Navigating the Journey

It is hard to believe it is the end of 2015, like so many I feel like I blinked and it was done. Today is my beautiful firstborn’s birthday….13 years old. It doesn’t even seem possible that the tiny baby girl I brought home from the hospital and fell in love with is now a teenager. Thirteen is huge, really huge. I know the coming days can be tricky and they mandate an exploring and discovering of who she is as a person and a child of God. I long for her to rise above the drama, hormones, and challenging choices that will inevitably come.
A shift is taking place, one where I have to take another slow step back and let her begin to navigate life and well I just don’t want to. I would rather keep her tucked under my arm and shield her from anything that may come, but I learned a long time ago that shielding her from all of life does not benefit her. It only seeks to give me some sort of perceived control I really don’t have.

In the same way attempting to control our feelings and experiences rather than navigating and processing them seek to give us a perceived control we really don’t have.

I learned in 2007 and multiple times there after that no amount of effort on my part was going to completely shield my daughter from the pain of life and the challenging questions that would arise. 2007 begin multiple tragedies and losses that left her with no grandparents and in a foreign land far away from home.
My broken little girl grappled with God, was angry and obsessed with death. At such a young age she was grappling with tech questions adults grapple with. How could a “magical God would let death and loss repeatedly take place.” Oh the challenging questions she would ask and the nightmares that haunted her.
We navigated it, sought counseling, and prayed hard. It was then when I had my massive “helpless parent moment.” I realized that nothing I could do would stop pain from coming her way, and we had to learn to navigate it with Jesus and community. We have seen miraculous growth in her and a beautiful healing. She is sensitive to other’s pain, she continues to have a sensitive heart to the Jesus, and she loves family. Jesus has been faithful and we have learned a lot.

We are still navigating.

Though that dark season of repeated family loss ended, the massive holes in our lives remain. And changes and pain continue to come.
I have come to understand that life is less about arriving at a place of blissful happiness but rather navigating the journey through embracing all of my joy, pain, celebrations, and losses and ultimately continually surrendering to Jesus.
That is why I am writing this now, I am overwhelmed with feelings so I MUST continually stop and check in with myself and my Savior.
The end of year causes us to reflect, and holidays place dead smack in the middle of some of our most painful places. Family brings some of our greatest challenges and losses and they often manifest the most at the holidays.

I personally stand in the midst of multiple losses and gains. The holidays are still never easy. We had beautiful and amazing family traditions with the our parents that instantly were gone. We had to pick up the pieces and try to navigate finding new traditions while perhaps honoring or keeping some we had before. We had to navigate the shifts in brother and sister relationships with the absence of parents. We had to navigate new joys while still acknowledging our very real pain.

And here we our with some of the pieces navigated and yet we are navigating again what our lives are in a brand new city.

We are navigating the losses of celebrating birthdays and holidays without parents but also without dear familial relationships we developed in NYC. We are navigating the loss of NYC traditions, familiar schools and familiar faces. We are navigating the burying of some hopeful dreams, and the change of culture. We are navigating the loss of another year, knowing we are now older. We are navigating the loss of our firstborn’s childhood and that hurts so much.
And yet simultaneously we are celebrating the realization of dreams and the birth of new dreams. We are joyfully experiencing new relationships and engaging and developing with some of the most beautiful people in the world. We are experiencing familiar cultural bonds from our childhood and watching our children experiencing life with many beautiful children their age. We are watching some prayers be answered with a yes, and some with a wait. We are forming new traditions, discovering new land, and growing with new people.

I feel joy, I feel sadness, I feel relief, and I feel frustration….ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Yes all of these feeling can and do co-exist. Yes celebration and loss can be experienced together.
Think about it…
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1b-2

There was joy in the cross. Joy in the midst of tremendous pain and suffering.

Pause and reflect on the reality that they can and do co-exist.

How are you going to navigate this season of your life? How do you navigate endings and beginnings?
The first step is to embrace it…embrace each moment and each feeling, acknowledging that they do exist. The first step is actually one of the most challenging. We prefer to embrace only what feels acceptable and good. Jesus calls us to a place of full surrender, it is where He does the greatest work in our lives, and it is where true freedom is found.
He cannot redeem what I have not surrendered and I cannot surrender what I have not become aware of.
Do not suppress your losses and feelings but rather embrace them, that you might increase your awareness of them, process them, and then surrender them to Him.
I am going to tell you that all of it must be embraced so that you may process it and surrender it to Jesus.

I encourage you to take a closer look at David and the Psalms. This is just one example of the honesty we see in the Bible. It is an honest gut wrenching expression of all feelings, both celebrations and losses. God called David a man after His own heart.
I know from my own experience that the more honest I am with Jesus about my feelings and my losses, the more in tune with His heart I become. Our relationship with Jesus becomes deeper and more intimate when we are fully vulnerable and honest.

Do you edit your prayers?
Do you refuse to speak certain thoughts or feelings with Him?
Do you believe He is incapable of handling your “negative” feelings and thoughts?

He CAN handle it, He is Emmanuel. I am not holding Him up, He is holding me up.

Choose to navigate honestly and openly with Jesus and with trusted people. This is something we have to practice and learn because we are taught to protect, defend, hide. Take a look in the garden of Eden (Genesis 2 and 3). Adam and Eve did this as soon as they sinned. They covered themselves because of their shame and ran and hid.

Don’t run and hide, be honest and run to Him.

During this season of holidays and ending another year may we pause to reflect on all of our feelings both our losses and gains. Realizing that a Emmanuel “God with us” is more than capable of handling all of it.

Embracing feelings to live in Freedom

I originally wrote this last weekend yet for some reason never posted it.  So here goes: Blog #2

There are so many thoughts swirling in my mind, I’m not sure where and how to begin to put them on paper. But I think I will start with feelings. Much of the focus of counseling with my clients is to help them uncover, identify, and process a vast amount of feelings.

I feel a multitude of feelings today, love, admiration, fear, irritability, anger, and excitement. Yep, they all are dancing together the last several days, each alternately taking the lead. We are in the process of a major transition, one that I am both embracing and grieving simultaneously so that accounts for some of the array of emotions.

But the truth is we are all normally experiencing a wide variety of feelings, and they are ever changing and evolving.

I mentioned last week “embracing the pain” to allow God to redeem it and walk towards freedom, so naturally it can be said that feelings must be embraced to allow God to work through them. I grew up in a place and time where feelings were not only not addressed but they were actually inadvertently suppressed.

I grew up in the church world where the focus was always on what we consider to be the “positive” emotions; love, joy, peace, happiness. After all if you have Jesus with you, you will not be fearful, angry, discouraged, irritated etc. My family openly expressed love and affirmation and I am so thankful for that.  However, my family never really “discussed” feelings, and inadvertently it was often communicated that my feelings were not acceptable. There were so many things in our churched culture that were unacceptable and feelings such as anger and sadness were some of them.  So we pretended like we didn’t have them. And yet, they were always there. Since we pretended like we didn’t have them we would either implode (hold them inside creating anxiety and guilt) or explode (be expressed in an unhealthy way that is damaging to others). They were rarely expressed in a healthy way.

This is the reality for many of our families and cultures.

Expressing difficult feelings in a healthy way requires us surrendering to a process of self-awareness and security in Christ. This allows us to express what we feel and need, and allow others to express what they feel and need without attacking and becoming defensive.

A combination of church dynamics, family dynamics, cultural dynamics, and the human desire to not be uncomfortable lead us to ignore or deny what we consider to be negative feelings.

Here are just a few of those reasons.

1. We experience guilt if we are angry and so therefore we determine we cannot be angry

2. We are uncomfortable because these negative emotions require some sort of self-evaluation or change so therefore we run away from them to avoid responsibility.

3. We have been told these emotions are unacceptable so there must be something wrong with us or our relationship with God if we have them. (Think about it, if every time a child cries we attempt to stop the tears and tell them “your fine, it’s ok.”  Or if when a friend is hurting, we quickly tell them they should be filled with the joy of the Lord. We communicate that their tears are not necessary or valid).

4. It is much harder to experience and express your anger in a healthy way and not sin than it is to just “stuff it” or pretend you don’t have it.

5. We refuse to experience our emotions because after all people who are stoic and un-emotional appear in control and more mature.

6. If we experience these “negative” emotions they require us to acknowledge how someone may have hurt us and that is just too painful. So we avoid the emotions all together.

These are just a few of the reasons we avoid feelings. It is highly ironic that we avoid parts of ourselves considering Jesus created us entirely and in His image. I never understood how the very people who never acknowledged weaknesses and never owned feelings were often the ones acting out behind closed doors, in constant inner turmoil, or exploding everywhere.

Jesus created ALL my feelings. He created me to be a physical, spiritual, and emotional being and to separate any one of these things is to refuse to acknowledge an important part of his creation.

My feelings are necessary and empowering. They are key contributors to understanding myself and making decisions. Sure, parts of them have become corrupted due to the fall/sin and they cannot be our single governing force but it does not mean we throw them out completely. Again, how can you allow God to use, change, and redeem something you ignore?

Jesus expressed all kinds of feelings:

He shed tears (Luke 19:41)

He was filled with joy (Luke 10:21)

He grieved (Matthew 26:38)

He was angry (Mark 3:5)

Sadness came over him (Matthew 26;37)

He felt sorrow (Luke 7:13)

He showed astonishment and wonder (Luke 7:9, Mark 6:6)

He felt distress (Mark 3:5, Luke 12:50)

Every feeling is important. Anger,  perhaps one of the ones we avoid the most, is essential. It is the feeling that let’s us know we have been violated. It lets us know that a boundary needs to be set. It lets us know that we must self-evaluate and process with God areas that need to be considered or changed.

To the extent a feeling is ignored or suppressed is the extent it will govern the way you perceive the world and your behavior.

So ironically the very feeling we ignore or deny is the very one that controls us the most.

Carefully follow this with me:

When we ignore our painful experiences and difficult feelings then a piece of us is ignored and denied.

We then approach life with only parts of ourselves, and end up trying to fulfill the missing parts through relationships and things.

We find ourselves incapable of making healthy choices because we are not complete and whole. If you cannot make healthy choices then you are not FREE.

Jesus came to set us FREE.

This means He wants us to trust Him with all of our feelings. He wants to make us whole and complete but that requires that we trust Him with ALL of it. If we really trust Him then we can worship and cry out to Him with our anger, our discouragement, our frustration, our sadness. That my friends is what I believe He meant by “true worship.” It is honest, raw, and real.

See it in the bible for yourself. He called David a man after his own heart and David was brutally real with all of his feelings. He said that there was no one as righteous as Job, and Job was brutally real with all of His feelings.

In counseling, I tell my clients there are no “bad” feelings. They are all essential and beneficial. Many of us have learned through out our lives that are feelings were unacceptable and as a result we approach God in the same way.  We fear He will reject, not like, or find unacceptable what we feel.

But He is the God who sees.  Genesis 16:13 states that Hagar (having been rejected and lying half-dead in the wilderness) gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me.”

Mike Mason states, “Real faith is not so much seeing God, as knowing that one is seen.”

There is no part of me my Jesus does not want. He wants it all. Trust Him with it ALL.

 

 

 

Embracing the Pain to Walk to Freedom

Two days ago marked the two year anniversary of my Mom’s death. I think of my parents everyday, but when March comes a shadow tends to come. God took them both very early and birthday, death, and wedding anniversary’s are all this month. It is impossible not to reflect on the last dark days that were filled with so much pain and loss and the knowledge that there was nothing we could do to stop the way cancer was taking Mom’s body. She faded away from us very slowly and in many ways the most devastating was watching every capacity she had drift away. There are so many aspects that make us human and present with people. Our physical, mental, emotional, and social capacities. It rocked me to my very core to watch these aspects leave my mom slowly but surely in the final days and weeks. The truth is it still haunts me at times.

But there was one thing that persevered through the losses and that was her spirit. In those final days Christan and I had a few miraculous opportunities to worship with her. She had already lost the ability to talk fluidly and have consistent thoughts and she never really spoke about what she was feeling and experiencing but she would softly whisper the revelation song by Kari Jobe (her favorite artist). Kari Jobe played constantly in her room, and one evening Christan and I had the opportunity to worship our Savior with her and sing “holy holy is The Lord god almighty” even as she was physically, mentally, and emotionally fading away. For the longest time I did not want to think about that moment nor for the following year did I lead that song in worship at our church. I had to grapple with my Savior and sovereign king who chose to say no to me on, as of November 2012, four occasions. He took all four parents at a young age in a matter of a handful of years. And furthermore, he allowed my mom to lose all her capacities and cancer to ravage her body. I told God after Kendall’s mom died 8 months after my mom, “just call me Mara, as Naomi said in the book of Ruth” because I am bitter. I faced 2013 with paralyzingly fear, what tragedy would happen this year?

 I braced myself because I was convinced that God would continue to deal me the hand I was destined to have. A hand of suffering and just surviving with Him. I began counseling sessions something I believe in with all my heart, after all I am a counselor. My journey of redemption and healing began there. My journey of healing and redemption has been wrought with anger, sadness, joy, and peace.
Yes, these feelings can and do exist together.
And yes healing came not from “forgetting” the pain from the past and present, but rather EMBRACING the pain and the past.
I tell my clients all the time, how can you learn from something you intentionally neglect, ignore, or forget? How can God redeem something you won’t surrender? And how can you surrender something you will not acknowledge and process?
To put it very bluntly we defend a lack of trust in God with ignoring or supposedly forgetting our pain and emotions.
And yes I know the fears, but what of I get lost or stuck in it? My response to that if you are processing it and surrendering it to God you will not get stuck.
Full surrender to God results in enpowerment not entanglement.
He calls us to cast our cares on Him and hou cannot cast cares you bury.
Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 
Upon putting on the new self, scripture states here that it is being renewed in knowledge (root word means awareness). As we increase our awareness/knowledge of ourselves in Him, we are able to become more like Him. As Jesus works in and through our lives He works with who He created us to be and all the emotions He created.
In order to understand today we must understand our  past and jesus comes in and brings those areas of pain and experiences into awareness so they can be processed, surrendered, and redeemed.
 A year later, I am still in process but I see with greater clarity and focus. The glass isn’t as dark and cloudy, and it was because I allowed myself to feel all of it, and to examine my past and myself with Jesus. I understand the depth and the reality  of my Savior and His mercy. I understand that even as my mom’s physical existence faded away her spirit man worshiped with us, and we tasted a small small taste of glory in that room. I understand that I have spent much of my life at a deep unconscious level believing that what I did for God and others was of the most importance. To the extent of sacrificing my own needs and boundaries. I understand that I was fiercly independent, and did not allow others to serve and love me, including my Heavenly father.
Most of all I understand Jesus loves me, really loves me. Regardless of what I do for him, regardless of what I sacrafice and regardless of how much I screw up.
The last several years methodically stripped me of everything I knew and understood about my faith, ministry, and Jesus. For seven years this process went on. I specifically remember mom being diagnosed two weeks before Destiny church was to start.
I wept and asked God how could I possibly lead people and help my widowed mom. He told me “you will lead in great pain but through it my strength will be known and perfected”
He’s been faithful to do just that. I more than came to the end off myself in every area: caring for my mom, my family, obtaining my lisence as a counselor and masters degree (which I will be done with in may), and being a minister of His truth.
But what little I offered Him, He faithfully multiplied over and over again and have come to realize in a brand new way it really has nothing absolutely nothing to do with me.
Most recently He has reintroduced Himself to me. He had to strip away my ways of believing and seeing based on my history, family of origin, and losses.
He is my beloved and I am His.
I know this now, really know this. All of His no’s are not a rejection of me but rather His loving care for me. I recently began leading “the revelation song.” I weep every time as I sing my favorite verse
filled with wonder awe struck wonder, at the mention of your name. Jesus your name is power, breath and living water, such a marvelous mystery”
I am truly filled with a wonder I cannot describe at the faithful, unconditional, redeeming, poweful love of my savior.
He can be trusted with all of it, my pain, my past, my anger, my sadness, my doubt, my questions, my insecurities, my bitterness, my ministries, my worth, my identity. Should I keep going? He can be trusted with all of it, so there is no need to ignore it or run from it.
Rather I embrace it daily, allowing Him to bring it into awareness so it can be processed, surrendered, and redeemed. 
Mom, I love you and I miss you everyday. I long for your smile, hug, and the voice of excitement and adoration you had for grandchildren. I miss your constant support. I recently fell and tore ligaments in my ankle and once again I came face to face with the reality you were not here. You were amazing at that. You would have flown out here and taken care of your grand babies. You would have understood why I was so frustrated and angry, and you would have told me that I was going to finish school and get my licswnce regardless. Oh how I miss you. But with that said I am so thankful that when we allow God he uses the most devastating of circumstances to revolutionize our internal world. He truly bring beauty from ashes. Till we meet again, in the presence of our Savior.