Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I am Broken Pottery

Eighteen years ago this week, I went through devastation that fully demolished my life. The person I was before this event no longer exists, because she has been fractured into a million tiny pieces. But my story doesn’t end with a mess on the floor and shards to sweep into the trash. The shards are being reassembled and glued back together. (Present tense, y’all… the process is ongoing and won’t be finished this side of heaven.)

Have you ever tried to piece back together a piece of pottery or a ceramic item you dropped on the floor? No matter how hard you search, there are some fragments that you won’t ever find. So you use the pieces you DO have and assemble them into their original shape. My life is like that: there are some fragments that will never be glued back into place. They disappeared and the holes they left are noticeable and present.

1995-06-30 MAJS CloseOn October 26, 1996, my big brother Jackson died of rhabdomyosarcoma. He was 26 years old and in the prime of his life: a take-charge, good-looking, lively, honest, loyal, funny and driven man. I was 22 years old, and had spent twenty-two years in the shadow of this larger-than-life person. Even though he had been fighting cancer for 14 months, I was somewhat in denial that the cancer would win. There was nothing my brother couldn’t do, so why would defeating cancer be any different? And then the phone rang and a crying voice said my name, and I knew my brother was gone.

If I could get a do-over of 10/26/96... if I could relive the entirety of 1996… if I could even go back to 9/26/96 (the day I last saw him alive)… these are questions that still haunt me. I wonder how I would choose to spend my days differently, and then I think about some distant day that has yet to happen in my future. Will I wish I had spent 2014 differently? What about this season of my life, or even today, and this specific instant?

That is the question that has percolated and floated to the surface of my heart for 18 years now. Losing my brother deconstructed the life I had, the one that was based on one simple premise: tomorrow will always come.

Jackson’s death stole that from me. For a few years, it robbed me of hope and peace and life. I shut down my heart, did a smidge above the bare minimum required for living (showed up at work, planned outings with friends, called home to my parents, watched movies with Dan), and skated through the world as a surface-y person, maybe going an inch deep now and then. There was no depth in my life, because depth required me to feel and feeling required me to cry because grief was the only feeling I felt.

So I stopped feeling for about four years. The odd thing is I know I “lived” during that time, because I have photo albums to show the places I visited and friends I saw and karaoke bars I sang at (yikes!), but those memories only exist in my head as snapshots of events. I don’t have the “experience” memories from actually being there. When I turned off my feelings so I couldn’t feel grief, it means I turned off happiness as well. I turned off the ability to be present and savor life and actively engage in growth and relationships. I was married to Dan, but my tender-hearted husband hardly had a wife. I was phoning in our marriage and every other position I held in life as friend, daughter, sister, neighbor, and coworker.

You can guess how this ended: with a crash. As much as I sometimes wish this weren’t true, the fact is I wasn’t made to NOT feel. I wasn’t made to live on the surface of a world full of mile-deep caverns and caves. It was only a matter of time before I crumbled and EVERY.FEELING.CAME.OUT: sadness, anger, despair, wretchedness, remorse, regret, and isolation. But, this... THIS is where God picked me up after I sat on my bed and cried out, begging Him to rescue me. I gave up, and gave Him an ultimatum: “If You really DO exist, You gotta fix this. Please!”

It took a long time, because I didn’t trust God. I assumed He wasn’t who He said He was, because if He was, He would’ve saved my brother. I blamed God for letting Jackson die and, in my head, that was the same as actually killing my brother. If you don’t step in to effect change in a terrible situation, that makes you an accomplice, right?

Remember that broken pottery I already mentioned? That was me. God had to start gluing me back together a piece at a time. He started by immediately answering that ultimatum I gave Him. That was piece #1. Piece #2 came when He helped my unemployed self find a job [in a ministry – that God sure is a joker, isn’t He?!]. Piece #3 (and a few others) came when He would – literally – drop scripture into my lap that described who He is and what He stands for. A couple more pieces came when He brought committed Christ followers into my life who could see through my inch-deep fa├žade. A HUGE piece came when one of those people connected me to a lifesaving Christian counselor. Slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, He took my brokenness and bound it back together with His special formula Krazy Glue.

And that Krazy Glue was so strong that when I was knocked on the floor again a few years later by postpartum depression and the pain of losing both of my parents within six months of each other, it wasn’t as catastrophic as it had been when Jackson died. In fact, it turned out to be beautiful in a messy-masterpiece-kind-of-way.

That question, that wondering from 18 years ago… the one about how I would spend my todays? It’s still there. I don’t consciously think about it every day, but God has woven it in the fabric of my being. Over time, He taught me how to live my life and feel it again. And what’s more, He taught me how to redeem that pain by gifting it to others when they are suffering. When I say “gifting” it to others, I literally envision holding that brokenness of myself in my cupped hands and sitting beside a grieving person and showing it to them, sharing it with them. I am a living, breathing testimony to 2 Corinthians 1:4, which says:

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

The first part of that verse is what God did: He comforted me. He nestled each broken piece of me in His hands and showed me how to love and live again. He gave me hope and a future, and brought me back to Him. The second part of that verse is what I do in response to the first: I give others the same comfort God has given me.

I usually do it in little ways that aren’t very noticeable or remarkable. I’m not going to win a medal for them, but I know my Papa is proud of me when I give these little gifts. However, this week I get to live this out in a VERY noticeable way. It causes me a little anxiety, but every time I feel anxiety bubble in my stomach, I hear the words “cast your cares” in my head. So, I’m casting my cares and asking God to use this for His glory.

IMG_3787My story is going public through a podcast my magnificent friend Stephanie asked me to record with her. This “Call to Courage” podcast is available on October 30 through iTunes and on the www.couragepodcast.com website. As I write this post, I have not yet heard the podcast and THAT is what causes me anxiety! I remember recording it, but I also remember chiding myself inside my head as I was recording it, telling myself all kinds of nagging motherly things: Speak clearly! Stop saying “um” and “for me…” because they are the hot dog fillers of verbal communication! Project your voice better! Stop talking in circles! and all manner of mean things I we say to ourselves.

I’m anxious to hear me telling my story, because writing it down is vastly different than speaking it. I can only hope you hear God more than you hear me!

Father, I ask that You use my story to speak to someone out there who is going through loss and heartache right this very instant. May they hear the pain in my story and receive courage to ask You for help. I pray for the people who are hoarding the broken pieces of their hearts, convinced that You are a lie and the healing You bring is a placebo. Help them to hear Your truth. Physically put people in their lives who can share their pain and carry their burdens to You. And I pray for the person who will help with the carrying, because helping with the carrying means they’ve likely ached too. May You help that person continue to heal as he or she pours the grief out as a priceless offering to You. Thank You, God, for binding the brokenhearted and making beauty from our ashes. Amen!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Healing My Past

If you were looking for me this past Saturday, in the early afternoon, you would have found me on my knees on the floor of my bedroom. I was crying and mad and just plain upset at my father. You see, I had done one of the things that as a child, I swore I’d never do to my own kids: I made my child cry because of homework.

I remember being in middle school and trying so hard to figure out pre-Algebra. I was frustrated because the answers seemed so close to appearing in my head and onto my homework page, but I just couldn’t grasp how to manipulate the formulas to make them work. I would sit at the kitchen table and do my homework, and if my dad was home instead of working or on a business trip, he would sit down and try to explain math to me.

He was a civil engineer and comfortable with numbers. I loved words and language, and numbers didn’t quite jazz me up. So when he would sit with me, we would rapidly alienate each other because we couldn’t speak the other’s language. I’m pretty sure every time he tried to help me, I ended up in tears. The good news is this didn’t happen often, because I was a smart girl and had observed this same tear-filled exchange with my sister when she was doing math homework a few years earlier. I quickly realized that Dad plus homework always equals yelling and tears. THIS is the kind of math that made sense to me, so after a few times of practicing that type of formula, I decided to stop it altogether. I learned to wrestle with my homework alone, either at school or in my bedroom. I stopped asking for help, especially from my dad. To me, Mom was still approachable for other homework (English papers, theses, etc.), so I wasn’t totally flying solo.

IMG_4706I vowed that when I had kids one day, I would never yell at them or make them cry over something as stupid as homework. Well, one day has arrived and my vow has been broken, thanks to 6th grade math and a daughter who, like me, struggles with perfectionism. Before you start imagining me standing over my daughter and shouting, let me clarify by saying there wasn’t a fight and there was no yelling. So I’ve kept that childhood vow intact, thanks to God rewriting my story. But – as my husband pointed out to me later – the intensity level had ramped up, which is what caused Katie to get upset and start crying. I see it from her perspective: she was trying so hard to find the answer (the one I had all but written down for her), and was desperate to keep up with me and see the solution that seemed to be obvious (but not to her). I, on the other hand, was leaking patience after four interactions that increased the frustration in my voice and tone. The more intense I got, the less she could hear what I was saying. The less she could hear, the less she could say and the more frustrated she got in not being able to express herself – which made me frustrated that she couldn’t even talk to me.

And there we were, two fireballs of intensity aimed at each other. Her tears started falling and I held mine at bay, and then Dan happened into the room. He gave me the hairy eyeball, and I tempered my frustration enough to give Katie a little more direction before I tagged out. I asked Dan to meet me in our bedroom to discuss the interaction.

I told Dan how much Katie’s tears affected me, because they were like a time travel machine that flashed me back to my tears at the kitchen table with MY father. I told Dan I wasn’t nearly as intense as my own dad was, so why should Katie be crying?! He pointed out my homework time doesn’t involve my father any longer, and this is just too much for me and Katie right now. We both agreed that math homework should be off the table for a little bit, and he can help her with that. For some reason, “word” homework doesn’t affect me the way “number” homework does – probably because I personally hate math and fear looking like an idiot when I do it (which is what 6th grade math inherently does to me – makes me look like an idiot, I mean). So, for now, I’m taking a pass at math. Whew.

Dan left the bedroom, I cried (as I mentioned before), then joined the family a little bit later. Katie and I relaxed in the hammock after a while, and we were able to discuss what happened that day. I told her the story of my homework struggles growing up, and explained the term “baggage” to her. We brainstormed ways for both of us to communicate better, and both found peace about the situation.

I know, as we all do, that my baggage has made me who I am. I can’t get away from that truth. But I can turn the rough draft of my past into a final copy by examining what caused my heartache so I can avoid inflicting it on the child I’m raising now: my daughter – and the little girl still inside me – who wants so badly to be acknowledged for her efforts… even when they are less-than-perfect.

So, to my daughter, I hope you know that you aren’t alone in the struggles you are having. I’m struggling, too, and aching with the confusion and the questions I sometimes have about the world around me. The beauty is that while I get to help you through your struggles, you are helping ME through MINE. Parenting is hard. It is scary and mistake-laden, but every now and then I get a glimpse of redemption and restoration through it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tent of Meeting

Chapter 33 in the book of Exodus describes a Tent of Meeting that Moses would set up outside the Israelites’ encampment during their years in the wilderness. This is the place Moses would go to hear the people’s requests, grievances, and concerns. This is also the place Moses would hang out with God. Exodus 33:11 says God would speak directly to Moses, “as one speaks to a friend.” Moses spent so much time with God that his face started to take on a shine or a glow, and this glow was so unnatural that it scared the Israelites. Moses started wearing a veil to avoid making his friends uncomfortable.

Author and Pastor Pete Scazzero preached at our church three weekends ago, and discussed how silence and solitude are critical elements in our relationship with God. Scazzero has a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey with the Daily Office. I bought a copy for Dan’s birthday, then bought one for my Kindle so I could practice what Scazzero calls the “Daily Office” with Dan.

Each day’s Office begins with two minutes of “silence, stillness and centering before God” then moves into a scripture reading, devotional, and prayer. The Office ends with two more minutes of silence. In his sermon, Scazzero explained he learned about the Daily Office by studying and living with monks for a short time. Monks practice their Office anywhere from six to eight times a day. Scazzero’s book provides only two per day, knowing our society has enough struggle with even that small amount.

The past two weeks, I start my mornings by lighting a candle, setting a timer for two minutes, then reading the morning Daily Office. I set the timer again for two minutes at the end, to finish with silence. I repeat this process in the afternoon before the kids get home from school. On one of these past days, I realized I have my own version of the Tent of Meeting already set up in my living room because I made a reading nook beside the couch for the kids this summer. I decided to start having my Daily Office in the nook, and it has become my own Tent of Meeting.

Yes, I know the mosquito net in my living room is a far cry from the tabernacle of the desert wilderness, because I don’t have the Ark of the Covenant or the fixings of the tabernacle to furnish my tent.Inside Tent of Meeting by C. Frank Starmer

But I do have one thing Moses had: God. The Almighty. The I Am. And even though I am physically alone during my Daily Offices, I am not spiritually alone. My Father is with me, and we are spending quality time delighting in each other. I thought I’d share a photo of what time in my Tent of Meeting looks like.IMG_5343

During this morning’s Daily Office, the idea of Moses’ Tent of Meeting floated into my mind during the first two minutes of silence. I said to God, “Wouldn’t it be marvelous if I spent so much time with You that  my face glowed?” And then God allowed me to glimpse a general overview of the times in my life when I have been most present with Him: Times of grief. Fear. Pain. Tears. Anguish and despair.

Times of such devastating loss, like when my brother died and my heart went cold before I slowly started visiting God and trusting Him again.

Times of depression and anxiety, like when my first child was born and I came unglued from Postpartum Depression.

Times of bittersweet letting go, like when I carried my fading and dying parents back to their Father.

Times of stubbornness and defiance, like when I laid on the couch – right beside the spot where my Tent of Meeting is now located – and had a tantrum with God about my marriage (and how it didn’t revolve around me – really?).

Times of ache and confusion, like when the job I dreamed of didn’t quite make sense for me anymore.

God granted me these glimpses as a reminder of this truth: the more heartache I have in my life, the more time I spend with God.

Here I am, in my Tent of Meeting, telling God how I’d love to glow for Him. Yet I know that spending time with Him hasn’t always been a natural response for me when things are going peachy in my life. I’ve gotten to know God best through anguish and raw vulnerability. Approaching Him again and wanting to glow from my time with Him means there may be pain involved, too.

Am I okay with this?

My human response shouts to get off my fanny and run screaming from this insane idea of Meeting in Tents and, instead, get myself buried in a safe cave where Nobody. Can. Hurt. Me. But my spiritual self, the one that trusts in my Daddy’s love, says that nothing can harm me when He stands beside me. He wins, period. And because I’m His, I win, too.

Maybe the shine on Moses’ face was there because his face was wet with tears. Maybe the tears were from pain, but what if they were the tears that escaped his eyes when he sat with his Best Friend in the holiness?

Yeah, me too.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Adoption

Last week, God gave me a beautiful reminder of how He has adopted me into His family.

Through two high school friends, I know a family of missionaries who are moving from North Carolina to South Dakota. A few months ago, the parents (Michael and Nicole) drove their five daughters from North Carolina to South Dakota, to visit the church they are going to pastor. They needed a place to stay for one night on the way there and one night on the return trip home, and my high school friends asked me if I could provide a room for the night. Dan and I happily opened our home for the weary travelers.

The first night (on their trip to SD), I never even met them because they arrived and went straight to bed before I got home from a meeting. They were gone the next morning before the kids and I were awake for school. The second night (on their return leg), I got to meet the parents and daughters. They told me about their trip, their plans to move to a Native American reservation and lead a church, and their family dynamics. Their youngest daughter, Katey, is two years old. She is their foster daughter, and they were waiting to make her adoption official. It was going to become official somewhere near the beginning of September, and they were hoping to be moved to South Dakota just in time for that.

When the family left my house the next morning, I didn’t think I would see them again. I promised to keep in touch by text and maybe send them a care package once they arrived in South Dakota.

About two weeks ago, Nicole contacted me and said the family was making the big move the week after Labor Day. They were excited to be on their way, but the adoption process ended up with a little hiccup: the court was ready to finalize the adoption and scheduled the appointment for the day they would be driving through the Midwest. AAACK! Nicole was wondering if they could stop at my house and Skype with the judge at 1:00pm before they continued on their drive to South Dakota. I agreed and was here when they were ready to stop.

It turns out the courthouse firewall wouldn’t let Skype operate properly, so the family was lined up in front of my computer and ended up on a speaker phone with the court clerk instead.IMG_4965

Michael and Nicole were sworn in, and then they were asked a series of questions: Have you created a bond with Katey? Yes. Are you petitioning the court to change her name? Yes. Do you agree to take responsibility for her even back to the day of her birth? Yes. Are you aware of her developmental delays? Yes. Do you understand what it means to care for a child with delays? Yes. And then, the question that rocked my heart:

Knowing all you know about her background, do you still want her just the way she is?

Of course, Michael and Nicole answered, “Yes.

As soon as I heard those words, they reverberated in my heart as God reminded me He feels the same way about me. It’s as if someone asked God, “Knowing all you know about Elizabeth’s background – her delays, her sins, her waywardness, her disobedience, her brokenness, her faults and failures – do You still want her just the way she is?”

And God answered with a resounding, “YES!”

It is astounding to be reminded in such a literal way that God adopted me into His family. He bonded and grafted me on to the Vine, changed my name, accepted responsibility for me even before my birth, and agreed to take on the heavy burden of teaching me how to function in spite of my delays. He loves me that much! (And He loves YOU that much too, you know…)

I am honored that He looks at me now and says, “That one is MINE.”

“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Kingdom Ambassador

This week, I read chapters 7 and 8 of Derwin Gray’s Limitless Life book for the Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study. Chapter 7 is called “From Consumer to Contributor.” I had a butt scrunch moment when I read about psychologist Philip Cushman’s description of what he calls the “Empty Self.” I felt a little touchy when I read this:

The empty self is all about itself. Its hopes and dreams revolve around making its life better and more comfortable at others’ expense. It has very little concern for the needs of those around it unless meeting someone else’s needs helps it achieve its desires.

Scrunch! See what I mean? How many times have I made a decision in life based on my own needs? It’s happened countless times as a mother, daughter, sibling, friend, neighbor, employee. Yes, I know these moments aren’t what define me, but they are a warning that I can quickly take on the persona of what Derwin* calls the “Empty Self of the Consumer.” We can ALL take on that persona pretty quickly, can’t we?

Thank God that my Empty Self** doesn’t have to stay empty! God gives me a new label. This is the part of the chapter I really liked! Derwin reminded me that I am an ambassador: “an authorized messenger or representative of a higher authority.” And furthermore:IMG_3268

I started thinking about that: what if I lived my days like an ambassador of the King, and behaved like He was reflected in me? And then I did something crazy. I decided to wear a nametag that says “Ambassador” for one day, to see how it would change my perception of myself. I used one of the nametags I made for the photo above, and put it on before arriving at work.

I had a lot of my coworkers ask me, “What’s up with your nametag?” and I got to tell them about Derwin’s book and the reminder that we are all Ambassadors. (I work at my church and all of my coworkers are Christ-followers, so they are Ambassadors too.) But, honestly, the nametag wasn’t for them. It was a reminder to me that I am not my own; I am God’s daughter before I am anything else. One of my tasks that day was to write a stack of notes to a group of people in my church who are being baptized this Sunday at our annual baptism celebration. I sat at my desk, reminded myself to be an Ambassador, and poured out prayers for each of the baptizees. It was a good way to spend my workday.IMG_3166

Derwin also writes this in Chapter 7:

When you signed up to follow Jesus, He gave you the ministry of reconciliation. You are a reconciler. Your life is a bridge over which people walk from death to life.

I can’t explain how badly my soul needed to hear that reassurance! I am in the midst of feeling disqualified in various arenas, and this truth reminds me: no matter what my title is, no matter who I live with, no matter if my parents are living or dead, no matter who stopped being my friend… I am a minister/caretaker/reconciler of souls. God gave me that honor and responsibility long ago. It has been easy for me to fill my days with other duties and quickly lose sight of this priority. I pray I can remember my qualifications as a reconciler.

 

*Yes, I write about Derwin as if we are on a first-name basis. Humor me, y’all!

**Does anyone else envision an empty shelf every time they read the term “Empty Self?” I keep imagining my life as an empty shelf before Jesus came to fill it! Maybe that’s just quirky imagery in my mind.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Eleven

Dear Katie,

Good morning, my girl, and happy 11th birthday! What a great day it will be, and how blessed I am to celebrate another year of your life.

I just spent the last few minutes reading through past letters I’ve written to you and posted on this blog (five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten), and seeing the years fly by through those letters makes my eyes teary and my heart achy for the girl you used to be. I look at the photos of you and see six years of immense change, and can honestly say you are a different person now. (So am I!) I had a hint of this last week, when you and I celebrated your birthday a bit early.

We had a day to ourselves while Jackson was at camp and Daddy was at work. I called up your best friend, Sylvia, and asked her mom if they could join us for the one thing you requested to celebrate your birthday: ZIPLINING!!! Surprisingly, they were available and met us at GoApe, a nearby adventure course. You’ve been talking about GoApe since (at least) last fall, and asked if that could be your birthday event for this year. So I knew you were excited, but figured you’d get a little nervous when you saw the course and realized how high in the trees it really was.

For the record, let me say: I WAS WRONG.IMG_2766

From the moment you stepped into your safety harness, you were ready to conquer the course. If I had to pick one word to describe the day, that word would be FEARLESS. You climbed the ropes like a monkey, jumped off platforms like it was second nature, and – when presented with a choice – begged to do the extreme course every time. I shrieked in fear quite a few times, but you pushed every limit you knew. I saw a side of you I have rarely seen and I was shocked at your courage and sense of adventure. It was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had as your mother.

The other best part of the day was seeing your spiritual gift of encouragement come shining through. When Sylvia was afraid, you stood on the other side of the obstacle and coached her through it. You told everyone around you, “You can do it! You got this!” and even did it for me a hundred couple of times. You are naturally optimistic. Combine that with fearlessness, and the world will be full of adventure for the rest of your life.IMG_2779

Oh, Katie. You are the kind of kid parents dream of having: considerate, helpful, responsible, enjoyable, generous, interesting, smart, obedient, beautiful, observant, and Christ-centered. I think God made a masterpiece when He created you, and you will be already are a tremendous tool He will use to build His kingdom on earth.

Thank you for bringing joy into our lives and love into our hearts. You bless me in ways you will never know, so I pray God gives me many years to be able to express that to you. I love and adore you, and I’m so glad you’re mine!

Love, Mommy

Friday, June 13, 2014

“Jesus transforms us to see people through the filter of His love.” ~ Derwin Gray

It’s gotten pretty laughable lately: in an effort to squeeze every productive moment out of every minute of the day, I have been carrying a bag of reading material with me everywhere I go. [Laughable because sometimes I carry TWO bags! And I do it WAY more than necessary.] I do it in desperation in the hopes that I’ll be able to steal just one five minute chunk of time for my own mental development, amongst all the other detritus of life (packing lunches, tidying the house, library visits for the kids, and driving to Point A from Point B).

It’s in that last bit of detritus that gives me the highest hopes, especially when my husband is driving and I get to ride along in blissful downtime. That’s where I found myself on Tuesday night, as we drove (for one! whole! hour!) to pick Jackson up from camp. The bad news is we were driving in a pretty bad storm. To keep my adrenaline from shooting through the car roof, I grabbed Derwin Gray’s book Limitless Life from my bag and tried to focus on chapter 6 instead of the wet roads and inattentive drivers around me.

It helped, immensely.IMG_2824

Chapter 5 is called “From Damaged Goods to Trophy of Grace.” Three truths that spoke to me from that chapter: 1) Jesus unifies that which man divides. 2) Damaged people attract the heart of God. 3) The Gift and the Gift-giver are a package deal. I am thankful for the reminder that I am no longer damaged goods and am now a trophy of God's grace!IMG_2866

(For the record, I could write lots more about those three points above, especially #1. Oooo, baby! Man tries so hard to categorize and divide his existence, and it is so painful to be a dividee – and also a divider! Yes, I fit both descriptions.)

Chapter 6 of Limitless Life is called “From Religious to Grace Covered.” Almost exactly six years ago, I walked into a church that – after some time – helped me to understand how I had been living a religious life and not a Christ-centered life. I finally had a true “religious experience” – albeit heavy on the “experience” and light on the “religious.”

Making this slight focal shift unraveled me and grace frayed every edge of my neatly tied knots. It gave me clarity I had been missing for decades, and I fell in love with Jesus. Slowly, Jesus started transforming me and He hasn’t stopped. Like a rough gemstone, He’s been polishing me and I’m learning to reflect His light. He’s purifying me the way a silversmith might purify his treasure which, honestly, can sometimes be pretty painful. But I trust that He won’t leave me in the fire too long. I love what Derwin Gray wrote on page 124: “Jesus transforms us to see people through the filter of His love.”IMG_2921

A few years ago, I remember singing the worship song “Hosanna” by Christy Nockels for one of the first times. The lyric that says, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours” reverberated inside me and I began turning those lyrics into a prayer. And now, some days I ask myself, “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?!” because some days, that heart-breaking can really freaking hurt. But, like Derwin writes, Jesus is transforming me to see His world through His filter.

P31 OBS Blog Hop

Thursday, June 5, 2014

God’s Masterpiece

P31 OBS Blog Hop This morning, I don’t feel much like a masterpiece. I feel skittish and my eyes are filled with the various obstacles I know I’ll approach today. But, I’m going to literally force my eyes to stop focusing on the obstacles and instead focus on Jesus.
This week, I’m continuing to read Limitless Life by Derwin Gray as part of my Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study. Our key verse for the week is Ephesians 2:10. I love The Voice translation, which says “For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.” Mmmmm… that poetry part captures my heart and speaks to the writer inside of it! The artist, too… so I made a little art as part of the Map It P31OBS challenge. I’m following it up with the photo art I’ve made for each of the four chapters so far.
IMG_2570a
Chapter 1, page 9IMG_2496
Chapter 2, page 34IMG_2498
From Chapter 3, page 62. On page 60 he talks about how an oyster is wounded, then spends 7 to 8 years forming its pearl in response to the wound. The 7 to 8 years is the pearl's full life span. That puts my pain in perspective and reminds me it will take my entire lifetime to turn my mess into God's masterpiece.IMG_2566
From Chapter 4, page 73 “When we wallow in self-pity, the pain or event that caused the pain only gets worse. It magnifies. And did you realize that whatever we magnify, we worship? And whatever we worship, we resemble? If we wallow in self-pity, we will become more pitiful and limit our lives. If we stay in Jesus and meditate on what He's accomplished on our behalf, we magnify His great work, and as we do this, we worship Him.”IMG_2568

Thursday, May 29, 2014

He is Mine

In January of 2012, I wrote this post about lies that swirl around me and threaten to overwhelm me. I shared the art I created to help me replace those lies with God’s truths about me. Here’s the “funny” thing: that blog post was written more than two years ago. You’d think I would have grown and matured in that time, right? Oh, sure, I changed in the last two years, but the lies simply shape-shifted into new nooses. The lies continue to repress me and flatten me. They take the wind out of my sails. They hinder my soaring. They shackle my courage.

I have never questioned or second-guessed myself more than I have these past two years, and it is a scary thing to feel like the one “thing” that is dependable (my own self!) is not. I know my own heart, right? Because of this, I assume my own heart is the one place where I am always safe and always innocent. Oh, but how I’ve found that to be the opposite sometimes! My heart is fickle and selfish. It will always choose self-preservation over future pain (picking a fight with my husband instead of asking for help because I don’t know everything [Yeah, shocker!]). It would rather strike out at others than admit vulnerability (yelling at my kids instead of admitting I’m overwhelmed). Some days, my heart is faulty and undependable and untrustworthy.

Of course, my heart is all those things when it is powered on its own strength. When I try to rely solely on my own judgment and righteousness, my heart – and my self – fail. Through all of this, I’ve discovered one magnificent truth of life: I am not enough. When I depend on me, I always run out of fuel. When I turn to myself, my self lets me down. When I try to tackle obstacles on my own, I end up flattened on my back with the air knocked out of my lungs. I desperately gasp for breath.

Two years ago, lies rattled around in my head and I believed I wasn’t enough. Today, that “lie” has become truth for me, and I realize I really AM not enough! But instead of letting that truth consume and choke me, it has caused me to turn to the One who is enough. There is one Person who is everything I want to be: Selfless. Righteous. Whole. Unbroken. Humble. Courageous. Truthful. Dependable. Trustworthy. Beautiful. Giving. Worthy.

His name is Jesus.

And He is bigger than all those lies, bigger than my failures, and bigger than my mistakes. And what’s more? He died to make me all those things that He is and I am not. Do you get that? Can you understand that?

As a companion piece to the art I posted in 2012, I made another piece of art in 2013. I’ve never posted it here, but I think now is a good time to do so. My 2012 art described me, but this art describes Him. The first art is called “I Am His” and this one is called “He is Mine.” We exist together; a statement that not only could be an entirely separate blog post, but a life calling.He Is Mine, copyright Elizabeth Koziatek

This art goes so well with something else God brought into my life this past April. A friend of mine shared the new MercyMe CD with me. It’s called Welcome to the New and it has become a guardrail in my life. The entire CD is God’s truth set to music, and it is SO. VERY. GOOD. Along with the CD, my friend sent me a clip from the album release concert MercyMe had on JoyFM on April 10. I transcribed the entire 14 minute clip, and have listened to it repeatedly as well. Lead singer Bart Millard talks about the way grace has transformed his life, and how Jesus’ sacrifice for us makes us flawless. (If you want to listen to something very similar, click on this link to listen to the K-Love concert and forward to the 16 minute mark.) This is one of my favorite parts of the JoyFM clip:

In the past, I would get up and say stuff that I hoped would connect but I’m so confident in this message that I know for a fact it’s gonna connect with a lot of you when I say things like, “I struggle every day with the enemy telling me every day that I’m disqualified and that I’m not enough and that if ‘they’ knew what you’ve done in your past they would not listen to a word that you’re saying.” So much so that there would be mornings I wouldn’t even get out of bed because I felt like I was already defeated. And sometimes the enemy sounded a little bit like the Holy Spirit. I would take things like, “You should just be glad that God knows you. That should be enough.” I thought that was a good thing! But that’s not the gospel. Your identity is not what you do or what you’ve done. Your identity is not the guilt and shame that you choose to carry with you throughout your life. Because if you know Christ, the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead now dwells inside of you 24 hours a day. He ain’t leavin’! And because of that alone, everything changes. You are not someone who cannot be trusted. You are not one that has a wretched heart. We’ll write worship songs and get up under the banner of nobility and say, “God, we just stink as individuals. We are unworthy. We are unrighteous. We are horrible. If I choose, I will choose something other than You every time so I just need You, God. I’m nothing without You.” That last part is true. But as far as the rest of it goes, is it possible that Christ is standing there saying, “You know what? You used to be unworthy. You used to be unrighteous. You used to actually stink pretty good. But because of that whole big deal I made on the cross, you’re a brand new creation.” You are not a bad person trying to be good. You are holy as He is holy. You are righteous. You are redeemed. You are a child of the Living God. If you’re just bad, trying to be good, you’re gonna have your little mountaintop moments but you’re gonna go back to believing you’re this sorry person and if you believe it long enough, you’re gonna live like that when Christ is saying, “No, there is nothing sorry about you.” You have the heart and mind of Christ. How can you be worthless when you are an heir to the throne? When you are a child of the Living King? (emphasis added)

It’s one thing to know God and know His attributes. And it’s another thing to know how completely contrary my heart is to God’s goodness. But when I take His holiness and allow it to cover my wretchedness? When I stop turning away from Him in shame and run full-fledged to Him in gratitude and freedom? Oh! It’s liberating and life-changing and tremendously earth-shaking.

So, back to the start of this post. All those lies that still rattle around and shake my foundations? They’re still here. The last two years of struggles and questions? They haven’t ended yet. Life is still LIFE, y’all. It’s hard and bumpy and painful and fluid and changing and harsh. But God is bigger and He gets the last word. He keeps deflecting those lies by dropping things into my life like the MercyMe CD, my new Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study book (Limitless Life by Derwin Gray), and my friend Stephanie’s book (Cultivating Peace). Each one of those things helps God uproot a few more of the weeds that choke my fickle heart. He uses these things to keep me on His path and following His light.

I’m grateful for His passionate pursuit, and undone by the fact that He never gives up on me!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Healing in a Target Parking Lot

Almost six years ago (5 years and about 11 months, to be exact), I wrote a blog post about forgiveness. It was a huge step for me to forgive this person, J, who had deeply hurt me, and the blog post I wrote was a catharsis for me. The physical act of writing the post was the culmination of the emotional act of forgiving J, and posting it enabled me to truly forgive and let go of the pain.

I didn’t forget the pain, but it hurt less after I forgave. When J would come to mind, over time I felt less and less vinegary toward him. I remember the day I got a Facebook friend request from him. It took me a full 24 hours of prayer and pondering before I was able to accept the request, but I did it. Then I started running into his wife at stores around town. It wasn’t awful, and I was even able to be friendly to her. But in the back of my mind, I always wondered what would happen if I actually ran into HIM.

Late last year, I got the news on Facebook that J was fired from the same ministry where we worked together. I reached out to him, told him I could relate (and not in a mean way, I promise!), and reminded him of his value in God’s eyes – and not because of his employment, but because of God’s gracious adoration of us. J shocked me with his response, asking me to forgive him for how he was involved when I lost my  job, and even admitted that he wanted to reach out to me back when it happened but felt his job would be in jeopardy if he did. I replied that I had forgiven him a long time ago, but his asking for my forgiveness meant more to me than I could explain. It was beautiful and courageous on both our parts to move past our shared history.

Still, I wondered every now and then how I might react when/if I ever saw him in person. And… I found out tonight!

The funny part is I was shopping at Aldi and saw a woman who looked a lot like J’s wife. I realized it wasn’t her, and then thought to myself (as I have many times before), God, when are you going to make THAT happen in my life? And I chuckled inwardly, not realized God was chuckling right alongside me.

IMG_2049Because about 20 minutes later, I was pulling into the Target parking lot and saw his wife walking toward their car. She was following a man I realized was J, and there was a child too. I made the split second decision to honk and wave at her, knowing that would invite interaction which would lead to me seeing J, face-to-face. As I parked and stepped out of my car, I said out loud to myself, “Okay, God…” and then I did something the 2008 Elizabeth would not have done:

I embraced the person who wronged me. And, man! It felt good!

I asked them both about their lives, and they asked about mine. We listened to each other and I felt like we genuinely cared about each other’s answers. I asked how his job search has been going, since I have been off Facebook and wouldn’t know. He told me he’s been working a part time retail job, and also started a home improvement business on the side with another pastor (he’s a pastor too). That was NO coincidence, since my neighbor had been asking me just yesterday if I know of any contractors who could fix a leak in her roof. And guess who does that? Yep, my old boss J! I got his contact info (which I have already passed along), and then talk turned to our former employer. He said he was glad to get out alive, and I told him I could relate. But I said as painful as the departure was, I am grateful that God brought me through it. The pain was used to bring me to a point where I could surrender to Jesus, even though some of the pain still haunts me today. (Literally, today at my current job I had a fear bubble up that I know comes from that specific position and firing I went through.)

I needed to say these words to J’s face. As much as I feel like he needed to hear them to understand my forgiveness, I needed to say them as a way to place that pain in its final resting place. It’s buried. It’s gone. And there is no longer weeping at the graveside! Instead, my weeping has turned into dancing because it’s another instance in my life where God has turned “into good what you meant for evil.” (Genesis 50:20) It’s another signpost in my life of God keeping His promises and granting me the beautiful perspective of seeing how He can truly redeem the unforgiveable.

As I drove home, I smiled and thanked God for giving me that gift tonight. I gave Him the glory and said, “You did this, God!” And, immediately, I heard His response in my head: “But you LET me.”

That’s when I realized truth: God did it, but it couldn’t be completed until I surrendered and let His way become my way. He is gracious and gentle because He modeled forgiveness to me, but that only goes so far until I take the conscious step to choose His way over my own.

I think it’s nothing short of extraordinary that God has painstakingly worked on this lesson in my heart for THIRTEEN years. I pray I can remember the waiting is as much a part of the change as the actual end result.

God, I am humbled tonight that You allow me such sacred glimpses into Your heart. Thank You for seeing me as valuable and worth rescuing. Thank You for not leaving me in the pit of bitterness and anger I used to live in [and, let’s not kid ourselves, some days I go visit it still]. You lived in it with me, and then climbed out and threw a rope down to help me climb out, too. Over many years You put people in my life who could demonstrate surrender and release to me, which dismantled my resentment without me even realizing it. I didn’t realize You were changing me, but You never stopped Your relentless remodeling of my heart. Oh, thank You, God! I am so glad I am Yours. Amen.

This makes me wonder: what other remodeling projects is He working on even right this minute that I haven’t noticed quite yet?!

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