Behold

Easter morning celebration at our home church is a big deal.  I’m talking hundreds of brightly colored air filled balloons held tight against the sanctuary ceiling, waiting for that precise moment of their release.  And the confetti…well, after all, we are celebrating the resurrection of our King and what kind of party would it be without confetti.  But not just little snippets of paper pieces here and there, tossed about with lackluster care.  We do confetti like it’s never been done before – from a cannon packing 120 psi showering off the pulpit into the awaiting audience as if an asteroid had just encountered a shooting star.  Meanwhile, every bright-eyed child has been given their own mini popper as the more serious confetti connoisseur brings in the 2-3 foot launching version, in a friendly competition of ‘out-pop’ your neighbor, in the name of Jesus, of course.

This Easter was no different – everyone dressed in their brightest and best, like all the colors of the rainbow has sprung forth for the first time this very morning.  Old friends and new ones gathered with their families to hear the wonderful worship songs that poured forth and God’s Word to be shared by Pastor.  Pastor’s parents were in town visiting, and took their place of pride in the front row, fully immersed in the morning’s activities.  As Pastor got up to share the message, I watched as his sweet Mama snapped 2 quick and quiet photos on her cell phone – no different as if her boy stepped up for his first at bat.  I chuckled to myself, how cute that whole interchange was, as she showed Papa how they’d turned out.   Then I thought to myself how no matter what we do, or where we go, we are always our parent’s children.  We can be playing a Little League game, landing that first million dollar deal, or preaching to the masses on Easter – we are still that love of our parent’s eye.

This is how God sees us every single day.  This…it’s so simple, and yet so complex.  God loves us…it’s easy to say and complicated to comprehend.  God LOVES us – when we hit a home run, when we land that big deal, when we preach in His name, sure…but also when we fall short and tell a lie because we’re scared of the consequence, when we steal because we’re hungry, when we make bad parenting decisions, when we don’t act in love as we should…and on and on and on.  He loves us so very much He sent Jesus – the most precious being to Him – to save us from ourselves.

And when we chose Him, He’s standing there with His camera at the ready, snapping photos for the memory albums – photos of pride and honor.  Photos to share with us for all eternity.  Look, my son…remember when you shared a meal with that stranger?  I was so very proud of you!  Oh my daughter…I remember the time you turned away from alcohol and turned to me.  I love you so!

I am so humbled by this knowledge – that I am loved by my Father in Heaven, on the good days and the bad, and He cannot wait to celebrate with balloons and confetti upon my arrival.  Shoot, if we can do this cool of a job celebrating here, I can hardly imagine what a Heavenly celebration might be like.    I do know it will be quite a sight to behold!

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My Nephew…the Graduate

I have known you every day of your life.  I have watched you blossom from a wish and a prayer before you were even born from within the womb of your Mother.  I witnessed you spring forth into this amazing world full of promise (with the biggest head we had all ever seen!) and I cherished the moments as you learned to navigate that same world full of wonder, intrigue and the smallest bit of spunk.  It was obvious you had gotten those traits from me – your favorite Aunt – but I digress.

Academically you have certainly found your way, rising to the occasion to meet each and every challenge placed before you.  You never left a stone unturned in your quest for knowledge, and your excellent performance throughout these last four years has solidified your place in an exceptional program in Clemson University, and I certainly could not be more proud.  You will go forth, you will be a mover and a shaker for the next generation, and I have less fear knowing that a young man of your caliber will lead those that come behind him to a vision seen early on and never once given up on.

Athletically, you left every single thing you had on the field, each and every time.  Whether it was baseball, soccer or football – you gave it everything you had and then 20% more for the team.  Your unfailing giftedness is a tremendous God-given talent, and I know you have appreciated this high school experience with these very friends – this ‘family’ to share this last year of lasts with – the ultimate prize being the Football Championship.  I will truly miss routing on “My #55” from afar each Friday night, but I will ready myself to route you on in different ways, in different endeavors, but still filled with the same love that has always been there.

Dalton, as I observe you as a person, a young man – I can only say how pleased I am at the choices you’ve had in your life, how grateful I am for the parenting nuggets you chose to retain and take to heart, at the courage of your convictions that drives your decision making process, and how you remain unphased by the world and its attempts to derail you and your goals.  Always stay true to yourself, and God will honor your decisions.

You have accomplished something incredible here, and in such a way that merits recognition.  You are a leader among your peers, a stand-up guy, and someone any of the lower classmen would be crazy not to emulate.  Accept this responsibility and use it to its fullest potential, in college, in life, in the working world – wherever!

In closing, you are an admirable man.  You are an honorable man.  You are the kind of man I want my son to aspire to be, and that I want my daughters to be drawn to.  You are loving and giving.  You are well-prepared for your future, and because of this you will go far.  God will continue to bless your obedience to Him as you continue to seek His face.  Your foundation is strong and your pathway is clearly marked.  I cannot wait for the next seasons to be revealed.

I love you, Dalton.  I love who you have grown to become.  I wish nothing but the best for you at Clemson, and if you find things get a bit too rough, I always have your back.

Love Always,

Aunt Melissa

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The Masterpiece in Me

‘You know my name, not my story.

You’ve heard what I’ve done, not what I’ve been through…’

I, like everyone else on this planet, am a person who comes with baggage.  I have lived 46 years on this earth so far, and in that time, I have done things…some things I would proudly write on my epitaph, and others I still beat myself up about daily; I have struggled with challenges – sometimes failing miserably, and sometimes surprising even myself with strength I never knew I had; I have made poor choices, some that impacted those around me, and some that brought me to my knees because there was nowhere else left to go.  But the one thing I know in my heart of hearts – I have done more good than bad in my life, helped more than I’ve hurt, and at the end of the day, I know I’m right with my God, so to me, I’ve accomplished my goal.

Reflecting on some of that old ‘baggage’ this past week, someone who didn’t know me really at all responded to some of my history in a way I felt was critical and hurtful – something others who know me well would have never said or even believed for an instant.  I immediately felt judged all over again, as if I were back in that moment of when the event first happened, defending an inexcusable action that was full of lies and mistruths.  In that moment, I allowed this person who knew a thimble-worth about me to cast me in the role others had set for me, instead of what I know truth and integrity say about me instead.  I was angry, not at this person, but myself, for allowing someone to hold power over what I thought of myself, swaying my opinion with such ease.

I realized that I am still – everyday – a work in progress.  That for as hard as I’ve worked to redefine who I am – what I know to be true about myself – I am a sandcastle…one mediocre wave, and what I’ve built comes crashing down, with little left to rebuild upon.  I need to be wiser about where I chose to build.  While I love the sound of the crashing waves and the tickle of the water on my toes, that same beauty is hazardous for what I’m trying to accomplish in me.  If I rebuild, but farther back from the edge, I can still experience the beauty – the sounds and sights will all still be present – I just won’t be so exposed to the dangers of lashing tongues, boisterous judgments, and harsh critics who lounge by the water’s edge.  The sand doesn’t shift as easily farther back, either – a better foundation for where I’m headed – a hope and a promise of what’s to come.  Sure, it’s more work to build your castle back there – but when I’m finished…wow!  Can you imagine the masterpiece?

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:13 –

‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’

Paul was in prison because of his decision to follow Jesus.  Imagine how low he must have felt.  If he could write books of the Bible while suffering for his beliefs, I’m fairly certain I can adjust my sails and keep rebuilding until I get it right.  That’s the resolve I want to wake up with each day – I can do EVERYTHING – no matter who thinks different.  It’s all up to me to start.

Asking the Wizard for Courage

I have said this before and I’ll say it again…a good piece of music moves me deep in my soul!  I don’t know if it’s my Southern roots or my Christian upbringing, but regardless of where it came from, I value the treasures I find in a song that rocks me to my core.

I love to listen to a song for many reasons:  for its bone-shaking rhythm, its heart-rattling lyrics, its soul-moving chorus, its stop-you-in-your-tracks melody.  I love just about every kind of music, and I don’t care where I am – church, the car, the mall, wherever – I let that melody unashamedly work me…and yes, I dance like no one is watching, and often!

Many times I don’t absorb the true meaning of a song the first or even the second time through.  Who does really?  We hear something, we know we like it, we jam, and that’s good enough for us.  Other times a song strikes me immediately, with words that draw me immediately in to the artist’s meaning, as if I were right there, during their heartache and loss, their jubilation during their experience, each powerful step of the creative process.

Today I was listening to some of my recent favorite tunes as I worked on laundry, and I found a song I’ve listened to several times before, but until today, apparently never really heard.   Because if I had heard it before today, I would have immediately known it was my ‘swan song’ – the epitome of where I’ve come from 2 years ago.  Listen…

I would have followed ‘him’ anywhere.  I loved him, and I would have stayed forever, had he not told me we were done.  Unfortunately he didn’t have the courage to finish what he started, or even have that conversation.  And that is where my need for courage came in.  Realizing I could stand up, step up, walk away – because he would not.  This song – so powerful – so perfect.  Looking back…while so difficult, is so liberating.  I would have stayed…forever.  But I didn’t.

I won’t speak to his current status, but me – I am so much to the better for that giant step of courage.  And I haven’t stopped dancing since…

What A Difference A Year Makes…

‘Knowing when to walk away is wisdom.

Being able to is courage.

Walking away with your head held high is dignity.”

April 14…a date marked in history.

Last year on April 14, I stood alone before a Judicial Magistrate as she told me I was about to break the contract I had made some 22 years before, an action I did not take lightly by any means.  She asked if my estranged spouse was present, and as I explained he had been, but he had left angry, she paused to question what had upset him, then struck her own comments from the record.  She trudged through the formalities I’m certain she had cited many, many times before – about alimony, name changes, child support, living arrangements, custody and the like.  I listened intently with my brain; my heart had left the building quite some time before.  As she finished, she thanked me for taking the children – a comment I thought odd at the time, but would all too soon realize the wisdom of, and wished me well.  I walked out the double doors, the sun shining on my face, grabbed my phone, and posted my first Facebook post as a single woman, “I AM FREE!”  I walked down the street to my car with a pep in my step I’d never experienced before…a huge weight had been lifted off me, and it seemed like it was visible to all those around me.

The first few months were awkward but manageable.  He wasn’t going to make it easy, by any stretch, but we’d left things flexible enough to work through them.  The summer came and he took the kids half the week, and I had them the rest of the week, as agreed verbally.  I was working a job, working on myself, personally, to figure out who I was without him and who I wanted to really be and trying to redefine myself as a parent in the wake of the damage left behind by his hurtfulness.  This went along fine through summer, and I was rebuilding the me I’d lost as some point along the way.

Then school started back up for the kids.  And something inside of him broke for good.  There really is no other way to describe the events that took place – or the person he became – from that point forward.  He started following us, threatening me with evil and angry texts and phone calls, texting the children in inappropriate ways, breaking into our home, staking out our home – he basically was a predator.  My personality morphed instantly into one of paranoia and intense fear for our safety – quickly transitioning from the locked car to the locked house, my cell phone constantly at the ready to call for help.  I was forced to seek out police support, and eventually obtained a restraining order to protect all 4 of us – against the man I had built my life with; the father of my children – he was now no longer to come into contact with us directly and only had minimal contact with his children.

The most important constant during all of this has been my resolve to work on ME through anything that comes forward.  I have come last for so very long, when I started the process, I hardly recognized myself.  I was a mere shell of myself – beaten down so badly – emotionally and intellectually…the only way I could build was upward.  Looking back over the last year, it’s painful to see where I was, and yet so glorious to see where I’m headed!

I am so incredibly happy right now – happy…I may have never been happy in my entire life, and after all this time I’m learning what happy is all about.  I am learning what the purpose of feeling my emotions is all about – and how truly beneficial that simple act is.  I have learned that coping strategies that worked as a child no longer work effectively as an adult, and that I need new strategies – I’ve gained them, had the courage to use them, and realize their worth.  I am excited when I see someone who hasn’t seen me in a while – the change in me is VISIBLE.  I am whole – not fixed…because I wasn’t broken.  And I certainly still have work to do…as we all do.  But with the dead-weight of that broken, defective relationship off my back, I am free to work on my junk, my issues, my life – it’s so incredibly freeing…I just want to shout it out!

Most excitedly and terrifying, I am dating!  Yes…I am dating…and it’s crazy and complicated and ridiculous.  But one thing is certain – and a year ago, I never would have said this out loud – I am worth it!  I am worth a great guy and happiness and the old-fashioned love I am looking for.  And if that takes another forever to find, I’m worth waiting for!  And that statement alone – that took me a lifetime to realize…but this year, this past 365 days were not wasted on me.  And neither will the next 365.  I can hardly wait to see where I’ll be!

Damages

Damage takes on all shapes and sizes, forms and colors.  From the impact of a high speed collision on the highway between two vehicles, twisting metal upon metal with the air filled with burnt rubber and cries for help, to a young teens first broken heart, slowly tearing in two, silently at first, then louder and louder until it seems as if the whole world is an audience to this ever private pain.  The one thing in common is the wake of collateral left behind…rubble to be retrieved, pieces to be replaced, parts to be mended.

An interesting fact about the recipient of damage is that only that individual knows their own unique pain – no matter how similar their scars might appear to the next.  ‘Until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes…’ the old adage is so ill-equipped to compensate the level of heaviness we feel as the weight of the world is loaded upon our shoulders, shifted haphazardly across our human frames, until it comes suddenly crashing down, bringing us to our knees, shaking once again our very foundations.  It is in these moments we challenge why we are chosen to bear such burdens, why we are given this volume of pain, and still we have the option to question the very core of what we believe as our purpose on this planet.

I am no stranger to the pathway of damage.  Until recently I thought my pathway a more singular pronged voyage…one of childhood trauma at the hand of my father.  I believed I had long since come to terms with that journey, not cured from all the wakes and swirls, but by shear will and determination, choosing victorious forgiveness over hatred, and paddling onward.  But my dance with damages is much more complex than I had ever realized.  Those childhood traumas were merely Act 1 in a great tragedy that would continue to play out for the next 20 years.

The next interesting fact about someone who suffers damages is that their self, their internal being, is shattered into hundreds of tiny parts…and rebuilding is not only optional, it is THE most painstaking task you will ever undertake as an individual.  When pieces of your self break apart, you lose your way…your roadmap.  There is no IKEA instruction guide for rebuilding your self…your self-worth, your self-respect, your will…it’s as if someone has hit the ‘reset’ button, and just as you begin to get your footing up under you, the ‘reset’ is hit once again…over and over and over again.  And you keep trying to stand back up, day after day, hour after exhausting hour, but you can never quite get your balance…and nobody seems to notice you falling down, down, down.  And finally, all at once, you decide it’s so much simpler to just stay down…and not expect too much, of yourself or the rest of the world.

In my attempt to convince myself that I could simply walk away from my childhood trauma, I married a sailor – a outwardly good man who said he’d take care of me and love me and we’d be happy forever.  And we moved 1000 miles away from everything I ever knew.  It sounded fantastic in theory.  But I was lying on the ground…and now I’m not certain if he didn’t notice, or if that was part of the plan all along.

So this man who said he loved me helped me get my footing once again, and for a little while I was able to stand up straight.  After all, I was fairly intelligent, strong enough to withstand my childhood and not let it swallow me whole, and young.  I worked a full-time job for several years, we saved to start our family, his family accepted me seemingly as one of theirs…all systems appeared to be a go.  But that bag of shattered pieces I was lugging around…it developed a large hole.  This good man I married…he wasn’t perfect…but he kept saying he loved me, and I was grateful.  Grateful?  Serious red flag.  But I was busy with this bag of pieces…I didn’t have time to collect flags too.

Then so slowly it was almost invisible, his family – the one who welcomed me with open arms – began to turn.  I thought maybe I was imagining it…a snide comment here, a whisper there…but when an outright demand that he divorce me because I couldn’t deliver babies was made, it became obvious to even the most oblivious of onlookers.  The first punch had been thrown, and I was down:  bleeding, wounded and alone – because here, family starts with a ‘D’, not an ‘f.’   And another red flag

Time went by, and our little ‘family’ recovered, until the next predicted blow.  The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the only choice was to accept the challenge – play the game the best way I knew how to manage – or accept defeat…which really never was an option.

So enters another interesting fact about those who suffer damage:  we can be a shadow of our former selves and not realize the difference.  About this point I believed life was wonderful.  We had 3 beautiful children – gifts from God, despite the numerous challenges they faced.  I saw this as my personal mission – to educate myself; access the best education they were entitled to; accept nothing ‘less-than’; give up ‘myself’ in pursuit of their needs.  But herein laid the problem…I was already gone…’given up’ years before – to men because I wasn’t worth purity or love or wholeness; to food because when you’re overweight, you are all but invisible to the world…the exact feat I was trying to accomplish…invisible people cannot be hurt…they are indestructible; to the needs of others, because I wasn’t worthy of fulfillment – my sole purpose was to complete everyone else…all the while I was an empty shell.

It’s amazing how long you can roam the earth completely and totally void.  Oh, I had my faith…but rather than being my foundation, I now think Jesus was my stopper…avoiding the last few drops of my soul from seeping out.  In the worst of my moments, I would cry out – for I still had the wherewithal to know where redemption lay…and then another crushing wave would wash over me – cutting the chain on that stopper shorter, and shorter, and shorter…until only a few links remained…and then came the rust…

Two years ago my stopper was yanked up for the final time, eroded and eaten away by the vile ugliness of this world, and I was literally drowning in a sea of doubt, inadequacy, relentless sorrow, gnashing of teeth, anger…emotions I had kept UNDER that plug for my entire life…erupting like fire from a cannon.  The man I thought was there for me – the one who said he’d never leave me…he fell apart…literally right in front of my face, all the while blaming me for his demise.  “Our marriage is a farce,” he said…his words still singe my ears even today.  22 years of heartbreak and holes, rebuilding and rebuttals, mirages and muck boiled down to that one stark statement he finally mustered the courage to say.

At first I was bewildered, disillusioned to all my life had become, been about, ever was.  Stepping out from the shadow, I saw this opportunity for what it truly was – a chance at true happiness.  No, I had never ever broken my vows to him, but I was certainly just going through the motions of a relationship I now considered a prison.  I had been so very lost in the ideal of what ‘we’ were supposed to be – and he certainly had no qualms about sharing his disdain at my inability to metamorphosize to his expectation of who I should have been by now.  I was not the woman he expected or deserved – according to him.  I failed him in so many ways, and he never fell short to remind me, constantly, each time scarring my spirit more and more, with words that still haunt me when I close my eyes.

Another sign of damages:  We give away pieces of ourselves all the time; many times in large irretrievable chunks.  The utter irony of the situation was that while what my father had done to me so many years before left lasting effects still rippling today, what that man had done, with full faculties about him, all the while claiming his superiority over my father, was so much worse.  He used those weaknesses to his advantage – those areas of insecurities, those damages – and made them his target.  He knew just where to strike to inflict the most damage – the most lasting pain – the most crippling blow.  It was as if he were shooting fish in a barrel…I gave him all the ammunition he would ever need…and he ate it up, bite after savory bite, until he was satiated with the tools he could use to effectively dismantle the tattered remnants of my shell.

His methods were ingenious, considering I had not really considered him my intellectual equal.  This, perhaps, was the beginning of my downfall.  My Achilles ’ heel, as it is, is that I loathe being viewed as stupid, less than the net worth of my intellectual match.  I have a God-given brain with much potential, and when I am not viewed in that worthy potential, I feel insignificant and small, devalued immediately, always self-loathing.  He knew this weakness – as does anyone who is significantly close to me – and he used this area to keep me small and beat down.  Not physically; no, let me be abundantly clearhe never laid a physical hand on me.  That would have been beneath both he and I.  I would not have tolerated that injustice for one single moment – not after my childhood…not for myself…not for my children.  Had that threshold been crossed, I would have instantly found the courage to stand, gather my children and leave that situation without question.  No, this life we led, this clandestine nomenclature was so much further left of center, it made this fiction so much more palatable, day after agonizing day, year after debilitating year.

But what he didn’t know was that his statement, his attempt to mortally wound me, was my saving grace.  That day, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was given the key to my very soul back.  And that day I started a journey – back from somewhere I never believed I would have been found – a place of darkness and despair, loneliness in a crowded room,  constant humor to hide my pain, a place where I  didn’t even recognize myself any longer.  Standing here, 2 years out, I don’t even know who that person was – I just know had she not gotten out, somehow, some way…she would have died there most certainly.

I remember the exact moment I knew it was time to walk away.  He had thrown down his challenge, and returned to his summer camp, complete in the knowledge that I would obviously come to my senses and adjust myself, submit to his demands and get on with our lives as he had envisioned it should be.  Once the initial shock wore off, I remember going to the movies with some friends from church – again, I do not believe in accidents, and this was yet another example of God at work – to see ‘Unstoppable’ by Kirk Cameron…just a really awesome movie.  I was entranced by the message, when a particular passage spoke directly to my heart, as I felt God was telling me what I needed to do next with my marriage, with my life, with myself…basically the reference was to Adam and Eve, and how God had created Eve as a gift to Adam, with the sole purpose for him to ‘cherish her above all others’ and ‘protect her with all his being’…these statements struck me in the core of my being, and I was openly weeping in the theater.  No one – ever – had cherished me, let alone him.  And as for his promise so many years before to protect me, as I stood at the precipice of this shamble of a relationship, the choice was crystal clear.

No longer was I to devalue myself to give him glory.  No longer was I to become less to make him more.  My God told me, in His word, that I deserved to be cherished, and if that meant walking alone until glory, so be it.  My children needed to see me as the strong woman I knew I could be.  They needed me to stop the verbal barrage of abuse that existed constantly in our home.  I was not honoring anyone, let alone God, by continuing in this marriage.  So I finished what he didn’t have the courage to do – I filed for divorce.

Freedom from bondage, I don’t care what kind we’re talking about, is so liberating.  You can be bound with your mannerisms.  You can be bound by your thoughts and actions.  You can be bound by the company you keep.  You can be bound by your line of work.  And you most certainly can be bound by a marriage, mired down by the controlling actions of one spouse.  After the dust settled, I went to him and actually thanked him for making that first step – for speaking up – even if his intentions were ill-guided.  I would have stayed with him forever.  I am a believer in marriage.  I do not, however, believe anymore in blindly loving someone because they tell you to.  And as strong as I am in Christ, I know without Him, some people’s damage cannot be repaired if they are not looking to be helped.

I saddle a lot of my own damage, and am working diligently to repair those scars – learning new coping mechanism to replace the ones that might have worked when I was a child, but currently are not as effective.  I use humor a lot – as a defense and a strategy.  I am learning to replace anxiety about situations I cannot control with strategies on how to manage those behaviors, but most importantly I have learned why I manifested those behaviors to begin with, and with that knowledge, I have learned to give myself a break.  I am above all others my own harshest critic, and have realized if I can give myself a break now and then, this life is going to be a lot easier.  I am learning to relax…something I don’t think I ever really knew how to do.  And seemingly the simplest, but certainly the hardest…I am learning that I do not have to carry others baggage…and the knowledge and freedom that comes with that comprehension is so incredibly amazing!

I am not whole and healed – but I am truly on my way.  And now that I see the value in the work that I am doing for myself, I will not stop until I have completed this most important work…for the betterment of me.  Because we share these 3 incredible children, forever, we are bound in a ‘forever’ relationship of sorts.  But I have chosen to not participate in his anguish, his bitterness, his self-absorption.  While it is exhausting at times to be ‘the grown-up’ for the sake of my children, I will forever fill that role as they need me to.  And when and if he is ever ready to successfully participate in a co-parenting role, I will enter into that with him, eyes wide open.  But at this juncture, and with God ever by my side, I will continue to do the work I need to do, model the behaviors I need to for my children, and help them grow into productive adults who hopefully can have wonderful relationships of their own.

The more people I talk to, the more I realize that no one gets through childhood unscathed.  I truly thought because of all I experienced as a child, I would do so much better for my children.  I believe we all desire that for our kids.  But in the end, we are all fallible.  We struggle to do a little bit better job than our parents did with us.  If we’re lucky, I mean really lucky…our kids won’t end up as damaged as we were.  We can only do the best job we know how…and pray.

Baggage, check!

‘I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve.

I asked for prosperity and God gave me brawn and brains to work.

I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome.

I asked for patience and God placed me in situations where I was forced to wait.

I asked for love and God gave me troubled people to love.

I asked for favors and God gave me opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted.  I received everything I needed.

My prayers have all been answered.’

“Life is what you make it,” isn’t that what most people say?  You stand back and look at the lives of people around you, and wonder how in the world they got it so easy.  “I certainly must have done something horrible in a past life”…I’ve heard that one a lot as well.  The reality of the situation is that life is no accident.  I am a firm believer that each and every event that occurs in our lives was destined to happen – planned long before our birth by a Master Creator – for a purpose that may never reveal itself while we are alive.  That last piece may cause many of us to struggle a bit, especially when we are experiencing difficult times in our lives.

It is in those times we find ourselves questioning – our faith, our foundations, the fairness of life and even the randomness of it all.  Why would a loving Father allow difficulties, sadness, and even heartbreak if He cared so much for us?  Why do some people walk their entire lives, seemingly unscathed by hardship, and yet others seem pummeled by the world, time and time again?  Where is God’s love during these times, when we need Him the most?

I have shared a few of my experiences here before, the fact that I am no stranger to life’s hardships and my constant need to cry out to my Father for direction, stability and strength during those times of struggle.  It is exactly for those reasons that God allows us these times of need – so that we may seek His face, realize that on our own power we are completely inadequate and inferior in the face of life’s adversity, and that we must seek Him as our refuge.  He longs for that relationship with us, and uses these moments, not to punish us or harm us, but to draw us close to Him as a father comforts his child who has awoken in the night, trembling in fear with a horrible dream.  God cradles us in the palm of His hand, comforts our souls, and resets all in our world, just as any good daddy would do.  The picture is so clear and calming, I smile as I think of it each and every time.

These interchanges, these experiences with life’s battles and God’s loving redirection grow us each and every time.  We grow in love, and we learn how to love others more each time.  We grow in confidence, and we gain strength and poise after each new scrimmage.  We grow in knowledge, and we gain wisdom and discernment with each victory.

As I mentioned, I am fully aware of my long and full ‘battle card’ and my win-loss ration with the world.  God and I go way back, and we have celebrated victories on mountaintops into the wee hours of many nights, and mourned the defeats in the valleys for days on end.  But one thing was certain – no matter the outcome, He was by my side, lifting me when I could not stand alone, and kneeling alongside me when that was all I could manage.  No matter what scars were revealed, how bloodied and beaten I was, how large my ‘pack of baggage’ became, He remained; where others, with their flail promises, had abandoned…He never left my side.

An interesting observation about toting about your ‘pack…’ you become so used to the weight, you often forget it’s there on your back, constantly behind you, right behind you…all the time.  Sure, it’s visible, and you mention it to people, under the guise of honesty, but it’s like an appendage…’Hi, I’m Melissa…divorced, mother of 3, here’s my baggage…blah blah blah…would you like coffee?’  And you turn and 2 people are passed out on the floor…what?!  What’s wrong with you people?  Oh, the baggage?  Hemorrhaging? Really?  Where?  How am I standing?  It’s not really that bad, see?  This part just snaps back on right here, and this part…well, it’s replaceable…and this one…well, who needs a heart anyway?!  Nothing I hadn’t heard before…’How do you even get up every morning…?’  Well, is there really a choice?

But recently, in sharing my ‘pack’ with a new friend, in a more graceful way, or so I thought, I realized that my baggage…my life junk…can hurt other people.  Not because I am hurting them, but because they care about me.  Whoa…what?  Because someone cares that I’m potentially hurting over this old junk?  What a concept…!  So instead of using that stuff as a weapon, as a wounding agent, it’s possible for someone else to feel pain for what’s happened to me, and want to shield me from that, or any more possible pain?  Get the heck out of here!

And then…and this might just blow your mind right to tiny pieces…someone told me this week that I…I am MORE than the sum of that baggage…I am more than a sexual abuse victim at the hands of my father, and more than an emotional abuse victim at the hands of my ex-husband, and more than a divorced woman no one wants, and more than a mother of 2 children with autism, and more than a 45 year old with no parents, and MORE and MORE and MORE!

But you know what I am?!

I AM A DAUGHTER OF THE KING!

I AM BEAUTIFUL & LOVED!

I AM FORGIVEN & FREE!

My worth is not now, nor ever will be, measured by that baggage.  So though I know more trials and storms will come, I am not discouraged.  I stand strong in the knowledge of who I am, who stands alongside me, and what my purpose is.  And the vision of my Father keeps me eyes on the horizon and this smile on my face!