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In the Stretching Moments

17 Nov

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For over three years, I’ve been walking on a broken foot.  Every step towards something or away from something was taken on a foot that wasn’t healed. Because I didn’t know it was broken, I walked on it anyway.

Often times, my foot would was sore and swollen. My podiatrist assured me I was fine, just suffering from tendonitis.  She told me to keep doing my normal activities and gave me a strong painkiller.  So I worked out, jumped, played, drove, shopped, and swam.  I walked on a boardwalk, on a sandy beach, on the sides of beautiful rivers, chased children and puppies, and I stood.  When I stopped taking the painkiller, which masked what was going on in my body, it hurt too much to stand. It hurt so much to walk, at times I would fight back tears.

Right now, it hurts too much to stand.  Sometimes I fight back tears.

So I’m in physical therapy, learning how to stretch my muscles and tendons because my broken foot doesn’t work properly.  It can’t do what it was designed to do—to roll from the heel to the toes—to carry me from place to place.

The muscles in both feet are atrophied. Therefore, they’re learning how to be strong again through stretching and bending and pulling and aching.

And the stretching out hurts.

As stiff muscles are pulled this way and that, they burn and the burning makes me nauseous.  Yet I keep stretching because I know my foot won’t always be broken.  I know that the stretching will provide the healing I need.  I know the muscles will become strong.

My foot isn’t the only thing that’s broken.  In fact, in many ways it has taken a back seat to my broken heart and crushed spirit.

See, I was doing life broken and crushed I didn’t realize it.  From the business (busyness?) of doing ministry and life, my spirit had become atrophied.

And now I’m in the place of the stretching out—finding a new place to belong, putting myself out there to make new friends, healing from wounds that are still bleeding, and pulling on  muscles that are rigid. 

I’m opening my hands before God, for He is the One who gives and takes away

The stretching out is uncomfortable, but I’m trying to see it as a gift.  Everything God gives me or allows to happen in my life is part of the stretching.  He is making the hard places malleable and builds strength in the weak places.

The stretching is necessary if I’m ever going to walk right again…and I don’t just want to walk, I want to run!  I want to run the race He has given me to run.

It is strange how God still allowed me to walk broken and to do ministry so crushed, yet that’s His mercy.  Maybe we’re all broken, but He only makes us aware of the areas of brokenness as we can handle them, as we become ready for Him to heal them in our lives.

I’m walking broken—physically and spiritually and emotionally—but I am still walking.  Isn’t that really the point of this race we call life?  Whether we rest or run a marathon, we keep on going.  Whether we’re warming up for a sprint or drinking Gatorade on the sidelines, we look at what is ahead, not behind

And sometimes we’re in the stretching, the waiting and the trusting for the moment God will let us run loose.  We will be stronger, faster, and more like Him because of the stretching.  The brokenness and the stretching is all part of the life race. 

Unlike other races, It’s not about who wins.  It’s about how we get there.  Because we were made to run.

*This post was heavily inspired by Jennie Allen’s RESTLESS Bible Study and Ann VosKamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  I highly recommend both resources!

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What Frozen Has Taught Me About Holding On

19 Jan

{WARNING: This post contains FROZEN spoilers!}

Frozen.

I know I should be so over it.  Let it go as some may say.

But like an ice clinging to my windshield that I can’t get off no matter how hard I scrape, I just can’t let it go.

Because Frozen is a story which cuts to my heart reminding me of a God who relentlessly, recklessly pursues me as I run away from His redeeming love.

In case you have lived under a rock, like Kristoff’s adopted troll family, Frozen is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” with a delightful Disney twist.  As in, the original fairytale is unrecognizable, except there is, in fact, a snow queen.

During the story, Elsa hides her “snow magic” after almost killing her younger sister, Anna, during a midnight snow fight when they were children.  Everything changes on the day of Elsa’s coronation, when she is to become queen of Arendelle.  Guests and dignitaries are invited in to the open palace which was formerly shut off to hide Elsa and consequently, Anna, from the world.

The two sisters interact for the first time in years at the coronation—Elsa, elegant and reserved while Anna, is friendly and slightly awkward.  Anna has no memory of Elsa’s powers, but every day Elsa lives with the horror of what her powers can do and how they can injure others, especially her beloved little sister.

Naturally, things go awry when love-starved Anna announces to Elsa that she plans to marry Prince Hans after an evening chatting and singing.  Elsa, who has not learned to control her emotions or powers, reveals her snowy secret for all her kingdom to see, accidentally freezing Arendelle in the process.  In order to protect others, she heads for the mountains, sings “Let It Go,” builds herself an ice castle, and gets a snazzy makeover.  She convinces herself “the cold never bothered me anyway.”

But it’s the fear of the cold that has run Elsa’s life.

Anna’s warmth is an interesting contrast to Elsa’s reclusiveness.  Despite Elsa giving Anna the cold shoulder for years, Anna pursues her sister into the mountains to beg her to unfreeze Arendelle.  Along the way, Anna enlists the help of an iceman named Kristoff and his puppy-like reindeer, Sven, as well as everyone’s favorite summer-loving snowman, Olaf.

The sisters finally come face-to-face and sing a reprise of “The First Time in Forever,” which is actually one of my favorite songs from the movie.  Elsa sings of her need to keep Anna safe while Anna begs Elsa to come back home so they can find a way to help her together.  At the end of the song, Elsa sets off an icy blast, which accidentally hits Anna in the heart.  Not knowing she injured her sister, Elsa sends Anna and company away so she can live out her days alone.

After learning Anna’s shot through the heart is fatal without an act of true love, Kristoff rushes Anna back to Arendelle on his trusty stead, Sven, so she can be kissed by her true love, Hans.  Hans, as it turns out is a sociopath, whose only intentions were to falsely woo Anna, arrange a fatal accident for Elsa, and take over Arendelle’s throne for himself.  Locking Anna in a chilly drawing room to die and chaining Elsa in a dungeon after capturing her, it seems evil has won.

That is, until Olaf and Anna escape from the castle to find Krisoff, Anna’s actual true love, to get that magical healing kiss.

Meanwhile, Hans lies to Elsa, informing her that Anna is dead because of Elsa.  Elsa, overcome with the severest of emotions, breaks out of the dungeon—not knowing how to deal with what she believes to be Anna’s death or how to save her kingdom from its deep freeze.  Hans goes after Elsa, intending to kill her.

Amidst the blizzard, Anna and Kristoff try to find one another while Hans looks for Elsa.  Finally, Anna spots Kristoff as her fingers start to turn blue, but to her right she sees Hans ready to strike Elsa with a  sword.  Anna is faced with a choice—save herself or save her sister.

Anna chooses to save her sister.  With an outstretched arm, Hans sword doesn’t fall on Elsa, but instead on Anna’s hand, which is now frozen solid.  Shocked, Elsa weeps over her once living, breathing sister who is now an ice sculpture…and suddenly, Anna unfreezes.  Anna’s selfless act of love has saved her because love is what heals a frozen heart.

And like that, Elsa realizes that love, not fear, heals and is able to save Arendelle.  She becomes the beloved queen of the people, Hans gets exiled, and the sisters make up for lost time.

Many view Elsa, queen of ice and snow, as the takeaway character from Frozen.  Admittedly, snow powers are pretty impressive, along with a fantastic singing voice provided by Idina Menzel, and an impressive look.  Elsa is beautiful and powerful, but fearful and cold.  She hasn’t been taught how to  manage her emotions, live in community, or have real relationships.  Her fear imprisons her and she needs a savior.

Anna is loveable, likeable, and hungry for adventure.  The persistent, sometimes annoying little sister doesn’t have any special powers.  But her heart is huge and her love for Elsa drives her to take risks most of us would never take.

Think about those family members or friends who have hurt you.  I mean, really hurt you.  Would you chase them up your version of a snowy mountain?  Would you give your life for someone who seemingly ruined your world?

Would you relentlessly pursue someone who wants to be alone, who wants nothing to do with you?

I might’ve let Elsa alone to die on that mountain.  Who is she to ignore me all those years?  Who is she to hide who she really is?  Really, who IS she?

Yet God, like Anna, sees us scared and alone building castles of isolation.  We tell Him that we don’t need Him.  We sing songs of independence.  We look beautiful on the outside.

On the inside, our hearts are slowly freezing us to spiritual death.

No matter how many times we try to cast Him aside, He is relentless.  He pursues humanity with His love sacrificing Himself on a cruel tree to win our freedom showing once and for all that His love heals and His blood sanctifies.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Like Anna, Jesus can’t be held down by death.  He bursts back to life three days later, bringing new life and hope to weary mankind.

I can’t let go of the story of Frozen, for it is a fabulous love story, which reminds me of my own love story with Jesus.  It reminds me how His love healed my frozen heart, how He quiets my fears, and how He rejoices over me in song.

It is something I just can’t and never want to let go.

The Gifts We Keep

6 Dec

Today I broke down and bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on DVD.  It seems ludicrous to spend $10 on a cartoon that only 25 minutes long.  But it’s not just about the cartoon; it is about reviving vivid childhood memories that flood over me while watching Charlie Brown and his sad little tree.

When I was a little girl, my father made me two VHS tapes chock full of classic Christmas cartoons and movies featuring Garfield, Yogi Bear, Buttons and Rusty, Charlie Brown, the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, and more.  All the good ones were present (and a few not-as-good ones, but I was a kid and didn’t care).  I think about my father, VCR remote in hand, making these tapes for me—his little girl—and I am deeply moved.  These VHS tapes are long gone, yet this year I would give hundreds of dollars just to hold one in my fickle hands, play it on my antiquated VCR, and watch with delight as Christmas came alive for my young mind.  I wish I understood then what those tapes would mean to me 25 years later.

Back then it was OK to have nativity displays and talk about Jesus coming to save us all, which is probably why I like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the most.  Who can forget when Linus takes center stage and recites the Christmas story?  It’s one of the most beautiful, iconic moments as blanket-carrying, thoughtful Linus shares the KJV version Luke 2:8-14.  The musical score, Lucy’s psychology booth, and of course, Charlie Brown’s pathetic Christmas tree add to the beauty of this cartoon.  For me, it’s more than that.

While “Charlie Brown” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” are my absolute favorites, I like them all because my father introduced them to me through those videos I watched year after year.  The video collection itself was an endeavor.  To capture commercial-free cartoons, VHS recording meant the viewer would have to stop recording as soon as commercials hit and start recording right before the show came back on to avoid commercial interruption.  Dad must have sat there and watched over eight hours of child’s programming because the commercials were carefully edited out.  Occasionally, Dad missed a few seconds here and there, so toy commercials from the mid-80’s would break into the narrative.  (What little girl didn’t want Voltron?)   

I think about my Dad sitting there, maybe when I beckoned him to play with me or when my mother asked him to take out the trash.  “No,” he argued.  “I’ve got to record this show.”  I probably I walked away disappointed and my mom probably rolled her eyes.  A grown man watching Christmas cartoons—what nonsense!  It was love for his daughter than kept him there enduring “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (and perhaps a little childhood nostalgia of his own.)

 If I still had these tapes—if they hadn’t been broken with age or angrily trashed before my parents’ divorce—I would watch them once again.  Over and over.  I would laugh at Yogi Bear and cry with Rudolph (those other reindeer were mean).  I would wonder at the mechanics of Claymation and get up to dance with the Peanuts gang as Schroeder rocked out on his mini baby grand.  And I would remember, appreciate, and thank God for the gift of these videos.

So I bought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” today, not so I could forget the real meaning of Christmas in a silly, dated cartoon, but so I can remember what Christmas really means to me—a heavenly earthly Father’s love for his beloved child made real in my earthly father’s love for me.

Broken and Not So Broken

6 Jun

This is my walking boot. I decorate it, of course.

“God, I’m in the place again/I’m trying so hard not to fall/But everything keeps coming down with the rain.”–Everyday Sunday

I’ve always appreciated melancholy songs.  There’s something about the toned down, raw nature of a rock band that grips my heart and makes me pay attention, like KISS’s “Beth” or Five Iron Frenzy’s “Every New Day.”  (Yes, I just mentioned KISS and Five Iron Frenzy in the same sentence.  Incidentally, “Beth” is the only KISS song I know.)

Since lyrics and song melodies move me, it’s understandable why I’ve danced my way into the genre of singer/songwriter in my old(er) age (though I still enjoy Southern rock, like Credence Clearwater Revival and more recently, NeedToBreathe.)  Lately, it seems, I find comfort in the likes of Bebo Norman (surprise, surpise!), JJ Heller, Audrey Assad, Josh Wilson, and Andrew Peterson.

See, I haven’t had an easy go of things lately.  In mid-May, I broke my left foot. Yes, friends, another broken foot.  As you may recall, I broke my right foot about 15 months ago…and the healing process for the right foot has been excruciatingly slow.  After a couple tests, my foot doctor discovered my Vitamin D level to be pitifully low and started me on a regimen 50,000 units of Vitamin D weekly.  That’s the boring medical part.

This happened a week after I made some changes in my life, after all night prayer sessions, talks with my pastor, and weeping before the Lord, I felt Him saying to me, as He said to Elijah as he ran for his life from evil Queen Jezebel, “The journey has been too much for you.  Rest now, My child, I will take care of the details.”  Two weeks after resigning as lead of a ministry and falling into a more manageable role on the leadership team, I broke my foot simply by getting up from (or rather down) from one of our counter height dining room chairs.

This started a longer-than-I-anticipated journey of rest–no driving, walking around with a rollator (rolling walker), going down the stairs with a cane, needing assistance with normal tasks like showering, shopping, and getting here and there.  Oh, and of course, resting with my legs elevated to improve healing time.  Alone all day in my apartment.  It sounds perfectly lovely to harried people who could use a day off, but it’s house arrest for a social, relational woman like me.

So I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to God and listening to music.  At first, I was struck with severe anxiety, which I believe was my anxiety disorder as well as a spiritual attack from the enemy.  I cried–wailed actually–and copied psalm after psalm from the Bible into my journal.  My fervency for God was strong and trust was a moment by moment walk.  While I don’t miss the panic attacks and tears, I wish I could maintain the level of urgency for God and His Holy Word when I’m not in the throes of fear.

I don’t always listen to music.  I like silence, too.  I can hear the birds singing merrily, the engine of the mail truck, laughter and screams from neighborhood children, the clink of my dog’s tags as she roams about the apartment, and my cockatiel’s own chirps.  So many ordinary sounds that make up the backdrop of this orchestra called life…and most of the time, I barely notice.

And I’m reading.  As much as I love to read, I don’t always make time for it.  Besides my Bible study reading (The Story and Crazy Love) and my daily devotional, Jesus Calling, I’m juggling three books right now–One Thousand Gifts, The Parable of Joy, and The Covenant Child.  My attention span seems to have increased as a result of my sitting in this stillness.

My writing life has been rich, though much of it has come alive in my journal–private conversations between God and me.  While this isn’t a measurable source of earthly wealth, it is the most important writing that I can do.  I call it “holy writing.”  If my purpose here on earth is to bring glory and honor to God, then my writing–for Him and Him alone–can have no higher calling.  Face down before the Throne of God, I write and write, like some ancient, inspired scribe.  Perhaps I will pick out thoughts to blog about here.  Or maybe write that book I’m always thinking about.

Don’t get me wrong.  I would never have chosen this path, but I am learning to be thankful for it.  I am grateful for the friends God has given to support me in this time.  It’s funny how my One Word for 2013 is LOVED and He is showing me how LOVED I really am! (Even when I start to believe the lie that no one cares, including God.)  Who would have thought the path to knowing I am LOVED would come with so much pain and brokenness–the actual physical breaking of another bone?  It seems all paths are littered with sorrow and suffering.  Is it any wonder that these are little Much Afraid’s guides to the high places in Hind’s Feet on High Places? (I plan to re-read the book as soon as I finish The Covenant Child.)

I am loved.  It rings loudly and clearly throughout my days, and it is revealed through so many ways and so many people.

If I hadn’t broken my left foot, my small group leader wouldn’t have moved our Bible study into her living room so I could attend showing me that I am LOVED.  (Thanks, Amanda!)

Nor would I have received a ride to the Bible study I lead from one of the attendees.  (Thanks, Patty!)

I would never have trusted God to help me make it up to the choir loft for praise team or give me strength to sing when my jaw ached with TMJD pain.  (Thanks to the Praise Team for their encouragement!)

I have moments of despair, when I feel God’s touch or receive a phone call or text or Facebook message.  These are precious things I gather into my heart.  Someone is praying or God is teaching me to trust Him more and more.  I hate the aloneness, and I love the intimacy with God.

If this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  Perhaps I’d write something else, or maybe nothing at all.  I know not the path I would’ve taken and it hardly matters because this is where I am.  Everything around me is speaking to me–the book One Thousands Gifts, reading the book of Ruth this morning (I was struck that Naomi was so very bitter and yet so very blessed through Ruth in the end.  In the middle, it seemed she would never have joy again), and in watching The Fellowship of the Ring last week. (Frodo never CHOSE for the ring to come into his possession, yet it did.  Yet he carried the burden anyway.  He chose to do the right thing in the midst of his circumstances.)

It’s a conscious choice, this choosing to be thankful and grateful in the midst of this disappointment.  Perhaps it’s a divine appointment to receive greater joy.  That’s an encouraging thought, isn’t it?

Tell me, how has God taught you to be faithful or thankful in the midst of something hard or disappointing?  What have you been reading lately?  Do you miss the fervency of intimacy with God when you aren’t going through trials?

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