Monday, November 29, 2010

Inspired by Permission to Speak Freely

I took my dog to the baseball fields for a walk today but first I stopped at Arby's to grab a quick lunch. I went through the drive thru and took my sandwhich to the park. I ate in the car while a) I listened to the radio and b) while Cole drooled like a fiend! Author and speaker Anne Jackson was on the radio. She recently wrote a book entitled Permission to Speak Freely. The whole content of the book and the interview was about things people don't feel safe to say in church. Callers were calling in commenting on things she was saying or what people had said in her book or just confessing things they didn't feel they could say in church. It was powerful. And it made me think.

It made me think about my own state of brokenness right now. It made me think of the thoughts that come early in the morning when I'm waking and my rawest voice reigns in my head. It made me think of the thoughts that come in my last waking minutes as I lay my head on my pillow in the silence of the darkness right before sleepiness settles when my spirit is still active. And it made me think of my almost breakdown today in my kitchen that I somehow fought back- choosing avoidance rather than confrontation. Confrontation with whom? I was home alone. With myself? With God? With my spirit that for the past two days is heavy and sorrowful and scared.

I'm not happy. I'm not happy with my life right now. I am hurt, wounded and somewhat broken. I feel like a failure in so many areas of my life and I see the emotionally healthy people around me and it makes me want to crawl back into bed, under the covers and hide. I remind myself daily that life is not about being happy. That is truth. Seek happiness and it will evade you. Think you've found happiness and eventually it will leave you. Happiness is not a faithful companion but a fair weather friend. Life, rather, is about holiness. It's about knowing Christ and loving him more each day. From that stems joy.

And right now, what I wouldn't say at church is this: God scares me. I feel like I've failed him in so many ways. Today was a battle just to get out of bed. The bigger battle was actually taking a shower and getting dressed. But the battle that I lost today was that despite doing each of those things, despite how hard they were, was the battle to be real vs. being numb. Today, Numb won. I am not numb. I think numb is a coping mechanism. Numb is so much easier than hurt. Numb is easier for those around me than scared and broken and self loathing. Numb is real for some people. For me, I wear numb as my mask. And it's easy to forget that it is a mask. Until the Holy Spirit caresses your heart and spirit in your Toyota Corolla in the parking lot of a park with your dog drooling beside you.

No, I am not numb. I am just scared and broken and somewhat depressed. What if God doesn't really love me like I've thought? What if all the things I've dreamed of having and enjoy doing (buying a house, having a baby, being able to buy Christmas presents for loved ones, not having to struggle financially, having a job I actually love and am good at and ENJOY) are just pipe dreams?

I'm in the process of job hunting and you know what? It sucks. I'm sorry, that isn't stated pretty or even well but it sure is true. Every resume sent that doesn't receive a call back feels like a blow of rejection. Every job description read beckons the call of the insecurity inside of me and says, "You aren't the right person for that, you don't have those skills, you are not good enough for that position." It's a battle. A full blown battle.

And even spending time with the Lord is a battle. It has lately become difficult to not think of God's voice like the rest of the voices that sing in my head on a daily basis- the ones that ridicule, question, and tear me down. And the only thing I know to do is to speak truth. It's so hard. It's not always the first thing that comes to mind but it's there. But also, it's a choice to choose truth. To choose to believe God at His word. Today, I did not cling to truth. But as I sit here and type, having poured out my heart in the quietness of this moment this is what I hear, "He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me... He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me... You give me your shield of victory, your right hand sustains me." Psalm 18:16-18, 35

Can you handle complete honesty? Seriously, because I'm letting it all out today- I want to delete this post. Wouldn't it be better for the two people that actually read this blog to not think less of this fumbling, broken, sinner? Wouldn't you like me more if I had it all together? But I don't. Confession: I want to delete that sentence, too. I don't have it all together. I am not perfect. My marriage is not perfect. My friendships are not perfect. My dog- he's the closest thing to perfection in my life and even he struggles. ha!

Today was a rough day. I still feel broken. I am still hurt. Still wounded. But not as heavy as I was 20 minutes ago. For that, I am grateful.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Little Lost Girl, A Hurting Woman, Two Punk Boys, Me & God

This was my Monday: Drove to work, sang my heart out to the new worship cd that Ryan made me, did some work, made a list for the day, opened the store, worked the front end because we were short handed, met two woman who have been friends for twenty years(they were in college together), listened to the one's heartbreak about the loss of her son who had recently committed suicide, shared my testimony, shared the gospel, prayed for them, helped two young guys, found out after they left they stole a $1.99 coffee press, found a little girl running down grant street, brought her to the shop, called the police, walked into a prostitute/drug house behind the shop, only to find another little girl and a woman passed out, watched little girl returned to this woman as she cried for the police man whom she had just met.

And take a breath. Ok, let's slow that down a bit. I drove to work Monday morning worshiping. Truly worshiping the Lord. And this is the song that as I belted it out I prayed the words from the depth of my soul:

Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like You, have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks Yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth to eternity

Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna in the highest

It's taken me all week of processing Monday and asking the Lord to help me understand all the events that unfolded that day. For some reason I thought somehow they would all connect, that there'd be some big picture that just unfolded before me. But I don't think that is it at all. I drove home tonight from Bible study/small group and I was again asking the Lord to reveal more to me about Monday. And as I prayed Hosanna played in the background. Near the end of the song as the above lyrics were sung I felt as if the Holy Spirit was saying, "this is why, Danielle. This was your prayer and I answered it." Wow.

Heal My Heart and Make it Clean:
God doesn't heal things that aren't broken. My heart, it needs fixing. It's wounded and prideful and judgmental. As a kid, I lived with my mom in an apartment in a not so great section of Rochester. Every weekend my grandparents would come and pick me up and I would spend the weekend with them. I don't remember much from that time, because I was so little. But I know that I have a scar on my knee from when my mom left me with an incompetent babysitter that thought it'd be a good idea to shoot bottles with a b.b. gun while I ran loose, no more than three years old. There was time after time when she'd bring me to the city and her friend, Globetrotter, would show up in suburban Rochester, me in tow, giving me back to my grandparents because my mom would be on a drug binge and was unable to care for me. How easily I could have walked in the shoes of this little girl.

Lord, heal my heart from these wounds from when I was so young. Give me a gentle, loving, non-judgmental spirit toward those who are making the same choices that my mom made. I know I can't be a vessel of your love and peace when I spend my time judging and condemning them. Forgive me. And give a clean, pure heart. Amen.

Open Up My Eyes To The Things Unseen:
I drive to the Westside of Buffalo almost every day. I've heard about the things that go on. I've heard stories of filthy houses, abuse, neglect, bad parenting, drugs, gangs, etc. Logically, I know that there is spiritual warfare going on. Logically, I know that there is evil around me every day. But I don't truly believe it. That is what it comes down to. We act out of what we believe, not out of what we know. If I believed there was evil, I would pray more. I would pray for my employees more, pray for my customers, pray against the evil around me. But truth be told, I don't know that. Not enough. But then, one Monday afternoon I find a little girl, two years old, running down grant street wearing socks and carrying her shoes. Her purple corduroys were soaked with urine and poo. her pink shirt was wet from the rain and her face was dirty. She sobbed on the sidewalk as two young men tried to find out where she came from and whose she was. My instinct kicked in and I scooped her up and spoke tenderly to her. I knew this little girl had been neglected. I knew that when her urine soaked diaper soaked through my sweater, t-shirt and tank top that I was wearing. I knew that because no one had cared to wipe her mouth after she had drank something that made her lips and face sticky. I knew this because she was running the street alone and there was no adult that knew her in sight.

But it wasn't until a man came and told me he found the house she'd wandered out of. Someone had seen her come out of a house. After he'd gone over, pounded on the door and found it open, he saw another little girl who was around 4 years old. He came and got me. We went back. He pounded on the door full force and no one answered. No one moved. He pushed open the door and there I saw this beautiful little girl. All around her, all around this beautiful little girl was filth. Squalor. There was so much stuff on the floor that didn't even seem to be a path to walk. Pillows, clothes, garbage were all strewn about. And then I saw it. I saw a leg. And I took another slow step in the door and there she was. A woman. passed out on the couch. After uttering some words I don't remember she slowly stirred. She seemed to be confused. Very confused. And when I asked her if she was missing a little girl. She looked around confused and asked me what she looked like. I told her. She didn't even seem worried. She simply said, "Oh, yeah." I left and went back to the shop. It was almost 15 minutes before the woman came over. Luckily, the police officer had shown up first.

It was that piece of this experience that opened my eyes to the evil around me in the city of Buffalo. It was the confirmation from someone that the house I walked into was a drug and prostitute house. I had heard the words, heard the stories but it took connecting with a little girl and actually seeing her situation firsthand to truly grasp the spiritual evil, the battle that wages each and every day.

Lord, you've opened my eyes to some things unseen and it breaks my heart. I can't even imagine how your heart must break. Teach me to pray for the things I can't see and the things I don't fully understand. Lord, allow me to continue to see things the way that you do and to remember that there is a very real spiritual battle going on around me. Amen.

Show Me How To Love Like You Have Loved Me:
Jesus came and he healed, he loved, he invested. He provided, he served, he obeyed his Father and he sacrificed his life so that we could experience a personal relationship with God. How could I ever love like that? How could I ever love like God has loved me? The truth is, I can't. At least, not on my own strength. But if I allow the Lord to have hold of my heart and of my life then He can certainly love through me. And I believe that is what happened on Monday. The Lord reached out to me when I was broken and hurting. I had been abandoned and lonely and very much a like in many ways to a small child running aimlessly and lost through a city she doesn't know how to navigate. He protected me and rescued me. He gave me hope when I was hopeless and He spoke sweetly to me- words of truth. Words of life.

I picked up that little girl without really thinking. I spoke tenderly to her because she was scared and lost. And because that is what I knew because that is what God did to me. My employees gave her some food and something to drink and we changed her out of her dirty, wet clothes into a new outfit. Love is practical. Love is action. Monday, I learned a little more about loving like Jesus.

Lord, your love is amazing. Your love has set my heart free and Your love has transformed my life. Help me to be a vessel that You love people through. Give me the courage, the strength and the vulnerability to love others as you love them. Amen.

Break My Heart For What Breaks Yours:
This was the line that I belted out harder than any other as I drove to work. I prayed for this. And the Lord answered. What breaks God's heart? God is a Father. When His children hurt it breaks His heart. When the innocent are abused or neglected His heart breaks. And as I carried this little girl down the street, my heart broke. When I saw the conditions she had been in that day, my heart broke. And when I saw the lack of care from the woman who was supposed to be taking care of her, my heart broke. When I realized that her very mother had left her with this woman, who was apparently her "aunt", my heart broke. And I can't get this little girl out of my heart.

Lord, keep my heart tender to the things that happen in this world. And out of this brokenness remind me that you are sovereign, loving and good. Lord, change my heart to be more like yours and to walk through this life with a similar heart and mind as Jesus. I love that You care so deeply for your children. Help me to live selflessly and to be faithful to you. Amen.

Everything I Am For Your Kingdom's Cause:
I'm still working this one out. But I know that all that I am has little to do with me and a lot, well, everything, really, to do with Jesus. So, my life, my actions, my words, my pain, my past, my present and future can be used for God's glory. To share with others the fact that if this broken, sinful girl can find peace, love and redemption in God, anyone can. Because it's all about Jesus. It's why I can share my testimony with a hurting woman who has lost her son and know that the only reason that I am who I am is because of the Lord. I can honestly tell her that without Jesus I would still be broken and grieving and full of hopelessness. God has redeemed me. He's redeemed all that hurt in my past. And He wants to do the same with her.

Lord, remind me daily that this life is not about me. Remind me that I am not here to serve myself. I'm here to serve You. To bring You glory and that is something that just amazes me. Thank you that you have given your children a purpose. Thank you that You are a God of redemption and that Your word says that when we repent and turn to You there will be times of refreshing (Acts). Thank You that You have a plan and a purpose for my life and that in Isaiah it says that I am to be an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of Your splendor. You are good. Amen.

Lots to process. The little girl was returned to the "aunt" and the officer said he'd have to report the incident to Child Protective Services. He said he was familiar with the house. And just as quickly as I swept the little girl into my arms she was gone. Back into the suffering that for a few moments she was out of.

The woman who had lost her son hugged me tightly before getting into her rental car. She clasped her hand over her heart and said for the first time in a while she had a sense of peace.

And the two boys that stole from my shop have not been back. And as much as I was angry with them, aren't they just as lost and hurting as anyone else? Don't they need someone to pray for them, too? Do I want to? No. Am I called to? Somehow, after the events of Monday I can't sweep it under the rug and chalk it up to coincidence that all three things happened on the same day. I've asked God to change my heart. In all honesty, between you and me, I'm resisting. I want to be mad. I want to be angry at them because there is true poverty and suffering and they felt the need to steal a cheap item that isn't a necessity. Loving the unlovable. I'm not quite there yet. But God is calling me deeper and after all of this I know that obedience brings blessing and that God loved me while I was very unlovable.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sweet Dreams

We were standing in my kitchen. The exact kitchen that I cook in each day. There was a pot on the stove and food on the counter and we were busy preparing a meal. I had a flashback of my second grade school picture and when I looked at the counter there it was. And next to it was a picture of her. We looked alike. I had pig tails and light brown hair in the picture and I had her eyes. She commented how I looked just like her as she smiled slightly and then went back to stirring the pot. I stepped to the other side of her and just breathed her in. This moment of sweet silence between mother and daughter filled me with joy. What a gift to just be near her. I breathed her in and while my mind raced with specific questions all I could speak was, "I have so many questions."

She turned her head and looked straight into my eyes and she smiled. I reached out my hand and I lightly touched her arm. Was there ever a moment that was sweeter? Was there ever a moment that reached deeper into my soul. I was swept up in it and yet it was like pouring honey out of a jar- slow, sweet and quiet. I loved her. All I ever wanted was in that moment; time with my mother that consisted of cooking and smiling and a gentle touch. I was restored and there was no wound in my heart.

I awoke from that dream slowly. I drifted awake and the realness of it, the sweetness of it lingered with me as I lay in bed, processing that it was indeed a dream. It's funny to me that a dream so tender, so meaningful, so light but rich can, for the rest of the day, lay heavy on my heart. But that is exactly what it did.

In that dream was the first time I had ever cooked with my mother. It was the first time in a dream where my mom appeared that I was not yelling. It was the first dream with her, since I was ten years old, that I felt peace and simplicity and joy. And that is what made it so incredibly hard to wake up to the reality of my loss. It is as if life goes on in this fairly straight, nice line. And as more time passes I am used to my routine, my life and my past. I like my life. I am incredibly blessed in so many ways and the Lord has been good to me. But then, a simple dream makes it's mark on a Thursday morning, and I am thrown off balance. The wound I've carried for 19 years feels a little more tender than I am used to and suddenly, I feel a little lonely.

I don't know what I am to take from this experience. I am still processing it. This is what I know- at 29 years old, 19 years after my mother died I still miss her. I still have days when I long to see her and talk to her. And I have moments when I am in awe of the Lord for delivering me from the life that I could have lived had she lived. I drive to the West side of Buffalo every day. I see what the girls wear, how they talk and the strollers that most of them push. How easily that could have been me. Somehow, there was freedom in her death to allow me to live a "normal" life and to grow up in an area where everyone wasn't having babies at 15. There was good that resulted from my horrendous loss (good meaning beneficial, not enjoyable). Oh, but the sweetness to stand beside her all grown up and to cook a meal with her. There are still things that I have to grieve. I thought I had grieved most of them when I first went to counseling. I made a list of all the loss that resulted from the loss of my mother (not having a mom to take me prom dress shopping, go out for coffee with, go Christmas shopping with, teach me how to put on make up, buy the right bra size, coordinate an outfit, know when a guy liked me, encourage me, discipline me, watch chick flicks with, etc). But being a little older there are new things I am realizing I am missing out on.

Perhaps I will need to make a new list and maybe part of what the Lord is trying to teach me is that this is never over. That to think I am just over it is silly and prideful. I will always need to rely on Him for strength and healing and that in the midst of my sadness and loss I can still turn to Him and find His goodness. "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord for he has been good to me." Psalm 13:5-6


Monday, August 2, 2010

The Heaviness of the Battle

I almost died last night. Ok, I'm being dramatic. I didn't almost die. Allow me to rephrase. Last night I had an experience that made my heart race (see, it just doesn't sound as good as the first sentence). It was a beautiful summer night. Warm and humid. The kind of night where the clouds are whisped across the sky, light and clear. The kind of night where the air is heavy on your chest and you long for a warm summer rain. I love summer nights. So, I took Cole (the furry, four-legged love of my life) for a walk. We went a longer route than I normally take him in the morning and we went down a street that I normally don't take him down.

I should say that earlier in the day, at church, the sermon was very heavy. There was a lot of truth that lay heavy on my heart and I was loving the chance to just walk with Cole and process. I was caught up in my head (and loving every minute of it!). Well, we walked by an old brown house with three young adults on the porch. A young man in a wheel chair, a young girl and another young man. They looked as if they were in their twenties and they were joking around. The one guy lifted the girls chair and acted as if he was going to tip her over. They were yelling and joking and swearing. And for a moment I was out of my head and observing them. But just for a moment and then I went right back to my thoughts.

Now, this old brown house, with the three people on the porch was a corner lot and had a fenced in yard. On our normal route I know pretty much where every dog lives and the type of dog it is. And I normally know something about the owner. For example, two houses down from us lives Cleo, a German Shepard. Cleo's owner is a louder middle aged woman that yells at Cleo to stop barking when we walk by. She likes to yell, "Cleeeeooooo, stop barking. Stop jumping on the siding. I am NOT buying new siding because of you." Cleo likes to bark, run and jump with her two paws hitting the side of the house. At the end of another street lives a yellow lab that gets very excited when we walk by and likes to bark and spin in circles. The owner often takes the lab for a car ride in the morning. And my favorite dog lives kiddie corner across from us. He is a little black pug named... Bo-Bo. Bo-Bo has gotten out of his yard several times and each times just wants to come over and say hi. I will scoop him up and return him. Bo-Bo's owners are for the most part friendly and apologize for his escape.

However, I didn't know this yard. I didn't know these three young adults and I certainly didn't know the large, furry black dog that out of nowhere was running along the fence barking at Cole and me with his fur standing up. In fact, I was so in my head that I didn't even see the dog run over to the fence. I heard, "You better watch out" and then I looked and there was this giant, fierce dog. I pulled Cole away from the fence telling him to, "Come on... come on, come on, Cole." We were crossing the street when out of the corner of my eye I saw something. I turned my head a little and saw the one young man run to the fence and LEAP over it. In that moment I couldn't understand why he was running towards me and why he hopped a fence in a way that I've only seen done in the movies. But when he stopped in the middle of the road, crouched down, arms extended, I saw it. I saw why. The fierce black dog had gotten out of the back of the fence and was running at Cole and me. His fur was still standing straight up and his fangs were exposed.

I was frozen. Fight or flight? I chose frozen still, heart racing. And any thoughts I had been lost in before were gone. My mind was blank. The dog dodged the young man and ran to his left. The young man ran toward the dog and about three feet from me did a sliding tackle and literally tackled the dog to the ground. He stood up holding the dog under his front legs. Let me reiterate that. This guy TACKLED the dog. He tackled the dog and held him back. What did I do? I just started to walk away.

I felt in those moments after fear, relief, adrenaline, and a protectiveness that comes from loving another being, in this case, my two year old black lab. So, you see, I didn't almost die, but it was quite the experience. And this is what the Lord spoke to my heart, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." 1Peter 5:8

A near dog attack warranted a lesson on spiritual warfare. Crazy? I don't know. But as I prayed on the walk home this is what I took from that experience. On my walk, I was not alert. I was in my own little world, consumed by my thoughts. And even though I was processing truth from a sermon I was still in my own little world. And out of nowhere comes this "roaring lion". But was it really out of nowhere? No. The dog saw us before I saw him. The dog ran at us before I even saw it. And the dog knew the hole in the fence and saw clearly the path to get to us. I saw none of that. I was not on my guard. Do you know what happens to people who aren't on their guard? They get attacked. But, thankfully, that young man was on his guard. He saw the events unfolding, he was alert and he was well aware of the action he needed to take. That is what living life on guard and alert looks like. Me? I am the example of what not to do.

Do you know the beauty of those events and that truth from God last night? Today, today was a day that was filled with spiritual warfare. As I stepped into work today until the time I left I was faced with the heaviness of the battle going on around me. I am tired. I feel a little weary. I caught glimpses of the battle going on around our shop. I caught a glimpse of the battle going on for this one young man's soul. And in the midst of that heaviness God graciously gave me the opportunity to share the gospel. To speak truth in the midst of darkness and hopelessness and to drive home laying it all before Him.

The battle does not belong to me. But to think I have no part in it is wrong. The battle belongs to the Lord. We are to live self-controlled and alert because we have a very real enemy. But in the midst of the battle we are to stand firm in the faith, knowing full well that God is victorious and the battle belongs to him. I love the verse in Exodus when the Egyptians are pursuing the Israelites. The Israelites cry out to God and say that it would have been better for them to stay in Egypt (captivity) than to be here being pursued by the Egyptian army. Moses says to them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." Moses speaks these words and then the Lord speaks to Moses and says, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on...." Then God delivers the Israelites. I believe in the midst of the battle I need my heart to be still, and to know who the deliverance and the victory belongs to. But also, there is action in war. The Lord told Moses to have the Israelites "move on," and I think that in battle I am to fight with a still heart. How does that work? I'm still wrestling through this, but I think, that maybe, I am to have a "still heart" while every other part of me is fighting as hard as it can. Perhaps it looks like a peace filled heart in the midst of war. It's knowing in the midst of a very real battle that whatever happens, ultimately, the victory belongs to God. He is bigger than the battle. He is bigger than the enemy and he's bigger than my fight or flight response.

I don't know how I did today in the battle. I do know this- the heaviness of the battle did not create a hopelessness in me. The darkness that was present did stop me from seeing the light. And standing firm in the faith today meant speaking words of hope and life to someone that was hurting. To someone whose soul is hopeless. Words like, "why even go on living?" are not from God. They are from the one that seeks to steal, kill and destroy. And my prayer today is that the Holy Spirit would sow seeds and allow hope and truth to penetrate even the deepest parts of this hopeless soul. May the truth and simplicity of the gospel take root in this soul. Join me in fighting this battle and standing firm in the faith. Pray that the truth, light and love of Jesus would be incredibly real to the young adults on the West Side of Buffalo. We need only be still. Lift up our prayers. Seek God and know that He is bigger and the battle is his. To Him be the glory.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Where is Dad?

It's that time of year again. It's the day where cards are given, Home Depot gift cards are bought and families are grilling. All to celebrate their dads. It is the day that for years never meant anything to me. When you grow up having never met your father it becomes just another day. In high school it meant the day where most of my friends couldn't hang out. But in my house it was, truly, just another day.

Growing up without a dad definitely sets one apart. I mean, at least in suburban Webster. Some of my friends had parents that were divorced but as much as I can remember they all had relationships with their fathers. I have never met my dad. Well, I was told that once, at a birthday party when I was little he was there. I just didn't know he was my dad. The story goes that I asked him to fix my watch. I don't remember that. I don't remember him.

I've always thought that not having a dad was better than having a really horrible father. And that might be true. Instead of learned dysfunction, in a way, I just had a blank slate. As I grew older the void of not having a dad hit me. It came in college during my toughest semester when I was struggling with depression. I felt the need to overcome. And so, I did some digging and I found out all the information I could. When I finished information gathering I prayed. And I prayed. Yet, there was still a restlessness in my soul. So, I got an extra Bible, I grabbed a friend, and we drove into a bad section of Rochester, pulled up in front of his house, and took a very deep breath.

I was 21 years old when I showed up on my father's doorstep, Bible in hand, ready to share the hope I had found in God with the one who never wanted me. I had written a little note on the inside cover and I let him know that I forgave him. I thought that perhaps, he might feel bad about having a daughter but never being a dad. His sister answered the door. His sister, whom I looked like, answered the door and just stared at me. "Hi, is this where James Kelley lives?" She answered yes. "Hi. I'm Danielle. I'm his daughter."

Talk about awkward. Talk about feeling as if life was moving in slow motion. Talk about my stomach twisting in knots, my heart about to leap out of my chest and run back to the car. In that moment I put everything on the table. I left myself completely vulnerable. But I knew there was no other choice. I needed to do it in order to grow and to overcome my personal struggle and anger over not having a dad. It wasn't about what his sister said. It wasn't even about what would happen with him. It was really only about knowing what I needed to do and being obedient to the Lord.

In what seemed like minutes but was only probably seconds, his sister (Sharon), my aunt, began to cry and hugged me. She invited us in to her house (where my father lives) and she was sweet to me. She gave us a tour and showed us his bedroom (it was messy). She sat at the kitchen table and talked and asked questions and she took pictures of me with her disposable camera. I learned that this man liked the Simpsons and that he worked on cars. I learned that she had lost a son. I learned that he didn't really ever believe that I was his daughter. And after a few hours she gave us $20 to grab dinner on our way home.

I'd go back two more times to try to meet him. Both times he wouldn't be home. And I would learn through Sharon that he didn't understand what he had done that he needed forgiveness for. It was after that that the Lord graciously gave me peace and that I knew the goal of my journey was not a relationship with James. It was in letting go and trusting God to be the healer of all of my wounds.

I stood in church today remembering all of that like it was yesterday. I still remember the black sweater coat I wore on that first visit. I felt hurt today as I stood in church, voices ringing out around me, praising God. And the Holy Spirit covered me as I realized this: while growing up without a dad does leave a blank slate, it also attributed to all of my self-esteem, lack of self worth issues. Imagine being a little girl living in a world of chaos. A princess who needs to be rescued. But no one comes for her. What did I learn? I wasn't worth the effort. I wasn't worth being fought for. I was easily forgettable and who would want to be my friend or love me or date me if my own father didn't even want me.

I lived for years believing those thoughts. That was the truth in the world I lived. And do you know something? That could still be the truth. It was, after all, affirmed when I went back the third time to meet James, when I learned of his heart attitude of not understanding my forgiveness. Oh, the sweetness of the forgiveness I extended. It took everything in me, to daily surrender the hurt to the Lord and to be able to come to a place where I could offer it and truly mean it. And it was as if he just took my beautifully wrapped package that took 21 years to put together and left it on the doorstep. He didn't want it. He didn't need it. Oh, but the gift it would have been!

I'd like to share with you the passion I feel in my heart at this very moment as I sit here and type this blog- I don't feel any ill feelings towards James. I feel a little sad for him that he missed out on me. I don't mean to be conceited or boastful. But I think I could have blessed him. I think I could have been a blessing to him. He will never know that. I am ok with that. And this is why. Because at 21 years old, as my friend drove me to Rochester, I spent the hour ride reading God's word and praying. And this is what God spoke to my heart that day:

"Sing to God, sing praise to his name,

extol him who rides on the clouds a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a]
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

6 God sets the lonely in families, b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b]
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

God is a father to the fatherless. At 17 years old I realized that. My earthly father didn't fight for me. And though I could still choose to believe the lies that I am not worth it, My heavenly Father speaks the truth that I am worth it. God fought for me. He fought for you. "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life," John 3;16. Romans 5:8 says this, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us."

There was a spiritual battle raging and you and I, our lives were at stake. And unlike my earthly father, our Heavenly Father loved us too much to leave us. He knew exactly what it would take to rescue us. The King was ready to fight for his princess. He sent His only Son to pay the price to set us free. Because He is God. Because He is good and simply because He loves us.

The truth is, I am worth it. Not because of anything I have done or will do. I am worth it because my Heavenly Father thinks I am. The truth is you are worth it, too. It's a beautiful gift straight from God and the choice is to let it sit on the doorstep, unopened. Or to accept the gift of His Son, which, by the way, means having the humility to admit you need the gift. My earthly father missed out because he chose to not accept the gift of my forgiveness, which is so limited by my ability as a human to love and bless. But God's ability is not limited! And the gift of a relationship with Him is a gift worth accepting. It's worth every bit of surrender and humility it takes to receive it.

So, as I stood in church today feeling hurt this is what the Holy Spirit covered my spirit with, "Your Heavenly Father thinks you are worth it. He fights for you every day. He has put you in a family. I love you."

Our God is a consuming fire,
A burning holy Flame, with glory and freedom
Our God is, the only righteous judge,
Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom

We will keep our eyes on You
We will keep our eyes on You

Chorus
A mighty fortress is our God
A sacred refuge is Your Name
Your Kingdom is unshakable
With You forever we will reign

Verse 3

Our God is, jealous for His own
None could comprehend, His love and His mercy
Our God is exalted on His throne
High above the heavens
Forever He's worthy...

Bridge
We will keep our eyes on You
We will keep our eyes on You
So we can set our hearts on You
Lord we will set our hearts on You!

Redemption- that word gives me goosebumps! A father to the fatherless. He places the lonely in families. God has given me a wonderful husband that I am so grateful for. But do you know what else He blessed me with? I married into a family that loves God and loves me. Do you know that I prayed so hard to marry into a good family. I so wanted to be a part of something that was different from what I knew. And God did just that! He blessed me with in-laws that are beyond what I ever even asked for. My father-in-law has been an incredible father to his boys and to me. And I am brought to tears right now thinking that someday, when I have kids, they will have a great father. And Ryan will be a great father, because he's had a great father. And my children will not live the legacy of dysfunction and abandonment. That cycle ends with me. No, they will know of a Heavenly Father that thinks they are worth it. They will have parents that think they are worth it and they will have grandparents who think they are worth it. And it's all because of the Lord, the gift of Jesus and the ever present, ever working presence of His spirit.

So, Happy Father's Day, Heavenly Father. Love, your princess. xoxo

Monday, June 14, 2010

Death is a funny thing. It doesn't discriminate. Sometimes it gives fair warning and other times it just shows up. But it always leaves a sting. Always. Even for the ones that know they will leave this temporary place called Earth and go to Heaven. It stings for their loved ones. It stings the hearts of the ones who walked with them here and who laughed and cried and shared moments with them. And sometimes it stings for the ones who didn't know the life, but know loss all too well.

I remember the summer that I went away to summer project in college. I spent three months with a bunch of students I had just meant. As I left to go to Wildwood, New Jersey, a friend told me to make sure that it hurt to say good-bye come late July. Because then I would know that I had truly invested myself in others. That I had been impacted. And that my time had mattered. Come July I cried for days. My new found soul mates and I laughed and remembered and we wept at the thought that we'd have to leave each other.

I believe life should be lived in such a way that when your time comes it should hurt. Life is about relationships and when we come to the end of our lives I believe that the measure of our life can be measured by how much we loved and poured into others. Did we obey Christ's command to love God and to love others? If we did, then it will be hard to say good-bye. The hope is that we are leaving to go to spend eternity with the One that loves us beyond what we can comprehend. We are leaving for a better place- and there is incredible hope in that.

On Friday, June 11th, a 15 year old boy died. Fifteen years old. Let that sink in. He stood at a bus stop on the West side of Buffalo around 1pm. And he was gunned down by another boy on a bike. His name is Jawaan Daniels. I didn't know him. In fact, I've never actually seen him. But I can tell you this, his death has left a sting in my heart. Despite the fact that this murder happened in broad daylight, on a sunny afternoon, kiddie corner across from the place I work, I didn't see anything. I heard two boys yelling. I heard gunfire (that sadly, this suburban girl thought at first was fireworks) and the next thing I knew my board chair, who happened to be in town for a meeting, opened the door and told me to lock down the shop.

We locked the door and waited. And the 6-8 minutes it took the police to come seemed like an hour. Grant street was buzzing. People crawled out of the wood work to see what was happening. My director came in the building, after running over to the boy and praying over him until the police came, and let us know he had passed away.

People can and will speculate. Drugs. Gang related. Thug. I don't know. And what keeps running through my mind is, he was just 15. 15 years old. If this was in the suburbs, you'd hear people saying, "He had his whole life ahead of him." You don't hear that much in the city. People assume that he must have already been caught up in some pretty heavy stuff to be dead at the age of 15. And maybe that is true. But the truth is, it doesn't matter.

I can speak from experience. I grew up with a drug-addicted mother that was constantly high or leaving me. She was verbally unkind many, many times in my ten years of life. She hurt the people that loved her most- her parents, her sister, and me. She robbed from them. She robbed from me. Favorite stuffed panda bear- sold to the consignment shop for drug money. College fund started by my grandparents- emptied for drug money. But the truth is this, when she was robbed and then murdered by three teenage boys it didn't make it hurt less because she was not a saint. Death still stung. And it isn't the right of any person to decide who should live or who should die. That decision belongs to the Lord. But we humans have a funny way of taking what isn't ours and deciding the value on a life.

So, I wept for Jawaan because he was created in God's image. And he barely had a chance at life, let alone a second chance. God is a god of second chances and it hurts my heart that this boy may not have known that. He may not have known that while we were still sinners Christ died for us and that in God is hope, redemption, love, peace, joy, refuge and abundant life. His cup never got a chance to overflow. And whether he was a thug or an altar boy it shouldn't have been up to someone else to take his life away.

I am grateful that in those last moments of Jawaan's life there was a godly presence praying over him. I am grateful that, even though I don't know him, his death left a sting. My heart has not been hardened by great loss throughout my life. And the sting in my heart reminds me that it matters what we're trying to do on the West side of Buffalo. Christ didn't come for the healthy. It's the sick that need a doctor. And it's the drug infused, gang banging, prostitute walking, theft minded, gun buying, murder ridden streets of Buffalo that need to hear and experience the love and the hope of Jesus Christ. It's the same people killing and being killed that need to hear that life is found in Jesus. Abundant, overflowing, sweet, life. And in the midst of tragedy, sorrow and death's sting is a light and a freedom that comes only from laying down your rights and your lusts and your greed and admitting that you need a savior.

So, I will build relationships with the young people that step into my life through On the Job Ministries. And when my time comes, or theirs, whichever one comes first, I pray that it will be hard to say good-bye. And I will have laid it all down for the Lord. And I pray, that through God's great mercy, through Jawaan's death would come a work of the Lord and all the glory to Him. He is good. even when death leaves a sting.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

She Always Loved Pink

She always loved pink. It was her favorite color. I still remember a pink t-shirt she used to wear with kittens on it and pussy willows. It's silly, isn't it? The things one remembers 19 years after their mother dies. I remember her hands and how the tips were yellowed from smoking and how her nails were always chewed down. A nervous habit, perhaps? I remember her hair and how even though she was only 38 years old it was thinning.

Then there are the things I don't remember. I don't remember her laugh. I don't remember her telling me she was proud of me or what a wonderful kid I was. I don't remember feeling loved all those times she walked away- the need for a fix greater than the needs of her daughter. I don't remember her apologizing for the every school event, parent teacher conference, or big moment in my life that she missed.

19 years later as a grown woman, I still miss having a mommy. And it hits me at the oddest moments. I'm fine. Going about my daily routine and then it hits me. It can be seeing a mother and daughter checking out together at JoAnn Fabrics sharing a coupon or watching a show on tv where a mother and daughter "have a moment" and I'm back there. I'm ten again and she is gone and the ache in my heart that should have healed after 19 years aches again. It can be something like getting a promotion or a new job or as deep and important as shopping for a wedding dress when I am reminded, or rather, slapped in the face, by the fact that I don't have a mom.

I realized something the other day and it may seem odd. But bare with me for a moment. Growing up, for as long as I can remember, I just wanted to be loved. I wanted to live in a fairy tale and be swept off my feet. I wanted to fall in love and leave town and be someone new. New life, new love, new heart. But that wasn't what happened. I was never "that girl". You know the one I am talking about- the beauty who wins the prince. The head cheerleader who dates the captain of the football team. There was no prince charming to take me to the prom or ask me out. No sweet high school love moments. There was no winning over any boys, really. I was broken. Emotionally high maintenance and if there is something that guys can sense, it's that. And they stayed away.

Every now and then I'll be watching a chick flick or an episode of glee and I feel a twinge in my heart. Like there is part of me that is still 16 and still longing for that swept off your feet moment. It's funny because I fell in love. I got married. I love my husband and I am grateful for him every day. But do you know what it comes down to? He's not enough. I don't mean that to sound harsh. It is the truth. But the truth is also this- a swept away moment isn't what I'm truly longing for. The root of that twinge in my heart is the hole where a fathers love should have filled. It's the place where a Dad pours love and truth and confidence into his daughter. It's the place where a Dad teaches a daughter to throw a ball and the rules of a football game and it's the place where when her car breaks down He comes to help her and to teach her how to change a tire. It's a place that was never filled for me.

Here is also the truth, while Ryan will never be enough, and he shouldn't be, God is enough. My Heavenly Father, who formed me in His image is enough. And while I still don't know how to change a tire and I'm not very good at sports, He loves me just the same. And He is also the only one who can heal these wounded parts of me. I remember the night I met Him. I sat on the rocks in the Adirondacks and I sobbed. I was so mad and hurt. All of my emotional baggage pouring out before me. And He met me. It didn't scare Him away. The God of the universe met me and He wrapped His arms of love around me. And right then and there He gave me a new heart. I was a new creation. My longing was met then. There is still work to be done in my heart. There are still the aches that I need to continue to lay down before Him and ask Him to heal. But I am grateful that in the midst of the aches He is still God. In the midst of the hurt He knows my heart better than I ever will. And He is the only one who can handle all of my emotional baggage! God's love is the greatest love story I will ever know and I am humbled that I have a role in His story.

"But God demonstrates His own love for us in this- while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

She Always Loved Pink

I used to sit on her lap
Arms of love embraced me,
The miniature version of herself
Arms of addiction, black and blue
Her gray blue eyes never reflected light
Her nails were bit down
tiny nubs
of hard skin
Where there should have been nails painted pink
She loved pink
light, soft, pure pink
I buried my face into her sweater
Inhaling scents that I didn't know then
would still bring me back there
Stale cigarette smoke- marlboro's
A light spray of Jovan's white musk
Scents that aren't as strong now
Lightly fading away as her lap became numb
The black and blue now just blackness

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rhubarb Crisp & Fears

I made rhubarb crisp tonight. Well, truth be told, I am still making it. It's in the oven as I type. And I am so looking forward to eating some tonight. I wish I could say it is the perfect night for rhubarb crisp, but it isn't. It hit the high 80's today and it's still hot in our house. We have two fans going and it's still warm and sticky.

And, despite that, I still decided to turn on the oven to 350 degrees and bake. In fact, I decided to bake even though I really don't feel well. I've had a sinus headache all day and a sore throat that started last night. And despite the fact that my body is telling me to stop, my brain keeps telling me to keep going. Keep moving. Keep being busy, because the moment I stop is the moment the thoughts and the fears settle.

My friend, Kristie, who is battling breast cancer that has metastasized in her hip emailed out an update this morning. After a weekend of experiencing blurred vision and several headaches she is going for an MRI tomorrow on her brain. Apparently, breast cancer can metastasize in your brain and they have not yet checked for lesions there.

Let that sink in. I sat at my computer this morning at work and I waited. I don't know what I was exactly waiting for. I think I was waiting for an emotion. Or to just start sobbing uncontrollably. But nothing happened and within two minutes I knew I had to keep going. I had to compartmentalize and work through today. Then, tonight, tonight I could fall apart. The problem is, I'm not ready to process this information. I'm not quite ready to "go there" and so in the midst of an 80 degree day when every fan in our house is on, I decided to bake rhubarb crisp.

I focused on each ingredient. I sliced the stringy rhubarb and smelled the freshness of each stalk that Ryan had just cut from our yard. I felt the brown sugar, rolled oats, cinnamon and melted butter crumbled beneath my finger tips. I smelled the sweet sugar and vanilla cook together on the stove top, creating even more heat than the oven set at 350 degrees. And I stood in my kitchen sweating. And avoiding.

Ryan asked me if I thought about how Emilie and Daniel were doing. Of course I had. The question should have been, "Have you stopped thinking for one second about the Rushes?" And without having to explain my irrational behavior he simply said, "Am I bringing up something you are trying to escape?" And with that, my sweet husband went to play video games.

It's not that I won't process. It's not that I have to avoid. The truth of the matter is that God is bigger than this. God's word tells me to cast all my anxiety on Him because He cares for me. And my fears don't compare to my God. So, tonight I will spend some time with the Lord. I will lay it down at His feet- every fear, every question, every tear, and I will offer it to Him as an act of obedient worship to the Only One who can handle all of it. And through heavy sobs, I am sure, I will offer up to the Lord, some honest and faith filled prayers for my dear friends. And then, I will eat some of my irrationally made rhubarb crisp and I'm sure I will be exhausted.

21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 1 John 3:21-24

Saturday, May 15, 2010

One Sentence Can Change Everything

"Danielle, it's not good news." Breathe. Breathe. No, for real, BREATHE. I don't remember what I even said. I remember she said, "I've got to go. I'm trying to make some doctor's appointments. I'll call you later, sweetie." And we hung up. And then I started sobbing. Uncontrollably. I sat in a small yellow chair, holding my phone, and I sobbed. Like a little girl. And I hadn't cried like that in a long time.

It was a beautiful sunny Thursday morning and I had a 9:30 am chiropractor appointment. I got there and went right in and sat in that small yellow chair waiting for Dr. Tammy, my chiropractor. I am almost always happy on days when I see Dr. Tammy. For one, I know that any pain or discomfort will get better but also, she is a ray of sunshine and I just love her. So, on the car ride to the appointment I blasted the Glee Soundtrack and I sang my heart out. And I thought, "I really like today." It's funny how one sentence can change everything. Everything. One small sentence can change life as you know it and the future as you've planned it.

I've known Kristie for eleven years. I first met her when I was a senior in high school and heavily involved in Young Life in my town. Kristie and her husband Chad came on as volunteer Young Life leaders half way through that year along with their best friends, Laura and John. And from the moment they stepped into that role, I, along with pretty much every other Young Lifer in Webster loved them. They were young, cool, fun and they kept showing up, which, as a high schooler, means the world. Although I met Kristie when I was 18 and I got to know her a little bit when I transferred from Niagara University to Monroe Community College my Sophomore year in college it wasn't until her and Chad moved to Buffalo in 2005 that I would really get to know her and she would become an integral part of my life.

In 2005 I was working for Young Life in Hamburg and Kristie, Chad and their two little ones moved to Orchard Park. Let me give you a snippet of Kristie, my mentor. We talked on the phone once to connect when she found out I was in Buffalo and she'd actually know someone in the area when she moved. The second conversation we had she asked me on a scale of 1-10 how content I was with my life. When I answered somewhere around a 5 she asked a bunch of questions and then suggested I go to counseling. It must have been the Lord because that seemed like a good idea and I went. As I went, I dealt with issues that had always just been a part of my life and myself that I thought I'd always be stuck with. But, I worked through them. And after months of counseling, I experienced a beautiful thing- freedom. Freedom and growth and forgiveness. Simultaneously I was seeing Kristie at least once a week to talk and spend time together and do a Bible study. We called it discipleship. It was hard. She always asked the right question, and the right question was usually the hard question. She challenged me and pushed me and when I needed it she encouraged me. And always, always we laughed.

That was the start of a five year friendship that has changed my life. I became a part of their family. I lived in their basement (I was known, and still am known as the cellar dweller). I babysat Emilie and Daniel and have watched them grow up. I ate family dinners with them, watched tv with them, shared my life (even the messiest parts) and still found love with them. It's as if during those two and a half years that I dwelled in the cellar I was still growing emotionally and my character was still developing, because I can see how I've been shaped from that time and how a caring, consistent, loving, but firm force helped develop me into the woman that I am.

So, take that depth of relationship, all the love that is rooted in me, that has grown and been strengthened even in the storms of life that raged between friends and you can imagine how one sentence can make you feel like your ship is sinking and you are gasping for air without a life preserver in sight. Splashing and kicking all while trying to process the situation that is, in all honesty, just too big to bare.

It was in that moment that Dr. Tammy walked through the door, flashed me her beautiful smile, and then realized I was crying. When she asked me what was wrong, I had to catch my breath and push out the words, "My friend has cancer." And as they came out my throat was hot and my eyes felt heavy and I think they were sharp because it felt as if they cut my throat as they tumbled out.

Kristie has cancer. My dear friend and mentor, whom I love with all of my heart has cancer. And I can't fix her. The last time I lost someone I was 14 years old and my childhood best friend was murdered. Her body was found in the woods, so decomposed that they had to identify her through her dental records. I still remember my grandma saying, "Kelley's dead. She is dead, Danielle." And that sentence changed everything. It was then, at 14 that I told God that either He didn't exist or He wasn't loving and I wanted nothing to do with Him. By the time I was 14 I had lost my grandfather, my mom, and then my childhood best friend. I was done with loss. It hurt too much to keep giving of myself and letting love in and then having to let go. Do you know what it's like to miss someone? To miss someone and know you will never see them again? I know that feeling all to well. And I was done.

The great thing about God is that even though I denied His existence, He didn't deny mine and even though I denied He existed, it didn't change the fact that He did and does exist and that He is loving. So, at 29 one sentence could change everything, again. And while it has changed some things, it hasn't changed the fact that I know God to be real, to be loving and to be good. And while the only prerequisite for rejection and abandonment is to put yourself out there and love it isn't going to stop me now. The joy of loving and being loved far outweighs the pain of loss. Life is about relationships and the better quality of relationships the better quality of life.

So, I am learning to continue to love Kristie, even though there are days when it seems so scary. I will be there for her, because I simply love her and love doesn't abandon even when it seems like a "safe" option. Love is not selfish and jumping ship in the midst of a storm leaving people you love is just a really selfish act. I have to confess something- five years ago I would have jumped ship. But I'm not the same girl I was five years ago- thanks to God and thanks to Him putting a strong spiritual mentor in my life. She's helped to shape me and she has reminded me time and time again that she is not leaving me (until the good Lord calls her home). And if she's not leaving, I'm not leaving.

Cancer sucks. It just plain does, and although that is not eloquent or pretty it is true. This is a road I haven't walked before and I am scared. Each day brings new thoughts and I have to continually surrender to the Lord what is in my head and heart. God is good. He is my rock and with Him all things are possible. Yes, one sentence can change every earthly thing, perhaps, but there is One it can't touch. God is the same yesterday, today and forever and that means that He is ALWAYS loving and ALWAYS good. Take that cancer.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Awkward Moments and the Gratitude That Follows

Have you ever just had a moment that was so incredibly awkward that your insides churned and the corners of your mouth just kept creeping into a smile that silently communicated, "ahhhhh get me out of here!"? I haven't had many moments like this. I've had my own embarrassing moments. I've had moments where I have interacted with people that were awkward. But last night Ryan and I had a really interesting/awkward experience.

We went to Panera for dinner. Yum! We picked a booth and there were several people in the store given it was a Friday night. We were sitting diagonally across from a couple that I could easily tell from the get-go was on a first date. Let the awkwardness begin.

I'm going to name them for the purpose of the story but in actuality I don't know there names. Let's call the cute, little, mid-thirties blond lady Liz and let's call her late 20's, curly, dark haired date Dave. Begin scene...

Liz is talking about how when one is young, still in their late 20's there is so much to still find out about one's self and so much to learn and to do. She didn't truly know herself until recently. Dave asks her on a scale of 1-20 how much she'd want to date him again. "I don't really like numbers," Liz replies. Dave says that she knows what he is trying to say. How does she think the date is going. Liz sweetly replies that he is a little young for her but that they could be friends. "Best friends, then," says Dave. "haha, well, friends," replies Liz. Dave reiterates the "best". Liz lets him know that she doesn't want her best friend to get jealous. Dave brings up the fact that he only makes $700 a month. Liz says it has nothing to do with his income.

Poor guy is not getting the hint. At all. In the midst of this, they aren't quiet. I want you to know that we were not trying to ease drop. In fact, it was one of those moments where I was desperately searching for SOMETHING, ANYTHING to talk about and was wishing I hadn't wasted all that conversation on the car ride to dinner. With little to say, we resorted to just looking at our plates for fear that event one brief moment of eye contact would resort in either one of us completely losing it. So, silently we ate and we listened.

"Mediocre friends, then?" Dave said. Liz doesn't like the word mediocre. Just friends. Dave explained that friends are always there for one another. Somehow Dave brought up his parents and how cool they were. Sometimes his friends would rather hang out with his parents because they are so cool. At this point, I wanted to walk over and pull Dave aside. As a woman I wanted to give him some pointers as how to impress women and I wanted to gently, but truthfully tell him to never, ever, ever repeat that last comment until at least the 8th date.

Now the topic of authors and books comes up. Liz is an avid reader. "Do you want to join a book club?" Dave asks. Liz replies that she doesn't like book clubs because she doesn't like being told what to read. This seemed the perfect opportunity for Dave to suggest that they could just pick a book, read it, and then get together, just the two of them, to talk about it. Liz shoots Dave down.

There is more talk about authors. Liz suggests a book The Devil in the White City that I actually want to read. She gave a great description of this non-fiction book. Liz is a catch. I know that. Dave knows that. But Dave is not the right guy.

Then it was time for them to go to the movies. Dave got up and started rapping. Yes, I wrote that correctly. He started rapping from a DC talk song. And then they were gone. And I felt as if the other table, the one behind them and directly across from us had bonded. I looked over at the three women sitting there and I do believe we all had the same expressions on our faces. It was a shared bond of awkwardness. I wonder if Liz actually went to the movies or if she got in her car, and drove as far away as possible. I wonder if Dave still thinks that he had a chance. Ryan wondered what dating service they used and noted that it probably wasn't E-Harmony.

It was incredibly awkward. I wish Liz and Dave well as I am sure they will go their separate ways. I hope they each meet someone where on their first date the people around them will marvel at the ease of conversation. But after it was said and done I look across the table at my husband and I was so grateful for him. I am so grateful that he has never once asked me anything where the answer landed on a scale of 1-20. And while he can recite raps from several DC Talk songs, I find it amusing and I am grateful that he didn't bust that out on our first date. I am glad that even awkward moments like that can lead to gratitude.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

It Ain't About Retail!

I started a new job. I am always starting a new job. Actually, once a year it seems I leave the old job and start a new job. This remains true. I had a good job. It paid well. I had an office. A pretty big office, downtown. It even had a window. A big window that overlooked Delaware Ave. I had some plants (that I somehow managed not to kill). I'd go to work each morning and after settling in I would grab a cup of coffee from the high tech Keurig coffee machine and settle back down at my desk to listen to my voice mails and answer emails. Mornings were generally quiet with time to catch up and reflect and then the phone calls would start. Then there would be fires that needed to be put out and consumers that needed to be consoled and encouraged. There were events to plan, volunteers to recruit, interviews to conduct and trainings to lead. The hours were a lot- but it was, for the most part, cushy. Stressful, but cushy. Organized.

God doesn't keep me in cushy. He knows what cushy does to my spirit. So, in March, after months of his prompting, he led me to interview for On the Job Ministries, Inc. A ministry that works on the West side of Buffalo and employs young adults. The goal is to provide a needed resource for the community (a thrift store, bike shop and soap making business) and also provide life skills coaching and employment to young adults. I was hired as the Program Coordinator. God called me out of my cushy little boat. And, obediently I stepped out.

How come the stepping out part is usually easier than the follow-thru walk? Not equipped. That is how I have felt for the past month. What did I do? Lord, what did you call me to do? Not by my strength. I kept reminding myself. Well, the Holy Spirit kept reminding me.

My first day was Wednesday, April 7th. As the program coordinator I will eventually be in charge of running the thrift store and all that entails. More than I imagined when I was merely a patron of the shop. So, let me recap the past few days for you:

Day 1- waiting for the Executive Director, toting about three bags and a travel coffee mug, while seeking shelter under the overhang while a crazy hail storm blows into town. Hail. Hail. I thought to myself, this could be a bad sign. And I waited for the locusts. 6 hours into Day 1 and I experience my first irate customer threatening to call the police on us. ED handled it while my spirit sunk in the corner and I fought back the tears thinking, I left cushy. Cushy is gone. I'm in retail! Deep breath in.... hold.... and release. Day 1 is done.

Day 2- ED has to take care of some business and I get to handle the thrift store on my own. No problem. I've got a good staff that knows what needs to be done. Oh, what? Irate customer from yesterday is coming back today for her refund? Can I handle it? I left cushy for this. I left cushy for retail. But, can I handle it? Yes. When God calls one out of the boat He doesn't just leave one to their own devices. He calls, He leads and He desires that they tap into Him and His power. Ok, I can handle it. Irate lady returns and today she is all smiles, sunshine and sweetness (Praise. God.). Crisis averted and thanksgiving prayer declared!

Day 3- Merchandised some manikins, broke the pricing gun, ran out of receipt tape, couldn't get new receipt tape roll in, took 20 minutes and the help of JD (americorp/ delivery guy/ discipler/all around good guy) to get receipt tape to work the right way, priced some donations, organized kitchen section, got to know one of the employees, drove employee to the bank and to her house. She opened up about her life. A life I'm sure is somewhat the norm for those who have only ever lived where she has lived. And heard her declare that she loves God and she needs help. Prayed with her. Drove home and realized it ain't about retail.

I love that God's heart is not limited to geographic areas, income levels, a certain language, or status level. He loves the ones that get overlooked. He desires to reach even the young adults on the West side of Buffalo who have been given up on, or worse, never believed in in the first place. And my job, though retail is a piece of it, is about helping to equip, empower and believe in these young people and to help make the love of Christ real to them. It's not cushy. Notice that during my days I did not mention the time to relax, the checking email or the answering voice mails. That's because I don't have a desk (yet). I don't even have an office. I keep my things in the room where the soap is made. There is no Keurig coffee maker. Our coffee maker was a donation. And there is no down time. There is no window over looking downtown. There are no plants (but that's ok, because I don't have a window in my office and they'd die... more so because I would most likely forget to water them, but the lack of sunshine would be part of it). I left cushy. But I am not looking back.

Truth be told, I am not equipped to handle what I have been called in to. If I was, I wouldn't have to rely on God. But, He knows that I need Him. I can't do it without Him. And I am so incredibly grateful that while I am not qualified to be walking on the water, the One who called me out of the boat is, and He is the one who will keep me afloat. By His power, in His strength and for His glory. Praise be.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"My Eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted." Psalm 25:15-16

I am part of a women's Bible study that meets every Monday night. It's held at the church my husband and I attend, The Chapel at Crosspoint. Last week I can honestly say that I was just in a bit of a funk and didn't really want to go. I wanted to isolate myself and go home, cook dinner and plop my butt on the couch and watch TV. Can you relate? I was tired and stressed and feeling like I just needed a break from life. But I went. I went partially because I made a commitment to go each week and partially because I knew if I went, in obedience to the Lord, He would meet me. And he did.

Half way through the study we read Psalm 25:15 and it was at that point that the Lord just smacked me straight across the heart! I got it. Have you ever had an "ah, ha!" moment? That is what happened to me. If I were an animated cartoon there would have been a little light bulb over my head that blinked on. And though I was able to share a little in the moment with the women in the study it wasn't until my 25 minute ride home that the Lord just poured His word into me.

Ok, so if an animal is caught in a snare they wouldn't be able to get out because they don't have the skills or thumb(s) necessary to get out. So what are their options? Self-destruction (chew off their leg) which leaves them maimed for life and hurts a lot. They could stay there and just become vulnerable to other predators and risk getting hurt even worse, or death. They could drag their self across the ground but they would be limited to a certain radius. They could cover it up and pretend they aren't caught. They could try and try and try and try to release the snare with no luck.

I've done the same thing! I've made choices in my life that have led me to be caught in a snare that I just can't get myself out of. And while caught, the only thing I've wanted is to be out. Unable to free myself I've done each of the things listed above. I've been self-destructive in my thoughts and torn myself apart. The damage of that pattern of self-destructive thoughts left a limp in my step for a long time. I've laid down in defeat and chosen to stay in the snare because I really thought, "This is just the way I am". At that point, there became other areas of my life that felt the effects of that choice- both personally and in relationships with others. I tried to move on but realized I could only go so far and kept circling and coming back to the same spot I'd started. A pattern of sin and stinkin' thinkin'. And I've walked into church and bible study, smiled and shared answers from the homework and memory verses only to know that beneath the facade was an ugly, painful, heart gripping snare. But lastly, I know what it's like to try every way to release the snare with my own two hands. I've read self-help books, magazine articles, googled how others dealt with it, tried to just be a better person and be a better christian. But, I will be the first to tell you, that none of those things worked. And, truth be told, they never will.

What are some feelings I would experience if I were caught in a snare? Well, anger. I'd be mad that I was caught. But anger is never the root emotion. So, what else would I feel? Maybe guilt. Guilt because I chose to go down a path that I knew had a snare and now I've let people down who were relying on me. Or I've let myself down because, really, I knew better. Denial. What snare? Oh that? That giant trap that cutting into my body? That's just part of me. It's always been there. I'm used to it. In fact, I don't know who I'd be without it. In fact, it really just makes me stronger having to haul it around. What else? What about despair? How am I ever going to get myself out of this mess!?! Pain- being caught in a snare is painful. Sometimes physically and sometimes emotionally and mentally. Loneliness. Because sometimes, even when there are others around me who are caught in the same snare, it's still a very lonely place. Despair. Hopelessness. Depression.

In verse 16 we see that the psalmist was lonely and afflicted. But he knew the key to being released. Keeping his eyes ever on the Lord. In my life I've been caught in many a snare. I've sinned with the best of 'em. And what I've learned is that there is absolutely nothing I can do to fix my mess, release my foot, or heal the gaping wound. What I can do is to look to the Lord, seek His face, and in the midst of being vulnerable, wounded and stuck, ask Him, in his mercy, to release me. 1 John 1:9 says that, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." The truth is, not only will the Lord release me from the snare, He will heal me from the damage that the snare caused.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks or righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3

I love the beautiful picture of being an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. The hope of this verse speaks to my heart. God doesn't just release, he transforms. He doesn't have to. But he chooses to. Because he is love. Not because I will ever deserve it. But because it's part of his nature. He is good. He is good no matter my circumstance, no matter my snare.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

God is HUUUUUUGGGGGGEEEE

For anyone who lives in the Western New York area you probably know the phrase commonly used by Billy Fuccilo. Here in Buffalo the tag line is, "It's HUGE, Buffalo, HHHHUUUUGGGGEEE." And for anyone who lives in the Western New York area you may agree with me that it gets old, really fast. I roll my eyes every time that commercial comes on.

This morning I was thinking about some of the things that God has been doing in my life- the ways He has been revealing himself and speaking to my heart and that was the phrase that just ran through my head. God is huge. He is huge.

A few weeks ago on a Wednesday there was an article in the paper about a local artist that built a giant table with matching giant chairs. They were on display at the Albright Knox gallery and when people would walk into the room they instantly felt small. It would be like entering the set of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. I had happened to catch a glimpse of a picture of it in the paper and had a short conversation with a guy I work with about the display. Later that night when I was home and spending some time reading my Bible and praying the Lord reminded me of that art display. I felt as if He was saying to me that being in his presence was much like standing in the midst of that giant table and chairs. And that feeling small was a good thing because it meant that He is Huge. God is bigger. Period. That beautiful picture of my smallness and God's HUGENESS came at a point when I had been praying about direction and guidance regarding a potential ministry opportunity. I had been feeling some anxiety and in my heart I knew that I need not worry- God is bigger. In my journal I scratched a picture of a big table and under it I listed things in my life. I drew a picture of Ryan and me. I put Cole (our dog/the furry love of my life). I wrote the name of the place I work and the name of the potential ministry I could work for. And I drifted off to sleep that night with a peace that blanketed my soul and a heart that was crying out, "God, you are good!"

The next day I got a call at work from my husband. His warehouse would be closing and the five people working there would be laid off. Come sometime in March he would not have a job. There were no details. No last day given. No there will be other job opportunities. Nothing. I sat still at my desk as the room seemed to start whirling around me. This is not uncommon. I've read the news articles, the statistics about unemployment and heard awful stories about people being laid off. But that was something that happened to other people. I walked through the day somewhat numb interspersed with bouts of tears. After work I went to the gym to try and relieve the stress and take my mind of the unknown. When I got home and got in the hot shower, yet another attempt to relieve stress and relax, I stood there for so long I forgot if I had actually shampooed my hair or not. In a whispered voice I managed to simply say, "Lord..." The tears started again as the thoughts of bills, car payments, rent, and lack of health insurance flooded my mind.

But then, as I stood in the shower, completely vulnerable in every way, God whispered back, "I am bigger. Remember the table and chairs." I immediately broke down in tears knowing that God is bigger. I wept because in my vulnerability God's goodness covered me. His love comforted me and the peace of knowing that He is bigger reigned. I wept because just the night before this storm God spoke to me a word that, while I would grasp a small part of it, would not be able to fully grasp all that He meant it to be until I sat in the midst of the storm with the fullness of the winds and the waves crashing. Only God can do that. God is Huge. HHHHUUUUGGGGGEEEE.

Here is the beautiful part of it- unlike Billy Fuccilo and his tagline, the truth that God is huge never, ever gets old. It's always fresh, always new, always true. God is HUGE. And He doesn't use his hugeness to get his people to buy things or do things or win them over from any competition. He is huge. He will always be huge. It's just who He is. And because he is love, and because he is good, we can rest in our smallness and put our trust in a God who fully covers us- every part of our lives.

So, today, a month after all of that began, we know details. We know that his last day is March 25th and that there is a 98% chance he will be rehired with the company at a different warehouse. And we can choose to rest in knowing those things. But they are not forever, nor are they worthy of our trust. It's nice to know. I like to know. But my faith, my trust and my life will rest in the Lord. Because he's the only one who can speak to my heart today what I will need to cling to tomorrow.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7
"Finally brothers, stand firm in the Lord and in his mighty power. " Ephesians 6:10

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Need for Creativity

I've found myself in the midst of transition once again. It seems to be an on going theme in my life. And one of the coping methods I have is to be creative. The need to create. To sit away from the world and the chaotic waves that are crashing at my door and to create. Lately that has been through card making. There is serenity and peace in the midst of different color papers, textured card stock, bright, beautiful ink pads and a variety of stamps. There is something about having glue stuck to my fingertips and ink on my hands that brings me back to the simplicity of being a kid (although, these days I'm not eating the glue like I remember in kindergarten).
But the past two weeks have been so busy and stressful that I have not had time. So, I sit here during my lunch break with the urge to break free from real life heavy on my shoulders and I remember that a girl I knew in college has a blog. She is amazingly creative. I so admire her creativity (and secretly envy her giftedness in crafting, self expression, and confidence). So, I thought, why not? Why not blog as a more accessible creative outlet? And, here I am.
I have to admit, it feels good. I am reminding myself that the goal is not necessarily to have people read this blog (but that is probably my lack of confidence whispering in my ear) but rather to create and to express. To be free from the monotony of the daily grind and to have something with in reach to allow me to create.
So, if you find yourself reading this, welcome. And thank you! Till next time...