The hard honesty and the harder thank you’s

There Is A Cloud – Elevation Worship.  The hard thank you’s rolled through my mind last night displacing complaints. Somewhere I learned to expect more. By fifty-two, isn’t there more? Wisdom. Understanding. Grace, at the least? And all things financial. I’ve worked almost every year since age nineteen. Shouldn’t I be successful by now? Shouldn’t I be living my dream life? Working my dream job?

My surroundings don’t inspire awe, and in fact, often cause me to wonder what I’m even thinking. My thoughts chase me down the rabbit hole, and I get a glimpse of the small girl I left behind–the one whose princess and castle dreams went sideways in one dark moment. Her pain ruled the kingdom of my mind far too long. But there I am again. The blame. The guilt. The fault surely my own. And all this dream I’m not living — the confirmation of condemnation.

Since laying down old hurt and painful sin, the old mindset, I no longer chase after or run from childhood things. The pain has healed. The scars have faded. But sometimes, there’s this feeling like regret that tells me I’ve messed up too much, and as a result, I’ve missed out.

The “if’s” came to visit and all my failures were tallied and calculated. I’ve gone to bed weary in spirit. Maybe I am a failure. Maybe I will never be enough. Shortcomings play reel to reel in my mind worsening with the passage of days until bone-tired and soul-aching, I admit defeat. I’m worn. I confess I’m not enough. The judge and jury are surely right. I’ve failed. Over and over. I haven’t achieved all, accomplished all, conquered all, and I’m aging, so I’m daily running out of time.

Midnight crawls round the face of the clock, and I’m soul searching, but not for more of me. I’m searching for the words that whispered into my spirit earlier in the day, “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I’m struck with the comparison to the taunting voice in my mind.

I close my eyes and give thanks for the roof over my head. For the dry floor and dry walls sheltering me in my flooded state. I give thanks for the job and thanks for the family. Thanks for things great and small. I list the hard thank you’s for the things and times that I struggle to appreciate. Without planning, without contemplation, but with the simple innocence of gratitude, I deny the voice of condemnation and open the door to conviction.

Conviction always displaces condemnation.

We are not the sum of our accomplishments and failures. Success is not our measure. We are not our past. We are not held by our sin or by the sin committed against us. We are the forgiven. We are the loved. We are the saved. In Christ, we are the made new.

Sleep came somewhere in the middle of the thank you’s. Rest for the weary soul. The song above came on an early morning Instagram moment posted by a friend. Balm for the ache. The song below, my warrior cry this new day and in the days to follow.

“I will only sing your praise.”

God bless.

More next time.

Hillsong United – Even When It Hurts

What are you clinging to?

What are you clinging to so hard your knuckles turn white? First words to penetrate the morning fog, but even this early, I’m mentally alert enough to know the answer. Life. Like a drowning man. 

I’m not dying from some long word disease. I’m aging. And I know all the hype. The rhetoric and propaganda of aging seems to be the only thing that lives forever. Wisdom. Health. Financial security. Grandchildren. There’s a long list of positives–and negatives. Well, I have checked off some of some of those (you read that right), but honestly, I’m not sure I have them in any greater portion than I ever had. Except the grandkids. I don’t have any yet. Maybe they’re what’s missing, but I suspect not. 

I gave up on the whole aging thing, and I’ve been clinging to life with everything in me. Fighting for youthfulness. But my body hasn’t particularly agreed with this battle plan. My mind reminds me every morning that I’d like to be old enough to retire. And then there’s the mirror. Why do some women look so beautiful at any age? It’s not for a lack of wrinkles or white hair. And age spots decorate their skin too. But there’s something. Inner radiance, maybe? Could be. Inner joy. Peace. Love. Those are reasons I can believe.

At every age my days have started early. I like the quiet hours before the neighbor cranks his big truck or our young rooster out back belts his struggling crow. I like an early cup of coffee and an open bible. I’ve been studying Romans. I’m in chapter twelve, and right out beside verse nine, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (my NIV version) I read the note I scribbled at some point, “What are you clinging to until your knuckles turn white?” 

Things I shouldn’t be so focused on. Like not aging.

Even now, I have essentials oils in the diffuser-lemon, black pepper, peppermint, frankincense, and cedar atlas. I woke thinking I’d try for a combination of focus, mental clarity, and spirituality. I’m new to essential oils, and I forget small things like to use lemon grass oil in place of lemon oil in my morning concoction. I put donut shop brand coffee in the cup with a teaspoon of honey from our bees and a spoon of artificial creamer. I forget to use the coconut milk we bought yesterday. 

Early hours have been a habit for years, but I wrestle with them lately. Or maybe it’s just sleep I wrestle with. Menopause. The early-fifties. Too many hours pushing the mind or aging muscles until I’m too achy to sleep. They’re all factors in my morning forgetfulness. But this feels like aging, and possibly, some of it is. I have to be fair to myself.

The sum of all this rambling is that I’m clinging to the wrong thing. I’m clinging to fear, worry and anxiety. Not life and not what matters most. Aging catches us all. Poor health is something I can try to avoid. Loneliness is something I can try to avoid. Fear of the future can come at any age, has, and is something I constantly lay down at the cross.

Here are the verses I found myself caught up in this morning. They remind me of youthfulness. Simple words have life. What I’m clinging to falls away as I focus on what I’m really chasing after–what matters most:

Romans 12:9-15 (NASB)

“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Sometimes we need words to remind us that this life is not about us. I’m letting go again. I’m trusting in the giver of life.

After eight pounds of water are multiplied times thousands

The flood waters have all but receded in this part of Texas. Businesses, homes, and churches are marked with water lines like scars. The massive flooding left behind a testimony to the power of water. Cars on the side of the road with boats still attached, but flipped over. Thirty-something feet long Class A motor homes tossed about like toys or left bobbing in lakes. Kitchen appliances floating through doorways three grown men could barely squeeze them through on a moving day. “One gallon of water weighs eight pounds” my husband says in reply to my awe. One gallon. Eight pounds.

With all this water flooding in, I’ve been thinking about that person in Psalm 1:3 who is a like a tree planted by streams of water. The water I’ve seen weigh in with destruction and upended lives doesn’t appear to reflect biblical words. But maybe streams of water aren’t always beautiful. Maybe there are times when water washes away everything we think we hold dear and forces us out of our comfortable places. Eight pounds multiplied by thousands. We’re moved. And everyone around us takes notice.

Tonight’s the night after the highs and the lows. Our lives have been altered by the storm. We’ve weathered more in two weeks than we will the rest of the year. At least we hope so. We’re worn. The after has set in: that certain kind of introspective depression that follows a destructive hurricane. It’s in the calm, gentle breeze and the sunshine shadowed by the devastation. Two sides of a coin and we see both at once. Our lives feel lived in retrospect.

As I close my eyes, I’ll repeat verses from Psalm 1 over and over until sleep takes me. I’ll remember the floods and the mess. I’ll think of Florida and the Caribbean. I’ll remember fire devastated states right along with our water weary. I’ll be keeping so many in my prayers tonight.

Psalm 1:1-3  

1 Blessed is the one

    who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

    or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and who meditates on his law day and night.

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

    which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

    whatever they do prospers.

Being the hands and feet when waters rise 

Flood waters rose in Southeast Texas almost two weeks ago. If, like me, you’ve never stepped foot in a flooded home, then let me tell you what you don’t know. First, wear old, rubber shoes. You’re going to throw the disgusting things away when you leave. Second, I have one word for you–mask. As in, cover the nose and mouth. The smell combined with the dust will make you want to run away. Last, wear glasses,  even if, like me, all you have are sunglasses, or like my friend,Vanissa, reading glasses. Old, wet sheetrock dust burns your eyes. Wear some clothes you won’t mind depositing in the trash, and you’re all set.

I sound like I’m complaining, and I’ll be honest, my back is killing me. My feet hurt. My aches ache. But I’m smiling, and I can’t seem to quit. In the midst of a really tough couple of weeks, I got to see hope, faith, and love in action every single day.

There were disagreements, yes. There was out and out arguing, yes. There was worry-there still is. There was fear-there still is. You don’t lose everything you’ve ever worked for, get some help, and wake up the next day with all the world right again. We have close friends who need homes. We have family members who need cars. People in our towns are being fed and clothed through donations. Just because we spent a week, a day, or a few hours helping, doesn’t mean the work is done.

This storm, this time, many of us go back to work tomorrow. Our days return to a routine. And for so many more in our community, they also return to work or school tomorrow. But after, they go back to a temporary bed and a home in need of repair. 

We can’t stop. We’re tired, but they’re more tired. So, be ready. Do the hard thing.

Preaching to myself. 

Go. Just show up. Be the hands and feet of Jesus.

When waters rise, homes flood, and the weary grow stronger

This has been the strangest week, and it’s still just Thursday. In Southeast Texas, we’re in the recovery phase of Hurricane Harvey, or what became subtropical storm Harvey. The rivers, creeks, and bayous broke records as they rose as much as ten feet or more above the last record. More than thirty thousand people in my small corner of Texas are displaced, and that number is kind. The largest city near me, a town of more than one hundred thousand, is limping on a temporary water supply and has been for over a week, and there isn’t a correction date in sight. Every city within a fifty mile radius of my home suffered unprecedented flooding (and that might actually be a one hundred mile radius.) Everyone I know personally within this questionable radius either flooded or personally knows someone who flooded. 

You may think I’m exaggerating. You’re wrong. I know more than twenty-five families who lost almost all of their personal possessions in less than two days. Because you may not comprehend this, I’ll clarify. Staggering totals of six to eight feet or more of water in your personal residence drowns your possessions. 

It’s late now, and I’m weary to the bone. We’ve packed off the personal belongings of two families this past week. Storage facilities in space sizes of ten by fifteen run one hundred and seventeen dollars a month-and that’s before insurance and locks. Oh, and most families need at least two spaces. Pots and pans, blankets, clothing, hobbies, and memorabilia can be packed in a box, labeled, and stored without any idea of when anyone may see them again. 

Room controlled storage–the newest catch phrase: Stuff kept at temperature control. Except when the sliding doors open every few minutes to allow yet another flood victim to unload.
So, after this past week of watching others lose their homes and helping others pack what’s left, I’ve come to some conclusiins.

First, we have too much stuff. Second, we worry a lot about keeping stuff–just in case. Third, we have a lot of stuff that can be left by the road when the stuffs usefulness is gone. Fourth, we can strangely covet other people’s stuff left by the side of the road. Fifth, we are more than our stuff.

I’ve watched good people come together this past week to help one another tear down, pack up, and rebuild. I’ve watched good people butt heads over the coming together, tearing down and rebuilding, and they still come out okay on the other side. I’ve watched the broken healed, and I’ve watched the hardened break down. I’ve watched full pour into empty in ways that have nothing to do with water. 

I’ve also seen the negative this past week, and sometimes I’ve spoken in the negative. But this week, I’ve seen the good outweigh the bad far more often than not. I’ve seen darkness die in the presence of light. I’ve seen fear, and I’ve seen hope reborn.

It’s been a strange week. And it’s only Thursday. There are a multitude of storms headed inland. There are fires spreading. But we can be the difference makers.
I’m asking you to be the good in the rest of this week. Lend a hand. Encourage someone. Pray with someone. Help someone. Step out of your comfortable or uncomfortable home and be the hands and feet of Jesus this week. 
You are stronger, wiser, braver, and far more compassionate than you think you are. Run to the battle.

When waters rise and we learn an awful lot about letting go

This has been a hard day. My family is in the Hurricane Harvey zone of southeast Texas, and we spent the entire day cleaning out a flooded home. The Entire Day. I still smell the stench of rotten food, wet carpet, and the mud.

Water soaked four to five feet high of everything. The ground. The furniture. The walls. We set mildew covered shoes out to dry, and I thought about yesterday when I stopped to tell a total stranger how sorry I was about his apartment flooding. That man shook my hand and thanked me for caring. Simply for caring. I still tear up remembering.

But today, I lost a little of myself. And now I’m dealing with that left over bad taste of anger that somehow mingles with regret and makes you feel a little sick inside. So here I am, and I don’t even know you, but I need to tell you something anyway. See, we’ve come around this table. We’ve come here to a common place, and I hope you’ll bear with me.

I lost it today. We salvaged what we could from the flooded house. And then we salvaged water ruined things. The unsalvageable, the irreparable, the soon to be molded and mildewed. (Is that even a word?)

Yesterday, I spent all day traveling around the area, seeing home after home with piles of debris. I kept trying to fathom how you lay all your hard earned possessions at the curb, water soaked and ruined, and just walk away. Then, I spent today arguing with someone who needed to and wouldn’t.

Neither day felt right. I have this ache inside spreading slow though my veins. The grief for their loss. The heartbreak over my angry words. I’ve spent a week distraught over what others have lost and in one day, I’ve demanded that someone see reason, let it all go, and walk away. Turns out, for some, it really isn’t all that easy. It isn’t just stuff and those two benign sounding words are cruel.

I’m wishing hard this were someone else’s post, someone else’s day. I had expected to feel good about our labor today. Instead, I’m sore body, heart, and soul.

Floods take away more than stuff; floods take away pride, possessions, comfort, and memories. Floods leave behind ground that needs to be found again, turned over, and revived. It turns out that getting to the good ground is the real labor, and the stuff is the harvest of previous labor.

Tomorrow we’ll try again with the pulling out and packing up. Tomorrow I will find myself. I’ll apologize. I’ll extend grace. And I’ll quietly pray for the flooded out to find the ability to throw out and start again.