When God Pushes Pause

 

The blog has once again been eerily quiet.

There was such a year of build up to creating this site, with God opening doors I could have never ever dreamed and with opportunities coming together in the most providential of ways. It was amazing to experience how when you are willing to simply say yes to whatever and wherever He leads, the journey is beyond anything you can ask or imagine. It was all of the truths of “immeasurably more” coming to life and exploding off the page. It was magical.

And then right when the opportunities were most abundant?

HE PUSHED PAUSE.

If you follow my social media channels you will have likely seen the reason behind the recent silence on the blog. After 15 years of continuing health issues a surprising twist has come to light. Countless misdiagnoses and failed treatments and incredulous shrugs from doctors who couldn’t agree on a name for the symptoms that seemed to be multiplying more rapidly than ever all culminated in a unexpected identity for my captor:

LYME DISEASE

With the key finally in hand to the mystery of my crippling illnesses, we set out to finally banish my issues once and for all, only to discover we had been dealt a double edge sword. This particular diagnosis, it would seem, is only a beginning to a very long road indeed. Treatments are difficult and uncertain. Doctors who are knowledgable of the condition are few and far between. Insurance companies all but refuse to cover any of it. The diagnosis isn’t so much an ending to this struggle as the beginning of a new one.

[Read more…]

I’ve Been in Pain

946770_10153542624579818_1936731990056128860_nIt’s been a long time since sharing my words in this setting. Too long. Its been an awkward enough pause to address it, but doing so is easier said than done. Some bloggers would suggest I call it a “sabbatical.” That’s really just a cop out at this point. Still others would counsel to have me point to my behind the scenes projects to show that I’ve been “in demand” and the brand is still thriving. And yes, I’ve been working furiously on the book and lining up my 2016 speaking engagements, but it’s certainly not what’s kept me away.

Here’s the unglamorous and totally truthful reality:

I’ve been in pain.

Some of it is physical pain. Many of you know I suffer from a debilitating pair of chronic health conditions called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Fibromyalgia. Winter is the hardest time of year for both these conditions, as cold and flu season hit with a vengeance and cold weather is a known trigger for additional fibromyalgia pain – especially now that we’ve left mild CA for a state with an actual winter. We even had our first ever snow this year. The pain has been harder to tolerate than I’ve been used to, and our medical insurance situation last year left me unable to pursue any real forms of help. I’ve been fairly open about these issues on my social media accounts, and have appreciated the wonderful support Ive received from both my readers and and from fellow members of the spoonie community. And it would have been easy to enough to leave it there and accept all the good wishes and understanding emails of encouragement. But that’s not the whole truth…

I’ve been in pain.

I’ve been neck deep in pain that was difficult to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. It’s a pain I’ve tried to rationalize myself out of, explain away, and stifle down it hopes it would disappear on its own. But as with most pain, it really doesn’t work that way. It’s continued on as this persistent ache, popping up at the most inopportune moments and gnawing away at my ability to ignore it. It’s not going anywhere, and the more I attempt to ignore it the more aggravated it becomes.

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I’ve been in pain.

At the beginning of 2015, in the midst of our multiple months of unemployment, my husband and I discovered we were very unexpectedly pregnant. It was quite the shock, and I would lying if I said it didn’t take some time to used to the idea. It was literally the worst possible timing, but it was far from unwelcome. We felt blessed to be experiencing the possibility of another miracle baby, one we had been discussing for some time but weren’t quite ready to take the leap to try for yet. That baby was a shining light in the middle of a dark season, a much needed anchor of hope to ballast us in the midst of so much uncertainty.

And then, after a longer than usual ultrasound with the nurse, the doctor said those horrible two words.

Not. Viable.

This marked the 7th child that we wont meet until eternity. A 7th precious little one with no birthday to celebrate, no future to plan.

I’ve been in pain.

12342486_10153485769759818_246129569753746655_nSoon after the loss,  my closest friend was blessed with her own unexpected surprise: a 4th little one to join her beautiful brood. It was a joy I admittedly have struggled to untangle from my own sorrow. The happiness I feel for her is authentic, but it’s difficult not to feel the pain of the could have beens. Up until now all our boys have been perfectly staggered in age. If I had carried my most recent pregnancy to term, this trend would have continued, but with the final pair being the closest in age of the bunch. We would have experienced our first pregnancy we’d actually get to do together. Watched the boys grow together. Done it all together.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps the hardest part of miscarriage is that the world around you goes on, and you carry no visible scar to help legitimize your pain. There isn’t a label such as “widow.” There is no grave marker to show. There’s no words to properly explain the gaping hole you know you’re walking around with but simply can’t find a way to show. You’re seemingly alone in it. – and no one knows, or they’ve all but forgotten.

I’ve been in pain.

They say, “time heals all wounds.” Has this ever really been true? If you leave a gaping hole in your leg untreated and wait for time to remedy it, does it really heal? Don’t you usually end up with gangrene? Why have we been taught to believe any different with invisible wounds? Why do we beat ourselves up when our pain doesn’t heal according to some fabricated timeline we’ve assigned ourselves? Why do we feel the need to limit the reaches of our grief? And how can we ever find healing for wounds we are so unwilling to admit, let alone treat.

I’ve been in pain.

1237591_10153541449494818_9191476745620302457_nMy best friend welcomed her 4th little guy into the family a couple weeks ago. He’s beautiful: perfect in every way. And with his birth, I was finally able to admit out loud to my husband for the first time whats really been paining me. Maybe it was the first time I was truly able to admit it to myself. I miss my baby. I miss what might have been. I ache to have a photo, or a birthday, or even a name for this perfect little person I haven’t been able to meet.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps finally admitting it is the first step to real healing. It stings like mad, but most wounds don’t heal themselves. And I refuse to ignore this one any longer.

Contentment Friday: A Meaningful Tradition to Replace “Black Friday”

Last year I was honored to share one of my family’s most important traditions on She Lives Free. This year I’d like to share it again in hopes that it catches on amidst the craziness of the ever more commercialized holiday season. 

contenmentfriday

Wednesday morning, the day before Thanksgiving, and my laptop finally decides its long slow death march is finally coming to an end…  right as I sat down to make my deadline for submitting this very blog for publishing. Lovely. So we pile the family into the car and head over to Best Buy, to buy the family computer we were planning to acquire in the next week or so anyways. As we make our way to the front of the store, what should come into view? A line of patrons and their tents, already camped out for the upcoming Black Friday sale. My heart actually dropped in my chest. Really? THIS is what we’ve come to now? Not only are we opening more and more stores on Thanksgiving day and beckoning them away from their family tables with $9.99 Elmo dolls and discounted Playstations, now we are setting up metal crowd control fencing to contain the line of people camping out in a parking lot days before the sale even starts? It was all I could do but desperately hope my kids didn’t ask about what they were seeing, cause I was tempted to tell them that some very silly grownups were playing “lets pretend we’re on an explorer expedition” and had brought their fun campsite toys to add to the overall effect. And Im not sure how convincing that really would have been.

You see, my children don’t know about the insanity now known as “Black Friday.” Crazy, I know, but my husband and I made a choice some years ago that we would commit to abstain from Black Friday and the total circus it’s become. I hated the idea that we would gather over a Thanksgiving table on Thursday, and profess our great gratitude for all God has given us… and then run out the door so soon after in an panicked rush to “buy all the things!” It simply doesn’t compute for me. So we decided that Black Friday would cease to exist for us, and in its place a new holiday was born: Contentment Friday.

Contentment Friday isn’t just a sweet little term we’ve coined to excuse missing out on the cheapest shopping of the year. No, Contentment Friday is quite possibly second only to Christmas in terms of holiday importance for our little family. It’s a BIG deal around here. The basic premise is simple: in order to focus on our hearts and minds on the idea of contentment, we abstain from spending money in any way, shape, or form on that Friday after Thanksgiving, and we instead fill the day with family centered activities in our home. We stock up on all groceries and essentials in advance (to ensure we never have any reason for unexpected spending,) we block off the date on our work calendars as a holiday, and we prepare to spend the whole day celebrating as a family. This year will be no exception. We’ve bought cinnamon rolls to bake for breakfast, stocked up with some great new board game options, made plans to cook our favorite bacon appetizer and devour it during a family screening of Stars Wars: A New Hope (my 5 year old is especially excited about that one,) and we have all the supplies to bake sugar cookies to frost and decorate. We never feel like we’re missing out, because Contentment Friday is usually one of the fun filled days of the holiday season for us.

contentmentfridayquoteOn Saturday, we continue the fun celebrating our official opening day for the Christmas season. By abstaining from anything Christmas related while we’re still focusing on a season of gratitude and contentment first, we get to experience a whole day dedicated to welcoming the yuletide season into our home. This is the day each year when the Christmas tree goes up, the holiday music finally gets played, the decorations come out, and those great claymation classics like “The Year Without a Santa Clause” are screened. And Im pretty sure we drink more cocoa then the rest of the year combined. Best of all, our hearts are truly prepared for the fullness of Christmas’ joy because we’ve really given heed to the gratitude from which it springs. Simply by being intentional in recognizing all we have to be thankful for, we find ourselves content with the life we already lead, and this in turn births an abundance of joy in our hearts – the very joy that the Christmas season should ultimately be about: not a quest for more things, not a stressful march to simply get through this season with what sanity we can manage, but a season of joy to the world and peace to all men.

My heart’s dream would be to see Contentment Friday take hold in more families then just our own. Imagine the impact it would have on the retail world if even half of Black Friday demand just simply went away? There wouldn’t be a need for crowd control fencing or a website to track the Black Friday death toll each year (oh, how I wish that wasn’t a real thing,) and perhaps some stores wouldn’t even be able to justify calling in all those of employees away from their families without all these customers clamoring for their attention. Because the hidden truth of Black Friday is this – it’s not the retailers’ faults; we have nobody but ourselves to blame. If the demand wasn’t there, the stores wouldn’t have a reason to continue the craziness any longer. So the power is ultimately ours. Nothing battles the current of consumerism more than the value of contentment. When our hearts are focused on being content, we see the virtues of the life we already live and the numerous blessings we already possess – and suddenly no amount of discount seems high enough to give that up to go sleep in a Best Buy parking lot.

 

I Speak for the Turkeys

Last fall I had the amazing opportunity to share my heart over on Delight and Be. As the calendar rolled over to the 1st of November this morning I found myself urged to share these same thoughts as we dive into the holidays once more. 

It was the day after Halloween and I found myself standing squarely in the middle of my living room letting out a silent scream. A Christmas commercial. Amidst the discarded hulk mask and superhero cape and the crinkled up wrappers from last nights snicker bar binge it was all I could do not to pull out my own hair and curse all things merry and bright. A Christmas commercial – heralding all that was snowy and shiny and on sale for only $19.99.

Im one of THOSE people, you know the type – we are the grinches who complain about the stores decorating too early or who gripe about Starbucks bringing out the red cups in November. Im the Scrooge who loudly declares a moratorium on any Christmas music while any of the leaves are clinging red and orange to their branches; the one who scares her children with threats of bad reports to Santa if they so much as think of starting their wish lists before the turkey and cranberry sauce have been reduced to leftover sandwiches. If you met me in November you’d be convinced that I had experienced some sort of horridly traumatic Christmas past that converted me into an avid rejecter of all things remotely yuletide.

Im going to steal a page from my children’s Dr. Seuss obsession and appropriate the catchphrase of the Lorax for a minute. Except instead of the trees? I speak for the turkeys. Now before you roll your eyes and click that little red x in the corner of this screen, let me clarify that Im not speaking for the turkeys in the picketing for PETA and buying a tofurkey sense. By all means, when it comes to turkeys go ahead and shoot ‘em, pluck ‘em, and roast ‘em up nice and juicy. Im allll for turkeys… when they are covered in gravy that is. Lots and lots of gravy. No, I speak for the turkeys as the adopted mascots of Thanksgiving, which in my humble opinion is the single most important holiday of the year – and also the most under appreciated.

I will go so far as to say that without a Thanksgiving we absolutely unequivocally wouldn’t have any Christmas at all. Aaannnd I know what you’re thinking: she’s gone and lost it now. The baby Jesus couldn’t be laid in His manger and the shepherds wouldn’t hear the angels sing unless… the pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and had a feast with the Indians?

Yep.

Well, sort of.

Ok not at all. But there IS a point to my madness, I swear.

Image Credit: Grace & Salt

You see Thanksgiving is a holiday that boils down to only one thing: gratitude. Underneath the turkeys and the pilgrims and the bundles of wheat on our perfect Pinterest mantles, Thanksgiving is in its simplest form is an entire season wholly dedicated to stepping back from a culture that’s saturated with discontentment and an all out pursuit of more for the sake of more, and calls us instead to look at the abundance we have already been blessed with and utter a prayer of gratitude for having more than we could possibly deserve. Thanksgiving is a season of “thank you’s” in a world of “but I want more’s.” It’s the epitome of counterculture at its finest.

And when the final bite of stuffing is consumed and the last piece of turkey has been placed in the final leftovers sandwich, a new season emerges: Christmas, the season of joy to the earth and goodwill to all men. And its here that we find the thread that seamlessly pulls us from one holiday into the next: because the root of our joy? It has to be gratitude. Without the fertile fall season of gratitude we can never reap our Christmas’ joy. For Christmas depends on Thanksgiving the same way the crops in the fields depend on nutrient rich soil and abundant rains to bring them to life for the harvest. It is only in a heart of gratitude that the seeds of joy can take root, and its only by watering them regularly with prayers of thanksgiving that joy can thrive and grow bring forth something new and beautiful in our lives.

To truly receive the joy of Christmas it is essential to dive in fully and embrace the season of Thanksgiving with our whole hearts. To begin to make room for the presents the yuletide season brings, we must first spend time emptying ourselves onto the altar of gratitude, recognizing the overabundance we’ve already been given. For it simply wouldn’t be Christmas without Thanksgiving. The world around us may try to hurry us along, beckoning us across its ramshackle bridge straight from the halloween candy right into a Christmas tree farm and long lists to Santa. Don’t go my friends. Take the long way – under the falling leaves of red and orange, through the fields of golden wheat being brought in for the harvest, and by the long table of abundance shared with those we hold most dear as we remember the incredible blessing of even having these people to walk life’s journey with. Take a stand against the “Christmas Creep” and build up those boundaries around a season increasingly taken for granted. Speak for the turkeys.

And don’t forget the gravy.

The Biggest Lie We Believe

I hear it time and time again from people I care about: the insidious little lie that wriggles in and sets up root in our hearts and minds, gradually pushing everything else out as it grows, until finally we let it become so large that it stifles out any semblance of quality of life. This one lie takes away our ability to thrive and convinces us its all we can do just to survive. It makes the days drag on long, but makes the years fly by too quickly. It convinces us to trade up our passions and priorities for the mindless fodder of just getting by. It destroys us from the inside out, and we don’t even know it’s there.

My friends, it’s time we stand up once and for all the lie of completion. It’s the idea that if we just get the right ducks in a row, if we can only get our circumstances up to that certain level of security, if we can just reach those particular goals and cross those certain checkpoints – THEN we’ll have the chance to really live our life; THEN we’ll have our joy. Once it’s all complete, then we can finally get down to the rest.

How many years of my own life were wasted to this lie! How many moments did I spend surrendering my joy, convinced it all hinged on the ever shifting circumstances around me, circumstances all too often out of my control. It’s a horrible feeling when you finally bring your head up for a moment, reflect back on the years you’ve just left behind, and wonder to yourself what you really DID with them, and where they had gone to. When you look back and wish you had made more memories instead of plans, more “remember that times” instead of “someday whens.” And yet all too often we stand there, reflecting on time wasted and chances lost to us, and simply return our head down to our work – convinced ever still of the lie that there will be time for those things eventually, after we reach all the “whens” and “if onlys” in our path. We return to our toil, watering and tending the lie as it chokes the life out of each of our dreams, and robs us of all but the hope of the eventual completion – when we can finally put down our tools and set about the business of living.

The secret is that completion doesn’t exist on this side of eternity. It’s the most insidious of lies, because we’ve accepted it for truth for simply so long that it’s hard to imagine life without it. We’ve based so many of our choices, so much of the framework of our day to day, that if we suddenly let go and admitted it isn’t true? We’d have to change the very way we live. We’d have to accept the harrowing reality of the time wasted, the priorities skewed, and the years spent working towards a goal that ultimately proved to be a futile illusion like an oasis in the desert – as unreachable as it is imaginary. It would in so many ways be earth shattering, forcing us to begin anew with a transformed perspective on what this life is ultimately about.

And yet, it’s the only way we can begin to have what is it we’re ultimately after. Letting go of the lie is the only way to find the freedom to thrive.

The freedom to put our families before our employers.

The freedom to spend a day making memories instead of making to do lists.

The freedom to create a line item in our budgets for “marital enrichment,” to tell ourselves that taking those trips together should be as big of a priority as any other bill on the list, even on the months where there isn’t enough to go around.

The freedom to let go of the job with the great paycheck for the one with healthy work/home boundaries.

The freedom to live in the right now instead of the someday when.

The freedom to put that unexpected $500 towards a family vacation instead of into the 401K.

The freedom to use the good sheets, burn the good candles, and wear your best perfume for Saturday morning errands – because TODAY is special.

The freedom to tell ourselves each and every day that THIS is our life, and tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.

The freedom to thrive instead of just survive.

This isn’t simply a call to live extravagantly, ignore our means, and burn our budgets. Hear me when I say that there is a place for planning and that real life comes with real responsibilities. If you don’t pay the electric bill, they will turn your lights off. No, letting go of the lie of completion simply means giving up the idea that someday we’ll meet the elusive goal of total security. It’s letting go of the belief that someday we’ll reach a place where there wont be anything else more deserving of our time or our resources, and we’ll finally live happily ever after. It means recognizing that priorities don’t happen unless you MAKE them happen, and that every day we are asked to use our time and our money to demonstrate just what those priorities really are. It means that dedicating every cent of our resources, and every hour of our week, towards creating an incredible retirement some day? That means choosing to give up the time we have right now in favor of the hopefully someday – a someday we are never guaranteed to reach.

In essence we’re all playing the gameshow of life, and you have a choice: to walk away with all the cash and prizes you’ve won, or you can trade them for the mystery prize behind door number two. Sure, the mystery prize could be a trip around the world and a brand new car… or it could be a years supply of toilet paper. You wont really know until you open the door, and once you do it’s too late to go back. Is it worth the risk? How much are you willing to give up for the hope of possibility alone? What if today was your last? What if each and every day we framed our outlook with the reminder that people die, economies crash, and the unexpected happens, and all of our best planning simply cant control the future. Would it change the way you live? Can we really afford to give up the here and now, the time with our families, the chance to make the memories and have those experiences, and trade it all for nothing more than a hope of a maybe?

Give up the lie of completion.

Let go of the hope that someday it will all come together and you can start living your life.

Give up on chasing the elusive dream of a finished check list – a world where there is nothing more demanding of your time and resources and priorities stop requiring a choice.

Give yourself permission to live right now.

Grab on to today and make it count.

Prioritize the here and now.

Put your time and your money into what matters to you most.

Store up your treasures in heaven instead of your 401k.

Make memories instead of plans.

Stop choosing the mystery door.

HNCK4161-1300x867

Guest Contributor – Anna Filly

I am pretty darn excited about our guest poster today. She is one of the most infectiously joyful souls I have ever been blessed to meet. Her smile is downright contagious and she has a beautiful knack for sowing encouragement wherever she goes. I asked Anna to share something from her heart this Valentine’s Day and what she delivered is so chock full of wisdom and insight that I could hardly wait for this post to go live. So without further ado, here’s Anna!

Photo Credit | Moriah Elisabeth Photography

Photo Credit | Moriah Elisabeth Photography

This blog is absolutely stunning – isn’t it?  I just love how I’ve been able to watch it come together over these last few months.  The colors, the patterns, the vibes– it’s so joyful!  Which got me to thinking about the name Stephanie chose for her business: The Joy Parade.  How fun is that?!  

There’s so much truth it and true joy is welcomed with gates of praise.

One of my favorite stories happens to be tucked between the pages in one of the oldest books of history this world has to offer.   It’s a tale that tells of adventure, glory and triumph.

Let me set the scene for you.

Three armies are about to go to war- It’s two against one.  Our team- the underdog of it all- is the smallest army let by a man named Jehosophat.

Yep.  

His name is Jehosophat.

(Kinda like geez-hes-so -fat)

Anyways.

Back to the battlefield.

Jehoshaphat is about to lead his small army into battle and he’s slightly shaken.  The odds are against him and he knows it.  But he also knows that the Lord God has called him to fight this battle.  So, knowing that, he does something totally crazy by human standards, something that no commander of any army would ever dare to do.

He calls for his praise and worship band and tells them to lead the army to battle.  That’s right.  These men are unarmed.  Some hold instruments instead of weapons, others hold nothing in their hands at all.

He positions the musicians in front, and instructs them to lead the army in praise:

“…Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:

“Give thanks to the Lord,

   for his love endures forever.”

“ -2 Chronicles 20:21

e38e0dd32c5be26728ab072ca0b3c074The army begins to make it’s way into battle.  Being lead -quite literally- by the music.  Then, when they arrive to the place that overlooked where the battle was planned to begin, what they saw left them speechless.  

The other two armies had turned on themselves and all that was left were the bodies of their enemies- not a single enemy soldier had survived.  

Immediately Jehoshaphat led his army to collect the plunder that had been left behind.  So much was left that it took three days to collect!  The army returned to their town of Jerusalem continuing in songs of praise, abounding in joy and completely overwhelmed by the Lord’s provision.

The reason that story is one of my favorites is because regardless of if Jehoshaphat had won or lost the battle he did something incredible:  he lead his fight with songs of                                                                                                        praise, proclaiming and glorifying none but God.  

He didn’t wonder or worry, or spend hours trying to figure out how he could win– he knew all of that was pointless.  In the end it wasn’t about winning or losing.  It was about trusting what God had called him to do.   Only God could give him the victory, and if God chose to, Jehoshaphat would lead his people to battle in praise, and if God chose to not give Jehoshaphat victory, he would still lead his people to battle in praise.

So much of our joy depends on knowing who God is.  Joy only fades when we lose sight of his sovereignty.  I mean it.  Life isn’t about us, its about proclaiming how good God is in spite of us.  We are imperfect creatures stained by sin, and yet we burden ourselves with the idea that our lives have to be a certain way in order for us to be happy.

If you believe that you’re right.  annaquote

Happiness requires only one set of circumstance to exist.  But joy -oh joy- joy requires no specific circumstance because it isn’t based on circumstance.  Joy is based on something that never changes- and that’s God himself.  Joy takes the pressure of us feeling like we have to “have it all together” or “know all the right answers”.  Joy isn’t based on those things, it comes from knowing that we are protected and covered by the arms of Jesus Christ, and he filled our imperfections, he drowns our worries, and he covers our anxieties with his perfect grace and love.  Our lives don’t depend on us- they depend on him.  Sweet friend, I want to live a life abounding in joy.  I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that who I am and what I do far exceeds me.   I want to have peace in all circumstances and know my savior.  

Joy, is welcomed with gates of praise.  So, if you want that to, start today, but praising Jesus for who he says he is– not how you feel– because then, joy will abound in your circumstance because you know whose you are.

xo
AnnaFilly

** If you would like to read the story of Jehosophat for yourself– and you should– check it out here : https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+chronicles+20&version=NIV