Monday, June 29, 2015

When The Only Words You Have Are Tears

I had a different post for this Monday. Honestly it was just all too happy.

I’ve been thinking –again– about quitting this writing thing. After all, there are so many voices out there. And writing is about having words and a voice and telling something that might make a difference.

But I haven’t got too many words for the week that just was.

For that matter, try as I may, I don’t have words for today either. There's no nice, tidy way to say what's on my heart.

It’s been a hard week.

It's been a week of tears.

I don't want any sympathy from you, even though it's nice and all. But my heart is hurting for things much bigger than me.

There have been tears over a woman who fights the darkness of depression and some others who just cannot seem to break the cycle of bondage that has plagued them for so long and stolen everything but their souls.

Tears over the news and social media posts and news feed feuds.

Tears over people who abuse and neglect children and animals and 10,000 other injustices that I cannot change which quite frankly just stink and if I were honest it makes me mad.

There were some tears over new life. Thank goodness for that beautiful baby girl.

I've shed big tears for the young mom who will leave a little boy without a mommy if she doesn’t get a miracle. Would you pray for her and the boy?

I was just undone when I saw the weight of ministry on the face of one man who has been a Pastor for decades. The cost of loving people has been hard on his soul.

And the ugly cry. Lots of that. Over and over for one beautiful little girl who is losing her short battle with cancer. It is unthinkable pain for those who love her.

One minute I’m overcome with the weight of the universe –well at least my small view of it.

And I can't even think about what kind of world we are handing to our children and grandchildren in the years ahead.

I see dividing lines being drawn up by church people and every other kind of people and just how the enemy crafts division.  Everywhere. Yes, that makes me cry too.

And last night when a man called, wanting words of help, I told him how I hoped these tears were prayers, because that's all I've got right now.

Then I opened my Bible, which has gathered a thin layer of dust and I'm reminded again what is real and what is forever.

To my surprise, when we sob and blubber and howl and wail...  it means something.

Tears are a great equalizer of people. It levels the ground at which we can see each other’s souls and where we can reach the end of ourselves and our ability to fix anything.

Tears are a universal language that God not only hears, but He makes a note of in His book.

He gathers those tears into His bottle.

What I love most about that picture is how all the tears seem to be in His bottle.

As in singular.

All intermingled and tossed together. The tears of every tribe and every nation gathered into His bottle and recorded in His book.

I don't know how that works but He says that He is keeping track and taking notes.

That is a beautiful hope.

And the best news of all?

In the end God will wipe away every tear.

"and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; 
and there will no longer be any death; 
there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; 
the first things have passed away." 

Monday, June 22, 2015

About Daughters & Dads & Men Who Stand in the Gap

When the new bride steps onto the dance floor with her dad, it’s the dance that gets me every time.

The music rises sweet and slow like an alleluia anthem, encompassing the full span of emotion which has been gathered through countless sleepless nights and a myriad of toddler tirades, right  along with belly laughter and the sheer joy which accompany the demands of raising a squalling infant girl into a tearfully beautiful woman. And this song is like the last verse sang before she is handed into the arms of another man.

It makes mascara run unapologetically down my face, because dads and daughters are subjects very sacred to my heart.

One of the most re-defining moments in life happened the morning I rocked my newborn and one year old daughters in the creaky bentwood rocker, as we waited for the first responders to arrive. The accident which claimed their dad's life had already forever changed how I viewed –well– just about everything. And in those first moments, entering a lifetime of unknowns, I cried out to God about who would walk my daughters down the aisle.

Never mind, who would steady the littlest as she took her first steps, or who would help either of them learn how to count to 10 or how we would even buy the next groceries.

No, in true fashion, I skipped right past the today-of-life and rushed on ahead to the day when it would all culminate, the raising of these girls, and the handing them off whole to the next man who would hold their heart.

I just wanted to know how that could even happen without a dad.

It’s well documented that solo parenting is tough. You become the sole provider, bandage applier, lunch preparer, problem-solver, disciplinarian, house cleaner and even more importantly, the single emotional piece of stability in the childrens lives.  

The raising of these girls seemed impossible, and forever long, and over in a moment. And I can testify that when children get married there are many unplanned emotions. But the daddy-daughter dance? 

Well, it’s sorta like climbing on the world’s largest emotional roller-coaster where the thrill and the terror of life lived and loss survived finally arrive at an abrupt heart pounding culmination.

JQ deserved to have more than one daddy-daughter dance as he gave those girls away.  I wrote about him here. He stepped right past the brokenness of my heart the first time he asked me to dance. And he really did surprise me with how well he loved me right where I was and these blonde haired girls as if they were his very own. He deserves a Dad of the Year Award, but dodges the spotlight like it’s his job. 

But before our hearts were ready for that man, there were years -- our most vulnerable times -- when God brought men who were courageous enough to protect us in a million little-big ways. Certainly I don’t recall every act of grace that was shown to us, but, I can tell you it mattered how people saw us in the shattered pieces and loved us when there was nothing they would receive in return.  

We needed men to be real men in our lives. We needed protectors and providers.  Men who would have eyes to see and hearts to be advocates for us.

Is it too late to say thank you to all the men who stepped up to be a part of the whole process of growing kids up?  One thousand thank yous to all the servant-hearted men who did not take advantage of us or ignore us or think it was too messy. Thank you to all who looked past what you thought it should look like and allowed me time to move forward, even though I didn’t steward all of those opportunities well.

Thank you to the men, true friends, who cried with us. The ones who stayed up half the night putting together Barbie’s house that came with no instructions or nuts and bolts so little girls would have a Christmas when they woke up. Thank you for the furniture you moved and the bikes you assembled, and for the flat tires you fixed and the skinned knees you awkwardly kissed.

Thank you for negotiating the deal for a reliable car and for going into the spider infested crawl space to fix a broken pipe and in through the small dark space to see how much insulation was in the attic before winter.

Thank you for every hug and every kiss and every wild horsey ride on the carpet. 

It mattered.

It was important that you were part of the pain and the process and all the phases. Thank you for not wondering how tall you stood when you bent low to wipe runny noses and button coats.

Thank you for praying for us and letting us fail and being there still when we got up to try again.

You men were our safety net.

Thank you to those who didn’t tell me how wrong I was doing it and for not abandoning us in the darkest of days.

You got it. That life is a daily battle and that people just need someone to jump start a car or scoop the snow off the sidewalk.

Because love does stuff.

Love makes you walk across the street to help that person.

It makes you sign up to mentor at the school with a high ratio of single parent families.

Love makes you want to love children who need the influence that only you can give.

Love makes you do unsafe things, because to help the hurting you have to get close enough to be hurt yourself.

Thank you for being just that. 

It’s a daily battle for so many. One in three children are living in homes without their dad. Children all around us need men (and women) to be the advocates in their lives, day after day after day.

Children need someone to speak a bigger truth than they currently believe about themselves.

Thank you for helping us find purpose and structure in a time when there were no easy answers. There were so many good men, doing what may have seemed like simple acts of kindness, but each grace made up the whole through the pieces. 

Many of you men weren’t there for the daddy-daughter dance, but I can tell you, it mattered what you did leading up to that moment.

Most every time there is a wedding it reminds me of all those who God used in our lives.

God the Father is the ultimate Provider and Advocate, but He has a way of using the most unlikely people and improbable things to change the whole rhythm of someone's life.

Happy Fathers Day to you all.

Monday, June 15, 2015

When We Have An Identity Crisis

We’ve probably all seen it play out.

When you walk into a place and there's a tight circle of friends who stand in such a way that excludes all others and you walk on by as if it doesn’t hurt in some deep way. 

Or perhaps it's worse than that for you. Maybe it was the most important relationships in your life. The very people who were supposed to offer unconditional love, but didn’t. 

It could have been the parents who played favorites or completely missed your child heart. Or the sibling that barely speaks to you.  Or the longtime friend who once sought to know your deepest places who now avoids any contact with you. Or was it the spouse who left you for someone else? Or, maybe, rejection happened to you yesterday at church, or online. Or is the talk in your own head telling you how you’ll never. be. good. enough? 

The closer the relationship with the person who rejects you, the deeper the wound. 

The profound truth is, one of the main ways the enemy rips the souls of men and women is through rejection. At its core, rejection denies relationship.  And when we do this to others we are saying that person is unworthy of  respect and love. 

No one is immune to the effects of rejection and we can wear it around our necks like a hang-man’s noose if we don’t see it for what it is.

If rejection brings about the work Satan intends, it's very destructive and far reaching in a person's life. Most often, it leads to believing many lies and can be evidenced by various symptoms in our everyday lives. Things like rebellion, a rejecting of others, self-pity, trying to fit it, and an inability to accept constructive criticism. It establishes deep insecurities and approval-seeking behaviors.

We've seen the truth of this in our own lives and those around us, haven't we?

Practically speaking, we may start looking for our identity in the work we do, the house we live in, the trips we take, how beautiful our children are, the numbers in our bank account or the number on the scale. Even long time church-goers miss this truth. It's easy to think it's the church we attend or the knowledge we have or the things we do that are "good."  I've lived all of those things too, as I've tried to find real answers for the deepest parts of my heart.

If we find our identities in these kinds of things or view people through this kind of lens, we may need to admit we have a bit of an identity issue.

In the truest sense it is an identity crisis, in this world. 

Certainly all people easily fall into this identity trap ultimately because of unbelief. Our identity needs to be in the One who designed our DNA and made us unique for a purpose. Rejection is a major tool that is used to hurt people at the core of who God made them to be. Here are a few things I feel like the Lord has been gracious to teach me about this subject of rejection.

Rejection is a strange pain.

It attacks the very core of our person-hood. Rejection drives insecurities and feelings of never being enough. It opposes the very nature that God created in us. Rejection starves a person from the love and acceptance that they were designed to receive. Plus, the people who are doing the rejecting most always involve others to justify themselves. So there are usually layers to the pain endured.

In my own life, I have buried key relationships which were certainly life impacting losses. However, the enemy has repeatedly used rejection from people who were close, important relationships, to do the deepest, most long lasting soul damage. It's a lesson that began on the playground and has since played out in other tragic ways. It is a reminder that my identity is not in those who wear flesh, but my identity is in the Lord who created me in His own image.

Rejection is an odd gift. 

The fruit of rejection has protected me from self-reliance and placing many things above Jesus. It has given me eyes to better see other people for who God made them to be. It has given me a broken heart for the brokenhearted. Rejection has made a pathway to a deeper dependence on God. And each time that rejection occurs it reminds me, again, that my identity is not in how others perceive me or treat me. Who I am is a woman saved by grace and in Jesus I am enough. Only God can be trusted as the source of my identity.

The opposite of rejection is acceptance. 

Any thoughts, or words, that speak any other message than God’s unconditional love for us, is of the enemy. Satan is the accuser and God loves unconditionally. Yes, we need to own our own stuff and we are all a work in progress until we leave this earth, but foundationally, the truth of the Bible is that God created man in His own image. So all men and women and children are eternally important. Our value isn't based on what we do, but Whose we are.

The most important thing about rejection is how we respond to it. 

Rejection is a trap. We have two choices really. We can allow pain to harden our heart or to learn from it and allow the pain to make our heart soft and broken for others. How we react will impact how we see not only ourselves, but how we treat others. We were all created to be loved, accepted and appreciated. Ultimately, our identities cannot be in someone's rejection or acceptance of us, but in the God who says we are loved by Him.

Our response to rejection has to be forgiveness and love. 

Loving people, even those who reject us, is what brings God glory.

We can't change how they are, but we can keep their treatment of us from changing how we see ourselves and live our lives. When we understand how much we are loved, and how great the price that Jesus paid to make us His, our response to love others is a little easier. We know that they have an identity crisis and for that we can pray.

Rejection was intended to destroy how I see myself, but instead it has moved my focus from wanting the praise of people and produced in me a passion to love God and others more deeply. Ultimately we need to love people well so that the world can see what Jesus looks like.

There is a place every person can rest and embrace their true identity. Jesus is calling us to know we are accepted. In Him there is no condemnation, only unconditional love.

Who do you reject?

Has rejection impacted your life?

Do you truly see yourself as loved and accepted?

Therefore, accept one another,
just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 
Romans 15:7

Monday, June 8, 2015

When Someday Becomes Today

From behind a bank of dark clouds, straight beams of light rise and fan out into lucent gold shards that reach across the horizon. It’s a new day, complete with a silvery lining on the edge of storm clouds.

I know it's the oldest cliche, but it really does seem like yesterday, when I was rocking babies, mopping up their messes all while stepping over hills of dirty clothes. People tried to tell me how those sleepless nights would soon be a thing of the past and the screaming toddlers were just a phase too. They made sincere comments on how the adolescent years would rush by and the teenagers would leave home before we knew it and maybe even pay for their own cell phones and car insurance.

They were right after all. It was just one fleeting stage after another where I had daily opportunity to impact my children's lives, for good or for bad.  That was some of the most important work I've been given and I nearly missed it by thinking about the some-days, instead of hitting a rhythm of living in the day.

Even this week, as I've found myself in a fresh new season of life, my days were often eclipsed by thoughts of  "someday."

"Someday I'll get caught up."

"Someday I'll feel rested and get up earlier, so I can read and exercise before breakfast."

"Someday I'll actually eat breakfast."

"Someday I'll call that person that I've thought of countless times."

Some day.

I found it a little disturbing to read how many people won't have a someday when tomorrow comes. Over 100 people die in our world every minute. Conservative numbers suggest that each day, 150,000 people will not have another day to stop wasting.

Life is not an endless supply of days. It just isn't.

Today is a gift and our days are numbered, so how do we start living like we believe that?

Well, I believe that the answer can only be found as we individually seek the Lord earnestly for what His plan is.

God doesn't usually unfold a spreadsheet plan complete with bullet points, but He does have plans for each and every person that will effect eternity. The crazy truth is, what we do individually, is linked together in the whole large work that God is doing in this world. I don't know how it all works, I just know that it does.

And those nagging little dreams that poke at our heart? Those are often the clues to your destiny that God has for you and we need to take one step on the path toward them today, not some day.

Every tiny choice sets us up for the next choice and moves us toward the destiny He has for us.

My ideas for living well today aren't a grandiose list really.  I think it's more about committing to what I'm becoming. It's more about being obedient to the small thing right in front of me as I make more room in my life for the things that make up the bigger picture of life.

This year my word is deeper. So far it has looked like going deeper in the Word. Engaging in deeper conversations. Listening instead of talking. Praying instead of complaining. Responding with sincere concern and love to people who don't treat me with love or respect.

Sometimes, its as simple and hard as allowing someone to go first in an already long line or giving an overworked cashier an earnest compliment.

Deeper is going slower. It is doing less of the busy stuff, more of the heart stuff.

That may not sound like an earth shaking purpose, but kindness and gentleness is a heart-shift that happens one kind, gentle act at a time. All around us are people who need a whole lot more of those things and maybe it really could change the world.

Anything we want more of in our lives will come from doing more of it and less of something else.

We should all be trying to figure out how to hold the pieces of our lives closely that God has given us to do.

It's living on purpose –for the very purpose we were made for.

That sounds more daunting than it is really.

It is only overwhelming when we worry about the 'some days' instead of just doing what we have been given to do today.

Trust me when I say this, going to another meeting, event or vacation is not as important as making time to be present for in our lives that are closest to us. Such as our spouse, our children or our neighbors.

Living for today is not an all out, do every crazy thing you ever thought of.

Living today well is making a commitment to become more of who God made us to be.

Living well today is not what we do but who we are.

It is not a passive process. Who God made us to be will demand more of us than we have to give. God is in the business of using people whose skills do not match the demands of His assignment. Most often, God is looking for people whose passion to live for Him exceeds any list of credentials, balance in the bank or social position.

This living well today, is an unpredictable balance of allowing things to happen and making things happen. We can't orchestrate every aspect of the day, but we can embrace the moments and recognize God in them.

That's how we stop merely marking out time until the next event or weekend or payday.

When the sun sinks into the western horizon, another day will be gone. So today we look for God in our moments that gather into the day we've been given.

Do you wish away your day for the 'some days?'

If this were your last day on earth, do you know Jesus?

Monday, June 1, 2015

When The Wedding Is Over

It was that time when I watched my husband, his face both tender and strained. He stood straight and almost too proper, with his baby girl's hand cradled under his, as if bracing against all the emotion of twenty-two years just gone. 

And in the time it takes to walk down a make-shift aisle, faded memories flash by and suddenly you find yourself standing at the arch of time, gathered in moments of joy and waves of tears and you wonder if we really prepared her for the day after this day.

This girl, she made her grand entrance into the world, with the same flair and slight drama that has followed her. We weren't thinking then about who would capture her heart. We were only embracing how she had stolen ours. 

From the first time I brushed my finger across the curve of her cheek and with each sleepless night rocking there in the dark, humming off-key lullabies, my heart was knit to her soul. 

Instinctively we taught her the things that we could. The attributes that we felt were the most important. We wanted her to learn that she was loved no matter what. We instilled in her that she didn't have to perform or have a platform or work to attain. Above all, we wanted her to know that she was uniquely designed by God, to do the things only she could do. 

But in these crazy days of preparing for one big day, I wonder how well we prepared her for all the days after the wedding. 

After all, there is so much focus put on the ceremony, but how do you really prepare for a lifetime?

One of the things I'm most deeply passionate about is the covenant of marriage. I long to see husbands love and cherish their wives and for wives to love and respect their husbands. 

I have my reasons and if ever I write out the chapters of my life into a book you may read about it, but what I can tell you now is that every day we are either tearing down our marriage or building it up. So if you all are kind enough to bear with me, here are a few things I would say to us all, about the days that follow the one wedding day.

- -
- - -
- - - -
The rent is due every day on commitment and love in marriage.

Create your own beautiful relationship with each text, wink, “good morning” and “can’t wait to see you tonight.”  Never stop writing your love story.

Be for each other. Be willing to fight for, instead of with, each other. At the end of the day, you know the heart of the other. 

Work on spending your time well with each other. Find ways to do more and more of what feeds the relationship and do that every day. Connecting at a heart level means turning off the noise, the distractions, the mindless empty things that keep you from actually hearing and communicating. You cannot do that with the television blaring while surfing sites on your phone or mindlessly staring at a computer screen. You just can't.

Respect each other deeply. Never, no, not ever, make your spouse look bad to your friends or family. So often couples throw their spouse under the bus in a moment of frustration and self-pity and cause other people to see their spouse in a less flattering light. It actually shows the immaturity of the one talking bad about the other. That is the stuff that kills relationships. Period. Stop it.  

Talk it out with each other and listen with your soul. No marriage ended overnight. It died one harsh word at a time. One day at a time. One selfish act at a time. Just as it takes two people to make a marriage, it takes two people to fail at one.

Iron sharpens iron. No one ever enjoyed the process, but the truth is, in a marriage, sometimes the things that hurt are the things that are growing us up. We all need to grow-up some more.

Pray together. Make it as simple as praying before you go to bed or before running off to start your day. God already knows your heart so don't worry so much about how the words come out. 

Be honest. There is no such thing as a white lie. 

Ask for forgiveness. Admit that you are wrong and stop doing the thing that is hurting your relationship. As my pastor, John Stone says: "Own your own stuff."

You must forgive and forget and let go and move on. 'Do not let the sun go down on your anger.' That's in the Bible for a reason. It will make your life better and you can spend your energy on the good stuff.

Believe in your spouse. Be their biggest fan. 

Invest in each other every day. What speaks to the soul of the other? An extra twenty minutes of sleep? A walk with actual conversation? A word of affirmation? Saying no to a good thing, so you can say yes to them? 

Be kind. Act like a team. There really is no “I” in team.

Always ask yourself, "What in me needs to change?" You are the only person you can control. I have never once heard someone, in a difficult place in their marriage, tell me what is wrong with themselves. The focus is always about what is wrong with the other person.

Marriage takes on its own rhythm. It will surprise you and disappoint you and mess with all your flaws and shining attributes. It will make you more together than you were apart. And at the end of the day, you should feel like it’s a refuge to come home, because where there is love there is great freedom.

Stop the unrealistic expectations of each other and even of yourself. We are all messed up people. 

God designed marriage. Satan hates marriage. God wants to bless you with His crazy favor and give you a legacy that will outlive your days on earth. Satan wants to kill, steal and destroy. So today, you can choose life and love or hate and death.

The greatest thing we can give to our children and the world around us is to simply love our spouse well. It can’t be taught with words, it has to be lived. 

Love trumps everything. Hold it close. Fight for it. Believe in it. Live it. 

The wedding day? It's such an amazing, sweet celebration, but the marriage…. is how we show the world that love is real.

Can you stand a few candid photos from the wedding day?
Photo by Lindy Hiatt
Photo by Lindy Hiatt
Photo used with permission. Photo was taken by Conie Johnson. 

Photo used with permission. Taken by Leah Ratzlaff
Decor by our friend Bridget Licking and a village of workers

© Rhonda Quaney