Posted by: karanoel | September 21, 2017

Forging new paths

Fork in RoadWhen I leave my house for the beach or to see family, I turn left at the end of my driveway and hop on the freeway. Nearly everywhere else I go requires a right turn at the driveway’s end followed by a well-worn path through side streets to Irvine Boulevard, which takes me to all manner of necessary places like Target, the pediatrician and swimming lessons. When I jump in my car, I only need to spend a moment’s focus to know which direction I’m turning and then autopilot takes over while Chase and I chat or my mind wanders freely.

The trouble occurs when I’m attempting to go somewhere different; say Chase’s school, which is new this year. The directions start out the same as they would for a shopping trip – the first two turns, in fact – and then, if I actually want to get to school rather than Trader Joe’s, the path changes. Of course I know this. I’m not an idiot. And yet twice, last week alone, my car turned toward the shopping center instead of going straight toward the school. It doesn’t take too long for me to realize my error, laugh at my absentmindedness, and, as Siri would say, recalculate my directions. At that point, I have the choice of a longer route or a u-turn to get back to the one I intended to take in the first place. We get to school, on time every day so far, but I’m hoping for a new groove to be formed so we can get there more directly… every time.

This whole concept just got real for me. The past several years have been spent learning who God is and who He says I am, truths based on His Word rather than on the past experiences that previously dictated my identity. For instance, despite the fact that I was in a loving family, I had this orphan mentality that I was on my own and had to protect myself. It partly resulted from an independent streak I was born with, partly from some hurtful relationships where I should’ve been covered but wasn’t and mostly, I think, from some willfully bad choices I made that rendered me undeserving of God’s help (or so I thought for a really long time).

As I stepped out of rebellion and into a desire to do good, I would start a day/thought/action in the right direction, full of hope that I would get to a new destination that would bring blessing rather than harm. But somewhere along the way, autopilot would take over, leading me down the well-worn roads of fear, anger and self-loathing. Finding myself lost on these roads – again – with no clear sense of where I went wrong or how to get to my destination made me feel utterly powerless and alone. So, once again, I would step into self-protection mode. This looked like guarding my heart by shutting down emotions, putting on a facade of indifference or brazen confidence, using some kind of substance to fill the gaps of inadequacy and immersing myself in some form of distraction to avoid facing the “fact” of my failures.

Over the years, my mind has been transformed by truth. I now know where I’m going and I get there a whole lot of the time. There are still some detours and u-turns along the way but I rarely feel lost and overwhelmed. God has shown me time and time again that He is with me, He is for me and I’m not alone. Nothing I do can disqualify me from His grace and His help because it is based on the unfailing righteousness of Jesus. It was never about my own merit; only my trust. I know this. And yet, last week, he asked me why I was still protecting myself.

Yes, I thought. The pesky old behaviors that plague me are evidence of that. I had never connected them to self-protection but it makes perfect sense. Whenever I’m up against something that I feel unequal to, I shut down and fortify myself. It’s not something I consciously think about. I just go there. It’s such an efficient path that I can complete the task without feeling a single true emotion. Meanwhile, the fear that I won’t have enough or be enough operates in the background, like some app draining the batteries on my phone, so I guard my sleep and my energy like nobody’s business – with caffeine and sleep aids. Sugar and alcohol – in very acceptable amounts – step in for comfort or courage as needed. And of course distraction sets in so I don’t have to go to the places in my mind that will bear difficult information.

The revelation the Lord gave me was so gentle and kind. There was no shame. Just understanding that He is my protector and I can rest in that. My response, which seemed so clearly the right one, was to choose to trust Him for sleep that night. And for every night since. If I didn’t get enough sleep (which I haven’t on some nights), I figured He would give me strength or rest as I need it (and He has). I figured it wasn’t my problem to worry about.

The first few days were amazing. The need for caffeine, sugar and alcohol decreased significantly. Not that I wasn’t tired (I really was), but it didn’t mean what it used to. There were no conclusions of shortcoming or the accompanying fear. Then a day came where all I wanted was coffee and green tea frappuccinos and beer. Nothing had changed that I knew of. It was baffling. When I got quiet and played some worship on the piano, tears came. I was able to recognize some grief about letting go of my grown son, Cole, on a deeper level. Because my automatic response was established to bypass hard emotions, I didn’t even know it was there. By allowing myself to feel the sadness for a few minutes and let the Lord wash over me, my heart was lifted and the cravings evaporated. Subsequent days have shown the same pattern.

Here is the interesting thing. In acknowledging my sadness, joy has been more poignant than ever. In laying down my ability to protect myself, I’m feeling more protected than I’ve ever been. I’m learning to allow my heart to be heard, to meditate on what is good and true, to pay attention to the roads I’m taking and to invite the Lord to help me establish life-giving routes that will become my default. Because I’ve got new places to go and this time, they are places I want to be.

 

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Posted by: karanoel | September 8, 2017

Uprooting what never belonged

Entering ever more deeply into middle age, we were eager to forego our renter status and become homeowners. Until our names were listed on a deed, it seemed as if our lives were on hold; like we couldn’t put our roots down and get established in a meaningful way. Our lease wouldn’t be up for several months, but I scoured Zillow anyway… every single day. For someone who wasn’t yet free to buy, it was pretty absurd how many details I knew about each house on the market.

If the future hadn’t arrived yet, I thought waiting would feel less frustrating if I had some clues as to what would come – and when – so I plied God for information. Rather than answer my questions, He spoke into my heart a simple directive: “Invest in where you are now.” It is one of the most profound and challenging statements I’ve ever heard. Over two years later, in the same rental, I am still pondering the implications.

Growing up, we moved often. I learned to keep my roots loose and shallow, not letting them grow too deep or become too interconnected because it hurt too much when it came time to pull them up. So investing in a place and community is scary, particularly if I know it’s temporary. There’s an insidious dread that once I really settle in, giving my heart to this home and the people who surround it, it will be torn from me and I will experience pain, which I fear above all things.

So I try to control my circumstances, by forcing change before its time so I can be its master or by fearfully clinging to the present in a futile (and exhausting) attempt to resist change. God asking me to be “all in” is, at heart, asking me to trust Him. Not in His ability to bring about the change I want in the time I want, nor in His ability to stave off unwanted change. But rather in His love and care for me, no matter what comes… and what doesn’t.

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I started this post last week and every time I’ve sat down to write it, I’ve cried. Not tears of self-pity or even sadness, but of vulnerability as I’m touching the roots of such tender places. They feel laid bare; exposed as they’ve never been.

I can see now that this time of waiting for a house has had nothing to do with a house, and everything to do with my freedom. It’s in the waiting, when desires are unfulfilled, that accusations against God and self are unmasked. They stoke fear during every pause – when the good in a situation is not yet clear, robbing rest and provoking wrong conclusions and reactions. Lingering pain from past experiences provides fertile soil for these fears and accusations to grow and crowd the rightful roots. To be tangled up with these invasive weeds has felt like protection to me – a way to keep from being exposed, from being vulnerable, from being hurt. But all it has accomplished is to steal from each day and each circumstance the joy that is rightfully mine.

In each of those clouded moments, when my soul needed comfort and I turned to the Lord, it felt more about immediate survival than long-term restoration. But what I’m coming to understand is that those feeble choices to trust were an invitation to the Holy Spirit to water the dry, hard ground of my soul. Because I would only allow Him to get so close for so long – just enough to take the edge off my pain – it took many years of such watering to saturate the ground enough to do the work He is doing now, which is masterfully uprooting all that never belonged. In His wisdom, He knew when He could pull out those wounds and beliefs with ease and without disturbance to anything of health and life. He is doing it with such gentleness and care that I could weep with gratitude.

If God were to have given me what I wanted in the time and measure I wanted it, all that old pain and its influence would have been able to stay, tucked away but still operating. That is simply not His heart for me. Rather than working for my good opinion or my temporary comfort, He has been working for my freedom. He has used the drawn-out space of an unfavorable housing market and an unclear future to loosen and remove old fears and show me an utterly safe place to grow deep and wide and strong – in Him and His tender care, with the assurance that I can wholeheartedly invest in the place He has me and the people in that place. Every day. Wherever those days may take me.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she can laugh without fear of the future.” Prov 31:25 NLT

Posted by: karanoel | March 26, 2017

A worthwhile investment

Cameron&AidanFor a week and a half, our normally quiet existence was nowhere to be found (and, believe me, I looked!). We had volunteered to care for two boys, ages two and four, whose mom had just had surgery and was trying to secure housing. Caring for these sweet, wildly energetic kids who missed their mom like mad took everything I had to give. Actually, I ran out of everything I had to give before lunch most days and found, as I looked to God for grace with desperately pleading eyes, He strengthened me far beyond my own ability.

Chase, our four year old, was part of the reason we finally applied to be a host family, stating repeatedly this past year that he wanted to “babysit and protect kids who didn’t have moms or dads, or who were lost or needed help.” He prepared for the boys’ visit by filling their room with books and toys from his own collection. His generosity didn’t fail, as he continued to share everything he owned and enthusiastically entered into this alternate universe on Santa Clara Ave. Despite the tears that regularly occurred when the two four year olds got too competitive or when Chase just seemed fried by all the activity, he continued to say that he loved having playmates and wasn’t going to let us give them back. After all was said and done, he decided that next time we should choose a kid we can keep.

John also stepped up, coming home from a long day of work to a noisy house, a tired wife and plenty of work left to be done. He played outside with the boys as I cooked dinner, trying to keep bikes, scooters and a large electric Jeep from running down our one year old neighbor who wanted in on the action. He helped with cleanup and baths and jammies and teeth brushing, and gave me a strong dose of encouragement at the end of each day. The most heroic thing to me is that he is totally willing to do this again.

I learned two things during those 10 significant days. The first is that it’s infinitely easier to cry over the hurting children “out there” – or applaud the people helping them – than it is to step into their need with our own hands and hearts. The day-to-day experiences are less romantic and more taxing than I imagined. And yet they are so much better because they are raw and real and rewarding in a way imagination could never be.

The second is that love looks a lot like investing in people. Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, our hearts will be also. Pouring my treasures of time, energy and money into these boys attached my heart to them. I couldn’t help but bond, despite how difficult some of their behaviors proved to be. The greatest reward came as they began to trust me, first by learning my name (it took longer than you’d think!) and then by climbing into my lap for comfort and affection. I can honestly say I came to love them and earnestly care what happens to them.

It makes me think about God’s investment in us, which goes so much farther than we could ever realize. It’s not a rose-colored, romantic imagination, like someone loving us (or maybe just pitying us) from the sidelines, but a tedious, sometimes heartbreaking, daily (or hourly) expenditure of all the treasure in his storehouse. He even gave His most beloved treasure, His Son (which, as a mom, is unfathomable to me). He is bonded to us, no matter how bad our behaviors prove to be, because His heart is here – in us and with us. He will continue to enter into our mess with tangible proof of His love. The best thing we can give back is our trust… to first learn His name, then to curl up on His lap in the safety of His arms and press up against the warmth of His heart.

*We volunteered through a nonprofit called Safe Families for Children which supports families in crisis and works to keep kids out of foster care.

Posted by: karanoel | October 19, 2016

Anger’s worst enemy

Someone made me mad last week. Hopping mad. Poor John walked through the door just as I was discovering the offense and received the hurricane force of my reaction. It was so strong, even I was taken aback. Despite my attempts to forgive a whole lot of past wrongs, there was clearly lingering resentment which allowed for a quick leap to judgment and justification for saying a whole lot of bad things about this person that I will spare your wholesome selves from hearing.

The next day, when I hopped into the car, I turned on a CD series on marriage I had been listening to in fits and starts for several weeks. In one of those moments of divine timing, the first words out of the speaker’s mouth were about forgiving people who have done you wrong. It was mostly stuff I know and practice, and I probably wouldn’t have listened so intently had I not been in such a vulnerable place, but then..…. he told me to pray for and bless this woman who has caused me so much grief. [I am very familiar with Luke 6:28 where Jesus says to bless those who curse you and pray for those who mistreat you, but I felt excluded based on the perceived persecuted-because-of-your-faith specificity. Except it doesn’t say that. So apparently it applies to me in a daily you-hurt-me kind of way after all.]

In that moment, as I was driving down the 55, it made perfect sense. The stance on forgiveness I usually take isn’t bad – letting go of each offense and trusting God’s ability to work it all together for good. It’s an important start, but it is fairly passive. To invest my words and time and heart for the good of someone who has mistreated me; well, that is an active assault on this ugly thing that binds me.

According to the speaker’s example, after a while of blessing his persecutor, the bitterness broke and he had genuine compassion and love for that person, which sounded very appealing to me. So I jumped into this blessing thing, a little awkwardly but with enthusiasm. Every time one of those resentful thoughts popped into my head, I started blessing my offender’s life, health, relationships, finances – you name it.  It was utterly empowering and felt so good to my angry heart. And the thing that was taken from me that inspired such anger in the first place? It was replaced from a totally different source in a surprising way; almost as if God were affirming that he would take care of me as I trust in him.

That in itself was life changing, but I was hit with another epiphany the following day as I made my bed. No one mistreats, curses or judges me more than I do. I no longer experience the depths of self hatred I used to (for which I am very grateful), but measuring myself with an unholy perfectionism continues to create a consistent awareness of and frustration over all the ways I fall short. I can easily get mad at various parts of myself – my body, my mind, my looks, my personality, my abilities – when they don’t function or look the way I think they should. It would not be a stretch to say there is bitterness in some areas, and a pretty perpetual fear of failing since the self-criticism can be so harsh.

It immediately became clear that while it is a good start to forgive myself for my failings and let God love me, I am to move into that active, empowering stance of blessing myself – all the parts of me in all their imperfections. Because God has made me worthy of kindness and his love has covered every shortcoming I will ever have. If he has deemed me acceptable because of the sacrifice of his Son, who am I to withhold love? So every time a critical thought or accusation pops into my head, I am countering it with a blessing. Not to disregard sin or pretend I’m perfect, but to extend the grace that was purchased for me so that I can come boldly before the throne without condemnation and see myself as I truly am – a beloved child of God.

It has been under a week since I have begun to practice this new exercise, but good Lord, I am already seeing transformation in the way I see those who have hurt me – both this woman and myself. I pray that I will be able to press on in the aggressive act of blessing until every tie to the old way of measuring, judging and woundedness has been severed. I hope that you will join me.

Posted by: karanoel | September 28, 2016

So much more

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” Ephesians 3:20

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Photo Credit: Kaiserswest

How those disciples must have struggled after the crucifixion, having left their lives behind to follow this man who promised new life but himself yielded to death. All their hopes were hovering there in those three silent days, exposed and unfulfilled, like a broken body whose doctor disappeared midway through surgery. Their defective state had been diagnosed and the work to repair it had begun. They couldn’t just clamp their bleeding hearts, hop off the operating table and carry on with life as it existed before. As Peter had said, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”

They had seen with their own eyes miracles performed; the authority that caused both demons and disease to flee – and yes, even the dead to be raised. And then the love; oh that love. Not a sentimental kind, but one that called up life and transformed all it touched. Everything had changed through this man; this they knew. But the circumstances were confusing at best. The kingdom had not been restored. Their beloved teacher was dead. Without him, they were just a bunch of misfits who had been on a strange journey together.

But it went beyond that. Trauma had occurred. Pain had been experienced. Hope had been rocked, leaving it shaky and fragile, vulnerable to accusations and uncertain of its certainties. Doubt raised its insidious voice in that opportune pause, when truth itself seemed suspended in time. And fear wasn’t far behind, delighting to fill in every missing piece with imaginations of its own design.

But the truth is this: No matter what the disciples thought or felt in that dark place, they were not abandoned. Jesus’ absence was an active stance on their behalf, crushing death with its handmaidens of doubt, fear and despair; thrusting open a way through a stumbling existence into abounding life – the kind that changes history.

You see, they were not left to bleed out on the operating table, or asked to hobble along with damaged parts. Nor were their existing hearts going to be improved upon so they could do life “better.” Instead, they were given new hearts of a perfect design with a love and courage born of the Spirit. They would have chosen comfort and settled for so much less, but He gave infinitely more.

This is the same God we serve. One who is willing to risk our temporary discomfort and suffer our doubts as he transforms the most desolate places on our behalf, enabling us to walk in courageous faith and ravage darkness by His light. Our lives will not resemble their former selves, nor will the world after we’ve touched it. So no matter how hopeless things look or how defeated you feel, know that this is not the end of the story. He will not rest until, by His great mercy, you are fully inhabiting your imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” Peter 1:3-4

 

Posted by: karanoel | September 13, 2016

My chains fell off

I was born a sugar fiend. It wasn’t about just a delectable taste on my tongue. When that intoxicating substance hit my bloodstream, all felt right with the world; it was goodness to my soul. I  would like to say that my pleasure-seeking ended there – oh, how much I wish that were true – but it was just the start.

There was the discovery of cigarettes at 13 and, while I didn’t initially enjoy the taste or way smoking made me feel, the delight of being so grown up and worldly made me giddy. I stuck with it, not realizing I would bond so wholly that quitting this “delight” when I became pregnant nearly a decade later would be the hardest thing I would do.

At 14, I discovered alcohol, which delivered a whole new release. The shyness that followed me to each new school and all the accompanying inhibitions melted like wax in a flame. My intensely self-conscious nature was replaced by the carefree, outgoing one I admired in others and longed to have. Shame inevitably followed because, even then, I knew this wasn’t who I was.

After a humiliating and traumatic experience brought about by my excessive use of alcohol, my emotions suffered and my body followed. It was then – after being laid up with a broken heart and a case of mono – that I discovered caffeine. A seemingly innocuous substance, especially when compared to other vices, but one that I learned to rely heavily upon. It picked me up like a good friend, helping me push through days of feeling hollow and tired.. and then dropped me hard, leaving me alone and craving more of its faulty friendship.

It’s no surprise that a few years later, methamphetamine became my new bestie. It electrified me; vitalizing the disconnected pile of wires I’d become. The community surrounding it was dark and ugly – paranoid people snorting up lines of burning white powder in cheap hotel rooms – but it was community nonetheless. And this powder gave me power to connect. But it failed to give life, only robbing what remained.

By the time I was 18, my lungs burned from the multiple packs of cigarettes I smoked each day and I couldn’t get enough alcohol in my system to achieve “normal,” let alone its previous euphoria. I accepted any offer of any substance at any time, for which there were increasing repercussions. I was kidnapped by three young men who had gifted me a line of cocaine at a nightclub (followed by many more during the hours I was in their custody), and then again put myself at risk by accepting a line of speed in the car of another stranger at a gas station immediately following my escape. A week later, a friend shot me up with heroine which, after drenching me in a half moment’s pleasure, very nearly ended my life.

I would have told you I didn’t care. It didn’t matter if I lived or died. But that seeming indifference was actually disconnect. Underneath all the layers of numbness I had created to separate myself from myself lived a warm, beating heart. A passionate one. One that hurt and rejoiced. One that wanted not just to survive, but to live fully and well. Covering it up didn’t make it go away; it simply stifled its voice until it couldn’t be heard – or at least understood – anymore.

But I didn’t know that then. I could feel nothing of life or value within and earnestly thought that if all the layers were peeled back and the cloud of drama dissipated, there would be a sign saying “vacant.” Not a temporary emptiness like a bathroom stall or hotel room, but one of permanence that proclaimed my lack of identity and worth; a declaration that nothing meaningful existed – or could ever exist – in this empty framework of a person.

While the voice of my heart was mute, that of my body was loud and demanding, perpetually harassing me with its wants and needs. I had no ability to discern the difference. When there was a true need like rest, which I feared above all things, I bullied my body forward. I believed it had betrayed me and was undeserving of my kindness.

My pregnancy at 21 changed so much. This unborn child drew a fierce love out of my buried, still-beating heart. Being entrusted with such a valuable gift imparted a secondary worth – not by my own perceived merit, of which there was none, but through this untainted soul placed in my hands.

To nurture this little being required me to nurture my own. So, by miraculous grace, I did. It was weak and fumbling and terrifying and empowering. I wept in pain at my inability to overcome habits that could damage this baby; my son. God almighty met me there in the raw, dirty tension of death and life, loving me in a way that only the humblest of saviors could; teaching me His power through my weakness. It was the beginning of freedom.

The God who loved me through my child became the God who loved me. It broke my heart and humbled me, much like the prodigal son returning from his imperious escapades into the boundless embrace of the father who loved him tenderly; who missed him; who brought him under the safety and provision of his roof once again without a single word of condemnation.

The years that followed were filled with the painful pricks of a waking limb that’s been asleep, as connections to spirit, soul and body were slowly roused. To feel at all was such a wondrous joy, but it was new, often confusing and unsettling. Though there were no longer illicit drugs to battle, I still felt addiction’s pull, fearful of experiencing life without a backup plan. My old standbys of sugar, caffeine and alcohol, albeit in more acceptable amounts, were close at hand to be used as needed, as were various distractions to cope with a life I didn’t know how to live.

But I began to learn that freedom is not found in the absence of something. My life could be purged of every outward impurity and, like the pharisees, could still be without wholeness; without the heartbeat of freedom. Rather, it is found in the presence of the living God, who calls out the true identity he breathed into us upon our creation. Bonding with Him – who is the answer to our every cry – satisfies the soul and breaks the suction to all the imposters that seek to win our affections and distract us from the fullness of life found only in Love.

When that warm, transforming presence seeped into the cracks of my self-erected fortress, the rigid walls began to show signs of weakness, then to break apart, and now I see them melting like lava before me. Along with the hardness of my heart and the fear of being found wanting, the things that once comforted me are losing their grip. Not because I am trying so hard to avoid them, but because a morsel is insignificant before a feast and a flashlight useless under the brightly burning sun.

As the Lord continues to lead me forward on this great adventure, I believe that not only will the chains that once bound me continue to fall at the feet of the God who saved me, but that my ears will be filled with the liberating sound of clanking metal as the chains of many others fall to the ground and their prison doors swing open. In the mighty name of Jesus.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he saved them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,

and broke away their chains.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love

and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

for he breaks down gates of bronze

and cuts through bars of iron.  Psalm 107: 13-16

 

Posted by: karanoel | September 5, 2016

A place to rest and love

This summer, since we were anticipating several out-of-town guests, I got fixated on the idea of gracing our backyard with some new patio furniture – the comfy kind that makes you want to talk and linger while the sun goes down. I’m embarrassed to acknowledge how much time I spent searching for just the right set that appealed aesthetically, functionally and financially (FYI, the cost of some sets might require selling your soul or firstborn child). I had almost driven my husband mad and given up hope when I found my heart’s delight on Craigslist. We rented a truck from Home Depot, trekked down to Dana Point and returned as joyfully as if with a newborn babe.

The trick was figuring out where to put my lovely 8 foot sofa with chunky chairs, blocky tables and big umbrella. With every surface cluttered, I just didn’t have vision for it. So I dragged every chair, table, toy and BBQ off the concrete and stood back to survey what remained. The space was still broken up by several immovable obstacles: a built-in fire pit, the wood columns of the patio cover, the heightened deck area, and the baffling zigzag contour of the concrete. If I were the homeowner and had some cash, several of these items would be changed or removed. But I’m not and I don’t.

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So I took stock of the space and suddenly… golden rays of sun shone down from heaven on just the spot. That perfect spot that receives gentle morning light filtered through our neighbor, Ruth’s, maple trees yet is protected from late day’s harsh heat. Where the breeze from the distant coast jumps over the weathered fence and rustles the leaves of the eucalyptus tree overhead. Where the warmth from the fire is close enough to embrace the family on a chilly eve. And so the furniture moved into its perfect new home. About two minutes later, our kids spread themselves out on it, followed quickly by me and John.

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While all of this was going on, we were dealing with a very difficult someone in our lives. It was nothing new, really, but the increasing levels of entitlement and manipulation proved to be particularly exasperating and threatened another relationship dear to my heart. Attempts over the years to improve the situation only worsened things, and it wasn’t one of those optional people you can just choose to part ways with.

The Lord, so kind to enlighten my simple self, said that, like the recent experience with the patio furniture, I just couldn’t see clearly. The relationship was so cluttered by hurt and frustration that I couldn’t find a solitary square foot on which to rest. So He told me to clear off the movable items. Instead of toys or barbeques, it was resentment, bitterness and anger (okay, rage), as well as the accompanying judgment of this person’s choices and, well, their whole self. And then there was that whole pile of self pity, sitting there stinking up the place, making it known what victims we were.

If I’m honest, those things didn’t look like temporary pieces of clutter to be dragged off at will, requiring nothing more than a quick visit to the chiropractor afterwards. They had begun to feel as though they were eternal truths, secured deeply in the earth by my understanding of their injustice. So along with extending forgiveness for the hurts and offenses, there was an accompanying need to surrender my ideas of how things should look – you know, the fairness and generosity I deserve (oh wait, is that entitlement?) – and my attempts to control them.

After beginning to clear these things off the surface, a quick survey of the area showed a brutal truth. There are things that can’t be moved, by my own hand anyway – namely the free will of another and what they choose to do with it. How I wish I had some ownership of their life and could remodel it to my liking. But I don’t and I can’t. Like that zigzag concrete in my yard, it’s going to stay for the duration of the relationship.

But that’s okay because what is becoming clear is that God’s got this. He is actually using it for my benefit – to grow me up and show me just how capable He is. This is where the angels sing and the golden rays pour forth sunlight onto the perfect spot. With all else cleared away, I can now see not where to put a sofa, but where to put my trust. It is not in another person or in circumstances that go as they should, but in the Lord Almighty who lives to demonstrate His love. The truth is that He loves this other person as much as He does me (gasp) and wants freedom for both of us. As we trust Him to lead us, He is going to do the impossible. If they are not willing, then He will still make a way for me.

And let me tell you, He has. In the midst of the all the things that are still swirling and despite the fact that outward circumstances are technically “worse,” I am finding this joyful liberty to let go of what I can’t change and to love well – here and now. The relationship close to my heart that felt so threatened is becoming richer by the day as the walls created through the friction melt. It is truly a place of rest. And I am certain that, like the patio furniture, endless hours will be spent here greeting the morning sun in quiet thought or talking, laughing and lingering with loved ones as the sun goes down.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

                                                                               -the serenity prayer

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Posted by: karanoel | August 29, 2016

That special tone

IMG_7599My son, Cole, enlisted in the Navy right out of high school. Having been a single mom for much of his life, we had a particular closeness and it was hard – good hard – to leave him at the recruiting office where he would ship off to boot camp in Illinois, then to South Carolina for two years of training (which is nearly finished), and then off to wherever he will be stationed before plunging down into the sea for months at a time in a sub.

It wasn’t an easy transition, especially since Cole is not much of a communicator. It’s not that he doesn’t love people. He just kind of absorbs himself in his current environment and doesn’t often reach out past it. I don’t guilt him on the issue. His program is intensive and his Navy life is full. Plus he’s an introvert. But you’d better believe if that whistle textone reaches my ears, my heart flutters like a schoolgirl. And if I hear the robot ringtone I’ve used for him since middle school, you’d best get out of my way.

Frankly, I don’t even care what he has to say. He could text to tell me he had spaghetti for lunch and I would be touched. It’s the fact that he is choosing to connect with me. I usually don’t hear from him about day-to-day stuff, but always when he has purchased a new vehicle, weapon or tattoo. He can chat endlessly about the technical aspects of a really fast motorcycle. His quirk comes out in the photos he sends of new purchases, like his 1952 Rambler or the ambulance he now owns (yes, an ambulance). And, goodness gracious, that boy is getting tattoos at breakneck speed. Other times, the calls aren’t so light-hearted. Like when he totalled his motorcycle and was able to limp away from it. Or when his friend totalled his and wasn’t so fortunate. Those are the times I am especially glad I am available, always listening for those ringtones that belong only to him.

Though it is hard to wrap my head around, especially since He has a few billion kids, this is how God feels about each of us. Every. Single. One. We each have a special ringtone and His heart is thrilled to hear it. Because He loves us and even likes us, despite whatever flaws we are riddled with. It is the connection that matters; the fact that whatever we are experiencing, we want to share it with Him. Not only is He the best listener, but if we will give Him an opportunity to respond, He can impart to us what we need at that moment – be it friendship, wisdom, comfort, or hope. We were made for this relationship, but He will never guilt us if we don’t show up. He will just keep loving us, sending care packages and always keeping an open ear for the voice of His kids.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Posted by: karanoel | August 23, 2016

Letting the water hold you

IMG_1669Chase, our three year old, has been taking swimming lessons for several months. One of the first things done by his swim instructor, Robert, was to take him underwater to let him get a feel for it; particularly that point at which he could feel the water “hold” him. As Chase was learning to swim a few feet on his own, he would sometimes forego his calm, confident “push-arounds” for a frantic, flailing sort of motion. Robert would talk him through the stroke, reminding him how he had learned to push the water, and provide physical support as reassurance before letting him try solo again. At the end of such lessons, I recall Robert saying that the panic was a result of Chase forgetting how to let the water hold him.

At his lesson today, his newer instructor was joking about how little energy Chase likes to expend when he swims, adding “he just likes to be held by the water.” It is true. Sure, he can paddle and kick fairly well now, but what he loves most is to float just beneath the surface with very little movement. When I once asked him what he enjoys about that, he simply said “it’s peaceful.” While I would love to see him gaining some distance in the pool, I can think of no better starting point.

We hopped in the car and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Christian life in these terms. As we are taking our own strokes in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, it is so easy to panic and flail, feeling certain that we are going to sink like a rock to the bottom of the pool, never to be heard from again. But the Holy Spirit, our instructor in this thing called life, is ever present, ensuring our safety and teaching us to swim. Rather than panicking alongside us or yanking us out of the pool, he quiets us and draws us back into that place where we can again feel – and more importantly, know – that we are held. And at some point, we will, like Chase, come to say that not only are we unafraid, but we are at peace.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26

Posted by: karanoel | August 19, 2016

A stronger (& better) will

Several months back, God spoke to me that His will is stronger than mine. It wasn’t a challenge, as it might have seemed at other points in my life. Instead, it was an invitation to rest in the strength of another. Like a child who wants to feel the safety of boundaries; to know she is not in charge and cannot wrap authority around her will through intimidation, manipulation or sheer persistence. Because something deep inside knows she was not meant to bear the responsibility of calling the shots; that indeed she is lacking in the wisdom required – the understanding that stretches beyond self.

I have often revisited this revelation when my soul is pushing hard for its agenda and believes it to be pure and right. When I feel as though I must get my way because my wants are strong. And, further, that I can get my way because my will is strong. It’s not that my desires are evil or my will is corrupt; but that they are incapable of bringing about the life I’m seeking without passing through the wisdom of the Spirit.

Like a child, who has pleaded for her desires with the most earnest emotions and arguments, chooses to yield to the answer of her parent – not because she necessarily agrees, but because she perceives the perfect love, strength and understanding from which it is derived. It is from this beautifully yielded place of trust that she can rest from the weight of decision. And there she will find all she has ever been seeking.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

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