Before the New Year Begins: Gratitude

Patches make up a quilt and people make up a life.  The love you have inside and from above needs a place to run free.   Potential love is just that.  The beauty of love is in the giving and receiving.  The beauty of the quilt is in the many patches.

So much beauty and goodness took place in 2016.  My marriage made progress.  I wrote 2/3 of a book.  I learned a lot about myself and made peace with my “weaknesses.”  One of my kids broke free from anger and food addiction.   Good friends became even closer friends.  I even hiked a mountain for a good cause.

All of this came to a crashing halt in November.  While tucked in the top bunk in a cabin at my daughter’s spiritual retreat, I started to feel shooting pain in a few of my teeth.  My first thought was, Darn, I should have gotten those two cavities filled.  The pain progressed to incapacitating over the next few days.  The kind of pain where you don’t move, don’t eat and barely sleep.  It turned out to be a malfunctioning nerve on the left side of my face.

My life slowed down of course.  I had days home from work.  I made it a point to sleep eight hours.  I covered up in warm clothes and blankets and asked God to come meet me in deep places.  He did and I began to feel closeness and togetherness and covering in a cheek to cheek way.  The pain eventually subsided and I am much better.

More came crashing down in early December.  I reached to turn off the alarm clock and noticed my body was shaking – – whether it was on the inside or the outside, I could not tell.  I self assessed as I walked to the laundry room in the dark.  On my second pass, I asked my husband to take the kids to school and barely made the walk back to bed.

I didn’t move or think for the next five hours.  The long term push of my everyday life finally put me out.  Three hours into my trance of exhaustion, I received this text (in part) from my friend Debbie and found the strength to cry.

But you beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  Jude 1:20-21

About a year ago, my best friend Nathalie suffered from burn out.  After reading a few articles on the signs of burn out, I sent a text to Nat asking her about her experience.  Despite our six hour time difference, she stopped everything and called me.  I hadn’t cried out loud like that in a long, long time.  Like the good sister and mother she is, she let me cry until quiet fell.  And, then, like the good sister and mother she is, she got down to business.

She did the leading while I wrote a list.  The list comprised of five things I would give up or delegate for my well-being.  She challenged me to focus on the essentials for a few months.  Eating, drinking, sleeping and exercise.  If something doesn’t actually need to be done, don’t do it.  She pointed out that the fantasy super woman is actually a made up wonder.  The fantasy is not attainable even when you have the best of intentions.

I started by saying that quilts are made of patches and lives are made of people.  In November and December, my life was held together by the patches that were passed to me.  Here are my patches of gratitude.

You are the most exceptional individual I know on the face of this earth.  Stop all this crazy #$%* you are doing, NOW.  –Nathalie

Your body and mind can’t keep up with your heart.  Realize that the small things are mighty in His eyes. – Christina

I have been thinking about you and praying for you.  I know you are going through so much right now.  I am hoping you are feeling a little better and I know you are holding onto Jesus.  Is there anything I can do for you? A meal?   Coffee somewhere?  Let me know.   –Lynn

Praying and hoping that things are better for you.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 – Susie

Stay strong.  -Jenny

The notifications on my phone have been off for exactly one month.  My friend Suzanne has covered for me at work almost as many times as I can count on my fingers.  Isaiah has given me a gift that continues to lead me to wholeness.

There will be no limits to the wholeness He brings.  Isaiah 9

There has been another sister who let me into her deep.  She let me into her own wounds so that I could bleed myself.  She heard me, stayed with me and let me know it is okay to be in the grey.

The patches kept coming . . .

The hearts of the old testament Israel looked like my sad, scattered desktop.  Truth be told, we all have hearts so easily distracted and forgetful . . . We need constant reminders of who God is and who we are.  –She Reads Truth, Advent Bible Study, 2016

After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.  The sacrifice was done.  It was – and still is – finished.  Meanwhile, we just can’t seem to sit still.  We think there is more to do.  –She Reads Truth, Advent Bible Study, 2016

The last two months have hurt as badly as the time in which I grieved for the loss of my dad.  As Christmas approached, an unexpected gift came.  Seven years to the month after my dad’s passing, my aunt delivered my dad’s bible to me after a long trip from north to south.  I sat with my kids in bed looking at my dad’s handwriting and highlights, putting back in pages that slid out as we turned them.  The unexpected gift reminded me that He does not forget and He is never late to deliver.  His peace worked in me to bring wholeness before and His peace is working in me to bring wholeness now.

The beauty of the quilt is in the many patches.

When you don’t know where to begin and you’re at the end of yourself, you get to be where all of God begins.  What you always need most is need.  -Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

The love you have inside and from above needs a place to run free.   Potential love is just that.  The beauty of love is in the giving and receiving.  This is the foundation of my end of the year Gratitude.

As always, there are a few patches that are too personal to tell.  The first patch is for my mother who I say a thousand thank yous – -although she would never ask for a single one.  The second patch is for you who said you are sorry for the last two months.  I remain confident of this: We will see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

The beauty of love is in the giving and receiving.  I was gifted silent prayers of brothers and sisters.  There were times over the last two months that I had no strength to lift my head.  But it was lifted anyway.  I account this to the prayers of my friends and family.  This the foundation of my end of the year Gratitude.

Prayer is essential in ongoing warfare.  Pray hard and long.  Pray for your brothers and sisters.  Keep your eyes open.  Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.  Ephesians 6:13-18

Patches make up a quilt and people make up a life.  It is the people that make up my life.  I learn good lessons from their gifts of love.  It is okay to be in the grey.  It’s not okay to run my body into the ground.  It’s good to ask for help.  It’s even better to give and receive in your need.  His peace worked in me to bring wholeness before and His peace is working in me to bring wholeness now.  There is no limit to the wholeness He will bring.

Sometimes- some things have to break all apart so better things can be built.  I nod. Never be afraid of broken things.  It’s the beginning of better things.  The best yields always start as broken fields.  -Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

What I LOVE About Myself

This time of year, you can’t help but calculate if you are exercising enough, eating clean enough, spiritual enough, saving enough. Calculate and resolve. All by January first-ish. I usually find this process pretty exhilarating. Yes, I like lists and goals and plans and bucket lists. I like to think about what is better and best. I like to make plans and stick with them. But, it appears there is another way to do this new year thing.

Sitting on a school bus on its way to St. Augustine, I ran across a list of non-goals by Erin Loechner. Her list came just as the slew of resolutions of millions came through on commercials, articles, wish lists and blog posts. Her list appeared as my own thoughts of resolution were working their way through my heart and soul.

Erin says this . . . I think there is inherent worth in change, and I think there is inherent worth in the decision not to change . . . And this is why – year after year – I pen my own non-goals. The non-improvements, the non-betterments, the non-upgrades. The habits I want to stay the same because I once fought really hard for them. The ones I won’t allow to fall quietly by the wayside simply because I caught myself reading an article titled 20 Things To Change In 2016 . . . The ones – dare I say it? – I love about myself.

I had a mini revolution in my soul when I read these words. There are some good things about myself? Things I do well? I can think about those things and write a list? The non-upgrades have a place. And, according to Erin, this list can live in harmony with the calculated resolutions. I love this!

Today, I am sharing with you my non-goals. And, as a side note, I am going to be plainly honest. I am half way though Jen Hatmaker’s book For the Love. And, if I have imputed anything from her brilliant words, it is to let honesty and truth run free! So, for those of you who know me well and for those of you who don’t, here goes!

  1. I am ending my struggle with the traditional definition of rest. Yes, my optimal physical rest looks like eight hours, but I am energized by the books God has placed in my hands. By following the delicious recipes from the cookbooks I continue to collect, like good memories. My rest is those minutes before I fall to sleep sinking under covers; receiving the peace and gratefulness I have for a cushiony place to rest my head/but remembering the many who have no place tonight. I don’t have to embrace rest in its traditional form. My rest is a way for me to worship Him. The more I understand how He defines rest for me, the more I value rest.
  1. I am melting off anything that is not authentically me. I’m done checking boxes and gathering stock for the image I hope to be. Maybe it has some to do with 40 or maybe it takes decades for God to bring you to yourself. This is not a personal announcement of an arrival. This is just me claiming what God has made and going with it. I don’t mind that I quiver with fear sometimes or push against the change He calls me to. It’s how I grow and I am thankful He just keeps convincing me to be me. I’ll just keep melting and I like it that way.
  1. I’m not a great acquaintance. Let’s be friends and connect. I don’t like shallow conversation. I’m not good at small talk because I don’t see the point. I like hearing a heart over coffee/tea. I like to hold a hand and remind a soul that He promises this season will pass and end in victory. I believe that truth is best with love. I believe that from glory to glory, all things come together for good. I believe that hope makes practical sense. And, after all, don’t fret, the God of love wins over darkness.
  1. The truth is I like peace the most. I know this begs the question of why I became a lawyer. But the reason for that is I love justice and equality. I imagined my lawyer life being more of like the civil rights movement than who owes money to whom. So, I smile because God made me to love peace. I also smile because life does not always pan out to your attributes. But in the same way I understand His love, I also understand the imperfections of our lives.

So, there you have it. A list inspired by someone I would like to know more about – – Erin Loechner. Honesty inspired by someone I am just getting to know – – Jen Hatmaker. Wrapped up in encouragement by two more people. My mom and Emily Freeman. And, in the spirit of writing this list, please do be inspired by me and write your own short or long list of non-goals. We spend far too much time getting there and far too little time documenting the good progress of God in us. Sisters, can I hear an Amen?

By Sasha Katz

Pop the Can of Authenticity

By AbbyA

I am thinking about a few women that have blown the top off the can that holds all of the authenticity.  Recently, I saw my friend Jen at the book store with her family.  We left off in June where she was walking the high, narrow trapeze line of learning that she had cancer.  When we left off in June, she was loved on and prayed for by our work-out group.  The in-between was radiation and a long, hot Florida summer.

When I saw Jen in the store, I asked her how she was and how her summer was.  I really didn’t know if she would give me a straight answer.  It was her choice, after all; it isn’t always the right time or the best time to spit it out and lay it down.  She told me briefly about the radiation and then said God is good.  She went on to introduce me to her sweet-faced kids and her husband and then we all headed on our way.  But, mostly I heard her say God is good.

As Bindu and JMathis would say – Really, really?!  Yes, that’s what Jen said: God is good.

Then there is SusieD.  I left off with her in June.  Although the details were not clear to me until mid-summer, she shared in an email there were melanoma cells found in a few places on her body.  She spent the summer under the knife having it all removed and then waiting patiently for open sores to heal up.  I saw SusieD for the first time about a month ago.  She smiled and said that the finding of cancer was perfect timing.  Any later and her story would not have been the same.

As Bindu and JMathis would say – Really, really?!  Yes, that’s what SusieD said, the finding of cancer was perfect timing.

Yes, then there is Millie.  Just a few weeks earlier, she found some lumps and had them removed.  She was later diagnosed with cancer.  Now Millie is well-known to be a spiritual giant – – if there is such a thing.  But, if anything gives you a license to fall apart for a while, I propose that something is cancer.

Let me tell you about how Millie handles cancer.  We all sit on the floor around her as she tells us there has been so much good that has come out of this diagnosis.  She tells us that she is overwhelmed by the outpouring of her friends, her family and her husband.  She tells us that the phone does not stop ringing, the food does not stop coming and her mailbox is full of love letters.  She tells us that she was unexpectedly approved for health insurance and that God planned for that, too.  Really, Millie, really?  She tells us that she is praying for healing but accepts whatever road God has prepared for her.  Really, Millie, really?

Yes, girls, really.  The top of the can that holds authenticity has been blown off by these women.  Let it flow out to touch each one of us.  Let it break the pressure of our own cans.  Let your own authenticity out so that you can walk a genuine journey holding the hand of your God and holding the hand of your friend.

I think about Christ on the cross and how He let it all out in public – blood, sweat, tears and brokenness before His Father and for all of time to see or read about.  I think about His mom watching it all go down.  I think about John and others who were also watching their beloved friend and brother suffer for their freedom.  I think about you and I and our own suffering seasons in our life.  While the pain is often deep, the wounds are, in part, for your brother’s freedom.  But, your brother will never taste freedom unless you let your authenticity flow.  Freely and openly, among friends.  Pop the can – – it won’t be edible if you wait too long to share it.  I love you, Jen and SusieD and Millie.

Nicole W.

Flowers for you, Nicole W.

By AbbyA

Nicole W.  She was the love of my life for a very long time.  We rode bikes to restaurants on streets too fancy for college kids.  We stole toilet paper from the restaurant bathroom to stock up at home.  She regularly convinced me that Saturdays were for grabbing to-go daiquiris and hanging out the levy – – rather than for reading for class.   We painted our eyes with crayola glitter glue before we discovered fairy dust.  We argued women’s rights to conservative men while tipsy at the bar.  We walked the city blocks of New Orleans with the world at our feet.

Outside the nest of home, I never had the expectation of this kind of sisterly love.  I certainly had it with my mother and grandmother.  I had girlfriends along the way.  But my friendship with Nicole W. revealed to me what the heart of a friend felt like.  I didn’t know what it felt like to have a friend who would lay her life down for you.  I didn’t know what it felt like to be willing to lay your own life down for a friend.  This was and always will be my friendship with Nicole W.

After many years, this Fall, I have the great pleasure of attending her very first baby shower with a few other girls from this chapter of our lives.  So much time has passed.  She is a high-powered New Yorker with a long, impressive resume.  We are a long way from vowing to open a small shop in New Orleans selling hand-made tiaras.  I still like to think that we would have been quite successful at that.

Without sounding beyond my 36 years, I also like to think that these middle years are for Re-dreaming what seemed possible as a 20-year-old, empowered college student.  Re-connecting.  Warming my heart with thoughts of Nicole W.  Re-Flecting.  Looking in the mirror, into my lines and colors.  Seeing the depth of a friend that is set in those lines and colors.  Re-Vealing that friends are not just part of time but part of identity.  Nicole W. is one of those friends for me.