Lost and Found

I am always losing things. Always. My keys, my kids, my mind. I’m just a scattered, messy girl. I can never remember where I have put stuff! But whenever I lose something, I find something else. Like when I am looking for my keys in the bottom of my purse, I find my favorite lip gloss I bought last summer. (It stinks because the lip gloss is usually expired.) Or when I am looking for that earring back, I find the battery to the kid’s remote control car. (because earring backs and batteries belong in the same place, right?)

I’ve lost some important things lately, and they have all landed me in the same place: a church surrounded by people from my past.  I have been to 3 funerals in the last few years of people I loved dearly: my father, my grandmother, and my grandfather. It’s a tragedy to me; however, in the process of losing these precious people, I found something else. I found the memories of my childhood, the history and nostalgia of what makes me me. For each of these funerals, I spent some extended time in my hometown of Macon, Georgia, grieving and visiting with dear ones. I drove down old streets, sat with old people, listened to and told stories with family and friends and remembered. I remembered who I am and where I have come from.

I remembered that I grew up going to my grandfather’s country church to hear “Just as I am” played for 3 stanzas so that the lost could come down front for salvation. I remembered that cross-stitching was an art that my grandmother taught me and we would sit for hours and craft. I remembered that dad loved Mountain Dew and would sit in an old folding chair with buddies covered in grease stains from hours under the hood of a car. I remembered that VBS was where I met Jesus at age 9 and soon after my grandfather baptized me on Easter evening. I remembered Wednesday night suppers and pink foam rollers on Saturday nights so my hair was curly for Sunday School. I remembered how much I loved hymnals and Jesus and choirs and homemade lemonade with my great grandfather on his back porch.

I remembered how strong and faithful my family is to our tribe and we all stick together and when we lose one it hurts us all. I remembered snuggling up close with my grandmother for sleepovers and fresh made biscuits in the morning. I remembered youth group and lock-ins and my crazy friends and dancing with brushes for microphones. I remembered mom having us at church whenever the doors were open because she cared for the outcome of my soul…and it is well with my soul.

All of these memories and deposits made me who I am. There are many more, too many to write. Too many beautiful conversations and hugs with wise ones who had deep wrinkles and love in and around their eyes. For some reason, this last visit, this last funeral, made all these moments so real and so vivid. They were like a perfume in the air that I was grateful for. I missed them at the time. Missed the importance, the necessity of them. Tradition and memory are like hot soup on a really cold day, you don’t appreciate them until your body has an ache and a craving.

I think I’ve had an ache and a craving lately. I didn’t realize it was there. I’ve gotten a little lost over the years, not sure exactly where I fit in, who I am, what I believe about certain things. I’ve lost that confidence of my 16 year old self. At 16, I could win the race, because I was surrounded by this army-family that believed in me, that had poured tradition and memory and love and Jesus into me all those years. I could fly as high as I wanted according to them. They had placed treasures in me, beautiful treasures of faith, love and hope and I had no doubts.

But we all leave the nest and the world grabs a hold of us, and doubt and sin and loss place their ugly fingerprints on us and we forget. We lose something. Maybe we lose ourselves.

Thank goodness though, when we lose something, maybe ourselves, we find something. I found a lost piece of me this week, at a church, at my Papa’s funeral. I found what I had forgotten, who I am, what was put inside of me. What my grandparents and parents and aunt and uncles and cousins put inside of me, what my pastors and church and friends put inside of me, and that I still have an army-family that loves and believes in me. That’s who I am, full of tradition and memory, and country churches and hymns and salvation. That’s what inside of me and I love it. I had forgotten, I had lost it, but I am so glad I found it.  

The Holy, Hard Things

I have had the honor of having two Papas on this earth, my father and grandfather. Both were men who loved God, sharing his good news every opportunity they had. My father would share the love of God in sunday school classrooms and hospital halls and my grandfather from the pulpit. The pages of their Bibles were worn and covered with pen and highlight markers. I loved both these men and they were loved well by their friends and family. My father left us almost 5 years ago and my grandfather left us today.

These men had women beside their beds as they breathed out the earth and breathed in the kingdom. These women, my mom and grandmother, are two of the strongest women I know. They are very different, and I believe God placed the best of them inside me. My mom is powerful and decisive, and efficient. My grandmother is scattered and silly and loves to feed you. They are different but the same. They both believe in serving their families and their spouse no matter the cost. No matter how hard, no matter how isolating, no matter how heartbreaking.  Both of the men in their lives were very sick in the end. I had the privilege of watching them serve past the point of exhaustion: Sleepless nights, doctors visits, home health, countless medications. They fed these men, made sure they rested, made sure they kept their dignity in the last days that strip dignity away.

They never left. They never stopped. Despite the fear, despite the heartache, despite how hard it was. And I got to see it all. I got to see their tears, their faith, their love, and their surrender. And it changed me. 

It seems today some of us have lost this: the fight, the faith, the surrender to the hard things. We want to run away or let go or look for a way to ease the pain. Somehow, we bought the lie that God isn’t in the tough stuff, that we shouldn’t have to experience suffering. And if we do, we seek a remedy to make it go away. But God is there, ever present in hard things. Those times are holy times, when you sacrifice, surrender and find yourself alone with only God, crying out “Abba, Papa.”

What if instead of running away from the struggle in our life, we stayed put, served, loved, cried out to God….and found him. Found him in the Holy, hard things.

In Joshua 3 and 4 , the Israelites are getting ready to cross the Jordan river on their journey to the promised land. The priests are asked to go ahead of them with the Ark of the Covenant, which holds the presence of God. Joshua 3:17 states: “Meanwhile the priests stood on dry ground in the middle of the river bed as the people passed by them. They waited there until everyone had crossed the Jordan.”

And in 4:10, 11 – “The priests who were carrying the ark, stood in the middle of the river until all of the Lord’s instructions were carried out. And when everyone was on the other side, the priests crossed over with the Ark of the Covenant.”

These priests, these servant leaders, were asked to be brave, to give, to step forward, to endure, to wait, to be last. They held the presence of God while the wandering people, thousands and thousands of wandering people, walked past them. Who knew their doubts and fears and fatigue? The Jordan was at flood stage. What if the water receded, what if the people made it through and they didn’t? What if Joshua was wrong? But they endured so that others could be blessed. 

They were carrying this precious heavy load, the presence of God. And we see that they never let go and they stood until God’s instructions were complete. My mom and my grandmother have done this. They have carried a heavy, precious load because of the presence of God in them, because of their heart for the holy things. They didn’t run away when it got too hard, too much. They endured so that others could be blessed. 

Isn’t there a holy lesson here? To stand and bear the burden, to not give up, for the sake of the holy things, to serve and endure because the promised land is on the other side. And how privileged I feel to have observed it through these women in my life. Stand firm friends, God is in the hard things, carry his presence until his instructions are complete.

Galatians 6:9 “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Abba Father, Papa, give us strength to endure, to press on, to find you holy in these hard spaces.

Walks and talks

This summer, I went for a long walk on the beach with my oldest son, Mack. We were at the tip of Florida where the shells are amazing. The waves are mild so the mollusks don’t bury so deep in the sand. Because of this, they are brought in by the gentle tide and land on the shore. There are beautiful, unique shells all over the place. Ones like I’ve never seen before.

This beach walk was a precious slice of time with no brothers, no ipad, no distractions. Just me and my boy and the sea. And the shells. We started looking on the sand, but then begin to look to the left at the upcoming waves and there they were, these perfect baby conch shells just spinning in the tide.  We would race to grab them before the tide took them back out. Many times it did and we would sigh, but then cheer as it brought them back a little further down the beach. It was a game with the ocean, could we catch the shell before he took it away from us? Would he spit it back out?

We caught about 10, always checking to make sure there were no slimey friends inside. We gave a few away on our walk to shell hunters that weren’t as lucky as us. We felt a little prideful at our bounty. Every time we gave one away, the ocean would spit one back to us. I told Mack that is how God works, when you give, He gives back. The statement seemed to bounce off Mack. But maybe he heard it, really heard it. We also talked about marriage. His buddy’s parents are splitting up and I tried to explain a little about marriage. How it takes hard work, Jesus helps, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. He seemed to want to move on to less “boring” topics. Nevertheless, I tried to fill his ears with some wisdom while I had the chance.

It really was the perfect little walk, storm approaching, waves rolling, wind blowing, and my boy. Opportunities like this have to be seized, I am learning. I have to grab on to him before the world does. On this day, the world reminded me of  the ocean. It can pulls us in, toss us around and spit us out.  Who knows where it will release us. Who knows what’s out there, under the weight of the world, just like the dark water.

I’ve always been afraid of the ocean. It’s an unknown, curious place, full of danger and beauty, death and life. My husband loves to dive in, but I am always cautious, concerned that something might bite my foot off or slip by me and drag me under. The world is like that too I suppose. Some of us dive right in, some of us are more cautious. But it’s an unknown, curious place, full of danger and beauty, death and life. We can easily get pulled under and tossed around. It’s easy to lose our way.

I think on this more these days as Mack approaches 11 and the teen years are just around the corner. Have I prepared him for the beautiful, deadly world? Will the world pull him in and spit him out? Who will win? Will he find beauty or danger? Death or life? Will he be tossed about like these shells who didn’t dig deep, who just floated at the surface?

Sometimes I feel tossed around by the world and all it’s distractions. But I am reminded that Christ is what grounds me, what keeps me steady.

This verse is my prayer is for Mack, and all of us that get tossed about like these beautiful shells: “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”  (Hebrews 6:19).

I later found out that these shells are called “fighting conch.” I loved this and the imagery it brought. We are all tossed around by this sea of a world, but we must have some fight in us. Fight to stand firm, to fight for our marriages, for our children, for our eyes and minds and souls. Jesus, may we be found faithful, fighting for you and the things you hold dear.

The Smell of Poverty

I remember roaches dropping off the ceiling then scampering on my paperwork. I hate roaches and when I see them, chills run up my spine and I become paralyzed. But here I was, sitting with this family, in government housing, trying to conduct a therapy session with roaches falling from the ceiling.

I remember testifying in court, telling the judge that the mother was unfit to keep her three children, while watching her cry in the seat in front of me. I had no children of my own, but I had to guess that when you cook meth in the shed out back you aren’t fit to parent.

I remember standing in the single-wide with a little guy when his mom walked out the door. She had left me with her son because she just couldn’t do it anymore. I had shown up for a family session and was left with a little boy. The authorities and child protective services showed up and I left crying.

I remember sitting with a family at their kitchen table discussing all the safety measures in place, the alarms on the sibling’sdoors, the behavior plans, the therapy sessions, and my nausea from my unprepared heart. How was I supposed to help this family whose elementary age son was a sex offender?

I remember curling up in a ball on my family room floor, having a panic attack, telling my husband “I can’t do this anymore.” I was too young, too inexperienced, too afraid to do this too hard job I had been given. A “family therapist” for those at risk and I was only 24 and barely married.

There are so many more stories I could tell, stories of incredible heartache and heartbreak, of poverty and prison walls, of death and destruction. Nine years of watching the hurting and the broken try to survive. I worked for a non-profit that provided free therapy services to at risk families. I’ve seen things I can never un-see, things I wish I never saw.

I walked away from this job to raise my own family with a fingerprint on my heart that changed me. Sometimes that fingerprint is a little too dull. Like when I’m trying to figure out which pair of shoes I will wear because there are so many to choose from. Or what vacation we will go on because there is money that allows me to make a choice. Or what summer camp to send my boys to, maybe I’ll send them to more than one. When the fingerprint is too dull, I forget all I saw and smelled.

Poverty has a smell. Did you know that?

I smelled it the other day in the gas station. I was buying my son a snack and two gentlemen were buying lottery tickets. They looked like they were day laborers with ripped clothes and work boots. It was a really cold day and they smelled of really strong propane. Poor families have to use propane heaters to warm their homes because they can’t pay their heating bill.  They smell because they don’t always wash their clothes because detergent and water costs money. I forget that sometimes. They smell because life is hard and things aren’t guaranteed.

I was thankful to smell them and continued to breathe them in. I know that sounds weird, but I wanted to remember the smell of poverty. I had forgotten and my soul needed to remember. The fingerprint had gotten too dull. It’s been dulled by big houses, and beautiful clothes, and vacations and good food. I had to remember the smell of poverty so I could remember all I had learned and how I had changed those 9 years. I never want to forget.

I’ll never forget sitting in that DFCS waiting room to drop off paperwork. I was surrounded by mothers who had to convince a caseworker that they were working the plan and could see their daughter this weekend. Mothers who needed to get approved for food stamps so they could fill bellies and then go buy cigarettes. Mothers who wished they were me in my nice clothes and my nice car, just dropping off paperwork.

I’ll never forget sitting with school counselors and social workers and probation officers and judges and caseworkers trying to decide the fate of a family. I’ll never forget sitting on a back porch with a grandmother, deciding to cut her granddaughter’s hair because the lice were just too much. I’ll never forget securing a mattress for a family because that was all they had left to get in order for the kids to come home.

I was thankful to cross paths with those men in the gas station, thankful to smell them, to remember poverty and what it means. I came across a prayer today by Billy Graham: “Might I always remember the poverty of my soul before Your love invaded my life, Lord Jesus, and I knew You as Savior.”

I read a little today on the poverty of the soul. Some feel it is the condition we are in before we know Christ as Savior, some believe it is our inability to see the good in life. However you define it, soul poverty is hard. Billy Graham asked that he would always remember it. Why would we want to remember this poverty? This soul poverty where we are broken and tired and wandering, just looking for a home to rest our mind and bones. Soul poverty has felt like a wandering for me. A constant looking for approval, acceptance, purpose, a place to rest my mind and my bones.

I was walking around with treasure inside, yet had no idea it was there. How frustrating that must have been to God. He had given me his everything and I was walking around like I had nothing, soul poor looking for a home. I was striving to find meaning, and it was inside me all along. Buried deep by doubt, but there all along.

So, again, why would we want to remember the poverty of our souls? A friend once told me, you can’t know the light until you’ve been in the darkness. It’s so true. Spending time every day with the poor allowed me to appreciate the good things in my life, things taken for granted. Like name brand ice cream and hair products. Like wrinkle cream and air conditioning. Like new tennis shoes for my boys and trips to the beach. Because of those days with the poor, I usually don’t take for granted the richness in my life. The same is true for the poverty of my soul. Those days of dark wandering make me appreciate the light I’m living in now. The blessed assurance I have now, finally knowing all that I am because of my Savior. Please let me remember the dark poverty of my soul so I can appreciate the light, whole and healed soul that I have now.

Poverty has a smell, but so does our life in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2: 15-16 states, “For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved…a fragrance that brings life.”Look around, are you being the sweet aroma of Christ to others? A fragrance that brings life? Or are you walking around soul poor and kind of stinky? Doubt stinks, you know. I bet the enemy stinks pretty bad too. He loves keeping us poor and broken and just smelly.

I have come out of a season of doubting and entered a season of declaring. Declaring who God is and who I am because of him. I am smelling sweet these days! I believe I am sweet aroma to him. No more stinky, stale soul poverty for me.

So come out friends and be a sweet aroma to those around you but let us never forget the poverty of our souls before we met Christ!