Peanut Butter and Jelly Grace

Life gets sticky and we need help to clean it up.

You Need Beauty

One son is away at church camp. The other son has driver’s ed in the mornings. My husband is at work. This means I’m home alone for THREE whole hours. I honestly cannot remember the last time that happened.

Still trying to remember.

Nope. No wonder I’m so giddy.

Instead of filling this time with chores, I’ve been trying to fill it with what I actually need. This means slowing down and thinking about what it is that I actually need. I know exactly what everyone else needs. For starters, they need clean socks. They need, they need, they need.

What do I need?

I say a little prayer while driving in the car where I practically live these days.

Lord, what do I need today?

You need beauty.

Ah, yes. Beauty. I know how peaceful I feel when I’m surrounded by beauty. I know I never get enough of it. I crave it and yet…it’s not exactly on my daily to do list.

John and Stasi Eldredge explain the need for beauty in their book Captivating:

Beauty is essential to God. No–that’s not putting it strongly enough. Beauty is the essence of God. Scripture says that the created world is filled with the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3) In what way? Primarily through its beauty.

Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Stop for a moment and let that sink in. We’re so used to evaluating everything (and everyone) by their usefulness that this thought will take a minute or two to begin to dawn on us. Nature is not primarily functional. It is primarily beautiful. Which is to say, beauty is in and of itself a great and glorious good, something we need in large and daily doses (for our God has seen fit to arrange for this).

So I decide to go home and change into my walking shoes. The dog gets very excited whenever she sees my shoes because she thinks I’ll take her for a walk. I have let her down so many times, but today she is going to get her wish.

I take the dog leash off its hook as she thumps me with her thick tail. She is beside herself. The back of the SUV lifts and she leaps into the car like a young pup.

We back out of the driveway and head toward the county park. It’s beautiful there. As we get closer I start to wonder if it will be busy. My heart starts to race and I feel fear.

The last time I took the dog to the park for a walk without my husband it ended badly. A grandpa type man yelled at me and my children. He threw the f bomb around and threatened to get a gun. Because of my dog. Because of me. Because I couldn’t control her and he thought she was going to hurt his small dog. She would never. She’s just a big dumb lab. He was out of control angry and I was afraid. He even followed me in his car out of the park. I thought he was going to follow me home.

That was five years ago.

I park the car and look around. There are only a couple of people out in the field. This shouldn’t be that big of a deal so I open the back hatch and let Mocha out. She is so excited that she can barely stand still long enough to put the leash over her head, but I am afraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mocha wants to sniff and explore and pee and I am holding on for dear life because I am afraid.

I look around and see no one. There are no bullies here.

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I bend over to remove the leash and set her free.

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She darts ahead and sniffs her chocolate heart out.

She is free to run ahead. I allow her some distance and then test her by calling her name. She comes running back to me. This is progress.

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She’s not the same dog she was five years ago. She’s mellowed a bit and I see that even as she runs ahead of me she stops to make sure I’m not far behind. She’s looking out for me too. Suddenly I’m not afraid. I’m able to look around and take in the beauty that Jesus wants me to see.

Everything is green. The ground is soaked from the storms. Birds soar and wildflowers sway. Frogs and insects sing their song. My lungs are breathing in the sweet fragrance in the air. It’s gorgeous. We follow the bend in the trail and come to a fallen tree. I have to decide whether to turn back or keep moving forward.

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I see that it’s possible to go around and I try not to think about the ticks hitching a ride in my hair as I go off the trail. Mocha is having the time of her life while I coach myself out loud. You can do this, Nic. Going off the trail is not the end of the world. That’s big news for a girl like me. Going off the trail is not really my style.

A few moments later I make my way around the tree and I’m back on the path. Mocha is still in the thicket sniffing out deer and God knows what else. I stop and notice above my head are red, white, and purple berries. I don’t know if they’re edible and I don’t care because I don’t eat fruit that doesn’t come from the grocery store. They are lovely.

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A few steps further the path becomes swampy and my feet are soaking wet. It dawns on me why we are the only ones at the park today.

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Still, there is beauty all around me.

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We allow things to grow here in the wild that we don’t allow to grow in our yard.

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My heart is pumping harder and there is mud on my calves from tromping through the soaked ground. It’s time to follow the path toward the car. I take a deep breath and thank the One who invited me back here to this place today. I thank him for beauty. I thank him for keeping the bullies away. I thank him for helping me around the obstacles on the path and for keeping an eye on me and those I love every single day.

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I’m not the woman I was five years ago.

I needed to come back to this place today to experience this beauty from the lover of my soul. The One who knows me best loves me most. It’s good to be loved.

Jesus, thank you for loving us enough to invite us to experience the beauty all around us. Thank you for calling us back to places marked by fear and regret to redeem us and set us free. Thank you for trusting us in these wide open spaces to hear your voice and come running back to your open arms time and time again. You are beautiful, Jesus. We love you.

 

Therapy Sessions

I’ve been spending a lot of time in therapy lately–physical therapy–with my hubby watching his body pushed beyond its physical and mental limits. Some days I wonder how much more he can take. It’s not easy to watch someone you love struggle, even when it’s for their own good.

Two surgeries after dislocating his right shoulder and fracturing the humerus, my man is working hard to regain strength and range of motion in his dominant arm. I can see pain and determination on his face as he tries to do simple tasks like walk his fingers up a wall. Sometimes I sing the itsy bitsy spider song while he does his wall walks. He does not think I’m funny when he’s in pain. Pain pushes him to his limits every single day and I wonder how much more it will take for him to recover.

The therapy process is slow because the injury was severe. I’ll never forget watching the therapist move his arm gently and slowly those first few weeks. Muscle and soft tissue damage in addition to the fracture had restricted him to passive motion only. He wore an immobilizer to strap his arm to his side. Movement was a big no-no because his body needed time to heal.

I listened one afternoon on our drive home from a therapy session as he vented frustrations about how it seemed like nothing productive was happening. The therapist had spent the entire 45 minutes stretching and massaging his arm. It felt like a huge waste of time. How was he ever going to get back to normal when he wasn’t even able to lift his own arm? He was completely dependent on others to bathe, get dressed, tie his shoes, and even cut his own food. He was so over it. He wanted to be independent and back at work. Truth be told, we both wanted those things. I tried to explain that if he did more than his body was ready for too soon that he could re-injure his arm and do more damage than good. I told him that we had to trust that the therapist knows what he’s doing and that in time he would regain some independence. Please, Lord, let the man be able to scrub his own armpit. Amen.

My husband’s body had been broken. Overnight our lives had been turned upside down and we were living in what I call a haze of grace. There was a lot of HGTV, Food Network, and series binging on Amazon Prime. I ordered take out, made ice packs and tried to keep up with laundry. Oh and then there are the medical bills. We survived on the prayers of our family and friends and several pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. But it wasn’t enough. I was falling apart. Again. My world had been rocked and I thought I could pretend that it was all just fine.
The trouble was that I didn’t have time to fall apart. This was not a good time for a breakdown. People needed me and I found myself reverting to a lot of old thought patterns because that’s what I do when I’m in crisis mode. I do what I know, even when it doesn’t help. Basically this looked a lot like beating myself over the head with a baseball bat for not being super woman every moment of every day. I wasn’t a good enough wife. I was the fattest person in the room all of the time. I wasn’t a good enough mom. I wasn’t a good enough Christian because if I were good enough probably none of this crap would have happened in the first place. Jesus was counting on me to suck it up and be a good example of mercy for heaven’s sake!!! I found myself wallowing in a pit of shame for not being enough for this crisis.

Welcome to my pity party. One night I climbed the stairs to my bed after tucking my husband into his recliner, crawled into bed, grabbed my journal and wrote,
“The pain is really bad today. My pain—emotional pain. My brain is so fuzzy I can barely function. There are so many hoops to jump through on any given day. I don’t have the will to jump today. I’m sleepy. I just want to cry and let it all out. The trouble is that I’m not sure I can. I look at my mental list of things that should be done to make it all better and it’s like a wave of depression crashes over me and drags me down–way way down. It’s no wonder people don’t want to continue to live like this day after day. I wish I could just sleep it all off and wake up to everything being better. God, why does this keep happening to me? What can I do to make it never happen again? I wish there was a reset button I could hit on my life. So many mistakes. So many things I wish I could un-do. If only I could make peace with my messy life. But I can’t. I hate it…
I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse. Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember? When I told my story, you responded. Train me well in your deep wisdom. Help me understand these things inside and out so I can ponder your miracle wonders. My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn; build me up again by your word. {Psalm 119:25-28 The Message}

If this was a song I’d play it over and over again. It’s the cry of my heart tonight.
Jesus, help me understand these things inside and out so I can ponder your miracle wonders. Build me up by the power of your Holy Spirit and your living breathing word. Thank you.”

I wish I could tell you that I woke up the next morning and everything made perfect sense. It didn’t. But somehow along the way I began to see that I was broken too. I didn’t have the physical injury that my husband had, but I was just as in need of healing. Overnight our lives had been turned upside down and I needed to give this crisis the respect it deserved in my own life as well as my husband’s body. There wasn’t a single thing I could do to make it better. In fact, all of my trying to be better was just making it worse. I needed to trust the Therapist and let Him do his job. I had to stop trying so hard.

For my recovery I’ve been reading encouraging books written by people who dare to use their pain to help people like me see that my messy imperfect life is covered by more love and grace than I will ever be able to sort through in this lifetime. I’ve started praying more than reading my Bible. I’m allowing Jesus to tend to my broken heart and I stopped beating myself up for not being good enough when he is more than good enough. I sleep more. Sleep is good, like really good. I watch Jimmy Fallon YouTube videos and laugh a lot more. People are alive because of Jimmy Fallon. Finally, I told that mean bossy B in my head to leave and never come back and she did. We are all the better for it.

Some wonderful crazy things happened when I stopped trying so hard to be good enough. Joy returned. It had been a couple of years since I’d had any joy. Anxiety was the front and center drama queen demanding ALL of my attention. The slightest misstep would send me into a full blown meltdown. Something as annoying as being late for an appointment took days to recover from. Perfectionism once again had its hooks deep in my soul. I felt hopeless that I could ever get free. Guess what? Anxiety is not front and center any longer. I’m a total freaking mess AND IT’S OK. I’m not doing a single thing I thought I’d be doing at this moment in life AND IT’S OK. It’s really ok. I have peace again, and man, I have missed it. I stopped clinging to the HaagenDazs life raft and have embraced healthy food again. It’s so much easier to love people when peace and joy are actually welcome in my heart and mind…and I’m not jacked up on caffeine and sugar 24/7.

I wonder what our lives would look like if we truly believed how much God really loves us. What if we simply rested in believing that he is enough and we are loved?

Sometimes we have to stop trying so hard and let the Therapist do his job. It might not feel like much is being accomplished, but when we allow for rest and healing to take place in our brokenness we will be stronger for the people and the plans God has for our lives. The Therapist knows what He’s doing. He really does. After all, my man has started to do planks at his physical therapy sessions. His muscles are shaky and it hurts like heck, but I’m beginning to think anything is possible.

Thank you for praying for us. Your prayers are powerful. Don’t ever forget it. Thanks for stopping by.

Asking For More

It was the end of the service and we were singing our last song of the day when I saw her walk up the platform stairs and approach the guest speaker. She approached with an urgency that first made me a little concerned for the speaker. All I knew was that this woman was not ready to exit like the rest of the congregation.

I could tell she was a mother of young children by the familiar nursery sticker she wore on her top with her child’s number for security purposes. We had just listened to a Mother’s Day message about how to strengthen our families. It was encouraging and inspiring. My son took notes and texted them to me. Ahem.

While the band played behind me I saw the young woman lean in to tell the speaker something but all I could make out was, “What about…” After that it was time for me to sing my part. I don’t know what exactly this young mom was after, but what I saw that day hasn’t let me go.

Maybe it hasn’t let me go because I also have a million and one of those moments where I want to ask, “But what about…” and never have the courage to ask. That mama’s boldness to rush the stage and ask for more moved me to want to do the same.

I love how our guest speaker responded. After listening to this mama pour her heart out she pulled her close and prayed with her through the end of the closing song. It was beautiful.

There comes a time when we have to choose to reach out and ask for help or deal with the consequences of what might happen if we don’t. Neither one are comfortable in my experience, but I have never regretted getting help when I’ve asked. Even when the help isn’t perfect. Besides, I think Jesus loves it when we ignore the crowds and take a risk to ask him for more.

Ask him for more.

Jesus said, “Daugher, you took a risk trusting me, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!”–Luke 8:48 The Message

When Mr. Steady Met Nurse Ratched

A few weeks ago I drove my husband to the emergency room. We didn’t leave the hospital for two and a half days. A few days later we went back for surgery. One moment he was fine, the next he was anything but fine.

My man has always been my rock. He is Mr. Steady. The truest friend. Old reliable. I’m the needy one in our relationship. He has stuck by me through major depression, chronic health issues, pms that would scare a badger, surgeries, and morning sickness that lasted 9 months–twice. On the rare occasion he manages to get sick I have to dig really deep to find enough compassion to nurture him. If he’s lucky he might get 24 hours to moan and groan about whatever ails him. After that I turn into Nurse Ratched. SUCK IT UP, BUDDY! GET OVER IT! He is one lucky man.

It turns out that Mr. Steady isn’t quite as invincible as I thought he was. A severe injury has left him pretty beat up and needy. The bruises are fading and the incision is healing, but we are a long way from being back to normal.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve been the perfect wife and nurse and that he’s been the perfect husband and patient, but this isn’t a Hallmark Channel movie. The truth is that this has left us both vulnerable and exposed to pain and I’m sure we have both responded in ways that would be better suited for an R rated war movie.

In all of those times I needed him to be my rock I don’t think it ever ocurred to me that my pain wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening to him too. Dang. Realizing that doesn’t automatically make me a better wife and nurse, but it sure does humble me in areas that are in need of some fresh humility. Dang.

I wish there was a magic pill we could take to make all of this go away overnight, but there isn’t. We are in this for the long haul. For better or for worse, we are in this together.

Your prayers have meant the world to us. Thank you.

Thanks for stopping by.

It’s Time to Grow

It’s been about a month since I quit a job I loved so that I could focus more on writing and put some order back into my not so orderly home. So far I am a complete failure at both of those things. Awesome.

I thought when I woke up the morning after my last day of work my mind would burst at the seams with enough creativity and wisdom to fill a best seller. That didn’t happen so I freaked out a bit because good grief, I QUIT MY JOB! And I loved my job! I quit my job to be a blob! Freaked. Exhaustion did not factor into my creative plan. I began to question everything and seriously considered changing my name, dying my hair black, and starting over as a waitress in Indiana. I told you I freaked out.

Decision making is not something I do very well. This is one of the many reasons why I don’t manage a Fortune 500 company. I’m also a highly intuitive feeler and lack the killer instinct. I love to encourage and support leaders with vision. It’s probably one of the reasons I’ve been a good assistant something in nearly every job I’ve ever had. A side-kick doesn’t usually carry the weight of decision making responsibility and I am usually perfectly content with that. So when I finally do get around to making some kind of monumental decision you can be sure I have prayed for nearly a year, lost sleep, eaten a pan of brownies, and cried buckets of tears over it. And it had better prove to be a really good decision with flawless outcomes or I’m going to beat myself with a mental baseball bat for rest of my pitiful life. Dang, this month has been painful.

I’ve been reading “The Best Yes –Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands” by Lysa TerKeurst. Have you ever read a book where you stumble upon an entire chapter written about you? This is one of those books. Her wise words about “Analysis Paralysis” offer some perspective and a whole lot of hope: “The fear of making a wrong decision shouldn’t strip the faith right out of our faith. The only way our faith will ever strengthen is for us to use it. We need to apply thought and prayer to our decisions and then trust God for the outcome. We need to set our sights on growing in faith, not shrinking back for fear of failure.”

So that’s about enough of the mental beating. I’m tired of agonizing over what my first blog post should be, and whether it will be good enough for anyone to read, or whether anyone will read it other than my mother. It’s time to get on with it.

Right or wrong, it’s time to grow.

P.S. Thanks for stopping by, Mom.

No Time for Dog Drama

This winter when the polar vortex would not let it go my boys got a chance to attend a sledding day event with some homeschool families. I teetered between gratitude that they would be socializing somewhere other than at work with me and guilt that I wouldn’t be able to be there like the other moms. On any other Tuesday this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I had scheduled a hair appointment for our two Labs at our favorite boarding kennel. Carpets full of fur had gotten the best of me and even in the dead of winter I knew it was the only way we were going to make it until spring. Something had to go. Hair seemed to be the easiest way. Normally the boys would corral the dogs and save me some stress, but not that day. I decided to take one for the team and take the dogs in myself. I should have rescheduled the appointment and saved myself a lot of drama.

I drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit the entire way because of icy road conditions. The SUV’s outside thermostat read -4 Fahrenheit. My sons had given me the longest leashes known to mankind for the dogs and they were completely tangled by the time I got to the boarding kennel. As soon as I opened the back hatch of my car, the dogs jumped out while I tried to hold on to their leashes as they wound themselves around me. I began to shout like a mad woman.

Sit! Minnie! Mocha! Sit! Don’t you dare knock me down out here! I!!! Said!!! Sit!!!

It took a few minutes to get them signed in at the front desk. Before I could catch my breath I was back in the car on my way to work trying not to have a total meltdown because they had nearly killed me in the parking lot. I had become Cruella Deville and my husband was going to get what was coming to him! Heads were gonna roll! I’d had it with those puppies! Thank God I work near a Starbucks because I had more than earned it this morning! Venti! Breve! Pumpkin spice latte! Please. I was paying for my drink when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on my screen, but answered it anyway. It was the boarding kennel.

A man on the other end of the conversation began to explain that our 9 year old black lab, Minnie, had been assaulted by another dog when she was introduced to the doggy daycare group. I cannot believe I just typed those words, but there they are. A more aggressive dog had bit her left ear and caused it to bleed. The staff was trying to get the bleeding to stop, but they weren’t having much success and wanted to make me aware in case they couldn’t get it stopped.

Here’s the thing: I am not a dog person. You probably already figured that out, but I struggle with being seen in public with our dogs because I feel like a fake. They are not my dogs. They are my husband and sons dogs. Get it? I just make sure they get fed and watered and let them outside no less than 476 times a day. I’m not a dog person.

I thanked the guy for telling me what happened to Minnie and then a wave of guilt crashed over me. I had been so angry because of these animals just moments before, and now Minnie was hurt. She was in a strange place with people she didn’t know.

I called my husband at work. I was planning on giving him a piece of my mind anyway. The call rolled to his voice mail and I explained what was going on with his dog and began to sob. I didn’t know what to do or how I should even be responding at this time. All at once I felt bad for the people taking care of Minnie, but I didn’t have time to deal with dog drama. I had to get to work and stop blubbering about the stupid dog.

Why couldn’t my dog to take a self-defense course and stop the cycle of being the victim? I knew it wasn’t her fault that she had been the runt of the litter when we brought her home almost 9 years ago. I had watched her be dominated by her sister and was constantly trying to get her to stick up for herself. Minnie just needed to get aggressive and fight the lies she’d believed from her past and refuse to accept that she was stuck forever. Because dogs can do that, right? Ok, maybe not.

Once at work I dove into the distractions (and joys) of my job. Somehow I managed to miss every single call from the boarding kennel throughout the day updating Minnie’s progress. Their final message said they had tried everything they knew to do to stop the bleeding but were unsuccessful and were taking her to a nearby vet. My mind was reeling. How did a simple grooming appointment turn into an emergency vet visit? They assured me that Minnie would be fine and updated me every step of the way. Minnie ended up getting four stitches in her ear by the time I left work.

When I picked the dogs up to take them home Minnie was wearing one of those plastic cones of shame. She was woozy from being sedated and anxious to get home. I had a stress migraine and felt as if I was going to vomit any moment and could have gone for some serious sedation myself.

Once we were in the front door, Minnie bumped into her kennel because the cone distorted her vision. She couldn’t even get past the trash can to go outside to do her business without our help. She thought she could, but she couldn’t. We felt so bad for her, even though it was funny at times to watch her so disoriented. My gut churned because I knew how she felt all too well. I know what it’s like not to be able to do the things that seem easy to other people…to try to do it on my own, only to get stuck and feel like a fool.

imageMy husband kept telling me she’d be fine. My brain knew that Minnie would be fine, but I wasn’t so sure about me.

The haunting memories of being bullied by my classmates in the 6th grade would not leave me alone. I could see their faces and I felt the shame all over again. It didn’t make any sense. I kept trying to push down the pain that happened 30 years ago! 30! I thought that I had dealt with a lot of that pain, but it had surfaced again because of my stupid dog. Why did she have to be such a wuss in the first place? What was it about her that made her a target for a bully? These kinds of questions kept pestering me and I couldn’t answer them.

I knew Minnie’s history and there was nothing I could do to change her. She was destined to play the victim from the very start. In the animal kingdom she was the runt of the litter which meant she got whatever was left of her mother’s milk. There were always bigger, stronger, more dominating dogs that got there first. She learned to not expect anything more than what she got. I watched it play out a thousand times in how she interacted with her sister. She unravelled when we brought Mocha home from the same set of dog parents just 2 years later. Mocha was anything BUT the runt of the litter and made her presence known from day one. Minnie acted out…she started peeing on the floor again. Even in my frustration I could see the pain in her eyes…please help me. I don’t know how to stop.

We could have given up in frustration that Minnie was a bad dog and taken her to the pound to become someone else’s problem. Honestly, the thought crossed my mind more than I care to admit. That would have devastated my children and broken a deep trust with them. That trust is sacred and I wasn’t willing to give it up without a fight.

And so my husband asked some friends at work about crazy dog behavior. We searched the internet. There was an explanation for Minnie’s relapse and there were answers to help fix it. She needed to be treated like an alpha dog even though Mocha clearly had the alpha instinct. She needed to be shown respect. It seemed silly to us, but we began to make extra effort to give Minnie what she needed. This meant that Minnie would be petted first when my husband came home from work. She would be allowed to go out the door before Mocha. She would be first. It didn’t seem like a lot, but it meant everything to Minnie. It didn’t take long before Minnie was back to her old self. No more peeing on the floor. No more acting like she was having a total meltdown. Whenever we left for vacation and had someone watch our dogs, I would leave specific instructions for Minnie because her mental and emotional health depended on it.

Funny the lengths we’ll go to for a pet, or our kids, or even a friend, but not for ourselves. Surely the care vital and necessary to our mental, spiritual, and emotional health is just as valuable, if not more?

As I thought about how Minnie was targeted and wounded, I couldn’t help but see how differently our wounds had been treated. Minnie had a team of caring adults with her all day long making sure she was comfortable and getting the care she needed. Sadly, that was not true for me. Nobody helped me when my classmates shamed and humiliated me over and over and over again. My mom tried to get my teacher to intervene, but it only made it worse. His idea of helping me meant singling me out to let me know how attractive he thought I was. No, that was not helpful at all. It was inappropriate and only confirmed the negative messages I had received about my body. Unlike Minnie I was not safe with the people who were supposed to be taking care of me.

It was a busy week and I didn’t have time for revisiting 6th grade hell. I had a birthday party to plan, but I could not be present because my dog’s wounds had uncovered my own. Finally I sat at my kitchen table with a pen and my journal and asked Jesus to help me. The tears came because I could no longer hold them back. Jesus gently took me back to the young places in the 6th grade so that this older me can move forward. He saw my pain. He knew I was struggling and invited me to take His hand. This time I wouldn’t go alone. He would go with me.

I wrote down the names of the classmates who had made my life a living hell. Their vicious schemes replayed in my mind as if they had happened yesterday. The pain washed over me and I sobbed.  I wanted to ask them why they chose me as their target. What was it about me that invited that kind of cruelty? Why me? Why did they perceive me as a threat to their social structure?   

It was time for someone to tend to my wounds. I kept hearing Jesus say, “I bind up your wounds.”  It’s core to who Jesus is and what He does for us. He heals the brokenhearted, binds up our wounds, and restores us. But in order for Him to bind anything, I had to be willing to allow Him access. I could no longer ignore the meanness and the affect it had on my heart…the affect it was still having. I had to stop blaming myself.

The truth is that I deserved to have teachers and people in authority come to my rescue. I deserved to have justice. I was worthy of all the care and attention required to stop the cycle of abuse. That’s what it was and it’s ok to tell the truth about it. The truth is that I had no idea how to navigate the abuse and pain I experienced when I was 11 and 12 years old. It shattered my heart and I pieced it back together as best as I could. Looking back, I can see how I mishandled my wounds in every way, but it’s not too late.

Receiving healing meant I needed to let go of the pain. It meant forgiving the kids (and adults) who inflicted the pain and letting them go. It didn’t mean that what they did was ok. It meant taking that power from them. I had been afraid for so long of being made fun of. I would often assess everyone when I walk into a room full of people I don’t know, assume the worst and work my way backwards. If you happen to be a man, consider yourself condemned until proven you otherwise. I’m only beginning to realize how fear has dominated my interaction with the opposite sex for far too long. Jesus has been showing me how He has put good men in my life and that I don’t have to be afraid. I have never been alone. Nor am I alone now. Jesus has always been there. He’s here now.

It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend a broken heart. Healing comes in such unexpected ways. It often comes when we don’t have time for it, but it does come and when it does it is beautiful.

I’m not a dog person, but I am forever grateful for the dog that Jesus used to help heal and mend this broken heart. She loved me well. I hope her story encourages you today. It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend your broken heart.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Mac with Minnie Sue Christmas Eve 2006

In memory of Minnie {April 4, 2005-April 24th, 2014}

Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Because it’s my birthday and because it’s almost always better to give than receive, I’m giving you something really special today.

This is the carrot cake my husband and I dream about. This is the kind of cake that will make you invent special occasions just so you’ll have a good reason to make it. My mom made it for my birthday last year. Then she made three of them at Christmas time. THREE. The best part is that it’s gluten free but you would never know it. P.S. If you don’t need to be gluten free, just swap out the gfree flour for regular flour.

Happy birthday from me! Enjoy this one. Or two. Or three… (Scroll down to the bottom for a text only recipe)

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Pre-heat oven to 375°

In a large mixer, mix the eggs and sugar. Add oil and vanilla, mix together.
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tsp real vanilla extract (gluten free)

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In a separate bowl combine:
2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Whisk together then add to wet ingredients. Mix well.
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Add:
3 cups grated carrots (I used a food processor)
1/2-1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional, feel free to adjust more or less)
1 can (12-14oz) crushed pineapple, drained

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Carrots and pineapple. It’s practically a salad.

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Mix together and pour into 2  greased round (9 inch) pans OR 9 inch springform pan (I spray them with original Pam), for best results line bottom of pans with parchment paper (trace and cut).

Bake 45-55 minutes (the springform pan will take closer to 55) or until toothpick comes out clean.
*The trick to keeping this cake super moist is to watch the cake toward the end so it doesn’t over bake.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

4 Tablespoons softened butter
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

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Cream together using mixer and then try not to eat all of it before frosting the cake. 🙂

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When the cake has cooled take off the springform ring and invert the cake onto a plate or 10 inch cardboard cake circle.

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My frosting skills are not the greatest, but who cares? This cake ROCKS.

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Serve right away or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pre-heat oven to 375°

In a large mixer, mix the eggs and sugar. Add oil and vanilla, mix together.
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups light olive oil or vegetable oil
2 tsp real vanilla extract (gluten free)

In a separate bowl combine:
2 cups gluten free all purpose flour (I use King Arthur)
2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
Whisk together, then add to wet ingredients. Mix well.

Add:
3 cups grated carrots
1/2-1 cup of chopped walnuts (optional, feel free to adjust more or less)
1 can (12-14oz) crushed pineapple, drained

Mix together and pour into 2  greased round (9 inch) pans OR 9 inch springform pan (I spray them with original Pam), for best results line bottom of pans with parchment paper (trace and cut).

Bake 45-55 minutes (the springform pan will take closer to 55) or until toothpick comes out clean.

Cream Cheese Frosting:

4 Tablespoons softened butter
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Cream together using mixer and then try not to eat all of it before frosting the cake.

The World’s Worst Compassion Blogger

A few years ago our family began sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I was at a concert sitting in the front row feeling particularly blessed that night and even though I had heard the Compassion pitch no less than 15 times at other events, this was my night to respond. My husband agreed, and since we had NEVER been on the same page about sponsorship I took it as a sign. We chose a girl since we had sons. In my mind it would go something like this: I would supernaturally mother this daughter from another continent with my generous monthly support. We would pray for her and write her letters every month. The boys would come to love her like the sister they never had and the Glory of the Lord would shine around us day and night, night and day. Um, yeah. Not so much.

Our sponsor child was removed from our family after the first month. Compassion International sent a letter explaining why along with information about another child in case we wanted to continue with sponsorship. It was bizarre. I felt obligated to continue sponsorship because we were blessed and I had received two CDs at the concert just for signing up. I’m responsible that way.

So we began corresponding with the new girl. (When I say “we”, I mean “I”. That’s how we talk around our house.) At first it was sweet. I read about how she loved going to school, and loved washing the cups, and loved Jesus. She thanked us and told us how much she loved us. Instead of feeling blessed by her letters, I felt guilty because my children hate school and we most certainly do not love washing the cups. No we do not. I read her letters to my boys hoping to spread a little guilt and make them realize how blessed they are to be educated (by their mother!) and have a dishwasher to unload. I might as well have read the letter to the wall.

When it was time to respond to these letters I would sit at the computer and stare at a blank form on the monitor ready to share our lives with her. However, my fingers would not type. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her because I could only think about how our lives were so different. We were spoiled rotten Americans living in a house with more stuff than we know what to do with. We were a Dave Ramsey nightmare with debt up to our ears dreaming of trips to Disney World. She lives in a hut in Uganda. What would I even say?

My letters were about our weather, the crops in our region. “Hey, we grow corn in Iowa just like you do in Uganda! Isn’t that great?” I’d think of some scripture to write and tell her we were praying for her blah blah blah. Then I’d upload a photo of my family and hit send.  It was pathetic.

Her letters would come in the mail and I was busy. So I’d set them aside in a pile with mail that needed to be dealt with and filed. There her letters would sit unopened. If I didn’t read her letters, I wouldn’t have to write her back and then I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about being an American.

As if all of this wasn’t pathetic enough, I began to pray about discontinuing our sponsorship. I mean, we are really bad sponsors. Sure, we have the monthly donation automatically deducted from our checking account, but that wasn’t enough for this girl. She wanted letters.

I made the mistake of reading one of her letters last summer. In it she wrote about how she prays for my family. She loves us. She thinks about us every day. I am her best friend. She hopes I will one day visit Uganda. And just for fun she hopes that she’ll be as fat as me when she grows up. I threw the letter on the counter and tried to wrap my mind around the part where she wants to be as fat as me. Hello! I know I’m fat, but it’s not polite to point it out. I didn’t want to think about the fact that maybe she was just so hungry all the time that she couldn’t imagine having a little extra meat on her bones. It was time for God to let me off the hook. I couldn’t respond to her letter. I could not. I could not get past how it made me feel about myself. Me, myself, me, myself, me, myself…you get the picture.

Finally, I confessed to someone who loves me that I’m a really bad sponsor parent. I told her what had happened and she listened and we laughed together about some of the funny stuff. I wanted her to give me confirmation that I could end the sponsorship. She did not. Instead, she encouraged me to just sit down and write this little girl a letter and move on. I made my case for how I didn’t connect with this girl at all. Our lives are just too different for me to have anything worthwhile to tell her. Why can’t Compassion International have an option for people who can afford to give, but not afford to write letters? Surely there are letter writers we could partner with?

Later that day I prayed and asked God to help me because these letters were haunting me and I needed to be free of them. What do I say? What do I do? Instead of picking me up and shaking me until my narcissistic head rattled, He gently whispered, “What did you need to hear when you were 12?” I tried to remember who I was at that age and how I felt about myself. Then I began to pray for her. I prayed that God would bless her. I prayed that she would know she has value, that she is beautiful. I prayed that she would know that God has called her to do something great for His purposes and she can do all things through Him. I prayed that she would be protected from harm and that the enemy would not succeed in his evil schemes. I prayed that her hopes and dreams would draw her closer to Jesus every single day of her life.

This girl says she prays for me. She prays for my family. She has not given up on me. It’s not her fault that I’m a spoiled rotten American and can’t quite get my act together enough to get over myself to sit down and write a dang letter. It’s not really about her. It’s about me. It’s about me needing to grow up and get outside of myself and what makes me feel good or not so good. Jesus is not letting me off the hook with a mindless donation. Honestly, $38 a month is a drop in the bucket for my family. Truth be told, I spend more than that at Starbucks every single month and we are still a Dave Ramsey nightmare, but we’re working on it.

Yesterday I wrote a letter, attached a family photo of our chubby selves and hit send. As pathetic as all of that sounds, it was a breakthrough. I wanted to run through the house cheering like I do for my boys when they do something I know they were afraid of doing.

Writing a letter doesn’t make me a missionary. I’m still the world’s worst Compassion blogger. I still don’t want to visit Uganda. I still feel guilty about being an American. I’m still pathetic, but there’s hope. There’s always hope. 

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.”—Matthew 25:40 NIV

Do you sponsor a child? I’d love to hear how your family does this. Thanks for stopping by.

Do You Wanna Kill a Snowman?

It snowed. Again. And I’m sorry.

I remember those days like they were yesterday. Stuck inside a two bedroom apartment with two rowdy preschool aged boys, it wasn’t a snow day. It was a hostage crisis and I was the hostage.

“Mom! We wanna go outside! Please, mom! Take us outside!” Their demands were simple: Spend 15 minutes pulling on snow pants, boots, hopefully a matching pair of mittens, and a coat. Go outside for 5 minutes in the actual snow, then come back inside and spend 15 minutes taking it all off again, followed by not too hot cocoa and their favorite cookies. No big deal, right?

Maybe not for a 16 year old who got to sleep in. Not for a woman who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep for 3,247 days.

I remember well. I remember thinking how snow days were supposed to look. How we’d build a snowman and take pictures for the scrapbook. How we would build snow forts and take pictures for the scrapbook. How we would fill spray bottles with water and food coloring to color the snow. Or make snow ice cream. So we could take pictures for the scrapbook.

For me, it was always about creating memories for a life I wanted to live, but didn’t actually have the time or energy to live.

My boys are teenagers now. Nobody asked if they can go outside to build a snowman. Today my help was not needed to pull on snow pants and gloves. Yes! Instead, they had to suit up to shovel the driveway and sidewalks. We’ve come a long way. And you know what? I don’t regret not having “better” pictures for our scrapbook. I regret not embracing the time for what it truly was: Loud, crazy, chaotic, exhausting, messy, crusty, unstructured, and truly the longest days of my life. But they were mine and it’s not too late to own them.

It’s not too late.

Today I choose to embrace the life we are living, and as I do, grace warms us like the sun.

God’s Faithfulness in the Hard Places

**Hello! Last summer I had the privilege of  sharing this post as a 5 minute talk in a speaker evaluation group at the She Speaks conference. Today I thought that maybe since it’s like the 432nd day of winter where I live that someone out there could use a little encouragement. I’m saying a prayer for you today. Hang in there. He’s faithful.**

A couple of years ago my husband and I took our two teenage sons to Disney World where we met up with my brother and his family from California.

Like most people, we needed to escape the crazy routine at home. Things like putting our house up for sale, laundry, chores, homework, jobs, bills, dogs, sports. As hard as I tried to put on a brave face every day, I was exhausted and didn’t know how to keep up with my own life. I was sinking.

While we were on vacation, my brother and his wife took us to a wine tasting event at Epcot during their Food and Wine Festival. I’ll be honest, I was pretty intimidated. I didn’t know anything about wine other than whether it tasted good or not.

We sampled a Spanish wine called Las Rocas which means ‘The Rocks’. Since we couldn’t go to Spain, the vineyard rep showed us pictures of where the grapes are grown. What we saw looked more like an Arizona desert than a Spanish vineyard. Then she began to describe the extreme climate…hot summers and very cold winters. She showed us close-up pictures of the soil…pictures that looked like they had been taken on Mars of vines surrounded by slate and red dirt. 

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I thought to myself, NOTHING SHOULD GROW IN THOSE CONDITIONS.

Based on these conditions, the wine should have tasted like some sandy concoction my boys would have made a few years ago. But it didn’t. It was actually very good.

How in the world can rocks, hot summers and cold winters produce fruit that can be made into a beautiful, rich tasting wine that people all over the world enjoy?

Psalm 89:8 says

O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.

The vineyard rep explained to us that it’s the rocky, nutrient-poor soil that is the key to the grapes that grow there. She said that as the vines struggle to survive in these extreme conditions, they concentrate their energy into fewer berry clusters, to produce grapes with rich flavor.

She explained how the rocks are porous…retaining rainwater and heat so that they deliver just enough water to the vines during the hot summers, and then protect them with just enough heat from the harsh winters.

The rocks give this wine its signature flavor found nowhere else in the world.

About the time I thought my brain would shut down from a science lesson, the Holy Spirit whispered:

I know you don’t see how anything good can come from the conditions you find yourself in right now.

You see rocks everywhere.

You feel alone and exposed.

You long for deeper things than you dare to admit.

You don’t know how you’re going to make it.

But I can grow something rich and beautiful in you because of these conditions.

You need Me more than ever.

Your roots are growing deeper because the deeper soil is full of the nutrients you need to thrive.

You can’t produce anything good without Me. Trust Me to make something beautiful out of this.

His faithfulness surrounds Him.

If God can be faithful to some grapes in a Spanish desert, surely He will be faithful to you and me.

He’s not asking us to trust our track record. He’s asking us to trust His. He has a long history of being faithful to His people even though we don’t have a long history of being faithful to Him.

My circumstances haven’t changed much. My house is still for sale. I’m exhausted. My family needs way more from me than I have to give. I’m still in a hard place, but it’s in this hard place that I am learning to thrive because of a faithful God who has what I need every single day. He gives me His Word. He puts people in my life to pray for me and encourage me and then He asks me to trust Him even when I don’t feel like it because His faithfulness surrounds Him!

The One who turns water into wine is faithful. Even now He is making something rich and beautiful out of your hard places. You may not be able to see or taste it yet, but you can trust Him because His faithfulness surrounds you.

**I think it’s incredibly helpful for others to hear stories of God’s faithfulness to His people. If you would like to share something like that, please leave a comment. Thanks for stopping by!

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