allow God to bring healing.
  4. I learned to be faithful in ALL things (as a lay person, as a manager, and with my family).
  5. You can never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself (leadership).
  6. People need to be treated with kindness and respect.
  7. I learned that false humility will keep me from reaching my full potential.
  8. When I say I can’t do something, I am limiting the power of God.
  9. I learned perseverance. When God calls you to do something – hold on and obey. It will come to pass.
  10. I learned to walk in forgiveness and let hurts and wrongs go quickly.
  11. Cracked pot vision – God shines through the broken areas of our lives.
  12. Anyone can fall. And people will let us down. It could happen to me so err on side of showing grace and compassion when people fall. Treat people how I would want to be treated if I fell.
  13. Jesus came to bring life. I should be enjoying the life He has given me and what He has called me to do.
  14. No matter if your heart is breaking, you serve God. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
  15. My health. I have one body to accomplish the good works God has prepared for me so I need to take of my soul, body, spirit and mind.

 

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