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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.

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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?

Beach Encounters

September is a busy month for me. I was in Pennsylvania this weekend speaking at a women’s retreat. I got home yesterday afternoon and had to write a three-page paper by midnight. I think I finally fell into bed about one in the morning, exhausted. This week is a busy one as well with Women’s Bible study starting back up and a Variety Show at our church on Sunday evening for missions plus another three-page paper due on Sunday (I love this pace…so not complaining).

I planned on sleeping in but I remembered I needed to go order my glasses…(I am wiping away a tear as I mourn the deterioration of my eyesight). I also looked at the forecast and saw today was supposed to be gorgeous. Summer is slowly fading away and I did not want to waste one minute of this amazing weather. So I decided that after I did my errands, I would head to the beach. The beach has been my haven this summer. I do some of my best thinking (and resting) there. My last blog was inspired by one of my  visits to the beach.

Since I had to go to a different city to order my glasses I decided to go to a different beach. I am so glad I did! When I got to the beach, there was hardly anyone there. School is back in session so weekdays are pretty desolate at the beach. The birds outnumbered the people about 100 to 1. Lake Erie was so blue and was like a sea of glass.

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Lake Erie was like so blue and clear and like glass.

I found my spot, put my blanket on the sand and grabbed my books out of my bag. I really intended to get some homework done (and I did…just not very much).

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Ready to soak up some rays.

Not too far from me were two older men and a woman.  As I was reading, I could not help but hear their conversation. The wind was blowing right. I knew they were about 67 because one commented on how the summer of 66 was his best ever. He was 17.  I did the math because I was curious (or nosey…take your pick). They were in such great shape. At one point they were playing frisbee like teenagers in the sand. One of them dove into the sand to catch it! I was beyond impressed.

As I listened to them talk, one of the men was recounting a story of a time he had a near death experience by drowning. It was very intense. He said he blacked out for three minutes and during that time everything that ever happened to him and everything that was going to happen to him flashed before his eyes. The lady asked him, “So what’s going to happen to you? What did you see?”

His answer was simple but profound.

“I’m going to live until I die.” 

And they were living this. Have you ever known people you wish you could get to know better? Their zest for life and joy is a magnet? Maybe, just maybe, if you spend enough time with them, you’ll catch it through osmosis?

I texted my niece and told her about these three cool older people I was watching. I told her I was working my nerve up to go talk to them. I am the opposite of shy. Her response “DO IT DO IT”. But I didn’t want to freak them out.

While they were playing frisbee and I was gathering up the nerve to introduce myself, we all noticed an eagle. He was circling the shoreline fishing. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch this amazing sight. After a few minutes, the eagle finally dove headfirst into the lake and came out victorious with a fish in his claws. We applauded!!! It was amazing!!!

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The best picture I could capture on my phone of the eagle.

The eagle broke the ice. I marched myself over to their blanket and introduced myself. I confessed to eavesdropping. They introduced themselves as Klaus, Marilyn (they were married), and Chas. They were friends from their freshman year of high school. I asked them how old they were and told them how I hope I am like them at their age. They were feisty and adventurous. Chas commented on how he has some regrets. I assured him there is no room for regrets because everything up until that point has shaped him into the person he was today. They appreciated that perspective.  Chas said I sounded like I was in the military and the Klaus said I sounded like I was a pastor. 🙂

Their love of life and activity level and freshness of mind was inspirational. They were so grateful I came over. Klaus told me a story of how he almost caught Manny Ramirez’s ball in 1995 (for those Cleveland Indians fans). He is such a great storyteller. He wrote a poem about it. I gave him my address and he is going to send it to me.

Klaus showed me a book he was reading. It is very similar to the diet I have just switched to three weeks ago. Chas is already following it (and it shows). I told them the reason I switched is I want to be able to finish ministry and  life well. How I treat my body will be my biggest problem if I don’t get it together.

Klaus replied, “You have already finished well.” Tears sprang to my eyes.

I knew he meant me coming over and telling them I so appreciated their adventurous spirit and how they seemed to be living life to the fullest. Not everybody understands just because you body ages, your mind doesn’t have to nor your soul. When I see examples of it, it moves me to my core. Life is so short and fleeting.

Because of their example, I texted three of my closest friends from middle/high school just to say that I am praying for them, I am grateful for them, and I love them.

Because of their example, I resolved to continue to work hard to get my physical body fit.

Because of their example, I was glad to be alive.

 

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Next to Jesus, people/relationships are the biggest gift from God. I told these three that they would make my blog!

Jesus says he came to give us abundant life.  “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10)

I’m going to LIVE until I die. 

And like Klaus, I will hopefully be diving for frisbees at 67.

 

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.

Living Better, Not Bitter

I had a moment Mother’s Day weekend. I went to put flowers on my mom’s grave. After I put the flowers in the vase, I sat on a bench under the dogwood tree which sits close to the family plot. It was a beautiful spring day. The wind was gently blowing and the smell of the dogwood blossoms were heavenly. I could see the ducks swimming in the pond and the covered bridge off in the distance.

Sitting on the bench

Sitting on the bench

As I sat there, I thought about my mom passing away so young. She was 46 (the age I am now). I thought of my grandma dying 16 months later. I thought of all the things I had lost represented in the grave stones laying at my feet. I reflected on how tough life really was growing up and all the things I lost at such a young age – security, innocence, confidence, self-esteem (my childhood was not for the faint of heart). I most often view my childhood with rose-colored glasses and forget about how painful parts of it were. I am and always will be an optimistic realist.

But as I sat there I could not dwell on all I had lost. I was so full of gratitude for all I have been given. For my life. My amazingly big, beautiful, messy, hard, wonderful, adventure-filled life. I love Jesus and the path He has set for me and the countless ways in which He has blessed me and the many ways in which He has delivered me.

I am the sum of all I have been through. The good and the bad and the ugly. I have chosen to not become bitter but better and to allow the adversity and loss to work in my life to produce good; to produce avenues in which God’s goodness can shine forth. I am reminded of one of my favorite songs by Rich Mullins “Home”:

What I’d have settled for you’ve blown so far away

What you brought me to I thought I could not reach

And I came so close to giving up

But you never did give up on me.

Life is so much more than I ever thought it could be. Are there still areas of my life in need of healing? Of course. Are there still things I want to see happen? Prayers to be answered? Dreams to be fulfilled? Yes! Yes! Yes! But everything I thought I wanted in the past – He has so done above and beyond. And the things He did not allow, I can now see why and I thank Him for saying “no”.

I end with the prayer I wrote in my journal after reflecting on all of this:

Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful, full life you have given me. I will always choose to focus on what I have, not on what I don’t have. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, amazing friends and family…I get to share the love and goodness of my God…You Jesus! Thank you for allowing me to appreciate the smell of lilacs and birds chirping  and the sunshine as well as the rain.  Thank you that I really can dance in the rain…and embrace all things that come my way…the good and the bad and the ugly. Amen.

Twirling in a hail storm :)

Twirling in a hail storm 🙂

Risk Vs. Responsibility: Wrestling with God

When I began my blog I entitled it “FaithinFlipFlops” because I wanted to write about how I daily walk out my faith in Jesus Christ. I wanted to write about the successes and the challenges, the triumphs and the losses. I haven’t been as faithful in my writing as I hoped I would because life always seems to get in the way.  And I want to be a person who makes sure I am actually living life, not just writing about it. I also love taking pictures to include in my blogs (and I take a lot) but life is what happens between the snapshots. Living life to the fullest and taking risks is something I value and strive to do. I do not want to waste a minute!

I turned 45 in January. First of all, I love birthdays. And getting older does not bother me at all. In fact, the 40s have been my best decade by far. I have loved every minute of my 40s. Until 45. I can’t explain it. I wasn’t expecting it. And it irritated me. A sadness and tiredness overwhelmed me. I am someone who is always on the go. And it all came to a grinding halt.  And it made me question where I was in life.

I have always lived carefree. I never worried about money (not much anyway). I always trusted that God would provide. I have referred to myself as a hippie…I don’t need stuff or much money…and I love to dream.  And live unconventionally. After all, my dog’s name is Woodstock…

I remember in Bible college, a pastor came to speak in chapel. I was talking to him afterwards or heard him talking to someone else (I don’t quite remember the exact context) but he said “oh to be young again in ministry and think I can actually change the world.” After I heard that I told the Lord, “May I never get cynical and never stop believing that I can change the world.” And I haven’t. I still believe it. But that belief is hitting the stone cold wall of reality.

I have a dream. A big dream. And to make it come to pass it will require a sacrifice. And a miracle. And here is the question I am wrestling with in my walk with Jesus. When does following a dream and taking a risk become irresponsible? 

We have a saying at our church:

Jesus first

Others Second

Safety Third

We have it on one of the those rubber bracelets.

If you wear it on your wrist, is it true?

If you wear it on your wrist, is it true?

And I believe it. I believe we are not to play it safe. That we are to take risks to advance the Kingdom of God.

Yet there are bills to pay. Retirement to pay into. Taxes to pay. A house to buy. Health insurance to pay for. And a lot of these things, I’ve let slip because I believed God will provide.

I have since discovered that the tiredness and irritability were due to my thyroid not working right.

But the wrestling with risk taking vs. being responsible is still ongoing. I have followed Jesus long enough to trust Him. But there are times I simply don’t trust myself.

This walk of faith in flip flops is not easy. There are always more questions than answers. And it can be messy.

And messy reminded me of a Scripture in Proverbs 14:4. It says

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of an ox.”

I can have a nice, tidy life…every area clean and safe…but if I want a life that produces fruit and counts for eternity and really makes a difference — there will be messes I need to clean up (sometimes of my own making) — I will get dirty, messy – I need the “ox”(in my case the ox could be my dreams or the Holy Spirit’s leading and maybe they’re synonymous) and the work and faith that comes with it if I want to be fruitful.

 

 

Dreams, Painting, and Prayer

I have taken up painting. And I cannot believe how much I love it! Last fall I went to one of those classes in which friends get together and paint a picture. I had a lot of fun doing it and it was so relaxing. So this year as I was goal setting, I decided I would try painting on my own. I have this driving desire to keep my brain fresh. (And I’m reading a fascinating book on the brain and how you can create new grooves and stimulate different parts of it. I have said it before and will state it again…I am a nerd). I believe you keep your brain fresh by trying and learning new things. So this year it is painting.

My painting from class

My painting from class

Painting last fall in a class.

Painting last fall in a class.

 

I was a little nervous about making any kind of investment because I was not very good in art class in school. I was one of those who thought they could not draw a straight line. I even singed my hair once with the kiln in middle school art class. I definitely do not have the fondest of memories of art class (except 8th grade art…Mrs. Coton rocked!) It is funny how many of the conclusions we draw about ourselves we make as kids and teenagers and never go back to examine if we really came to the right conclusion or not.

I had drawn the conclusion that I was not very creative. I have come to realize that was a faulty conclusion. How I decorate my house, my love for writing and reading are signs of my creativity. I remember having a conversation with some friends and I made the statement, “I’m not very good at decorating. I don’t have that creative gene.” My good friend, Lesli said, “Yes, you are. You have a theme and it is very unique.” I was comparing myself to Better Homes and Gardens and other home magazines.

On my birthday this year, I went to spend the afternoon with my mentor and some other ministry friends. My plan was once I left there I was going to go to the craft store and purchase the supplies I needed to get started. As I told them about my plans, they were so encouraging. Have you ever had someone in your life that makes you feel like you can do anything? Harriet is that person to me. I am so grateful for her. As the four of them prayed over me a blessing for my birthday, I just knew that God was doing something. It was a holy moment.

This was taken on my birthday at Bill and Harriet's house. A wonderful afternoon!

This was taken on my birthday at Bill and Harriet’s house. A wonderful afternoon!

My first painting I attempted was a picture/vision I had during worship a few years back. I had the vision several times and so one day, I drew it out in my office. I hung the piece of paper on my wall to remind me of what my walk with Jesus should look like. I thought “one day I am going to get someone to paint this for me.” Who knew that person would be me!

My first solo picture!

My first solo picture!

When I started my first painting, I put on worship music and began to paint. I was so nervous that I was going to mess up. As I kept painting, I began to feel free. I realized that I could not mess up. It was my painting, my creation…it could be anything I wanted it to be and any color I wanted it to be. There was no wrong way. One of my favorite Bible verses is Ephesians 2:10 – it says, “We are (I am) God’s workmanship (His poem, His work of art) created in Christ Jesus to do good works so that we would walk in them.” That verse explains my first painting exactly. As God paints the story of my life, I am to walk in the good works He has prepared for me to do, always with the Cross before me. It was such a moving experience for me.

AS I have started a blank canvas and seen it come to life, the pleasure I feel is indescribable. I feel like I have caught a glimpse of the heart of God and how He feels as He is painting the story of my life. As He sees His purposes and plans come to fruition in me, that pleases Him.

My second painting was for niece, Madison. She saw my first one and said she wanted me to do one for her. She loves frogs so I thought I would surprise her and do one. Again, I put on worship music and painted. I spent two hours praying for her. Praying that she would know that she is God’s workmanship, that He has purposes and plans for her, that she would know how much God loves her. When it was done, I signed it and put two Scriptures on it that came to mind as I painted.

My lovely niece with her picture.

My lovely niece with her picture.

My third painting I did was for one of my sisters. One of my favorite things I have is a rock she painted for me when I was 5 or 6. https://livinglovedlivingfree.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-things/ I thought for her birthday I would paint the picture that is on the rock. The time I spent painting it I used to pray for her. I spent the time thanking God for her, praying that He would bless her and that she would continue to grow in the knowledge of how much He loves her. And I signed it and put Scriptures on it. And now I know that I will be painting intercessory prayer paintings for people in my life that I am praying for. All I want to do is paint. I have my 4th one sketched out but I can’t show it on here because the person receiving reads my blogs faithfully. And I want it to be a surprise.

the sketch

the sketch

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I love seeing a picture come to life!

 

The rock from my sister!

The rock from my sister!

 

The finished picture

The finished picture

I was thinking today what if I would have listened to my childhood/teen-ager self that said I was not artistic or that I couldn’t draw a straight line? What if I had been afraid to try? I would be missing out on something that brings me much joy. I also thought that most of the time we are our own worst dream busters. I would encourage you to try something new and do not let fear keep you from trying!

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:

life-lessons

  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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