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Archive for the tag “ministry”

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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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.

Happy Anniversary, Heidi

Today marks 15 years I have been on staff at HCC. When I graduated from Bible College I never thought I would ever get to come back home. I am so grateful to God I did. I have blogged about how I ended up back in Vermilion.

Last night at Women’s Bible Study, I was sitting in the back while we were watching a video. Between the two Bible studies, there are 60 women. Women who are hungry to know Jesus, to find peace, to have joy in the journey. Sunday night we had a worship and healing service at our church. We have them periodically. We were expecting about 80 and probably had 160 plus. I get to walk with people and watch them discover how cool God really is and how much they really matter. I was so overwhelmed at what I get to do.

 

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It is not always easy. The hours are long. The pay isn’t great. People are never done. You witness first hand the ravages of sin. In our world today we never want to talk about sin and how it destroys us mentally, physically, relationally, and most importantly, spiritually. I have sat with a family as the parents told the kid’s they were getting divorced and saw a kid changed completely in a moment. I have intervened in someone’s life who was addicted to drugs. I have helped people pick up the pieces after betrayal in marriage or a loss of a child.

But I have also seen the power of God transform lives. I have seen the drug addict get clean. I have seen marriages restored that everyone else counted as dead. I have seen kids come back from their parent’s divorce. I have witnessed teenagers finally get how good, real and loving God is. I have seen God physically heal the blind and lame. I have slept under the stars of an African sky and worshiped Jesus with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have friends in Jamaica that have become my family.

Last fall I was asked to consider taking my own church in another community. This isn’t the first time I have been asked. This was the first time I seriously contemplated it. As my pastor and I processed through it, he told me that question I needed to settle was, “Do I see myself as a Lead Pastor?” (I am so thankful for Pastor Jim in my life. He is what a strong man in ministry should be. He is not intimidated by strong leaders; women or men. He embraces and releases them. He seeks them out. I have met people in ministry who view staff members as competitors, not comrades. We are comrades in arms. And he makes us all feel valuable and appreciated.

There are very few women Lead pastors in my denomination. That is not a criticism at all. I am proud of the fact that we have women Lead pastors. And I believe our denomination is open to them. I take very seriously what I model for younger men and women going into ministry. I want them to see a healthy, fulfilled, FRUIT-BEARING woman of God. I want them to see someone who enjoys life and ministry but isn’t afraid to share struggles. Life is hardly ever perfect and easy. I want to demonstrate how we honestly and gracefully walk through life’s trials. And I have mentored just as many young men as I have young women. I am not in competition with men. We complement each other…or we should.

I need to digress for a moment…please humor me. I have met women in ministry who try to make room for themselves simply because they are women. They fight for themselves. It appears that is all they care about. Believe me, I get it. I have met men who are against women in ministry. God asked me early on, “What do you want to be known for? You can’t fight everything so what is it you want to fight for?” I wrestled with this in my late 20’s. The answer I came to is I want to be known for fighting for souls and people. I want to be known for love. Scripture also teaches that God raises people up and casts people down. If there is something that God wants me to say He will open the doors. And He has. I have done some amazing things. Being a woman HAS NEVER KEPT GOD’S PURPOSES AND PLANS FROM BEING FULFILLED IN MY LIFE.

I am a strong woman and a strong leader. I know what it is to come under fire for decisions. I served on City Council for 8 years during some very bitter struggles. Standing for truth cost me. Reputation and money. But I did not waver. But that does not mean I have to be a Lead Pastor.

In ministry circles sometimes it is communicated, albeit unintentionally, that the Senior/Lead Pastor is the pinnacle of having arrived in ministry. That is simply not true. And it grieves me that people think that. I am reminded of the Peter Principle which is the belief that workers rise to the level of their incompetency. The main premise is that once people are in the spot in which they are most productive and fruitful (and happiest), they get promoted for doing such a good job and end up in a job they hate and are not equipped for. I don’t know how much I buy into this but there is a kernel of truth.

In my position, I get to do whatever I want to do (because I do everything I am asked). I am doing, for the most part, everything God has placed in my heart to do. I still have some big dreams (the biggest yet), but I am slowly but surely working on those dreams I believe are God-given.

Success and respect in life are not a title. Or a position. It’s not getting the big office down the hall (though it is the warmest 😉 ). Respect may come initially from these things but title and positions don’t maintain respect. It is what we do with it and how we treat people.

The Bible defines success in ministry as fruitfulness. Jesus says when we produce much fruit we bring glory to the Father. Fruitfulness is better than fame or a title. When I look over the past 15 years, I see fruit. And I believe in my soul, I have just entered the bearing much fruit phase. God is doing amazing things here in Vermilion and in my life. I work with the best team. We do not compete with each other, we complement each other. We bring out the best (on most days) in each other. When someone else looks good, we all look good.

I hosted our staff Christmas party this year. As I was on my hands and knees scrubbing baseboards (yeah…I’m that girl), I was praying about the decision. These are the thoughts I was thinking, “I could be a lead pastor, I could sit at the big people’s tables, I could have more influence, I, I, I, I.” (How do you like me now?). And I heard God speak, “Heidi, you’re not done in Vermilion. It’s not about title or position, it’s about fruitfulness.”

I love my community. And the staff I work with share the same love. This unity. This love we have for each other and our community is rare. Why would I leave this? To be known more? By who? Obviously, my answer was “no”.  And once I made up my mind, Jamaica happened. And God used it to reinforce the dreams I have and am currently working on.

I will be celebrating 20 years in ministry in May…I am sure there will be blog then as well (I am way too introspective) and looking back over all these years, I pinch myself that I get to do this.

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Our incredible staff, led by Pastor Jim and Joyce. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-Life Crisis: Good or Bad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

Beach Adventures.

This is the third installment of a blog I began a couple of weeks ago. In the first blog, I wrote about my summer and all the things I learned. I realized one blog would not be enough. A couple of the stories would need their own space. Last week I continued with my experience getting a spray tan. I still cringe/laugh when I think about it.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love the beach, thunderstorms and water. My favorite experience of the whole summer happened in early August and included all three. It was a Sunday evening and I was sitting in my favorite chair after a long day. I looked at the weather forecast and noticed a huge storm was rolling in off of Lake Erie. The clouds on the radar were yellow and red. I had this strong desire to go down to the beach and watch it roll in. It was about 11 p.m. and I texted my nieces and asked them if they wanted to go with me to watch the storm come in off the lake. Their response was “When?”.  “Now” was my reply. They were in. A friend of ours also joined us once we got to the beach.

We went down and sat on the boardwalk and watched the incredible light show! No fireworks could ever compare to what the heavens displayed that evening. Of course, we tried to capture some of it with our phones!

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I love this. I am going to try to paint it!

I love this. I am going to try to paint it!

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This was taken about 1 in the morning.

This was taken about 1 in the morning.

Love it

Love it

Amazing light show!

Amazing light show!

As the storm grew in intensity, the wind began to blow hard. I have no idea why but we ran down to the water’s edge! I think we were going to make sand angels in the sand. The wind was whipping the sand so fast and furious it felt like it was cutting our skin! At one point the wind emptied a nearby garbage can and we were being hit with garbage. Finally, rain drops began to fall. We got in the car and drove to another beach that has a cliff that overlooks the lake. Once we got out of the car we ran down the hill. It felt like we were part of the storm.  We literally danced in the rain. My nieces were running up and down the hill competing with the noise of the thunder. I know this sounds so crazy and weird but it was so in the moment and so freeing. And it made me feel so ALIVE. A couple of weeks later when we went back to the beach to watch the meteor showers and for a midnight pizza picnic the girls said the night we watched the storm roll in was one of the best moments of their whole lives. I would agree.

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I crawled into bed about 2:30 in the morning. As I laid in bed thinking about what we had just experienced, this thought came to mind “I had my nieces and a friend running around on top of a cliff in a lightning storm! They could have been struck by lightning.” 🙂 (I guess I was living “Jesus first, others second, safety third” 😉 )

A few weeks after the storm incident, the annual Perseid meteor shower was happening. I ordered pizza, took blankets and  headed back to the beach with my nieces.  My nephews and some friends joined us for a bit. We laid on the beach from 10p.m. until about 1:30 in the morning. The high school science teacher was at the beach as well and pointed out the International Space station as it passed over the horizon of the lake. Very cool.

As we laid on the blankets, watching the sky, we talked about life. The best moments of their lives (which both said was watching the storm come in), the worst moments, Jesus, school, family. We laughed a lot. We also finally made sand angels! And I added something to my bucket list. Before the summer was done, I wanted to sleep under the stars, on a beach and watch the sunrise. And we did that, too! Over Labor Day weekend, we took our blankets and a tiki torch and slept under the stars on a friend’s beach. We swam at midnight and watched schools of fish jump out of the water when we shined the flashlight on the water. And watched the sunrise in the morning before going to breakfast!

So fun...and sandy

So fun…and sandy

Making sand angels

Making sand angels

Making sand angels

Making sand angels

Nieces and nephew at our midnight pizza picnic.

Nieces and nephew at our midnight pizza picnic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What did I learn from all of this? I learned if you really want to make a difference in the lives of the people you love, you spend time with them. I learned if you really want to disciple people and help them become more like Jesus, you spend time with them. We spend our time looking for short cuts and programs to help people grow in their faith. We need to get back to the basics. How did Jesus do it? He spent time with them. We have to get back to the ministry of hanging out. The apostle Paul said to follow him as he followed Jesus. In order for people to follow us, we need to stay close.

Whose life are you impacting?

Beautiful sunrise.

Beautiful sunrise.

Laptops came with us.

Laptops came with us.

Our little camp on the beach in dawn's light.

Our little camp on the beach in dawn’s light.

The sunrise after sleeping on the beach.

The sunrise after sleeping on the beach.

 

 

Personal Reflections on 9/11

I wrote this a year ago in honor of 9-11. Hope you enjoy.

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9/11. This day impacts me every year. It impacts all of us. It has been 13 years since the planes were flown into the towers, the pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. It seems like yesterday that our security was ripped from us and we realized that we were not untouchable on our own soil. It seems like yesterday we lost over 3,000 of us in less than an hour. It brings me to tears every year. It is a day of reflection for me. It is the day that began the closing of one chapter of my life, preparing for the next.

I was living in Waynesboro, VA at the time on staff at a church. I had just come through a tough season. The battle had been challenging but I had overcome. But not without a cost. I was left with some war wounds…wounds that penetrated the deepest part…

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2014: The Year of Replenishing

The last few weeks of December were very difficult. And it wasn’t just because I struggle with the holidays. It felt like the wheels were coming off of everything in my life. Circumstances led me to complete, overwhelming despair. It felt like I was being attacked on all sides, financially, physically, spiritually, and morally. I didn’t know where to fight first. So I didn’t fight at all.  I would lie in my bed and just sob. I avoided people because I could not keep it together when they would simply ask how I was doing. This is not normal for me. I may have a day or two of being down, but never anything like this. I am a “glass is full” kind of a gal. It was paralyzing. I finally texted and e-mailed a couple of my closest friends to pray for me.

On the spur of the moment, my dear friend and mentor, Harriet, asked me to go to lunch with her right before Christmas. We talked for several hours. As we talked, the clouds began to clear a bit.

Harriet and me at lunch! So love and admire this lady!

Harriet and me at lunch! So love and admire this lady!

I had just come off an amazing Fall. God did some amazing things at our women’s retreat and in our Bible studies. Many women found freedom in Christ. A couple of classes I was involved with at church saw people growing in their faith.  At lunch that day, I was reminded of a quote I heard when I went to Gettysburg  and watched the short movie they show in their visitor center. The movie is entitled A New Birth of Freedom. Morgan Freeman narrates it. He says  “Freedom, like power, will always be contested.” The freedom I had helped others find was being contested in my own life by the enemy of my soul. And as a result, I was tired. A bone-weary, soul crushing tired. And when you’re tired, everything is overwhelming. And it is hard to fight.

There are some big challenges facing me in 2014, (as well as some amazing adventures.)

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The only way I know how to meet a challenge is to walk right into it. My motto tends to be “the only way around a challenge is through it”.

I usually formulate a plan and execute it.

But I have no plan for the challenges that face me.

I feel powerless. Stripped. Tired.

Last Sunday, we had ministry time during our first service. As I prayed with people, I would pray for their next year. I would pray a word that would capture what God wanted to do in their lives. Today, the word that came to mind for my own life was “replenish”. Jeremiah 31:25 says,

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

The word replenish means “to fill something up again” “ freshen” “nourish”.

I get so busy helping others nourish their own soul that I tend to neglect my own. 2014 has to be a year in which I make room for God to replenish every area of my life.

As I write this, I can feel a plan beginning to formulate. And hope is rising. May 2014 be a year of replenishing for us all!!!

Oasis: Making Time to Sit on the Curb

The Dream

Back in March I blogged about Dreams. And how I felt God was calling me to surrender them at His feet. And I did.

A year and a half ago, I began to be coached by one of my mentors. Harriet is our District Supervisor and is one of the godliest women I have ever known. I have such a deep respect and admiration for her. It has been such an honor to be coached by her. This process has been a catalyst to amazing growth in my walk with God, in my leadership skills and in my confidence.

Pastor Harriet - mentor, friend, coach, district supervisor

Pastor Harriet – mentor, friend, coach, district supervisor

The last exercise she had me do was in regards to dreams. Funny how that works. I had to list 10 dreams/things I want to accomplish. It could be anything…professional dreams, spiritual dreams, recreational/hobby dreams, Family, etc. Basically – it was a Bucket List. (Sidenote: God has been so faithful to me. Within three weeks, two of my ten items on my bucket list have become a reality. One of the 10 on my Bucket List is to travel to Israel. And that is becoming a reality in the Spring! (See Israel). Through a process that she walked me through, I whittled it down to 2 out of the 10. From the 2, I had to choose 1 that she could coach me on to help me achieve it. The item on my list I chose was Oasis.

The list of my dreams...

The list of my dreams…

Let me explain my vision for Oasis. I have been in ministry for 16 years. I have been to countless conventions, retreats, and conferences. While I have gleaned many truths and skills from them, I always came away from them more tired than when I went. So much information was downloaded in a short period of time and a lot of talking was done AT me that I never had much time to process through some of the information. The times I was able to process was always at dinner or in our rooms afterwards where you could talk it out with friends. I hope this is making sense and that I am not coming across as critical. Conventions, retreats and conferences are important…I am in the midst of planning our Women’s Retreat now. But I always felt as a woman in ministry I needed something more.

One day I was reading in Scripture where Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt. They were tired in their journey and they came to some water and it was bitter. The Israelites began to complain. God had Moses throw wood in the water and the bitter water became sweet. They continued on their journey and soon came to Elim, which was a place that had 12 springs of water and 70 palm trees. And it says in Scripture that they encamped there by the water. (Exodus 15:22 – 27). They did not stay there long because in the next chapter they set out again. As I read that portion, it struck me that women (and men) as they journey through life get tired. I don’t care how balanced you are, tiredness is inevitable. And chronic tiredness can lead to a whole myriad of problems (bitterness being the one identified in this particular story). And God, in the midst of their journey, provided for the Israelites, an oasis, a break from the journey. That is what I want our women’s ministry at our church to be, an oasis…a break from the routine, where women’s souls can be refreshed. And I thought of women like me who are in ministry. Who are constantly serving and pastoring people along with being a wife and a mom and a daughter, etc. The last thing we need is another conference telling us how to preach better or get more things done or become a better leader (and those conferences are important…we just don’t need one more). And I thought to the times that I was most refreshed….and it led to me being able to verbalize and plan my dream….

I live in the most beautiful place. Summer on the shores of Lake Erie is amazing! Weather is pretty much perfect. There is so much to do.

Lake Erie

Lake Erie

Vermilion River

Vermilion River

Proof I live in the most beautiful place :)

Proof I live in the most beautiful place 🙂

So a “what if” came to me…

WHAT IF I planned a women’s Oasis for a long weekend for 3 to 4 women at a time who are in ministry. A break, a respite from their normal, chaotic, amazing, busy lives. An oasis for refreshing in the midst of their journey. I would rent a cottage on the lake, have things planned but have a very relaxed schedule. I would let the women sleep in as late as they want. Do their devotions on the beach. Eat. Take naps. Reflect. And talk and talk. And pray together.

Oasis would exist to provide:

R:  efreshing

E:  ncouragement

S:  trengthening

T:  ogetherness

This was the dream I had. In my mind I thought it was kind of silly…only 3 or 4 women at a time. It did not seem economically feasible to me. Who would want to come (still struggle with that bit). When I presented it to Harriet, I expected some resistance (why I don’t know). She was so excited for me and helped me set action steps. I then presented it to my Pastor. I was apprehensive about sharing the dream with him simply because it was different and it was not really under my area of responsibilities at the church. Pastor Jim is an amazing man of God and a joy to work with. When I presented him with the vision, he was excited and pledged assistance to help this come to pass. It would not have come to pass and been as successful as it was if it were not for him. I am so blessed to work for a man who encourages his staff to dream and think outside the box. Looking back I don’t know why I was apprehensive. He has a heart for leaders, especially young leaders and invests in them. This fit the mission of our church perfectly!!!

The Reality

Two weekends ago, this dream God gave me became a reality. Two Bible college friends (Brenda and Stasia) from North Carolina came up for the first Oasis. I was nervous but God was so faithful. One of my friends who came is on staff at a church of 3,000 in Cornelius, NC. My other friend who came just started Senior pastoring with her husband for the first time 7 months ago. They were in different places in their journey with different responsibilities but both with the same need of refreshing.

We did a lot of talking (non-stop) and eating (almost non-stop) and relaxing. We prayed. We went to a Cleveland Indians game (someone asked Stasia what kind of women’s retreat goes to a baseball game…her reply “the kind Heidi plans.”) We went kayaking (Stasia is legally blind and for her to be able to kayak was an incredible treat for her. A young man in our church tied his kayak to hers so she could actually kayak and he just guided her. Awesome.)

We sat for hours on the beach.

Morning devotions

Morning devotions

Our home for the weekend

Our home for the weekend

At the Indians game with a young leader from my church!

At the Indians game with a young leader from my church!

Sitting on the  beach

Sitting on the beach

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Praying over Brenda and Stasia

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After dinner with Pastor Jim.

Stasia kayaking!

Stasia kayaking!

Dylon and Stasia leading the way down the river!

Dylon and Stasia leading the way down the river!

Dylon was Stasia guide for kayaking.

Dylon was Stasia guide for kayaking.

 

The Result

 I had prepared for the weekend and knew where we were headed and what I felt the end result was supposed to be but I had a hard time articulating it.

Over the weekend, many stories were shared. Triumphs and trials. Successes and failures.  Joys and pains. Lots and lots of laughter. And Stasia told a story that God really used to identify all that Oasis is meant to be.

Stasia is legally blind and has her own guide dog, Duncan. She also has a white cane to help her as she walks. She has to be one of the most courageous people I know. Her blindness does not slow her down at all! She walks her two sons to the bus stop in the morning. One day, she decided she didn’t need her cane or Duncan. She felt she had done it enough that she would be fine. After the boys got on the bus, she started walking home. She got turned around. Panic began to creep in. She took a deep breath and decided to sit on the curb to get her bearings. As she sat on the curb, she thought about where she had been, where she was currently and what she needed to do to get back home. When we prayed that last evening at the cottage, God brought that story back to my attention. That describes exactly what Oasis  was for us that weekend. We had spent the weekend sitting on the curb reflecting on where we all had been in life and in ministry, where we were now, and what we needed to do to get to where God was taking us. We all needed to leave some things at the curb that weekend. And we left refreshed, encouraged, and strengthened with the knowledge that we are all in this thing called life and ministry together. God is so good!!!

I am looking forward to many more Oasis’ in the future. We have even tossed around the idea of Oasis for men led by Pastor Jim.

Never give up on your dreams and ask God for big ones! Life is too short for regrets!

Dessert First!

I lead our women’s Bible study at church. This session, we are doing Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. In her book, she encourages women to keep a gratitude journal of 1,000 gifts..a 1,000 gifts from God. This exercise is to take place over a year and the gifts are not to be what He has already given you but the daily gifts He so graciously bestows. A thankful heart is a full heart. A thankful life is a full life!

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I went out and bought a journal to keep track of my 1,ooo gifts. Not just any journal but an orange one. Bright and plain. Kind of like me! 🙂 It has been so good for me and my walk with Jesus.

My plain orange journal and my Bible!

My plain orange journal and my Bible!

Here are some of my gifts that I have listed in my bright orange journal:

3. The sound of wind chimes outside my window while I sleep.

8.The Christmas lights at McGarvey’s Landing as they dance on the Vermilion River.

14. Cake that tastes like summer (coconut).

19. Game night with my nieces and nephew. 

26. Finding chocolate in the church cabinet (twix, snickers 🙂 )

37. Praying with people at the altar.

Today I listed #45 of 1,000 gifts.

February 1 will mark 11 years that I have been on staff at my church. That is a long time to be at one place in ministry especially as an associate pastor. I am very blessed to be ministering with the pastoral staff that God has assembled here. Pastor Jim who is my boss/pastor/friend is a good man and a great leader.  He is worth having his own blog but I will wait until it gets close to raise time before I write it 😉     (I’m kidding)

This afternoon, we both attended a ministerial meeting that included a luncheon. As we were getting up to go in the buffet line, Pastor Jim went straight for the desserts. Totally skipped the sandwiches and the chili and the chips. He was a man who knew what he wanted….and he got it. A beautiful looking piece of cherry pie. A feeling of gratitude overwhelmed me. I know that sounds weird but it did. It really speaks of why I have been able to work with him for 11 years. He is a leader who is not afraid to break the rules and take risks for Jesus. He doesn’t always do what’s expected of him (he usually does more).  He enjoys life and people.  So here was my #45 in my gratitude journal:

My entry today.

My entry today.

I am so very glad to be serving alongside a leader who goes for the dessert first.

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