Faithinflipflops

Living simply, loving deeply!

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

Dark Night of the Soul

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I feel so broken and helpless. And crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone knew Jacob’s deceptive ways.

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

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

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

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

All had broken, less than stellar pasts.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whack-A-Mole Living

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

When do we stop trying to fix ourselves?

When do we stop trying harder?

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

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

 

What if I simply enjoyed my relationship with Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

The Riptides of Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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 🙂

Keep Dreaming

“I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” Journal entry from June 11, 1986 by 16-year-old Heidi.

This weekend I am speaking at a youth winter camp. I am excited and nervous. The theme of the camp is “Encounter”. I will be speaking from Ephesians 2. The first evening I will be sharing my story of when I first encountered Jesus. As I was preparing,  I dug out my old journals. I spent an afternoon revisiting my 14, 15, and 16-year-old self. It was very enlightening, sad, encouraging, and funny all at the same time.

I read of my first concert to see Bruce Springsteen at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I read of heartbreak from unrequited love and drama with my friends (there is NOTHING new under the sun). I read of the turmoil in my home life. I read of my coming to Jesus and how He completely changed my life. I also read it was not as easy as I remember to follow Him. I watched my life as a follower of Jesus unfold. I teared up at the pain of some of the friendships and things I lost. I swelled with pride as I watched a completely unchurched girl persevere and make tough decisions to follow hard after Jesus. It definitely was not pretty or graceful or perfect but it was real and honest and raw and full of love for Jesus.

And on June 11th, 1986 in the midst of teenage angst,I penned these words: “I dream a lot and I hope one day some of them come true.” With the following Scripture “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” written after it.

Before this entry was an entry of concern for my dad’s health, below this entry was venting about my geometry and biology exam.

I wish I knew why 16-year-old Heidi wrote those words. What was she thinking in the midst of family stuff and high school exams?

There is a song by Rich Mullins called Home. It is one of my favorites. And I want it played at my funeral (many, many years from now 😉 . In it, he sings;

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

God has blown the dreams of a 16-year-old girl away. He has allowed me to do far above and beyond what I thought was possible.

I wish I could explain how important it is to dream. To take risks. To dare to believe life could be more than we think it could. To believe we can make a difference.

I wish people knew the dream giver…Jesus. And how He wants to help us reach for things so much bigger than us. And how life is meant to be lived fully.

Dreaming is important to me. I am currently looking for songs which speak of dreaming. I am printing out the lyrics as I come across them and am keeping them in the folder of a class I teach on helping others discover their purpose and dreams. There is in all of us a desire to do great things. It is God given.

I still dream. A lot. I still hope one day some of them will come true. I hope 56, 66, 76, and 86 year Heidi is still saying the same thing.

 

Nigerien Dreamin’

As many of you know, especially those who follow me on Facebook, I recently got back from a trip to Niger, Africa. This missions trip was twenty years in the making. It has taken me awhile to write about it because life has been crazy since I have been back. I also wanted to read what I wrote at church before I put it on my blog. And a very cool side note is our local newspaper did a feature on my trip. 

The article in our local paper! <3

The article in our local paper! ❤

Niger is in Western Africa. It is consistently ranked 176 out of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. Life expectancy at birth is 46 years. There is a 15% literacy rate and has the highest birth rate in the world. To say Niger is poor is an understatement. It is also 96% Muslim. Niger is a hard country. Nothing glamorous about it.

map-niger

Nigeriens do not display much emotion. To cry is a sign of weakness. But they are an incredibly kind and generous people. And beautiful.

With the children at the church in Niamey.

With the children at the church in Niamey.

He was a twin. <3

He was a twin. ❤

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Patient at Cure.

Patient at Cure.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Beautiful faces of Niger.

Eddie and Pastor Ali

Eddie and Pastor Ali

This little girl walked for the first time. She's 3...

This little girl walked for the first time. She’s 3…

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

Beautiful faces of Niger

The whole time I was in Niger, I think I cried only once or twice. I honestly believe it was the grace of God. Those who know me, know I tear up. A lot. I say all of this to preface my journal entry from the trip home. This is what I wrote on the plane ride home:

We are in the middle of our 32 hour trip home. The flight from Niamey to Istanbul was great. I had no one in my row once we left Mali and I was able to get some sleep. It pays to be short on an airplane 🙂 I am sitting on our 12 hour flight from Istanbul to Dulles. As soon as I sat down in my seat, I started bawling. I have not cried the whole time in Niger – I have no idea why I am crying…are they happy tears? Sad tears? A release? I have no idea but it is so overwhelming , I can barely keep it together. 

Yesterday before we left, we stopped at a market to get gifts. I hate bartering. I’m not good at it. 

We stopped at Zachary’s house on the way back to Cure. Zachary is a young man who converted from Islam to Christianity. Pastor Ali has been discipling him and he was with us for our whole trip, driving and watching over us.  His whole family disowned him due to this decision. Last time Scott came, he stopped over Zachary’s Gran Family’s house and helped start the process of reconciliation. This time they brought the whole family together and asked Scott to preach the Gospel to them. They have seen the transformation in Zachary’s life. Each man of the family sat in a chair and received prayer. It was so incredibly powerful. It amazes me that our presence brings influence. Simply showing up changes lives. The same thing happened at David’s house during our first few days here in Niger.

Praying over the men at Zachary's house.

Praying over the men at Zachary’s house.

At Zachary's house.

At Zachary’s house.

We went back to Cure and thanked our Nigerien part of the team. We then went and rode camels on a sand dune in the sub Sahara. I still don’t know where Pastor Ali and Scott found 18 camels. There is nothing touristy about Niger. It was a neat experience though I had never even ridden a horse before. The Camel scared me and the fact I could not communicate with my helper did not help matters. But I survived.

No words.

No words.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at him looking at me. This will get framed.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Look at him looking at me. This will get framed.

Some of our team at the tops of the dunes. Love this pic

Some of our team at the tops of the dunes. Love this pic

When we got back to Cure to shower and get ready to head to the airport, our Nigerien brothers presented us with personalized necklaces of Niger with our names on them. It so touched me, knowing the hardship and poverty they face and they presented us with a gift. And I am headed back to a life of leisure.

Even as I write this I am bawling.

This is a necklace of Niger...our Nigerien brothers had our names engraved on them. I have it hanging in my car so when I drive, I always pray for Niger.

This is a necklace of Niger…our Nigerien brothers had our names engraved on them. I have it hanging in my car so when I drive, I always pray for Niger.

Crying over all I have seen and how inadequate and ineffective I feel and selfish. I want to see many come to Christ and see lives transformed but haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain with prayer. 

I want to spend my life for you, Jesus. I just don’t know what that looks like for me. I know I am doing some good things for the Kingdom of God but I want to do more. I need you to speak to me, Lord. 

I am crying again. We ate dinner just a little bit ago on the plane and I went to sleep afterwards with worship music playing in my ear. When I woke up, the Lord showed me a picture of me sitting at His feet, my head on His lap. And He asked me, “Heidi, tell me what you saw in Niger.”

 (This is what I read Sunday in Church.)

I saw extreme poverty. I saw an oppression so strong you could physically feel it. I saw a hard way of life. I saw a people living in filth. I saw children malnourished. I saw a nation not able to read or write. I saw a nation of women who have no value. I saw a nation with very few older men and women. I saw a land so hard, the people reflect it. I saw very little emotion. I saw how Islam is crushing people, giving them very little choice on how to live. I saw demonic oppression. I saw the reality of Heaven and Hell. 

But I also saw hope. And Jesus moving in real and powerful ways. I saw a people who are incredibly kind. I saw a neighborhood opened to the Gospel simply because of our presence.

I saw a Muslim family ask for the Gospel to be preached. I saw God open the door for Scott to preach the Gospel on national television in Niger. I saw a generosity in a multitude of people giving out of nothing.

I saw hope and glimpses of joy. I saw passion and drive. I saw every person’s name being taken for follow-up. I saw demons cast out. I saw the Gospel on the move.

I saw a people willing to die for a cause bigger than themselves.

I saw a group of 18 people who would have never met in America — from all generations, genders and walks of life come together for the cause of Christ. I saw them putting themselves in hardship and others before themselves — all for the Gospel. I saw people taking smaller portions to ensure everyone had enough to eat. I saw a well fixed and a neighborhood blessed and children ecstatic for clean drinking water. 

I saw a civility and genuine kindness during a car accident. I saw an incredibly unselfish culture. 

I saw a man in a tree church healed of a scorpion bite. I saw a blind man receive his sight.

I saw a little girl who never walked before, walk.

I saw that Jesus is working all around the world.

I saw Jesus is still calling people from every tongue and tribe and nation to go into all the world. And we are still our brother’s keepers.

I saw Jesus is not confined to American borders. And that fear has no place in answering the call to follow Jesus. 

Love Really Does Win!

What do I do with all of this? How do I respond, Jesus? 

Tell people what you saw, what I am doing and I want to do it in their lives as well. Tell others. Don’t be ashamed or afraid about what I can do. 

I know I am not done in Niger. The country and people are such a part of my heart. There is a lot of work to be done. Practical ways in which to show the love of Christ. Ways in which we can partner with them to bring a Gospel that is good news to the body, soul, and spirit. A dear friend and mentor of mine says ” you cannot say something is life changing until after 6 months have passed.” And she is correct. We say a lot of things in the heat of the moment. But hopefully on May 15th, 2016 my actions will show my life has been forever changed by my time in Niger. I really want to be a part of God’s dream for Niger.

Our team on the way home.

Our team on the way home.

Our whole team at the market.

Our whole team at the market.

Feet in the Sub Sahara

Feet in the Sub Sahara

Speaking at a Tree Church

Speaking at a Tree Church

Walking to a Tree church out in the Bush

Walking to a Tree church out in the Bush

Riding camels.

Riding camels.

Beautiful African sunset.

Beautiful African sunset.

The man in the hat received his sight. Amazing.

The man in the hat received his sight. Amazing.

Missions

During college I had class 8 -12 and worked 1-9, five days a week at a drug store. I had Tuesdays and Sundays off and those days were filled with student ministry and homework. Life was full. I would get up early to pray, eat lunch after class and take a 15 minute power nap. Power naps are how I survived college.

We had chapel two times a week during college. There are very few chapels I remember from my four years at school but one in particular impacted me greatly. It was a chapel on missions. Since I first heard what a missionary was in high school I was enthralled with missions. I read books on missionaries (Bruchko and Peace Child are two I highly recommend). I loved hearing the stories of people leaving everything familiar to go overseas and share the love and life of Jesus. And that morning John Amstutz spoke in chapel. He talked about the 10/40 window and all the people groups who have not heard or experienced the love and grace of Jesus. He introduced me to one of my favorite authors (John Piper) and how to use the Lord’s Prayer to pray. I lost the insert for my Bible many years ago. It makes me sad because I would love to use it when teaching on prayer. It revolutionized my prayer life and is still the model I use to pray.

I was so eager to get out of class and go pray for the nations. I skipped lunch and my power nap.

On my way to work, I sensed the Lord speaking to me (that may sound weird to some of you…heck, it sounds kind of weird to me). I felt Him telling me I could have anything I asked of Him. I thought of my work and school schedule and bills and other things but I knew all of that stuff didn’t matter.  I can still picture me driving down the highway. It was an audacious prayer of a Bible college student who believed she could change the world. I remember praying, “Lord, help the world see how good and loving You are…reach the people who need it the most and are the hardest to reach. And if at all possible, if it is not asking too much, use me.” And I prayed for a particular region of the world.

DSCN4549.JPG

Fast forward it 20 years. I have the amazing opportunity in November to go to Africa to be a part of this prayer being answered. There are 18 of us from our district going to a work our district started over 5 years ago. We will be in the heart of the 10/40 window. I cannot tell you how excited (and nervous) I am about going. I have all my shots, my visa application is in, and now we are preparing through studying, fasting and praying. God is slowly but surely providing my way and I am trusting the rest of what I need will come in when I need it.

There was another time I felt God nudging me to ask Him for whatever I wanted. And I am currently seeing the answer unfold before my eyes, years and years later.

I say all of that to say this: Prayer works. God delights in answering our prayers that our born out of our heart for Him and for people. Don’t give up. Both these answers to prayers have been over 20 years in the making. And both are being answered in ways I could have never ever have imagined. Keep praying. And pray for us as we go to Africa. May God’s love and grace shine through us.

 

 

Bike & Baggage

A few weeks back I began chronicling the adventures I had this summer and the lessons learned. Once I began writing I realized one blog would not be enough. This is the fourth and last installment. I am ready to leave summer behind me and embrace all God has for me this fall. Ministering in Africa and North Carolina are just a few of the things to come!

At the beginning of the summer,  I went for a 17 mile bike ride on a trail not far from my house. The trail extends from rural Kipton, Ohio to the city of Elyria. It is a gorgeous ride. The trail winds through farmland, woods, a golf course, the city of Oberlin plus more. I usually pack a lunch, take my Bible and journal and ride to the city of Oberlin and eat lunch and read and write in a park in Oberlin. I decided to go further along the trail before turning around and heading back.

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

Scenes from the Kipton Trail

On the way back, I got tired so I stopped at CVS (a drug store) to get crackers and something to drink. I ended up buying two facial washes, a huge bottle of body lotion (they were on sale) plus two drinks. Mind you, I still had five miles to go and the grade is higher going back. These purchases added an extra 5 pounds.

It made no sense for me to buy facial wash and body lotion on a scenic, long bike ride.

Not one of my brightest moves.

As I was peddling my heart out with an added five pounds of baggage, I thought about my walk with Jesus and the Scripture I had just read in the letter to the Philippians. Chapter 2, verse 14 said “Do all things without grumbling or complaining.”

Early summer was the end of a tough season for me. I was tired. Spiritually and physically. And frustrated. And angry.  Did I mention how tired I was? Bone-weary tired.  When I’m tired I end up picking up stuff/baggage I don’t need.  I begin to think in my heart “this is too hard, this season is going to kill me, I have it harder than anyone else, God where are you?” I had picked up grumbling and complaining.

I had to stop my bike and pray. And confess and apologize to the Lord for my current frame of mind and how I had been acting.

It was amazing. Once I confessed, peace and joy flooded my soul. This act of confession and repentance set me up for one of the best summers of my life. God was able to move in and through me once I put the baggage down. The ride has been smoother and easier and way more fun and fruitful!

What have you picked up? What is weighing you down in your walk with the Lord? What is God asking you to lay down so you can freely live this life He has given you with joy and peace? Confession is really good for the soul.

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