Changing from the Inside Out

This past year has taught me so much. So much more than I wanted when I asked God to change me from the inside out the last time it was time to resolve to walk better in the new year. My plan was to train for a marathon. Push myself and discover how my body after four pregnancies and four c-sections can do so much more than I once thought it could.

I wanted to read and I wanted to write. I wanted to connect with my husband and make sure I read with each of my four kids, prayed with them, instructed and corrected them faithfully and asked them about their days-each and every day.

And I was able to accomplish some of the above: read pinch more, connect with my husband a tablespoon more and be maybe an ounce more faithful in this role I have called motherhood. I ran a whole lot and actually wrote very little.

But last year was not at all the easy, comfortable, peaceful year I had resolved for myself of loving better, writing more and reading cozy by the fire last time the New Years Ball dropped. It was a year of learning to harness my grief and redefine relationships. And as I’ve poured out my heart in this piece I have decided to only share half of what I learned this past year and follow up in a another piece with the rest.

Grief and relationships. These are my tender places and Brene says,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

Last year the changing from the inside out I asked for actually happened- and not from the comforts of a cozy fire. At times it felt like my very own heart was being ripped out. It’s been an unraveling of what I thought I knew. An unlearning of old patterns. And hopefully so many opportunities to weave new healthier patterns, rooted in who God is and embracing the characteristics of being His daughter instead of patterns rooted in what I thought I should do or what others say I am.

Just when I think I have these tender places all figured out, I feel God calling me back to them, to put off the old and put on the new. To continuously undress and redress.

Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.

C.S Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

This year I discovered, if you don’t get to know your grief, look at it in the face, become angry with it, cry about it, ask God why about it, you most likely will never be fully healed.

At the beginning of last year I thought my marathon journey was going to be all about me. All about my fitness goals, all about being a bad-ass. But all those miles around town, on the trail and in my neighborhood were actually opportunities to stare my grief in the face. To wrestle, to find closure, to feel broken and human and to find the peace of God which transcends understanding. Looking like a bad-ass this year was not about medals and PRs but instead finding bad-assery in hurts, tears and anger.

As I ran some, walked some, turned off my headphones in the quietness of the trail I got angry thinking about my mom, why she had cancer for most of my childhood and I became angry about her being gone. I hated cancer as I ran. I cried about how the last time I remember speaking to her was probably over some kind of fight we were having about whether or not I should be allowed to spend the night at someone’s house as a teenager or her last memories of me were finding my cigarettes in my room at thirteen or driving the family minivan through the garage and into the dining room while my dad was at work and my mom was receiving chemo at University of Cincinnati Hospital. I hated myself for being such a difficult raging teenager as my mother was breathing her last breaths.

I asked God why I have had to live through having four kids in four years without a parent to call, without someone to listen, without extra hands and without an unconditional-people-who-you-call-about-things-you-can’t-tell-anyone-else- village. I cried about my kids not having Grandma Shelley. I cried because she missed knowing them, she missed knowing my husband. And I know she would have loved my husband and my kids.

All those miles on the trail, I looked my grief in the face. You can walk with God for a decade, have lost someone two decades ago, read good books on grief and still not look grief in the face.

I never had looked my own grief in the face before. I had never taken the time to be mad and sad, frustrated, disappointed. Those are all nasty feelings and for so long I just wanted to push them down rather than feel them. Picking up my boot straps and burying my hurts was so much easier than learning about this tender place. I put band aids on gunshot wounds and for so long I let myself walk in a false sense of peace, not rooted in anything accept what I thought it looked like to be strong and carry on.

My false sense of peace was a breeding ground for insecurity, false hope, cynicism and a whole lot of feeling sorry for myself.

But in taking hold of my grief, learning how and where I am tender, unraveling my yucky strings, I found the comfort of a God who knows suffering.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

I have found thankfulness. To see past the hurts and see how much God has provided for me along the way. Even when I didn’t deserve it with the cars I put in the dining room and cigarettes my parents found in my bedroom only to name two safe stories with you.

How I was an outsider who was brought in. How I have the right and privilege to not just to resolve to be better once a year, but the access of a child of God to His new mercies every single morning.

After a long year of training and running in memory of my mother my plan was to culminate the journey with a Race for the Cure 5K. Something I had never done before because I feared I would be a hot mess of tears for 3.2 miles.

But as I walked that race with my husband and my four kids I was not at all the hot mess of tears I had imagined. I felt whole. I felt shalom-peace for a moment.

Shalom: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, tranquility

Shalom-peace. On the other side of the hard journey of looking grief in the face I was thankful. That the road has not been cozy or comfortable but as I look around me I can see big hurts, feel sorry for myself, make the emptiness big or I can see a big God, who knows big hurts, who is walking with me in sorrow and be thankful for the places where he has me now.

Asking God to change you from the inside out is a scary thing. But when you lay back and let God do the work in your heart, when He begins pulling the skins off, it can hurt worse than anything you’ve ever felt. But I promise what comes after the hurt is the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. It is freedom. It is peace. It is shalom.

 

 

Unraveling Grief

This very week, nineteen years ago I was riding in the front seat of our silver Town & Country minivan with my father manning the wheel. I stared out the window as we drove down Sycamore Creek Drive, my eyes fixed on the greening grass that streaked alongside the concrete curb.

I was fourteen, six weeks shy of fifteen and my father was about to say something to me in the privacy of that car, a simple sentence which would change me forever. I knew the words were coming. Every adult around me had been locked and loaded with the words for weeks probably bearing the weight of them and waiting for just the right time to delicately let the words leave their lips hoping the words would come out like the gentle drop of a pin instead of like an earth shattering atomic bomb.

I felt the weight of the words before they were even said. I knew they were coming, I was preparing for the earth shattering atomic bomb. As I prepared for the news I rehearsed the best way I knew how. Just like anyone would prepare for an air assault, I toughened up my exterior and pulled up my bootstraps. I was going to face the worst but appear like a strong fortress, absent of emotion, cold, but protected.

As I stared out the window, I heard my father say, “Rach, mom is going to die.”

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The words enveloped me. I had prepared for this exact moment and I responded in the best way I knew how. I kept staring out the window and all I could reply was, “I know.” As I stared and attempted to let disengagement consume me I felt warm tears begin to cover my eyes, turning the strong streaking line out my window into a blurry green blob, even mixing up sometimes with the grayness of the curb.

Staring at the green gray blob became too much so I drew my gaze in and I caught my reflection in the window. I saw the tears in my eyes reflected back at me and immediately I remember being overcome with disappointment in myself for not holding it together enough. For not being strong enough. For not preparing well enough emotionally to handle the news. And then the shame flooded in. I knew if I could see my reflection, my father could see it too. I knew he knew I was crying. I didn’t want him to know I was weak nor did I want to appear too emotional.

I felt the responsibly to be strong and brave in the waves of uncertainty and the shattered earth beneath my feet.

So the best I knew how I tried to go back inside my fortress to hide from my pain. I built walls. I hid behind a heavy mask and protected myself with layers of armor.

The armor I hid behind looked different in different seasons. In high school my armor was a tough girl exterior. I don’t think I wore it well but I flirted with rebellion, disengagement, relationships with men, drinking and recreational drugs. Anything I could get my hands on to help me escape my pain, I tried it. But my fixes weren’t fixing. My band-aids weren’t able to hold together the still open wounds underneath the armor and the masks.

I became exhausted from hiding beneath the bad to the bone girl I was trying to be in high school so in college I tried on some new ways to hid my pain from the world. For a season, during my days at Eastern Kentucky University I tried on the armor of busyness. Twenty-two hours a semester, 4.0s, overly-involved, mentor, sorority girl, chair of the committee, changing the world kind of busyness.

I never wanted to be known as the girl with the hard story so I ran from my hard story. Buried it so deep it even became difficult for me to remember my actual mother. I spent so long trying to be strong and burying pain that I lost even the happy pieces of the times I shared with her.

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Brene Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

I had spent so many years hiding from where I was tender that I wasn’t even sure anymore how and where I was tender.

Brown also goes on to write from her own experience,

“Slowly I learned that this shield was too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known. The shield required that I stay small and quiet behind it so as not to draw attention to my imperfections and vulnerabilities. It was exhausting.”

From my own experiences in unraveling my grief over the loss of my mother I could not agree more. I spent so many years hiding behind strong personas, I forgot who I really was. I lost myself. And I felt isolated because I never let anyone know the real me. And I didn’t have my mother present to tell me how to snap out of it.

For so many years I hid and then I lost myself. I felt like a balloon, not tethered to anything at all, just floating around.

It has only been in the last five years that I have been able to slowly unravel my misconceptions about my grief. When you are fourteen you think you know everything about the world and about strength but truth is I knew so little about strength, I knew nothing about it at all.

I thought strength and vulnerability were like that greening grass and the hard concrete I saw streaking outside the window on that April morning. Two very different things which before I felt tender I believed would never blur.

But it turns out, today I believe strength and vulnerability are actually a lot like the blurry blob of grass and concrete I saw out my window when I was feeling tender. To see them both blurred together as one thing. That strength requires vulnerability and it takes a whole lot more strength to be vulnerable than it does to pretend that you can just keep marching on and hide beneath armor and masks.

Now I understand that to hide my pain is not strength at all. It is weak, cold and inhuman.

So I have loosened the bootstraps, tried to get rid of my solider boots all together and I am slowly unraveling unhealthy patterns.

I am trying to be more tender. To learn and remember where I am tender.

I am trying to remember my mom. To cry and sometimes shout to myself, “It sucks that my mom is not here.” Sucks is not apart of my regular vocabulary but it seems to fit there for now.

When I let myself remember the emptiness I feel when I think about her it helps me remember that this life is just not the way it is supposed to be and I long for heavenly places where there is no more crying and no more tears.

I try to talk about my mom with my kids because they ask about her.

I try to remember my mom with my brother and sister. Though my vulnerability with them causes tears. I can only share a little and try to remember the blurring vision my tears cause and what I believe that means. Grief is not black and white, or green and gray streaks or little neat steps. I can’t check off the boxes when it comes to my grief.

Grief is jagg-ed and criss cross with both hard edges and smooth shining surfaces. Grief requires a constant unraveling of our hearts.

I try to sit and wait with a hurting heart. I wait because if I try to bandage it on my own, I will never truly heal. I sit and wait on a Good God who sees me while I wait and promises He will bind up the wounds, I only need to wait and be still. (Psalm 147:3)

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In the jagg-ed and criss-cross places of grief, I have unraveled enough to know now that it’s okay to lean into uncertainty and earth shattering grounds, to be tender and broken, exposed and known because I don’t have to appear strong at all. That I can delight in the broken and tender places. It is there where I find God glorified. It is there where I see him holding all the threads of myself together. Taking away threads of misconception and binding me up with His promises to me and His truth.

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And I’m not all the way redeemed in my grief. I still have so much more unraveling to do. I may have only begun to chip away at the surface. But I have so much more hope. I know there is a real and good God at work in my heart because I never could have been called out from behind the armor on my own. Little by little God is working on me. Making me more aware of where I am tender and helping me see that to grieve is to simply be human.

What God Gives

Some may say, God gives you only what you can handle. But in my personal experience I have lived the exact opposite of the well known phrase.

What God gives has always been so much more than I can handle. 

There was a time when I believed the old saying and in my times of heartache I pulled up my bootstraps, mustered up my strength and marched on like it was something I could handle.

But over time I have realized in all my handling and mustering God was not giving me what I could handle at all. Instead, God was bringing me to a place where I could find the end of myself. Where my strength, faith and hoped ended is where I found my need for others to come alongside me and hold me up when I couldn’t hold myself up any longer even with the sturdiest of bootstraps.

I found my need for something bigger than myself.

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In pain and loss and suffering, God gives us more than we can handle, the weight is too big for us to bear alone.

But when God give us more, God also gives us Himself. In Him, God supplies more hope and more faith than we could ever muster up in our own strength and through His people God gives us so much more love than we could have ever even imagined for ourselves.

This week our family experienced a traumatic accident. My father-in-law, my husband’s best friend, was struck by a car at seven o’clock Tuesday morning.

What God has given us since that moment has been the end of everything we thought we could do in our own strength.

It is amazing for me to think of all the blessings I have personally experienced this week and I know my husband, my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law can testify to so many more personal blessings as well.

God has given us the timing of this accident to happen when my husband was minutes away from where his father was when normally he would have been two or more hours away.

God has given us friends who are willing drop everything, loan their new car, their time and their energy to spend the night with my four young children so I could drive down and be close to my husband in his heavy moments of grief and uncertainty.

God has given us two people who held the elevator for us the same night as the accident as we were running to catch it. They asked us who we were visiting and as we shared our story they shared that their son was in the trauma ICU too from an accident which had occurred the day before.

God gave us them, complete strangers, to whisper the words, we will pray for Mack. We learned their son’s name was Tommy and we whispered we would pray for Tommy too.

I asked as the elevator was closing, because we had gotten off, where they were from and they said St. Louis, a beloved place to my husband and I as we spent our first three years of marriage there while he was in seminary. The couple held the door open to tell us they were saved by a Covenant Seminary student twenty years ago.

As we left them they told us their son was going to be okay, as was the other student from Asbury in the car who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. In that moment God gave both my husband and I hope.

God gave us that moment. He was the weaver of two completely different stories crossing paths at the same time to give the gift of hope for another day.

God has given me people to pick up tortillas for taco night, friends to sit with my kids while I gave my older child the regularity of volunteering in his classroom and friends to send pizza over because all I can do right now is throw pizza on a paper towel.

God has given us people who will pick up new guitar strings so my husband can play music for his father while he is laying in a hospital bed.

God has given so many visitors at the hospital. So many more than my husband can even count.

God has given us hundreds of people praying across the country for my father-in-law. So many texts, emails, phone calls and messages. More than any of us could keep up with even on our best days.

In these hard moments and in uncertainty, God has given us so much more than we can handle. The burdens and heartache have been too big to bear alone. 

But God has also given us more prayer and more love than we can handle. 

God has given us more love.

God has given Mack more love. And I believe it is the more love that keeps us going. More love than we can handle. Because love is bigger than burdens and hard places.

If you have prayed for Mack’s recovery, reached out, visited, brought groceries or have been a friend, I personally thank you for showing me how God can give me more burdens than I can bear alone but also more love than I could have ever imagined for myself.

If you are praying for Mack please also pray for Tommy and all the others in the Trauma ICU.

Thank you for praying and for giving more love than we can handle.

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Unraveled Church

It feels strange to learn how to “do” church while your husband is in full time ministry. For some people it feels strange to “do” church at all and to others “doing church” feels like an old perfectly broken in baseball mitt.

For me it feels like I have the old cozy baseball mitt but my hand just hasn’t settled into those comfortable places yet.

“Doing” church is something I am still learning to do. And this is where God has me.

There was a time when I would try to settle into those comfy spots like a stepsister forcing her way into a glass slipper. Forcing my hand to make it touch every contour, nook, cranny and seam. I believed if I could just do it better or try to make it fit harder maybe then the doing of church would feel more comfortable.

And then there are times when I haven’t even felt like wearing the glove at all. I saw the glove and I knew my hand didn’t quite wear it well so I hid behind pride, behind shame and even behind the pointing the finger of blame.

The root of pride that I was just too different.

The trunk of shame from who I have been and what others have said about who I am.

And a branch of a pointing finger which bore the fruit of blaming others for a perfect glove which wasn’t quite snug enough.

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And now I realize, ten years into being one with someone who is called to lead God’s people in God’s church, that doing church or learning to do church is simply a process. It is a constant unraveling of  what you thought you knew from who God is calling you to be. Whether you have a brand new glove or your glove is cozy and your hand feels like it fits every cranny.

Everyone is in the process of learning how to love Jesus more and love their self less.

And God has me in the process of learning how to do church. A place where I know my hand isn’t quite settled into every cozy place and I am okay with that.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when I sit in the front row on Easter Sunday and one of my handsomely dressed children is eating their boogers. My pride still has me finding my worth in how we look sitting there in the front row.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when my husband doesn’t share a story just right from the pulpit and the expression on my face shows it. My perfectionist self reveals it’s rolling eyes and my wanting to control rears it’s ugly side.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when we are adjusting to a service which is thirty minutes earlier and with four kids we seem to be walking into worship late and with wrinkly slacks almost every Sunday. The soil of acceptance and my need for others to see me as “shiny and freshly pressed” seeps into my pridefully drenched roots. Sometimes my heart finds it’s worth in freshly pressed pants.

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It is only when I can undo what I have already wound up tightly, unravel what I thought I knew from what is true and start with feeding the roots of myself with faith and belief… this is where I can find freedom.

Dependent roots grounded in the gospel of truth which remind me that yes, I am different, but I am also uniquely knit together and wonderfully made, called specifically to be in the front row with booger eating children for a purpose I don’t quite know the meaning of yet.

A trunk of fresh bark, firm and strong by the Word and His power which reminds me that in Christ, I am a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come and I am more accepted and loved in Christ than I could have ever dared to dream of.

And branches that don’t bear fruit of blame and pointing fingers at others when I don’t feel like I fit in but instead bear fruit of love and service because I realize unraveling this idea of doing church is not at all about me, or anyone else around me. When I pull back the threads of pride I can see clearly that church is about God and calling people from all different backgrounds to love and serve Him, no matter how well the glove fits, in the name of Jesus.

When I recognize that my biggest discomfort about fitting in and “doing” church well actually has mostly to do with my pride (myself) when I point that branch back at me, it is there when I can wear my glove more comfortably.

Even though I haven’t quite completely grow into it yet.

It is there, when I unravel what I thought I knew about doing church from my pride and unbelief that I can be comfortable with just being in process.

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It’s not about shoving like a stepsister. We all desperately want the glove to just fit better but instead we should be learning to be more comfortable in the places that don’t quite yet fit. This is where we find faith and belief. This is where we trust that God will grow us in the ways he needs us to grow, in His timing.

We are loved when our gloves don’t seem to fit, our kids eat boogers and we are running late with wrinkly pants.

I will grow into the coziness of the glove in God’s good and perfect timing. Being in process of doing anything is a good thing. God is good and He is at work, we need not shove. He is able to grow us into our gloves even without our shoving.

I am a pastor’s wife, learning to “do” church. I am in process and I am okay with that.

Unraveling Kindness

I never knew it but for a long time I never understood the real reason of why it was important to be kind to others.

I can remember being taught the saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from Matthew 7:12 and I believed what this verse was communicating was that if you gave kindness to others, others will give kindness in return. We treat people as we want to be treated in hope of someone giving back kindness to us in return.

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I interpreted this teaching from the Bible as a young girl, just one verse, which is a good verse in itself but without proper teaching and my own ability to turn a verse into what I want it to mean, I led a life giving kindness and expecting kindness in return.

This way of living gave me many years of giving kindness and receiving disappointment.

Living a life giving out kindness and expecting kindness in return is not a great way to live. Everyone out there is fighting battles I can’t even begin to know about. People are lost, insecure, hurting, scared and jealous. All on their own levels. But everyone is fighting a some kind of battle in the same way I am fighting mine to put off the lostness, the insecurities, the hurts, the fears and learning to love yourself enough to not compare your life to the lives of others.

I have lived enough years now to know that giving kindness does not always return kindness. You can smile at that runner on your route every week and they may never smile back.

You can like someone’s photos on Facebook, wish them a Happy Birthday, take interest in their life and family and they may never take interest in you back. They may never wish you a Happy Birthday and they may even unfollow you.

And this is life. Living life is raw with real hurts to your heart and life lessons beneath the surface. It has taken me ten years of following Jesus to unravel my thoughts about kindness. Ten years of undoing the things I thought were true and letting God weave truth within me from His Word. What is true about kindness is we do not give kindness to receive kindness.

We give kindness to others only because God is kind.

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It has taken ten years of reading the Bible as an entire story and ten years to learn how to unravel what is untrue about kindness. To take that one good verse and place it in the midst of all the other verses that God speaks to us about kindness. To synthesize them all together under teachings from Sunday mornings and participation in Bible studies.

 

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalms 36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Psalms 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.

Acts 20:35b – It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Galatians 6:9a – Let us not lose heart in doing good.

I John 3:19 – We love, because He first loved us.

Hebrews 13:1-2 – Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

James 3:17-18 – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

It has taken me ten years to learn that giving kindness is not about receiving kindness in return. Kindness should be given to show others the love of God. I can only be responsible for my part and I cannot control how others respond to me. I do not know their battles. I can only know mine. And it is a fight for me to give kindness when kindness is not returned.

So that is my battle for now.

I will be kind because God is kind, giving kindness freely and expecting nothing in return. I believe this is where the root of true kindness begins. When we give and expect nothing in return. Just as God has given us Himself, in our messes, and He abundantly bestows his lovingkindness on us even when sometimes we are too blinded by ourselves to give him anything in return.

As Christians we have to get off the hamster wheel of giving kindness to receive kindness. We have to give kindness only because God is kind and expect nothing in return. It is there that we can find true kindness, without selfish ambition. It is there that we can have that runner not smile back every week and remember how long God has bestowed his lovingkindness on us and we have looked the other way and not smiled back in return.

We can only give kindness because God was kind to us first. Over and over again.

That is the truth and that is what I have been missing all these years.

We can only be kind because God is kind.

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Stick with me and follow this blog as I continue to write stories about what it is like to unravel and learn to be Christian in the front row at church. I am forever learning, growing and trusting that God has begun a good work in me and is bringing it to completion.