Saturday, February 24, 2018

When the Head and Heart Collide

"Even if." Two small words. One big God. That first year after my dad passed away was filled with so much pain as I wrestled with God. I knew He could have saved my dad. To be honest, I was expecting him to.  I saw Him do miracle after miracle in the hospital and nursing facilities. I felt like he parted the Red Sea and moved mountains.  At the time, I was preparing for him to get better. To live life with us. To be Paw Paw to my baby girl.  Looking back, I see how God was preparing me... for his departure.

Mercy Me had just come out with a song called Even If.  My best friend called and asked if I had heard it yet.  I was washing dishes one morning when it came on the radio. I walked in the living room with wet soapy hands. As I listened to the words; I dropped to my knees.  It became my song.

 "I know you're able and I know you can.  Save through the fire with your mighty hand. But even if you don't; my hope is you alone. I know the sorrow and I know the hurt, would all go away if you just say the word. But even if you don't. My hope is you alone." 

I played this song over and over last February. Something about it, the truth in the words wrapped around my bleeding heart. I knew the truth in my head... but my heart was another matter. What good is any head knowledge if the heart does not believe? I wanted to move forward and to live again. Yet when the head and heart are at war, you don't move forward. You become immobile. Stuck in a pit of despair. Drowning in a sea of "why's and what if's."

Each time I played the song, the truth behind the words sunk deeper and deeper. The lies were there as well.  I had allowed them to camp out there for sometime at the forefront of my mind. I tried to ignore them, but they did not ignore me. Those lies haunted me at night as I slept and during the day as I attempted to put one foot in front of the other.  Over and over again I would try to make things right, but I couldn't fix it. I couldn't fix my Dad and I couldn't fix my heart.  I failed every time.

My head knew the right answers. Dad was in a better place. No more suffering. No more pain. Yet, my heart was sick and was yearning for peace.  I curled up that night with my computer and my bible. I read the words in Isaiah, "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."  I read the words as I listened to the song.  I played it over and over and over.  The lies didn't flee the first or second or third time I heard the song.  The words had not been given a chance to take root.  But, the more I heard the song, and read the verse, and whispered the words, the more the words began to penetrate my heart.

These words were fresh water streams and they were making their way into my wilderness where I had been wondering around aimlessly for months.  The shift began to take place.

I began to remember His goodness to me all of my days. I chose to believe in His faithfulness even if things didn't go the way I had carefully orchestrated them to go in my mind.  I experienced His steadfast love even when I went astray.

The battle was long; but it didn't have to be. I had a choice to make. I could complain or be grateful. I could hang on to the hurt or give it to Him. I could remain stuck in an endless cycle of trying to "fix it" or be set free.  But, even if I choose poorly, He still remains faithful.

The choice of letting go presents itself to be hard because of one four letter word. FEAR. I felt that in letting go of the pain that I was letting go of my dad.  What. A. Lie.  Do you know what the opposite of fear is? It's love.  And God's Word says that perfect love drives out fear.  It's only hard until we surrender. When we let go and lift our hands in surrender, we meet a new friend. That friend is Freedom.  He comes in and breaks every chain. He unlocks the door to the cage. He sets you free so that you can say, "It is well, with me."

I pray that if you are in a wilderness of your own, that you will know are not alone. You are loved by a beautiful Creator. You are His masterpiece. I pray you choose joy, my friend.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I Sought Him. He Answered Me.

I wasn't going to go. It would be the first mission trip since we returned from Ecuador almost 4 years ago. I gave myself all kinds of excuses, fearful of all the "what ifs." "What if my child can't handle all the activities? It's too far to drive. I can't do it without Larry."

I decided to seek the Lord anyway. I heard His whisper, "I will be with you Amanda. Wherever you go." " I received a message later that morning from a girl at church who wanted to go as well but needed to ride with someone. The next day I ran into a friend at church that encouraged me to go. It was the little push I needed.

I sing the songs in church on Sunday... for God to "Lead me where my trust is without borders. To take me deeper than my feet could ever wonder." Then the opportunity awaits, it's sitting right in front of me and I almost miss it. I have to really ask myself, "Is it just a song I sing? Do I really want to go deeper, or do I desire to just be comfortable?"

There's also the layer of protecting the heart. Still tender from the ministry we left in Ecuador, even though it's been four years. A part that still hurts. That wonders, "What is my purpose now Lord?" Oh how I desired for the fire to be ignited again inside my heart. The flame that used to blaze seemed to be a small flicker now. I didn't want to just survive anymore. I wanted to live again.

What a joy to teach these precious children. It never fails. When I step out to teach them, He teaches me. It was the story of Peter and how he had denied Jesus three times after Jesus died on the cross. A few days later he's out fishing in a boat with some of the other disciples. They've fished all night and haven't caught a thing. They are tired and hungry and can you imagine how guilty and shameful Peter must have felt?

 As the sun comes up, a man shouts from the shore, "Friends, have you not caught any fish?" "No" they replied. "Throw your nets on the other side of the boat," he said. They did and pulled up a net of 153 fish. Peter, then recognizing that it was Jesus, is so excited he jumps out of the boat and he swims to shore as fast as he can (this still brings tears to my eyes).

Jesus is there waiting for them with fish cooking over a fire and bread to eat for breakfast (He meets their needs). Can you imagine?! The excitement and then the pleasure of being in His presence. He then asks Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter says he does. Jesus asks again a little later, and then again for a third time, "Do you love me?" Peter feels hurt that he would ask him again. But we learn that Jesus wasn't trying to make him feel bad. He was calling him out because he had BIGGER plans for him. It was time to get serious. He tells Peter, "If you love me, then follow me and feed my sheep."

Oh my goodness is all I can think to say. The Lord used this story to show me that my ministry was not over just because we left the mission field. In fact, it was just the beginning. He was calling me  once again to put my heart out there, to follow Him, to feed His sheep. My heart, oh how He filled it so that it was bubbling over with such joy! No longer was there shame for all I've done to mess things up. Just love. Pure, sweet, never-ending love. The flame that was a dim flicker, just trying to survive was ignited.

Restoration. Renewal. Joy. I sought Him, He answered me. He is so gracious and good, knowing exactly what I need.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Fire

It was a cold snowy morning in Colorado of 2009.  Larry and I were preparing to go on the mission field.  I grabbed a cup of hot coffee and a snuggly blanket and made my way to the fireplace while everyone was still nestled in their beds.

We had been learning so much and I desperately wanted to just BE STILL as I was feeling somewhat like an onion... you know, each layer being pulled away to reveal what was really going on in my heart. I felt raw and vulnerable and desperate to hear from Him.

As I sat there in silence with legs pulled to my chest I gazed into the gas fireplace for a long time.  I was warmed by the heat it put off as the blue and orange flames danced beautifully around the logs.  That's when I heard the whisper, "What do you notice about the fire?" As I pondered that question, I thought it was pretty impressive how the fire was real, I knew this because I was warm sitting close to it. Yet, the logs, even though in the midst of the flames, were not being burnt up.  I cocked my head to the side to gaze a little longer and that's when I heard, "The same will be with you."

I sort of left it at that, and didn't really think too much more about it...until about 8 months later.  We were now on the closing end of language school in Costa Rica. This time I was sitting on the couch in our little one bedroom apartment with the windows open as I listened to it rain. I was proofreading a book that a friend had wrote when I came across a verse in Isaiah 43.

It read, "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."

I yelled for my husband, "Babe!!! Come here!" He peeked around the corner, and said, "Yea?"   Did you know this verse was in the bible? About the flames and the fire and how you won't be burnt because God is with you?"  I read the verse. He replied, "Yes." I asked, "Well do you remember me telling you about how I felt God speak to me back in Colorado?! This is the verse! It's actually IN the bible!" He gave me one of those little quirky smiles and said, "Yea, I thought you knew that."

 I didn't know it. I was pretty much blown away. What I heard God speak to me that morning was actually in the bible?! I was shocked. Amazed. In awe. I often turned to that verse when going through trials and hardships. It gave me a lot of comfort as I held on to His promise during some tough times over the next few years. 

(Fast forward about 7 years) I had the opportunity to go on a Ladies Retreat with our church this past weekend.  I'll just be honest.  I kinda didn't want to go at first. Okay, I really didn't want to go.  It's just easier to come up with all kinds of excuses to stay home. But, everything happened at just the right time and I was able to make it... thank God!

We are sitting in our first session and the speaker asks us to turn to Isaiah 43; which is where we'd be "camping out" for the weekend.  When I saw those words underlined and circled and read the words in my bible, I thought, "Oh boy, this is gonna be GOOD." It was. God showed up in so many ways and in so many details.

On Saturday, I felt a bit drained. As we opened up to one another, we shared things that were difficult to talk about. To be honest, I was pretty scared that I might be leaving to come back home that way.  My spirit was saying, "Lord, please heal my heart. I don't want to go home all broken like this."

We went to our last session on Saturday evening. Our speaker asked us to write down one thing that we would be taking home with us. What had we heard God saying to us over the past 24 hours?  As I put a pen to the paper, it all came out effortlessly.  "Let go, Amanda. Let go of your father and the other people that you hold so close and tight in your hand. Give them to me. Give me your pain. Let Go."

She then asked for some to share. I didn't think I could. I was already crying as I wrote. But, as I heard other women speak and be vulnerable, it gave me courage to do the same. I said it out loud, because I knew if I didn't, it would be too easy to keep holding on. I spoke with a broken heart and broken words and we wept together. There are no words for what we experienced that evening together. God was in our midst.

We worshipped on the beach Sunday morning. As I lifted my hands to the sky, I offered my clenched fist and released my most precious loved ones into His care.  As I opened my eyes, the sun peeked through the white puffy clouds in the form of an angel with its wings so beautifully etched in a brilliant gold/silver.  It was well with my soul.  I finally understood. The Lord loved my father even more than I did. All was well. It was time to move forward and stop rehashing the past.

I came home and asked my husband to go with me to the lake. I couldn't wait until "tomorrow" because as our Pastor has said, "tomorrow is the devil's day." I might chicken out if I waited until tomorrow; I had to act now. I took the black box down off the shelf. We rode out to the lake, a place where my dad loved to be. I opened the lid and ran my fingers through his ashes. It was time to let go. Victoria helped me spread the ashes out over the water.

Afterwards, we strolled around a bit longer enjoying the beautiful day.  I wasn't sure how I felt at first.  A good friend sent me a text and I told her what had just happened. She said, "Amanda, you are free." As I pondered that for a few moments, I began to realize that she was right. I didn't realize that it was actually me who needed to be set free. In letting go of my dad, I opened the door to the cage that I had made for myself. A place that harbored hurt and tears and pain was now gone. Vanished into thin air. Not only was my dad free, so was I.

I'm so thankful for the women who put the retreat together, for the speaker who brought a profound message, for all the women who opened up their hearts.  But, mostly... I'm grateful to God for never deserting me. For loving me, knowing me, dying for me.

Worship on the beach
Painting with a Purpose
Just being silly

My Roomie for the weekend
"Pull my neck back!" (You have to see my Big Fat Greek Wedding 2)