Wednesday, May 31, 2017

4 Encouragements In the Midst of Pain

I don't know about you, but this past week has been really exhausting!

As a youth pastor, this time of year is usually taxing on my schedule with all of the end of the year events, graduations and parties.  I end up running from one thing to the next.  

This week my norm was compounded by grief.  It started when I found out a man I've known locally for over 8 years had a sudden heart attack and died.  He was a year older than my husband so the reality of that situation was difficult to comprehend.  I can't imagine losing Kevin right now.  I know one day I may have to say goodbye, but I look at that day as something 20 plus years from now.  I can only imagine that is what this man's wife is feeling when her plans were thrown out and a new life looks her in the face.  A life she never planned and would probably give anything to relinquish for what she had.  

A few short days later I learned a high school friend had to say goodbye unexpectedly to her 10-year-old son who died after a brain aneurysm.  Life was normal one minute and not the next.  My heart has been heavy for her and just can't imagine what her family is going through right now.  I've know a few other people who have lost a child and it is something I think no one should ever experience.  

The next day I walked out to my front yard to the sounds of sirens arriving just a few doors down from me.  Moments later rescue responders were bend down doing chest compressions on a person in the driveway.  I don't know what happened or even what came of it, but as I watched, I felt done.  

Life is short.  

We have no guarantee for tomorrow.  

But when I felt my lowest in the wake of what others around me were experiencing,  I found encouragement.     

Yes, life is hard but it is also amazing!  

I got to see people do some great things, things we all should do! 

1.  I saw people laugh.  It made me laugh and find joy in life in the midst of whatever we face.  

2.  I saw people rally.  The silver lining of tragedy is that you get see how people respond.  I was touched today in working on a project for someone else, to see so many rally to help out and show love.  Yes, we may life in an online society but ladies and gentlemen, community is NOT dead!  Community is that successful free fall in a trust exercise.  Its beautiful.  

3.  I saw people celebrate.  Last week I talked about being two people at the same time.  The mix of the best of me and worst of me happening simultaneously.  Well the same can be said for the feelings we walk through.  I can mourn and celebrate at the same time.  Monday, I got to attend the funeral of the man I mentioned previously.  Everyone was sad because he was gone and yet we celebrated the man he was, the legacy he left and the God with which he now lives.  

Tonight, I got to cheer on 6 students graduating from 8th grade as they change schools and move on to high school.  To see the light in their face and the joy in their words as they reflected on the years that led them here, was beyond exciting.  

4.  I saw people enjoy today.  Eating ice cream with my kids or jumping into a pool on a hot day are the things that help me stay present in what I have - the moments before me.  Those are the things that matter.  There is nothing wrong in making plans but we have no idea if those plans will come to fruition.  We have to hug more, cuddle more, love more, compliment more and say what we feel.  Its okay to be awkward when its letting someone know we care or we recognize their value.  

Life can beat us down.  We need to revel in the beauty and cherish the things that are worth savoring.  

Don't forget...

 to laugh with those around you!

Rally around people in your life and causes that you care about.  

Celebrate the accomplishments and achievements in yourself and those around you. 


Now set down your phone and go be present in the life before you!!!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Person Most Often Ignored

My mom and live on opposite sides of the country.  Because of that we don't get to frequent the same events.  I was recently blessed, compliments of the internet, to listen to my mom's closing testimony at a local women's conference. 

As I listened, I was proud of her for sharing her story and being vulnerable for the benefit of whomever was listening.  Beyond that feeling, I was also impacted by one of the main points that she made. 

She described two women. 

One woman was given all the advantages in life.  She was gifted intellectually and well liked by her peers, she was in total - remarkable.

The second woman was just the opposite.  She had gone through our system because of family issues, had been misused by people all along her life and had made mistakes with lasting consequences. 

As she closed the talk, she acknowledged that she was in fact, both women

I am extremely hard on myself.  If someone is upset with me over an offense I've committed, chances are I've already given myself a mental flogging over it.  Sure, I make mistakes but if anyone was as hard on me as I am on myself, they would not be allowed in my life, so its high time I give myself some grace. 

The reality check of my mom's comparison of the two women, has been a HUGE encouragement to me over the past week.  Some of my greatest weaknesses and "issues" have reared their ugly head in my life and caused me to experience a lot of guilt over my inability to stop doing things that I hate.  It is easy to begin to beat myself up and allow myself to drown in a sea of self-doubt and self-deprecation.  The bad in me blinds me from seeing the good. 

However, understanding that two people live in me simultaneously, grants me the grace I need to stay out of the devaluing pool.  Sweet and loving Carrie is still there, even if I don't acknowledge her.  If I just look into the flaw mirror, I can forget the wonder in which God placed in me.  Those beautiful places are still there in the midst of the pain and challenges of life. 

I don't think its just my mom and I that live with this reality.  I choose to share my struggles so that all who read will be encouraged. You are not alone. 

What beauty do you block out when you are operating in your negative zone?  Sure, we keep working on ourselves and allow God to make us more like him, and I am in no way excusing bad behavior or habits. 

That is not the same thing as what I am addressing in this post.  We are all human and by design will make mistakes (remember that is why we needed a Savior in the first place)! Those mistakes are not the only thing that should be used to define us, and yet it often is. 

God walks with us daily if we let him and we may even take steps in the right direction every day.  The journey is birth to death and God has grace for that journey.  We need to see it too! 

May this simple thought bless you today. 


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Day God Used My Son to Correct Me

I recently woke up to find my Kindergartener had gotten up ahead of me and cut his own hair, mind you, this happened three days after he got a summer buzz cut.  That means he had bald spots sprinkled about his head.  Kid right of passage or not, I was pissed.  My cute son looked silly and I didn't respond well.  I got on him, said some not so nice things and frantically contacted about 5 people to see what I should do.  They all responded much differently than I did.  It is safe to say, I over-reacted. After I realized this was my problem, I apologized, and let him know if he liked it, it was fine.  His small act that morning was truly a Bible verse come to life in my own life.

Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

When you read that passage do you envision sword sharpening?  I do -  I can even hear the clang of metal.  Any refining process no matter the medium is not pleasant.  Depending on the item it could use pressure or heat or some other extreme measure to bring about the desired results.  In our microwave society we can forget that what really matters takes sacrifice and time to attain.

God is always at work in each of our lives.

It is what He does.  We are his children, and He sacrificed his life in the ultimate show of love for our benefit; so that we wouldn't have to die.

We often want the life of others around us.  Life becomes this constant comparison game of who is prettier, thinner, richer, has better friends or family, has a better job, better house, greater sense of style, more athletic, more talented, more spiritual (ok this list can really keep going, but I hope you get the point)!

What we have in life are the very things we need to be the people we were created to become.  God has planned it out, it is on purpose and we are that important.  There was no cosmic mistake here and we were not the forgotten one on planet earth.  We weren't made to have what others do or to be like someone else, we were made to be us and do what God purposed for us to do.  Simple and yet we tend to complicate it.

On this particular day, the "self-hair cut" day, I got to see God working for the purpose of me.  God used my son to reveal my personal issue of caring too much what others think. It was my very own, God ordained Proverbs 27:17 moment.  I also got to share this with my kid.  In this house, he doesn't get a model of perfect parenting, but I do try to model how to deal with the missteps and mistakes we make.  Later that day before Caleb went to bed, I thanked him.  I told him I didn't like him cutting his hair and I didn't want to see him do that again, but I wanted him to know God had used him to help me be more Christ-like.

The truth is, that hair cut wasn't a big deal and it didn't define my son, and had I not freaked out he would have gotten a lesson in being you, no matter what.  Those are lessons that are good to learn now before the pressure gets turned onto full blast.

Instead, I got the lesson.  I learned that he was fine with his chunk cut and it will in fact grow out.  Its something to laugh at not stress over.  I was gently reminded not to major in the minors and that I only have an audience of one - Jesus Christ.  That is the only opinion I should be concerned with in the micro moments of life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Happy Mother's Day?

I am so blessed with a wonderful mom AND step mom.  Looking at the weekend ahead, I have a lot to celebrate.  In addition, I have two beautiful step daughters, one amazing son (despite the fact that he cut his own hair today and has a weird pattern of holes on his head) and a precious and precocious baby girl.  That is a day worth getting excited about, and believe me when I say I know just how lucky I am!!!

For my husband, while he can celebrate with me, there is a sober tone to the day.  He has lost the two women who mothered him.  His grandma passed away about 17 years ago and his mother passed away just before we had our youngest children.

My husband isn't the only one paddling in that boat.  I have friends who have lost a child and miss living their role as mom; I have seen beautiful friends lose their moms to cancer or some other tragedy and the fact is, this holiday can sting a bit.

Mother's Day isn't a quiet holiday.  Last year our country spent  $21.2 Billion on Mother's Day alone. Mothers deserve celebration, most people have a mom;  76% of single parent households are led by mothers.

My mom and my step mom have been two of my biggest cheerleaders.  They support me in my high and low moments of life.  When I felt alone as a girl, my mom was always there for me.  Even just 6 years ago, as I faced the challenges of a new baby, having my mom present in those first two weeks gave me courage to press on.  It was as if she was my very own security blanket.

 My mom, unlike anyone else on the planet understands me.  To be known the way she knows me feels amazing and being near her is like being home. 

In addition to that phenomenal woman, I have had my step mom around since I was four years old.  In high school when I moved to another country and lived with my her and dad for two years, she would come out to watch me cheer on the basketball team, she mediated my disagreements with my dad, helped me get ready for dances and even stayed up with me when I got the stomach flu.  

Mothers are the ones that often shape who we are, moms love us, encourage us and are there for us.   When a role so crucial is missing in one way or another, there is a void that makes a day like Mother's Day hard to handle.

I wanted to take a moment to recognize these people.  As trivial as it may be, I want to say I see you. My heart is with each of you on this national day of celebration.  Who am I talking to?

To those who have lost their mom, grandma or any other woman who filled that role.

To those who had your mom walk out on you.

To the woman who has lost a child.

To the woman who has experienced some other reproductive grief through infertility, abortion or miscarriage.  As someone who has experienced miscarriage and abortion, I have been in very similar shoes.  

Please remember these people as you celebrate Mother's Day this Sunday.  Send a note of encouragement, give a hug, sit and let them be with someone for a moment.  Love on those who mothered you or made you a mother, but also take some time to look after those who can't celebrate.  Remember those who feel the spotlight on their grief and want a giant hole to crawl into until the pomp and circumstance has passed.

Matthew 5:4 says,

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."  

We can be the comfort for someone who mourns.

It is important to recognize the flip side to every coin and while many who mourn are grateful for the years they had with the loved one that is not with them now; the truth remains with great impact comes great loss.  

If you need a hug, please feel mine today.  I would love to hear about the role or person you mourn.  Comment with your story and let others hear from you as well.  

God bless.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

They Don't Belong to Me

They Don’t Belong To Me

Right out of college, I spent a year in a Discipleship Training School (DTS), which if you don’t know, is basically Bible classes and internship combined that you don’t get paid for and in fact, have to raise money to pay your bills while there. 

My DTS was not only a Bible training but counseling training as well.  Part of our internship portion was living and working in a residential care facility for troubled teens.  

Until that year, I always felt being a foster parent would be too challenging for me because I didn’t think I could say get attached then say goodbye to a child. My year of DTS challenged that presumption, as teens were often taken to other places abruptly as seen fit by their parents or counseling team.  It wasn't uncommon to wake up or return from an errand to discover a teen had been moved to another facility and was no longer with us.  It was hard.  I learned to love some of these teenagers as if they were my own children.  The thought of not getting to say goodbye crushed me, and did a few times.  

But I learned through that experience a very valuable lesson.

Those teens didn’t belong to me or even their biological parents.  Each one belonged to God.  Even if some of what they were subjected to by other humans was traumatic, God still loved them and had a plan for their lives. 

It wasn’t my job to ensure God's plan happened; it was my job to love and train them in the time that God had them in my care. This really aided me as I transitioned into the role of youth pastor.  I was able to take advantage and make the most of the time I had to love on and train the teens in my path.  

This truth became a challenge for me after birthing a child.  As you venture through pregnancy, a connection develops with the human living inside your body. A woman houses that baby for 9 months, that is three-quarters of a year!  (Or fight in court for the baby you are about to adopt for months, even years on end). Next, you give up every single moment to the helpless angel who needs you constantly in the midst of its simplistic eat, sleep, poop lifestyle.  Even with the exhaustion and stench from your own, showerless body - you can’t help but love your child.  The sleepless nights get exchanged for a million other challenges you face each day over eighteen years and its easy to think…


God had to remind me, that those children that came from my body (or from a court process) still are his.  I am the guardian not the owner. Knowing I have my kids on loan provides me with some great accountability.  I have to answer to God one day for how I “trained up” (Proverbs 22:6) his children. 

Parenthood can be a helpless existence as our kids face sickness, disease, injuries, emotional traumas, relational issues and for some, even death.  We don’t have control often in the things our kids go through, but when we keep the proper perspective of their ownership we experience a freedom in the knowledge that they belong to an all-powerful God who loves them and has a plan.  It doesn’t always make sense and can even seem like God has forgotten or is no longer there.  

That is why the story of Joseph (Genesis 37 - 50) resonates so much with me.  In the beginning of the story, this boy is subjected to great injustice, even cruelty, but knowing the whole story you see that God used the horrible to bring about not only wonderful but salvation for multiple nations.  

We live these timelines and we try to define each moment and yet sometimes the best endings come through the strangest and hardest of paths.  

You will screw up as a parent, spouse, employee, boss, friend, and even human, but God is bigger than that. He fills in our gaps and leads us to places we never imagined if we hang on through the tough stuff.  

Knowing he is the owner of our kids and our lives can free us to be the people we were made to be and give us peace in the midst of tragedy and loss.