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By Faith

What Being a Military Spouse Teaches Me About Living What I Believe

If you’re serving in the armed forces or married into the military, there’s a high probability your social media feed is flooded with memes about life as a military spouse.  And given that this time of year is the beginning of “PCS* season,” there’s at least one or two articles about the unique challenges faced by military spouses. (Like this one.)

Here are a couple favorites:

(*Please note, PCS means permanent change of station… which is a bit misleading. It means you’re permanently leaving the place you currently call home, but the next location is only “permanent” for a year or two, maybe three if you’re lucky.)

Each year, the Friday before Mother’s Day is nationally recognized as Military Spouse Appreciation Day. It’s a time set aside to say thank you to all those who serve and sacrifice alongside their military spouse.

Personally, I think the timing is suspicious. It’s awfully close to Mother’s Day. It’s on a Friday, not on a Monday, which means the military members have all week to “remember.” And the closet conspiracy theorist in me wonders if a bunch of folks at the Pentagon realized they needed to appreciate spouses right before they asked us to pack up our lives and transplant ourselves to Timbuktu. “Let’s be sure everyone feels loved and appreciated before we hijack normal.”

If you haven’t realized by now, humor is vital to surviving life as a military spouse. So is faith.

More and more I’m realizing that the privilege of this military life is that it asks me to physically live what I believe, rather than just believing what I live. When I take the time to evaluate what I believe in any given situation, those beliefs to become prescriptive for how I live. Choosing to live what I believe guides me in the moment and directs me for the uncertain path ahead. And let’s be honest, there’s a LOT of uncertainty in life as a military spouse.  By pausing to ask myself, “what do I believe as a military spouse? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” I have found a compass for a life best defined by a GPS repeating “recalculating route.”

 

Here’s what I believe:

  • As a military spouse, when we said, “I do,” it was our equivalent of raising our right hand and agreeing to serve alongside the one wearing the uniform.
  • They pledged to “protect and defend” but we pledged our love and surrendered our lives to follow. Where you go, I will go. What matters to you, matters to me. What guides your life, guides my life.
  • Just as they offer a salute as a sign of respect, we salute with our lives. We believe in something greater than ourselves.

And while I know many military spouses who differ on their perspective of God and religion, it’s hard to dismiss the fact that military spouses live BY FAITH.

Consider these examples:

By faith we go… we leave what we know as home and go where we are told, when we are told to leave.

By faith we make a home and live as foreigners in strange lands.

By faith we exceed expectations because we choose to believe and hope for the impossible, improbable, and unlikely.

By faith we believe what we cannot see and may never truly know.

By faith we look to the horizons expectantly, full of hope for tomorrow, even as we strive to bloom where we are planted.

By faith we sacrifice.

By faith we bless the next generation (by the way we live today.)

Those seven statements characterize the life of every military spouse I know (including my mother, grandmother, and their friends.)   But I didn’t write them. They are recorded in the Bible in a passage sometimes referred to as the Hall of Faith.

Perfectly appropriate, in my opinion, because as demonstrated by how we live, military spouses are heroes of faith. And I think it’s important to spend at least one day reminding ourselves, and each other, of the tremendous faith we possess.

Friends, let’s make Military Spouse Appreciation Day more than a meme and a banner on social media. Take a moment to look around at the Military Spouse Hall of Faith. It’s a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on to run this race with perseverance.

I know for me, that’s a cheering section I couldn’t live without. To my mom, my grandmother, and all my military spouse friends: Thank you for living what you believe. Thank you for choosing to live by faith every day, sometimes hourly, to support a husband or wife who wears the uniform.

What Do You Believe? {a few verses to help consider a deeper faith} Romans 4:20; Hebrews 11; Hebrews 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 30:19; Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 29:12-14

 

Roots

April is Month of the Military Child, and all month long I’ve read articles and watched outstanding public service announcements celebrating the resilience of military kids. More often than not, I get a little emotional because this is the story of my girls. My oldest is 6 and is about to make her fifth move. My youngest is 3 and has already lived in 3 different states. Although many of my civilian friends shake their head in disbelief at those statistics, I see them as a badge of honor for my girls. I know from my own story that as difficult as this life can be, it is richly rewarding.

Long before I was a military spouse, I was a military kid. My birth certificate records my birth overseas in an Army hospital. By Kindergarten, I’d lived in two foreign countries, two states, and the District of Columbia. I attended three different second grades (VA, AZ, and UT), two high schools (overseas and in the States,) and my move to Charlottesville for college was my 11th move in 18 years.

From an early age, I have vivid memories of helping my mom pack my Dad’s suitcase, taking it to him at work, and waving goodbye for weeks or months at a time. Long before the internet and cell phones, in the era of written letters, my Mom often didn’t even have an address for care packages. She had a number to his office. If she needed him, she could call there and they’d find him for us.

My stories aren’t exceptional, they’re representative of the life of America’s military kids – for at least three generations. I know because my girls are the third generation of Air Force kids. My mom was born while her Dad was flying in Korean War, then spent her childhood moving across the country and around the world, including three different high schools. She met my Dad while she was in college and agreed to follow him across the country and around the world, too. Long before she was 50, she’d moved 26 times.

Because I have the benefit of looking at three generations of service, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that while military kids experience unique challenges, we receive rich rewards. Frequent moves expose military kids to more of the world, expanding our horizons and opening our eyes to the sea of opportunities when we become adults. At an early age military kids learn the value of service and the meaning of sacrifice, preparing us to not only survive, but thrive in the face of great difficulty or deep grief. And nothing will teach the you value of friendship than saying goodbye to your best friends over and over again.

For me, being a military kid taught me to live what I believe long before I had the words to explain the concept. Years later, as I’ve wrestled to find my own stride as military spouse mothering my own military kids, I’m beginning to understand the power of living what I believe rather than believing what I live.

If I’m believing what I live, frequent moves and constant transition means I’m homeless and without roots. But from an early age, I learned that “home is where our people are” and that my roots weren’t in any one location.

Being “home” has less to do with the structure and the stuff inside the house and everything to do with the people. Living what I believe means I can be “at home” in the bayous of Louisiana, the Badlands of South Dakota, or the cornfields of Missouri.

Much as I still say, “Virginia,” whenever anyone asks where I’m from, my roots aren’t in Charlottesville or the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Living what I believe means my roots are in an identity that transcends time and space. When you get right down to it, I’m a military kid who grew up and became a military spouse. But before even that, I’m a child of God – blessed, chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed, forgiven, and loved – and my identity is rooted first in foremost in the faith that grows from those roots.

More and more I’m realizing that the privilege of this military life is that it asks me to physically live what I believe. I know from my limited gardening experience that if a plant has good roots, it will be better equipped to be transplanted. Moreover, good roots produce good growth and yields more fruit. I believe that is true in life, too.

Living what I believe teaches me to tend to my roots.

And I know that if my girls have good roots, they can be transplanted wherever the Air Force sends us, and they will thrive.

How are your roots? Matthew 13: 3-9, 18-23; Psalm 1; Eph 1: 3-14; Eph 3:17; Col 2: 6-7

On Comparison

I have a shoe problem, not unlike Cinderella’s stepsisters. To refresh your memory, Anastasia and Drizella could not fit their feet into Cinderella’s glass slipper.

They wanted the glass slipper to fit, desperately. But their feet didn’t fit because it wasn’t their glass slipper. They wanted the happy ending. But it wasn’t their happy ending.

I can relate. I’ve spent a lot of time measuring my success by comparing it to someone else’s:

She lives at the beach. (I’m freezing my tail off in the winter that never ends.)

She lost 25 pounds. (I’ve only lost 3.)

She wrote a book and got published. (I haven’t heard back from the publisher.)

I know comparison is the thief of joy, so I’m careful to not compare exactly, and probably in person I might not tell you any of that, or if I did, I’d caveat the heck out of it to be sure you knew I know it’s not a fair comparison.

But in my mind, “she” has become a yardstick by which I measure my own progress. I become a stepsister trying to cram my foot in Cinderella’s glass slipper.

And that shoe won’t ever fit.

It’s a habit that started early, at least in middle school, a pattern I can see continuing as I grew older. Twenty-plus years later, by the time I started to realize how badly I handicapped myself by always trying to cram my foot in someone else’s shoe, it wasn’t an easy habit to break. (And I’m still a work in progress.)

In 8th grade, a new girl moved to my school, and she was instantly cool. I’d lived there for two years and had three best friends, then two of them moved away, but two of us were left, me and my BFF. If you ask me to name my childhood BFF, you need to know this gal is the first name I remember. But when the new girl arrived, she was really cool, and my BFF was suddenly her BFF and I was eating lunch alone in the courtyard, having to make brand new friends. Literally.

What I internalized from that quintessential middle school moment was the idea that “She” was the cool, popular kid and I was not. “She” became the standard, and from then on, every time I moved I assessed the crowds, determined the popular kids, then assumed my place was in the lower hierarchy.

I think we all have our own stories and it’s different for everyone, but somewhere along the way whether it’s in middle school or college or after we got married and had kids (or didn’t get married, or didn’t have kids), we adopt a mythic standard and apply the distorted picture to our own lives.

When we feel like we don’t fit in, it’s uncomfortable. I think we either live like we’re determined to force a square peg in a round hole or we’re brave enough to sit in the discomfort.

I’m not, naturally, brave.

I’m inquisitive, I’m Type A, a first born, a pleaser, and a problem solver. Whenever I’m uncomfortable, I tend to assume that’s my problem to fix (for you.) Using my natural problem-solving skills I’m quick to look for “who’s got it right” and try to do/be what “she” does. (Or, “who’s got it all wrong” and not do what “she” does.)

I’ll spare you all the stories from college to working in the White House to getting married to being a military spouse to becoming a mother to working from home, but let me assure you that in EVERY one of those situations, pursuing how “She” does it has only ever left me exhausted, discouraged, or defeated.  Because pursuing a life defined by someone else’s picture is chasing an illusion.

More often than not, I’m chasing an illusion when it feels like I’m wandering around in a desert, desperately thirsty, staring at the mirage of an oasis with water and palm trees. But in reality I’m wandering around that desert trying to get to that oasis, AND I’ve got all the water I need, and more, in the water bottle right in my hand and a backpack of supplies on my back.

No matter where I am, I am perfectly created and divinely equipped to be successful in my exact circumstances. I am prepared to assume every role and responsibility that I am given, especially those that are given to no one else. No one else is Mark’s wife. No one else is called to be Mama to my girls. The work to which I am called can only be done as I would do it, by me.

Asking how “she” does it is only helpful in so far as I allow her approach to help me determine my own. When faced with challenges, I’m quick to help my friends identify their unique strengths that will enable them to succeed. Instead of wishing for their strengths in my challenges, I need to remember, appreciate, and use my strengths to overcome my challenges.

My greatest success is always going to be what I accomplish when I’m comfortable in my own skin. I am a better me – a better wife, a better mom, a better friend, daughter, writer – when I’m brave enough to be me.

This has been my hardest lesson in motherhood: relaxing into being me and being me as a mama. Six years later, I no longer care what you think about how I parent. (Most of the time.) And I no longer feel ashamed to tell you that being a good mother doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, I’d argue with anyone who thinks mothering well comes natural to anyone. I promise, “she” doesn’t have it all together. (“She” is hiding from her kids in the closet, too.) Mothering is as unique as the people who do it, done best when I show up as me and love the little people who made me a mother.

And the greatest evidence that these truths are rewiring my brain is that I see how relevant it is to live like this in every area of my life.

I want to walk just as confidently in my marriage. I want to pursue my dreams of writing without the weight of publishing as the only benchmark for success. And I want my life to remind my friends that they can live like this too.

So now, whenever I find myself in a situation when I sense my confidence faltering, or I hesitate to trust myself, I’m evaluating why. What do I believe here? Am I living that? Or am I believing what I live?

Friends, living what I believe is equal parts faith in the God who created me, and faith in the me He created. Living what I believe requires consciously reminding myself that God is good and He called everything that he made good.  When He made me, He smiled. Just like I smile when I watch my girls blossom, God smiles when He sees me being me.

All In

I think we’ve all had that moment: we look at the life before us and think, “This isn’t what I signed up for… this isn’t what I wanted… or this isn’t how I expected it to be….”

Those moments give me pause.  Then my raw, unfiltered emotions find outlet in questions like, “what did I do wrong?” or “what if I made a mistake?”  And if I’m honest, those questions pave a slippery slope to self-condemnation, doubt, or discouragement.

More and more, I’m learning to respond with a new set of questions: “what do I believe? right here, in this mess, in this detour, in this heartbreak, in this tragedy… what do I believe right here?  am I living what I believe? or am I believing what I live?” 

I believe asking better questions elicits better answers.  And when it comes to heartbreak… to the unexpected detours… to the unwanted curveballs… how we respond determines how we live. Because we have a choice: We go all in, or we hedge our bets.

I hedge my bets when I avoid situations where I don’t know the outcome, or the most likely outcome is disappointment. I’d rather not try and then just be disappointed. Yes, I might miss out on something amazing, but since I don’t know what that amazing is now, am I really missing it? And wouldn’t it be worse to be disappointed again?

I hedge my bets when I’m half-heartedly trying again. Okay, I’m here, I’m giving it a go, but no, I’m not really investing my heart in this. No, I’m not going to tell anyone I’m doing this. No, I don’t want to get my expectations up.

I hedge my bets whenever I try to control the situation, the relationship, or the circumstances to avoid heartbreak. I’m pretending to be the master of the universe.    Because I’m not interested in a universe that dishes out more awful heartbreak.  That’s why I love fairy tales (and Disney movies).  Nearly every single one ends with three beautiful words: happily. ever. after. I want the happily ever after, but I’d rather settle for happy today than risk getting my heart broken tomorrow.

What if, in those moments where I saw the possibility of heartbreak, I determined to see the probability of joy?

What if, instead of resigning myself to what is, I sought to explore what could be?

What if, in those moments of doubt, I stepped out in faith?

What if, instead of hedging my bets, I decided to go “all in?”

Here’s what I know: when I choose to go “all in,” I begin to taste the fullness of what could be, and I can’t ever settle for less.

That’s a truth I understand. I’ve lived it. I know awful heartbreak. I was planning a wedding and all the days after “I do,” and then… I wasn’t. I became well acquainted with awful heartbreak, and then did my fair share of pondering whether anything was worth that kind of pain.

Ultimately, the answer was, and is, yes. I had tasted real love, and I knew that I would rather have the pain I found than to never have had the love I lost.

So it was surprising and not surprising when a blind date turned into a relationship, and that relationship quickly became “I love you,” and then “I do.” It was surprising because my now husband was the first real date after that awful heartbreak.  But it wasn’t surprising because I knew the risk was worth the reward, and once you’ve lived through awful heartbreak, you know you can live through awful heartbreak.  The question is whether you’re interested in the fullness of what could be.

Ten years later, this is still a truth I need to remind myself whenever I find myself hedging my bets.

Because if I accept good enough long enough, I begin believing what I live, rather than what I believe.  But I’ve come to realize that believing what I live erodes my faith, breeds discontent, feeds my inner critic, and limits my horizons.

When I choose to live what I believe, what I believe speaks truth over my circumstances, strengthening my faith.  Living what I believe gives me vision for what can be, unhindered by what is. Living what I believe inspires me to go “all in” and chase my dreams with confidence.

Friends, last summer I took a huge step of faith.  I chose to go “all in” pursuing my own writing projects… launching my own website, freelancing, and pitching a book proposal to a well-known publisher.  Six months later it would be so. much. easier. to hedge my bets and take my foot off the gas.  But for me, there’s joy in the writing, no matter who reads it, and I’ve mustered enough faith to go this far, why not keep going and explore what could be?

And I wonder, what about you?  Where are you hedging your bets? Have you resigned yourself to what is, or are you willing to explore what could be?  Where might you step out in faith and go “all in?”

Live Love

I love Valentine’s Day.  One entire day dedicated to love.  A day full of beautiful words. I’ve met more than one person who disdains Valentine’s Day, and every single scoffer has their own shtick as to why. That’s their prerogative.   I’m not writing to argue with them (or you.)

My hope today is simply to remind you that on this pink and red holiday, look for the words.

Look for the words that roll back gray clouds.  Watch little eyes light up as you read messages that celebrate what makes her unique, special, perfect.  Laugh as tiny conversation hearts elicit preschool stories about the perils of kissing.  Marvel how messages of love and affirmation edge out exhaustion.

The words we offer today have power to transform our lives. And it’s a transformation we need more than just one day a year.

I think most of us intellectually comprehend the importance of love, we recognize its value and we laud its benefits. We believe in love. We believe love is patient, love is kind, love is not proud or self-seeking. Love is not easily angered, love rejoices in truth, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Yes, we believe all that. But do we live it?

I’d like to gently suggest that we don’t. We dress up love for special occasions, but when it comes to the every-day life we’re living, we accept an incomplete picture of love. Over time, we begin to believe the love we’re living, rather than the love we say we believe.

Not too many years ago I discovered I was believing what I lived, rather than what I said I believed. I reached a turning point and found myself taking an honest look at the gap between what I claimed to believe and what I lived.

One of my first perspective shifts came as I read this post, the first I’d ever read by one of my now favorite writers. Tears streamed down my face and I released a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding – and I’d been holding it for years. Her words resonated deeply because until that moment, I thought it was just me, and now I had words to express one of my deepest battles: the bully in my head. But the greatest gift were the words she chose to use to fight back.

Only Love Today.

Three words to silence the bully, shift perspective, and live differently.

Love needed to be realigned in my life. I believed in love but I didn’t live love. I lived a pale version of love. Here’s how I know: I didn’t extend love to myself, I didn’t embrace love for myself. I held myself to an impossible standard that I would never apply to anyone else. I criticized myself in a way I would never criticize a friend.

I didn’t believe, for me, what I believed for everyone else.

After introducing ‘only love today’ into my vocabulary, I began to identify the situations where my bully was trumping what I claimed to believe. It was my first step on my journey to Live What I Believe, and it began with Love.

Love is central to everything I believe and desire to live. The basic truths that guide my faith are these:

I am loved by God, the Creator, an Everlasting Love.

I am created to love God.

I am created to love people.

All is mine through grace – not by works – a gift given to me forever and always, exactly when I least deserve it, in spite of the fact I can never earn it.

There’s no room for a bully in this simplicity.

Love silences the bully. Love quiets the “I should…”  Love says, “I can….”  Love believes.  Love is either true for you and me, or for neither of us.

Friends, my journey to what I believe began when I had the sad realization that when I don’t consciously choose to live what I believe, I subconsciously begin believing what I live. In every situation, every relationship, every challenge, I pause to ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  By taking the time to define what I believe, what I believe becomes prescriptive for how I live.

It’s a daily choice, sometimes hourly, to live what I believe.

Along this journey, I’ve plastered post-it notes and redecorated my walls with words that remind me what I believe.   It’s easier when I’m surrounded by words that inspire me. To that end, this new book is my latest treasure.  It’s arranged in such a way that you can pick it up and read one passage daily but the non-date format organizes the book by seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter – which means this book extends grace before I ever begin. It’s a book to pick up whenever, wherever. So far it’s been my companion for my morning coffee, the carpool line, and while cooking dinner. And the more I read, the more I want. It’s a firehose of gentle reminders to breathe more, stress less, and choose love.

Consider extending Valentine’s Day in 2017. Look for the words that inspire. Chase smiles and collect hugs. Discover dreams. Find the Love that transforms. Live what you believe.

{You can pre-order Only Love Today here.  Order it today, claim some amazing free gifts, start reading online, and receive your copy in your mailbox March 7.}

Where I Want To Be

I want to be at the beach. Winter and I have a love hate relationship. I love to hate winter. I appreciate winter, but at the end of this gypsy Air Force life we’re living, rest assured that you will find me where winters are moderate, snow is rare, and flip flops can be comfortably worn from Valentine’s Day until Thanksgiving.

I shared these sentiments with a friend on the phone yesterday and she laughed out loud. Politely I reminded her that where she lives, “cold” is in the 40s, and my high temperature is in the teens lately. Where I want to live is no laughing matter – it’s a calculated conclusion based on simple logic: I don’t like cold weather, so I want to be where it’s warm.

It’s a natural habit, I think, to think about where we want to be – literally or figuratively. Those of us living a gypsy life daydream about we’d go if the military let us decide our next assignment. Every New Year many Americans set goals or determine to live in a new way, in hopes of being in a different place by the end of the year. We want to be lighter, well rested, more efficient, faster runners, better eaters, accomplished.

The problem isn’t where I want to be. It’s what I do where I am.

Cataloging what I don’t like about where I am doesn’t change my circumstances, it simply makes me more aware of them. Whether I’m dwelling on it in my thought life, or complaining to anyone who will listen, the result is the same: The more I rehearse the negative, the more life I give it, and the more power I afford it in my life.

Over the last couple years, whenever I find myself focusing on where I want to be, I’ve paused to ask myself some questions. Why do I want to be there? How do I get there? Is that something I can do? Can I be THERE, right where I am?

Practically, here’s an what that looks like when I want to be somewhere else: I want to be at the beach. I want to be there because it’s warm and because I relax at the beach. Because life is simpler at the beach. How do I get there? Pay an astronomical sum for an airline ticket. No, that’s not something I can do right now. How can I be at the beach right here, where I am? I want to be where I relax, where life is simpler. What can I do in my life here to relax? Carve out some time for me. Find the margin in my day to rest, to do things that renew me: read a book, take a nap, go for a run, take a long shower, wash my hair and style it. What can I do to make my life simpler? What is on my to-do list that is a MUST do? What have I allowed to be on my list that is not required?

Friends, I love my lists, and I’ve been known to add to my list tasks I have already accomplished just so I can check them off. Further, I’ve always prided myself on being someone who is dependable, helpful, and available. So please hear me when I say shrinking my list is not an easy feat.

Here are a few guidelines that have helped me take a red pen to my to-do list and simplify my life:

Does this fall into one of my top three priorities – wife, mother, writer? Take some time to think about the roles you play and how you prioritize. These are the three roles to which I am called, and there is no one else called to do this work. No one else is called to be Mark’s wife. I said, “I do.” No one else is called to be my girls’ mother. Just me. I believe I am a writer. I believe with every fiber of my being that when I write, God smiles, even when no one else reads it. To be faithful to this work, I tell my stories because no one else can tell them. And by writing, I become a better version of who I was created to be. Who are you called to be? What are your non-negotiable roles?

Is this a must-do or a nice-to-do? Is it urgent or can it wait for a better time? Even if it’s on my list because it stems from one of my top priorities, there’s margin to find. Underwear must be washed if they have none clean. The dishwasher always needs to be unloaded, but more often than not, I can simplify my life by ensuring that the tyranny of the mundane hasn’t edged out what has lasting value: quality time reading books, playing marbleworks or listening to someone talk about their day. That dinner for his job is nice-to-do, but making time to invest in our marriage with a date night is a must-do.

Is this on my list because I want to do it or because I think it’s expected of me? Folks there’s a place for expectations when they hold us accountable to what we believe, but living a life defined by what we think is expected of us is an exhausting hamster wheel. Get off.

Last month when one of my girlfriends declared #justsaynojanuary, I cheered loudly and jumped on board. For 31 days in January, every request, invitation, event, outing passed through a simple filter: does that fall into one of my top priorities? Do I want to do that? If the answers were yes, it made it to the list or calendar. Otherwise, #justsaynojanuary. (I’m currently advocating we extend this for all of 2017.) Friends, if you say “yes” because you “should” or because it’s “expected,” extend yourself some grace. Accept a season of #justsaynojanuary and find out what you want to do, who you want to be, and what you want your life to look like right where you are. (Hate disappointing people? Check out this article.)

One of my favorite quotes is by a wise man named Jim Elliot who wrote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” It’s hard to be ALL there when we want to be somewhere else.

When I’m focused on where I want to be rather than where I am, I’m on a slippery slope to believing that what I live is all there is. I don’t believe that. I believe there’s more.

I believe there’s goodness in every day and every season. I believe when I find the goodness and celebrate it, the goodness edges out the gray skies.

I believe the abundant life I am promised is not someday, I believe it’s today. I believe when I strive to live abundantly today, the harvest is multiplied tomorrow.

I believe we are given wisdom and grace to find what we’re looking for over there, right where we are. I believe when I seek to be all here, I find what I’m looking for over there.

On Grief

There’s never a good time to talk about grief. Why talk about sad when I’m happy? And when I’m sad, or the skies are grey, I’m often looking for happy, so wrestling the topic of grief isn’t usually high on my list. Consequently, I’ve rarely – if ever – written specifically about grief.

But grief rarely arrives when I expect and frequently appears when I’m unprepared, which is one reason I’m so grateful for a new book by a friend of a friend.  Reading Esther’s story has helped me give words to my own experience and her book is already a well loved resource on my shelf.

Within the first weeks of this year I’ve found myself talking about grief a half dozen times: a miscarriage, grandmother, a father, cancer returning, an avalanche, and a colleague.  In every one of these losses there’s a ripple effect of grief – expanding circles of lives touched by the life they mourn.

The Bible says there’s a season for everything. A time to dance and a time to mourn. Today is not my season for mourning, but these conversations have been my window into lives who know grief today. I’m reminded that in my own grief, I was helped by those who walked alongside me. A friend of a friend who had also lost her fiancé in a tragic accident sent me a card that I treasured. Her words spoke truth to me and gave me hope. She was someone on a similar journey, just a little farther on down the road. I remember seeing that note as proof that there was life on the other side of grief. The road would be difficult, but there was light up ahead.

Someday you may find yourself in a season of mourning, or walking alongside someone wrestling grief. This post is for that season. Read it now and save it for later. Share it with someone grieving. I pray these unfinished thoughts offer proof that there’s life on the other side of grief. There’s joy on the other side of grief. Keep walking, there’s light up ahead.

Be honest with yourself, with those around you, and with God.

My own experience has taught me there’s no guide for grief, it’s messy, and it’s as unique as the person wrestling it. Extend grace to yourself and to each person who grieves. We must allow ourselves to mourn. Mourning brings a deluge of emotions, but healthy grief is honest grief.

A friend wrote me, “She’s led a full life. I know she passed peacefully, that she’s in a better place, but I’m so sad.” Another shared, “I know he’s no longer in pain, but I’m so aware of this hole in my life and I want him back.”

Great grief is evidence of great love. I’ve come to think of it as two sides to the same coin. We celebrate great love – it’s shiny and valuable. Great grief is the other side of the same coin – less shiny, but just as valuable. Even as I mourn a physical loss, the great love isn’t gone. I am who I am today because of the people I’ve loved. Their love has made me, me. Their absence doesn’t remove their love. Mourning their loss – lamenting their absence in my life – deepens my gratitude.

“God wants your sad so He can transform it with His hope.

He wants to bless you in your most broken places.”

Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

It’s ok to be sad…or angry or hurt, or any number of emotions. It’s ok to be honest about those emotions.

What you do with your emotions will shape your path through grief (and through life). May I gently suggest taking it all to God? Some call it prayer. I tend to consider it throwing a really, good temper tantrum with God. He already knows how I feel, but He wants me to share it. He’s not put off by my emotions, He bends down to listen, sits down with me in my funk, and His quiet calms my inner storm.

Not long after losing my fiancé, I had one of those moments on the way to work. I was stuck in traffic on the GW Parkway waiting to drive over the bridge into DC. I remember sitting there, thinking, praying and I honestly just told God I’d rather have Richard back than have Jesus. It was a raw, unfiltered, honest statement of where I was in my grief and how my grief shaped my faith in that moment.

(If you’ve never been that candid with God, hear me, that’s His desire. God can handle all of you, all your emotions, and all your honesty. He’s ok with the tough questions, too. “Why did this happen? Why did you let this happen to me?”)

After that moment I began to glimpse a different Jesus that the Jesus I learned about in church. I knew Jesus intellectually, but the moment I could honestly trade that churchy Jesus for Richard was the moment I began to know the Jesus I’d only heard about.

I’d read the stories where Jesus asks His disciples, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-20) And later, when wasn’t as pleasant to be a disciple, Jesus offers them a chance to leave, and Peter replies, “To whom should we go? You have the words of life and truth.”

Those two interactions represent the heart of what I believe. Jesus invites me to decide who He is. Not just what others say. Not what I’ve heard or read. He offers me a choice to stay or go, and when I stay, I discover life and truth and realize there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be.

In my grief, I found the vulnerability to seek and discover the life and truth I was created to know but only read about. Jesus sat with me even when I didn’t pick Him. Even in that valley of the shadow of death, Jesus picked me, walked alongside me, surrounded me with His people to whisper truth and life to my aching heart.

Friends, we don’t talk about grief but it’s all around us and it’s time we equip ourselves (and each other) to keep walking in faith even when we find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death.

If it’s your valley, surround yourself with those who speak life and truth. Look a little farther up the road for those who prove there’s life on the other side of grief, that there’s joy on the other side of grief. Keep walking, there’s light up ahead.

Earlier this week, a dear friend and I were talking about what to do to love some friends who are grieving right now. “I’ve been at a loss with what to do,” she said.

Do exactly what you did with me,” I said. “Sit on a bench in the middle of Fairfax Corner and talk about nothing, anything, and everything. Call and text even when they don’t answer. Just be there.”

Friends, if it’s not your season of grief, just be there. Speak life. Whisper truth. Extend grace upon grace and marvel at the faithfulness of a God who allows us to see Him sit with the broken. Let their testimony strengthen your faith.

{Read more about No More Faking Fine and order your own copy here.}

Faking Fine

My girls are back in school today. Hallelujah, my house is quiet. I can think. There will not be a preschooler meltdown for several hours. I lost track of the meltdowns over the holiday break. EPIC. Every tantrum began with a quivering lower lip and the sad eyes looking up that warned of imminent waterworks. But I’ve seen that look so often lately that I’m immune to the cuteness, and so is her Dad, mostly. (Big sister is over it entirely.)

On Saturday, the waterworks began faster than expected… because we made her leave the bookstore.

As I carried her out of the store, this temper tantrum made me smile. Because if you’re going to cry about something, I’m ok with tears about books and staying in the beautiful bookstore. By definition, I’m a bookworm. I love to read. Most of my childhood memories include a book. I love taking my girls to the library. I love to walk the aisle of bookstores (without kids). Since our town has a small local bookstore with a children’s area that reminds me of the Shop Around the Corner, we occasionally wander in and explore.

One reason we’d ventured into the store was to see if they plan to carry a book that will be released next week. Late last fall I received an Advanced Reader Copy of No More Faking Fine; Ending the Pretending by Esther Fleece. Before I’d even read page one, I loved the book, because the title and subtitle spoke directly to one of my lessons in 2016.

More and more I’m realizing I crave authentic community. Moving frequently means meeting new people frequently, and for someone who has a hard time with small talk, that’s challenging (and exhausting.) But I’ve learned that relationships are built on the small talk that gives way to real stories about real life. We build community as we invest in building relationships. We get to know our new neighbors by doing life together and sharing the small stuff and the big stuff. Over time, we begin to realize we can share the ups and the downs, and surprisingly, sharing the tough stuff builds more community.

Except those times when I’m surrounded by what could be community and I feel alone.

Over the last year, in those lonely moments I’ve paused to ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  I’ve discovered that it is in the gap between what I believe and what I’m living that I can change my life.

I believe in community, so I need to live community.  But I don’t always feel community.

In fact, as I look at the most difficult seasons of my life, all but one are marked by a deep feeling of loneliness. Those were the times I most craved community: when I had a newborn who couldn’t eat and who wouldn’t sleep; when I had a toddler who couldn’t stand or walk and I drove 100 miles twice a week for physical therapy. I felt utterly alone and wondered why the friends who were around for the festive things like baby showers didn’t understand.

They didn’t understand because I didn’t tell them I was hurting.

If there’s one reason to pick up your own copy of No More Faking Fine, it’s to realize that it’s okay to admit life is difficult. Esther calls this lamenting – it’s honestly owning the hurt and the emotions that arise as a consequence of that hurt. She shares her own story about growing up with the “Suck it up” mentality and learning to stuff her emotions. Despite fantastic professional success, she was living with deep hurt and had somewhere along the way begun to believe that Christians are supposed to take the hard stuff to God, believe that He makes it better, so get over it, and move on.   But the problem with that mentality is that sometimes, we’re just faking it. We’re faking fine, pretending to be ok – because the Bible says we will be, right? – but we’re not okay, and by not admitting it to ourselves or to others, we’ve missed the boat. We don’t feel the healing that God promises us because we haven’t honestly lamented our hurts and allowed for the healing.

If you’ve spent any time stuffing your emotions or just trying to move forward and get past a hurt of any kind, Esther dedicates an entire section of her book to learning to lament honestly. It’s permission to own your pain, not wallow in it, but to own it and talk to God about it. Take the time to care for yourself by learning to lament honestly so that you can heal, and you can move on.

If you’ve ever read my writing, or heard me speak, you know that I’m pretty straightforward about throwing temper tantrums with God. As I walked through my own tragedy in my 20’s, I lamented loudly to God. In that season of grief, I found myself surrounded by friends who cried with me, hugged me, and reminded me what I believed when I didn’t remember on my own. That community of friends spoiled me for life. (Thank you, friends.)

So when life threw me curveballs in my 30s, the loneliness of those seasons not only surprised me, it nearly crippled me.

Reading Esther’s book put words to a concept that God’s been working into me over the last year:

The authentic community I crave depends on me showing up authentically. (It might even be directly proportionate, but I’m not ready to say that, yet.)

 

I didn’t hide my grief in my 20s, and my friends showed up in spades. In my 30s, I didn’t share what was difficult in my life (or how I felt about it), and my friends didn’t know to show up.

Esther writes, “For so long, I’d thought I should hide my grief because I didn’t want to cause anyone to question God’s goodness. I kept my laments inside so I wouldn’t burden anyone else’s faith.”

I think there’s a million reasons why we don’t share our hurts and lament in community, but that quote right there is my Achilles heel. I poured out my heart in prayer but I didn’t want to complain to my friends, I didn’t’ want to cause anyone to question God’s goodness to me. God has given me so much, I have such a testimony of His love and blessing, a happy ending despite tragedy – I couldn’t justify sharing my grief about the challenges of motherhood.

Friends, we do ourselves a disservice because we decide our lament, our hurt, our grief, our challenge at the moment, isn’t worth sharing. I did. When I choose what is and isn’t worth sharing with my friends, I limit how authentically I show up. My friends don’t know me if they don’t know my hurts. And my friends won’t know the God I know if I’m not willing to live authentically.

“Lamenting is actually a testimony of God’s great love for us. It demonstrates that we have a God who listens to us, a God who hears us, and a God who concerns Himself with every area of our lives, both big and small.” — Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Hear me, this isn’t a license to complain, it’s permission to admit when things are not okay. It’s permission to believe that authentic community is born when we show up authentically.  It’s permission to trust your people to be your people, to cry with you, hug you, and remind you what you believe when you’re not sure you remember.  The friends who share your burdens will share in your joy.  My testimony to God’s faithfulness is even stronger among those who’ve heard my laments and seen God answer my prayers.

As we begin a new year, many of us set resolutions and goals.  We review the past year and decide what we want to be different in the new year.  Consider asking yourself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?”  It’s in the gap between what I believe and what I’m living that I can most change my life.  What do you believe in 2017?  What will you live?

{Read more about No More Faking Fine and pre-order your copy with free gifts at www.estherfleece.com}

On Waiting

Here in Casa Riselli, we’ve spent much of 2016 awaiting something. We’ve waited with great anticipation for all manner of events and visitors and change. My smallest asked repeatedly if it was her birthday yet? My oldest asked when, oh when, would Kindergarten start? This spring I woke up every morning waiting to hear where we were moving in the summer, and as we passed Thanksgiving, that question loomed again as we waited to hear where the Air Force would send us in 2017.

But my point is not what we waited for, but rather an important lesson I learned while waiting in 2016. Because as the year closes, I’m aware of what a great year 2016 has been, and I don’t want to begin 2017 without capturing the lessons of this year. After several years of cataloging my years by the amount of sleep lost to newborns and toddlers, I want to catalog this year differently. 2016 will be the year I began cataloging what I learned.

So, here’s my not quite finished thought as I look back at 2016: How I wait matters. Waiting is a constant in life. We spend an inordinate amount of our life waiting. Just today I waited in a carpool drop off line, I waited at the grocery store, and in the miles to go before I sleep, I’ll wait on my little people to: put on a coat/take off a coat/go to the potty/eat your dinner/eat your vegetables/brush your teeth/go to bed/go back to bed and much more. Repeated a dozen more times daily.

This month we’re waiting for Christmas. We’re celebrating Advent, trying to instill in little people a sense of anticipation for what Christmas brings – the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World, the Hope of Life. But let’s be honest, preschool comprehension grasps “Jesus’ Birthday” and then asks “where’s Pixie (our Elf) hiding” and “how many days until I can open those packages under the tree?” Lately, I’m reminding myself that those questions aren’t reflective of parenting fails. Rather, my girls’ endless queries about “how many more days until Christmas?” are precious childhood reminders about waiting with anticipation and expectation.

How we wait reveals our deepest beliefs. My little people wait for Christmas with great anticipation because they believe Christmas brings all good things. They are joyful. They are hopeful. The absolute last thought in their mind is that they won’t get what they want or that they will get something terrible like coal in their stockings. They believe the giver of their Christmas gifts gives all good things. Because they BELIEVE, they wait expectantly. (And, perhaps, because they believe, every gift they receive will be treasured.)

Many times this year I stepped back and realized that my emotions while waiting revealed a lot about what I believe. Too often my waiting was marked with anxiety and trepidation: was this the year that the proverbial “other shoe” would fall? Was this next assignment the one that would bring 365 days of separation? And I found myself asking, “If it is, what do I believe?” Do I believe that the Giver of life has good things in store for me? Do I believe that my God has plans to bless me, regardless of my circumstances? Do I believe the Scriptural promises that my God goes before me and with me into everywhere that I set my feet?

Vague phrases of Bible verses memorized years ago, in a different season of life, floated in and out of my mind, and this spring I made a point to find those passages. As I reacquainted myself with the truths that had provided me a sure foundation in years past, my faith felt stronger. I began to remember how filling my mind with truth offered deep roots, made my faith less susceptible to fierce winds. Taking the time to define what I believe built a strong foundation to stand upon as I waited. A strong foundation of faith enabled me to wait with certainty and trust instead of fear and trembling, and that meant I could enjoy where I was, even as I waited.

How we wait shapes our present reality. By design, our year in Alabama was a ten-month assignment. I called it our sabbatical, the Air Force called it school, and my girls called it awesome. It was a gift and we chose to steward those days and weeks accordingly. As we past my birthday in February, we entered the time period when we expected news of our next Air Force adventure. Days became weeks, and suddenly it was nearly May, and although we would leave in early June, we didn’t know where we were headed. Sometime in early April, my impatience gave way to prayer and I found a whispered truth circling my mind: “If we knew where we were going, I would start to look ahead and miss what’s right in here.” The challenge of waiting for something in the future is that we risk missing out on the present. I decided to shift my focus as we waited. I wanted to enjoy every moment of our time in Montgomery. It was a time and space to which we would never return. I embraced one of my favorite quotes from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there.”

As we left in June, I knew the tears streaming down my cheeks represented not what I was losing as I drove away, but all that I had gained. It was hard to leave because I had invested in that place. Our family had developed deep friendships in a short amount of time because we’d intentionally sought and fostered community. We enjoyed every minute of our time in Montgomery, and for me, one of the greatest lessons of those 10 months has been to view a season of waiting as a reminder to enjoy today, and to recognize how waiting prepares me to move forward confidently.

Which is why this is the first lesson of 2016 that I’ll catalog. Because how we wait prepares us for what comes next. I owe my deepest apologies to every pastor I’ve tuned out during a sermon expounding on the virtues of patience, and how steadfast perseverance (in waiting) builds character. My head fully comprehends this truth. But quite frankly those lessons never took deep root in my heart until this year.

I’ve finally internalized a lesson I could have learned decades ago. And, please hear me say this with profound sincerity and deep recognition that it sounds trite: There’s a purpose to every season of waiting; nearly every season of waiting is also a season of preparation. How I wait matters because there’s purpose in the wait. How I wait reveals what I believe. When I take time to define what I believe and allow it to be prescriptive for my life, choosing to live what I believe will guide my steps in the journey ahead.   It’s in the waiting that I have the space to take inventory. It’s in the waiting that I can examine the gap between what I believe and what I’m living. And it’s in that gap where I can change my life. How I wait teaches me to enjoy the present. When I choose to live intentionally in this time and space, I receive all that today offers. It’s in the waiting that I receive.

 

The Turning Point

It was late. The girls were asleep. It was quiet. We’d turned the kitchen lights off so the living room lamps left only a dim light. And the near darkness seemed to match my mood.   Several months into winter, sunlight in the Midwest was scarce, and my mental funk mirrored the constant cloudiness.

That night I broke down and the funk spilled out in tears and heavy sobs.

I can’t tell you that one particular event precipitated that moment, but the pent up frustration and overwhelming sense of disappointment found release in tears before I found any words to explain it.

“I’m tired. I’m sad. This is hard and it never stops being hard. This isn’t what I expected. I can’t keep do this anymore. I don’t want to live like this.”

I found myself wiping tears, feeling as deeply wounded and broken as I had years earlier when Richard died, but I hadn’t lost anyone but myself.

Somewhere along a road filled with detours and unexpected twists and turns, I’d slowly begun to believe the life I was living. Loneliness. Exhaustion. Disappointment. I felt overwhelmed by the sense that the outcome of everything in my life and the life of my family depended on me. The weight of that unrealistic burden meant I rarely had time to look beyond my own four walls, but whenever I did, I only saw more hurt, more disappointment, or more needs to be met.

I had plenty to celebrate in my life at the time, and much for which to give thanks. But the perpetual negatives running through my mind left little room for joy, and after years of always finding the silver lining, my eyes only saw grey clouds.

My soul pivoted that night. In a moment of utter brokenness, I found myself praying honestly, “How could the faith that came so easily in the midst of loss, seem so flimsy now?”

The answer I found, perhaps gently whispered to my heart by the Lord, was simply, “You believed then.”

My gut indignantly insisted that I always believed, yet in the quiet, I found myself looking at the life I lived, and realizing the gap between what I claimed to believe and how I lived.

I had elevated how I felt and those emotions ruled my thoughts and governed my behavior. And in many instances, I permitted how I felt to absolve me of my own role in bringing about the change I craved.

In my loneliness, I saw only the ways I had been excluded. I licked my wounds and blamed my sense of isolation on those who had not invited me into their community.

In my disappointment, I clung tightly to what I did not have, refusing to appreciate what I had received. I catalogued my lack and criticism crushed compassion.

In my fear, the worst-case scenarios plagued my thoughts and I resigned myself to defeat in battles I’d never been asked to wage.

It was an exhausting way to live. And it looked and felt nothing like the abundant life my Jesus promised.

That night I began to see the powerful difference in the subtle shift of words:

I was believing what I lived rather than living what I believe. Believing what I live places the burden of proof on the life around me, rather than the truths that inform my faith.  Believing what I live leaves me weary, discouraged, and looking for real hope.

That night was the turning point that began this journey I’ve been on for the last few years.   It’s a journey that’s led me to pause and ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” By taking the time to define what I believe, what I believe becomes prescriptive for how I live.

Sometimes too, I’ve found it helpful to own how I feel and hold those emotions up against what I believe. Doing so denies those emotions the power to take root in my heart, and prevents my emotions from ruling my actions. How I feel isn’t right or wrong, but what I do with those emotions becomes prescriptive. Indulgence extends emotions. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing if I’m happy, but it can be debilitating when I’m sad or angry. As I strive to live what I believe, I’m learning to take my emotions and weigh them against what I know to be true.

Truth trumps emotions every time.

Defining what I believe replaces the emotion with truth. When I take the time to define what I believe, I’m giving myself a compass for the uncertain road ahead. Twists and turns are inevitable and the detours are certain. Knowing what I believe provides direction when life doesn’t go the way I want or expect.

When I choose to live what I believe, I recognize my unique role in the change I wish to see in my life and the life around me. When I crave friendship, I create community. When I’m disappointed, I give thanks because it shifts my perspective. When I need a happy ending, I catalog God’s provision and presence. I rehearse His faithfulness and find cause to celebrate.

+++++++

Over the last few days there’s been a lot of emotions in our country.   What we choose to do with those emotions becomes prescriptive for how we live. I see it as a profound opportunity for each of us to consider, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” If we skirt these questions – or apply them to others without doing our own soul-searching – we risk accepting a life defined by what we live, rather than what we believe.

This week I’ve found myself repeating the mantra I wrote for myself after that particular dark night.

I had determined to live what I believe. I had distilled much of my inner angst into three concrete actions to reclaim the joy I had lost while believing what I lived. I needed a visual reminder so on the dry erase board in my kitchen I wrote: Seek Peace + Sow Love + Speak Life = Reclaim Joy.

It’s a daily decision to live what I believe. Sometimes that requires hourly, minute-by-minute choices to ensure I don’t slip into believing what I live. Over time these short declarative sentences have become guideposts for this journey of mine.  They provide a filter to sift emotions against truth and ensure my life reflects what I believe.

seek peace sow love speak life

What Do I Believe? John 10:10 * Philippians 4:4-8, 11-13 * 1 Timothy 2:1-2 * 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 * John 15:9-17 * 1 Peter 4:8 * 1 John 3:14 * Proverbs 15:4 * Proverbs 10:19 * Proverbs 12:18 * Proverbs 18:21 * Proverbs 31:26 * James 1:26 * 1 Peter 3:10 * John 15:11 * Psalm 16:8-11