“What If _____?”

What if ____? You fill in the blank. After all, you know your “what if’s” better than anyone else.

You know what I mean.

What if you stay single forever? Can you hear the myriad of the cats meow? The label of forever alone?

What if you can’t get pregnant? Every time you look at a blushing new mother all you are filled with is bitterness, pain and disdain.

What if the bills can’t be paid? The shed across the street looks promising.

What if the cancer spreads? There is so much that you wanted to do, so much you wanted to say, but didn’t. Why did this happen to your family?

What if your friends leave when you graduate from high school or college? Drinking coffee by yourself is such a bore.

What if the career you worked hard for suddenly comes to an end? Every paper, every class has spiraled down in the drain of failure.

What if your anxiety and depression never goes away? Each day is a fight to know how you will climb out of the emotional, physical and maybe even spiritual darkness. You put the face mask back on and stuff the pain down. No one will ever understand.

I could take all night stating each scenario we pair with the “What if…?” question. But I want to ask that same question with a little twist, a dash of vision, maybe even a sprinkle of hope.

A few days ago, I stood in my classroom thinking about the new school year and not just the school work, but the kids, the parents, my schedule. My stress levels started to reach higher and higher as I thought about all I had to do. What if I couldn’t get this or that done on time? What if my lesson plans were totally not up to par?

That nagging question. What if? How many times has this destroyed dreams and opportunities? How many more times will we let it continue to rip and pull at the seams of today? When, newsflash, the moment we live in, the breath that we just took isn’t guaranteed to us for one more second.

I’ve noticed that my “what if’s” are generally laced in fear. Fear of what I can’t control.

I want to put emphasis on CAN’T in hopes that you understand the gravity of how fear disfigures our great, good, gracious and VERY in-control God.

All my valiant efforts to protect everyone and everything I love are but worthless rags. Yes, the rags that you see tattered, ripped and slightly molded over in the trash can, kind of worthless rags. Ya feel me? Ever try controlling things?

In my journal, the recent entry you will find is entitled “What Do I Fear.” Psh. What do I fear. EVERYTHING. Okay, not completely true, but the pages bleed with fears that truly warp my ability to see anything good. For example, let’s just be completely transparent. I fear losing the people I love most. I have experienced times of great depression and anxiety about family members not arriving home safely or receiving a health report that is less than stellar. I can concoct the best recipe for a mental disaster once I start dwelling on anything that can or could go wrong.

I fear being seen as a failure. I can sit on these thoughts like “I don’t do anything important”, “doesn’t he or she see what I am doing?”, “why is it that every time I try something I just don’t succeed?” for weeks. This fear cripples my ability to see the moments when I am able to thrive or use my talents for God, to help people, to learn from mistakes that build a stronger character.

I have to admit that sometimes it is easier to latch onto fear and just the ride wave, embracing the place I know quite well: defeat. And you want to know what is even more devastating then my own weakness? The fact that Satan applauds that fear. Because that fear takes my gaze away from a good, gracious, loving God that has PROMISED me safety, refuge under his wings (Psalm 46), and that nothing can pluck me out of His hand (John 10:28).

How do you defeat the “what if’s”? Can you eliminate the “what if’s”? I can’t promise that you are one prayer away from complete freedom. You could be. But it is a battleground you stand on and you choose the weapons you with which to fight the fear. Ephesians 6 describes the complete armor given to you by Christ. Remember that verse 10 is the reason you can fight with the armor. Because “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” isn’t a good pick-me-up, it’s the structural backing to making that armor strong, powerful, indestructible.

The struggle is real. But you aren’t alone. I understand the grip of fear, the hold that it has on my mind and God gets that, so I turn to His truth.

(2 Corinthians 10:5) “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

My knowledge of God is compromised when I let my fear control what I can’t control. I have to go to the throne of grace with that fear and let Jesus redeem me as only He can. I must take captive every thought that sets itself up against what I know to be true about God. God is good. God is true. God is faithful. The “what if’s” need to be changed to “what is” and how I can live fully, presently, thankfully in the time and space I have been given.

Make a commitment today to leave your “what if’s” at the foot of the cross. Leave them there and each day ask God to help you live in “what is” and walk trusting that He has you always.

Thriving In The “Unknown” Seasons

The unknown seasons of life tend to resemble a tall tower. At times, you are ordered to climb with no equipment, no plan, no light to guide, to help or conquer the task ahead. This season rips at your confidence, it tears at the seam of your dreams and it brings to light some of your greatest fears.

It is a scary, unnerving road that so many of us find ourselves not willing to admit we are traveling. We engage in the “play it cool” game when the very lungs in our bodies are screaming inside that this can’t be. After all, you had it all mapped out. Or maybe not. I am not sure.

I had a plan. Sometimes I chuckle when I see those typed words. Raise your hand if you have ever heard someone say that line. Yeah, I have two hands and two feet raised. Okay, maybe that is a little dramatic, but I can’t count on my fingers and my toes how many times the phrase “I had a plan” has been met with a series of shaking shoulders brought on by laughter and heads nodding in hearty agreement.

But let’s face it. We all have a plan. Sometimes they are vocalized and other times they are deeply knit into the fabric of our soul. Some are organized to a T with years and dates, others tend to take the sloppier route.

I had a plan when I was younger that I would fulfill my grandma’s dream to be a nurse. I was on a fast track to pursuing this career at a ripe age of thirteen until I had my blood work taken. Heck no. If I didn’t like people sticking a needle in me, I certainly didn’t want to cause a panic attack for someone else.

I had a plan that I was going to play basketball in college because in high school those were some of the best moments of my life. Here comes my shoulder shake. But instead of the cause being laughter, it was initiated by deep sadness. I tore my tendon during my high school basketball years, and with the increase in intensity that a college game often requires, I tore it to a point that left me with two decisions–surgery or to stop playing basketball. Is the outcome painfully obvious? My heart was crushed. My plan fleeting with the doctor’s verdict.

I had a plan that one day I would marry a tall, handsome, dark-haired man that loves Jesus with all of his heart. Could I throw in the fact that on my “want” list I also included an accent? I pictured a marriage that was full of life and love. The framework of my future relationship was built by Christian romance novels, delightfully heart-warming romantic comedies and sprinkled with a lot of Jesus. In that world, there was no room for conflict or unknowns.

Ha. What I would tell my 18-year-old self now that I am married to my tall, handsome, dark-haired husband who does love Jesus with all his heart? But I didn’t get a perfect husband and neither am I a perfect wife. Have we disagreed? Well, we like to be known as the “silent treatmenters.” So the answer is yes. Have we experienced temptation and trial? Let’s just say Kleenex, one day I could really use a lifetime warranty of lotion-filled tissues. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I did get the accent. Praise the Lord. It is the little things.

My heart has really been settling on this one verse for quite a while. It comforts me when tears are falling down my face. It enters my overwhelming feelings of loneliness with a whisper of assurance that with God I am not alone.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

This verse is found in Proverbs 16:9 (ESV) and I love how the contrast of man and the Lord are presented here. It doesn’t specifically point to a particular plan which gives the wise saying, as it comes to plans, a range of flexibility.

However, there is no flex room when it comes to how differently the man and the Lord are portrayed. Notice the two verbs here. Plans and establishes. Wonderful words. Properly placed words.

The heart is deceitfully wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). What does that mean? We are EASILY deceived and swayed by our thoughts and ideas and, for the sake of my writing this post, our plans. Earlier in that chapter of Proverbs, verses 1-3 talk about plans as well. Each verse takes a synonym of the word plan. In the ESV version, I see the words ways and work. These words are not concrete. They are versatile and subject to change based on experience, feelings, reactions. All relating to that of an inconsistent human heart, an unpredictable world.

But the next phrase of that verse literally brings stability. Gracious stability.

The Lord establishes man’s steps.

In verses 1-3 of that same chapter, we see that the answer of the tongue is from the Lord, the Lord weighs our spirit, nature, of what we desire. When we commit our work to the Lord, our plans will be established (I must note here that when it says ‘committing our work to the Lord’ it means those that are deeply rooted in the knowledge that our lives as believers are to glorify the name of Christ in EVERYTHING we do (I Corinthians 10:31)).

The verbs in these verses establish and weigh, creating a solid footing for the shaky ground of our unknowns. Even when we make plans, the Lord is implementing His perfect step for us. Let us not be mistaken that we need to throw our hands in the air and grab the potato chips while we lounge and let God work. No. It is a call to trust the One who created the world. The WORLD, people. He has you in the palm of His hand. No one can pluck you out of it.

In the unknown spaces, the Lord is forming our steps. Even in the unknown places, we have plans. We don’t want to stay in this season long so you and I plan to head out as soon as possible.

My challenge is to thrive in that time. Unknowns are scary. There is no doubting that. But I decide if I will be encompassed by the weight of my fears or I can I thrive in that time by choosing truth knowing no matter what He HAS a plan, He HAS a purpose.

If you are in the season of an unknown, know that you are not alone. Be willing to be moved, pushed, challenged. It is hard. In the moments of intense sorrow, these are not the most encouraging words, but I will tell you that each time you make the choice to choose truth you are stronger. Not because mentally you handled the situation. No. It is because you have a Savior that KNOWS you and is constantly establishing your steps. He is constantly fighting for you.

Believer, let me challenge you with one final word.

Psalm 37:23-24

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,

when he delights in his way;

though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,

for the Lord upholds his hand.

He’s got you.

Expectations: The Unexpected Killers

Recently, my friend and I were driving home from a speaking event. During the drive, we would throw out different subjects and talk about life serving as teachers/professors, how I was growing and changing with married life, or how our walks with God were progressing and being challenged. Ya know, girl talk.

At one point in the conversation, I shared a story where I got upset with my husband and how it aggravated me that no matter how many times I told him to shut his dresser drawer, he STILL wouldn’t do it. It could drive a person nutso! With animated hands I relayed my woes to her. After depleting my energy from rapid arm movements and constant grumbling, my friend lovingly and gently asked, “What was your expectation?”

I was taken back and confused by her comment. I didn’t realize that my aggravation was rooted in an expectation. Honestly, I just didn’t appreciate the way I would knock my knee on the open drawer every morning. I had a reason to be upset. Well, not entirely.

Over the course of this last week her question caused deeper soul searching. I was on a quest to understand how often my expectations, good or bad, consciously or subconsciously, have become unexpected killers. Why do I give expectations power to control my emotions? What fueled my thoughts? How often did I mistake feeling for fact?

Let’s Talk

Have you ever had a day where nothing goes right? Someone burnt the coffee, you missed a deadline or you just plum forgot an appointment for your kids that you scheduled three months ago. We have all had those days and many times those “expectations” of sipping a nice dark roast brew, meeting a deadline, or watching the ding of your appointment reminder flash across the screen aren’t at all bad.

Yep. We all love those days.

But I noticed that I process and determine the outlines of how my day is going to go. So when my goals and expectations aren’t met they ripple effect to cause a wave of aggravation or reactions to someone or something that normally wouldn’t bother you. For example, if my day is filled with its various stressors from school and failure to wash dishes or have clean laundry, the last thing I want to see is that open dresser drawer. It is a stupid, miniscule pet peeve that escalates to a series of angry mutters and unkind thoughts toward my husband.

Because I live in a world that is corrupt and evil, I am commanded to make the best use of my time including my expectations (Ephesians 5:17). Scripture commands me to look carefully at how I walk and encourages me to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10,16). My attitude toward the whole dresser drawer fiasco isn’t pleasing to the Lord. Not even close. It had everything to do with how I was feeling. Which if I can provide you any words of wisdom it would be this: “Feelings ARE NOT facts.”

Giving Life…

Now go back to how your day started. Coffee is burnt; okay, irritating, I get that, but a life changer? No. You missed a deadline; did you use your time wisely? Appointments are forgotten frequently; it isn’t the end of the world. Then you come home and your husband left his dresser drawer open again. Your response; exploding anger, zero patience, and no tolerance. You are done with mistakes and forgetfulness; it is all failed expectations.

I understand that we have duties, roles, and responsibilities to honor and uphold. My role as a teacher, wife, friend, sister, daughter cannot be neglected or ignored. But when my my list of duties packs my day everything “that must be done” it leaves no margin time for other people, emergencies, or (dare I say it) God.

There is no room for errors, mistakes, forgetfulness by me or anyone else. What a standard to set for yourself and others. Expectations can obliterate an opportunity to show grace, humbleness, and kindness. Unless they are rooted in something that is firm and steadfast, which isn’t me and you, you will always fall prey to your expectations.

The dresser drawer doesn’t matter. In all reality it is just a stupid wooden drawer. But it is so easy to be angry instead of venting the frustrations of the day to my husband than to talk them out. It is a natural response of mine to grow silent and unresponsive rather than taking my grievances to the Lord in prayer.

Don’t say you are fine if you aren’t. If it’s not the dresser drawer, then what is it? What has throughout the day caused you to let your frustration out on a box?

Applications

How do expectations not become unexpected killers, but rather life-givers, joy-givers?

Glad you asked. Three things come to mind when I think of examining my expectations. JOY. Jesus, Others, You.

Jesus is the founder, author, and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).  I am sinful and my wants, flesh desires are warped to make me number one (Jeremiah 17:9). Any thing that makes me look good and feel good is what I demand. Hence, the putrid fabrication of my expectations. They are rooted deeply into a heart that is horribly ravaged by pride and chemically altered by what I think I need (1 John 2:16). It is ONLY by the grace of Jesus that I am able to, in light of His giving me new life through His death and resurrection, turn away from self and seek after desires and wants that are purified and founded on what Jesus wants.

Others, this is a tough one. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind, and mind (Matthew 22:37-39). However, in the very next two verses Jesus tells them that the second is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). If my expectations are centered around Christ’s commands, it counteracts my natural inclination to love myself more than others. For instance, pushing in the dresser drawer rather than spitefully giving my husband the silent treatment.

I can still have my expectations, but my attitude needs to be open to changes and hiccups in the day. I respond better when I remember who I am living for (Galatians 2:20). It releases me to open my time for others, to be compassionate when they make mistakes, to be willing to admit that the day just didn’t go as planned.

You. Please tell me that you noticed that, you, are last. It isn’t to indicate that you have no importance or feelings or standards. But it isn’t all about you. It is about the advancement of God’s kingdom. People say that you may be the only Bible people ever read. The attitude that you display when your expectations aren’t met reveal what you truly value first. Is it Jesus or you?

Breathe. Don’t bottle it up. Be honest. Pray and ask for God’s hands to remove the expectations that will hinder you from pleasing him and from destroying relationships with people. Or you may need to simply evaluate what you expectations you aren’t communicating but expecting people to follow.

It all started with a story about how my husband never closes his dresser drawer, but I didn’t imagine how one innocent question from my friend would cause my thoughts to fire off into this scatterbrained mess. I hope you know you aren’t alone in this fight, but that God is there always to take your burden, to listen to your cries, and to show you His ways.

Christian: What is your “Word” standard?

My heart is burdened.

After reading this article, http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/whos-in-charge-of-christian-blogosphere.html, a weighted feeling dropped on my chest.

I’ve been scribbling my thoughts and ideas for three years now. The time passes quickly and the way my fingers and brain develop thoughts continue to grow and form.

Recently, this article popped up on my Facebook newsfeed and I couldn’t help but be pulled by the title. The whole construct of the post was to point out the drastic misuse and misguidance of poorly handled words and topics especially in the Christian hemisphere but also specifically pointing towards the words of women. I clicked the post anxious to see what it had to say and I was glad I did.

The first piece of Scripture that came to mind as I read the author’s words were the warnings found in Matthew 12 where it talks about us giving account for every word we speak. I am not inclined to think that refers to simply verbal communication, but that of our nonverbal and written communication.

As a fellow scribe, I felt that the temperature of the writer’s tone elevate at a particular paragraph. The inflection of the voice carried a plea, a call, a bit of frustration, and started to brim with irritation. It is wordy, but bear with me. The New Testament presupposes that church authority, hierarchy, and discipline exist to protect orthodoxy and orthopraxy. This responsibility does not cease in this age of the Internet. Orthodox church institutions that value scriptural and historical faithfulness have a responsibility to provide clear guidance to Christian readers and listeners who are seeking to discern which voices to heed in the din of cyber-spirituality.”

My first reaction to writer’s words was fear. Fear that I hadn’t obeyed and interpreted Scripture as I ought to. Did I dig deep enough? Did I try to understand before sharing my jumbled thoughts? Did I value the historical faithfulness? Was my emotion outweighing truth?

The snare the blogosphere, the Christian blogosphere, encounters is that we take the word of those sharing their woes, their opinion, their beliefs as if it were the Bible. This is not true of everyone, but as I read the article I felt a flare of shame of how I had mishandled the truth of God’s word in an act to either gain an audience or to be a people-pleaser. It is wrong.

I have also swung to the other side where I have read powerful stories and real-life struggles that, in a twisted way, I have elevated them to a position of high standing in my christian walk.

The motivational posts, the personal writings are all easier to understand than cracking open the Bible to Isaiah and trying to weed through the imagery of destruction, grace, mercy, and wrath of God. I relate to people I can see. I understand the time period that they live in because I share joint ownership in it.  I can relate to the emotional turmoil a couple goes through financially, families going through a loss of a member, or just having a bad week. Their words cultivate a relational response and with ease I grasp their sayings as my lifeline, they are the examples of how I can get through life. But they aren’t the Bible.

In simple words, the writer of this article is effectively, in my opinion, communicating that the  same standard of protection of God’s truth in the church and by its leaders should be guarded and challenged by the writers who have generated and cultivated a platform to share God’s truth.

Our foundation for writing and speaking is to be founded not on feeling but on truth. We are warned throughout many writings in Scripture to WATCH OUT for fools who allow their mouths to run to their ruin, and their lips to ensnare to their soul (Proverbs 18:7). Don’t trust that every Scripture reference used is handled correctly or interpreted accurately. Watch out for the painted verses on cups that are only made to make you “feel better” or help you “go through another day”.

Don’t BE the fool that lazily expresses thoughts and ideas that are just complimented with God’s Word. Be diligent. Accurately express the truth in verbal, nonverbal, and written communication. Let the responsibility of handling the word of truth be your standard. Let the responsibility to share the Word accurately weigh heavy on your heart.

2 Timothy 2:15

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

The last thing I want to leave you with is a quote I have found particularly helpful in writing.  J.C. Ryle wrote:

“It is an extremely difficult thing to write simple, clear, perspicuous, and forcible English…. To use very long words, to seem very learned…..is easy work. But to write what will strike and stick, to speak or write that at once pleases and is understood, and becomes assimilated with a hearer’s mind and a thing never forgotten–that we may depend upon it, it is a very difficult thing and a very rare attainment.”

God’s word is difficult at times to understand, but it has stood the test of time. It is a heart-breaker and a life-transformer. Be wise. Find out Scripture’s meaning, study the words that were God-breathed and written by the hands of inspired men.

I hope the article wrings your heart as much as it did mine. The blinders are off. Let’s get to work.

Pardon The Interruption

The squeak of the expo markers on my polished, clean white board echoes in my mind. Tiny fingers reaching for the “p” key or the “t” key on keyboards still catches me off guard. Teens walking up to my desk asking for advice about a rigorous math problem or asking for a difficult concept from their Bible class to be explained causes me to push aside my papers, cap my pen, and give them my attention. Teachers, not so savvy with technology, burst through the doors with their laptops pleading for help, for some semblance of order in the mass chaos that is the web.

Driving home, I often find myself pondering over what was said during the day or what could have been accomplished. Given the longevity of my drive home, I tend to muse on such things.

However, the interruptions continue to pile as I turn the knob of my door to enter my bird’s nest or as some people label, my home. My husband is sprawled out on the couch with a sharpened, no. 2 pencil and a gridded, research notebook diligently completing his various homework tasks.

After several hours in the lab and working an 8 hour shift, the guy is hungry. Typical man? Maybe. But it is true of the women too.

My hand seeks the handle of the fridge to assess the current situation. Pork chops? Steak? Chicken, again? So many options, yet I am on a time crunch. The bellowing of my hubby’s stomach doesn’t allow for second guessing the meal-plan, but quickly maneuvering to get it done. As I pull out bowls, parmesan cheese, and chicken to prepare the meal, texts erupt from my rose gold iPhone on the counter with family members asking for prayer requests.

Interruption, hitches, glitches, disturbances, or delays are all a part of life. Life is so busy that just taking in a breath seems like an arduous or calculated task. I’ve noticed lately that my response to interruptions reveals my heart and my real motivation.

My attitude is really dependent on how well my plans are executed and to what measure my expectations are met. You can imagine the emotional teeter totter I have set up for myself.

There will always be interruptions. At times they are welcomed and other times they seem insurmountable, like everything scribbled on your list will never get to be crossed off.

In the last few weeks, I have been monitoring my “annoyed, impatient, irritated” odometer when disturbances halt my progress. The proverbial “gas pedal” is revved when I either have had:

  • Little to no sleep
  • A situation has blown up in my face about finances, marriage, family or friendships
  • School work, programs, kids
  • No time with God (whether through prayer or reading His word)

Do you know how hard it is to pretend or hide those things? Some of those things aren’t in my control. People get upset. I recognize that. You recognize that. It’s easier to counter the offender with a verbal slash of your own when you have felt wronged or betrayed.

But what if we were to choose to pardon the interruption with kindness, with peace, with compassion? What if we were to counter with love and grace?

In order to do that, I want us to truly focus on the last bullet point. This is my personal caveat, no time with God isn’t an option. It is the hinge on which you and I learn how to turn away from the natural, reactive emotions. It is the foundation on which we stand when everything else has fallen apart.

One of my favorite quotes is from A.W. Pink. He says, “No verse of Scripture yields its meaning to lazy people.” His statement reiterates the truth found in Scripture.

Proverbs 29:11a “A fool always loses his temper,”

Proverbs 10:23 “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool,”

The moment we neglect to read and study God’s word is the moment we open ourselves to the desires of our flesh, the fears surrounding our decisions and the reactions that instinctively come to us. We act like fools and that isn’t a compliment.

God loves a wise man that seeks his face, that desires or longs to know and obey the commands God has laid out for his life. If it wasn’t true, why on earth would men, inspired by God, waste their time writing in tandem about how good and right it is to follow God’s leading, his guidance. It isn’t easy. It’s hard, but it is ALWAYS worth it.

David, a man after God’s own heart, cherished the presence of the Lord so much that even if all he was able to do was be a doorkeeper in the house of God at least he was there and able to bask in glory, in holiness not in the tents of wickedness.

 

Psalm 84:10

“For a day in your courts is better than A THOUSAND elsewhere.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the

tents of wickedness.”

In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy. The priority of your relationship with God is the key to the attitude you will cultivate and allow to grow. Ignoring time with God is simply setting up your attitude to fail.

Let me ask you a question. Better yet, Scripture has a question.

Psalm 34:12-16

“What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.”

If you desire life and love, to see good, do the things commanded of you. You will fail to perfectly execute such instruction. I have failed. Do you notice that in the verse the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous? NOT the perfect. Release the weight of perfectionism. It isn’t worth carrying.

The interruptions will continue. It is inevitable. But my challenge to you and I is this. Seek God and what His word has laid out for you. With Christ you succeed. Life has a lot of twists and turns that either fall into the good or not-so-good categories. We don’t control that. We control how we respond by choosing to put on grace, love, kindness, peace. We decide to turn our eyes from the wicked things. We choose what dominates our thoughts and steals our joys. Determine whom you will serve. Search God’s word and pursue his commands. And the next step is obvious, follow them.

Why Losing Friends Changed My Life: For The Better

You win some and you certainly lose some. This statement applies to many things, but particularly to friendship.

In preparation for writing this post, I scrolled through quotes about friendship on my Google search bar, laughing at their incredible accuracy. After reading, I took a few moments to thank God for the friends he has provided for me, the ones who have come, gone and stayed.

I remember being fresh out of college and my heart was brimming with hope for adventure. An internship in Ohio was the new venue and I couldn’t be more excited. Friendships in school remained that I believed, based on the nature of the close-knit relationships, would last for forever. But moving away changed many of those friendships.

I wasn’t prepared to lose friends from college or high school. They were “my people.” We would go through the process of creating a handshake just to confirm that no matter what distance came between us, we would never grow apart. They were my shoulders to cry on, they were the people that made my sides split with pain from all the laughter. How could a measly couple hundred miles take the fortified ties of the friendship bond and break it?

Believe it or not, the loss of those friends changed my life, for the better. The ache revealed the value that I placed on my relationships. Through the process of loss, I saw God’s goodness in giving me certain people to be used for different periods of my life. One thing always stood out to me as people came into my life, left my side or stayed. The status of God never changed. He remained.

Within the past year, my life has gone through a significant amount of change. At this time last year, I was single, living in Ohio and working for a church that I absolutely adored. The staff at the church I served at became mentors, fellow-leaders and friends.

After my one-year commitment ended with the church, I felt the Lord calling me back home to the place I swore I would never return. Leaving my new friends and family in Ohio was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Going home had its perks, like marrying my best friend and watching my niece and nephews grow up, but the pang of sadness for what I was giving up caused my heart to grieve. But God made it clear that I was going home. So I followed.

Flipping back to the present, you will see that now I am married, working a new job and juggling all of the shifts that come with these adjustments.

It also reminds me that sometimes God gives us certain people to be used for different periods of trials, joys and celebrations in our life.

I realized that my life, my seasons, my work and my passions continually change. And that is okay. Losing friends hurt, but they taught me the significance of friendship, what it was meant for. Friendship influences you. God provided me with friendships that challenged my faith, comforted me with hugs and gifts and confronted sin in my life. All of those friends changed my life for the better. Some friends revealed attitudes and patterns that I was never meant to follow, imitate or continue to grow in. Some remain and faithfully challenge, comfort and confront me.

We all lose friends. I have both lost friends and gained friends from moving and entering into different life stages. All had a purpose. I trust God with those friends that are no longer a part of my life. I thank God for the friends who are presently investing in my life, my marriage and my ministry. I look forward to when God introduces me to future friends who will help shape me.

The view of losing friends is often skewed by bitterness, sorrow or guilt that we didn’t do enough to keep them in our lives or they didn’t care enough to invest in us. But it isn’t the only view that we have to live by. Certain circumstances determine the end of a friendship because of our sin and brokenness, by change and sometimes by time.

But my encouragement is to look past the bitterness, sorrow, guilt or pain to examine if maybe, just maybe, losing those friends changed your life for the better.

Questioning Reality

The elevator chimed with its arrival on the first floor. Various smells of freshly baked bread, egg sandwiches, and coffee grounds tickled Tom’s and Lylah’s nose as soon as the double doors split.

They walked slowly, almost at a deadened pace. Neither knew what to say or how to process what the next steps were. In a trance-like manner, both grasped their coffee cups and poured the steaming, black liquid into it’s white confines. Spotting a table in the middle of the cafeteria, Tom pulled out Lylah’s chair before dropping into his own chair. Silence hung like a dark cloud and it showed no signs of lifting. The tragedy stomped out the used to be “normal life.”

Tom coughed into his hand. It evaded the opportunity for conversation, to opening the door of discussing the “options.” He sneaked a peek at Lylah. Her eyes were frozen. Her gaze was fixated on the back wall while her pointer finger swirled the round edge of her cup.

Lylah ripped her stare away from the cafeteria walls to look at Tom. She paused before cautiously asking him the dreaded question. Tom, I know this may not be the time nor the place, but how can I help you?”

Tom watched as Lylah shifted nervously in her seat. Was he that intimidating? Thoughts swirled around in his head. Trying to claim a thought as logical or sharing his deepest concern was one of the biggest challenges his mind seemed to be working to express. His voice trembled. “I just want her to wake up. What am I going to do without her? Without her I don’t have anyone to turn to, to be with, to love.”

Lylah saw Tom’s face contort as his feelings grew increasingly somber. Tears seemed to be lodged in his throat making it evident to her that voicing his fears was difficult. Lylah cleared her throat. Tom had no one. At least in her own life she was able to depend on God for comfort, for strength, for care. She had a way to share her grief, to hand over the burden of pain. Tom, at least to her knowledge, did not.

Sympathetically, Lylah answered Tom’s question. “She doesn’t have to be the only thing you have, Tom. Do you know what Rose was doing on Sundays? She was at church with me. She was involved in the children’s ministry and women’s ministry. Rose knows Jesus Christ as her personal Savior. She has hope.”

Of course he knew. He just didn’t have the time to engage in “spiritual matters”. It never got him anywhere. He prayed for his mom when he was younger, but that didn’t stop his dad from continuing to verbally abuse her. What kind of God didn’t listen to his pleas but let the hits keep coming? For someone who swears to be all-knowing and loving certainly had a deaf ear when it came to his prayers.

In his opinion, Lylah had no idea what she was believing in. All of it was a lie. Tom replied bitterly. “What you and Rose believe in has no hope. How can you have faith in a God that allows this to happen. Rose is lying on a bed fighting or not fighting for her life. We don’t even know! Yet you sit here ready to talk about God, the very one who allowed this to happen to her. This isn’t a game Lylah. It is real life. Rose is dead and God did nothing to save her.”

His response caused her to straighten. Her posture was rigid. His words were laden with bitterness. Each phrase infused with unbelievable anger.

Lylah’s first thought to respond to Tom’s answer was frustration and irritation, but after looking into his sad eyes compassion flooded her heart. This man was broken, shattered by the trials of life. What he didn’t know is she too had her own heartaches.

“Tom, I understand what it is like to sit in a hospital room and watch as a loved one fights for their life. Four years ago, my brother, Derek, was hit on the side of the road by a drunk driver. I prayed for a miracle. I never knew how horrific the pain could be when I was sitting at the edge of his bed watching his chest rise shakily as he struggled for a breath. I doubted God. I doubted my faith. The choice to hold on to fear, to worry, to anger was way easier than fighting to remind myself of God’s promises and His love. Without Him I was alone; without Him my life would be nothing.”

Tom braced his hands against the metal table and lifted his body off of the chair. He couldn’t handle it. Shaking his head, he managed to utter an apology to Lylah before rushing off to the men’s room.

Lylah slumped in her chair and lifted her eyes to the ceiling. She felt the Lord leading her to share her story, but she wondered if now was the right time to air her “sad tales.”

The mirror reflected hollow eyes painted with dark circles hovering around the lids. Tom noticed the lines drawn on his face from hosting an ever-present scowl. He had been so brash and insensitive to Lylah. He had no clue that she lost her brother in a car accident. Even when she lost someone so dear to her she chose to stay committed to her faith in God. Lylah, unlike him in this moment, was reliving her worst nightmare. How did she trust Him after all that has happened?

Lylah left the cafeteria to head back to Rose’s room. The elevator binged letting Lylah know she reached the third floor. Room 348 held one of the most precious friends Lylah had ever had. She and Rose did everything together. Coffee, shopping, crying, and laughing were all incorporated to building their relationship. Memories flooded in her mind as her hand gripped the chilled, steel handle.

Lylah looked at the bruises covering Rose’s face. They didn’t stifle her beauty in the least.

Lylah gripped Rose’s hand. It was cold and seemingly lifeless. It didn’t stop Lylah from lifting up a prayer asking for a miracle. She feared her heart was destined to be broken once again. Her forehead fell to rest on Rose’s hand.

Lylah’s voice echoed off of the walls in the hospital room as she started her prayer. “Dear God, please help my unbelief. I don’t know why this is happened, but what I do know is that you can save Rose. I pray that your will be done. Whatever your will is, Lord, give both Tom and I your comfort. Tom, doesn’t know you as his personal Savior. Rose would ask every Sunday for us to pray for Tom’s heart to turn to you. Even now, Lord, I ask you to claim Tom’s heart. He needs you not just in this time, but for life. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your promise to never leave us nor forsake us. You are a good, good Father.”

Tom had been standing outside the room when he heard Lylah’s voice through the crack of the doorway. He listened as she prayed. It startled him when she said that Rose prayed for him. His wife had been praying for him to turn back to the Lord. He pushed the door open and stared at Lylah.

He stood with his hands in his pockets. He released a sigh. “Lylah, I want you to tell me about God. Even if Rose doesn’t wake up, I want to know what changed her. Will you please help MY unbelief?

Pulling her head off of Rose’s hand, Lylah wiped away her tears as she emphatically shook her head up and down. “Yes, yes. I will tell you all you wish to know.”

Lylah shared the story of Jesus with Tom, both holding one of Rose’s hands hoping that Rose would wake up at any point.

A loud, piercing beep interrupted their conversation. With a quick pace, Dr. Trey broke through 348 with an EMT and nurses following him. Before Lylah and Tom could figure out what was going on, they were being ushered out by a nurse. Tom shoved the nurse’s hands as he watched the EMT try to revive his wife. Lylah was calling Tom’s name, pulling on his arm, but all he could here was CLEAR”. Then the shock.


A Writer’s Disclosure: I didn’t feel a distinct pull as to whether or not I should end this positively or negatively, but I decided to leave the ending to the interpretation of the reader. I hope you have enjoyed the Break Free Series. Looking forward to a new one soon! God bless!

The Broken Heart

The constant beep…beep…beep of the machine echoed in the air tickling Tom’s ear drums. The pace of his heart matched the rhythm of the monitor measuring each beat of Rose’s heart. Tom’s fingers interlocked with Rose’s good hand. His thumb stroked her palm back and forth. The motion caused, for the moment, a time for every painful thought to fade behind the noises of footsteps of nurses, doctors, other family members resounding off of the blank, white walls.

The hospital had a distinct clean smell. Tom was sick of seeing latex gloves, watching people on stretchers being rolled to their respective rooms, and seeing doctors and nurses shoot him sympathetic glances as they switched Rose’s drip bag.

Tom looked at Rose’s face. Peppered around her left eye and cheekbone, Rose’s face sported various shades of purple and blue. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. In order to stitch the deep gash on her head, the medical team shaved part of her auburn locks to clear the area. Her right arm was reset and was donned with a plain cast.

Standing up to stretch, Tom looked at her. He felt like all he could do was stare. His hand reached out to softly touch her face. He had forgotten how smooth her ivory skin was.

He was faced with the reality of death as soon as the police officer said that he needed to head to the accident. The words replayed over and over in his head like a broken record. His stomach lurched. Where had it gone all wrong? Tom knew exactly what went wrong, but to dig out the memories he buried so deeply into the recesses of his mind would be a task that could break him to pieces. But once the door was open, he couldn’t help but walk through.

A sandy-haired boy ran over the cracked sidewalk with each step pounding gravel into the grooves of his shoes. Because of the horrific potholes on the main road to his house, the bus driver always dropped him off on the corner just five blocks away from his home.

He heaved a sharp breath of cold air in as he reached out to open the screen door. Stepping into the dimly lit hall, he walked into the hallway hoping to make a made dash to his room. But something stopped him. Off to his left he heard yelling in the kitchen.

Slowly, carefully, he avoided the creaking floorboards to spy on his parents in the kitchen. Peering around the corner of the wall Tom watched as his dad stood towering over his mother. At a staggering height of 6’7, Jasper Carmet exploded with degrading words to his mother. “You always nag me, Darlene. I pay the bills for everything in this house so that you and Tom can stay home. You are never satisfied. I am tired of your whining”

Tom’s eyes swung over to look at his Mom’s expression. Her blue eyes fiercely harbored unshed tears. This wasn’t the first time that Tom heard his dad’s booming voice carrying slamming weight against his mother. Each time it happened Tom couldn’t help but note the sadness and distance in his mother’s eyes.

He vowed that day at the ripe age of 10 years old that he would never treat anyone like that. Especially the one he would vow to love.

Tom blinked as if to shut the door on the memories he desperately wished would vanish. Now here he was and the same look that his mother had when she took each verbal hit, was mirrored on Rose’s face yesterday. It wasn’t the first time he had ever yelled at her.

It angered every part of his being to know that the vow he made all of those years ago was crumbling around him. He didn’t understand how deeply the effect his father’s “leadership” and domineering had on him. But now looking at his wife fighting for her life on this bed, he couldn’t help but feel the crushing force of how the last five years of his anger, bitterness, and irritation destroyed his relationship with his sweet Rose.

Tom peered out of the hospital’s tiny window overlooking the major highway. All of the things he wished he could take back came flooding in. Shaking his head, he tried to ward off the tears that seemed to be ever-present these last couple days. The sound of squeaky tennis shoes caused Tom to suck the tears in. Turning, he saw that Doctor Trey had arrived with Rose’s chart balancing in his right arm and scribbling something on the sheets with his left hand.

His voice was low and serene. Tom.”

Tom waited. Holding his breath, he waited for the verdict the doctor was about to deliver.

The tone of the doctor’s voice turned gentle. “Tom, after reading the scans of your wife’s head injury…” Tom couldn’t bear to hear it. He felt the oxygen levels in the room drop.

“Tom, your wife is in a comatose state. Few people ever wake up after such a severe trauma. I’m going to need you to call your friends and family to say their final goodbyes. I’m sorry Tom.”

He couldn’t breathe. It’s as if that last sentence sucker-punched him in the gut and captured any air that he could have grabbed.  When Tom realized what the doctor was saying, he roughly grabbed both panels of his coat.

Tom’s voice was raspy. “What do you mean final goodbyes? You haven’t done everything that you can do! She has only been in this hospital for a day! How can you say that you have done everything in a day!?

Doctor Trey grabbed Tom’s hands and put them back down to his side. “Son, Rose lived a good life. But we have done everything we can. Call your family and friends.”

Tom ripped away from the doctor’s touch. He stormed out of the hospital room.

Lylah rushed to the double doors of the hospital. As soon as she heard about Rose’s accident she drove straight to the hospital. Her best friend. It couldn’t be. Heading toward the front desk, she pulled out her phone and sent a quick text to the church’s prayer chain. After sending the message, Lylah made it to the front desk and asked the nurse if she could see Rose Carmet. The nurse kindly pointed to room 348.

Steps that measured far too long for her short legs seemed to make the distance from the nurse’s station to Rose’s room seem like a mere jump away. Before she even got to the door she saw Tom open the door. She had to ask him what was going on.

“Tom! Tom, please wait!” She hurried over to him.

Tom turned to see one of Rose’s most beloved friends come towards him. Her name was Lylah Henry. “Yes?

Tom was in no mood to talk to anyone, but seeing a familiar face helped cause the anger to fade.

Lylah started breathing hard. “What happened? Is Rose going to be okay? The church is praying for her?”

Tom could barely look at her. All he wanted to do was rewind the last three days. He was about to not only share his grief, but cause another one to grieve.

With a heavy heart, Tom’s emotions caused his voice to break with utter sadness. “Lylah, Rose was hit dead on in a car collision. The doctor said Rose’s brain scans confirmed that she will be in a comatose state from the force of the trauma it endured. She isn’t waking up, Lylah. It is time to say goodbye.”

Lylah whimpered. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye. She looked at Tom. His face was strained. His normally clean shaven face had a slight shadow on it. His hair was disheveled from lack of sleep. His heart was broken and it showed on his face. Lylah put a hand on his arm. “Tom, let’s go get a cup of coffee. I need time to process and right now you and I both need someone to get through this. The coffee downstairs might not be the greatest, but let’s go and talk.”

Tom studied Lylah’s face. The woman was in utter shock and she hadn’t seen Rose yet. Maybe it was for the better if she didn’t right now. “Alright, let’s go.”

Both Lylah and Tom headed toward the elevator. Pressing the down arrow button, Tom and Lylah stood in silence. One praying to God and asking for a miracle and the other scrambling to figure out who he was praying to, but asking for the same miracle.

To be continued…

One Sunday Morning

The sun rose and peeked through the sheer curtains. Rose’s alarm shrieked. The loud bells caused her phone to jump on the side table. It was time for her to get ready for church. Blindly reaching for her phone, she shut the alarm off and pulled at the covers providing her a cocoon of warmth and tossed them to the side. She swept her bare feet across the bed to touch the cool wooden floor.

Rose softly tiptoed to the corner of the bedroom to grab her clothes dangling on the arm of the bedroom chair. Scooping all of the items of her chosen outfit, she headed to the bathroom hoping that she wouldn’t drop anything.

Round, piercing blue eyes stared back at her in the bathroom mirror. Rose fingered the wrinkles forming around her eyes. So many of them bore signs of laughter and smiling. Slowly dropping her hands, she couldn’t remember the last time she laughed in her home with Tom. Shaking her head as if to erase the negative thoughts, she reached for her makeup bag and went through her regular routine.

Applying her favorite deep rose lipstick, Rose headed downstairs to make her coffee and bagel to take with her to church. The smell of dark-roast coffee swirled in the air as Rose sliced her cinnamon raisin bagel. Hearing the Keurig sputter with the fresh brew, Rose found the interruption of the stillness comforting. The toaster signaled that her bagel was done with a soft pop. It had a delicious golden brown color. Placing the bagel on the counter, she generously spread honey nut flavored cream cheese across both halves. Gathering her bible, notebook, and pens from the side table on the porch she stuffed them into her purse. Purse hanging on her right shoulder she juggled her coffee and bagel in both of her hands as she headed to the garage.


Tom awoke to the sound of the garage door creaking open. He turned to the side and glanced at his phone. Man, it was only 8:30 on a Sunday morning! After pushing his phone to the side, he rolled over to see that Rose’s side of the bed was empty. “What was the woman up to?”

He shuffled to the bedroom window and sent the soft maroon curtains careening to the left and right. His eyes squinted in the new morning sun to see Rose pulling out of the garage in their sedan. An irritation, much like a bug incessantly buzzing around the ear, started to build as Tom’s eyes followed the license plate to their car fading away.

Pulling on his robe and donning his slippers he made his way down to his leather recliner. Switching the T.V. on to ESPN, he watched the highlight reel over the last couple days of dunks, goals, and homeruns.

The home phone blared. Interrupting one of the top plays of the year. Tom grappled to grab the phone before it went to the answering machine.

Hello?!” Tom’s voice was curt.

A man’s gruff voice traveled across the phone line. “Hello sir, are you the husband of Rose Cartmen?”

Tom sharply inhaled. “Yes, to whom am I speaking?”

The man’s voice was laced with authority.  “I’m police officer Grant. I’m calling to tell you that your wife was involved in a head on collision. We need you to come now. The accident was on Jefferson Avenue across from the train station. Do you know where that is?”

Tom’s heart pounded rapidly. His mind was in shock. This can’t be happening. His voice cracked as he answered the police officer. “Yes, I am on my way.”

Running towards the stairs, Tom took the steps two by two. It all happened in a blur as he found himself wrenching the handle of the driver’s side door to his sports car. All he could think was that Rose was dead. His mind kept whispering. “She can’t be….She can’t be.”


Tom’s sports car came to a screeching halt on the corner of Jefferson Avenue. He got out and started running blindly, pushing past people as he neared the scene. He ignored the constant whispering and looks of fear.

He saw the sedan flipped on its side. The driver’s side was caved in, the wheel hanging in a disfigured fashion. The current condition of the car completely changed from this morning. Tom stopped running and sharply started breathing in and out. His eyes scanned the perimeter looking for Rose’s auburn hair, her slender build, anything that looked similar to her.

After a couple of seconds, he spotted the stretcher with Rose fastened securely to the board. He  quickly walked toward it. He felt his heart beat faster. His eyes stung from oncoming tears. Her hair was matted to the right side of her head as dried blood covered the initial wound.

Mr. Cartmen?” A voice that seemed to float on the air reached his ear.

“Yes?” Tom answered in a shaky tone.

The EMT’s voice was calm and steady. “Your wife has encountered quite a few injuries. She has endured a blunt force trauma to the head by the window and her right arm is broken. It seems it was stuck between the armrest and she couldn’t get it out in time. We are transferring her to the ICU in Olathe where she can be better treated and closely monitored. Would you like to ride in the ambulance with us?”

Tom couldn’t believe he was having this conversation right now. This wasn’t possible. He knew fear was in his eyes. He looked at the EMT. “Please take me with you.”
The medical team, the EMT, and Tom all jumped into the ambulance. Heading west to Olathe Medical Hospital, Tom looked up at the roof of the car begging someone, anyone to save his wife.

To What Measure?

For the last month, Elaine noticed a growing irritation within herself. It came in tiny waves at first, burning the quinoa, failing to exercise, but over time the waves progressively got bigger and the force was crushing. She was frustrated with her limits.

Finances. Marriage. Friendships. Family. Teaching.

You see, Elaine is a measurer. Time is measured in seconds and hours. Her recipes are measured in cups and liters. Her worth is measured and determined by the world’s standards of success, smarts, or looks. Her days are measured by sunlight and her nights by moonlight. She is measurable. And that was the root of her irritation.

Paycheck to paycheck measured her limit for food, clothing, heat. Marriage consisted of fruitful times and hard, difficult times. The measure was the season that her and her husband, two imperfect people, found themselves fighting together in. Friendships are measured by investment or distance. Get-togethers and fellowship measure the closeness of family. Grades and lesson plans measure how much she would teach kids in one year or one day. Seasons are measured by snow, leaves, heat, and flowers. Her cell phone plan was measured by how much she paid per month. The car’s length of travel was measured by the amount of gas resting in the tank.

Everything in her life was measured. She was limited. Her focus impaired.

Elaine was suffocating from trying to cover up the rotten feelings reeking in her heart. Normal comments were met with disdain and hurt. Insecurity was on a rampage. Comparison blared in her ears everywhere she looked. Expectations took a dangerous turn. They were unmet and unreasonable which caused a bitter unhappiness.

Sometimes she covered the disgusted feelings with silence, media, or Netflix. Other times her tongue completely let loose and started a fire with her biting sarcastic comments towards family and friends.

She needed help, but help involved people hearing her story, her secret sins, her failures. She would be known and the practice of appearing “put together by patches”, that were tightly sown, would be torn, frayed. She would have to ask for God’s wisdom and strength, again.

Recently, the storm Stella decided to make her grand appearance by dumping her royal pounds of white fluff across the entire landscape of Northeast PA. For those of you reading from the southern states or those who weren’t affected by Stella, let me tell you that she threw many merciless, frigid blows.  

School closed for four days and Elaine, like many people, felt trapped. Thirty-three inches. Is this a joke? The soft blue walls of her home used to resemble warmth and comfort but with the mountain of snow burying her car and house she rapidly became the sweat-panted female behind the bars to her own personal prison cell. She couldn’t escape.

The time that was normally filled with teaching kids or grading papers was quickly filled with snow shoveling, piecing puzzles together, and drinking mounds of coffee. The man-made prison cell became claustrophobic, stifling life.

To make matters worse her relationship with her husband produced a little friction over the last month. Was it his fault? No, he was just the perfect source to release the tension or the lucky winner to pass the blame on, I guess. It was an awful thing to do, but her heart was blinded by paralyzing feelings of fear. Her best friend just became another obstacle.

Her focus was on her limits, her measures. Her focus was on other’s limits and measures. Truth be told because she was zeroed in on destroying her limits, she forgot about her limitless God. Her immeasurable God.

Elaine is me. I am limited. I am known. My focus has been consumed with the struggle of keeping my fears covered, being considered weak, being measured. I can’t do it all and it frustrates me. That’s why in Hebrews, faith isn’t defined as things you can see, do, and predict. Faith is believing in what you cannot see, believing that God will do as He wills and will care for me as He has promised.

From the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament I have been given promises of His provision and care.  Promises like He will never leave me nor forsake me” (Deuteronomy 3:16), “His grace is sufficient for me” (I Corinthians 12:9), “You can come boldly before the throne” (Hebrews 4:16), or “I sacrificed my only Son for you, how much more than will I freely give you other things?”  (Romans 8:32) are laced with mercy, grace, and power. These things can only be promised if He is immeasurable. They are all encompassing.

My humble reminder is that He is not measured. He is not limited. He is mighty. He is powerful. He is in control. He is a refuge. (Isaiah 25:4)

I was choking on my own pride, my own strength. I was suffocated with my own expectations and lack of control. When my limits are pointed out, I remember that I am measurable and God is not. What a freeing statement. The bars opened. The room no longer stuffy. The pressure released.

The tendency to try and pretend to be immeasurable is still there. I can promise there will be another attempt for gripping power. I will in some time be taking another swing at control. What about you? Are you discouraged? Is your heart entangled with your failures and insecurities? Take it to the one who promises to give you grace to help in your time of need. My conclusion is this:

Every day you need His grace, therefore; every day you are in need.