JATC Cover Photo

JATC Cover Photo

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Worthwhile Workout

Thanks to Facebook, I discovered recently that it has been seven years (to the week!) since God ambushed me with this idea of living fearlessly--because in Him, I can. Seven years since it occurred to me that the concept of “fake it til ya make it” could apply here (and it would have to, because fear had a strong hold on me!). Seven years since the realization that He created me with a spirit of power, and love, and of a sound mind---FOR REAL, in 2 Timothy 1:7, go check it out!

SEVEN YEARS. My, how time flies!

During that seven years, many things have happened. I married my husband, he adopted my (our) son, my daughters have graduated from high school and experienced further education, love, fun, more loss and grief, I went back to school and finished my bachelor’s degree (that took FIVE out of these seven years), I changed career paths, and recently I have begun my master’s degree and embarked into new ministry partnership with my sister while continuing my work with the church. WHEW! All of this because I chose to fake fearlessness and be open to what God has for me, what He has placed in me, and what He is asking me to do.

I can’t lie…there has been a whole lot of wrestling with God in the trenches of that list and a whole lot of fear. Fear of failure, fear of consequence, fear of missing the “right” door to go through, all have been alive and well in me. There have been times of pause and times of hesitation. The beauty of all of it is this: MY GOD IS BIGGER. He is bigger than my fears, bigger than the boxes we try to place Him in, and bigger than the walls of any building we try to house Him in. I choose to trust that and to trust that He has equipped us all. And I choose to trust that He is willing to work through my fears and doubts.

As part of one of my classes I read the book “Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-Given Dream” by Beth A. Booram. In the very beginning of the book she makes this statement, “What makes a Spirit-inspired dream important is that it is deposited in you! You are the unique receptacle, and you are the only person who can give birth to it—it’s your baby! God, who knows you intimately through and through, who has fashioned you inside and out and has been with you through thick and thin, has deposited the seed of this dream in you for you to harvest.” I have held tight to this idea that God has a uniquely designed dream planted in me that matches how He has uniquely designed me. I’m passionate about this belief that comes from Psalm 139:14 that says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that “Your works are good, Lord”. So, I am willing to buy into this idea that the dreams that He plants in us are also fearfully and wonderfully made, and are good.

We also had the privilege of spending a day with Beth Booram engaging in some spiritual formation exercises and hearing more of her own story. I loved hearing more about her own stories of transition and discovery. And, I have to be honest and say that still, quiet, contemplative work is hard for me. So, the formation exercises were a HARD mental and spiritual workout! And, like any other exercise program, it turned out to be OH SO GOOD for my mind and my soul, like running the stairs is OH SO GOOD for my butt.

There was one particular exercise that has left its mark on me in a big way. Beth brought some photos with her that she laid out on a table and had each of us choose one we were most drawn to. Mine was this beautiful baby bird being held ever so gently in the open palm of a human hand. At first, I thought of myself as the bird. I thought about the gentle care this little creature deserved and possibly needed. I considered how hard it is for us to offer ourselves that gentleness, and how important that message is for every single one of us. That whole idea of being uniquely crafted indicates that we need to be uniquely cared for. As I embark on this journey of a master’s program, a new business, and balancing my existing job and my family I want to remember to treat myself that gently and maintain an open palm, not to choke any of what is happening.

Likewise, the bird could be the dream or vision God has planted. The open palm could be mine. How am I going to nurture it without clinging so tightly that I harm it? Our desire to over-control something can be overwhelming!

As time has passed I have continued to reflect on the picture of the little bird. I think God holds us with an open palm. Gently and safely caring for us unless we choose to fly away. Part of His very design in us is our ability to think things through, to question, to understand, to empathize, to play, to move and react to the world around us, and to rest and reflect. His palm is always open, even when we chose not to rest there, allowing us to return time and time again.

All of this from what was a hard mental and spiritual workout.

So, here is some food for thought. A mental and spiritual workout, so to speak. How are you caring for yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually? Are you building those muscles in all areas? We were created to be whole and healthy within a design that is unique to each of us. YOU are a work of art. Will you handle yourself with gentleness? Will you be open to what God is doing in and around you? Will you have fun and enjoy whatever that is? Can you muster up what it takes to be authentic and move fearlessly even when fear creeps in? Will you wrestle with God when you don’t agree or don’t understand? Because living fearlessly is not really minus fear. It is simply doing the work that allows us to keep moving through it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The List of Nevers

My son turned eleven on Sunday.  It's crazy how fast that happens.  And as I reflect on the last eleven years he is at the top of a list of things I was committed to never doing again.  His sisters are eighteen and twenty.  As you might imagine, I was done having children...and yet God wasn't finished.  Samuel is hands down the best surprise of my life!  It was a stormy season of my life, and yet here was this beautiful child who still makes me smile at my lowest moments and adds to our lives everyday.  
In January, my husband and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  He is next on the list of things I was committed to never doing again.  I was NOT getting married EVER again.  NEVER.  My first marriage ended at the hands of alcoholism and the pain is deep.  My son was from another very unhealthy relationship.  I was DONE depending on any other human for anything, and yet here was this man who's gentle strength and consistency brought peace and healing to my heart.  
In September of 2010 I began my journey into ministry life by returning to college at Tabor.  TWO things on the list I was committed to NEVER doing...returning to college, where I knew eventually I would be confronted with the Algebra that I never could pass the first three times, and working in organized religion (so to speak).  And yet again, here I am, serving full time at Woodlawn UMC and still working on a degree.
Today, I am one quiz and one test away from surviving the dreaded Algebra that chased me out of college many years ago and I am humbled and grateful for the encounter with God in 2008 that led me to this verse "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).  The sound mind thing always makes me giggle and the idea of power and love have led me on a journey to live fearlessly as God transforms me, even if I have to fake it occasionally!  In His grace there is peace and stamina for the challenges.
I've released the list of "nevers" and surrendered.  I love my husband, my church family, and my children deeper because of the journey, and very soon I will be a survivor of Intermediate Algebra!  Live fearlessly friends, you were created that way.  ;)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Surrendering Perfection

Three years later I still marvel at the fact that I work for a church.  I often wonder if God has experienced a serious lapse in judgement.  I do not fit the mold of what one might expect.  I am messy and often unfiltered. My life story is more like the woman at the well than what one might expect or even prefer of church staff. I am not steeped in church polity or policy or politics, and most of the time I do not understand the difference between the three.

I have struggle for far more years than I care to count with the idea that Christians are called to some level of perfection that seems unattainable. How do we reconcile the concept of a God who is Love with the idea that He expects us to be perfect and that we might really be "left behind" if we cannot attain it.  After all, we have been taught that Jesus, who I totally believe was fully God and fully human said these words "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48, NIV) What exactly does someone like me do with that??  I've made some dumb mistakes, survived some poor choices, and I still mess up on the regular.  Be PERFECT?? REALLY??

For several years now my answer has been to accept the reality of God as I have experienced Him. His grace has been sufficient in more ways than I can count.  I have experienced peace that I do not deserve, and He has come through for me in ways I could never have asked or predicted.  My journey has been colorful, yet filled with hope and renewal.  I have discovered great joy in embracing the idea that I merely have to be who He created me to be and I have grown increasingly passionate about helping others learn to embrace this same truth, to discover how our gifts and character play into God's story.  Really, this has been a result of the journey, of prayer and experience, of learning to recognize God in the daily grind, not from extensive study of scripture.

Currently I am taking a class on the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus famous sermon during which He made that statement.  It's a classic Bible story.  Many of us heard it in Sunday school and grew up with certain expectations as a result of it.  Last week our professor pointed out that in the original Greek text Jesus used the word telios, meaning complete or whole.  All I could think was are you kidding me??  All of this time it was "be complete"??  Now I am no great scholar, but this is a real game changer.  Be complete.  This is a whole different statement in our culture than "be perfect". This is a concept I can get behind.  I can wrap my brain around the idea that the One who created me desires to continually work to complete what He started in me. I can invest myself and strive to become all that He made me to be.  When I think of how I have experienced God in my own journey and how he is constantly transforming me and how my understanding of Him and His people has grown and evolved, I can embrace the idea of becoming complete.  

The truth is that I surrendered the idea of perfection 15 years ago when my first marriage ended.  I spent the next several years wrestling with the powerful realization that perfect was impossible and that somehow God has been faithful, regardless.  Last week as I embraced this new phrase, be complete, I felt lighter, more confident, even loved, and yet incredibly humbled.  I even shared this with others and took notice as their faces changed and even their posture as I spoke the words be complete.  So, Be complete, friends.  Surrender perfection and embrace the grace that invites you to become all that you were created to be. I want to invite you to find contentment in the process and to rest.  Rest and breathe and allow yourself to embrace grace.  Be complete friends, as your Father in heaven is complete. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

A Mini-Van, A Buddha Statue, A Box of Ashes, and a WHOLE Lot of Hope

I'll never forget the day that I called the chaplain from Valley Hope as I lay (literally in the fetal position, at the end of my rope) on the floor in the office of my home in tears.  "He's drinking again.....I don't know what to do.......*sobbing* All I want is peace....I NEED peace....."  The gentle voice on the other end of the line said "Why do you stay?  Why have you not divorced him?"  Still sobbing I explained that I meant the vows that I said and that I don't believe in divorce and I believed God hated divorce.  Again with the gentle voice "Shelly, you are side stepping God's grace".  In that moment and the moments to follow the peace that passes all understanding flooded my body, my mind, and my soul as he began to explain to me that this was not what God wants.  He told me God loved me and my daughters and that those girls were my first priority, gifts given to me by God.  He explained to me that God is merciful and did not condemn me to punishment for the rest of my life at the hands of someone else's choices over which I had no control. I had heard about grace my whole life, and this peace that passes all understanding.  I never really grasped what it meant until that day.   Suddenly, there it was, real and tangible in a way that I would have never imagined until I FELT IT.

In the months that followed I did file for divorce.  I was forced to send John's daughter to her mother in Georgia after raising her for nearly eight years. I did focus on my girls and tried to learn to take care of myself in ways that allowed me to effectively be present for them.  Throughout the process of divorce his family kept close contact with me and I kept as much of an eye out for him as I could without compromising the safety and well-being of my daughters (or myself) until they could get him into treatment for a third time.  The alcohol nearly killed him at that time, and yet God loved John, too.  So by the very same grace, some timely angels from AA were able to get him to the VA hospital where he received medical help, detox assistance, and six months of rehab.  Five years later, John died of alcoholism shortly after losing his brother to cancer.

At the time, I was in another relationship and had just given birth to my son.  John's role in the girls lives was an occasional phone call.  They had only seen him once since our failed attempt to reunite after that six months of treatment.  That visit was a mixed bag of blessed time with their dad and some extremely unhealthy circumstances.  The relationship I was in was a mess and I was still begging, searching for healing.  His death brought relief and deep pain all at the same time, much like when you lose a family member who has suffered a long cancer battle.  Alcoholism is equally as evil.

Fast forward to today. I'm remarried to a man who adopted my son and who treats the girls as his own.  I have a job I am passionate about.  I'm in the process of finally finishing my degree.  Both of my daughters are in college and are amazing young adults.   Their older sister (John's daughter) has returned to Kansas to make it her home.  My son is now 10, and growing strong and healthy.  He is blessed to have little knowledge of the turmoil that brought us to this season.

In December we lost John's sister.  His last living sibling and my friend and big sister for the last 22 years.  As we sat in the priest's office days before the service to celebrate her life, the priest began to ask us to share.  She also shared with us that she wanted to speak of hope and resurrection in her sermon. She knew that on the day of Chris's passing she would have been celebrating TWENTY SIX years of sobriety, that Chris has raised Sarah as a single parent, that Chris had loved well and served well (both in AA and in the church, as well as in her vocation).  As she told us this, I lost all composure.  Of course she should speak of hope and new life!  Chris spoke life into many and into some very dark circumstances, including my own.  I will forever hear her words "just focus on the next right thing" as I continue to move through my life.  I am deeply grateful for her role in my own journey of hope and resurrection.

So, in August, we moved his mom here to Kansas from Arkansas to be close to us.  She is a fascinating woman who I was attached to immediately upon meeting her.  In the 22 years I've known her, she has lost her parents, her husband, and all three of her children.  Yet, she presses on with grace, faith, and dignity. She also is no stranger to finding hope and resurrection in very dark circumstances. It made sense to bring her close so the girls and I can take active part in her life, to be present in everyday life and to be accessible when she needs us.  She purchased a lovely home large enough for the rest of her grandchildren to fly in and visit as often as possible. And, I enjoy her friendship and support.

My husband went with me last month to help oversee the movers, load our vehicle and hers, and drive a vehicle back.  He was putting the box with her Buddha statue (a beautiful peace of art, not a 'god' in her home) in the back of her mini-van as I was placing John's ashes in the van as well.  I laughed and cried as I thought about the craziness of it all.  My husband held me and took it all in stride.  He is steady and I was so grateful to have him there.

Driving back from Arkansas with a Buddha statue, my deceased ex-husband's ashes in a box, and his mother who I adore and still get to claim as my own, I was reminded yet again that God is much bigger, much stronger, much wiser, and FAR more creative than I could ever possibly wrap my brain around.  I was reminded that what my human mind envisioned as proper healing didn't even come close to comparing to the journey that was ahead.  For all of the times that I begged God to heal my family fifteen years ago, the truth is...He did.  I never could have pictured my life as it is today.

It doesn't look like anyone might have expected.  My marriage ended.  Another failed relationship happened.  There were moments when I could barely float, let alone tread water or keep swimming. And yet there has been tremendous healing, and the healing continues.

I become easily frustrated when I feel as if man made rules and expectations interfere with our ability to see God at work.  Our vision is so very limited and His is vast beyond our comprehension. My very colorful, very diverse family is living breathing proof that the Creator of the Universe is STILL creating in us, for us, around us, and through us.  We can box the Buddha statue, but we CANNOT box the great I AM.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meet Abbey Dollard.....

As parents we only ever hope and pray we are making right decisions and the decisions we make impact our kids in positive ways.  For almost twenty years now being a mom who raised my kids to be effective adults "someday" has been my primary purpose.  Many of those years I parented alone which made the challenges different. Mistakes were made and victories won. Despite my own humanness, God is faithful and so far so good on the whole "effective adults" thing.  In fact, I'm so proud of who they are and humbled by their giftedness that words fail me.

Today....we are steadily approaching "someday" for my baby girl and I have invited her to be a guest writer on my blog.  She has a great story, a great heart, and an even greater vision.  AND, she needs our help to begin the next chapter of her journey.

Meet Abbey Dollard......

As a young girl, two years old to be exact, I was diagnosed with Alport’s Syndrome. This is a genetic condition that mostly affects the kidneys, but may also lead to hearing loss and abnormalities in the eye.
The diagnosing process started when my parents noticed, without going into any great detail, some uncommon characteristics about my urine.
My mom took me to our pediatrician, Dr. Camilo H. Palacio, thinking it was all just some sort of infection. The realization that it was more came when I had to go back every day to get my blood pressure and weight checked. Some might have thought I had all this cute baby fat, the doctor, however, knew I had all this bad water weight that I was not losing.
Dr. Palacio was the doctor who changed it all. As we went through the everyday process of worry and exhaustion trying to figure out what was going on, he took the time out of his day to continue researching my condition even off the clock. While at home with his family, he made the discovery that it was, in fact, all linked to my kidneys.
This lead to the process of finding a nephrologist. In Wichita, there was no pediatric nephrologist. Trying to compensate, a nephrologist, agreed to see me. Although she clearly was NOT a kid’s person, she was a sweet lady to try. But anyone who knows me, knows that to this day, I tend to be a lot to handle. Making that arrangement more difficult than helpful.
Once again, Dr. Palacio came to the rescue helping us get connected with Dr. Stanley Hellerstein. Now this guy was cool. Here I was, three years old, and I was the doctor. Me, Abigail Dollard, high and mighty in the doctor’s chair. No one could stop me now, not even my mom every time she told me, “Abigail don’t play on the rolling stool, that’s the doctor’s chair”.  When I responded with “I AM the doctor”, Dr. Hellerstein agreed. He let me be just as important as him. I was no longer the little girl with the kidney problems; I was also the one helping change lives.
What Dr. Palacio and Dr. Hellerstein do not know is that they influenced me so much at such a young age. Not only did they bring peace of mind to my family on my condition, but they showed me how great of an impact pediatric doctors can have on children.
As I’ve grown up, I have spent a lot of time working with kids. Whether it’s been babysitting on the weekends, the two kids I pick up and watch every day after school, my three summers spent at the Mulvane Recreation Center in the Pre-Kindergarten class, or volunteering at the church. If it’s given me the opportunity to work with them and hopefully positively influence them with even just a smile, I’ve taken it. Because Dr. Palacio and Dr. Hellerstein gave my three year old little self, at the very least, enough reassurance to be normal enough to smile.
Along with my love for kids, I also have a love for science. I came to realization of my love for science through my seventh grade teacher, Kara Gilbert. Her love for what she did made it visible to me how easy it is to take something you love and run with it. She may not have any clue that she’s what helped push me to further my studies in science, but I’ll forever give her the credit. I’ve had many great science teachers that have also helped me at my higher level classes, but I would never have considered taking these classes without having yet another amazing person influence me to do so.
One of those other science teachers is Nicole Streff-Collignon. She has been my freshman year Biology teacher and is now currently my AP Biology teacher. AP Biology has been by far my most challenging course so far, but definitely my favorite. I’ve learned that with a teacher willing to do what it takes for you to understand without pushing you to the point of losing your love for the subject, anything can be accomplished (apparently even genetics can be accomplished). Closer to the beginning of the year, she nominated me to participate in the Careers in Medicine Leadership Forum. Graciously, I have accepted the nomination and am very excited to say I will be going to Chicago at the end of June.
My love for science and my love for kids is how I came to pursuing a career as a pediatrician. I have been accepted into Southwestern College to take part in their Pre-Med program along with signing to be a part of their Leadership program, which will help further develop my skills giving me an even bigger opportunity to positively influence lives.

Through all of my opportunities and wildest dreams, I hope to someday give significance to someone else the way I feel these people have given significance to me. It may be that three year old little girl in the chair that needs to hear that she is the doctor, or it may be the mom that needs to know her baby is going to be okay. Whomever it may be and whatever situation it may be, if I can step in and do everything possible to help, I will feel as though I’ve done what I am created to do. Because I see purpose in all of the things that these people have done for me and it will be an honor to give that purpose back. 

Help Abbey.....


From the depths of my soul I thank you for taking time to read Abbey's story, for praying for her on this journey, and to the many of you who have supported and loved us over many years!  My heart is full and God is good.... ALL  the time!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Jesus & Genesis PURE....Really?

Driving home from Hays Kansas to Mulvane Kansas and reflecting on this crazy journey that has been my life and the craziness that God continues to provide.  It’s been a long time since I have posted to my blog and with some prodding it appears to be time to start posting again.

Kurt and I left Mulvane yesterday without any of our children in tow.  This is only the second night in our married life we have been away from home without any of them, the first one being our honeymoon three and a half years ago.  We were headed to Hays to hear Dr. Lindsey Duncan speak on wellness, life, and nutrition.  We enjoyed our time together in the car and stopped for a relaxing dinner in Salina before we met up with friends in Hays for some adult beverages and socializing.

It’s crazy to think we were without kids.  It’s crazy to realize that NEVER happens.  And it might be even crazier to think that we drove all that way for a gathering related to a direct marketing company.
We joined this company called Genesis PURE back in March.  I was looking for weight loss and energy products.  Because let’s face it, at 43 with fibromyalgia, osteo-arthritis, and a sketchy digestive system I was going to need all the help I could get to restart my (what seemed to be) halted metabolism.  I had spent the better part of the prior two years seeking answers, help, anything to feel better and all I was getting was fatter, grumpier, and more lethargic.  The fibro meds were making me tired and sweaty.  I was popping Tums like they were M&M’s and I had lost all energy and ability to hit the gym. 

Don’t get me wrong.  In the grand scheme of things, I had very little to complain about.  I have been blessed in ways that I struggle to find words to explain.  There was a time in my life when I would have told you I will never marry again because healthy marriages ended with my parents’ generation.  There was a time when I would have told you I will never work in a church because it is filled with politics and bullshit that Jesus never intended to be there.  And yet, here I am with this wonderful husband and beautifully woven church family that I am humbled and honored to serve.  Humans are messy.   I am among the messiest and I have found peace and grace among brokenness.  I have a list of gratitudes longer than there is space for, and I can honestly say that I have found spiritual and mental peace in ways that I never believed existed.

When it came to the medical issues I believed I was being forced to accept some kind of new normal.  If I could drop a few pounds, though……maybe it would not be QUITE so bad.  However, when I began to hear that there are supplements out there made entirely of the food God meant for us to eat and that people were experiencing miraculous results (Yes, MIRACULOUS) my mind raced at the thought “maybe this does not have to be normal”.  Kurt must have had similar ideas, because after some discussion we jumped in together the next day and haven’t looked back.  

With the new goal of getting off the meds I put weight loss and energy on the back burner with the belief that if I could feel better those things would come.  So, on March 16th when our products arrived we began this seemingly crazy journey toward physical health as a family.  By the end of May I was off my fibro meds, my allergy meds, and all over the counter pain meds.  Today, I am back in a love/hate relationship with the treadmill, down ten pounds, and moving better than I have in TEN years (or more!).  I have energy to spare! 

Again, here I am in the midst of something I never believed I would do.  I’m not one to do direct marketing or commission only sales of any kind.  I have never had any desire to stock inventory, track orders, do home parties, makeovers, woo people with hostess gifts, or play cheesy games for discounts.  I returned to school for ministry almost three years ago and have diligently worked to fulfill this calling to serve Jesus by serving others.  Genesis PURE does not ask me to do anything that takes me away from that AND I don’t have to do any of the aforementioned list of silliness.

My heart is in helping others find their “sweet spot” in life.  You know, that place where you live, work, and serve within your strengths in such a way that you know that you know that you know you are the person you were created to be.  I’m sure you have heard it said “find something you love and figure out how to make a living at it.”  I feel like I live in my “sweet spot” and it’s an AMAZING place to be!  Not because I make a bunch of money (because I don’t), but because I am living within my calling and serving within my strengths.  We were each created in a way that is unique and with purpose and when you can find that, the fulfillment is overwhelming!  We are currently offering an opportunity to begin this journey through a class called Servant by Design at our church and it is by FAR my favorite part of my “job”.  It sounds so cliché and yet being the best YOU that you can be really facilitates fulfillment in all aspects of one’s life.  Relationships heal and become healthy, careers fall into place, and grace is experienced in ways that allow us to see God in very real and tangible ways.

Today as Dr. Lindsey spoke of “caring for this human frame”, he expressed that our bodies are not our own, that we should care for this temple we were given to live in.  He read from Genesis how God provided food for us and from 1 Corinthians about how we are to care for one another as well.  He encouraged us to spread the message of wellness with pure intentions and educated us on ways to cleanse, balance, and build our bodies.  He reminded us that healing comes from God, and that our bodies are created in such a way that they will heal when we fuel them properly.  As he spoke, I realized that in the last six months this cleansing, balancing, and building of my body, my temple, has been part of becoming the me God created me to be.  It’s part of living in that “sweet spot”.  I feel better than I have felt in well over ten years and it keeps getting better.  I am more capable of serving others now, than ever before.   

So, while I can imagine that some of my friends and family might think I have jumped off the deep end of crazy because I think you can carry a gun, marry the one you love, find life and love after divorce, get a tattoo, have an adult beverage, use food as medicine, and use the word bullshit in your blog, I can’t help but think of the radical, non-traditional way that Jesus taught us to love.  He lived WAY out of the box….talking to people He was not supposed to talk to, eating with people He was not supposed to eat with, touching people He was not supposed to touch, forgiving sins that the human system did not allow forgiveness for…..and all I can think is JUMP, BE CRAZY, BE RADICAL, BE OUT OF THE BOX.  Find new ways to live well, love better and stronger, and BE grace. 

I honestly don’t have a clue how it all fits together.  God has wild plans and outrageous ideas and my life continues to display it.  All I know is that God arrived as Jesus to save my soul by grace and He has blessed me with the gift of Genesis PURE to salvage what’s left of this body (this temple) that I have been given to walk this earth in. I am grateful, humbled, amazed, and continually compelled to share what He is doing in my life.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

What a Journey!!

It's been a while since I've posted anything.  So much has happened and I struggle when my heart and mind are swamped.  I anticipated that I would post a graduation tribute for my Lizzi, who graduated from Mulvane High on May 19th.  It was so hard to really wrap my mind around all of the things I wanted to say to her that I kept putting it off.  We had an amazing weekend filled with friends and family.  Watching Lizzi move through her senior year has sparked lots and lots of emotion for me.  There are not words to describe how amazing I really think she is.  And experiencing the weekend of celebration is really beyond words as well. 

Lizzi was five when her dad and I divorced, and she was 9 when he died.  I was in another very unhealthy relationship from the time she was 7 until she was 12.  She is the oldest and she has loved, protected, and "mothered" her siblings in ways she never should have needed to.  By all rights, she could have been a real mess.  However, we were loved and supported by a number of amazing people who surrounded us daily.  We have wonderful family and dedicated friends who we also call family.  Our weekend celebration consisted of an incredible mix of people, blood family, step-family, adopted family, all who have contributed in some way to who she is and who she will be.

Lizzi has grown into quite a young woman.  She moves through life with an ease of spirit that many never find.  She has deep faith, a solid sense of family, a commitment to making right decisions, and plans for a bright future.  Her heart is tender, most of the time her mindset is solid (ha! She is MY daughter so she can't be of sound mind ALL the time!), and she has her priorities in better order than many adults I know.  I'm quite proud and yet, quite humble when I consider what could have been and the number of people God placed in our lives to come alongside her.  I am flooded with gratitude.

Two short weeks later (while I was still trying to wrap my brain around graduation), my sister called late in the evening which is not the norm.  My brother-in-law was in the hospital.  I could feel her anxiety more than usual which left me pacing and upon her second phone call I raced to the hospital to be with them late into the night.  And so began a journey I find it difficult to write about.  He had fought a long hard battle with a rare soft tissue sarcoma (cancer-I hate even using the word), and now it had metastasized in his brain.  She has blogged over the years on it and I can in no way express the things that she shares.  What I can share is that the next ten days were brutal, taking me to places in my walk with God I had never experienced. I stood by watching her wait, pray, and hear from doctors that the fight was over.  I watched as events occurred in ways that could only be explained by the presence of  a loving and merciful God.  I sat with her as she explained to him that there was nothing left to do.  We moved to hospice.  We met with doctors, nurses, and social workers regarding the best ways to keep him comfortable.  We sat with him through fear, frustration, anger, and disorientation.  I sat with her as she explained to their children (ages 8, 10, & 25) that daddy would be on his way to heaven very soon.  And on day eleven, brutal changed to peaceful and I sat with her as she cheered him home to the arms of a loving Savior who would heal him in ways no earthly doctor ever could have.  She knew, and he knew right where he was headed and it was victory!  Together they crossed the finish line in a way that many of us could never imagine and I was there to witness it and the very presence of God was there in a way I had never experienced. 

When we left the hospital that afternoon, we stopped for some comfort food.  A pepsi and a snickers.  Our mom's snack of choice.  We're certain she was there to greet my brother-in-law upon his arrival in Glory.  We were comforted by Steven Curtis Chapman's "Long Way Home" on the radio.  We called our pastor.  We laughed and cried, and laughed and cried.  We gathered with family and told her children.  My own girls who were just seven and nine when they lost their dad came right away to scoop them up, and as a family we began to mourn.  We laughed as much as we cried.  The memorial service was one of celebration of life.  My sister has been surrounded by two church families and the dearest and most precious of friends.  New friendships were started.  There has been love and community at its finest.  Life continues, and it continues to be celebrated. 

In awe, I consider that while I celebrate Lizzi's great success and the beginning of her new journeys, I also watch as my neice and nephew at such young ages embark on a similar path all these years later.  I know that my sister will not make some of my mistakes (she's always been the smarter one).  I know that the kids will be loved and supported in ways that will allow them to grow into wonderful people just as Lizzi and Abbey have.  Most importantly, I know that there is sufficient grace for the road ahead.  I know that regardless of the storms life sends our way, our God has made a promise.  He will never leave us.  "Every single step of the long way home....."

I cannot post this without sharing a couple of links.  First, the song.  (The super cute Lego video!)

And, second, the link to my sister's blog.  She's one of the most inspiring writers I've ever read.   She's very real and has a faith that won't quit.  So, if you haven't begun to follow her already, I encourage you to take some time to read it.