Yesterday, our friend and pastor stood up on stage and taught our church for the very last time. Every week for the past five years, I have listened to this man teach and challenge and correct me. Even during the really dark months with Harper when he and I could not attend church with the rest of the family, I would watch the sermons online and his words would help me get through another long week. God has used David to soften the soil of my heart more than I could ever explain.
He is the best teacher I have ever had.
But, that isn't what I will miss the most. I will miss going to David and Sue's house every Wednesday and just doing life with them. I will miss Sue's sheepish giggle when I say something out loud that she would never, ever say... but is gracious enough to still find amusing. I will miss the banter with David. The jabs, the jokes, the back and forth attempt to rile each other up. I will miss the last-minute can-you-find-a-sitter dinners out because someone "has a gift card." I will miss seeing them parent, hearing them laugh, hearing them pray, and eating their homemade cookies. I will even miss the hot flashes. (David's, obviously.)
You see, I don't feel like my pastor has resigned. Because it's more than that, they feel like my family. And, that might not seem like a really big deal to a lot of people at my church. But when you have gone your whole life terrified that when people discover who you really are, deep down, they will learn that you are not a good girl, that you're maybe too rough around the edges, that pieces of you are missing or broken, that you don't fit the mold... Being loved and accepted by people like David and Sue, is a really big deal. It's that healing kind of love.
During a time in my life when I had no father in the picture and was living away from my brothers-in-law, David was a spiritual and emotional father and brother to me. This was a healing kind of love.
During a time in my life when I processed through so much hurt and junk from my past, and questioned my worth and the ability to be used by God in any way, Sue empathized with me. She gently encouraged me, and lived out the kind of grace and faithfulness I wanted to emulate. And she loved me in my ugly process. And this was a healing kind of love.
Here's the thing though. They have never been those people that you end up worshiping the ground they walk on because they're so amazing. They are amazing. Maybe the most amazing ever, but you can't fall in love with them without falling more in love with their God. And every second of my time spent doing life with them only pressed me harder and harder after Jesus than ever.
I have never known anyone in a position of such significant notoriety that I still had this much respect for. Thousands of people have been fortunate enough to listen to the words of David's sermons every week for the past 15 years. But most have not had the privilege of watching him and his family diligently LIVE OUT those sermon words day in and day out. I have so, so loved watching them and learning from them and annoying them along the way. I have loved it, and it has been a healing kind of love.
A while ago, I saw this YouTube video of Kelly Clarkson working out all her daddy issues during a live performance of her song Piece by Piece. I could relate so much to her because I also have a pretty strong track record of spilling my baggage at inappropriate times and nobody knows that better than David and Sue! But the song is beautiful, in it she talks about how healing it was to be loved by her husband who taught her to rethink what a man could be like. When I heard the song (and literally every time I have listened to it since) I cried like a newborn baby. I cried because I thought of the men I have known who have been a healing presence in my life. I thought of Tom, primarily, because watching him be a daddy has taught me so much about how a father loves his children. I thought of my brother-in-law, Joe, who was my dad and my brother right after I had lost both, and he taught me how a man can love a girl that wasn't his own. And then I thought of David. I thought of how he and Sue have taught me how my Heavenly Father loves me as his daughter.
Years ago, when one of my little girls was scared in the middle of the night, I prayed with her and reassured her that she didn't have to be afraid because Jesus is real and he is always with her. She said that she knows that Jesus is real but that she just wants "somebody with skin on" to stay with her. See, I knew that my Heavenly Father loved me, and I knew that I was his daughter. But, sometimes the little girl in you feels alone, and scared, and you just need someone with skin on to show you what that really means.
David and Sue, thank you for being Jesus with skin on when I was alone and when I was scared and when I was lost. Thank you for staying with me. And thank you for a gospel-centered life filled with truth, grace and above all, love. The kind of love that shines so brightly that it reaches the darkest and most broken places in me.
It all happened a couple weeks ago when I fell down the stairs eating a rice crispy treat.
You might think those two things are unrelated... You may think, "so you happened to be eating a rice crispy treat when you fell, but you didn't fall because of the rice crispy treat." But, you'd be wrong in assuming that. I think I might actually have fallen in response to the rice crispy treat. It was good. Like, seriously good. And I guess when I took that first bite (unfortunately on the top step) it was as if nothing else really mattered anymore.
So, I fell. And apparently my rib has zero street cred because it experienced one tiny, dessert-related tumble down a flight of wooden stairs and now it's all... just, giving up on life.
The worst part was that I landed ON the rice crispy treat and when I came to, it was stuck to my back, like a jerk.
Peeling dessert off one's broken self is a special kind of low point. But that first break wasn't the worst part.
It's the constant reinjury.
This past week I had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at a five day conference for college students. It was an amazing time of learning and worship and shenanigans. I was able to bring my husband and our five kids, which was a lot of hard work but also really fun. Most of you think we are already insane for having five kids, let alone bringing them places... and most people would voluntarily break all their ribs rather than attempt to wrangle that many humans in a new environment.
I hear that, and it's a toss up honestly.
But the horse-to-child ratio there was really strong, so that helped. #notevenalittle But they did have a great time, which is good because doing what I did this past week is pretty much my dream job. My mom told me that ever since I was a little girl I would say that I wanted to be a "motivational speaker" when I grew up... so I am thrilled that my family is supportive and looking forward to (hopefully) being dragged to many more events to come.
Followers of Christ talk a lot about giving, and that is such a good thing. We talk about giving our time (to serve others, to volunteer at church and in various ways within our communities), giving our money (to support the local church, missions, and to extend generosity to those in need), and the giving of our talents (using your voice to lead worship, use tech skills in production, or organizational strengths to assist on the administrative end of ministry.) These are all good and Biblical ways to give, and they are things that I have spent my life doing. (Well, not the leading worship part, because my singing voice makes people throw things.)
But as I laid in bed this weekend, in tears, over my poor broken rib that had just been freshly kicked by my son on accident, I sensed that God is asking me to give more than my time, my money and my talent... He wants me to give those hidden pieces of myself that He has redeemed, and washed clean. Those broken bits that God has bound back together. Those messages and those wounds that are ugly and sometimes still unhealed, sometimes perpetually being reinjured. He used the image of that broken rib getting kicked to remind me of these spiritual and emotional wounds that we all have... those things that get rewounded by this life, and inadvertently kicked by people - even those who mean well and truly love us. I can attest to the fact that just like a hug can cause pain to a broken rib, even love and kindness can hurt if you have an unhealed emotional wound.
I was reminded of the importance of letting the God of the universe heal those wounds. Not just so we can have relief from the constant pain, but so we can give and receive love in healthy ways, and so we share our stories of hope with others. I was reminded of the importance of giving of my self. And that includes my ugly past. My baggage. My fears and insecurities. All my broken places. God's desire and willingness to make all these ugly things in me become new and beautiful is the overriding theme of my life. This weekend, I wasn't stingy about sharing that message. I didn't hold back from sharing the stories of redemption in my own life.
Sure, It's hard to give away our money. It's sometimes even harder to give away our time and talent. But, what if, what God wants us to be most generous with, is our story of how Jesus has and is changing us?
It hurts to have old wounds or splinters bumped. It is scary to draw close to a group of people, and trust them to be gentle with your wound story. But, I think I am all done protecting those broken places, because when we keep nursing our old wounds, we miss out on the privilege of God using our stories to trigger healing for someone else.
I have always loved to tell stories. Whether that is through writing or speaking, it is definitely how God wired me. Sometimes I wonder if God has allowed me to experience a lot of trauma, grief, and tragedy because he has designed me with an irrational willingness to be utterly transparent. I don't want to waste my baggage, my trials, my insecurities. I don't want to hold so tightly to my life "stuff " that I waste an opportunity to share those stories of His triumph in my life. Because I gotta be honest, it feels like more than a fair share of struggle sometimes. #thereisnoquota
So, I am resolving to pursue this thing as a communicator. I will write and I will speak, if and when God puts opportunities in front of me. I am begging him to heal those wounds from my past that tell me I don't have anything to give. I am walking away from the pride and self-obsessive insecurity that keeps me too embarrassed to finally launch the website I bought and have been ignoring, eh hem... "working on" for TWO YEARS. I am putting myself out there. I am offering myself and my stories up for His use, however He sees fit.
So there ya go. I am officially available for hire. I will speak at camps, retreats, conferences, small gatherings... shoot, I will do children's parties as long as I don't have to dress like a clown. Because, gross. And because, well, I am not a child-predator.
I won't have the website going for a while, but in the meantime I will continue to blog here. And I will keep sharing stories and I will keep being vulnerable. And when I start to feel that crippling self-doubt... I will remember that it is fair to doubt myself, after all, I say things like "child-predator" in a blog about Jesus. But my hope isn't in me. My hope is in a God so capable of redeeming, He is even willing to use someone like me.
Just about a year ago we made the very difficult decision to fight a private and sensitive battle, publicly. With the help of our talented and supportive friends, Brandi and Danny Ebersole, we created a video to shed light on how our family was facing the challenging diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
This video explains what we were embarking on, and why, but we did not discuss the HOW.
Since we opened our hearts and our family up to the world on this matter, I would say that I have received an average of 2-3 messages per week asking for the HOW. I have not answered that question publicly because I am not an attachment therapist nor am I qualified to diagnose or prescribe treatment to a child. However, I have spent numerous hours discussing symptoms and strategies with strangers who are simply desperate parents who, like me, have found themselves (unofficially) diagnosing their own children out of complete desperation to get them the appropriate support and treatment.
Since we are only a year into what will likely be a life long process, I do not feel that I have enough "victory" under my belt to say definitively what works and what does not, especially for others. However, through insatiable research, brilliant attachment therapy, sound Biblical counseling and good, old fashioned common sense... I feel adequately qualified to confidently prescribe one component of our therapeutic approach across the board to all families who are navigating the war against disordered attachment:
a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant.
"the refugee encampments will provide some respite from the suffering"
rest, break, breathing space, interval, intermission, interlude, recess, lull, pause, time out
postpone (a sentence, obligation, etc.).
"the execution was only respited a few months"
Yes, to all of this.
Yes to a short period of rest or relief. Yes to a break in what is difficult and unpleasant. Yes to breathing. To space, an interval, a pause.
Yes. Yes, please.
I literally ugly cry when I read the definition of respite. The thought of respite for my body, my mind, my soul is like seeing a mirage of a spring in a desert.
I have not had a significant time of respite in over a year. I committed to going away for a time of refreshing before starting this intensive therapeutic approach with Harper last year between Christmas and New Year's. I spent that time sleeping and eating and researching the best approach to take. I tried to fatten up and rest up because I was going into battle for my son. Upon returning home, I very quickly lost the weight and strength I had gained during that time. I was weak, underweight, exhausted and extremely lonely.
My friendships have suffered, some have all but disappeared. I stopped attending church, book club, Bible study, and most family or social functions. I did this partly because the process required my constant presence, and partly because it felt like there was simply nothing left of me. I have been very dry and nearly empty.
But, that was 2015. This is a new year. We have made some significant progress, and though we still have a daunting number of obstacles to overcome... I am a little fatter, and little stronger, and a little fuller. I have recommitted to feeding myself - like actually eating food, but feeding myself spiritually, socially, and emotionally. I am no good to Harper when I am a shell. I am no good to my family. I cannot be used by God to the same capacity if I am not growing.
So, 2016 is looking a little different. I am slowly, but surely replacing my personal belongings that have been destroyed during the past year. I am going to the gym every morning to pump so little iron. I am making time every day to be with my main squeezes (Jesus, and Tom) and I am being more intentional about spending individual time with each of the kids - who have started to feel a little like collateral damage over this past year.
And after fighting through exorbitant amounts of guilt, I am taking respite. Sweet, sweet respite.
I was verbally abused encouraged by my friends and family to accept a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a free trip to the Bahamas with my friend Sweet Melissa. I know, right? Who needs to be talked into that kind of opportunity??
Because of the generosity of my dear friend who works for Jet Blue, I am able to fly to the Bahamas using a buddy pass and will be staying for free with Melissa's friend Neda who happens to live in the Bahamas. Did you know people live in the Bahamas? It's true, and it's happening. You know what else is happening? Melissa force-feeding me lobsters.
It is all happening because I am surrounded by people who love me and want to take care of me and support me in any way that they can. And so God is choosing to meet one of my greatest earthly needs at this time through people with plane tickets and island homes and a violent desire to fatten me up.
So, tomorrow morning I will get on a plane and fly to the islands. I will breath, I will drink coffee while it is still hot. I will laugh with my head thrown back, and I will attempt to tame what happens to my hair in humid climates. I will let my weary soul find rest, and I will come back with a fresh resolve to do do whatever it takes to love my hurting boy with a healing and unconditional love.
I have this little business where I take old, discarded fabric and I upcycle it into fancy things that people wear. My business is called Piccadilly Rose (which was a nickname I had for my first daughter when she was just a precious little baby flower who needed absurd nicknames), and the little motto or tag line or whatever it is called in business terms is this:
Unique. Recycled. Lovely.
A year ago, I was a vendor at a women's Christian conference where Jill Kelly (wife of that famous football guy, but proverbial rock star in her own right) was the keynote speaker. At this year's conference, in addition to selling my wares, I was invited to lead a breakout session and incorporate a crafting demonstration.
This, is easy. I mean, the whole concept of my business is taking garbage and making it into something unique, repurposed and lovely... it's all about taking what has been discarded and giving it new life, making it useful, restoring it's inherent beauty and worth. This notion is not just the concept of my business, it's the concept of my whole life.
When I hold someone's wedding gown in my hands, and I see the dirty smudges at the hemline I can imagine the blushing bride accidentally getting stepped on by her eager, well-wishing wedding guests. I know that the gown tells a story of a day filled with hope and expectation... but I know how that story ended. I know that the reason that gown is no longer being preserved in hopes of handing it down to the little girl is because that happy day and those high expectations ended with an affair and heartache and disappointed hopes. And the dress has been discarded.
When a young widow parts with the shirt and tie of her lost husband, knowing she will never see him dressed up in them again, I know the story of pain and parting that are held in those fibers. And the shirt has been released.
When I pull apart an old, tattered tutu, I know that once upon a time there was nothing that made some little girl feel more divine than twirling in all that fluffy tulle. Eventually that little girl outgrew her tutu, and maybe even outgrew twirling. And more than likely, somewhere along the line she stopped, altogether, feeling divine. And the tutu is forgotten.
What I do is nothing special. I take that wedding gown and I cut and twist and singe and sew until something new emerges, something beautiful enough for a new bride.
I take the Daddy's shirt and tie, and I cut and twist and singe and sew until a pretty flower emerges for his little girls, and a teeny neck tie replica of that big guy's tie appears.
I pull apart that useless tutu and I cut and twist and singe and sew it into something divine for the next little twirler.
It does not make me a lot of money. It does not take much skill, in fact my demonstration at the conference will prove that it is something literally anyone can do. And it is not an original idea. I create these things in response to my God who is the ultimate creator. He is also in the business of taking what the world says is garbage and making it into something beautiful.
This is the concept behind the business, yes, but how much more has this been true in my life. I think of my own wedding dress, which was the size of a moderately large tent because when I walked down the aisle, I was 8 months pregnant, and not exactly feeling like the pure and beautiful bride. I think of the shirts I have that belonged to the one I loved and lost. I remember the tutus and dresses I twirled in, and I think of the invisible scars that were left on that little girl that made me stop twirling, and I think of when I stopped believing I was beautiful.
We all have these things though, don't we? We have all been told at one point or another that we are not enough, or that we are too much, that we don't have what it takes, that we are ugly, or stupid, or weak, that we are not worth protecting, that we are not worth fighting for. The world discards us, telling us that we cannot be used for good. We are not special, unique or lovely. There is nothing left.
And then there is this God.
There is this God who adores us. Who pursues us as we are, who begs us for all of it - the past, the sins, the pregnancy out of wedlock, the shame, the divorce, the broken relationship, the lies, the loss, the grief, the insecurity, the affair, the fear, the crippling self-doubt, the secrets, the abandonment, the rejection, the failure... He wants every bit of it.
And he doesn't want it like the world wants it. The world wants it to consume, to devour and feed off like gossip for entertainment or to shame us, but He wants it for one. pure. motive:
To redeem it. To redeem us.
He wants to take it, not to be consumed or used against us... But to be cut and twisted and singed and sewed into something much bigger and more beautiful than we could ever have imagined.
He wants to make all things new. He wants to make us new.
What if we actually let him?
If you have a story of how God redeemed something ugly from your past into something beautiful that you would allow me to share during my session at the conference, please share in the comments below or in response to the link on Facebook. Or if you would like your story shared anonymously, you may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org