Reframing the Negative Beliefs We Have About Ourselves

If you ever hear a voice that says, “you’re too this” or “you’re too that” or “you’re not enough of this or that,” I want to suggest that you can gently steer that voice to a new truth. I think it’s possible that what we’ve come to consider our weaknesses, in many cases, might be our greatest assets. Let’s talk about reframing that inner chatter that has led to beliefs about ourselves that are not serving us well.

A few weeks ago I was in a work meeting where I found myself waffling back and forth between 2 sides who were making very good points. I suddenly felt terribly embarrassed about my lack of decision-making ability. Embarrassed that I couldn’t choose a side and stick with it. Embarrassed that I couldn’t make up my mind. My inner critic was turning up the heat with warnings of how ridiculous I looked. I pictured her rolling her eyes while she said, “Renee’ your inability to choose a side is reflective of your lack of intelligence. Everyone in this meeting is annoyed with how indecisive you are and you’re losing any respect you may have had from these colleagues. If you were smarter you would know which choice was the right one and stick with it.” When the meeting ended I sent a message to my co-worker apologizing for flip-flopping and joking that I would make a terrible politician. Her reply caught me completely off guard and offered that eye-rolling part of me a new interpretation of who I am and what I have to offer. My co-worker shared that if she had a choice of who would mediate a difficult discussion with 2 opposing views, she would CHOOSE me, because I’m fair and open to hearing both sides before making a decision. In a matter of seconds she turned a trait I have always seen as a shortcoming into a skill, a strength, an offering to help others. I was astounded! For as long as I can remember I have been frustrated with my inability to choose a side and then “stick to my guns.” For the first time, I was hearing that this “inability” actually made me capable of leading difficult discussions and bringing nuance to disagreements. In a matter of seconds my colleague took a 30+ year belief that I was a failure at being decisive and turned it right on its head.

Do you have beliefs about yourself that could be reframed? Maybe you believe you’re too emotional or oversensitive, but your friends and co-workers see a compassionate human being that heals hearts with loving empathy. Maybe you think you’re too shy, too quiet, but people feel a peace in your presence because you naturally make room for them to process their feelings and just be. Maybe you believe you’re too loud or too assertive, but others are drawn to you and inspired because you bravely stand up for what you believe in.

I encourage you to share your insecurities with a trusted loved one and ask them what they see. Allow someone who loves and cares for you help you redefine how you see yourself and your “flaws.” Explore those areas where you beat yourself up, and consider the possibility that those could be the very places that bring so much value to the lives around you. We will always have opportunities for growth and areas for improvement, but let’s first make sure we’re not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

Hope In Times of Uncertainty

Have you ever struggled with self-doubt? Have you ever approached an ending or a beginning and wondered, “how did I get here?” Have you ever felt hopeless in changing the trajectory of your life? Have you ever taken inventory of your environment and thought, “this is not how I imagined it would be?” Do you ever lay awake at night asking, “Is this where I belong? Am I on the path that fulfills my purpose?” Have you ever struggled to give yourself grace in your circumstance? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone and there is hope my friend. A new day is coming.  

This past week I’ve been feeling stuck. Struggling with purpose. Searching for meaning. I’ve felt lost with an ache in my soul that fears it’s chasing something that doesn’t want to be chased. There’s a voice telling me I’ve run out of ideas, I have no more worthwhile thoughts to share, nothing left to say or write. This has me feeling dispirited and exasperated with myself for not being more thoughtful and creative, for not running deeper and longer. The voice is saying, “you have nothing to offer and quite frankly, you never did!”

I’m not sure where these feelings stem from. It could be that I turn 40 this year. It could be that we’re in the season of all the hard anniversaries that bring back the grief of losing my brother before his time. It could be that I truly need a shift in my life and quite a bit more therapy. It could be (and probably is) a combination of all these things. One thing I know for sure is that these are lies from an enemy that is doing his very best to tear me from the inside out with distortion and deceit. The truth is that we are all wonderful and beautiful creations with purpose and callings that we are uniquely equipped to fulfill.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 ESV

I heard a timely message on Easter Sunday that struck a chord in me. It was the simple reminder that His love brings resurrection. The love of Jesus brings life! When we are feeling lost, lonely, worthless, hopeless, small, insignificant, we can look to the promises of Jesus for light and life, hope and joy, restoration and resurrection. He breathes a new spirit into our tired hearts and worn out souls.

This message reminded me of my own Jesus-breathed renewal. I laid in chronic pain for months, depending on others to care for me and my newborn son, most days believing that my life as I knew it was over. And yet, there came a day when I rose from my bed and the pain fell away. There was a day that I woke up and with the arms of Jesus wrapped firmly around me I slowly re-entered life. Jesus carried me through the shadows of pain and defeat into the glow of victory. I walked hand in hand with Jesus into a new morning of hope and joy and I knew I had been given a second chance at life. I embraced a gratitude for life at a depth and width I had never experienced in all my 33 years. This was my new becoming. In that moment I celebrated the joy that comes with knowing my Father will never leave me, that he is always faithful, that he loves me unconditionally, and that his plans for me are always good. I was a new woman in Christ. I embraced life with a new fervor. I felt a peace and strength and confidence in him that I had never before experienced. He had resurrected my heart and spirit and nothing would ever be the same. 

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My hopeless place. My storm.

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My resurrected place. My new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Easter message was a timely reminder that there is hope in each new day. A timely reminder that this broken place we may find ourselves in today is only a small moment in time on our journey with the God of love. A timely reminder that he is a God of new beginnings and he continues to lay a path before us, whether we see it or not. A timely reminder that we are all precious in his eyes, adored by our creator, and made for a great love and abundant life in him and him in us!

If you are hearing a voice that says, you’re not where you should be, a voice that doubts you have what it takes, a voice that says you’re not enough, a voice that says you’ll never find your path or purpose, a voice that calls you a failure and tells you that your circumstance is hopeless, I want you to know and believe that voice is a liar…The Liar. You are on a journey with peaks and valleys, midnights and mornings and it is the journey with Jesus that brings you wisdom and strength. It is the journey that equips you to shine love and light into the lives of those around you. It is the journey that brings you into a new morning and a new life. You were created for wholeness and he will make you whole. Have hope my friend, there is a new day dawning! 

You are enough! You are worthy! You are loved!

 

Delivered From Fear and Filled With Love

If you are living with crippling fear and anxiety, there is hope. If you are living in a place of dark depression, there is hope. If you are living with a resentment and bitterness that won’t leave your weary soul alone, there is hope. If you are experiencing any stronghold in your life, no matter how long you’ve fought, there is still hope!

This is good news, and what makes this great news is that this hope is not dependent on you or anything you can do. It does not depend on your behavior or your prayer. It does not depend on your religiosity or your repetition of memorized verses. This hope comes from Jesus who is in the business of supernatural peace and joy, comfort and love, repair and restoration.

Below is my dad’s testimony about how the Lord delivered him from a crippling fear and filled his heart with a love for others that dispelled the bitterness he held onto for many years. This was not an immediate transformation, but an extended exercise in trust and a release of religious formulas.

If you are struggling with a stronghold in your life I pray this 20-minute video will bring you hope. I pray you will believe deep down that this road you’re on will open to a space of freedom you have never imagined. I pray you will hold onto the hope that this journey leads to a strength far greater than anything humanly possible and that one day you will find glorious healing and wholeness. I pray that you will take rest in knowing that someday peace will come over you “like warm oil.”

I’m thankful for my dad’s vulnerability in sharing his testimony. His transformation has given me the courage to face hardships in my life a thousand times over. The work I’ve seen Jesus do in my dad’s life continues to keep me open to work that is yet to be done in my own.

I encourage anyone who has experienced supernatural intervention to share openly as a way to give God the glory and to bring expectancy of a brighter future to those who find themselves in the pit of hopelessness. Let us remind each other of the victory that lies ahead!

 

12 Tips to Read More Books

Have you been setting the same New Year’s resolution to “read more books” for years now? Are you wondering how you can possibly find time to fit reading into your already extremely busy life? I had set the same goals and wondered the same thing for years. I finally found a rhythm in 2018. Some of these tips may apply to your personality type and some may not. Take what you can and leave the rest.

  1. Read more than one book at a time – If you ever have FOMO or wonder what else you could be learning, what goal to attack next, what knowledge could change your life, then read more than one book at a time. If sitting still is difficult and your foot is constantly tapping, then read more than one book at a time. If you have many interests, many hobbies, many passions, then read more than one book at a time. If you have a job for 1 year and immediately begin wondering what you could learn next, do next, how you could grow and develop, then read more than one book at a time. If you bore easily, then DEFINITELY read more than one book at a time. I remain motivated and eager as I switch from spiritual to career development to self-help to memoir to psychology to a fiction that can take me away from it all.
  2. Have a bathroom book – For goodness sakes, leave your phone in another room and if you have kids, lock the door! A bathroom book allows for guaranteed reading time. Depending on how many cups of coffee or tea you drink throughout the day, you may have more reading time than others! A little time is better than no time.
  3. Set a goal for each time you pick up a book – I am goal-oriented and easily incentivized. Deciding an end point and reaching that end point creates a little hi-five party in my head. If a book has short chapters, I decide that every time I pick it up I will read 1 chapter. If it’s a book with long chapters, I’ll read to the next page break. If it’s my bathroom book, I read 2 pages. Side note: Thank you to all the authors of books with short chapters. Your books allow me to celebrate often and make me feel so capable!
  4. Write a review when you’re done – Writing a review of the books you read is like keeping a list of your accomplishments. I find it fun to write reviews on social media and/or goodreads.com, but it feels just as good to write them in a journal or in a document on your computer. If you’re a list-maker, this is an action that feels like you’ve crossed something BIG off your list and at the end of the year you can see just how much you accomplished.
  5. Read books recommended by people you love – Sharing the love of books with friends and family is an excellent way to connect. I have found that discussing books with others often helps us to dive deeper into each other’s lives. Conversation with depth leads to relationships with depth.
  6. Wake up earlier – I recommend doing this in small increments so that it feels less challenging. I began the year waking up just 15 minutes earlier so that I could do a little reading before the kids woke up and now I’m up 30 minutes earlier. My goal is to be awake an hour earlier by the end of the year. This has been the biggest and best habit I have changed so far this year. This routine has absolutely changed how I feel when my kids wake up after me. I’ve already had my quiet time and I feel more prepared for the chaos of the morning. I am a more patient and present mom when I give myself this time. 
  7. Choose and create an inviting space to read – I begin my mornings by making myself a hot chai tea that smells like cinnamon and vanilla and all things lovely. I turn on enough light to read by and I light 3 candles in different areas of the house so there’s just a flicker of light wherever I look. I am not exaggerating when I say that there are moments I feel like I’m on a retreat. These magical moments of relaxation help me to remain grounded throughout the day.
  8. Underline, highlight, write in the margins – I’m a note-taker and have always enjoyed the study required in school settings. I’m more likely to remember what I’ve read and have more take-aways when I engage with a book the way I used to when I was a student. With my highlights and notes, not only am I more likely to remember the content that I valued, but I can also easily re-read it, search for quotes I loved, and write my review.
  9. Buy a book you can hold – I know many people (including my husband) will laugh at me and call me old-school, but I love the feel of a book in my hand. I love being able to see the layout as I flip through the pages. I love the cover. I love the way a new book smells. I love that a new book goes from firm and clean to worn and seasoned expressing how loved it was in coffee stains, highlights, notations, dog-ears, etc.  I love being able to look at my bookshelf and quickly pull something out to refer to when I’m writing or having a conversation or working on developing a skill. In addition, tip #8 is easier for me to do in a real book.
  10. Bring a book with you – Almost anywhere we go these days, waiting is involved. I get a lot of reading done in airports, planes, Urgent Cares, waiting rooms, restaurants, etc. I’ve found myself changing my chronic habit of being a few minutes late everywhere I go, to being a few minutes early all in the hopes that I will arrive before the others and get a little reading done while I’m waiting. 
  11. Put the iPhone away – If you’re sitting down to read, put your iphone in a place it cannot be easily accessed. Increased distraction will inevitably come with increased accessibility. I am amazed how quickly the minutes disappear as I scroll “real quick” through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If I put my phone out of reach, I easily get 10-15 minutes more of solid reading in.
  12. Make reading a must – On the Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin recently said that if you feel like you “must read,” then you will. This is what it feels like to me now that I’ve been doing it every day for over a year. It’s as natural as, “I must eat something” or “I must use the restroom.” It’s just a thing that must be done during my day because it’s as much a part of my routine as any other necessity.

    I hope you find at least 2 or 3 of these tips helpful. Reading has brought me so much joy and I hope you’ll find the time to let all those amazing books out there do the same for you! I wish you all the best in making reading a must and may you throw many mental hi-five parties! 

9 Tips for People Who Hate Running but Want to Do it Anyway

Do you suspect that people are lying when they talk about a “runners high?” Do you wish you knew what all the hype was about? Are you willing to do something you hate just to see if a habit really can be created in 21 days? Maybe you’re just looking for something that you can do outside that is free and good for your health.

For many years I made goals around running, hoping I would catch the fever, but it just never stuck. I was following what I believed to be the traditional advice yet it never worked.

I finally stopped trying to BE a runner and just started doing what worked for me. Below are the things that finally clicked, including lessons I’ve learned along the way. Enjoy!

1. Don’t spend a fortune on new running shoes

Shoes from a store that specialize in their ability to find you your best running shoe (including a treadmill diagnostic and undoubtedly a pair of $75 custom-made inserts) will not make you faster, and more importantly, they will not make running more enjoyable. In fact, it may end up that you experience buyer’s remorse and twinges of bitterness as you continue to despise running while staring down at your $200 running shoes that have completely disappointed you. Stick with those $60 Nike’s on sale at DSW and feel the freedom of a smart purchase propel you forward.

2. Have a reasonable goal

Don’t start running with a goal around speed or distance or weight loss. With goals like these, you are more likely to push yourself to that familiar place of: running hurts, running sucks, I’m terrible at running, I run so slow, I may as well be walking, I hate running, and so on. Find a goal that will motivate you, such as: I’m going to run so that I can get 38 glorious minutes away from my beautiful, wonderful, energetic, needy, overly verbose, nerve-gnawing, button-pushing children, or I’m going to run in the hopes that I get to see my cute neighbor mowing the lawn (single ladies only), or I’m going to run to escape the fishy smell infiltrating my house thanks to my husband’s new Paleo diet, which calls for a salmon salad every day. Make running serve you!

3. Don’t fart without checking behind you first

It might just be me, but all the jiggling and wiggling created while I run makes me gassy. It didn’t take me long to learn that “real” runners are stealthy ninjas that sneak up behind you without a sound and they have uncanny timing! If you think it’s safe to “release” the discomfort, remind yourself that you’re probably not alone.

4. Listen to something that transports you

If music takes you to another place, then by all means listen to music, but don’t discredit the value of other listening pleasures. Music pumps me up, but it’s not enough to remove the obsessive, “I hate running” thoughts that drum out with each step of my affordable shoes. However, when I listen to podcasts I can almost forget that I’m running. Whether it’s music, a podcast, a book on tape, a running meditation (this is for real), or whale sounds, find something that takes your mind to a place where it’s not screaming, “why are you doing this to me?!? This is awful! I hate you and your stupid goals to get healthy!”

  5. Wear cute clothes

Expensive shoes don’t make running more enjoyable, but cute clothes do! As you run for 30 seconds (during your 5-minute walk, 30-second run rotation), you’ll feel stylish and think to yourself, “everyone driving by right now thinks I’m a real runner.”

6. Apply baby powder to your inner thighs

This tip is especially true on hot days, when you’re wearing shorts, and/or if you just shaved your legs.

7. Use the bathroom before running (especially important if you have given birth)

7a. Do yourself a favor and map out large bushes and empty canals as your back-up plan

If you must resort to your back-up plan, please refer to tip #3…#ninjas

8. Stretch before running

My son made me add this. I’ve literally never stretched before I run, but he’s right, a good stretch is just plain practical.

9. Keep running

Claim victory over your running nemesis! When you hear yourself thinking, “maybe running isn’t the WORST thing in the world” or “I would rather run than have to handle the mess that results in a 2 year old pooping in her bath,” or “I’m pretty sure I would prefer running over breaking my toe or stepping on a Lego,” then you are approaching a great transformation!

Happy running and may you one day shockingly say, “I want to go running!”

Thirty Minute Therapy

I’ve been in and out of therapy since high school and with the extensive internal work I’ve done, I recognize pretty quickly when it’s time to go back. I feel my irritability rising and my joy plummeting. I hear my self-talk turning against me. I see my days through a shadowed lense and I know it’s time. I identified these patterns a few months back, but had to put off making an appointment due to extensive work travel and financial shifts in our household.

I finally made an appointment two weeks ago with a brand new therapist and yesterday was the day. I woke up expectant. I felt energized knowing that I was about to pursue something that would lead to personal growth, self-reflection, forward progress, and overall evolvement. I love therapy!

The day had come and I was prepared for my appointment. As I ran out the door, I shoved a little yellow sticky note into my purse with a list of things I wanted to address while in therapy:

  • Grief and anxiety triggers
  • Career path and purpose for my life
  • Relationship with my son
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • People pleasing

As a full-time working mom, I give myself enthusiastic mental hi-fives when I arrive anywhere on time. I was 2 minutes early! Yay me! I walked into the office at 10:28am feeling confident that I was about to begin a journey of self-discovery and healing. Just moments after I reached the front desk, the therapist came around the corner. I eagerly introduced myself, but immediately felt hesitation from her. She shook my hand, while studying me quizzically and said, “weeelllll, it’s going to be a veeerrry short session because your appointment was at 10am.” And that, ladies and gentleman, is when everything shifted.

The air was sucked out of the room, I instantly felt heat travel from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, color flooded my cheeks, and I began to sweat. I was frantically searching for words that would explain this mishap and convince her that I’m not irresponsible and undependable. I immediately convinced myself that I was being deservedly judged and that this woman disliked me before we even met. As we walked back to her office I was still stuttering through apologies and promises that it would never happen again. I even declared obvious untruths such as, “this never happens!” and “I never do this!” Obviously, it does happen! Obviously, I do this! My hope and excitement for transformation just minutes earlier were completely replaced with self-loathing and shame.

For the first 15 minutes of our session she explained Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and what I could expect as we move through the process. I did not hear one word! As she was explaining how we would address my grief triggers, my inner dialogue was shouting loud and fast. The monologue inside my head was saying with disgust, “she already doesn’t respect you, you’re going to have to find another therapist, there’s no way this is going to work, she’s judging you and thinks you’re irresponsible, obviously you ARE irresponsible, how could you get this wrong?, what is wrong with you?, if you can’t even get a time right on your calendar she must think you’re an idiot, it’s your fault this isn’t going to work, now you’re going to have to find another therapist and start this entire process over, you are such a disappointment, you let others down, you let yourself down!!!!” and on and on and on. I could see her lips moving, and catch a few words here and there, but for the life of me I could not focus on what she was saying. Her voice had no chance of drowning out the self-shaming roar inside my head.

And then (thank the Good Lord), I had a moment of clarity!

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my little yellow sticky note sitting in my purse, and I remembered that 2 of the items listed were to address my self-esteem/confidence and people pleasing.

That brief visual prompted me to consider: What if this is the beginning of my therapy? What if this is my opportunity to grow? What if I choose the hard thing and stay with this therapist instead of running away because my pride is injured and I’ve decided she hates me? What if I silence that lying voice set on repeat by breaking the script and deciding that I am allowed to make mistakes without beating myself up? That I am allowed to be human. Allowed to disappoint someone and still be respected. Allowed to confidently pursue friendships and professional relationships even with all my flaws fully in tact. Allowed to move forward after a failure without shame digging it’s nails in. Allowed to be imperfect. Allowed to be me even if it means I can’t please all people all the time. What if this veerrry short session ended in a verrry valuable lesson? What if I decided to lean into the idea that I am likable, I am loveable, I am worthy, and simultaneously, I am a flawed human!

I decided right then and there that I was not going to look for another therapist. I decided right then and there that this was simply an eye-opening example of how often I’m controlled by the intense desire to please other people. I decided right then and there that moving forward with this therapist would mean I would have to forgive myself and begin embracing the idea that relationships can and do move forward even after I’ve disappointed someone. 

After I made this decision I was instantly able to tune into what she was saying. I became present and engaged. Soon, I left the office feeling like I had quietly conquered something inside me that had attempted to sabotage my efforts to move towards health and healing, growth and transformation, hope and joy. I left feeling proud that I didn’t allow shame to chase me away from something I knew my heart and soul needed.

I want to encourage everyone reading this to join me in paying attention to what that critical voice is saying and how it may be holding you back. Let us acknowledge that this voice developed somewhere in our past as a way to protect us, therefore there is no need to criticize or judge ourselves for its existence. Next, let us make bold new choices based on the present moment to move forward with self-love, confidence, and freedom.

We are wonderfully and beautifully made. We are flawed, we are human, we are loved. 

Dear Parkinson’s. Dear Mom.

Dear Parkinson’s

 

You will not have my mom.

You may take her outer strength,

but her inner strength blooms on.

You may take her voice,

but her love is loud and strong.

 

You may change her movement,

stiffer, and sometimes slow.

Fatigue may settle in,

and changes surely show,

but her spirit still shines large

and her beauty only grows.

 

You may be the reason

that she stops to take a rest,

but you can’t keep her heart from

pouring out kindness.

Our hero and our warrior

forever more, never less.

 

She’s mightier than you

in soul, and guts, and heart,

a solid pillar of peace,

you cannot pull apart.

No disease can steal the grace

that she perfectly imparts.

 

No amount of symptoms

could change her legacy.

No illness diminishes that

she’s all I want to be.

No consequence of aging can shrink

my mom, my hope, my peace.


Mom, you recently asked a dear friend about your value and belonging now that you have Parkinson’s. You wondered about your purpose as you struggle with no longer being able to serve others in the ways you always have. I am here to tell you on behalf of everyone that has ever known you, that your value and belonging have never been defined by what you could do for others. Your value and belonging have ALWAYS been defined by who you are and whose you are.

You are the most Godly, loving, kind, generous of spirit, selfless, peace-giving, and gracious person I’ve ever known. Parkinson’s will NEVER take away all the lovely and life-giving qualities that make you who you are!

What you’ve always given and continue to pour into your family is an everlasting love…a grace that surpasses a lifetime…an agape love that has wrapped itself around each of us for eternity…a kindness that is warm and unconditional…an endless lesson of how to care for others with compassion and servanthood.

My hope has always been and will always be that I could grow each day to be more like you. This prayer doesn’t change as you struggle with the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s can’t steal your value…nothing can! Mom, your value isn’t in how much you can do…how many hours you can help…how many “yes’s” you can say…how many brownies you can bake (although those are amazing!). Your value has and always will be the beautiful fruit of the spirit that you display every day of your life. Your value has and always will be the heart and spirit that God created in order for you to love others in ways they’ve never been loved. Your value has and always will be from a Father who loves you as mightily now as he did the day you were born.

You must know, and more importantly, believe that your family values you as much today, in this moment, as we did when you fixed breakfast every morning, sang us to sleep every night, attended every choir concert and ball game, took us school shopping, and helped raise our children. It has never been what you do for us…it has always been about how you love us. The love that pours from your soul has not changed with Parkinson’s, and no disease could ever steal our love from you. You belong. You are valued.

There truly are not words to describe how proud I am to call you mom. Jesus is Love and so are you! The love you share shines bright into the hearts of those who know you and that light is passed from person to person eventually touching people you’ve never met. The light you have imparted in other’s lives will never extinguish, nor will the legacy of your life.


My Mom

 

Love pours from her so fiercely

as she wraps you in her peace.

Her arms are warm and steady,

kindness plays across her face.

 

She holds you up in prayer,

puts you first, because that’s love.

Serves hope with steady wisdom,

points our eyes to Him above.

 

An image of perfect grace.

A heart that wants to serve.

She gives with all she has,

wanting nothing in return.

 

She’s strong and full of beauty.

Wise and believes the best.

She quickly finds your worth.

Chooses service over rest.

 

Forgiveness given freely,

no judgment does she bring.

She looks to help others heal,

chasing out shame’s sting.

 

She’s mighty and she’s humble,

powerful and kind,

She’s everything I hope to be

I’m so blessed that she is mine.

 

My perfectly made, lovely, beautiful mom.                                                                                           

                                                                        

 

 

 

Fostering Refugees – The Stigma that Scared Me

A few months ago, at the height of reports showing kids being separated from their parents at the border, Pete and I came across an opportunity that immediately felt like a calling. We were encouraged to apply for a license that would allow us to foster these children until they are reunited with their parents or sponsor family, and we both were immediately on board. Since we submitted our application we have completed 15 hours of in-person training, approximately 22 hours of on-line Foster Parent College training, and amounts of paperwork that exceeded all reasonable expectations.

Last night we finished laying our hearts and our home on the line for a 4-hour foster home inspection and family interview.

Things that went well:

  1. We’re now one step closer to offering a temporary home to the kids separated from their parents at the border. My heart is singing!
  2. Our house is cleaner, safer, and more organized than it has ever been before. Good luck opening any of our cabinets ever again. If you need surgery, we have a platinum 250 person first aid kit that will SAVE YOUR LIFE! If you’re on fire, head on over and we’ll extinguish it immediately!
  3. Pete and I feel closer as a couple after exploring our past, present, and future, our strengths and weakness, and our hopes and dreams for 4 hours with a complete stranger.

Things that could’ve gone better:

  1. We could’ve done without the live scorpion on Isaac’s bedroom curtain during the SAFETY inspection!
  2. Could’ve done without our Jack Russell fishing through the case workers purse to eat her hair clip.
  3. When I answered that we had no weapons, Isaac could’ve forgotten (just like I had) that I have a Samurai sword from a leadership conference many years ago. #compassionatesamurai
  4. Isaac and Sonoma could NOT have played their new giggle-inducing game, which consists of them repeating the words, “you’re a bad mommy, you’re a bad daddy.” #kidsarehilarious
  5. Isaac could’ve avoided using EVERY innocent toy as a weapon of some sorts. The Minnie Mouse blow dryer turned full pistol last night!

We know we’re on the right path and answering a calling as none of this feels burdensome. We are thrilled for the next step and to minister love to these kids at a time of such trauma and fear and loss. #allgodschildren

Last night was also the first time we made our decision public by posting on social media. Until last night the only people we had shared with were immediate family and those we asked to be our references.

Since my post last night I have had quite a few people reach out wondering when we made this decision. I’ve been thinking a lot about why I hadn’t made our decision public until now.

The first reason I haven’t been openly sharing this decision is because I didn’t want it to look like or feel like we were seeking accolades. I knew a lot of our friends would be excited for us and I didn’t want our decision to move forward, when the movement got tough, to be influenced by the desire to please others or make others proud. I truly felt like this was a calling from the beginning and I didn’t want to be motivated or feel pressured by external sources.

Secondly, and sadly, I have been tentative to share our decision because of the negative reactions I feared we would receive from some. Due to the polarized climate we currently live in I was worried that our commitment to foster kids that have been separated from their parents at the border would require us to defend ourselves. I have heard so much hateful rhetoric throughout the year that paints immigrants as nonhuman and undeserving of love and kindness, compassion and grace. I could barely stomach the idea that our decision may be received with this level of vitriol…or any level of disappointment whatsoever. I was preparing myself for conversations with people I love and care about that would strip away my respect for them. I was arming up for debates on what “kind” of child “deserves” help. I was expecting heartbreaking backlash from at least a few people in our lives and I was afraid of how our relationships would weather the storm. But, the truth is…once an issue is made personal, hearts often soften. Once there’s a face we can touch, and a hand we can hold, putting a voice to a highly debated and sensitive issue, the dynamics begin to shift. Civility is often restored when the matter in question lands in our own backyard.

We have received an outpouring of love and support since my post last night and although it appears that some are more excited about our decision than others, there hasn’t been any nastiness or uncomfortable pushback. I must admit that I didn’t give the benefit of the doubt and for that I’m sorry. I hope our decision will help bring a name and a face to the debate around the border. I hope our decision will humanize this issue versus politicize it. I hope our decision will remind us and others of the inherent value of all people regardless of ethnicity, country of origin, race, color, religion, etc. I hope and pray our decision will be heart changing and maybe even life saving for all of us who are a part of this process.

A Daughter’s Response to an Ageless Father

My dad wrote the authentic and vulnerable poem below about his experience with aging and his hope in the Lord. I’m thankful that he gave me permission to share his poem on my blog. I’ve added a poem I wrote to him in response that he hasn’t yet seen. Dad, your influence reaches far and wide and my love for you is boundless. Thank you for allowing me to share your words with others…thank you for your courage in being open about how it feels to grow older. I learn so  much from you and mom every day!

Shrinking Man

Possibilities and dreams
the world was full of them it seemed.
Now my options fading fast,
life much smaller than my past,
Shrinking man.

Lovely wife and precious kids
Love my God for all he did,
Still feel his love as time flies past
But it remains a fact, alas
Shrinking man.

Influence fades as we get old,
Once sought for wisdom, now just told,
Powerlessness seems to creep in slow,
A mocking sense it brings of woe,
Shrinking man.

So on HIM I fix my gaze,
As my person fades away,
A day will come when I shall die,
And then I’ll see the reason why,
The process isn’t bad you see,
It’s just the path to victory.
With joy I’ll rest in His embrace,
Forever I’ll behold His face
Thanking Him eternally
That I will no longer be,
Shrinking man.

– Ron Little (my dad)


Larger Than Life – A Legacy of Love

My dad, my rock, my shield, my strength
grows bigger in my eyes, not weak
His heart expands, his wisdom grows
to soak it in, I draw close

In his eyes and in his deeds
God’s growing love is what I see
Each day, each year that passes by
his courage builds before my eyes

He shares his doubts, his fears, his pain
with an open heart he faces change
a vulnerable glimpse he offers us
a friend, a father, a man I trust

I’ve watched my dad grow in the Lord
evolve and change moving forward
a human life with sin and grace
reminding me I have a place

So, to my dad I want to say
as your “person fades away”
who you are to me remains
the many who taught me how to pray
A day will come when you will die
and I’ll always know the reason why
you loved the Lord with so much might
encouraged me to keep my sight
on the One of love and light
You will never be small to me
You will only be more free

– your daughter

Grace in the Trump Era

I’m about to get real about my sinful nature, so please be kind.

The election of Donald J. Trump has thrust me into a battle of flesh versus grace like I have never experienced before. At no time in my life have I felt more convicted yet less prepared to live out the message of Jesus, to love our enemies.

“…I say to you, love your enemy…respond to the very ones who persecute you by praying for them. What reward do you deserve if you only love the loveable? How are you any different from others if you limit your kindness only to your friends?” Matthew 5:43-47

I’ve read this scripture, and the many like it countless times, but it’s never called out to me like it does now. I’ve always considered myself a loving, forgiving, and tolerant person, but the emotions that have risen up in me the past 18 months have been remarkably ugly and uncharacteristic. I loathe the shadow that seems to be rising within me, the bitterness swelling inside. I fear a dangerous reunion with depression and anxiety lurking for me every night, and I realize that this way of living…this swimming in an ocean of toxicity is not sustainable. There’s a quickening in my heart every time I react to our President with disgust, fury, and despair, and I recognize this quickening as a challenge I’m woefully unequipped to sufficiently manage.

I desire to have the heart of Jesus towards Trump, not because I want to be a “good Christian” or because I have something to prove, or want to “appear” holy and faithful, but because I believe that love heals and hate destroys. I feel the tremor of the voice of Jesus deep in my soul saying, “this is your Mount Everest Renee’. This is your purpose, right here, right now. This is who I’ve made you to be…a voice of light and love in this moment, a peacemaker, a woman who learns to wholeheartedly give and receive grace because she fully grasps that every one of my creations is worthy. Your life can be a testament to how I love you and every other human on this earth without conditions, without reservations. If you will allow me to transform your heart so that you can love who you’ve deemed unlovable, then you will break this destructive cycle and breathe in the freshness of my tender spirit in a way you’ve never experienced.” I want to respond to this persistent rumbling in my core, but my human nature cannot summon it. Sealing the goal for grace in my mind has not translated to action in my heart. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards a man I believe is undeserving of grace and then I scoff at myself as I reflect on the knowledge that grace IS exactly that… undeserved favor! If he could earn it then it wouldn’t be grace.

Grace for Trump is not the only place I struggle.

I yearn to have the heart of Jesus towards myself. I intend to offer myself love and forgiveness, but every time I respond to others from a place of judgment and exasperation, my heart sinks in shame. There has been a heaviness, a sadness, a separateness that isolates me from the love I used to sense in my daily life. I fear there’s no place for me anymore. I wonder if the wilderness has swallowed me whole. I scold myself for lacking the heart of Jesus, even while I’m consciously seeking it out. My internal dialogue is not one of compassion or hope as I continually disappoint myself in the journey towards becoming love. I am dispirited by my grave inability to create a gentleness in my heart when I so badly want to be an example of the love of Jesus. This year, I have teetered between healthy accountability and severe self-shaming. I pray for the Lord’s heart towards myself knowing that no amount of good deeds could ever earn His blessings. If I could earn it, then it wouldn’t be grace.

This journey for grace is more wearisome than I expected.

I dedicated this year to grace and I am persistently tested, consistently repenting, consciously aware of every ungracious thought and action. I have hit my knees begging for the Lord’s heart towards those I don’t understand, those I vehemently disagree with, those I fear. I have grappled over how to love my enemies..truly, radically love them. It’s seemingly effortless to flippantly say, “I will love my enemies.” It’s a different endeavor altogether to react from a place of benevolence when I come face to face with an adversary’s hostile shouts, venomous words, and furious eyes. I want to behold myself and others with generosity. I want a lens of redemption to filter out the world’s perspective so that visions of love, grace and mercy are all that remain. I want an agape love to spill out of me in a life-giving stream. I want to feel the strength of God’s love lifting me up in my weakest moments so that I may lift the burden of lovelessness and isolation from those who are wounded and lonely.

I am starving for a grace that glides naturally from my being, but the war of words raging inside my head has done nothing to encourage the love of God in my heart, and so I repent. I repent for making it about me. I repent of my bitterness. I repent of my judgment. I repent of my anger. I repent of my need to be right. My flesh reminds me every day that I am incapable of transforming my heart without supernatural intervention.

Below is a visual of the candid and often unpleasant inner workings of my daily thought life. Beware that it is brutal. I am not proud of where I’m at, but I am hopeful, as I believe The Lord is working on me every second of every day. I rarely make it to column 3 (The Truth), and even when I do, it isn’t without kicking and screaming. God’s wisdom has yet to take root in my heart, but that is my constant prayer.

My Flesh = My Worldly Response = My Knee Jerk Reaction = My Sin My Human Struggle for Grace = My Self Talk God’s Wisdom = The Truth
Trump is evil and there’s little to no explanation for supporting a man who bullies and disparages war heroes, immigrants, refugees, minorities, women, the disabled, the dying, leaders of ally countries, literally anyone who disagrees with him! Ugh! I hate this sin…this tendency to judge others that lives and thrives within me. I am not blameless. I am also guilty of making fun of others, laughing at jokes that are in poor taste, thinking less of certain people when I feel justified. In fact, I do this to Trump and feel TOTALLY justified! BUT, at least I’m willing to reflect on my faults and ask for forgiveness. At least I don’t live my life committing these offenses without any remorse! And, here I go again feeding the sin that enjoys its lofty place in my heart. Why can’t I get this grace thing right?! Why am I always making excuses for my lack of grace? Why can’t I will myself to love the way God loves? I’m so bad at this! I’ll never figure out how to love those my flesh has deemed unlovable! Everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard…His gift of love and favor now cascades over us, all because Jesus, the Anointed One, has liberated us from guilt… Romans 3:23-24
I am physically ill as I observe how Trump fuels the fire of hatred! I literally can’t think of another person who can stir the malignant brew of animosity more effectively than our current President. And yet I give myself a pass as I fuel the fire of hatred with name-calling, negative social media posts, and fruitless conversations regarding my disgust for him! I cannot fight hate with hate, so why do I keep ending up here?! Shame on me, shame on me, shame on me! You are forgiven and so is he.
How is it possible that Trump’s Christian supporters can’t see how he capitalizes on fear to win their support and that fear is NOT from The Lord?!?! Yet, I’m full of fear too! My reaction to his policies and vicious rhetoric sends me into a whirlwind of fitful nights and dark days envisioning nightmarish outcomes. I’m guilty of allowing fear to rule my heart, as I fear his presidency will bring us to war and/or tear our country apart. I provide fear with a playground as I watch the news, read his tweets, participate in relationships that serve as an echo chamber. I am once again doing the very thing I claim to hate so much! If my faith is in The Lord, then there would be no fear! God will never give us the spirit of fearing men or others. The Holy Spirit gives us mighty power, love, and self-control…the light of revelation. 2 Timothy 1:7
I have yet to observe any behavior from Trump that exemplifies the love of Jesus, so why do so many “Christians” support him? Maybe I no longer identify as being a Christian when the reputation of some seems to be that of hypocrisy, intolerance, racism, nationalism, pridefulness, dishonesty, fear-mongering, hatefulness, bitterness, intimidation, un-forgiveness, belligerence, sexism… I have not been appointed judge of moral character. Who am I to act as if I have everything figured out and anyone who disagrees is blind? Who do I think I am?!?! How many times have I encouraged others to dial back their compulsion to be right? How many times have I prayed for the softening of hearts and the opening of ears and the healing of relationships? Yet, here I am dialing into the rage and digging in my heels. HOWEVER, he has admitted he’s never had to ask for forgiveness. At the very least I have the insight to know when I’ve sinned and the ability to feel remorse. At least I’m looking for a way to show love even when I REALLY don’t want to. And here I go again with my righteous anger, my rationalization of denying grace. Once again I’ve failed! God did not send his Son into the world to judge and condemn the world, but to be its Savior and rescue it! John 3:17
Trump’s narcissism, pride, and lack of any humility whatsoever makes it substantially difficult for me to look at his face, hear his voice, read his words. I look at him and feel evil, see evil, hear evil. He stands for everything my parents taught me to avoid: dishonesty, bullying, disrespect, dishonor, selfishness, vanity, anger, cruelty, hubris, and the list goes on and on. He represents the opposite of every quality I want modeled for my children. He is everything I was taught not to be. The things he is praised for are the very same things I’ve been punished for. This posture of knowing all there is to know about a man I’ve never met shines a light on the sin of pride and superiority that lives inside of me too. My acidic reaction to Trump is not a seed planted by my Father. This is not a root that bears the fruit of love. This visceral reverberation spreads a twilight over my circle of influence when my desire is to bring the sunrise. So, why is this so damn hard?!?! If I want something SO badly, why can’t I just make it happen? Why can’t I turn myself into the loving and gracious human being I know the Lord desires me to be? I’m so frustrated with this journey. I feel like giving up on my search for grace. Lord, I cannot love the way you love without your heart. Please transform me! Please impart in me the Spirit of Love over the spirit of rightness! We are both struggling sinners and yet “Christ proved God’s passionate love for us by dying in our place while we were still lost and ungodly!”

Romans 5:8

If I’m supposed to give Trump grace, then he and every one of his defenders need to give (fill in the blank) grace! I can’t wrap my head around the people who stand up for his abhorrent behavior and then get defensive when someone reacts with anger in return. Trump started the racist and outlandish birther conspiracy against Obama, yet his supporters are up in arms over the Russian investigation. I hear people belaboring how upset they are with Robert De Niro for yelling an obscenity at an award show, yet these same people cheer when Trump calls NFL players “sons of bitches” and join in the chanting, “lock her up,” and applaud when he mercilessly picks on John McCain, and rallies around him when he encourages his supporters to physically harm protesters. I’m stunned and sickened that he can talk about grabbing women’s pussy’s and how easy it is to take advantage of them because he’s powerful and rich, but yet his base continues to talk about Bill Clinton. It feels to me as if deceit and sexual assault and misconduct are completely forgivable as long as you’re on the “right” side. The false virtues I’ve witnessed makes me definitively unwell. The double standard is outrageous! What is this hypocrisy?!?! Again, grace is undeserved favor and I need it too! Grace does not wait for the person to get everything right before it shows up. It’s not even waiting for us to get one thing right. If I insist on Trump changing his modus operandi before I change my heart towards him, then I will continue to run low on peace and I will exhaust myself chasing grace. There is no positive change that can come from my despondency. Hope is is not ignited by a fire of vindictiveness. Redemption and reconciliation will never grow from a place of hostility. I must find a way to allow the permanent station of grace to take camp in my heart, but I’m finding it nearly impossible and therefore I’m afraid I’m failing at being Love. “The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.” Luke 19:10

He is seeking us out even while we head in the wrong direction. Jesus views us through the eyes of love because we are made in His image and we have been reconciled to Him through the sacrifice of the savior. He does not withhold his love based on our behavior…He loves us in despite of it. The truth is that His transformative love is available to every one of us, and He will love me through my journey no matter how many wrong turns I take.

If you are offended for him, standing up for him, defending him, I feel like screaming, “he’s not the one that needs protecting! It’s those he oppresses and bullies and demeans and flippantly disregards that need protection!” If you can’t see the hurt he has caused, the hate he has stirred, the fear-mongering tactics he’s forced down the throats of anyone who will listen, then I don’t know how it is we are living on the same planet. There are so many things I can do to fight injustice, protect the oppressed, love the hurting, care for the poor, and none of those things require vitriol. I only make my heart-sick and the divisions in my circle of influence more polarized when I engage in shaming, finger-pointing, blaming, outrage, and resentment. Sometimes I witness myself expending more energy on being against someone than being for those who need me to stand with them. I am so disappointed that I have come to a place where my knee-jerk reaction is to occupy a space of indignation rather than a space of love and grace. I am terrified that I will never escape this murky water I’m drowning in. Where are you God?! I beg you to lift the heaviness of this contempt that has made its home in my heart the past 18 months. I cannot move forward bearing beautiful fruit without your transformative power! This all feels impossible! “Looking straight into their eyes, Jesus replied, Humanly speaking…no one can save himself. But what seems impossible to you is never impossible to God!” Matthew 19:26

I’m exhausted from this struggle. I’m exhausted just writing and reading about this struggle. Even while I seek His heart, strive to love the way He calls us to love, attempt to offer grace in all situations to all people, I feel abandoned to blindly feel my way through this chaos on my own. I don’t know how to give grace to Trump or to those who support him no matter what he says or does, but I do know that the Lord loves him and every single one of His creations regardless of our misdeeds and shortcomings. I know that as much as I focus on Trump’s need for forgiveness and grace, I need the very same things! I’m tempted to berate myself for my lack of love, but I know that’s not God’s desire for me. I know He is inviting me to rely on Him. Today, I feel alone. Today, I feel lost. Today, I wonder what road lies ahead. Today, I feel fatigue setting in as I relentlessly beg for a transformation. Today, my spirit is waning as I fruitlessly search for a heart I can’t create on my own. Today, I ask the creator to breathe new life into me. Today, I meditate on The Word that says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” – Psalm 34:18.

I imagine 2 main responses to my struggle:

  1. If you’re responding to me with disbelief, disappointment, or even disgust that I could have so much darkness in my heart towards a man I don’t even know, then I challenge you to consider that those are the very same feelings I share in response to Trump. If you’re feeling “column 1” feelings about me, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about me or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I don’t make this request because I need you to like me, but because I want us all to live in a place of wholeness and grace. I want us all to experience one another as God experiences us. I want us all to rest in a place of peace and joy as we face our daily lives in community with one another. I want us to find a way to give each other grace in this messy, broken, imperfect world full of messy, broken, imperfect people. I want us to conquer hate with love! I could try to convince you that I’m not a terrible person, but let me just admit that I’m a sinful human being who is seeking grace and striving to have the heart of the Lord no matter how many times I fail.
  2. If you’re responding with disbelief, disappointment or even disgust that I am making an effort to “let Trump off the hook so easily,” I want to be clear that seeking grace is not justifying, excusing, or trivializing wrong-doings. I strongly believe that lies, racism, sexism, oppression, and hate all have to be addressed and consequences are necessary. Grace can be offered without brushing anything under the rug or minimizing the ramifications of someone’s behavior. I believe that in order to be a light in this world we must be pillars of truth, which requires the courage to speak against polluting messages and the willingness to condemn untruths. We must speak up and speak out, and I believe that doing so from a place of love is the only way we can escape the cancer of “column 1.” I believe rising above the fury is the quickest path to a place of unification and healing. If you connect with my “column 1” feelings about Trump, let me be the first to acknowledge that I get it. If you’re sitting in judgement about him or anyone else during this highly polarized era of “othering,” would you join me in my effort to move to “column 3?” I believe that only love is sustainable. I believe radical love and profound forgiveness are powerfully transformative. I believe there’s a path that allows us to stand up for what is right without succumbing to despondency and animosity. I believe there’s a journey ahead that doesn’t include hate, but rather calls us to practice a communion of reconciliation so that we may avoid the death of our joy and the joy of those around us. I believe we can be breath in breathless moments rather than oxygen fueling the fire.

My life is full of choices that can move me towards grace or away. If I am to be an ambassador of redemption I cannot do so by engaging in maliciousness. I am choosing to create a community that bonds over inclusivity versus causticity. I am seeking a way to stand for justice and offer grace simultaneously. I don’t believe it has to be either/or…I want to live a life of both. I want to find a way to hold the hands of the oppressed, the vulnerable, the hurting, and claim out loud what I believe is right and worthy without pointing fingers, placing blame, screaming judgement, spreading condemnation or ostracizing. I want to love loudly and stand boldly for what’s fair, just, and good without being against anyone. I want to be an example of grace’s transformative power. I want the Lord to brand my heart with the reminder that every single one of us is His creation. I want to remember that we all require healing and that love conquers all. I cannot in good conscience continue to wallow in bitterness when I know with all my being that hate will not defeat hate and shame will not fill hearts with loving-acceptance and compassion. I want to live from a place where: Justice is necessary and Grace is transformative!

As I continue to wrestle with grace in the Trump era, I invite you to join me in reflecting on this beautiful scripture:

Don’t let anger control you or be fuel for revenge, not for even a day…And never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but instead let your words become beautiful gifts that encourage others; do this by speaking words of grace to help them. Lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults. But instead be kind and affectionate toward one another. Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.” Ephesians 4:26-32

And when we fail, may we remember that we are forgiven.