That Weight You Feel? It’s Grief.

The world is upside down right now. It’s a time like no other. Some of us saw what was happening in China and knew it’d be like this in the States eventually. Others of us were hoping that it wasn’t as big of a deal as the media was making it out to be. And still others of us figured it was coming but didn’t think it would affect ALL of us and every part of our lives in the way it has. 

The first dominos were tipped, and the falling effect continues three weeks later. Schools are no longer just extending Spring Breaks, sports and extracurriculars are gone, Prom and Commencements are cancelled and for many they won’t report to their school building until the beginning of their next grade.  

Not just schools, but also professional sports; first the NBA, then NHL, March Madness, MLB they all suspended their seasons, then cancelled their events. Unprecedently, the Olympics will now be hosted on an off year. 

And in the midst of it all, moms and dads are scrambling to figure out how to work from home—if they’re not essential; how to keep their families safe from contracting Coronavirus if they ARE essential, and oh yeah, throw in a little home-school too. 

Speaking of home-school, even a brief scroll down on social media and you’re seeing EVERYONE’S highlight reel on steroids. Half of your friends discovered their Pinterest Homeschool Talents seemingly overnight. The other half were happy to have enough WIFI data for the kids to entertain themselves on their tablets for most of the morning. The fear that maybe the problem isn’t your child’s teacher after all wasn’t a thought you could allow yourself to dwell on for too long.

Oh yeah…the kids…and ALL of their emotions too. Their disappointment that their games and teams are cancelled, they can’t see their friends, their NEW teacher doesn’t explain Math as good as their REAL teacher, and suddenly the 6th grade track day (that you never even heard about until now) was the event they had been waiting for, their entire elementary school career!

Are you stressed out just reading the highlights?

Add an additional layer of stress for being parents of kids with special needs; having a job in the healthcare industry; being dangerously low on toilet paper; being laid off or having your job terminated; experiencing a medical emergency unrelated to coronavirus and replacing your weekly grocery store trip with daily trips because today might be the day that you are lucky enough find a loaf of bread for your family of five.

And although our families are “safe” and coronavirus free and we’re following all the safety guidelines as best as possible, we go to bed each night with a pit of despair, smothered with uncertainty in our stomach and wake up each morning asking ourselves if yesterday was just a bad dream after all.

Somebody, pinch me!

Nobody has experience with this. There’s no manual. And this is hard. Harder than any of us could’ve imagined. 

I’ve done a lot of work in therapy for the past several years. One of the things I’m continually gaining skills in is the area of body awareness. Recognizing what my body is saying to me. What is needs. I’ve come to learn that when I’m stressed, my shoulders are what feel it first. Physically, knots will begin to develop right across the backs of my shoulder blades. My masseuse knows me well enough to ask, “Taryn, are you stressed right now?” while digging into my shoulders with an extra (uncomfortable) firmness. After the shoulders go, it moves to my chest and ribcage. I begin to feel a shortness of breath—because I’m usually holding mine—and a tightness that is subtle. From there, it moves to my stomach. A heaviness. Like I ate too many Texas Roadhouse cinnamon-butter rolls before the main course came out. After that, its my emotions. They spill out, uncontrolled. I’m extra sensitive to a joke, to news I don’t want to hear, to commercials that show dogs in the shelter while Sarah McLachlan sings. 

Can you relate?

Is that where you are? 

What about your kids? Your spouse? Your friends or co-workers?

Here is what I know: we’re experiencing a communal grief, therapeutically called ambiguous loss.

You’re probably aware of “the grief cycle”. We most commonly come into contact with it when we experience a death of a loved one. We attend the funeral, we attend all the duties, and when we get home, we don’t understand why we didn’t cry at all and now, three weeks later, we can’t stop. The first time we reach for our phones to call them, we realize how silly our brains are acting or how smells and sounds can turn our entire day upside down. Someone finally tells us, “oh honey, you’re not crazy, you’re just in the middle of grief. This is normal. You’re going to be okay.”

Ambiguous grief acts differently than the standard grief cycle. With ambiguous grief we never get the closure or the ending that we need. With the death of a loved one, the visitation and the funeral is a date, it’s set in stone. The rituals and the ceremonies, even with their hard parts, help us have an ending and a subsequent beginning that propels the healing process forward.  Ambiguous loss gives us no such foundation from which to propel. It just leaves us simmering in the unfulfilled dreams and plans we had set on our calendars, our minds and our hearts. Celebrations we will never get to gather for. Dreams or goals we will NEVER get the opportunity to achieve in the same way we would have originally planned. Pre-planned memories that will never come to fruition. Everything being up in the air, mandates changing daily, schedules array, stay-at-home orders, food and toiletry outages, role shifting, financial insecurities and worries, all of these have no end in sight, leaving us feeling like we are standing on quicksand. Vulnerable. Like our entire world could crashing down at any moment….or at least when the savings account dries up. 

All of us respond to ambiguous grief differently. If you’re a survivor like me, you’re already thinking it’s time to just go get a job at the local grocery store. Anything to give you a little bit of extra financial security. Just in case. Some of us “borrow trouble” from the hypothetical future….we’re already thinking about the chances of being able to sell our house in a recession. Should we cash in the 401k early? Others of us are worriers with an inability to even make a decision at all…the fear that we could get sick by going to the grocery store paralyzes us. 

You need to know that all of these reactions are completely normal. Again, read my words carefully: THERE IS NO MANUAL FOR THIS. WE ARE ALL FIGURING IT OUT DAY BY DAY.

Here’s the deal, despite all of this reality, we have to keep moving forward. The sun will continue to rise and set regardless of how we are responding to our new world. With all of the uncertainty that is a part of our daily existence, we must keep what IS certain in front of us. 

What Is Certain:

  1. Eventually, this period of intense, in-your-face, uncertainty will pass. Cities will open back up. Travel will resume. Grocery stores will be fully stocked. We will be able to gather in groups again. Give thanks that for us, especially in America, this is the case. Many nations have never had these luxuries to count on as certainties.
  2. Our bodies will tell us what we need if we take the time to listen. Take an inventory of how you’re feeling. Turn off the TV and put down the internet connected devices for 5 minutes. Close your eyes. Breathe in your nose for 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3, and then breathe out your mouth for 5 more seconds. Think about different areas of your body and see if there is stress, pain, or fatigue. I usually start from my head and go down to my toes. You might be surprised what you hear your body say. If you have children, show them how to do the same. Do you need time outside in the sun? Schoolwork won’t suffer because you stopped to take a 30-minute walk outside. Did you make a schedule with good intentions but have yet to follow it? Don’t come down hard on yourself. Your mental, emotional and physical health desperately need you to be kind to yourself.
  3. At the same time, getting ONE important task done each day will help you feel accomplished and like you’re not wasting away. As small as making the bed, putting away the clean laundry, or responding to an email. Lots of little things add up to the accomplishment of productivity.
  4. Connect with friends and family utilizing technology but be careful with your social media intake. “Let’s meet on Zoom” has probably become the most used sentence in the English language in the last month. We are blessed to have such technology in our survival arsenal AND just like pre-pandemic times, social media can be a leading cause of heightened anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness. The comparison game is strong on these platforms. Seeing another parent leaping into their new position as Principal of PWHS—Pinterest Worthy Home School—does NOT inherently mean that you’re “doing it wrong” or that your kids will suffer. Those of us who aren’t homeschooling or worrying about little ones? You’re allowed to put boundaries on your time, just like before. Students? You do NOT have to be “extra-productive” because you’ve been given “extra time at home”. We still have the same amount of time as we had before. Most of us are just spending our time in different places.
  5. You don’t have to save the world. For empaths like me, the reality that there are so many needs all at once can hit hard. There are so many caring souls out there reminding us….or maybe bombarding us with all the groups we have to “think about”—children who are in abusive homes, now 24/7. Small business owners who can’t stay open. Medical workers without proper PPE. Residents of nursing homes who can no longer have visitors. And the list goes on and on. Help out as you can or as you want, but recognize there are so many needs, you’ll never be able to fill them all. Together, our communities must commit to taking care of each other. You aren’t anyone’s savior and compassion fatigue is a real thing.
  6. It’s okay to be sad that you’re missing out on things you REALLY wanted to do. Do yourself a favor right now and commit to NOT telling yourself what you should and shouldn’t feel. Yes, people are dying and its awful. AND it’s really sad that your child won’t get to walk in their high-school graduation. It sucks that you can’t celebrate your birthday the way you planned. Having to reschedule your entire family vacation IS indeed stressful. ALL of these things are true at the same time. You are allowed to feel both. Validate these things in yourself AND in your children. Your feelings aren’t “less real” because people are dying from this awful virus. (Real Talk: I CRIED when I got the news that my black-belt test wasn’t going to happen as scheduled…I knew in my heart that it wouldn’t be on April 4th, but the reality of it finally hitting was too much for me to handle at the time).
  7. Connect with your faith community to keep yourself spiritually healthy. Many churches have gone online. If yours isn’t capable of doing that, ask your pastor what he or she would recommend for connecting with the faith community on Sunday mornings. Many small groups and Sunday school classes are keeping up with each other via email, Zoom meetings, Facebook groups, and texts. Do your best to stay engaged with your church family and make space for your children to do the same. Taking time to study Scripture, read a devotional-no matter how short it may be, listening to music that gets your focus off of yourself are all helpful practices to keep your spiritual health, well, healthy. 

One last time, these are unprecedented times. Therefore, there’s no normal. There are no expectations for how to behave—other than law of common sense and the care of others and ourselves. We are ALL figuring this out as we go. We ALL deserve grace, space for our emotions, and empathy for our struggles in the midst of uncertainty. Make sure that in addition to giving it to others, you give some to yourself as well.

A Tale of Two Pastors: How One Pastor Blessed Me and Another Told Me to Go Home

This past Sunday, I attended the ordination ceremony for my friend, Tyler. It was a beautiful service that was holy and reverent and so uniquely tailored to who Tyler is as a person and as a minister. This was first time to attend an ordination ceremony of any type, despite being a follower of Jesus for over 20 years and serving in full-time ministry for eight years. Every denomination has its own rituals and in this particular event, there was much symbolism that I was unfamiliar with as a part of my own faith journey. The ministers wore robes, and each had a personal stole around their neck, candles were ceremonially lit and there was a procession of ordained clergy before the program began. The sanctuary was ornate, complete with an organ and a split chancel pulpit ( ß don’t let my confidence here fool you, a friend told me that was what it’s called.) The woodwork was ornate and dark brown in color, matching the wooden pews with velvet red cushions on which the audience was seated. My regular church experience feels nothing like what I was a part of at that moment. 

On any given Sunday you can find me wearing jeans with holes in the knees and a t-shirt, shying away from the moment when someone accidentally calls me “Pastor” Taryn, all while enjoying a full band worship experience in your individual green padded chair. Being a pastor, I don’t really get the opportunity to experience other church experiences or denominations on Sunday mornings. So on this particular afternoon, my mind and spiritual eyes were attentive to all our differences united under our common faith in the one true God. 

The Reverend Carey brought a message from 2 Timothy while giving a blessing and imparting wisdom that can only be found in having walked the ministry life journey. In the passage, Paul is writing to his student and spiritual son, Timothy. Timothy for all intents and purposes is now ministering in his own right and like anyone who has been in ministry longer than 3 days can tell you, situations and people can make the calling pretty tough at times. Paul is writing to encourage and remind Timothy of this calling and he makes an analogy of the work of a pastor being similar to the work of a soldier, an athlete and a farmer all wrapped up in one. It was during this message that I heard something I’ve never heard before.

The Reverend Carey, while expounding on the passage, referred to a pastor as a “she”. Regularly using both male and female pronouns for his analogies of ordained clergy throughout his message, Reverend Carey, included people like me: the female clergy. It was such a new thing to hear that it stood out like a sore thumb—but a sore thumb you want to brag about. At first, I thought I had zoned out. I thought, maybe I missed the context while I was taking in the sights around me. I went home and found the service online, listening again to make sure I had heard it correctly. I had heard it correctly. It was the first time, I’ve ever heard any person, male or female, refer to a pastor in a message as a “she”. 

On that very same evening, with my brain still tingling with the new experience I’ve had, (yes, my brain tingles…it’s hard to describe so you’ll just have to trust me) a friend posted a video clip of well-known pastor John MacArthur celebrating his 50th year of ministry and preaching. For some reason….I’m not sure who thought this would be a good idea….the moderator of this particular session introduced a word-association game. As he snickers, the first “word” he says is Beth Moore. John MacArthur immediately says, “Go Home”, resulting in laughter from the majority of the audience. 

Ahhh, yes. This feels more familiar than what I had experienced just a few hours before. 

Honestly, at that moment I thought to myself, “surely, this is an old clip.” And I went to the source to find the date. Nope, it was from this week. All the hope and the joy I had felt from Reverend Carey’s message became lost and jumbled up in the midst of MacArthur’s two-word admonishing reply. 

I thought about Beth Moore, wondering how she would choose to respond (because as a woman you HAVE to respond…but carefully….because too strong will come off as too emotional and not strong enough will come across as too-soft with a slight hint of door-mat, both of which will allow others to disrespect or deny you future ministry opportunities). 

I thought about my own calling. I haven’t had any one directly tell me to go home, but after interviewing multiple times, feeling called to a new context and hoping for the final vote, I’ve been told, “we really like you. We are all on the same page. But the church and some of the leadership just isn’t ready for a woman pastor right now.”  (Okay. I feel like I was upfront from the get-go about being a woman this whole time.) 

When putting together a message to share with the congregation, the male-pastor who has closed the service with a prayer has thanked me “for sharing a few scriptures.” (Ummm, I didn’t just read some Scriptures there, buddy! I put my heart and soul into that sermon.)

Well-meaning hearts have relayed to me, “you know, I voted no for you because you are a woman and I didn’t really believe that women could be ministers, but now that you’re here, I just want to tell you that I like you.” (Ummm, thanks?)

I am new to this world of standing for women’s equality in the calling of Christ. I think it’s safe to say I’m a recovering complementarian. For the past several years, God has been enlightening me on my journey, changing my theology and the way I understand long taught Scriptures in a new way. 

While I’m NOT here to vilify Pastor MacArthur, I wonder about how he could’ve responded in a way that was more Christ-like. Outside of choosing not to play a dangerous game of “word association” (which if we are honest was simply a platform for this sort of thing to happen), there were certainly better responses available. 

  • For most of us, our theology doesn’t sway in the wind, nor is it changed based on our feelings. Most of us, take time and give serious educational effort to understanding God’s word and standing firm upon that which we feel God is calling us. 

–There were hundreds of other responses MacArthur could have responded with outside of “Go Home” that would’ve allowed him to maintain his theological beliefs without being disrespectful, divisive, rude and unkind. Answering with “servant of God”, “faithful”, “passionate”, or “a godly woman” all would have been true without having to bend on what he felt was his theological position.

–In the Gospel of Luke, John the disciple says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” And Jesus replies, “Don’t stop him….for whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ—truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.” 

–Jesus is saying, “hey, we’re all on the same team here.” And I believe that Jesus would challenge all of us to see who is working in His name and to bless them in their ministry, rather than tearing them down.

  • Regardless of where we fall on the theological spectrum, we are called to be Christlike in our behavior and our treatment of others regardless of where THEY fall in their theology. 

–Christ reminded us multiple times in the Gospels that the words from our mouth actually pour out of our heart. What’s on the outside reflects the measure of health of our insides.

–We must remember this as we encounter different experiences and expressions of faith. 

  • As we continue to behave with Christlikeness, we see in Jesus a model for how to respond to women…. we invite them along in God’s work, we see their gifts, we acknowledge their calling, we train them, we educate them, we pave the way for them, we bless them.

The Big Leap

My therapist looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Taryn, I think this is gonna be the absolute best thing for you.” I couldn’t contain my tears as I thought about everything that this decision entailed. She continued, “I think you’re going to love Iowa.” 

I couldn’t even think about loving Iowa. I was still too numb from the hurt and betrayal that had come just two months prior. How had my life taken a path that was leading me away from everything and everyone I had ever known? Away from anything familiar. Away from my whole life. How in the world was I going to “love” a place that wasn’t Nashville, TN?

I remember going home that afternoon and continuing to pack up my things. I had moved twice before but those times had felt more like a choice. Each time had come with excited anticipation about a new beginning. This time was different–it felt like a “have-to”. The presence of deep grief and loss overshadowed any excitement possible. I called my mentor that afternoon and asked, “Do you think moving to Iowa is just me running away from my problems?” Without hesitation she answered me, “Taryn, I don’t think you’ve ever run from any problem in your entire life!” Despite her reassurances, I felt like Daniel (from the Bible) must have felt when he was thrown in that lion’s den….before God showed up; before God rescued him from certain death.

Have you been there my friend? Have your dreams and plans fallen and shattered all around you? Where you once felt control over your future, you now feel like a pawn being aimlessly moved around a chess board by someone else’s hand? After experiencing this myself I can assure you of one thing:

IT’S GONNA GET BETTER!

This week, I celebrate my two year anniversary of calling Iowa home. My therapist? She was right. Moving to Iowa WAS the best thing for me. And I do love it! I mistakenly thought that I had to completely heal first before I should make a move (both career wise and on the home-front). “God’s going to use this move to continue your healing,” were wise words from my mentor. I couldn’t see it at the time. I was going through the motions, I was doing the next best thing, I was making decisions based on logic rather than emotion and I was scared to death of it all. I tend to be an all or nothing kind of thinker—since I wasn’t all healed up, I wouldn’t (and shouldn’t!) have a position in ministry. 

(Sometimes) God doesn’t need you to be all healed up before moving your influence or using you for a new task. Sometimes the new task or environment will be the source of healing. For me, moving to Iowa was the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever taken. I moved here scared, shaken, ashamed, my self-confidence depleted, my trust destroyed, my ability to let others love me gone, my belief that I was worthy of anything good completely dissipated. I remember driving across the i74 bridge, crossing over the Mississippi River and the Iowa state line right around sunset thinking, “God, I don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But please don’t let me be hurt again. My heart can’t take it and I won’t be able to afford a move back to Tennessee anytime soon.”

Oh if the Taryn of 2019 could be in the truck with me that day! She’d be able to say, “Oh honey (I call everyone honey), God’s gonna blow your mind! He’s not giving you one last chance with a side of left-overs….just you wait! He’s gonna give you more than you could even ask for or imagine! Right over this bridge is gonna be a new church family that’s going to straight up LOVE you, literally hundreds of kids that are going to fill your heart up; friends that are going to honor you; the chance to fulfill your calling of pursuing your doctorate; a crazy intro into the world of Taekwondo (which will also play a part in your healing); Whitey’s Ice Cream; a little orange cat named Theo; being just two hours away from the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois; a house that has a basement and where there aren’t any shootings or drug deals on a regular basis; the wonder that is the annual TugFest; a T-Rex costume that’s going to get you in the paper and not only that but a Triceratops AND a Pterodactyl to go with it; access to beautiful river sunsets that are going to help you breathe and bask in wonder on a regular basis; and SO. MUCH. MORE. 

I’m so glad I didn’t let my (what turned out to be) momentary fear get in the way of all this blessing!

Halfway to BlackBelt and Even Further to Healing

I’m celebrating the one year mark of my Taekwondo journey today. From the time that I began, I have heard that Taekwondo is an individual journey—there’s no race to black belt. As I have moved up the ranks, I’ve told new students, frustrated by their perceived lack of progress, the same thing. There is a great honor in finishing what you set out to accomplish, no matter what finishing looks like for you.

Similarly, the reason why each person begins their journey is different. I was never interested in the martial arts. When I was a kid, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo was the coolest, let’s settle that right now) and the lesser known 3 Ninjas (I see you Tum Tum) but it never really transferred over into a personal goal like those movies do for some. My brother actually won a year’s worth of Karate lessons but my parents refused to let him take lessons for fear that he would be beating people up in the neighborhood (way to go mom and dad!). All of that to say, I never imagined that at 32 years old, I’d don a white belt and a dobok and eventually find my ki-hap inside of me. However, as I reflect on the past year, I’ve realized there’s so much more under the surface of my journey. For me, Taekwondo has been a key component of my mental and emotional health. Struggling with a lot of anger, anxiety, fear, hurt and trauma from people and circumstances in days past, I was sitting in my therapists office when she suggested, “what if you took Taekwondo?” and she listed the benefits of the martial arts. I took her suggestion seriously and went home that day to do some research. I made a phone call and from that moment, my journey was more than just earning a black-belt, it was another tool to help me heal.

I see God’s hand in the timing of me finding Taekwondo. My Taekwondo Master has been teaching for 38 years. As I reflected on my “Taekwondo birthday”, I realized that before I was even born, God began a solution to a problem that I didn’t even know I had yet. And now today, one year to the date of sitting in that office, crying and scared, I am half-way to black belt and even further in my journey of personal healing. 

If you’d like to read about the benefits of Taekwondo for children and adults, CLICK HERE. ***Note, this website is not the location where I train but has great information regarding the benefits.

A Crack in the Frit

I’ve been a resident in Iowa for two winters now. This year’s was the worst in terms of brutal cold, the amount of snow, and crazy weather patterns. I learned more about the weather in the past three months than I have all of my years on earth thus far. I’m adjusting but there have been a handful of new experiences for me—(i.e. my 5 year old battery would NOT start in -55 degree weather; bubbles “deflate” in frigid temperatures, thunder snow IS a thing). 

About a month ago, I was driving across the bridge on my way home and all of the sudden, a line began slowly crawling across my windshield. The i-74 bridge is NOT the place you want to be when something is going wrong with your vehicle. I started screaming, “what? no no no! NOOO!” as I helplessly watched the line continue to spread. What in the world?? WHY was my windshield cracking??? Was this an “Iowa” thing???

I have never had a windshield crack before so once I got home I did the most reasonable thing a responsible car owner could do—I googled it. All of the results told me that there is a starting point to any crack and I should try and find that point. I could NOT find it….inside or out. I ran my hand across the windshield multiple times….inside and out, nothing. When the windshield repair person came out to take a look and see if it was fixable, she came inside and said, “I found the point of impact.” She took me outside to see it and it was the smallest little ping I’ve ever seen. 

She went on to tell me that this tiny little impact was probably caused by a very small piece of gravel that hit my (very warm on the inside) windshield at just the right speed, velocity, and time to cause the damage that it did. “So is the crack fixable,” I asked? “Well, here’s the complicated part….the original point of impact is in the area of the windshield called the frit….the very bottom black part of any windshield. The way that they are installed means there is so much pressure just from the way windshields work in addition to gravity. Anytime there is a chip or impact in the frit, it basically means it’s unfixable and the entire windshield has to be replaced.” Shocked, I responded, “so you mean something THIS SMALL…something I couldn’t even see, did THIS MUCH damage??” 

I went back to my desk and pondered about my new knowledge….about this whole frit thing and how something as tiny as a flake from the road could cause hundreds of dollars worth of damage. Then I realized how each one of us has a “frit” area within us. The place where even the smallest impact of words or actions cause us heavy damage. I have one of those brains that can’t remember where I put my keys, but I can tell you word-for-word and tone-for-tone some of the most hurtful things said to me at age 8. Because they hit me square in the frit. 

Even more so, it made me think about how many people are living their daily lives in the frit. Why even the smallest infraction makes someone seemingly explode. They haven’t gotten the help they need to work through deep rooted lies they’ve been told; they haven’t gotten or have refused the opportunity to begin healing; they fear that the things spoken over them, about them or to them are true and they’re just the last ones to admit it. 

There’s a verse in Scripture, Proverbs 25:11 that says, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.” How true that proverb has proven itself to be. I want to be person whose words fit on others like custom-made pieces of jewelry. I think Jesus calls His followers to be the kind of people that build-up, encourage, and support those around us rather than the people that cause cracks in frits. 

My windshield of course will be replaced and the visual reminder of what winter and tiny pieces of gravel can do will soon be gone. However, I don’t want to lose the object lesson—the tongue is a small thing but what enormous damage it can do!

On Having Courage

I was completing the next chapter in my workbook on healing when the question was posed, “what is your definition of courage?”. I found myself staring for quite a while at the blank space in which to write my answer down. I really didn’t know how I would define courage in a personal way. Dictionary answers are often pretty sterile—I like to define words in ways that are inspiring and meaningful. 

I told my leader that I didn’t know how to answer it because anything I wrote down would implicate ME as being courageous and that just certainly couldn’t be true because I didn’t believe it about myself. She began to list all the ways that she thought I had shown courage over the past several years of my life and that made me deny having courage even more. 

Switching gears, she challenged me to find a definition of courage that resonated with me. After searching for a while, I came across this quotation:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” 

-Mary Anne Radmacher

THIS captured courage perfectly to me. I can get on board with the idea that courage doesn’t always roar. What is it about us that thinks that courage means a public showing of bravado? The most courageous things I have done in my life have often been in the complete silence and stillness of being alone with God, making a decision that no one else knows about. In those moments, it hasn’t always felt courageous. But I believe it is because I always thought courage meant not having or showing any fear.

I have walked with people through their most courageous decisions: getting on with life after the death of a spouse; helping their child heal from abuse; overcoming addictions; facing cancer head on; seeking counseling and therapy or getting on anti-depressants; uprooting their lives to head to a foreign country to spread the Word; staying in a hard-relationship; ending a relationship; breaking unhealthy family cycles; going back to school after having a career and raising kids; purposefully and intentionally building bridges with “others” (people who are different than ourselves); fostering and adopting children from trauma backgrounds; parenting children with special needs; and there’s so much more I could write. 

Joshua 1:9 is often quoted at the outset of a big project or decision, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” I have mistakenly used this verse to perpetuate the idea that courage is public bravado, no fear, no pain, no regrets. It is incongruent with the entire message of the Bible that we should have courage based on our own aptitude or abilities. The source of our courage and strength is not found in ourselves. It is found in a God who never leaves us, nor forsakes us. Who doesn’t always pick the loudest, most popular, most handsome/pretty, most talented, most likely to be chosen person to be the world-changers. Far more often, He chooses the person who everyone else would overlook that has “tried again” at every one of their tomorrows. 

So where are you in this defining of courage? What do you think about this new definition? Have you been like me, thinking that courage was always a public showing of no-holds-barred bravado? Do you think that this definition of courage might mean that you’re courageous when you never once thought you were? Share your thoughts and let’s learn from each other.

On Having Courage

I was completing the next chapter in my workbook on healing when the question was posed, “what is your definition of courage?”. I found myself staring for quite a while at the blank space in which to write my answer down. I really didn’t know how I would define courage in a personal way. Dictionary answers are often pretty sterile—I like to define words in ways that are inspiring and meaningful.

I told my leader that I didn’t know how to answer it because anything I wrote down would implicate ME as being courageous and that just certainly couldn’t be true because I didn’t believe it about myself. She began to list all the ways that she thought I had shown courage over the past several years of my life and that made me deny having courage even more.

Switching gears, she challenged me to find a definition of courage that resonated with me. After searching for a while, I came across this quotation:

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

-Mary Anne Radmacher

THIS captured courage perfectly to me. I can get on board with the idea that courage doesn’t always roar. What is it about us that thinks that courage means a public showing of bravado? The most courageous things I have done in my life have often been in the complete silence and stillness of being alone with God, making a decision that no one else knows about. In those moments, it hasn’t always felt courageous. But I believe it is because I always thought courage meant not having or showing any fear.

I have walked with people through their most courageous decisions: getting on with life after the death of a spouse; helping their child heal from abuse; overcoming addictions; facing cancer head on; seeking counseling and therapy or getting on anti-depressants; uprooting their lives to head to a foreign country to spread the Word; staying in a hard-relationship; ending a relationship; breaking unhealthy family cycles; going back to school after having a career and raising kids; purposefully and intentionally building bridges with “others” (people who are different than ourselves); fostering and adopting children from trauma backgrounds; parenting children with special needs; and there’s so much more I could write.

Joshua 1:9 is often quoted at the outset of a big project or decision, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” I have mistakenly used this verse to perpetuate the idea that courage is public bravado, no fear, no pain, no regrets. It is incongruent with the entire message of the Bible that we should have courage based on our own aptitude or abilities. The source of our courage and strength is not found in ourselves. It is found in a God who never leaves us, nor forsakes us. Who doesn’t always pick the loudest, most popular, most handsome/pretty, most talented, most likely to be chosen person to be the world-changers. Far more often, He chooses the person who everyone else would overlook that has “tried again” at every one of their tomorrows.

So where are you in this defining of courage? What do you think about this new definition? Have you been like me, thinking that courage was always a public showing of no-holds-barred bravado? Do you think that this definition of courage might mean that you’re courageous when you never once thought you were? Share your thoughts and let’s learn from each other.



Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

Several months ago, I had a vision of something I have always wanted to happen, coming true in my future. The movie reel highlight that played in my head felt so real that it shortened my breath and gave me an overwhelming feeling of pure giddiness in my spirit and goosebumps up and down my arms!

In that moment, I took what I had seen in my head before the Lord and just asked, “is this really going to happen? I need to know because I don’t want to get my hopes up if this was something that my brain just made up in order to torture me.” He didn’t really give me a solid answer. As the days have continued to pass, I have wondered what do I do with what I saw? Do I hope for it and pursue it with all my heart? Or do I sit back and wait for things to unfold?

There have been times when I have pursued something with all of my heart and found myself at the end gaining what I set out for. Likewise, there have been times when I have wanted something with everything inside of me and it falls like sand through my finger tips no matter how tightly I hold on. Am I speaking anyones language?

As I drove to work this morning, I thought about my vision again and got honest before the Lord, “God, I’m scared to pursue that with all of my heart because I’m afraid that I’m wrong about what I saw. And I don’t know that my heart can take the deep hurt that would occur if I didn’t get what I wanted. I know that I COULD pray for this to come true, to receive what my heart longs for. I know that you’re a good Father who delights in giving your children what they want. But you’re also a good Father who gives us what we need even when we don’t realize it. So all my prayers would be a waste and my heart crushed. I can’t take that.” And in the way that He tends to respond to me in these moments (i.e. a big compassionate sigh complete with a loving smile and much patience), He answered, “What if instead of praying for what you want, you pray to want what I want for you?”
I paused before responding, “Well, yeah….that’s a thought.”

So, my friends, in this moment, I’m able to tell you that I’m praying to want what God wants for me. And I’m wondering who out there has a desire in their heart that they’re scared to pursue, don’t want to get their hopes up about, and feels more comfortable staying in the box. If we really believe that God gives us what we need, can we believe that what He wants for us is better than what we want for ourselves? What if instead of getting your hopes up, you placed your hopes in God’s hands? What would happen if you said, “okay God, help me to want what you want for me.”

God is too good and cares about us too much to give us what we want when what we want is not what is best for us. What is the next step for you? What would it take for you to believe that? Bring it to God, pour out your heart and see how He responds….I bet you’ll be surprised at how things work out.

When God’s Timing Doesn’t Feel Perfect

Two years ago, my life felt like it was crumbling all around me. I had experienced two major life-crises within a year of each other and now another one hit me. No, it didn’t just hit me. It bulldozed me. 

I woke up on this morning and wondered aloud, “what do I even do now?” Have you been there? Where life is so overwhelming that you don’t even know how to put a plan together to make it just a single day. 

From my time in therapy I remembered that being physically active is important to mental and emotional health. As both my mental and emotional health were in serious jeopardy I decided it’d be best to go for a walk in a park. It was a Monday morning so I was thankful that none of the parks would be too crowded at 1:38PM. I drove over to Radnor Lake in Nashville—its a beautiful park in the middle of such an urban city. But when I arrived it was PACKED and having no clue what was going on, I asked the Park Ranger why it was so busy. He said, “Its a holiday today, President’s Day.” 

“Greeeeeeeaaaat,” I mumbled to myself as I finally found an inconvenient parking space. I just wanted a space where I could walk and think and have a serious breakdown without anyone seeing me. “You can’t even give me THAT, God?” I asked as I looked up to the sky. I pulled on my sunglasses, grabbed my iPod and began walking on the trails, trying to sort out everything that had happened in the past three months.

In that moment, God’s timing did NOT feel perfect to me. Injustice upon injustice had occurred and it felt like I was receiving the blunt end of a battering ram from almost everyone around me. All of the things I knew to be true about God didn’t feel comforting, nor bring me peace because my circumstances seemed to reveal the exact opposite of what I knew. Where was God my protector when I was being beat down? Where was God my defender when lies were being thrown like confetti? Where was the God of perfect timing with His impeccable ability to “open doors” for me? Two years later, I can tell you He was with me. His timing didn’t feel perfect in that moment because it hadn’t been my plan. (When is it ever YOUR plan for your world to flip upside down?).

Two years later I can tell you that I’m so glad He changed my circumstances, my environment, my world. I read a quotation several months ago that said, “You can’t heal in the same environment that made you sick.” Before I was even aware that my environment had made me sick, God being God, removed me from the source of infection. Hindsight being 20/20, I can see now what He was doing and I am so thankful. (Full Disclosure: I might have ugly cried last night while thanking Him for pulling me out of a situation I didn’t even realize I was stuck in!). 

My friends, do you feel like God’s timing isn’t so perfect right now? Have your circumstances changed? Has your world been flipped upside down? I can guarantee you that though it doesn’t feel like you’ll make it, you’re wondering how you’ll survive if ___________________ happens, even taking a day at a time seems like too much, God’s timing will bring about His absolute best for you. Like a mountain climber that climbs to what she thinks is the summit, only to find another peak in front of her, your perspective isn’t always going to be clear in the midst of challenging times. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Keep leaning into the God that sees and knows all things—including you and what you need to be able to glorify Him.

Here I Am

I’m a sucker for learning something new.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the INCM Children’s Pastor Conference in Orlando, Florida and one of the General Session speakers brought an amazing message to us—actually ALL of the speakers were amazing—but this one in particular grabbed space and rooted itself in the soil of my heart.

There are two words in Hebrew for answering when your name is called. PO’ANI is literally, “I’m here.” It is used for communicating or announcing your physical presence—think of a classroom roll call. Andrews? (Po’ani) Davidson? (Po’ani) Smith? (Po’ani). You get the picture.

And then there’s HINENI (הנני). Which is translated in our English Bibles as “Here I Am”. However, there is a deeper meaning that isn’t captured by the simplicity of the translation. It means “Lord, whatever you are about to ask of me, I’m already in agreement of it.” It is used in this context only 8 times in the Old Testament. Abraham (x3), Jacob (x2), Moses, Samuel, and Isaiah.

WHOA! That’s completely different than just answering a roll call! There is so much that could be unpacked just off this tiny little word but I’ll save the exhausting amount of details that I could share for future posts.

Each time the persons respond with HINENI, they have yet to be given the details of their assignment—they’re simply responding to God’s call. Immediately after Abraham responds, God says, “I want you to take your son Isaac and sacrifice him.” When Moses responds, God tells him “Go tell Pharoah to let my people go.” When Samuel responds, God tells him, “Tell Eli (the priest who had been raising Samuel up in the temple) that he has dishonored Me by not disciplining his sons and so I’m going to remove him from his position.”

If He hasn’t already, one day you can be certain that God is going to call out to you–He’ll have something that only you can accomplish, that He has specifically chosen YOU for because if you will HINENI it will bring glory to Him in ways like never before. Can you imagine what might have transpired had Abraham said “Po’Ani!”? God’s plan was never for Isaac to be sacrificed by his father’s hand. But if Abraham had played it safe, if he had doubted in God’s goodness, if he had worried that God would ask too much of him, he wouldn’t have learned (and we wouldn’t have testimony) that God is Jehovah Jireh (The LORD is my Provider).

Life. Altering. Obedience. This is what is on the docket when we respond to God’s call with HINENI. No doubt it is big, crazy and scary sounding to be in agreement with God before you even fully know what He is about to ask. What would it look like for you to respond with HINENI the next time God calls out to you? What would change? How might you be transformed? How might God be glorified? What might He accomplish through you when you seek to be obedient first and fully-understand later?