Abiding, Healing, Quiet, Stillness, strength

Cultivating My Heart Soil by Sitting Cocooning on God’s Lap

Luke 5:16
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Christmas break was a time of reflection for me in preparation for a half-time sabbatical I am taking this semester to cocoon with God, write a book, seek his will for my life and, most importantly, to make time for him to heal my sorrowed heart deeper after the death of our son. Like our Pastor Matt talked about today, I needed to cultivate the soil in my heart and spirit to ready it to receive wisdom and receive deeper growth in my heart.

I spent time, each morning, asking Holy Spirit to prepare my heart for this anticipated journey. We had the blessing of the “crud” that kept our Christmas simple and kept us from doing too much. Although it was a break from teaching, I didn’t sleep in late, blessed to awake before everyone else and sit in my God-spot that had been “God’s lap” for me for about ten years.

We are privileged to have our three earth-bound adult children and our eldest son’s wife and daughter living in our home right now. Most every morning, our two and a half year old granddaughter, Josie, on waking, would venture out past the living room. “Where’s Mimi?” Finding me with her sweet sleepy smile, she crawled up, postponing her morning juice to simply rest her head on my chest while I kissed her soft fine hair.2015-01-11 14.49.13

Normally talkative Josie didn’t ask for anything, rarely said anything, and definitely was too tired to be distracted by any toys, food, or television. She just wanted to be with me. We would sit for about ten to fifteen minutes immersed in enjoying each others’ presence. I was overwhelmed with the love and joy it brought me realizing she would choose to be with me just because she loved me and felt safe. Although providing care and giving her good gifts are fulfilling too, being loved because I am Mimi and not because I could give her something or kiss a new boo-boo was the most fulfilling human feeling I have ever had.

It was obvious to me the first time this happened, “This is how God feels!” Maybe my inability to think and reason in the morning is not an old-age curse but is his way of making a way for me to just sit on his lap, letting him know I love him. I began adoring him, not because I want healing, comfort from someone’s unkindness, or help in paying the bills, but because HE IS Papa.

This has opened up a door for me to have the most wonderful first week of the New Year as I’ve sat on his lap each morning with my tea, doing nothing. Then as the love flowed and he woke my tired mind, I was drawn to read the books and the Word he wanted to plant into my heart. That led to a flow of writing that healed and restored my trust in Him as I retold the story of his faithfulness in my past. That in turn fueled my plans for our Friday chapel. I was not tired in chapel, although I had a short night of sleep. God filled me with the enthusiasm to share the joy found resting and trusting in a loving God.

Although God has taught this principle to me many times over, I have repeatedly cycled through times of being too busy, having superficial routine Bible reading and prayer, and then being forced to rest to remember his grace. I’ve realized over the last month, at a deeper level than ever before, if I don’t leave margin in my life for qualitative quantifying time with God, I cannot possibly function in my gifting he has given me with joy. The circumstances that were dragging me down before last week are still there, but they are not heavy on my heart. I’m eager to share the peace I have with others and trust God even more with my circumstances.

Josie was just out here as I began typing this. Awake and full from her breakfast at 10:00 AM, she carried a butterfly bookmark. She wanted to show it to me. I asked her to get on my lap, hoping for one of these moments I was to write about and she complied. But it was short lived as she wanted to chatter about her butterfly, then about going shopping, then, she was down distracted by another toy, etc. Disappointed, I thought of all the times I sit down, start to pray, open my computer to “have it ready” for when I’m done with my God time, notice an email, make sure none of my kids text’d me last night, check Facebook to see if anyone needed prayer….Do you know what I mean?

I don’t look at sweet Josie for what she can do for me. I just love her and enjoy being with her. Although I don’t know how God can love a messed up broken woman like me, I know he does and he deserves at least a hug and special time in the morning but more importantly I need that “no-expectations-time” on his lap each day to be able to live life to the fullest abundantly in this broken world.

Cultivating the soil of our lives to produce fruit always begins with immersing ourselves in God’s unconditional love and grace. What comes after that is truly amazing and I don’t ever want to forget the miracles that came into my heart this week as I waited on his lap for the love to flow into my heart with mercy and grace so that I could rise up in his wings to fulfill his calling for me this week.

Isaiah 40:30-31English Standard Version (ESV)

30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Abiding, Christmas, Grief, Healing, Hope, Listening, Trust

Christmas Hope and New Year’s Reflections: My Feet Set on Earth, My Eyes, Mind, and Heart Set on Eternity with THE SON

2014-12-16 20.48.31With the second Christmas without Taylor, I’ve tried to adjust to the new normal of living without our son. Another season of peace, hope and joy…how do I keep the peace, hope and joy? What is the new Carla going to do with this joyful celebration without being a fake? As always, only by trusting The Reason for my hope do I find true joy and balance in this awkward thing called grief.

When Taylor first went to Heaven, people asked me how I was surviving with a smile. At the time I told them,

“It’s like I have one foot on Earth and one foot in Heaven. I try to stand more in Heaven and focus on the joy Taylor is experiencing with the hope of seeing him again. But then my earthly foot gets heavy and I need to grieve for the deep loss missing him so much. If I try to stay on one side too long, reality tugs to bring balance between both places.” Although this did help me get through the initial shock of my loss, it started to feel like an awkward visual to stay in balance, like doing the splits between Heaven and Earth.

I’ve further processed the truths God has given me to realize what is more accurate. I’m still a resident of Earth and that is His plan for me now at this time in eternity. He has now confirmed both my feet are on this planet, placed parallel without any ripping of my spiritual Psoas muscles, but my eyes, mind and heart are focused on Jesus in Heaven giving me a peaceful balanced stance. Each of us was created with a natural longing to see our Creator, whether that is in Heaven now or in the New Earth after He returns. However, despite the fact that we are planted here, we can and I have experienced peaceful rest in His arms and His hope.The Heaven's Declare The Glory of God

Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV) explains it so well for a believer in Jesus, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Challenges to My New Balance

Keeping the proper balance has been extremely difficult at times for me for a few reasons. The continual longing for Taylor, an enormous stream of deaths in my life, and being over committed to too many things have given me too much to carry in my humanness.

First, the reality of how long it could be until I see Taylor and Jesus is so hard to bear some days. Training my mind to focus on Heaven and seeing the bigger picture is my prescription. I can imagine what Taylor is experiencing in Heaven is so much better than what he is missing down here. Then the realization of how much eternal time I will have with him and Jesus in Heaven with our whole family is unfathomably exciting. This brings balance to my life and the actuality that, yes, in this world, until Christ restores His kingdom here, I will have sorrow and troubles but there is hope as I fix my eyes and heart on eternity.

The second reason for increased struggles was from an overwhelming load of death in my life. Our school, church and family have experienced more death in the last three years, especially in the last three months, than I have experienced in one time period during my whole life. After Taylor’s death I experienced four suicides, children dying, parents dying, uncles, brothers, it’s been crushing.

I heard Beth Moore say recently, at a Louie Giglio Passion Conference, that our enemy, Satan, wants to discourage the Body of Christ in a great way right now, possibly because end times are nearer than we know. Whether that is because end times are coming or not, I have to agree with her. When Satan sees God doing great things, he gets jealous. I don’t know if you are like me, but when someone attacks my peeps, I get angry and that makes me rise up to do battle with a righteous indignation. I will not let Satan defeat me and my peeps! I’ve read the end of the Bible and we win!! Christ is our strength and through pain Christ can be glorified and others will see that hope!!! Can you hear me shout this to remind myself? Do I hear an “Amen”?

In John 15 and 16, Jesus prepared His disciples right before He died on the cross for the hard times to come. Although they didn’t get it at the time, He explained how he had to suffer and “go away” and how they too would suffer. He promised their grieving would turn to joy and the Holy Spirit would come. He ended chapter 16 in verse 33 with,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

Take heart! Have hope! He has overcome the world and our focus on Heaven with our feet on earth is our opportunity to share this with others. We will overcome with Him! This doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve but we grieve with the assurance that this pain will last a short while.1308887019480

The third reason for my recent struggles, and probably the greatest cause of pain, was in not leaving enough margins in my life. The ability to confidently balance my earthly feet and heavenly focus is largely dependent on how I spend my time. This summer, I found that if there wasn’t purpose in my pain and I couldn’t use that pain to help others, I couldn’t deal with Taylor’s loss but God was calling me to spend more time with Him and Gary. Some people medicate pain with drugs, alcohol, or food. I medicated with doing busy good things. What actually happened was a busy over-committed schedule kept me from having space for my marriage, God and grieving, so without warning, suddenly, I completely shut down physically, mentally and spiritually. Although I didn’t need it, my bosses, family, and friends gave me “permission” to take care of myself which eased any guilt I might carry in dropping things. I quickly prioritized my life and weeded out some things that weren’t necessary.

My over commitments were good things that I could have done 20 years ago. A life-long focus for me has been Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” However, I had to finally admit that I’m a 53 year old human, carrying grief that needs a deep healing from God, and understand that just because there is a need in front of me, doesn’t mean I have to be the one to meet it. I’ve always thought, somewhat arrogantly, from that verse, that it’s up to me to take care of things needing care because I have a big God working through me. He has had to remind me to leave some of that for the others He has equipped and also assure me His arms are big enough to care for those around me who are hurting.

Identity in Christ

Along with this, I also realized, at a deeper level, my identity is not wrapped up in what I do, or my talents. My truest identity is that I’m a beloved daughter of the Most High. My first calling is to sit in his lap and just spend time with Him. Just like I love my precious granddaughter, not because of what she does, but because she is mine, so God doesn’t love me because I’m a dedicated teacher, friend or mom. He loves me, period! This has made me want to protect more time for Him, reading about Him, worshiping Him and then just listening while reflecting on His love to heal and help set new boundaries for this grandma. John 15 talks about abiding in Him so sitting on His lap has helped rebuild my heart from aches and soften my pain for others to trust Him to care for those hurting around me. The more I get to know Him, the more my hope and faith grow as I live an abundant life in the new normal.2014-12-06 10.17.25

So as we end this old year and celebrate the beautiful first coming of our Lord, I keep my heart on eternity and treasure the sacrifice God made in sending His Son as a little baby, so my son can be with Him and I will see Taylor again. During this season, I pray we can all find balance in our grief and live life to the fullest with our hearts fixed on our risen Savior in Heaven and still allow ourselves to be human with our feet planted on Earth as we ache with the deep love we have for our treasured deposits in Heaven.

John 10:10 (NIV) “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Faith, Grief, Growth in Trials, Healing, Hope, Trials, worship

One Year Anniversary Reflections: He Bore Our Griefs As We Identify With His Sufferings

He Bore Our Griefs

Isaiah 53:4 (NASB)
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.

This scripture, “He bore our griefs…” has been coming to my mind ever since Easter this year. The realization that he literally understands my pain from losing our son is so precious and real. It’s overwhelming to think that Jesus carried all that pain on the cross for all of us.

 I relate to this so much now when I meet a person who has suffered any kind of loss, especially the loss of a child or someone close. I look at their teary eyes and I know it’s the Holy Spirit grieving with me as I cry for them and feel that knife stabbing pain in my heart again, only it’s for their loss this time and yet so real in my own heart as it flows from Christ’s.

I also felt Christ’s grief for me many times in unexplained ways before Taylor died. One of the many moments was in April 2013, two months before his and Michelle’s wedding. Taylor had asked me to find a song to dance to for the “Mother-Son” dance. His favorite song as a little boy was Steven Curtis Chapman’s The Great Adventure, or “Saddle up Your Horses” as four year-old Taylor called it. I wanted to do a swing dance with him to this song since he danced to it every morning with his siblings and me on his stick horse for about three years after our morning Bible time.

Last spring, as I turned on the song for my husband to hear, I tried to choreograph the wedding dance in my mind. Gary and I both simultaneously began to cry with deep unexplained sorrow over this song. We had not felt that kind of pain with our first son’s wedding song, even though our love is just as deep for all our children. I couldn’t understand it then, but now I do. Taylor decided he didn’t want that song for the wedding and we chose another special song, but as soon as he passed away, we knew that song was the story of his life, a “Great Adventure”, and had to be the main song in his life video.

Also around this time, Taylor came home wearing a beautiful full chest tattoo that was on his bucket list to do before his wedding. He had planned another tattoo for a long time; however he suddenly decided to change it to a full-winged owl with a compass pointing true north in its claws. When he explained to me that true north was for following Christ in his marriage and his choice for owls was because they mate for life, I suddenly felt that same stabbing in my heart. I now understand how God, the God of all time, grieved for us in those moments in spring 2013, knowing what was ahead for us on July 20, 2013.

Identifying With the Sufferings of Jesus

Knowing he understands my grief better than anyone else, going to the feet of Jesus is truly the only thing that satisfies me and comforts me. As a result, I pulled away from people quite a bit last year. The only way for me to find true joy is in worshiping my Creator and thanking him for what I do have and that my son is in Heaven. Turning my focus toward Heaven, reading about Heaven, and visualizing all the joy Taylor is experiencing now has given me the big picture perspective of the truth of our brief time here in the whole landscape of eternity. Yet not everyone is in the same place as me and I can’t expect them to be exactly where I am as unique individuals and we are all suffering the loss of Taylor in a different way because we each have a unique relationship with him.

Grieving has been the most humanly lonely experience I have ever had in my whole life. Even though there are 7 people in my own home, each person grieves differently and generally separately. We don’t want to bring the others down, so we cry in private or not at all. Still we want to spend most of our time with family and God, but then I am afraid our friends feel like they’ve lost us too.

There have been instances where friends and extended family think I’m so strong I don’t need them, which I don’t, but I want them and for some reason, they don’t get that. When I get my eyes off of Christ, and in my weakness, I have the tendency to feel abandoned by these people. Then my husband and I don’t find our needs met by each other on this parallel walk we are on towards God, so emotions we have not dealt with before suddenly arise. I’ve never been an angry person, but I find myself angry, not at Taylor for dying or at God, but at those around me for not being happy and not what I want them to be for me. I’ve said it many times, “I didn’t just lose a son, I feel like I’ve lost my family.” I’m sure I sound bi-polar at this point, but it’s the reality of grief.

As I shared this with my friend, Ann, who also has suffered loss, she reminded me of this verse:

1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings,
that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Ann and I discussed that the beauty and gift of going through grief alone and individually is that we are forced to dig in more intimately with our Savior to be able to survive and we therefore learn more about all he suffered on the cross and grow closer to him as we recognize what he truly did for us, thus realizing the truly deep love he has for us individually. We then can rejoice and see his glory revealed in our lives in a way that can only be supernatural!!

At this one year anniversary point, I am beginning to take time for friendships again. I have so many wonderful friends God has given me! Our family is still together because we allow each other to grieve at their own pace, knowing they are holding the hand of Jesus too. I’m not ever going to be the same Carla again. I will hopefully be a more thoughtful Carla who appreciates each moment with those I have here, a more compassionate Carla who understands the grief of others and can hold out an empathizing hand, a more passionate Carla who appreciates the Savior and his ultimate eternal plan for all of us, looking forward to the day I see my Savior’s and my son’s face daily for all eternity.

Ann Voskamp, Gifts, Gratitude, Healing, One Thousand Gifts, Thanksgiving, Trials, worship

One Thousand Gifts – by Ann Voskamp: My Healing Through Gratitude

I have had losses in my life like anyone my age. Some of this was from pain of losing a loved one, a child going through pain, but the most life altering was from having three surgeries in a year with one that brought damage to my voice.

My passion in life is singing and leading worship. I’m a singer and a teacher, plus I love to talk, A LOT! After my third spinal surgery, I woke to find my right vocal cord nerve was paralyzed bringing my voice to a whisper at best. This completely put my life to a stop of reflection asking God what my new purpose was to be in His journey for me. As a person with deep faith, this was still a challenge as I processed, questioning, waiting…

In June 2012, I had surgery to allow me to talk, but I still could not sing well. In August, God was gracious and allowed me to help with church worship and, in October, go back to teaching and leading worship at my school part time.  Yet, I still grieved that I could not sing the way I wanted to. Although I understood that worship is a way of life and not a song, musical worship had for so long come from my heart through my larynx that I wasn’t sure how to deeply worship anymore.

In November, preparing for Thanksgiving, God challenged me to be thankful in everything. I thought I had been living a grateful life, but was still drifting towards complaining and discontentment in many areas, especially in my verbal life.

As the temptation to grumble approached, the Lord would reveal the parts of my problems to be thankful for:

Wandering Loved Ones: “Thank you, Lord, that they are alive. Thank you that they love me and want your blessing in their lives. Thank you for other loved ones close by and students that are seeking your face. Thank you for the husband who seeks your face and loves our family…”

A Broken Voice: “Thank you, Lord for the opportunities to touch lives for you in the health world because of this and help others in the same situation I’m in. Thank you that I can at least teach part time and help others to sing at school and at church. Lord, what? You don’t need perfection? Okay, I will sing, even if my cord doesn’t make the kind of sound I think it should make. I can still lift up my joyful noise to you for true worship comes from my heart and not my larynx. “

Positive growth, yet, I kept expecting, believing, waiting for a complete spectacular healing.

December 1st: Friends commented, “You are sounding better.”  I could tell there was a difference too.

December 21st: A visit to the voice surgeon, absolutely expecting him to say I was completely healed. He scopes my throat then matter-of-factly states, “No, Carla, your cord is still completely paralyzed. I’ll see you in March, you probably won’t have a voice then, and we will discuss a permanent surgery.”

More surgery??? “No, Lord! I will not have another surgery. I’m going to trust you with this one. I would rather not talk than have a 5th surgery.”

January: A precious loved one makes an attempt to reconnect. Gratitude begins to show its fruit. People stopping, saying, “Carla, your voice is back! You can sing! Wow! You sang great in chapel today! You are healed! When did that happen?”…

My Eyore response: “Thank you, but I’m not healed. In fact, in March I won’t have a voice at all again…” (I read this now and think how stupid I was!)

February 1st: I was sharing my heart with our school nurse regarding all this and she jumped up and said, “You have to read this book, One Thousand Gifts!” The next week she bought the book by Ann Voskamp as a gift for me.

Ann Voskamp is what I describe as an honest and down to real life author with an incredible gift for writing in a lyrical way that is beautiful and rare. This is a book you will want to sit with for a half hour, then meditate and savor in small bites twice a day.  Ann describes losses in her life – minor to major – and how gratitude opened up a whole new world as she saw God’s face in the midst of all stages of life.

What God starts, He always finishes. From November to now, through His Holy Spirit and this book, He plopped me in Gratitude Boot Camp! I had been doing the thanksgiving dance but failed to see the work He was doing, believing what the doctor said instead of seeing my Creator’s unique craftsmanship.

As I jumped deeper into gratitude, I had a bottomless sense of peace and began to think less about my voice and more about God’s purpose for my gifts, letting Him take care of my voice.

During this time, another doctor friend asked if he could refer me to a surgeon in Los Angeles who repairs voices of famous singers. The California doctor called me and said I sounded way too good for him to do surgery on me. He and my doctor friend explained that, although my nerve was still paralyzed, my vocal cord had fallen back to the middle of my larynx and was in the perfect position for vibration. With a singing specialist, they said I could very likely build endurance and range again.

I suddenly realized that God was using my voice in a wonderfully functioning capacity without a nerve to help it! I like the spectacular and had been looking for a lightning bolt to come down and strike me with healing power creating fireworks around me. Instead, he healed me with a gentle surprise patiently waiting for me to stop denying His work and realize that my gratitude broke open the doors to see the healing He had already accomplished in me.

It is now March 7th and, other than range and stamina, my voice feels almost normal again. I’ve cancelled the doctor appointment!

I truly believe that ungratefulness clouds the truth and blessings God wants to reveal to us. I’m so grateful for the difficult times and wouldn’t trade one treasure of wisdom I’ve received from the past two years for anything.

Read One Thousand Gifts and see what miracles God is already doing in your life.