Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cautious Bravery

When I decided to blog after church today, I heard the enemy telling me "People are going to just think you're crazy, hearing voices, and psychotic. You didn't 'hear' God or 'feel' Him. It's all in your imagination."
Screw you, Satan.

---

Recently, there's been a change brewing in the life of me and my children.  Something unexpected happened, and as a result, I had to make some decisions I wasn't mentally prepared to make.

I prayed about it for days.  I took a break from social media and filled the time I would have spent catching up with friends online praying and seeking wisdom as to how to proceed.  I sought advice from trusted companions, and found confusion in doing so, with divided opinions and advice coming from multiple avenues, so I kept on praying about that as well.

After about a week, I had what I decided was the next step, and proceeded with cautious bravery.

Cautious bravery.

I'm not sure that's a thing.  If you google "cautious bravery," you find a few different takes on it.  On one hand, people seem to think you can't be both cautious and brave or courageous, and then on the other, it only makes sense to do so.

For example:




That said, this new juncture and all of the possibilities of what could happen based on whichever decision I made was nerve-wracking, slightly terrifying, anxiety inducing, but also hopeful-exhilarating.

As I mentioned, I took my options, prayed about them, tried to imagine probable outcomes, and went with what I thought God was calling me to do.

I was afraid of being wrong, afraid of interpreting what I thought God was telling me wrong, and afraid that even if I was doing what was right, it could all go wrong anyway.  But, I owned the decision, and I stepped forward on faith.



I decided, in doing so, that if I was going to just assume it would all go awry, I was speaking words of death over the decision, and also placing my faith, trust, and hope in humanity instead of God's divine sovereignty.  I decided to anchor myself on hope and God's ultimate goodness, and I committed myself to continued prayer, because I know that human emotion can be wishy-washy sometimes, and I knew myself well enough to be able to foresee that I wouldn't always be completely hopeful, and the old patterns of condemning thoughts and negative assumptions would slither into my mindset occasionally.



I told myself that even though the decisions I make affect more than just myself, and that all people are infallible, God can use everything and anything that would come from it for His ultimate good.  I know that while it is best and important that others in my life have God in their lives, all I needed to rely on was Him, and who I am in Him.  I know who I am in Christ, and I believe I have a good idea who my children are in Christ, and that was enough to solidify my choice in proceeding.




Now, I acted on my decision, and so far, good things have come from it.  I give each day to God, and when I start to fear and worry, if I turn to my closest confidants first instead of God, they remind me to give it to God.

Today, in church, I had a big God moment.  During the beginning of worship, which is generally the part I connect with most emotionally, I was singing along, but struggling to be emotionally invested in it.  I kept having random thoughts filtering through and I realized partway through the second song, if I recall correctly, that I just couldn't "see" or "feel" who it was I was singing to.  Usually, this is not an issue for me, but today, I just felt disconnected.  Realizing that, I decided it was probably an attack from the enemy, and with the knowledge I've gained through the past couple months, I decided to use Jesus as my ammunition and attack back.  I had a moment of bravery, in that I would normally be apprehensive that others would hear me or notice, and I spoke aloud, "The enemy MUST go NOW in the name of Jesus Christ.  You have no business here."

It sounds silly, I know, and I've felt that it was silly on the multiple occasions that I have needed to conduct warfare in such a way.

I continued on, praying audibly, "I feel like I can't see you Jesus, and I don't know why.  I know You're always there."

I stopped singing almost instantly, and tears started falling.

"You can't see me, because I'm hugging you."

That's what I heard him say.

And it made so much sense.  I was suddenly flooded with the image and feeling of a warm embrace, my head buried in His shoulder, as I heard him tell me that he was proud of me, that He has made me strong, brave, courageous, and that it is okay to be cautious.  He knows that I worry sometimes and I fear other times, and He understands how sometimes I find it difficult to come to Him first, but He forgives me, accepts me, doesn't condemn me, and appreciates my honest attempts to keep Him first. I am okay, I am perfect.  He told me that what decision I made recently didn't matter as much as the fact that I sought His counsel and waited earnestly before acting, choosing what I believed He was telling me to do over what the world told me to do.  He reaffirmed that no matter what, because my hope is anchored in Him, it's going to be okay.  He reminded me that He has been there through every peak and valley so far, and that He has ultimately won it all for us anyway.  He reminded this little quiet warrior girl that she is filled with His peace and grace, and that good things will come from the trust I've placed in Him.

While I don't know what will come from my decisions and what is in store for us, I trust that it will all work out for God's good.

Sometimes, it's scary to not know His plan.  Sometimes, I fear I don't know if I'm listening or hearing or interpreting correctly.

Sometimes, I just have to latch onto the cautious bravery he's formed within me.

Not oddly at all, the next song in worship was about sitting with Jesus, being with Him, hearing His heartbeat, and so forth.  The pastor spoke how the Holy Spirit was heavy within the place.  He spoke of God's gifts being imparted right then and there, and the sermon was about healing.

It made sense.

I've found freedom, healing, and seen myself through God's eyes this year.  It's amazing what will happen when you give it to God.



Friday, January 6, 2017

You've Got a Friend

It's been said many times that as we get older, it gets more difficult to make friends.  Maybe it's not necessarily difficult to make them, it just isn't as easy to come across them, I suppose.

I have found this to be true.  I look at my children, and they will make friends almost instantly. Sure, most won't be lifelong friends, and half of the time, these "new friends" are people they'll never see again, but they're so non-judgmental and uninhibited in their friendship making that it's something in which I find myself awestruck.

I remember being in kindergarten, like my oldest is now, and making new friends.  Thanks to the technology of my generation, I am actually still friends with many from my youngest school-age years, even if we aren't close, we can connect on Facebook and keep up with each other's lives.  I am still friends with my high school best friend, and my college best friend as well.  I have a handful of online best friends who have also been there for 16 years or so.

I have been blessed with the fortune of making a few really close friends in the end of my college years, as well as a really close friend in the beginning of my motherhood years.  I have one close friend from my the end of my childbearing years as well (that makes me sound much older than I am, I suppose).  

I then found my world quaking and myself withdrawn and secretive about it.  My walls and my guard went up, and I shut myself down in many ways.  I got a new job and met new people, but I didn't really allow myself to make friends with them for a while. I was terrified that what they would find, they would not like, and then I would be an outsider who was nothing but drama and chaos.  

As time went on, I opened up to some, and grew quite close.  I gained a few of my current closest friends in life at that job, and I am so very blessed.  Through that job, I began attending my church, where I have met even more people, that I would consider to be more than just acquaintances, they're my friends.

Much of these friendships, while I wouldn't say are superficial in any way, are not deep-rooted at this time, though many have the potential to be so.  I hope that more become rooted as time goes on.

That said, this evening, I had an experience that caught me off-guard.

It was a transitional experience, I think.

I think I made a new friend.

This friend.. well, I've known her a while, and I thought of her as my friend at church anyway, but as I said, not necessarily a deep rooted friendship.  But tonight, I found myself feeling like a school-age child as I went home, realizing I had exchanged phone numbers with my friend and text her a couple times.

Now, this friend, I've seen her and conversed with her many times, topics both light and deep, and we've exchanged quite a few hugs. I always enjoy seeing her, and I have hoped she felt the same.

Tonight though, I don't know what really switched.  Perhaps nothing really did, except that I really sat down and realized I had this friend, who had been there for quite some time, and she really did want to pursue my company and my friendship.  She told me "I love your heart."

Immediately after, the enemy was on my back telling me that people couldn't really "love my heart," it was just something you say to be nice.

Ugh.  At least I knew it was a lie.

It got me thinking about making friends as an adult.  As a mom.  As a single mom.  As someone who had recently let down her guard in a big way, and is allowing new people in without them really having to "prove" that I could trust them, because I'm not nearly as guarded as I was even a few months ago.

Where I am in life, I do not get out much. I go to work most hours of the week, I go to church, and I go to the grocery store.  That's pretty much it for any invested time regularly.  So, in line with my invested time, most of the meaningful friendships I've been blessed with over the past two years are through work, and one that was mostly through church.

But tonight, I realized I made a new friend, in my new season of life, with my new hope and my new faith.  And for some reason, that seems like a big deal. I am excited to get to know her better in the time to come, and I am so very thankful that she feels the same way.  

I have been so very blessed by the rich friendships I carry in life, especially through the hardest struggles and deepest valleys I've been through.  But, there's always room for new friends, too.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Free in 2017

It's been a few years since I made any resolutions as many people do.  New Year's Day is a time to refresh, to start over, to move forward from the year past and look forward to what is to come.    Granted, this is something we should be doing daily anyway, but New Year's Day is a day that most everyone seems to set aside for big changes and resolutions.

Generally speaking, when I decide it's time for a change, my resolution starts that day.  Some things I've decided to work on are my excessive sarcasm, personal time and bible time with God, playing on the floor with my children, reading more, speaking words of life instead of words of death, and getting back in the grind with my health.  I'm hoping that soon, I'll have more energy and less fatigue because I'll be better about getting more iron on a regular basis, and I will get back to where I was with working out, because I love and miss it.

Those things were all decided upon in 2016, so they're not really New Year's things.

Today, though, I chose a word.

Free.


One of my best friends has chosen a word of the year for a few years now, and she's shared it publicly.  Each time, I have admired her for doing so, and thought it was inspirational. I've seen others join alongside her, choosing words, themes, mottos, and Bible verses that they plan to live their life in accordance to for the course of the new year.  

Up until today, I really haven't had the urge to join. It just hasn't felt right.  I've never been able to choose a word that seemed to make sense.

In church this morning, I was singing in worship, to the song "No Longer Slaves."  It is a song that has been powerful and resonated with me each time we have sang it, to the point where I've written it out for myself at home more than once, downloaded it on my phone, and sang it throughout the apartment multiple times.  But this morning, it hit me harder, and made even more sense to me.  Instead of the just relating and finding the opening verse beautiful and applicable for me personally and how God often talks to me through song, the chorus struck me.

"I'm no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God."  The bridge proclaims, "You split the sea so I could walk right through it.  My fears were drown in perfect love.  You rescued me so I could stand and sing 'I am a child of God.'"

Slavery.  Fear.  

Last year, as the years before, had it's share of rough patches and emotional rollercoasters, dark valleys, high peaks, and personal discovery.  My marriage was legally dissolved, and I wrestled for months with that realization.  In the fall, I took the Cleansing Stream course at church, and found bondages breaking left and right, freeing me mentally and emotionally from countless years of baggage, chains, and scars.  

I found myself evolving into the strongest woman that I have ever been, I think, emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I've lived another year out in faith, anchored by hope, trying to trust, trying not to worry, trying not to fear.  

This morning, our pastor was talking about New Year's changes, much as I have already written about.   As he was talking, I heard the still, small voice saying, "Nicole, you're free. You're free. YOU ARE FREE."

I've known it.  I've known it for a long time, years, months, weeks, days.  I've known in theory, and I've felt it increasingly over the past couple months since walking through the Stream.   But this morning, I really felt it.  And I knew that this year, I had a word.

Free.

God has freed me from my bondages.  He has won every battle (for me, for my children, for my family, for my friends, for everyone, really).  He bought it by his blood. I've known it all along.  But today, I could see it.  I could see that I am not who I was last year in yet another way. As our pastor was talking about looking back and how we can't dwell in the past, but have to move forward, I realized that the past woman was worried and feared things that I had no control over quite frequently- more frequently than I realized at the time.

This year, I can see there are big things ahead.  I closed out the last year by opening up doors I never imagined would be in front of me already, if ever, and I took a leap of faith in doing so.  I prayed fervently, thought deeply, and trusted in God that no matter what decision I was making in that hallway, He would be alongside me and He had it all under control for me and my children, no matter what.  I chose to believe in life over death, and in doing so, I chose not to fear and not to worry.

I stood there in church this morning, seeing how, as many times in the past, I could be sitting here, worrying away the minutes, afraid that things could and would fall apart, placing my trust in and investing solely on the will of man instead of the sovereignty and protection of God.

Instead, I realized I'm free. I have finally accepted my freedom.

My word- free.

My word and my goal are perfectly stated in the verse I've chosen for my year.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  Galatians 5:1

My personal spiritual, mental, and emotional challenge for this year, summed up by the word "free" is to fall back on God, to stand firm in my salvation, firm in my faith, and to not let the enemy entice me back into my bondage.  I need to keep my eyes forward, walking in my freedom.

I am free.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The former's birthday

Today is his, the man I once shared my life with's, birthday.

Today, I miss the good things about him and the fun we shared.

Today, I miss his hugs and his voice.

Today, I miss his laughter.

Today, I miss surprising him.

Today, I miss showing him I love him.

His children don't know it's his birthday today.

I feel so conflicted about it.  I know that, for now anyway, it's best this way.  I know that the joy they find in birthdays, coupled with the lingering sting of his abandonment would confused and torment them in some way.

So we haven't talked about him.

We haven't celebrated him.

We haven't wished him a happy birthday.

I don't know where he is.  I don't know what he's doing.  I don't know if he's happy.

I hope he is, just because I'm a good person.

I know we are happy.

I am thankful that I can say that with honesty.

We are sad sometimes, the children more than I, of course, but overall, we are happy.

It doesn't mean we don't miss him, sometimes.

Somedays, we miss him more than others.

Today, the children haven't brought him up.

Today, though, I miss him.  I don't need him.  I don't want him.  I don't long for him.  But, I miss him.

It's amazing to me that it's been sixteen months since we've seen his face, heard his voice, or read any new words from him.  We live daily life completely void of his contact.  We live each day, in and out, without him.  But it still seems absolutely surreal that he has made the choice to live life this way, without us.  It sure wasn't a choice we made.  It was his.  I cannot understand it at all.

We didn't have contact with him on his birthday last year.  I didn't really miss him like this last year.  Last year, I was still so hurt and angry.  It's been two years since we saw him on his birthday.  Two years ago on his birthday, he was upset.  He was withdrawn and crabby that I not only had gotten a job, but I started it on his birthday, and he had to be a responsible person and get the children and I to and from work that day.  He had to pretend he was a loving, caring, doting father and husband, because we didn't want the world to know what was really going on between us, especially me in a brand new work environment with countless people I didn't know or know if I could trust.  It has been three years, really, since we had a birthday with him.  Our daughter wasn't even born that year.

It's amazing how slowly time moves by, but how quickly it does simultaneously.

There's so much that has happened in those three years, since our last happy his birthday together.

We've been through quite a harrowing storm.

We've made it through stronger.

I've accomplished so much without, despite, and because of him.

Today, I can see that.

Today, I can celebrate that.

Today- without him.

He took this photo of me the night after my high school graduation, in 2002.  It has such strong ties to our relationship.  I love it, though, because the emotion seems fitting for this juncture as well.





Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Healed Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a big deal to my heart, and has been for a long time.  It's a family, love, and gratitude focused holiday that I've always adored.

Thanksgiving this year was a bigger deal than I realized.

A year ago at Thanksgiving, I was still married to a man who had gone MIA.  I was brokenhearted, on the verge of feeling defeat, feeling a bit like a failure, feeling lonely, feeling anxious, and feeling a bit out of place in my own world.

The children and I were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with our friends and some of their family.  I accepted, knowing that my friend knew my heart and emotional state quite well, knowing I would feel safe, and that my children would have fun.  Still, I was nervous, not knowing how the others at dinner would approach the fact that he was not with us this time, as he had been months before when we were over for Easter.  I was cautiously optimistic that no one would ask a single question or even mention his absence in our lives.  The day, as far as I remember, was wonderful, filled with joy and laughter, friends and great food.

But I missed him.  I felt like our family was incomplete in some way.  I came home that evening, without my kids, I believe, and cried as I realized I went the day without him and made it through.  I longed for the vision of life that I had thought we were creating.

I spent a little bit of time over the past few weeks in prayer, trying to prepare myself emotionally and mentally for what this year might be like, whether the children and I were home alone celebrating in solitary fashion, or if we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by people we cherish somewhere.  I knew in my heart I would be emotionally and mentally okay if we were going to be celebrating alone, although I hoped we wouldn't be.  It wouldn't have been devastating though, like I may have felt it would have last year.

This year, he's still missing, and I am divorced.  This year, we were invited to the same family home for Thanksgiving dinner.  I've not been feeling well, so I was a bit quiet this year amidst all the hustle and bustle, but I felt at home anyway.  My friend still knows me well, and I know her family accepts me and my children for who we are, as we are, how we are, even without him.

When the children and I arrived home tonight, they were all fast asleep in the van, and I sat there for a bit, realizing that it was my first Thanksgiving as a divorced, single mother.

I didn't cry.  I didn't even emotionally flinch.

I then realized that I didn't miss him at all today.

This year, he was mentioned.  We discussed how the son who used to look so much like him looks less like him this year, and how my other son looks much more like him now.  I talked about how some of their mannerisms are very much like their dad.  I mused over how my daughter doesn't have close attachments to men, except my friend's husband, my dad, my brother-in-law, and she's somewhat close to a co-worker and her uncles.  But she's never felt a relationship with a dad that she would remember, and it affects her, somewhat, I think.

I was even asked by one of the family members if I would ever consider remarriage or having children in the future if "the right guy" came along.  I didn't freak out or withdraw really, although I was completely taken aback, I didn't act like it.

I didn't cry.

I didn't miss him.  Not like I used to.  I mostly miss him on behalf of my kids, and I feel sorry for him missing out on them.

But I didn't hinder me.

It didn't overwhelm me.

It didn't cause me anxiousness or nervousness.  I didn't even think about him before going.  I didn't sit and wonder if anyone would ask about him or mention him or worry about how I would react if it happened.

That's a lot of healed wounds.



Thank you, Jesus.

If it weren't for the Cleansing Stream retreat less than a month ago, I am sure I would be in a different emotional state tonight.

But I'm okay.

The kids and I are okay.

I don't long for him to love us.  I don't feel like we are missing out on his love.  I know we are, realistically, but I don't feel that soul-crushing overwhelming longing that was there a year ago.

Because we don't need his love.  It would be nice, but it's not a necessity.

We have God's love, first and foremost, and because of His love, we are loved deeply by many others.  It's obvious to me that we are loved more deeply by others in our lives than we could be by him at this point anyway.  My children are lacking their dad, but they're not lacking their Father's love; they're not lacking love at all.  Today, they were surrounded by love, like they are every day.

Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, to me, are especially important emotional holidays.  They flood my heart with appreciation for God, family, friends, love, memories, laughter, and companionship.

For the last 15 years, up until this year, a huge portion of all of those holidays were invested in him- even the last two, when we was sort of here and then not here at all.

This year, that chain is broken.

This year, I see so much more clearly the love that we are showered with.  I saw it last year through clouded lenses.  This year, it's more real.

I can see so much more clearly this year that I am not alone.  I wondered a few days ago, while the enemy was after my mind, that I would be alone eternally, spending holidays without adult cameraderie, huddled up with my children, forgotten by the world, because I was just a pity case or that people were sick of the burden I am, wishing for interaction aside from only children (I know that sounds horrible, and I love my children dearly, so please don't assume I hate spending time with them).

But that's just crazy. I have family, and friends that are family, and friends beyond that who love us so much.

I am not alone.  We are not alone.  And God wouldn't allow us to go through this life alone anyway.  I get reminded of that on the regular.  Sometimes, I just get in my own way of seeing it.

Thank you to the many friends and family who have sent me messages of love, empowerment, gratitude, prayer, and blessings.  Your love is deeply felt and appreciated more than I find myself able to express at this time.