Every Monday morning at work we have devotions. It is an hour that starts the week off right by helping all the staff to grow in our love and knowledge of God, to better serve our community.
During these times we are broken up into small groups. I enjoy these small groups and getting to know my coworkers that work in the many other initiatives that serve alongside ours.
Most Mondays I come away with a nugget of wisdom to use throughout my week and my life, but sometimes, a coworker will say something that strikes a chord deep in my soul.
Our study was on the book of James. We were discussing the darkness that can creep into our daily lives during the daily news. What are the messages we listen to? How do we discern what is right or wrong? How do we combat the darkness?
During these questions, my coworker Omar said something that really spoke to my heart. It was about bringing our sunshine with us into the darkness. While I can’t remember it verbatim, the premise of the conversation created a spinning spiral of thoughts.
I thought about that light that God puts within us, and that Omar reminds the students he works with that they have that light. We all need to be reminded that we have that light. The Spirit Christ put within us. When we rely on the heavenly Father, the light He creates in us grows and others can see it. That special Sonshine can be brighter than the noonday sun when we listen to Him and treat others with love.
Another thing that spoke to my soul was when Omar said to beware of the feelings and emotions of others. Without good boundaries and respect, others can rob you of that light within. You don’t want it to get so dark that it overcomes your Sonshine.
How often do we let others break through our boundaries, rob us of our dignity, and break our souls to steal the Sonshine within us? Why do we give people the power to overcome our Sonshine? How do we prevent it? The enemy tries to extinguish that light every chance he gets.
That’s easier said than done. I know too often in my life I didn’t know how to set boundaries, I didn’t want to upset anyone so I allowed myself to be a doormat. I gave other people the power that should have been mine. Our human nature often gets in the way. We forget that light lives within us. That we were all created in His image.
For me it took a huge shift in knowledge, it took someone being kind, someone willing to pour into me and show me my worth. It took years of two steps forward and three steps back and people who didn’t give up on me. It was people showing me the love of Christ rather than telling me about the love of Christ. That is how I learned “Greater is He who is in you than he that is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). He was with every person who poured goodness into me as they walked with me, and He was with me no matter how low I sank. I am thankful every day that God does what I may think is impossible.
Sometimes the simple act of a kind smile, especially to someone who feels unloved and unseen can start a chain reaction. Kindness can be contagious.
I never knew my birth father, but when I was very young my mom told me that when he smiled, he lit up a room. She told me I had his smile and that ability as well. After hearing that, I began to smile more. It made me feel connected to a father I never knew. After I began my walk with a Father who knew me, the smile and the joy grew. I made a conscious decision to find the positive in whatever situation I found myself in.
Believe me, if you know me or have read this blog for a while it’s apparent that there have been many times in my life when smiling seemed impossible. It is my hope that my life shows Joy really does come from the Lord. He has always given me that little ray of Sonshine, just when I needed it most.
So taking Omar’s advice, I am asking you to bring the Sonshine with you wherever you go because there will be times of deep darkness when you need to shine brightly and let others feel the warmth of the Sonshine on their faces.
It is Sonshine that lights up a room with your smile. Spread a little kindness and share it with others. Trust me it makes all the difference in the world.
It seems impossible to say. It seems impossible to be at this point. It seems impossible that 16 months have passed since Andrew died. The statement, “all things are possible with God,” comes to my mind. Had it not been for my faith these past 16 months I can’t imagine where or how I would be right now.
Grief is a tumultuous turn of emotions, you feel everything and nothing all at once. Pain so deep you don’t think you can stand, fear so sharp it cuts to the bone, your heart and body hurts, your mind spins in the web of memories and sometimes clarity is a fleeting thing you can’t quite grasp. Grief is different for everyone, a wound that never truly heals and always leaves a scar. The healing time is different for everyone as well. You cannot gauge your healing against someone else’s. There is no, “this is how it’s done, and now you are good.” It is not something you can do and check off your list.
I had to wade through all of my feelings, like sloshing through Mississippi mud, which during a pandemic hasn’t been easy. The isolation and the pain were not friends, but they were inseparable. There were days when I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were times I just needed someone to stay with me and hug me and tell me everything would be all right, but no one was there. There were times when friends would stop by or call and encourage me, but not as often as I needed. More often than not, I was alone with my feelings and had to learn how to keep my head up when waves of grief crashed over me.
The valley seemed the deepest six months after his passing. Life had gone back to normal for everyone else, the world was still spinning and time was moving forward. But it was moving forward without him, without us. I had to come to grips that I was no longer part of a we and I couldn’t remember how to be just me.
My church was the hardest place for me. Not because I blamed God, but because that was something we did together. It was our place, our relationship was better there, he was better there. After he was gone, I couldn’t bear, still can’t bear, to be there without him. I still deeply love my church family, but I have never felt so crushed by the weight of being alone as the times I went back through those doors. I still watch online and don’t have that feeling.
I know things have a season and during my prayers, I feel God pulling me to find a space that is mine, where I can explore who I am becoming. Where I can be a Me, and not be under the shadow of the We. My church family still loves me and has supported me through all of this and for that I am thankful. There may be a time to go back, but that time is not yet.
I have to say, the thing that saved me was that my tribe let me tell stories and relive memories that made me laugh and smile at the good life and love I felt when Andy was alive. They let me know it was ok to cry and take a moment when I needed it.
The goodness in my grief was the joy God gave me through the telling of those stories, those treasured memories that not only made me laugh but also made others laugh as well. The laughter healed my soul in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I could feel God’s hand leading me through the hardest moments and my deepest valleys. I leaned deeply on God’s wisdom on how to put one foot in front of the other. He made a way when I saw no way.
My other saving grace during this time is the beautiful relationship with my stepdaughter. She pulled me into a family I never thought I would get to experience. We shared a love for a man we both dearly miss. And her sarcasm and mannerisms remind me of him so very much it touches my heart. She has given me the biggest blessing during this season of grief, I had the honor of being called grandma for the first time and about to be a grandma for the second time. Getting to be a part of their lives is a gift I am so very fortunate to have, it takes my breath away.
Lately, I feel that it is time to say goodbye for now to my beloved, to give him the proper honors he deserves for his service. I know I will see him when my time is done, but for now, God still has work for me here. On May 27th I will have a military service to honor his memory and inter his ashes.
We were married on the Friday before Memorial Day during our lunch hour, so I felt it was appropriate to say goodbye for now in the same fashion. He would find it more than a fitting tribute.
I know he would never want me to stay in a state of sadness, he loved it when we laughed together and he loved making me laugh. I can hear him in my head laughing now, telling me it is time to move forward and have some fun. Those of you who knew him, know the truth in this.
Thank you to my tribe, for loving me and taking care of me. You all matter more than words can say.
In September of 2018 I became a rescue “mom” of a large white husky mix dog.
I work for Compassion Coalition, an organization in Knoxville that helps churches, organizations and businesses help people in need in the community of Knoxville, Tennessee. Compassion Coalition runs a call center where people in need, church benevolence staff or caseworkers can call in and find community resources for a variety of needs.
On this particular day in September I answered the phone and spoke with a local caseworker who assits the senior population. She had been called on to do a wellness check for an elderly gentleman who had been put in the hospital. Seems he didn’t have water at his home and had walked to the corner store to get a case of bottled water for he and his dog when he became dizzy and passed out on the walk home. A couple driving past saw this and stopped. In the hospital he became very concerned about his dog at home alone with no water.
The caseworker, with his permission, went to the home to find living conditions in such a state that no human or animal should have to live. By this point they knew the elderly gentleman would not be able to return to his home with his health condition. He prayed for a good home for his dog while he was getting better.
Now the caseworker was tasked to find assistance for a dog, Shiloh. After telling me the story of the elderly gentleman, I recommeded a vet that would come to the house and access the dog’s physical condition, which was in a terrible state. She was filthy and covered in excrement, so badly covered you could not tell that she was a white dog, she had sores all over and was so overweight she could barely walk.
The vet then called me and told me about the state of the home and the dog. The Spirit told me I needed to help this poor animal. So sight unseen, I decided to become a foster-mom. I didn’t even tell my husband. I met the vet and the caseworker at the gentleman’s house and the neighbors let us use their garden hose to give Shiloh a much needed bath. I called my husband and told him what I was doing and asked him to meet me there after he got off work. He just laughed at me and said ok.
After 3 hours of scrubbing the matted, smelly fur a different dog emerged. I was stunned, my husband was speechless. God works in mysterious ways. She bore a striking resemblance to the husky we had for 16 years.
The vet was amazed that she was still alive, considering the conditions of the home. It was so bad, the vet wore a mask and waders into the home to retrieve the dog’s crate. So from that point she was dubbed a Wonder-Dog.
Shiloh sat still through the 3 hour bath and seemed to enjoy the attention, but was so heavy she couldn’t climb into the backseat of my Kia Soul for me to take her to my farm. We had to lift her the 3 steps into my house when we got there.
We began the joyous journey of nursing Shiloh back to health. I say joyous because it is such a miracle to see the joy of life return to one of God’s creatures. Dog’s really do smile. To see actual wonder cross her face as she got healthy and explored the outdoors was such a gift to me. Again she earned her name as Shiloh the Wonder Dog. We walked 3 times a day, we enjoyed playing ball in the yard and chasing rabbits. Her wounds healed and she loved life on the farm. The vet was amazed at her progress. She went from 140 lbs to 85 lbs and had pep in her step again.
The elderly gentleman who owned Shiloh, loved her and she was his only companion for the 6 years after his wife passed away. He was heartbroken and fell into depression, suffered from PTSD and without family thought he had no resources to help him. His caseworker was able to get him the much needed treatment he needed and get him into an assisted living home where he now has a community who cares about him and he is doing so much better. He was unable to take Shiloh to the new place, so we became her forever home. We asked if he wanted to see her, but he didn’t want to confuse her. He was just happy that she was happy and taken care of.
Shiloh was a happy dog who never complained, but liked to talk, like most huskies do. We often had “conversations” about life on the sofa. After just over two years with us Shiloh crossed over the rainbow bridge yesterday. She will be missed, but I didn’t want her story to go untold. Had it not been for Compassion Coalition I would have missed this opportunity to make a difference in the life of this sweet doggie and the difference she made in my life is a blessing I will never forget.
Never pass up your opportunity to do good in this world. It will benefit you more than you can imagine.
Children are great observers of all that goes on in their world. They absorb things like a sponge. Adults often think that children won’t be affected by what the grownups do, but that is far from the case.
While kids see and soak up all that is going on around them, they are not mature enough to properly interpret what they see and feel. This can lead to wounds that run deep, especially when there is no one to help them correctly process what they see and feel.
After my adoption at 4, we lived in Illinois until I was 7. For those first few years after the adoption, things were okay. I enjoyed being a kid, for the most part. The age difference between my new siblings and myself made me feel like an only child. I think I was a likable kid, I was best friends with the little boy who lived behind us and with another little girl, who like me had been adopted. I had cousins who visited often, were close to my age and we had lots of fun together and loved them all.
Not long after my adoption my birth mom moved in across the street with my older sister. That sounds strange, right? It was both good and confusing.
I suppose I should interject here and say that after my adoption, I knew what had happened, my adoption wasn’t ever a secret from me. I wasn’t allowed to call her mommy anymore, but I knew she was my birth mother and she always tried to live close to us. Which again, was both good and confusing.
My new Sissy got married and moved to Alaska, my new Brother went into the Army and was stationed in Germany.
The vibe in my house became tense around the time the older kids were close to moving out. As a kid, you don’t know exactly what is going on between the grownups in your house, but you hear things and pick up on the unpleasant feelings. You know things aren’t what they should be and you piece things together, your picture may not be quite right, but it is your reality. I knew trouble brewed and just three years after my adoption, the marriage of my new mom and dad fell apart.
This prompted my new mom to move to Kentucky where both sides of my family were from. My Daddy built my Mommy a house, but he didn’t come to live with us in it. He brought me presents for holidays and birthdays, but was never there for the cake. I remember crying, wondering why he didn’t want to spend time with me.
When we lived in Illinois we would sit together in his recliner and watch Hee Haw together. I felt safe, I felt special, I felt like a Daddy’s girl. He was there and I loved him deeply.
Then he wasn’t there. My Daddy’s girl phase was shortlived. I was seven, and I thought it was my fault that yet another person I loved cast me aside. From the time I was seven until Daddy died when I was ten, I saw him a handful of times, and it broke my little heart. Once again I was fatherless.
On the day Daddy Homer died, I knew I would never be a Daddy’s girl, never have a father who would watch me grow up, cheer me on, be proud of me on graduation day, or walk me down the aisle, I vividly remember because I lost two fathers that day.
I was in 5th grade. My birth mother came to the school to get me, in the middle of the day, and that never happened. I always rode the bus home. I remember being nervous when I got in the car, I was excited and anxious, I knew something was up, but couldn’t figure out what it was.
She told me she had something to tell me. I don’t think it was easy for her, she seemed to rush through it as she said Daddy Homer had a massive heart attack and died. I just remember feeling numb and what sounded like bees buzzing in my ears as I tried to make sense of it.
After several minutes of quiet, I had to ask a question that I felt led to hope. What about my birth father? I had wondered about him often; if he knew about me; if he cared about me; where was he? We had had conversations about my birth father before, I would ask questions and she would answer. Did I looked like him (I have his mouth); what does he look like (he was 6’3″ and thin, stawberry blond, ruddy complexion, smile that would light up a room); things like that. I always enjoyed those talks, it connected me to family somehow. I wanted to know where he was in all this? If I would ever know him?
I think we all long to know about our lineage. We want to know where we come from, what’s our family history? We long to be connected to something larger than ourselves. I think that is why there are so many verses in the Bible about who begat whom. And why Ancestory.com has such a huge following.
But back to my story, after the questions about my birth father poured out, my world crashed again when I asked if I would ever meet my birth father and she told me no, she was sorry, but that he had died too. Not only had he died, he had died a violent death from a gunshot in a bar fight.
He was dead. No reunion, no stories about how he had loved me from afar, he would never know me, never be proud of me, never love me. And BOOM, just like that, a little girl’s childhood dreams of having a Daddy, being Daddy’s little girl vanished.
My hurt was quiet and deep. Honestly, it hurts me to this day. Father’s Day became a day I ignored.
I longed for a traditional family, one that made sense. I had a hard time explaining my family tree to my friends. Heck, I still have a hard time explaining my family tree.
I struggled with resentment, abandonment issues and people-pleasing. That feeling of restlessness and not fitting in plagued me. I couldn’t make sense of the pain inside me. It would be an ongoing struggle throughout my life.
In high school my best friend and her family loved on me and took me to church with them. They introduced me to a Daddy who will never leave me.
In John 14:18 Jesus says; “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He sees me, lost without a father.
2 Corinthians 6:18 And,“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” He knows I need Him, He knows I need the feeling of family.
I didn’t know at the time just how much I would need that unconditional love that God offers, but I am so glad I accepted it. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through life without being able to rely on God’s love for me. As I said in a previous blog, my story has many chapters and in all those chapters I needed something I could rely on.
Have a railed against God? Yes! Have I complained and cried and asked for things to be different? Yes! Have I blamed God? Yes! Have I been angry with God? Yes! I am human, I make mistakes, I screw things up, I get things wrong. We all do.
Being a child of God is NOT about BEING perfect, it is about acknowledging that YOU AREN”T PERFECT and turning your life over to the One who is, who can help you carry your burdens and insecurities, listen to your troubles and guide you through the deepest, scariest wilderness into the light.
My life has been a wilderness in a lot of ways. I have gone waaaay off the rails, but He has always guided me back. I will never be perfect this side of heaven and God knows that. He knows and He loves me anyway. God is love. And love is what He wants from you.
“Moral outrage is the opposite of God; it only divides and separates what God wants for us, which is to be united in kinship. Moral outrage doesn’t lead us to solutions – it keeps us from them. It keeps us from moving forward toward a fuller, more compassionate response to members of our community who belong to us, no matter what they’ve done.”
You see, if I am outraged that I missed out on being a Daddy’s girl, if I hold on to that hurt and anger, if I hold on to that outrage over anything someone else does, it separates me from God, not by His doing, by my own. It becomes me pulling away from God and not moving forward. God wants us to be near Him, He wants us to find solutions through Him and love others no matter what they’ve done.
Sometimes we become so caught up in religion and the “right way” to do things we forget, it is not about the building or the pastor or even the service, it is about the LOVE. How we walk with and care for each other. God is Love. God loves everyone. He calls us to love everyone. So I will leave you with this verse.
John 13:34 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Have you ever felt completely out of your wheelhouse? Or thought that you knew something and then it turns out, you actually knew nothing? That is exactly how I felt at my first Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. It was a journey into the unknown, stretching me to new limits.
In 2015 I remember leaving Memphis, where the conference was held, feeling like I had been hit by a truck. So many things bumped up against what I had been taught, against the status quo. It was earth-shattering, mind-blowing and more than I could digest in 3 days.
Yet, I was so moved by Dr. John Perkins and Coach Wayne Gordon’s Bible study every morning, my heart was opening to the possibilities. I was also overwhelmed. What could one person do to turn the tides against hatred, racism, injustice and a host of other wrongs in the world?
This CCDA thing was so much bigger than I realized, so much more personal than I realized. My empathy grew. My heart ached for people to the point of tears. My soul cried out to God, “why does it have to be this way?” God still hasn’t answered that one, just in case you were wondering. But I keep asking.
I had to accept that as Christians we had gotten much of God’s mission for us wrong. This kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven part of the plan, we had messed it up. I saw too much hate, intolerance, persecution, pain, and injustice in the church as man has made it across the ages, the ON EARTH part of the equation was non-existent. That was a hard pill to swallow. It hurt to know that as a Christian those who look to me, see hate, intolerance, persecution, and pain, they do not see Jesus. They see the hurt that was put on them by me and others like me. I am not very Christ-like, I will never be, but I am trying. I am convicted.
I mean, who hasn’t been hurt by church? More and more people are stating that they are just DONE with religion and organized church. Why? Hurt in one form or another. But does it have to be this way? No. We can help create that Heaven on Earth, be good and loving to one another.
How? I realized this journey is one of love. Love is the key to it ALL, and that love lives within me. I can change the world, one smile at a time. The challenge is to LOVE EVERYONE, even if they don’t love me, even if they don’t look like me, act like me, worship like me, believe like me, even if I don’t agree, even if I am on opposite side of the debate or the aisle, LOVE MATTERS. Love is never insignificant.
Does that mean we will all gather together and sing Kumbaya, My Lord? Not even close. Too many times we think of love as a soft, warm fuzzy. Anyone who has truly loved knows it’s hard. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt. And you will fail occasionally. Sometimes you have to do it from a distance. The key is to keep trying. To listen, to respect, to try to see the other side and love even when it doesn’t make sense.
Friends, a word of warning, it is impossible to show love when all you can see and feel is judgment. I grew up under constant judgment, spoken and unspoken, and it has a way of wearing you down until you feel completely insignificant. It is hard to love or be loved from that place.
A place of insignificance is where my journey began. I understood it, and I felt comfortable in my insignificance. I felt I could do nothing to change the course of things, so why try, who would listen to me? Insignificance kept me captive. Love set me free.
Do I have the answer to life’s burning questions? That would be a big, fat NO.
I have long believed judgment should never be mine, that is the Lord’s job, and one WAY too big for me. Rather than judge, I choose to love and to smile.
Can you make someone else’s day brighter with a smile? I challenge you to step out into the unknown and share a smile or a laugh with someone new. I know for your introverts, that will be hard.
You will be amazed at how it will improve your life, reduce your stress levels and begin to build bridges to others who are not like you. Your world will expand and their world will be brightened. You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that can not be hidden.
You may not be able to right the wrongs of someone’s past with a smile, but at least they will see something in you that brings them in, makes them feel a bit better and maybe, just maybe, they will see a glimpse of Jesus in you.
If you are interested in learning more about Christian Community Development, I encourage you to follow @iamccda on twitter or https://www.facebook.com/iamccda/ on Facebook. CCDA principles can be found in the book Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development
by Wayne Gordon et al. Link:http://a.co/0O7tjak