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Caroline

Faith

When Promotion Came

February 16, 2016

The gracious reality of trying seasons is that they don’t, in fact, last forever. So we knew eventually a fresh wind would come our way and send us in a new direction. And thankfully, it did.

The beautiful irony of last year is that while Mark started off without a job, he ended with a promotion. A promotion that both excites and terrifies us. A promotion that requires a total upheaval of life. A promotion that, one month from now, means our little clan is pulling up our stakes in Georgia and planting them smack-dab in the middle of Orlando.

We’re moving by the subtle whisper of God who is calling us to a new adventure totally outside familiar territory. While I find myself fairly freaked out by the whole change and wondering what in the world we are doing, my friends keep cheering me on. They remind me that this is a great adventure we’re living as our little family. I’m so thankful for their excitement. And I believe them. Adventure is exhilarating.

But I also know that adventure is filled with lonely days, new rhythms, and dependency in the midst of utter unfamiliarity. Adventure is a gift. But it is work. It is undeniably glorious and painfully stretching – the coupled reality of all of God’s journeys.

God is a sending God. Sometimes that comforts me, knowing that faith does not have stagnancy interwoven through it. But risk and unknowns are certain to be companions, and that can be unnerving. To build and establish what will last beyond our lifetime almost always means heading somewhere foreign to do what we have no idea about at the time of sending.

Given our current situation, I’ve been thinking a lot about moments of promotion, upgrade, and acceleration in life. What I’ve realized most is that those times are never what we imagine them to be.

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Heading into this new adventure, I’m aware of a couple things:

First, whether in seasons of drought or rainfall we are required to steward what is before us. Mark and I were responsible for our how we responded to what came our way last year. Did we use God’s promises to stabilize us in the middle of the shakiness or keep them shelved? Did we allow circumstances to swirl us into chaos or listen to the small whisper that quiets us into trust. How we handle uncertainties determines a lot of what we’ll be entrusted with ahead.

Also, promotion doesn’t really fix anything. For us, yes, Mark has a job. But that job means added challenges like planting ourselves in a foreign place. If those moments of promotion are considered the promised land, the falsity is that there all loose ends get tied and all messes get cleaned. There is no land where there are no loose ends and no messes. Over and over I must remind myself to break out of this destination mentality that says that ahead, over there, I will find my nice plot of land where I can thrive, be at peace, and remain uninterrupted.

Because the peace, growth, and character we long to gain are always built where there is tension. That tension reminds us that we are living a greater story than ourselves.

Ultimately, I would say that this move scares me more than others because I have absolutely no idea what is on the other side. With past decisions, I had an inkling of how life would change, through community, travel, or ministry opportunities. But this move leaves me fairly speechless. I don’t know what to say about it because I don’t at all know what it holds. I have no clue what life looks on the other side of this jump.

But then there’s that whisper, the one who met me a decade ago, the one whose quiet voice pierces me with his love. That voice says to go, not knowing a thing about this journey, and trust in his favor over our family in this season. That voice reminds me that it’s all a journey without a destination point.

His whisper says again to me that the keys to enjoying life are thankfulness and partaking in today’s offering.

Life

Current Thoughts on Mamahood

February 9, 2016

As I write this today, I am tucked away in a booth in the back corner of Panera, all by my very self. No babe, no husband, just me, my green tea, and this little corner. This is rare and I am thankful for the quiet respite to write out a smattering of thoughts on mamahood today.

I wasn’t someone who grew up so readily anticipating the day I would become a mom. But I did always wonder what in the world it would be like to experience such depths of love packed into one tiny life who is part of me.

As my due date approached, I would get lost in my thoughts of holding this little one who I got jabs and kicks from all day and night. I wondered what she would look like, how it would be to take care of her, and what I would think as she reflected my good and my bad. Then, a few months ago, our little Eloise Haven came and changed our world forever.

Some of the best things that have happened in my life since having Eloise are the smallest and most hidden from other eyes. What brings me joy with her has nothing to do with the applause of the outside. My experiences don’t need validation or participation by others. This I find extremely freeing, probably because it hasn’t always been that way. But it is incredible to experience joy that is tangible in the simplicity of a moment, not dependent on anything external or additional.

I also find that I worry less about lots. I don’t fret over certain things that I used to because I honestly don’t want to give my time away to them. I am extra aware in this season that the time I do have is both precious and finite. So I find myself more intentionally choosing what I give my thoughts and hours to, steering away from time-suckers and toward what brings life and value. And realizing that the difference is a simple matter of my choice.

On a totally different note, I find myself utterly amazed how any person could lose as much hair off their head, and yet still have hair, as I am currently experiencing. The sheer quantity is unbelievable. I am unsure when this hair-purge will cease, though I am hopeful I won’t find myself with the level of fuzz atop my head currently being modeled by our sweet Eloise. But I realize only time will determine this one.

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One daily ritual we’ve been doing since the beginning is looking at Eloise and telling her a few things about who she is. Since the world will try to tell her so much of who she is not, we’re intentionally speaking into her identity. Among other things, I tell her that she is brave, she is kind, she is strong, and she will see God’s kingdom come. I had this moment early on, though, when I found my words being a boomerang of both truth and challenge to me. As I told her who she was, I found those words channeling back to me as reminders of my own identity. But I also found them asking if I am being brave and if I am playing my role in God’s kingdom.

Out of all that has happened in our world being turned upside down, this one experience has realigned me most suddenly and drastically.

And so, today I would say mamahood has surprisingly empowered me to walk more as the person I know God has created me to be. I realize that the trails I blaze by my own bravery will propel my daughter farther into those depths of identity, intimacy, and wonder-filled adventure with God.

That is equal parts exciting and terrifying. But so freaking exhilarating.

Really, I am so thankful and so in over my head. It’s probably where I should pitch my tent more often.

 

Photo credit: Kim Daniels

Faith

Learning to Stand (Part 3)

February 4, 2016

I used to go to this workout class when I lived in Gainesville, Georgia. It was run by the one and only Ava, who is by far one of my favorite people I have ever met. Her bootcamp class started at 5:30 with Ava likely being the last one to show up in the room. You’d know she was coming before the door ever blew open. Though Ava is only 5’2”, she’s a ball of fire with a southern voice that’s loud and full of life. You smile when you hear it because you know you’re in for the best time.

She’d burst through the door and be mid-sentence, Diet Coke in hand. She’d expect you to know the first half of what she was saying even though that part was said down the hallway. Her short blonde hair was always pulled back in a ponytail, but with enough pieces falling out of each side to let you know she’s in a hurry. Always in a hurry, as if you were wondering.

I remember the day I told her I was getting married. I raised up my left hand with my shiny ring reflecting the overhead lights and proclaimed, “Ava! I’m engaged!” She cried. The grab-the-kleenex kind of tears. She said it was like her own daughter telling her. Ava is someone you never want to forget once you meet her.

Ava would have us do the craziest things in that hour workout. We would be upside down on top of picnic tables and run with medicine balls like pregnant bellies for laps on end. She had this one signature move where we’d take this bosu (think half-dome exercise ball with a 2’ diameter) and flip it upside down so the circular part was on the ground, unstable. Then she’d make sure we each had a kettle bell, the heavier the better. And she’d tell us we had to get on the bosu with the kettle bell and swing our hearts out (high in the air, over our heads).

Every time it confirmed to me that she was a crazy woman. But there was no backing out in Ava’s class, so onto the bosu we all went – with the kettle bell – to, yes, swing them.

Let me tell you, there was only one goal in mind at this point and it had nothing to do with getting a better figure or a faster running speed. The only goal was to keep standing.

I would tighten every muscle in my body, squat as low as possible with my legs so I couldn’t be taken down easily, and try my best to swing that kettle bell high in the air, all in an effort to appease Ava and not die.

I quickly learned that my point of attention mattered most. Where I set my focus determined if I would keep standing or find myself on the floor in moments. Both happened on different occasions.

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Last year I felt a lot like I was standing on that bosu again with ankles wobbling uncontrollably and abs shaking from the strain being put on them. Standing amidst trying circumstances demands all of us – squatted legs, tight core, and the perseverance to believe for the breakthrough even if we cannot see it coming.

Certain strength and perseverance can only be caught when our ground shakes. That’s the irony. We become stronger standing on the unexpected ground, more unmovable and secure the more it feels as though things may crumble. The growth that changes us at the core doesn’t happen where it’s flat, firm land – it happens when things are shaking and shifting all around us. The uncertain offers us the chance to change and become – all by way of standing.

And that’s no easy thing. But if I sat with you today and you asked me what I learned last year, I think my best answer would be this: I learned to stand.

Seasons when we feel out of control, and so do our circumstances, demand that we show up for ourselves. More than others telling us we will be okay and it will work out in the end, we must look at ourselves and say, I promise that you are strong enough to withstand this.

To show up for ourselves means we aren’t fixated on what happened in the past or wrapped up awaiting what may come in the future. Instead, it requires us to be fully present in what is before us today – and to be faith-filled for ourselves in it.

Sometimes you need to pull your core tight, squat yourself low, and decide you will out-stand the circumstances in the moment. Out-hope the despair you feel. Out-believe the fear that is pressing in on you. Out-wait the unexpected.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is stand, wait, and settle within yourself that in these circumstances, you will simply keep standing.

 

Photo credit: Barn Images

Life

How to Navigate the Unexpected (Part 2)

January 29, 2016

The sun isn’t up yet so it’s still pure darkness outside. What I love about this time of day is that though my eyes see darkness, I know that the breaking dawn is moments away. That fireball of a sun is about to peak its first breath of red over the edge and declare in its small yet bold way that a new day has arrived. Last year all I wanted to know was when that new day would come.

Some days Mark and I woke up and prayed like wild people who were confident that those seeds of ours would move mountains. We did our best to stay focused and hopeful, wondering if each day held our suddenly that would transition ourselves out of that season. Other days we didn’t talk much to God or each other. We just made it.

If you’re in a season like that, I know it’s not easy. Below are some more thoughts on how to navigate it though none of them say how to fix it. We want to be moved right out the season and sometimes we simply cannot be. We’re longing for the miraculous parting and instead feel we are merely wandering in the endless wilderness.

So how do we keep breathing and keep moving?

Get alone with God and be brutally honest. This may sound contrary to the final point in my previous post, but both are necessary. We need safe space with God where we can drop the religious stuff that makes us feel more presentable to him and allow ourselves to be honest about exactly how we feel. Days after Mark lost his job, I found myself in Nashville for my celebratory birthday weekend away. With journal in hand, I sat on the hotel bed and poured out my raw, tear-filled words on paper. This practice safeguards us from throwing our anger and disappointment onto those around us. God can handle our unfiltered truth.

Identify your pillars. Pinpoint the promises that speak to you with such conviction that you will cling tightly to them no matter how long the storm rages around you. For me, it is straight out of Psalm 27 – “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” I will see. I will see. I repeated it over and over again throughout my days, reminding both myself and God. I still do.

Remember, this is a season.  A wise voice told this to me early on so I would know that this wouldn’t last forever. Mark would find another job. We would get settled in a new rhythm and it wouldn’t always be the mess it was for those months we waited. Some days, this is the best we can hold to. We may not always have the strength to hope for more or be confident of how things will turn out. On those days, reminding yourself that this is a season can help you get out of bed and keep moving forward with the day’s demands.

Take a deep breath and wait on God to bring forth life. Faith isn’t required to see what we have lost or recognize what could have been. What demands our faith is to believe for what will be despite our present circumstances. And this is the promise of God alive in our midst. That no matter how chaotic or dire situations may feel, God will bring life from within the upheaval. Oftentimes it is out of the mess and uncertainty that our breakthrough springs up. The promise of his resurrection power is that out of what we are convinced is dead and buried comes life.

 

Photo credit: Patrik Nygren

Life

How to Navigate the Unexpected (Part 1)

January 27, 2016

Let’s imagine we’re having coffee this morning. I’m definitely drinking a latte, whole milk please. You have your drink of choice in hand and we’re sitting down in two chairs in the corner of some local joint.

You’re grappling with an unexpected circumstance in your life – because who isn’t? Maybe you’re disappointed because of what didn’t happen. Or angry at the reality of what did. Or feeling lost with no idea how to move forward from here. I just finished telling you my story from 2015 and you ask what I’ve learned to help you navigate through what’s pretty trying today.

Well, below are my thoughts. They’re not complete or perfect nor do they necessarily apply to your circumstance. But they’re what I would tell the Caroline of a year ago who felt hurt and angry and completely lost. If she sounds like a familiar friend to you, maybe you could use some of these words too.

So here’s what I’d say…

There’s an opportunity here to intentionally steward the unexpected. What I mean is that the season doesn’t have to be defined by chaos, confusion, and continued wallowing until a breakthrough comes. Instead, it carries the opportunity to take us to deeper dependency on God, community, and his promises. It could grow and shape us. But we have an active role in determining the outcome of the unexpected. Our small, daily choices matter.

Find who God is in it. Through whatever happened, God has invaded ordinary life and completely disturbed your plan. It happened and it’s okay. It will also happen again. The opportunity is for you to focus less on what happened and more on who is with you. The question is not if God is doing something. He is. Nor is the question necessarily what he is doing, because it may not be the time to understand. With the journey of faith being centered on knowing God, the best question to ask is, who he is revealing himself to be in the midst of this? Write it down, hold tightly to it, and let it be a source of stability in the middle of what may feel like sinking sand today.

Fight the urge to fix. We live in a culture that is obsessed with fixing problems and managing pain. Slogans, commercials and culture shout that all we need to do is fix what is broken. But resist the urge to do that. Because if you move too quickly to solve your problem, you may in fact eliminate yourself from experiencing the actual purpose of why you are even here. Not all brokenness demands our interference. Sometimes the wisest move we can make is to not move at all but allow ourselves to be present in our pain.

Remember that the destination does not shape, change or grow us. The process does. It will always be in the process where we will become more of the person we are longing to be because life is the process. We are easily fixated on this ideal destination we’re aiming to arrive at while all along Emmanuel, God with us, is in the unfolding process of today. So if the unexpected flung you smack dab in the middle of a messy process, it’s okay. You’re likely right where you will change and grow the most.

Intentionally give an offering of thanksgiving and praise to God. This is when we respond despite feelings and press into faith for more than what we see. This is when we say even with what happened, I will thank you for what you are doing and I will believe you for what is coming. I remember just days after Mark lost his job, we found ourselves home the night of his company’s holiday party. We desperately wanted to wallow in the loss by curling up on the couch watching Netflix to pass the hours. But instead we responded contrary to our feelings. We put on worship music, got our faces to the ground, and cried out some guttural prayers. Saying “thank you” in the midst of unexpected loss or uncertainly is a precious offering to God and one that can only be given when we have no idea where or how to move from here.

More to come later this week…

 

Photo credit: Neo_II