Christ Is In Me. I Am Enough.

Lacey and Brianne, We Need to See You in My Office…
I remember the conversation vividly. It was a Wednesday right after our morning schedule of dance classes. My 16 year-old self and my best friend, Brianne, were called into the artistic director’s office.  We didn’t know what to expect. We knew we hadn’t done anything wrong. We’d been taking non-stop dance classes all week from a guest choreographer and were having the time of our lives learning his amazing repertoire.  Surely, whatever she and her husband had to talk about had to be about something good…

Artistic Director: We need to have a difficult conversation… We know this will be hard to hear, but we love you both SO much and only want the best for you.

Me and Brianne: *Nodding our heads*

Artistic Director: After talking with guest choreographer who will remain nameless, he confirmed what we’ve thought for awhile, but never wanted to address with you because we know it’s a sensitive subject.

Me and Brianne: *Nodding our heads*

Artistic Director: He thinks, and we agree, you two have a lot of potential – the most potential out of all the dancers in the company, but what is holding you back now and what will hold you back from being hired by companies in the future is your weight.  We think both of you need to focus on losing at least 20 lbs.

Me: *trying to stay calm and just breathe*

Brianne: *tears welling up in her eyes*

Artistic Director: Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah….

That’s about all I heard after that. As soon as we were dismissed, we jumped in the car and drove straight to Taco Bell. Brianne got a taco salad thinking that was the healthy option and I got a Chili Cheese Burrito, Mexi Melt, Cinnamon Twists AND a Dr Pepper. HA! Take THAT, Mrs. Artistic Director! You tell me I need to lose weight? Fine. I’m gonna do the exact opposite! Binge till my stomach is full and my heart stops hurting.

Hello, Shame. It Sucks to Officially Meet You.
My screw you attitude was in FULL flight, but deep down – I knew they were right about me. Now, Brianne, on the other hand, was already thin. I think I was more pissed at them for telling her she needed to lose the same amount of weight as me. But, whatever. Anyways…

My artistic director confirmed what I had told myself my whole life. I was too fat to be a professional dancer.

That moment, introduced me to shame like I had never encountered before. What hurt the most was my artistic director wasn’t just my teacher. She was my mentor and my hero.  I wanted to be her when I grew up. I know she meant well, but when the person you admire the most thinks you’re not enough, what do you do then? You fall into the vicious, non-stop cycle of shame – That’s what.

Shame by Definition
I’ve been reading a lot about shame lately. ICYMI, it’s the latest buzz word in the counseling world (along with vulnerability and authenticity).  Shame doesn’t care who you are – we all experience it whether we realize it or not.

A shame researcher (yes, such a thing exists), Brené Brown, defines shame this way:

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Shame sounds like the voices in our head that tell us:

Who do you think you are?

You are never enough… and you never will be.

Shame Has Babies
You know what shame breeds? Perfectionism. You know what perfectionism breeds? Comparison.

Just so you know, dancers are some of the most perfectionistic people on the planet. Bless our sweet, little hearts… Not only are we required to have perfect technique, but we’re required to have the perfect body to execute this perfect technique. And, while we’re striving for perfection, all we see are other dancers around us who have better technique and better bodies. ShamePerfectionismComparison… It’s a vicious, non-stop cycle… and it’s exhausting on every level.

And, guess what? This cycle easily transferred over to my career in dance education and full-time ministry. How fortunate for me…

I never thought I was enough…My work, my body, my choreography, my teaching technique,  my creativity, my singleness…  I am not enough.  Unfortunately, shame makes you do things to prove you’re worthy of love, acceptance and belonging… and they’re not always good things. For me, it made me open and susceptible to sin. The kind of sin I could allow God to forgive me of, but couldn’t forgive myself.

Then when you add in my personal shipwreck known as the first eight months of 2016, the shame cycle about destroyed me beyond what I thought was repairable.

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Getting My God-Glow Back
On August 9, I made a conscious decision: This is NOT how my story is going to end. I was no longer going to let my story be narrated by shame, perfectionism, and comparison. Something clicked. I decided to be the woman my mother always told me I was. I decided to believe what God believes about me. I decided to get my God-glow back.

I had spent eight months grieving my past, wanting things to go back the way they were before the shipwreck. But, it hit me…. I was a broken, hot mess of a person who never felt like she was enough. Why in the heck would I want to go back to her and that place in my life?

So, I adopted a new mantra I learned from Steven Furtick:

Christ is in me. I am enough.

So now when shame, perfectionism and comparison try to tell me I’m not enough or question my audacity, I literally say that mantra out loud. Multiple times if I have to. Thinking it just doesn’t cut it. I’m sure people who hear me think my crown is a little crooked, but I don’t give a crap. It works. I know this to be true because a friend recently told me I was getting my God-glow back. Ya dang right I’m getting my God-glow back…Christ is in me. I AM ENOUGH.

The Art of Self-Compassion
You know what else has been essential to getting my God-glow back? Self-Compassion. This a completely new concept for me. I’ve been nothing but mean and cruel to myself for so long. If I treated others like I treated myself, I wouldn’t even want to be my friend!

Trust me, I am more aware of my flaws than ever before (and so is everyone else), and guess what? I’m okay with them. I’ve accepted them, and am learning to give myself grace in every area of my life. It’s amazing what happens when you’re kind to yourself. It feels a lot like freedom.

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You know what makes me laugh? I used to place such a high value on productivity. It didn’t matter if I was at work, in the dance studio or at home. You know what that was, right? The hustle… the striving to be enough. To prove my worth to myself and others. Guess what is NOT on my list of things I place high value on? You guessed it: Productivity.

If anything, I have learned:

The most productive thing I can do for my heart and soul is be compassionate and kind to myself.

The person I am becoming will always be deeply flawed, but I’m liking her so much better already. She’s kind to herself. She extends grace to herself. For the first time, she’s taking care of her body, heart, spirit and soul. The grace she’s been shown has changed her forever. She’s moving forward – only looking back to see how God has used everything – and I do mean EVERYTHING – for her good.

But, most importantly, she believes that Christ is in her and she is enough… And so are you.

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The Good, the Bad and the Wicked

When I was a little girl my absolute favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz.  I’d parade around my house wearing my little rainbow dress, drape my basket over my arm, while clinging to my stuffed animal version of Toto. My parents claim it was adorable. I will take their word for it. rainbow One of my most vivid, cherished childhood memories is when my dad would sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow while slow dancing with me in our tiny living room. I hope he’ll slow dance with me to that song again someday.

As most children were, I was scared to death of the Wicked Witch of the West. She didn’t have a name, you know. All we know is she was a mean, ugly witch who wanted to avenge her sister’s death and reclaim her glittery red shoes. After thinking about it though, I’d be pissed too if a house fell on my sister and someone stole her fabulous shoes! But, wicked people deserve whatever terrible thing happens to them,  you see.  She didn’t have the right to mourn or seek revenge…  she was wicked, after all… Or was she?

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Then of course you have Glinda (or Galinda – with a GAH!) the Good. Here we go again with the labels. Glinda was good because people thought she was and people liked her.  Hmmm… People liked her. I wonder how often we decide not to extend grace to people because we don’t like them?  I plead guilty, your Honor.

Good or Evil… Glinda or Elphaba?
This is why I adore the Broadway musical Wicked. It tells the back story of what happened before Dorothy arrived in Oz. It’s no secret it’s my all-time favorite musical. I’ve seen it 8 times and my old office had an entire shelf dedicated to the paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years. Now some is displayed on a shelf in my writing nook.

32a366fdccd7ccbab2323b1739c160ad-1Story Time!
It was just after midnight  on October 31, 2007, making it officially Halloween. My best friend, Nathan and I decided we couldn’t wait any longer to see it. So, we bought tickets online, jumped in the car around 2 am, and drove to NYC through the night. Well, he drove. I slept 🙂 Even though we were on the very last row, dead center of the Gershwin Theater, it didn’t matter – I still got all the feels. So yeah, that’s how I saw it for the first time.
In the musical (and book), the Wicked Witch of the West has a name. She’s not just called dc14dcdf5c1fb57213b1ac5fd91e9914by her assumed wickedness. Her name is Elphaba – or Elphie for short. (Yes, I named one of my dogs after her. This makes me either a real fan or a mean dog owner.)  As the story reveals, Elphaba wasn’t wicked  – she was just misunderstood. Glinda wasn’t all that good either. In fact, she was quite the bully. And, don’t get me started on the Wizard… He definitely had people fooled.

There are SO many life lessons to be learned from this multifaceted story! But, recently it got me thinking how often I view people through the either/or lens. People are either good or they are bad. They are either black or they are white. (I’m referring to heart color – not skin color!).

It seems we’re perceived as good as long as we keep our sin and shame under the rug and out of sight. But, what happens when our sinful humanity is exposed? Now we’re perceived as bad.  You’ve heard it said before, good people do bad things. How often do you hear, bad people do good things? Once someone has been labeled bad, it’s a hard perception to reverse. When bad people do good things, their motives are almost always brought into question.  And, worse, we rejoicify when they fail. (No, rejoicify isn’t a real word, but it is to me and in the world of Wicked!)  I can’t think of a better example than the Presidential election. Everybody is so quick to label their candidate as a good person and so quick to label the opposing candidate as a bad person. And, they spend MILLIONS of dollars trying to convince us of that. Unfortunately, it works. We need people to be all good or all bad.

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But, the longer I live and the more life experience I gain, I’ve come to the conclusion there is no such thing as a good or bad person. We are all, in fact, a beautiful, convoluted, concoction of both. And, comparing our goodness and our wickedness to each other just breeds pride and self-righteousness. It’s a good thing God understands and looks at the heart.

 

The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But, I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. – Jeremiah 17:9-10

I admit I have administered these labels and presumptions on people based on rumors, wicked-defy8their reputation or from first hand, personal experience. I’m aware that I, too, am perceived as both good and bad. It just depends on who you talk to, what they’ve heard or who likes me at the moment. More than ever before, I understand how important it is to allow each other to show our true color… Our shades of GRAY. The combination of black and white, the good, the bad and the wicked. But yet, still offer each other generous grace and empathy – the same kind we want from others when our wickedness shines brighter than our goodness.

We see in black and white, but we love in color.  – Brené Brown

image63My favorite part of The Wizard of Oz is when Dorothy steps into Oz for the first time. The transition from black and white to color stuns me every time. The smile that moment causes is involuntary. It just happens. I like to think that’s how it is when we love people. Love gives access to a beautiful, colorful alternate world where people feel the safety of home. Their gray is accepted because everyone else is aware of their own grayness. It’s as simple as grace and empathy, and it should be extended to people we like, don’t like and everyone in-between.

You are more wicked than you dare to admit, but more loved than you could ever imagine – all at the same time. That is the gospel. – Timothy Keller

You don’t know their full story. They don’t know the full extent of yours. I firmly believe that not everyone deserves to know your story. And, should someone entrust us with their story, may we show generous empathy, grace and love. You never know… the person you thought was bad, might just be misunderstood. 7bd6436b88d018ed783f104e6c996d11.jpg

There’s a song by The Apache Replay and the lyrics say home is not places – it is love.  Well, if that’s the case, then I agree with Dorothy… There’s no place like it. And yes, I was clicking my heels as I typed that.

Lastly, SEE THE SHOW ASAP! Don’t – I repeat, DON’T read the book! Unless you prefer dark and twisted stories. But, if that’s your thing, then go for it. Dark and twist it up!

Durable Happiness

Texas has turned me into quite the hiker (which my friend, Dede, *loves* to tease me about. Apparently, I come across as more of a city girl.) How could it not though? Austin and the surrounding areas beg you to explore it. It would be a sin not to. So, I answer the call on the regular. The hill country, the Greenbelt, and all the natural springs provide endless adventures. I have the best God moments on my Texas explorations.

IMG_0830.jpgAs I was hiking the breathtaking beauty of the Greenbelt I felt something in my heart. Something I hadn’t felt in a while. What was this feeling? … Happiness. Like, real happiness. I felt like myself again, but a better, stronger version.

It felt so strange. Awkward even. It was like running into the guy who disappeared on you without warning. What do you say? Hey there, happiness. Wow. It’s been awhile. How’ve ya been? Good? Good. Me? Eh… I’ve been hanging in there. So, where the *expletive* have you been the last 9 months, huh?

Yeah, like I said, it was an awkward feeling. Yet, I didn’t want the feeling to leave. Ever again.

I’ve heard it said that happiness is a choice. NeedtoBreathe makes me think it’s something you pursue at the expense of potentially hurting someone you love. A lot of people assume they’ll be happy when they reach a certain income level, find someone to marry or achieve a certain number on the scale. I admit, I’ve fallen into that trap myself too.

I’ve always considered myself to me a happy person. Someone who enjoyed their life and made the most of it. In fact, my name means cheerful heart, so I just figured my happy nature was something that came with the name. Honestly though, I never gave it much thought. That is, until I lost my happiness. Or, I thought I did…

As I continued my hike, I started to think I never really lost my happiness. I just think my focus got derailed by two things:

Dwelling on the Past. Moving forward is a constant battle that I lose at some point almost every day. And, when I do, my happiness takes the hit.

Comparison. Man, this one is toxic to the heart. It’s the thoughts of I’m not ______________  enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not thin enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not good enough. Bottom line, I’m not enough.  If my mother were still alive, she would tell me those are all lies from the pit of hell. I know she’s right, but that doesn’t silence the voices or turn the volume down. You know what does help shut the voices up?

Christ is in me. I am enough. 

Thank you, Steven Furtick. That mantra really works.

Since my encounter with happiness, I’ve begun practicing the art of gratitude. Gratitude is the answer to so many of our issues and hang ups. Why? Because it gets our eyes off of ourselves and onto the many reasons we have to be happy. In an effort to get my happy train back on track, I started listing things that take me to my happy place.

img_1125My Living Room Wall and My Writing Nook. This wall makes me so happy for many reasons. It makes me remember my dreams to travel. Realize How Good You Really Are was given to me by my mother. Every time I read it, I hear her voice saying it to me and I believe it a little more each time. Of course, there’s a daisy. And there’s even an I dwell iimg_1128n possibility – my life motto.

My writing nook displays my modge podge collages. They inspire me to live a full, authentic life and write about it.

 

Texas Night Skies

I could never capture a picture that could do it justice. The stars here are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I’ve never felt more connected to God than when I’m laying in the bed of my truck, staring up at them. I like to think that every star in the sky represents a reason why He loves me.

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The Greenbelt. Yes, I’ve gotten lost – even with a map. And, I’m happy to report I have yet to encounter a snake, spider or coyote. *Knock on wood*

 

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My Necklaces. They’re kind of my thing. I rarely take them off because they make me happy.  The short necklace has the date my mother passed. It makes me feel close to her.  Oh, and my favorite gray infinity scarf deserves an honorable mention.

DSC_5567.JPGMy Family. Jaxson, Judah and Dallas John have divided my heart into thirds and hold the pieces in their tiny little hands. Knowing how much I love them, I can’t even imagine how much I will love my own kid some day.

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The Dance Studio
I went to a dance studio last week to audition dancers for an upcoming project and it literally felt like coming home. Even thought I have been taking class as a student, coming into the room as a choreographer felt incredible. I had all the feels. Now more than ever, I know it’s where I belong.

I crave a life filled with magic in the smallest of things. And, while those magical things bring me happiness, I know authentic happiness is rooted in authentic joy. I’m calling it durable happiness. It’s the joy that sustains me through tragic loss. It lets me smile even though my heart feels broken half the time. It’s my strength no matter what curve ball life throws at me.

Real happiness leaves space for our tears and space for long seasons of not being okay.  – Jennifer Dukes Lee

So, yes – even though my encounter with durable happiness was awkward at first, the more time we spent together, the more I realized it had never really left – and more importantly, it was here to stay as long as I let it.

The Unlearning: Guarantees

To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times and the worst of times”. I’m referring to being a Christian kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s.

Thanks to the theology of a traveling children’s evangelist in the 80’s, I wasn’t allowed to eat Lucky Charms because of the leprechaun which was deemed demonic. I wasn’t allowed to play with Barbies because it was going to give me unrealistic body expectations and an eating disorder someday. I wasn’t allowed to watch Disney movies because of magic and witches. And, I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music because, well…. it was secular.

So, instead, I ate Honey Nut Cherrios because there’s nothing demonic about a cute little bee. I played with Ruth and Esther dolls that came with exactly two biblical style costumes. I watched Super Book, Psalty the Singing Song Book and McGee and Me.  (Youtube them, y’all! You can thank me later.) And, I had a steady musical diet of Integrity worship, Sandi Patty, and my mom’s personal favorite, Carman. (Who’s in the house?! J! C!)

Oddly enough, I loved the way I grew up. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not once did I feel restricted or deprived. I learned a lot about the Bible and even as a kid, I loved Jesus as much as my little heart knew how. I know a lot of people thought my mom was crazy (my grandma included), but she was just doing what she was taught: Shelter your kids from worldly things and they won’t turn into worldly Christians.

Do this and God guarantees you that” theology.

Unfortunately, the Christian teen novels I read in the 90’s supported this theology too. My best friend, Bekah and I were obsessed with The Christy Miller series. It was a pretty simple story line: Shy, meek, Christian teen girl (Christy) meets hot, blonde Christian surfer dude (Todd). Christy crushes hard. Todd’s feelings seem hot and cold throughout their relationship causing her heartache and typical female neurotic episodes.

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Christy, Todd and their group of friends were God Lovers. They had Forever bracelets. They had God moments. They had adventures in Hawaii. They had ups and downs, but everything always worked out perfectly in the end. But, just when you think Todd had gone off to be a missionary to Papua New Guinea never to return again, leaving Christy to believe they weren’t mean to be, a God moment brought them together… Forever. There Christy was in an airport and Todd is running towards her holding a bouquet of Carnations – her favorite flower. (Who really likes Carnations?! Anyway…) And, it’s there He confesses his forever love to her. I remember finding it difficult to read this final scene through the tears streaming down my face.  It was the perfect ending to the story I wanted for myself someday.

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That’s what You’re taught in Missionettes…Right?

So here’s the formula I learned:
I desire an outcome like Christy’s + I  delight in the Lord + have God moments = God will give me what I want!

It sure did sound like a guarantee to me.

Stories like Christy’s, along with books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl only contributed to my formula belief that as long as I did  X and Y, God guaranteed me Z. But, life and experience has taught me otherwise… Here’s what I know to be true.

God doesn’t owe me ANYTHING. No matter how many God moments I experience or how Christian my behavior is.

Saving sex for marriage doesn’t guarantee you marry the right person or a successful marriage. Just ask my best friend. (In fact, I know a lot of couples who didn’t wait to have sex and their marriages aren’t any different from those who chose to wait. #Justsayin. )

Tithing and giving doesn’t guarantee you a big house, a brand new mini van, and lavish vacations. Just ask my brother and sister-in-love.

Putting other people before yourself doesn’t guarantee you a cancer free life. Just ask my mom. Oh wait, you can’t. She died from cancer.

Being content in singleness doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever find your person. Just ask one of my former co-workers and youth sponsors.

Graduating from a Christian program or college doesn’t guarantee you a successful ministry career. Ask any Master’s Commission student then and now.

Reading your bible, memorizing scripture and competing in Junior Bible Quiz doesn’t guarantee you won’t end up battling depression and anxiety. Just ask me. (Thank God, I don’t anymore!)

I hate sounding cynical. Really, I do. And, I’m not. I promise. But, these are the kind of things I WISH someone had told me when I was growing up. Shoot, it would’ve been great for someone to smash these toxic spiritual formulas even as little as a year ago.

While He may not guarantee my idea of a perfect ending, a successful marriage, the American dream, and impeccable health, it took my personal shipwreck to unlearn these spiritually toxic formulas and relearn what God DOES guarantee me…

He does promise He’ll never leave or forsake me.  He promises the plans He has for me are good and not for disaster, to give me a future and a hope. He promises rest for when I’m weary and burdened. To supply all my needs from His glorious riches. He promises nothing can ever separate me from His love. He promises salvation if I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead. He promises if I am in Christ, I am a new creature. He promises when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he’ll be with me. He promises He will make all things work for my good.

And those are just a few! And, you know what? I believe Him. My trust issues are coming along.

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These guarantees, my friends, are guarantees you can live real life with. These promises will get you through the valleys and raise you above the turbulence.

And, the best thing about these promises? I don’t have to do ANYTHING to earn them.

Not one formula is required.

Dwell in Vulnerability

I remember when I saw a Toyota Venza for the first time. It was a Sunday, after church, and it was parked right next to me. I formed an immediate crush on it. From that moment on, I saw Toyota Venza’s EVERYWHERE.  (I took it as a sign that I should get one… so I did. Haha. )

That, my friends, is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon  – a frequency illusion – and it is in full affect in my life right now with the concept of Vulnerability.

It all started with my counselor guiding me through steps toward understanding our need to be “fully known”. That phrase irritated me instantaneously, and my first instinct was to reject the very notion.  After everything my heart had been through the last six months, I felt like my heart had reached its’ heart break quota. The idea of being fully known sounded about as logical for my heart’s condition as pouring salt into an open wound. So many thoughts ran through my head as she continued to talk to me about the vulnerability of being fully known. I thought to myself:

Lady, there ain’t no way I’m letting my guard down for anyone right now.
I’ve told you everything about my heart breaks and you think opening myself up to MORE pain is going to help heal me?! *eyebrow raise*
I’ve been vulnerable and allowed people to fully know me before, and they’ve walked away or passed away. Why would I want to subject my heart to that kind of pain again?!
Dear Lord, how much longer is this appointment?!… Crap. I still have 30 minutes of this. I’m just going to nod in agreement and maybe she’ll move on to another one of my issues.

I left the appointment with the full intention of ignoring everything she said about the subject. I tried, too. I really did. Unfortunately, the the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon went into full affect…

Vulnerability was literally everywhere I looked. Podcasts, books, pins on Pinterest, etc. and then my friend, Nicole, introduced me to Brené Brown’s TED talks which are all about vulnerability and authenticity. After a couple weeks of inundation, I gave in to what I knew God was trying to address in my life: Vulnerability.  Okay, okay, God. I get it. I’m listening…

I have a very low tolerance for pain. Always have, always will. Needles, sore muscles, PMS relate-ables, hang nails, toothaches, the mere thought of giving birth, all turn me into a big baby and make me second guess my life. The same has always applied to my heart. After more self-reflection, I realized I spent so much of my life avoiding people, situations and opportunities that I thought could potentially hurt my heart. That would manifest in refusing to be the first one to put myself out there for fear of rejection or failure. I hate to live with regrets, but there are so many things I’d like a re-do on. I can only imagine how different my life would be if I hadn’t been so afraid of heart ache and pain.

A defense mechanism I installed a long time ago was to not place very many expectations on people because they always hurt you in the end. See, I thought I was guarding my heart from pain and disappointment, but what I was doing was guarding my heart from love. Real, authentic love. The kind of love you find when your expectations aren’t met, but it’s okay since you know the other person is just as flawed as you are. The kind of love you can only find from the author of Love.

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As strange as it sounds, even being completely vulnerable with God is a struggle for me. Yes, I know He made me, formed me in my mother’s womb, knows my inmost being, blah, blah, blah… But, being fully known by Him means confronting my mistakes, inadequacies, failures, frustrations, worries, doubts, heartaches, and fears. And, I consider that painful; therefore I prefer to just avoid it. I’ve said it here before. I have trust issues with God and He knows that. We talk about it all the time. Clearly, it’s no coincidence why He’s speaking to be about something that requires such an immense amount of trust.

Love does cost. It costs everything you’re working so hard to protect.

It’s like giving someone a gun and trusting them not to pull the trigger. – Don Miller

But, when the trigger has been pulled on you before, how do you find the courage to hand over the gun again? What do you do when you feel like God was the one who pulled the trigger?  Here are some thoughts I’m currently mulling over:

  • Screw it! Be brave and just confront the pain. Run full speed into it.
  • Have the courage to embrace it.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your feelings.

I think it’s in those vulnerable moments of confrontation is where you encounter love, healing and the ability to hand the gun over again. It’s completely counter-intuitive, but it’s worth a shot (Pun intended!). It can’t feel any worse than ignoring the pain and hope it goes away on its’ own, right?

My journey to understanding the art of vulnerability is still new. I’ve just begun to explore it. It still scares me to death. I want to love, to be loved and known fully. Authentically. Eventually. And, not just by my family, select friends, and my future person. I’m not sure I’ll ever master the art, but I’m committed to this journey because my connection to God depends on my ability to lay myself bare before Him. To be exposed and to be comfortable with it. It’s a risk I’m going to conjure up the courage to take… to dwell in possibility and in vulnerability.

A Homeless Man Named Marlon

Last Sunday, August 21, marked the six months since my mother completed her purpose on earth and went to be with Jesus.  Today, August 27, marks six months since her memorial service.

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So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to make this post all about her…

My family has an on-going group text. It’s our central hub for sharing pictures and videos of my adorable nephews, hilarious memes, funny stories, good news, not-so-good news, and our favorite memories of my mom.  One of my favorite texts is when we share something we did for someone else in honor of her. We even hashtag it with #whatmommawarewoulddo .

My mom had the most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known. You can ask anyone that knew her and they’d confirm that to be true. But, other than her family, there were three things that pulled her heart strings:

  • Animals (She loooooooooved cats)
  • People who serve in the military
  • The homeless

And, she meet someone who embodied all three… His name was Marlon.

Marlon was walking down the opposite side of the street from the direction my mom was driving.  It was obvious he was homeless, but what stood out to her was that he had a pit-bull with him. She made the next available U-turn, but wasn’t able to find him. That night, she told me about him with tears in her eyes. Not that it ever took much for my mom to cry, but it was obvious her heart broke for the man and his dog.

Little to our knowledge, she would go out driving in hopes of finding him again. After much dedication and a couple week’s time, she finally found him and his pit-bull around the same area at the same time of day.  Right there, in the Coliseum Crossing parking lot, my mom made a new friend in Marlon.

Marlon was a tall, black man, early forties, and a disabled military veteran with quite a story… After suffering from war related PTSD, he wasn’t able to hold down a job, thus leaving him and his dog to sleep on the streets. There you have it, folks… A homeless war veteran with a dog. The heart strings trifecta. But, what touched her heart the most was he refused to stay in a shelter because they wouldn’t let him bring his dog. Needless to say, Marlon and his dog stayed in a motel that night and both had food to eat.

Her friendship with Marlon continued for a couple years. She would give him food, pay for shelter during bitter cold nights, his cell phone bill, take him to lunch with her co-workers, and brought him to the community dinner and mid-week services at our church.  She even tried to get him to come to Sunday morning church services, but he didn’t feel like he was presentable enough.

Marlon would insist she didn’t have to do all this, but if you know my mom, when she’s decided to do something, there’s no stopping her. That’s one thing I both loved and less than loved about her. 🙂

But, my mom wanted to do more than just get him off the streets. She wanted him to have a chance to succeed. To make something of himself. She knew he had the drive and desire, but just needed someone to give him a much needed opportunity. So, you know what she did? Research. The woman didn’t even know how to check her Gmail account, but she somehow found a place in Northern Virginia that would take in and assist disabled military veterans helping them with counseling for their PTSD, interview preparation, and job placement.  She was so excited to tell Marlon about it and when she did, he promised her he would apply and go as long as they let him bring his dog. (You know, I’m pretty sure she would’ve volunteered to foster his dog, but that would mean she would have to tell my dad that she was aiding a homeless man.)

My mom didn’t hear from Marlon for many months after that. His cell phone was out of service and he didn’t frequent his usual places. She hoped that meant he applied and was accepted into the program; however, she still spent weeks looking for him. Finally, she gave up, but she never stopped praying for him. Some days she would randomly start crying. When I asked her why, she’d say she was thinking about Marlon and hoped he and his dog were okay. And, whenever we were out and about town, she still kept her eye out for him.

 I should mention during this three year period, my mother was battling Lymphoma and undergoing cancer treatments.

I’ll never forget looking down at my phone and seeing 22 missed calls from my mom. Immediately, I thought something terrible had happened. When I called her back, she was BALLING on the phone… I thought someone had died or worse, I thought she received even more bad news about her diagnosis. But, no — She had heard from Marlon, and his voicemail went something like this:

Mrs. Ware, it’s Marlon. I just wanted to tell you I’m okay. I applied and got into the program in Northern Virginia you told me about. They gave me a place to stay, cut my hair, gave me a shaving kit, gave me new clothes, helped me get a job, and found a foster home for my dog until I saved enough money to get my own place. You wouldn’t even recognize me, Mrs. Ware! I can’t tell you how thankful I am for all you’ve done for me. I hope you’re doing well.

That was the last time my mom heard from Marlon, but it wasn’t the last time she prayed for him, thought about him and cried when she talked about him.

I’d often wondered if I should let Marlon know she passed.  After working on this post, I decided I should. I thought he’d want to know. I mean, I would want to know if I were him. So, I texted him…

Me: Hi, this is Lacey Ware. I am Sharon Ware’s daughter. Is this Marlon’s phone?
Him: Yes.
Me: I wanted you to know my mother passed on February 21 from Lymphoma (a blood cancer). She cared about you very much and thought you would want to know.
Him: I am so sorry. I cared a lot about her too. Give your family my regards. This world needs more wonderful people like her.

I couldn’t agree more, Marlon. If more people would do #whatmommawarewoulddo, this world would be a better place to live this side of eternity. And, I like to go as far as to think Heaven is even a better place because of her.

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Picture taken Monday, February 15, 2016.

What Matters After a Shipwreck

Before my shipwreck, I used to care about so many things…  The kind of car I drove. The house I lived in. Living on my own. That my clothes were from Loft. Shoes. Oh! How I LOVED shoes. That my make-up was inspired by the trends I watched on YouTube tutorials. That I was doing the latest and greatest workout craze. That I had the most updated Apple product. Going on luxurious vacations. One word: Starbucks. So much triviality.

As far as my future was concerned, in my mind,  I was supposed to marry a professional, successful, wealthy guy so I could live in a high-end neighborhood, travel the world, and drive my Toyota Venza for as long as my heart desired. You know what’s funny?  That’s not even the kind of guy I wanted – That’s the kind of guy I thought fit with my persona!

Bottom line, I cared about whatever gave me a comfortable and convenient life.

As a single girl with an executive level ministry position at a large church, I strived to be everything I thought that role entailed… Strong, independent, professional, decisive, detailed, anal, assertive, creative, productive, organized. While, some of those traits are intrinsic even now, the majority were learned or I would just “fake it till I made it”.  Sadly, I even fooled myself into believing I was really all those things. In retrospect, it was a safeguard, a defense mechanism I used because I never felt like the real me was enough. And, that guard didn’t come down for just anyone…

Side note: One of my favorite feelings in the world is being with someone you don’t have to be “on” with. The persona is put away. No mask is required. The walls are down. The flaws can hang out and silence is comfortable. There’s no judgement and you’re accepted in spite of your obvious short-comings. Other than my mom, there’s a very short list of people who even qualify to be on that list.

Moving on…

MONEY: The bane of my existence. I don’t even want to think about the amount of money I wasted creating and maintaining my persona. I just can’t go there right now, so I won’t.

But, all these things mattered before the shipwreck… I never imagined not caring so much about all of the above. Other than my dependence on God, do you want to know what matters to me now? In true Lacey form, I shall list them for you:

Family
Cherish them fiercely, my friends, for you never know what tomorrow holds. Never take a single moment with them for granted. Make sure they know how much you love them. Tell them and back it up with action and with your time. You’ll be glad you did.

Friends
The authentic and loyal kind. The kind that love you even when you have nothing to offer or anything to benefit them. The ones that don’t care what you’ve done and does not require excuses or explanations. They see you for who you really are – even if you don’t. They don’t come in bulk, but that’s good because you don’t need many. In my experience, you’ll be surprised who rises to the surface and acts as a life raft, helping you safely to shore. If there’s one thing I learned from my shipwreck, I had so many more real friends than I ever realized. Family is required to love you. Friends choose to love you.

The Basics

  • Food/Water
  • Shelter
  • Sleep

Give me God, my family, my friends, access to at least a meal a day, a safe place to lay my head, restorative sleep, and you can consider me good to go. Seriously – I’m really THAT content. The other crap that went along with creating the persona I thought was required to appear successful, I could not care less about. It doesn’t matter anymore. Just give me the essentials.

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Less is more.

I used to use that phrase when creating choreography, but now I’m applying it to my life in the way of purging my closet and other belongings. In with the sentimental and essentials, and out with the unnecessary and excess! The same goes for what’s in my heart…

Currently, my new ship is being built and this time, I’m allowing the Master Builder make the blueprint and custom build it according to His preferences. From what I can tell, this new ship won’t have all the bells and whistles like the previous, but it will be stronger, more stable and able to withstand any storm that will come my way. It will be enough.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. – Matthew 6:33

It took a shipwreck to make me realize what really matters. And the realizations span way beyond what I described above… Now my compass points toward His kingdom and according to His promise, I don’t ever have to worry about anything else. I am depending on Him to chart that course, but in the mean time…

I will bless the storm that destroyed my ship; For I found the waters that I thought would drown me were actually the waters that were meant to save me.

Reader, I beg you – please don’t wait for a shipwreck to help you realize what ultimately matters. Do a thorough inventory of your heart. Ask God to clear away the excess. Ask Him to reveal anything you’re caring about that’s distracting you from living your life focused on anything other than what matters to Him. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Brave

The people who really know me, know three things:

1) I have the innate ability to remember the dates of memories. All kinds of memories…The ones that make me smile when I’m alone by myself. The ones that make me ugly cry in public. The ones that never cease to melt my heart. The ones that make my heart skip a beat and my legs go numb. The ones that break my heart that I want to forget, but can’t no matter how hard I try. The laugh-out-loud ones that still bring happy tears to my eyes. And, even the traumatic memories. Yes, I keep even the traumatic memories because they help me remember how faithful God is and how far He’s brought me. For some reason, knowing exactly when these memories happened helps keep them safely tucked into the memory box of my heart. Knowing their date validates their existence. So, all that to say, I am waaaaaay more sentimental than I let people think I am.

2) I LOVE making lists. Any and every kind of list. It makes me feel better just getting the ideas and thoughts out of my head and onto my Wunderlist app. I like to think the more I get out of my head and onto a list, leaves more room in my brain to collect the dates of my memories.

Here’s just a sample of my lists:

  • Annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals
  • Things I need to buy
  • Things I want to buy (there’s a difference between want and need, you know.)
  • Things I need to get done
  • Things I want to do
  • Places I will go
  • What I need to do to make my list of “places I will go” from a list to a reality
  • Books I want to read
  • Things I want to experience before I die
  • Things I’m praying about, people I’m praying for, and things I’m asking God for
  • People I need to forgive
  • Things I’m grateful for
  • Things I want to talk to people about when I see them
  • People I want to send a handwritten card to
  • Gifts I want to give people
  • Songs I want to choreograph

And don’t even get me started on my work related task lists!

Oh, and if you’re romantically important to me, you get your own list. That’s how you know it’s serious, folks.

I wish I could adequately describe the happiness I feel when I hear the *ping* that sounds when I check an item off my list… It literally makes my heart flutter.

Please tell me you noticed I made a list within a list? Ha!

But, the list I work on most these days is a list I have fondly referred to as Bravery of the Day. I’ll come back to this soon. Standby…

3) I have a thing for theme words. December 31, 2010, (I told you I have a thing about dates) God gave me a word that would be the theme of 2011. This was both a literal and prophetic word that would set the tone for the year. Every year after that, He continued to give me an annual theme word. Two of those theme words ended up being the names of a couple dance recitals and a Christmas production I produced. I was always amazed how God would confirm His word to me through a correlating scripture as well as with the most random – yet seemingly divine confirmations.

December 23, 2015, I was not ready for the domino effect of events that would result in getting my theme word for 2016 and hearing God say to me:

“I’ve got you.”

He said this as I encountered the scariest storm, followed by the darkest valley I’ve ever known. In that moment, I felt a peace I had never felt before and clearly heard the word:

BRAVE.

God knew I would need an insane amount of bravery to endure the massive life changes I was going to encounter…

  • Transitioning out of my dream job that defined my identify
  • Relinquishing the church I gave 30 out of 34 years of my life to
  • Losing my mother/my person/best friend to cancer
  • Moving 1,500 miles away from my family, friends and students

All in that order and within four months. Yes, I am indeed in professional counseling.

Over time, I have come to refer to this season of my life as “my shipwreck” because everything I built was destroyed in a storm caused by my own decisions as well as things beyond my control. I still shake my head in amazement when I think of how I made it safely to shore. Actually, I do know how I made it… It was God and the people He sent as life rafts. They know who they are and I will never forget their unconditional love, loyalty and kindness.

And, not to say I’m done with processing the emotional trauma of my shipwreck. The grief of losing my mother alone still brings daily lamenting. Some days it feels like an emotional tsunami.

But, my shipwreck caused more than just grief… Grief was accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, deep depression and debilitating fear.

Fear… So. Much. Fear. Which for me, revealed my trust level in God.

When I say it was debilitating, I mean that in every sense of the word. During this season, being brave looked a lot like gathering up enough courage to get out of bed, take a shower, and put my makeup on. To smile when all I wanted to do was cry. Going to the grocery store. Doing laundry. Staying off social media in effort to guard my heart from longing for the past. It meant doing everything I could from packing my stuff back up and moving back home. That’s why I created my Bravery of the Day list. It included the simple, basic things I needed to do to make forward progress. To face my life as it now was —Completely new and unrecognizable from a few months ago. Some days I was able to give myself a pat on the back for my simple accomplishments and some days I would just delete the item off the list so I didn’t feel like such a failure when I didn’t have the emotional stamina to do it.

But, through the anxiety, depression and fear, I knew God brought me to Texas to perform  a much needed open heart surgery on me.

For me, open heart surgery meant letting God into the hidden places of my heart – even though I was afraid and ashamed of what He would find. It meant confronting the pain and insecurities of my past and finding love right there in the middle of what I was so afraid of. It meant stripping me of my idols and need for control. It meant fighting the same ‘ol inner demons, but not having to fight them alone this time. It meant admitting I don’t trust the God who loves me beyond all reason and who’s plans surpass my wildest dreams. Yes, I said it. I don’t trust God. Go ahead and judge me if you want, but I’ve always had an “I’ll do it myself” mentality. In fact, that was my first sentence! I’m working on it though and I’m making progress. I promise.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. – Psalm 23:4

He is with me. I know this to be true.

When one undergoes open heart surgery, recovery time is prescribed by the surgeon and expected of the patient. I am being an obedient patient so my heart can be healed and whole.

My journey through this valley isn’t over, but every day I see more light through the cracks in the clouds… The cracks…. the brokeness, after all, is how the light gets in. Today, my braveries of the day are more advanced than they were even a month ago. Shoot – just putting this post out there (no matter who or how many read this) is a massive step in the bravery department for me. And, to celebrate my progress, I changed the name of that list from Bravery of the Day to Courage, Dear Heart.

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1 John 4:18 tells me there is no fear in love. So, that’s what I’m laser focused on these days… Pressing into a love that will never leave or fail me… Anchoring my soul in a hope that won’t be deferred… Walking in the kind of faith that requires one baby step at a time. But, of these three, the greatest is love…Because of love — His love… I can be brave. I will be brave. I am brave.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. – Brené Brown