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Living who I am

integrity1Have you ever experienced that sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize that you have been unfairly judged? You know what I mean. It is that moment when your actions, comments, or ideas have been viewed by others as something entirely different from your thoughts or intentions. Your stomach sinks, and you have that second in which to absorb the shock of how you could possibly have been so thoroughly misunderstood and judged. All you can really do is glance down at your feet to see if they are still intact after stepping on the unforeseen landmine of someone else’s point of view, or more to the point, view of you. It is a feeling of utter helplessness.

I experienced this during the course of my week. It was a shock, and came with a full range of emotions. It was an unlooked-for and unexpected reality check, and an opportunity to take stock of myself and my current circumstances. I want to share my journey through this experience because I hope that it will be useful to you.

First, after the initial shock had settled, I felt numb and extremely uncertain. I gave myself the chance to sit with what had happened,and sleep on it, before I felt able to tell my husband what had happened. After this safe space to simply choose not to react, I felt safe enough to begin to process through it.

Second, even though my usual mode of operation is to dig right in and work through it, I realized that this was not going to work this time. I gave myself permission to feel all that I was feeling. This got me through the next 24 hours. I consciously lived with the dissonance. While this was not comfortable for me, it was important that I not rush or brush it over without having enough time to even figure out what I was feeling.

Third, I started to analyze the implications of how this incident was going to effect me in the long-term and allowed the corresponding emotions attached to it to surface. I realized that I needed to be very careful about anything that I might say in this state because I recognized that I was feeling fragile. My emotions were running extremely high, so I allowed myself to focus on other important things as I sifted through it all.

Fourth, I knew it was now time to sit in my sacred space and pray through all of it. I had to name each of the emotions that I was feeling: hurt, angry, foolish, scared, helpless, frustrated, betrayed, and uncertain. It was extremely helpful to me to spend the time to unpack each of these emotions and the facts that I could attach them to. This took some time to work through but so totally worth it!

Fifth, I discovered something about myself in the process of praying through it. I found strength in living out who I am. I was able to differentiate who I am from what was assumed about me. I am a woman of integrity. I will continue to strive for excellence in all that I do. I will also continue to fight for others. While I cannot decide how others will choose to view my ideas and actions, I know myself. I choose to believe that others can and do change. I do not hold on to the mistakes that others make, even the mistake of misjudging me. I forgive others and accept that I am not their judge. I will be known through living who I am, and that is what counts.

My prayer is that I will have the courage not to succumb to the all too prevalent cynicism that surrounds me, and choose to have hope.

Stacystacy

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1934094_504652860444_6042_nThere is something special that happens when we listen to the Holy Spirit and tune our ears in discernment to intentionally pray for others. It is unexplainable, powerful, and impacting. It is important.

As a youth pastor, I spent time listening, being with and praying for the kids that God placed in my path. A great deal of my prayer time was for them unaware. We spent time praying together in our group, and we had a rich tradition of speaking our prayer requests and lifting them up together.

One year we decided to start a tradition in our youth group. As the summer was coming to a close we would gather together – either at our house for a meal, or some years at a campout. This was a special time for the teens to include their parents, many of whom were not regular church attenders. We would gather together all of the other adults who had gotten to spend time with these teens throughout the year – teaching classes, chaperoning events, volunteer drivers to camps, the teen’s personal prayer warriors, and cooks. This was always a wonderful freestyle time of laughter, food, and companionship.

We would settle together in a roughly shaped circle, hand out our paper songbooks, and I would ask for song requests. This was a regular practice that the teens quickly participated in, and a great way to give the parents and adults a peek into their world and practice of worship. We would enthusiastically sing through some selections preparing our hearts and minds for what was to come next – a prayer blessing.

I have heard the kids talk about this over the years. In their own words how special it was, even with the initial anxiety of being chosen first and the anxiety of being chosen last (apparently the least favorites in the line up). They would wait, holding their breath, wondering when their name would be called and what people would say to them. Many times tears would fall during this special pouring out of the Spirit, so we always kept Kleenex handy. Some would laughingly tell me later that they had cried along with others because of the impact of the love being shown.

I would close our time of singing by placing a chair roughly in the center of the group. I would give some brief instructions to the adults in the room; that I would call a teen in no particular order to come and sit in the chair, as the Spirit leads one adult at  a time would come and pray over and for the teen, and I would give ample time so that each one led would be able to come and pray before releasing the teen and calling another.

This was always a very intentional time of inviting the Holy Spirit to guide me as to who to call to the chair next, who to invite to pray first, and what to pray. Sometimes the name would come to me quickly, and without hesitation I would call that teen to the chair. Other times I would have to hold them in anticipation a little longer as I sought specific guidance. I would have to pay special attention to the body language of the adults to give them cues to encourage their participation. I would often move about the room orchestrating this time of prayer blessing. And, of course, I would listen intently how and what to pray for each special teen. Sometimes a song would be sung over them, a scripture would be shared, a prophetic word would be spoken, oil would be anointed, and always love given. It was a beautiful testament to extending God’s love to each one, accompanied by laughter, tears, groans and sighs of relief.

I was told by adults who participated that this was the most beautiful thing they had ever experienced and thanked by many parents for loving their teen in this way. I was told by some teens that this was the only time they could remember their parents praying for them. Often teens faced great hardships and trials in the upcoming school year following a special prayer blessing preparing them. As the teens got older they began the natural process of listening to the Spirit’s leading and standing up to pray a blessing for one another and for the adults who led them. What a beautiful legacy to share!

To all of those teens that I had the privilege to pray for over the years, I am so proud of the adults that you have become! Continue to be a blessing to others! To all of the adults who took the time to pray, may you know that your impact is still flowing and may you find opportunities to continue to bless others through prayer.

Stacy

stacy


Mark and I recently celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary. During our marriage journey, we have often taken time on our anniversary to create and share goals for the upcoming year (our anniversary happens to be New Year’s Eve). Over the years this has morphed and changed to reflect our current season and life circumstances. In our early years, we would work for weeks in preparation of sharing our goals, bring our pages of ideas and spend time pouring over them over a nice dinner somewhere. These lists were proudly shared with each other and then put on our refrigerator to remind us through the year of our hopes and dreams to be worked on and toward throughout the year. It would sometimes be a great conversation starter among family and friends when they would see our lists. With such large lists, inevitably the year would come to a close with some unfinished/unredeemed goals. However, there was also an impressive amount of goals that we could celebrate. The direct result was that we got better at making realistic goals, better at prioritizing our time, and had more things to celebrate.

It is a wonderful things to share goals with your partner in life. In sharing those ideas and dreams they become a looked for reality and a promise of hope. Life can be hard, and hope can be hard to find. These last five years have been hard. In fact, Mark and I haven’t made any lists of goals in a long time. We have been surviving together during this season of difficulty. Even without the lists proudly displayed to keep up working toward our goals, we have had many goals that we are working on in the daily living of life.

As I prepared for our anniversary this year, instead of making a list of goals, I ended up with a list of things to celebrate from 2014. I was amazed at the things that we accomplished together! We had some fun, but we also faced and survived some challenges. We met those challenges together. It was good to share the memory of that during our anniversary meal. It has given me hope for the coming year. We are in is this together!

Stacy

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The smell of rain

391I woke up this morning to the smell of rain. It has been a long hot summer, and at first I didn’t believe what my nose was telling me. As I stumbled through waking up, I realized that my nose had been right. It was lightly raining outside. I giggled at my silliness in not believing my sense of smell, and continued giggling in delight of the rain. I need its cleansing power; its ability to renew the earth; its refreshing the air; and its welcome reduction in the heat.

Lately, I have been doing some very intense, productive, hard emotional work. I woke up a few weeks ago and realized that I was depressed. For those who know me, you know that is a foreign emotion for me. In recognizing that I was depressed, I had to take the time to find out how long I have been feeling this way. It was not a comforting realization to see that it had been several months. I had been depressed for several months, and hadn’t even been able to see it, name it, talk about it, or work through it. That scared me. I didn’t understand this new emotion. But, I made a decision not to ignore it any longer, and to dig in to the uncomfortable process of figuring out how I got there.

Here are some of the things that I have learned:

1) Time has been marching on while I have been experiencing a massive amount of change and loss. It has been 5 years since this particular season in my life started. 5 YEARS!!! I was a bit shocked by this realization. No wonder I feel emotionally exhausted.

2) I have a choice. I can choose to be a “victim” of my grief, pain, loss, and the resulting depression. Or, I can choose to name it, and put it in its proper place. For me, that proper place is not stuffing it inside me, locked away behind a bulging broken door. The depression that I was experiencing was a direct result of not dealing with these events, issues, and problems.

3) God’s presence and grace has sustained my during these 5 years. I am in awe of the fact that I am still living, breathing, and even thriving in some areas. It is a humbling fact that I have been leaning wholly on God’s strength, because I didn’t have any left of my own. In God’s grace, I have survived, and kept from literally falling apart.

4) God’s timing is always perfect. I wasn’t ready to face that bulging broken door. I wouldn’t likely have chosen to face it either. It has taken an act of God to let enough of it  seep out to get my attention so that I could choose to open it up myself. I had gotten really good at compartmentalizing my fragmented life to the point that I found myself in a total identity crisis.

5) My identity crisis was a blessing. I know that it is a bit of a cliché, but I have been having a mid-life crisis. It was likely obvious to others, but I found this to be a bit of a surprise. Once I started to map out the 5 years that led me to this crisis, I realized that I had a very good reason (or reasons) for having a mid-life crisis. I had been so hard on myself for being in crisis, that I had gotten stuck. But the crisis validated my grief, loss, confusion, and pain. I had often articulated the “major” stress events that I have been experiencing, but I had not allowed myself to connect them to my emotional state. What major stress events?

Not in a direct chronological order (many of these events happened concurrently) : We faced a major crisis in our calling to a church that we had served for 9 years. We both had come to the realization that we could not continue in that particular place and calling. Mark was fired from that position prior to us having a solid plan as to what came next. Our daughter Sarah graduated from college. We sold our home, moved to a temporary rental in a new community, bought a home and moved again (same community). My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and died 9 months later. We moved my grandmother and her spouse into assisted living, back “home”, and back to a different assisted living home. My grandmother died. Our daughter Sarah got married. I graduated from grad-school, and then Mark 6 months later. Our son Paul graduated from college. We started a business. I started a “new career” in the previously foreign corporate world. We changed church families four times. We faced the uncertainty of Mark’s chronic pain not having a definitive source and resulting lack of treatment outside of limited pain control.

6) Some of these events I had no control over. Some of them I had only a little bit of control. Some of them I hung on desperately to as a choice that I had made. A few were joyous events, but still stressful and exhausting. In recognizing my own helplessness in this compacted time of major events, I was finally able to celebrate some things, and face making decisions about how to process and move on with others. This has been hard but important work. Through all of the uncertainty, we had made the best decisions that we could with the limited information at hand. Some of those decisions have now been re-evaluated and we have made new decisions based on new information. I am finally able to reconcile our change in circumstances. While my life doesn’t look much like my life pre-major events, I am still the same person. I had lost sight of that for a while, but in choosing to process these events, I have found enough pieces of myself to know who I am again.

It is very much like experiencing the rain this morning. My new perspective on life is like the unlooked for rain after a long hot dry spell. I am finding my way back to joy again. I still have some work to do, but that broken bulging door that I had been stuffing things behind is open now. I am still leaning on God’s strength, but I have confidence that God’s presence is guiding me. Here is to giggling at welcome surprises.

Stacy

stacy


The Letting Go Process

1023There is something mystical about a waterfall. If you have ever had the chance to visit the top of a waterfall, you were likely amazed at the anti climatic amount of water that you find there. Yet the majesty of the falling water enthralls us with the wonder of it. It can create steep canyons, amazing deeps pools, and erode giant boulders. Moving water is a force to be reckoned with. Water is always moving, changes places, and leaving things behind.

Some say that the one thing that we can count on in life is change. It seems to hold true. We all face change on many levels at any given moment. Some change we are prepared for, even eager to embrace. Other change is foisted upon us. We all face the process of learning to let go. Often we have to leave things behind in order to make room for the new. But that is easier said then done.

I have been reflecting recently on how hard it can be to let go of certain things in my life. It is like the act of admitting that I no longer need it diminishes the value it had. Here are a few things that I have been learning about the letting go process:

1) There are seasons in life when certain things are more important than others. With the changing of those seasons, it can be incredibly freeing to release those things. For example, I have driven a mini van for most of my adult life, first because we started a family, and then later for the ongoing need to drive youth around as a youth pastor. I got so used to having such a versatile vehicle that I still drive one. But I don’t have kids at home, no longer drive youth around, and only occasionally take a van full of people in it. I know that it is time to let go of this particular thing, and I am in the process of saving up the money to purchase a more suitable vehicle.

2) I don’t like being foolish in either keeping things or getting rid of them. I have experienced the problem of talking myself into letting something go, only to find I need a similar thing months later. Ugh! But I have also experienced that quandary of looking into a closet and wonder why on earth I thought it was a good idea to keep something. It takes balance to simplify and let go of things. I will likely let go of something that I may have to replace. But I will also not miss plenty of things.

3) It takes courage to admit that something was purchased with the best of intentions, but that it didn’t live up to your expectations. I think that sometimes we hang on to things because we are embarrassed that we “wasted” money on it. It is helpful to re-frame how you deal with this reality. You purchased the  item with good intentions, made the best decision for the time, and things changed so that you now face the decision to hang on to it, or let it go. You will likely “loose” money if you sell it, and simply giving it away does feel right (that or no one you know wants it). If you can chalk it up to a great learning experience, cut your loses, and move on – you are better for it.

4) It is okay to hang on to things that keep you connected to things that are important to you. I have some special jewelry that was my mom’s. I love to wear each piece because it reminds me of her. They are precious to me because of it.

5) Be realistic in your simplifying. You do still need things. I heard a professional organizer give this advice, “Ask yourself: Have I used it in the last 3 years? Am I likely to use it in the next year? And would I simply feel better if I didn’t have to clean/maintain/house it?” I have always felt like that was really good advice.

Of course I have been focusing on “things”, but the true work is in how we view or feel about those things. In facing this particular season in our lives, I am finding myself ready to admit that we have hung on to things because of an uncertain future. But as we face the reality of the present, we are both empowered to admit that we are really ready to release our attachment to the things that went with that earlier season in our lives. I didn’t even know that we needed to do that until I started to ask myself why we were hanging on to them. It isn’t about the “things” but about what those things represented. It feels good to face that and find the freedom from the weight of it all.

Stacy

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Be Ye Honest?

dark question markAs a spiritual director, I often ask the question, “Where is the action?” I do this because I believe that wherever that action is in someone’s life, that is where God is present. Sometimes it can be hard to break through the false wall that is erected to separate the “spiritual” from “non-spiritual.” This is a common issue in our culture that puts us into a personality crisis. Who you are – a human being, created in the image of God, uniquely gifted and treasured – includes all of the sum total of your experiences and interactions. So, when it comes to spiritual direction, everything is included.

There is a theme that comes up in every persons life when we begin to reconcile that everything that is your life is spiritual. That theme is honesty. We all wear many different hats, and this is an easy to understand concept. I am a wife, mother, daughter, sister, Christian, employee, friend, neighbor, spiritual director, mentor, etc. But I am still me in any of these capacities. But have you ever noticed that you may “be” different while wearing a different hat? I know that I speak differently with my husband than I do with my neighbor. But what does it mean to be honest while embracing the many different roles that are played out in our lives?

Be Ye Honest? I suggest that you know when you are not being honest – to yourself, to others, to God. How do you know? Generally, you will have unrest in your soul. You can’t get it out of your mind. You can’t stop talking about it. Sometimes you can’t sleep. You worry over it – replaying the conversation, your reaction, your angst, until you can reconcile the issue. We are created to be honest, natural, responsible, and reasonable people. But, we live in a broken world. We learn to hide, protect ourselves, fit in, and avoid conflict. This can give us safety, but not peace.

I often have the conversation about honesty – I encourage another to be honest in whatever circumstance they have found themselves in. “Is it okay to say that?” is a common question. I would like to dispel a few myths about honesty:

Myth #1 – People will not accept my honesty.

Myth #2 – Being honest is not nice.

Myth #3 – Bad things will happen if I am honest.

#1 – It is true that being honest may not be readily accepted, particularly at first, if you are not in the habit of being honest. There is a way to be honest that can help you to get your message through. First, do not make excuses. Excuses simply confuse the matter at hand, and usually cause a response in others to find a solution to your excuse. Second, when you are being honest, state it in a way that communicates its importance. Using a phrase like, “I am not willing to . . .” or “This is not something that I can be a party to . . .” can make all the difference in how you are heard.

#2 – We all understand the concept of a “white lie.” I suggest that there isn’t any kind of lie that is innocent. However, being honest has nothing to do with being brutal. Honesty is about respect, love, and grace. When you are honest with yourself – you extend respect, love and grace to yourself. When you are honest with others, you extend that respect, love and grace to them. It is a simple and beautiful thing to affirm someone in there desire/work/effort/question/issue, while giving yourself time/space/freedom to respond honestly. You do not have to attack someone to be honest. You do, however, need to take the time to sit with your own reaction long enough to get your own heart, and then respond from that honest place.

#3 – When you are honest – in respect, love, and grace – you cannot control the outcome. This is hard, and is the most common reason why we are not honest 100% of the time. But I will suggest that when you are honest, you are creating new pathways of communication first for yourself, and then for others. Honesty breeds honesty. When you let your voice be heard in honesty with love and grace, you will have peace because you have been honest. And you now have the possibility of peace with others because of it.

May we all be honest today and may peace reign.

Stacy

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Questions of the heart

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERARecently, Mark and I have been having an ongoing conversation that dips into the deep questions of our hearts. It is hard to have this conversation. It is hard to make time for it. It is hard to be patient with the process. It is hard to be honest and break through our personal defenses.

Maybe you have experienced the painful process of asking heart questions. Maybe you have heart questions that simply cannot go unanswered any longer. While I would not make the claim to have this figured out into some kind of easy how to, I have a few suggestions to try:

1) Begin with prayer, keep praying, and pray some more.

2) Recognize that you have a heart question, and try to name it. What do I mean by this? You know that you have a heart question when you have unrest in your soul. A good description is that you have angst but no identifiable reason for it. Naming is more of a discovery and less of a declaration. You may find that the name is a progressive idea, where you start at point A and end of at point Z with a variety of drafts in between.

3) I suggest that you journal throughout this process – it can help you to remember discernment and insights that are important along the way. As you pray, and ask questions of God, write down those responses, even if they don’t exactly make sense at the time.

4) Be patient. First with yourself. I believe that God is merciful in and through this process. That mercy can be manifest through small manageable progress. Mark and I have often laughed about how grateful we are that we didn’t know everything about ministry all at once because we probably would have run full speed in the other direction. It is in gentle mercy that God leads us through each revelation so that we are ready for the next one.

5) Follow God’s leading, bathed in prayer. This is a tricky one. I suggest that it is important to consider how these leadings will impact others. Your balance point here is three-fold: is it in alignment with Scripture, does it bring peace to my heart, and is it confirmed in community? If trusted others are telling you that you have lost your mind, you should go back to God in prayer.

6) You might seek out a Spiritual Director to journey with you. If you don’t know where to find one, check out Spiritual Directors International – http://www.sdiworld.org

It takes courage to slow down in the midst of life to listen to the questions of the heart, but it is so very important. My hope is that you are encouraged to trust God and try.

Stacy

 

stacy