Saturday, May 20, 2017

He was just walking

His gait was a little off-kilter, that's what caught my eye first.

While the three buttons on his shirt that he did use were lined up correctly, the way it hung on him, almost sideways, gave the impression that he had randomly buttoned just enough to keep it on. His wavy silver hair probably would have come close to reaching his chin if it wasn't wildly bouncing upwards. And his eyes, though open, didn't really look as if they were registering anything they were seeing.

He was walking towards me on the sidewalk, but it was a busy day, a busy sidewalk downtown. He wasn't actually walking towards me. He was just walking. 

I got in my car and drove away in the opposite direction. Six blocks down the road, I turned into the parking garage where the ATM line forms and waited my turn. A few minutes later I was making my deposit.

My ATM usually takes just about anything I try to deposit, but occasionally it will refuse to take a check with a corner bent or a bill with too many wrinkles. This time, it spit a perfectly crisp $20 bill out at me. I just stuck it in my purse rather than fight with the machine.

As I put the car in drive, I saw someone out of the corner of my eye walking across the parking garage in my direction. I knew before I looked because of his gait, but I still was shocked to see the same man walking towards me again. Well, not walking towards me. It was an area of town where the homeless are prone to wander. He was just walking.

Still, seeing him in two different places so closely together stirred up a little bit of fear and I put my foot on the gas and moved away from him as quickly as possible. I wasn't a block away when I felt guilty. It was the first hot day this year and he was likely thirsty. What was I scared of?

Unfortunately, I was stuck in busy traffic that took me onto the bridge over the Illinois River and couldn't turn around.

At the bottom of the bridge I ran into the gas station. I bought a bottle of cold water and set it next to the snacks I had packed for myself in my front seat before I went back over the bridge in the hopes of finding him.

As I reached the top of the bridge, I saw him. He was walking towards me on the bridge. Well, not walking towards me. He was just on the bridge, on the sidewalk, walking. But I couldn't stop without causing a major accident... so I kept going.

A glance at the clock in my car told me the interview with a prospective employee was in 35 minutes. I hoped I had enough time to get around the block, back over the bridge, and wait for him to make it over and still get to my appointment.

Starting up the bridge for the third time in several minutes I saw him still walking. Then, he turned towards the railing and stopped, looking out over the river. My heart leaped in my chest as he leaned over the low bridge railing ever so slightly, and my mind started to race.

I went back and forth between trying to talk to him telepathically to praying to God...“Don't jump. Please don't jump. I have water and food. I'm sorry I took off earlier. God, please don't let him jump. I'm helping now. Sir, please just keep walking over the bridge.” I kept going, even when he was again out of my sight and while finding a place to park near the bottom of the bridge.

Straining my eyes the direction he was coming from, I eventually saw his head pop up over the edge of the bridge and I let out a huge sign of relief. I could tell it was him by the distinctive bob his gait gave him. Then more and more of him became clear as he drew closer.

I got out of the car, “Sir, would you like some water?”

He nodded and walked towards me. “That's a long walk over that bridge!” He said.

“Yeah, it's pretty hot today! What's your name?”

“Reese. Like the candy.”

I handed him the water along with some snacks, a card that told him Jesus loves him, and the bill that the ATM had rejected.

“These are for you. I'll be praying for you Reese.”

He looked at the bill, surprised, before expressing his gratitude and started to walk away. A few steps later he paused and said, “My last name is Stillwell, so God knows you mean me.”

“He knows!” I assured him.

Then, he did something that completely shocked me. He walked back over the bridge into the town he had just left. He hadn't just been walking, down a busy sidewalk, through a parking garage, across the bridge. He really had been walking towards me all along.I wish I had told him, “Do you need proof that God knows your name, Reese? He set you on a path to me three different times and made sure I had cash in hand to help you out. God knows you.”

If I see Reese again, I'll tell him.

In the meantime, I can tell you. God knows you too. He loves you. And when it seems like nothing is going right and all you are doing is wandering around, keep your eyes open. Because either He is putting people in your path, or turning your path towards His people. 

Either way, He is trying to help. He knows what you need. He knows your name.

I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands. 
Isaiah 49:16 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29-31

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The light at the end of the tunnel

I've watched him struggle both for and against independence.
Sometimes my heart broke for him.
Sometimes I was angry at him.
Each step was so. slow. and. deliberate.
"Just do it!" I'd think. "It's not that hard."
A couple of times I even said it out loud.
And while I never doubted he could do it,
   I often knew he wasn't ready.

Then one day this spring, after a breakthrough of mythic proportions,
he looked at me, with tears in his eyes and said,
Ben changed my life long before we dated.
It's exciting to walk with him as he
changes his own. I love this guy. <3
"I'm going to be okay."
"I have a future."
"I've never believed that before."
     and my heart stopped in my chest.
I still can hardly type those words without tearing up.

All those times I was frustrated to tears,
all those times I pushed him and he shut down,
all those times I tried to talk about the future
and he said he didn't know what he wanted from life...

It wasn't indecisiveness or him being wishy washy.
It certainly wasn't about us.
     He literally did not believe he had a future.
     He couldn't see it.

When you are in a tunnel with no light at the end,
     how far do you keep walking before you just stop?
Ten years? Twenty? More?

I'm so proud of how hard he fought,
even those times I didn't know if I could much longer.
I'm so proud of how he is continuing to fight,
     to be the man he knows God created him to be,
to turn that 'head knowledge' he's been acquiring for years
about exactly what Jesus thinks of him
     into the 'heart knowledge' he needs to move forward 
with hope into the abundant future we've all been promised.

While the scale isn't always as grand, everyone struggles with this on some level. There is almost always an area of our lives where we don't have a vision for the future. Maybe it's an area of your life that you don't even know exists yet.

Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, people perish."

The lack of vision can affect someone on a large scale, or it can affect a certain aspect of their lives. A person with no vision for personal finances, will see their finances fall apart.  A person with no vision for their business, will never see it grow. A person with no vision for their relationships with their family will see those relationships start to wither away.

The enemy works overtime to keep us from having vision, from seeing the light at the end of our tunnels. It's not that the light isn't there... he can't turn it off, he can only distract us from seeing it. And of all the the things Satan is good at, distraction is at the top of the list.

When it comes to vision for our future, there are a lot of ways to keep us distracted... pain, sickness, stress, and drama are just a few. One of his favorite ways to distract us is to try to convince us we are someone different than who God says we are.
Knowing who you are in Christ is the MOST important part of keeping Satan from distracting you, because while we may be temporarily distracted from seeing the Truth, the Truth hasn't changed.

Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he."

When you start to feel hopeless, and you can't find the light, and you
don't know how to fight... don't just remind yourself who God says you are... remind Satan that you know who you are... So that the God of hope can fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Writers write

I don't know how
I got to the point
where I feel like
whatever I write
has to be so
profound, perfect, moving.

Even now I'm
counting syllables
on one hand and
looking for deeper
meaning in them
from a different view.

Really, I know
writing is what God
called me to do.
So why do I think
stories I tell
must conform in some way?

Nothing I write
seems worth asking for
your time to read it.
But I'll publish
this and hope that it
sparks my brain in
the place I need to write.

Writers write so
that is what I'll do.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

I can do it myself

The kind of pride that says, "I can do it myself." often makes life more difficult. But, when the "it" in question is something that only God can do, the results can be devastating... not only to the person trying to take over, but those around them as well.

The story of Moses has been my favorite since I was a toddler. When I was four I saved my banana peel from lunch and glued it to my coloring paper where the water and the reeds had already been drawn. I was devastated when my mom threw it away. 

I remember, nearly a decade later, hearing about people using clear shellac to make fruits and veggies last for decorative purposes and thinking to myself, “That's what Mom should have done with my banana peel baby Moses boat. Darn her!" I was still mad. (I'm mostly over it now, just in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, we know that Moses was born and adopted into the house of Pharaoh. He grew up knowing that he was Hebrew, basically raised by his own birth family. At some point while growing up, Moses became aware that he was their promised deliverer. Knowing that, he no doubt knew that God had set out a specific time frame for the delivering of His people. In Genesis 15:13, God told Abraham that his descendants would be delivered in 400 years.

Yet, when Moses came upon a Hebrew being mistreated by an Egyptian, Moses killed the Egyptian. According to Acts 7:23 he did it in the hopes of being recognized as their deliverer.

Why? Because He believed it was time to to start the process. He was their deliverer, right? They may not know it yet, but they would see it when they realized what happened. He expected to be able to do what He wanted, when He wanted, in his own strength and have his people fall at his feet, thankful.

It was the next day when Moses realized that things had not gone as he had planned... and he hightailed it out of town. Exodus 12:40 says that it was exactly 430 years before they were delivered. That is including Moses's 40 years in the desert. His own pride cost the Hebrews an additional 30 years of slavery.

I personally know that God did not want me to be homeless. It was never His plan and neither were any of the things that led up to our homelessness. But, I knew His promises. I knew that He wanted to provide for the kids and I. I knew that He didn't want me to be single the rest of my life. I knew that God promised to give me the desires of my heart... so I set out after them, in my own strength. I thought I should have been able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and God's promises would back me up.

By the time I realized that things weren't going to go exactly as planned for me, I was stuck. It took
surrendering to Him to get me out of where I was. If I had not humbled myself and surrendered to God, He wouldn't have been able to build my business underneath me without me trying to take the reins and continue to do things myself. A quick look at the past has proven that doing this never works out well. My pride cost my kids years of putting up with men who were not good for us and six months of homelessness, among other things.

In both of these cases, the "I can do it myself" pride cost people big. Moses and I both thought we knew what God wanted for us and decided to help move His plans along.

As tired as I've become over the years of hearing the words, "It's all in God's timing." I do see that there are some things that can't be rushed. 

I've learned that the secret to living a fulfilling life when you don't yet have all you want is to enjoy the journey on your way there instead of speeding ahead towards your destination. God will fulfill His promises for you. If you watch carefully, you'll find out that watching HOW He does so is more exciting than receiving the actual thing you are waiting for.

The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.
Exodus 14:14

Only by pride comes contention, with the well advised there is wisdom.
Proverbs 13:10

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Valentine's Day

I originally wrote this last Valentine's Day, but I never published it. As I was re-reading it I realized it is still something I want to share. So, here goes.

Whether I am your sister or your sister-in-Christ I want you to know that I care about you. I've made a lot of bad choices in my life. While I can't change them, I hope that, occasionally, some of my mistakes are lessons for more than just me.  

I still don't always get it right, but thankfully I have grace to get me through. God is good... all the time. 

Know that wherever you are today, I have been there before. Broken-hearted? Perfectly content being single? Dating an abuser? Happily married? I've been there. What is different now is that I used to let my relationship status on any given day define who I was.

Nearly six years ago, a long term relationship I was in ended abruptly. Devastated, I chose self-destructive ways to deal with it... although I didn't see those ways as self-destructive at the time.

The next four years were rough. Even when I chose to show hope and happiness on the outside, inside I was a self-loathing mess. I desperately wanted someone to show me that I wasn't as easily cast aside as a few key men in my life had made it seem.

I believed I only needed one man to prove it to me. Surely in all of the men in all of the world, there was one... but one after another they let me down.

By 2015, life in general had begun to turn around. God had rescued me from my own bad choices, and I credited Him with that fully... but spiritually I was fading. I honestly believed that God didn't care if I was happy.

Then, something wonderful happened. At what I thought was just going to be a regular coaching session, God spoke to me. As I talked to my coach, and he asked me why I reacted to this one way and that another, I started to see that every decision I was making was wrapped up in my self worth... and I didn't know what that was. 

I had begged God over and over through the years to show me my worth. I had 
read great stories where others came to understand theirs through one perfect moment or divine appointment. I didn't know why He wouldn't tell me mine... but I had formed some ideas. They were wrong.

Two years ago, God showed me how all of those I times I begged Him to show me that I was worth something, He had been trying... But I would ask Him and then look to people for my answer. I had done again and again.

That's when I asked Him to help me break that cycle. He showed me that the people I was looking to were "just people" and my thoughts about myself should have nothing to do with how they view me.

While I know you won't understand your worth until you are ready to understand... I have to share this with you. So that you know why it is so important to me that you know who you are in God's eyes... not who you are in the eyes of another person.

Whether it is Valentine's Day, Christmas, New Years Eve, or Thursday afternoon... Please remember that there is nothing in a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates that tells you your worth. No ring on your finger or marriage license means you are worth more or less than anyone else in this world. No amount of respect or lack-thereof from someone else changes who you are.

No man or woman in your bed with an arm around you can show you how strong you are or how loved you are or how amazing you were created to be.

Only One can do that... your Creator.

Here is what God sees when He thinks of you... read it out loud to yourself. Faith is voice activated. When you say it out loud, you believe it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

You don't get to choose

While my dad grew up Catholic, my first real introduction to Catholicism came from my first husband. We were both 18 and 5 months pregnant when we got married. He was Catholic and I was a member of the Assemblies of God, but we both thought we could make it work. We agreed to go to both churches.

Whether or not his church and family could have actually convinced me to convert, I'm not sure. But they had countless opportunities to get me to consider it. I even said at one point that if we could find a Catholic church that liked contemporary praise and worship I'd go there.

However, when he told his priest (a man he loved and respected more than just about anyone else at the time) that I was pregnant, the priest didn't speak to him for six months. His dad and step-mom urged us to give the baby up for adoption, which distanced us from them for awhile. Then there was his mom, one of the most Catholic woman I had ever spent a great deal of time with. In her eyes, I never did anything right, no matter how hard I tried.

It all totaled up to me not wanting to have anything to do with Catholicism.

Five years later, when I was pregnant with our 3rd child, he decided he was done. “I love you but I'm not in love with you. I'm moving out.” His mom let him move in with her and hired a lawyer to help move the process along, and I was devastated.

As you can imagine, due to those experiences (and admittedly ignoring the fact that I knew some great people who were Catholic) I decided that it was something I didn't want my kids or I to be a part of, ever.

As the kids entered their preteen and teen years, I would feel anger rise in me when they refused to say an off-the-cuff prayer and instead recited something they had learned at his house. I tried not to argue with them about it, but every prayer, every sign of the cross, burned me. Eventually I couldn't keep my eye rolls to myself or my mouth shut. The more I argued with them, the more it happened.

Several months after I had my first revelation of grace, I read a book called Girl At The End of The World. It was by a woman who had been raised in an abusive, misogynistic, fundamentalist christian home. More or less, it was a cult. When she ran from that way of life as a young adult, after realizing her own children were going through the same things she had endured, she decided she was done with God.

This is a quote from her book: “I am fed up with reading about God through the male perspective only. I want to experience the God who inspired me as a child, the God who found me long before I could comprehend a single word in my Bible. I want to experience God pursuing me for once. I am tired of seeking, striving, and knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door. I no longer want to know that silent, capricious, harsh God who would just as soon throw me into the fires of hell as save me. I am challenging God to pursue me like someone who has never been exposed to the Bible. Love me, God. I dare You.”
Elizabeth Esther, Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future

And He did. She tells of how she met Mary, the Mother of Jesus, how she found the Catholic Church, and how Mary and Jesus worked together to save her life and breathe healing into her. Her revelations about finding Grace within the walls of the Catholic church stunned me.

Tears ran down my face as I read and tried to make sense of something that was so beautiful, yet so opposite what I felt and believed. Then, with that inaudible voice He sometimes uses to drive an important point home, God told me, “You don't get to choose how I reach people or how they relate to Me.

I continued to listen and watch and read grace-based materials, but I wasn't angry anymore when they said a Catholic prayer or told me they wanted to fast something for lent. I chose loving them over disagreement about their beliefs.

Then one day as we were driving, Alexandra told me it scared her to hear sermons about how lack of forgiveness towards others can keep you from Heaven. We talked about how that isn't true and what Grace really means. She told me that talking to me about this stuff made her a lot less terrified. And all of the sudden, I had a grace believer on my hands.
It wasn't just that. She wanted to know more. She was interested is listening to different sermons and discussing different thoughts. She even chose to go see Andrew Wommack in Chicago with Ben and I last spring.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was love she saw in me that opened her up to the discussions. I had to admit to myself, even on days I didn't argue... If you roll your eyes when your kids do the sign of the cross at dinner... you aren't showing love.

So then, how do we get the message of grace across to others without arguing, or being angry? How are they going to know that we believe differently if we don't make a point to tell them?

1 Peter 3:15-16 says:
In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 

How will people know? That's easy! Do you remember how you acted and reacted to life before you found grace? Even if you were already in church when it happened.

People will see we have a hope they don't have yet... and they will ask us why. The Bible says when they ask us, we should be ready to tell them with gentleness and respect and a good conscience.

What does a good conscience have to do with it? Well, for me it is knowing that Alexandra came to me because she saw my confidence in Christ... not because I wore her down on Catholicism.

When people look at us as Christians, it can oftentimes be the same way I used to look at Catholics. They have known someone who was a Christian who was rude or dogmatic or legalistic. They have seen the people who call themselves Christians parading up and down the street with signs that say who they believe God hates.

They need to see in us that we are not those people.

How do they do that? Jesus.
Put your focus on Him and you'll lead others to Him as they see the fruit of Spirit manifest in your life.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! 
~Galatians 5:22-23

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What's your plan?

"Write down what your dreams, goals, and plans were for the last year."

I looked at the workbook page and thought for a minute before I started writing.

Dreams: To take my kids on a real vacation before Alexandra graduated, and to be in a solid, healthy relationship.

Goals: Weight loss, finishing my book proposal, growing my platform, buying a house, financial stability.

Plans: Survival.

I stared at the paper. 
Wait, did I just write that? 
I did. Wow.

When I talk to people about interviewing employees, I often share one of my favorite questions with them. "What's your dream? What do you really want to do?" I've said time and again that the employees who have a dream and a plan to attain that dream are usually my most successful employees. They know what they are working towards!

And yet, for some reason, despite some great goals and dreams, I only planned for survival.

One of my favorite Bible passages is Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I KNOW God wants to do great things for me. I KNOW that His plans far exceed mine. I KNOW He is not only able, but He is willing... And I still planned for the bare minimum... survival.

This past year, I often asked God for help and believed He would come through for me. On several occasions He did, probably more than I realize. But looking at these verses and thinking about what I actually planned for leave me wondering if God didn't hope to bless me more, but I had planned Him out of it. 

Psalms 20:4 says:
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.

I do believe God gave me many of the desires of my heart this year in addition to making my plans succeed... but what if my plans had been bigger? What if instead of survival I had PLANNED on being blessed and amazed by Him? 

As I continue to work through this program on setting and achieving my goals for the next year, I am more and more excited about what is to come. I am planning on some huge breakthroughs this year and I can't wait to see how God makes those plans succeed.

How about you? What's your plan? What are you asking God to help you with as we move into the Christmas season and new year? 

Whatever it is, are you PLANNING on Him coming through for you? Or, like I have so many times, are you working on your plan for what you'll do if He doesn't?

Today I'm telling God that, more than ever, I want His plans for me to match my plans for me... I want to rest in His promises of hope, joy, abundance, and success instead of planning on the bare minimum. 

Care to join me?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

I came that [YOU] may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

The program I am going through is Michael Hyatt's Best Year Ever. It is only available for a limited time every year, but you can check it out here: