Friday, December 31, 2010

357 Days

357 days ago, I made a resolution of sorts.

357 days ago, I wrote these words:  "My overarching resolution for 2010 is not to reach some arbitrary level of achievement but rather to make progress."   And then I I set out to make progress in my relationship with God, in my health, and in my work.

357 days ago, I declared that "if the only thing I accomplish in the next 12 months is to take one step closer in each of these areas, this year will have been a smashing success."

And now, 357 days later, I am left wondering how to describe the kind of success that far exceeds "smashing."

All week long, I've been searching for words to convey the magnitude of what has taken place this year.  And in the end, I've settled on just one Word:

God.

I won't deny the power of written resolutions and accountability to propel a person toward their goals.  In fact, I daresay that writing that blog post 357 days ago became a driving force in much of what I did this year.  But my goal was simply to make progress.  To take one or two steps forward.  To choose my direction and start heading that way. 

And to be perfectly honest, I never intended to get very far.

You see, I'm pretty good at setting goals--although I'm still learning how to make them reasonable and achievable.  I'm also pretty good at reaching goals.  But the one thing I don't do well?  Believe that I'm actually going to accomplish something

Perhaps that's because I don't want to get my hopes up for fear of being disappointed--by me, by God, by my circumstances.  Or perhaps I'm still unable to see past my weakness to believe that God can accomplish something good in spite of what I lack.

Or perhaps it's something else.

I began this year with hope.  Hope that I would move forward.  Hope that I wouldn't end the year with another mountain of regrets.  Hope that something, anything would change for the better. 

But I was missing something important.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Yes, I hoped for a lot of things this year.  But I was never sure of any of it.  I didn't have faith that things would change, that I would change, or even that God would show up in the mess of my life.

How grateful I am for this promise:

If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)

The absence of my faith didn't scare God away, didn't keep Him from hovering over me, didn't stop Him from intervening on my behalf.

Why?

Because He's God.  And God is faithful.  Always.  Even when I am not.

Truth be told, my faith has been gone for a while.  Nearly two years, in fact.  I regret the loss of my faith, regret the distance that has grown between God and me, regret the fading of my love for Him.  But there is one thing I do not regret.

Only God remains.

No one can say that what has happened this year came a result of my strong faith, my fervent prayers, or my spiritual maturity.  The miracles and the breakthroughs, the life changes and the heart changes--they were all God's.

Of course, they are always all God's.

But it is so easy for us to get in the way, to hinder His reflection in our lives, to think that perhaps we had a hand in bringing about some of the beauty from the ashes.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

For many months, my jar of clay hasn't been much of a jar at all.  Just shards of pottery lying empty on the ground.  And still He made His light shine forth, even brighter than before. 

And then, to my wondrous amazement, He began tenderly putting the pieces back together.

This year has been full of more pain, more beauty, more darkness, and more Glory than I ever imagined it could be.  Yes, 2010 was a year of making progress.  But I didn't do it.  He did.

And finally, finally, finally I can tell you my faith has returned.

Thank you, Jesus, for doing what I could not, for being faithful when I had lost all mine, for choosing to deliver me and show Yourself mighty, for turning my hope into faith and my ashes into beauty.  May You alone receive the glory.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In the After

A number of weeks after my diagnosis, I sat down to add a few things to my to-do list and came to a startling realization:

There was no list.

After a lifetime of perpetual list-making, this unexpected absence became one more reminder that everything was different now in my post-diagnosis life, in "the after."

Few of us are strangers to this notion that certain things alter our lives, our futures, our selves in radical and often unexpected ways.  Sometimes the catalyst for these changes is a deep and painful loss.  Sometimes it is a beautiful and immeasurable gain.  Sometimes it is an irreversible decision that definitively ends the old life and begins a new one.  Sometimes it is a change of heart or perspective so profound that our whole world shifts into something different.

Regardless of what happened to alter us, the end result is the same:  Our life divides into "The before" and "the after."  And for better or worse, the two are never the same.

Whether the change is a gain or a loss, in either case I find myself grasping at the pieces of my old life, pieces of "the before," trying to determine what is missing, what is still here, and how these shards of my world fit together in "the after."  Because "the after" begins as a foreign country, a place I've never been before, a place I do not quite understand or fit into yet.

In the months since my diagnosis, I have been doing a fair bit of fumbling about, trying to gain my bearings here in "the after."  Following nearly a decade of searching and nearly a lifetime of illness, I suddenly find myself in a place I never expected to be:  At the beginning of my healing.

And yes.  This is a beautiful, miraculous, God-breathed thing.

But it changes everything.

For much of my life, I have been at war with my own body.  All day, every day I have pushed against my limitations, both physical and mental.  Because to live within my limitations meant that I would barely make it out of bed, rarely out of the house, and never to work a job or have relationships or build a life.  Without the promise--or even the hint--of healing looming on the horizon, I made the choice to live, regardless of the cost to my body. 

And the cost was high.

I began to view my body as an enemy.  I stopped respecting the limitations of my physical and emotional self.  I forgot how to take care of myself, how to nourish and protect my body and soul.  And I learned to say "no" to myself and "yes" to everybody else.

And all the while, my sick and weak body became an even sicker and weaker body.

In the wake of my diagnosis, I found myself at a loss as to how I should proceed.  The only thing I knew for certain was this:  If I wanted to be well, if I wanted any chance at healing, I would have to live differently in "the after."  I could no longer push, or neglect, or ignore my body or my person.  I could no longer say "yes" to everybody else.  I could no longer fight a war against myself.  I could no longer be the person I had been.

Four months later, I am still struggling to find my way in "the after."  Slowly I am learning to listen to my weakness and my limitations.  To say "no" to most and "yes" to only the important and the necessary.  To find the things that encourage my soul, nourish my body, and calm my mind.  To rest when I need to rest.  To make to-do lists only for today and only for that which I have the strength to accomplish.  To live a life much different than "the before."

As much as I would have liked this diagnosis to mean immediate and definitive healing, it simply isn't like that.  I knew within days of my diagnosis that we had discovered an integral part of my illness and set in motion a journey I hadn't been expecting to take.  But only a few days after that, I realized that the journey would be long--and we had only just begun.

It turns out that the genetic mutation with which I have been diagnosed is closely associated with about 30 other mutations.  All of them interconnected.  All of them hindering the body's ability to absorb and utilize vital nutrients.  All of them resulting in varied symptoms such as the ones I have been experiencing for decades.

But the study of these mutations is new.  Practitioners who are familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of these mutations are few.  And only one physician in the nation is currently offering a comprehensive genetic analysis for all of these mutations.

I have been waiting 10 weeks for test results to come back.  I will likely be waiting a few more.  And even when they arrive, I will still need to find a practitioner to help decipher the results and walk beside me on this journey toward healing.

And some days, I am thoroughly overwhelmed by how far I have left to go.

But always, always, always I am grateful for "the after."  Because as hard and unfamiliar as it is to be here, it is still a blessing, a miracle, an unexpected and glorious beginning.  And I never want to go back to what came before.

Yes, everything is different now.  Everything except One.

He was here in "the before" and He is here in "the after."  And He will still be here in every "after" I will face in this life.  Thank you, Jesus, for being here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

He Is Near

Last night I listened to this year's final sermon on the Christmas Story.  And my father, the one doing the preaching, pointed out something I hadn't thought about before.  Something I needed to hear in the deep recesses of my being.  Something I've been needing to hear off and on all year long.

It begins with verses so familiar to most of us that we hardly give them a second thought.  Oh, we know immediately that they are part of the Christmas Story, part of the telling of the birth of a Savior.  Our Savior.

And yet.

Until last night, I did not truly see what they portrayed.

"While [Mary and Joseph] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."  (Luke 2:6-7)

Imagine for a moment what this would be like.  You are young.  You are pregnant with your first child.  Your baby is nearly full term--and this baby is God incarnate.  You have traveled a long way from home, to a city not your own.  And when you go into labor, there is no place for you to give birth to your child.  No place except out in the cold, in the dark, in the dirt.

And you are alone.

There is no mother or grandmother, no sister or cousin, no midwife or physician.  There is no one to help you, no one to be with you as you do what you have never done before--bring life out of your own body; and what you will never do again--give birth to the Redeemer of all people. 

No one, that is, except a husband who knows less about giving birth than you do.

If you were Mary, would you not feel as though God had abandoned you?  As though He had given you this enormous, sacred, frightening task of bringing forth the Messiah--and then left you alone to do the impossible?  You have been chosen by God and called "highly favored."  Could He not have provided a room, a place to give birth without the filth and stench of animals?  Could He not have made a way for you to be guided through your firstborn's arrival by an experienced hand, a comforting presence at your side?

Yes, He could have.

But He did not.

And it is this "choosing not to" that so often rips through every fiber of our being and challenges our perspective on God's love, God's goodness, God's willingness to intervene on our behalf.

In this year of hard-fought change and even harder-to-bear lack of change, I have felt abandoned by God more often than I care to recount.  God calls me to be strong when my body is wrought with weakness.  God tells me to stand firm when I can't even find my feet.  God asks me to hope, to believe when everything in me cries out in defeat.

And I feel left alone to do the impossible in a world that is far from Home. 

In that moment when Mary's firstborn child, a son, the one and only son of God, made His entrance into that dark lonely night, I wonder if it was bittersweet for that young first-time mama.  This was her child, her son, her firstborn babe.  He was here.  Finally.  After all those months of wonder, worry, and waiting.  What a beautiful, glorious thing.

But still.

When Mary looked around at the dirt and the dark, the cold harshness of where she lay, I suspect there were a few moments of sadness, too.  And regret.  And disappointment.

When there was no place to lay her son but in a filthy feeding trough, I wonder if she, too, felt that perhaps God the Father had forgotten her.  Forgotten what He had called this young woman to do.  Forgotten to make a way for her to do the impossible.

And then it happened.

“ 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel'—which means, 'God with us.' "  (Matthew 1:23)

Immanuel.  God with us.

In all of my imaginings about what that night must have been like for Mary, I can't overlook that one detail.  When that baby boy was born, He was God.  Amidst the fear and the disappointment, the darkness and the loneliness, the presence of God emerged, settled, and surrounded that dirty, smelly place where Mary gave birth; surrounded the woman who delivered the Redeemer.

But just in case Mary still wondered about the situation in which she found herself, God lovingly reassured her that things were just as He had planned.  That He had not forgotten her at all.  That He had been with her all along.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  (Luke 2:8-16)

When these shepherds arrived unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, at the very place where Mary, Joseph, and the Baby were huddled, there was no longer any room to doubt God's presence, God's Hand in their circumstances, God's deep concern for their well being.

And "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19).

I suspect it wasn't the last time in Mary's life that she felt forgotten or abandoned by God.  She was human, after all.  Living in a fallen world, just as we are.  And I would like to think that in her moments of fear and disappointment, loneliness and grief, Mary recalled that night her firstborn child entered the world.  That she remembered all those thoughts and emotions she had "treasured up" on that wondrous, fearful, dark, beautiful night.  That her moments of feeling forgotten or abandoned were short-lived and quickly defeated because she could not deny the love and the presence of God that had been so clearly manifested in the most unlikely of places.

I, too, am pondering many things these days.  Although I can't say that "the shepherds" have arrived to reassure me of God's plan, to remove any doubt that God's Hand is in my circumstances, there is one thing I am now more certain of than I have ever been before.

I have not been abandoned.  I have not been forgotten.

God.  Is.  Here.

And His presence is emerging, settling, and surrounding me right in the place where I am.  The place where I never wanted to be.  The place He has chosen for me, for this, for His purposes.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest."  (Luke 2:13-14a)

Yes.

Glory to God in the highest.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Candy Cane Kisses....A Cookie Recipe

I admit it.

I've been known to make impulse buys while doing my weekly grocery shopping.  Especially at this time of year when the aisles are laden with "holiday flavors" of all my favorite things.

So when I spotted a bag of Candy Cane Kisses, completely out of place, on my way to the checkout line a couple weeks ago, it took me all of 3 seconds to throw it in my cart.

Peppermint and white chocolate?  Yes, please!

After I got home, I noticed a cookie recipe on the back of the package.  And in spite of the hideous picture that accompanied the recipe, I decided the cookies sounded yummy and I wanted to make them.  So I did.  And I was right.  Oh boy was I right.

The cookies were delicious and fun.  Fun to look at and fun to eat.  Can't you just tell by looking at them how fun they are?



And don't you just want to taste one?

Well, lucky for you, I'm going to tell you how to make them.  You can find the original recipe on the Hershey's website, but my recipe below includes a few helpful things I learned through the process of making 96 of these little goodies.  And don't be alarmed by how many steps are in the recipe--I broke it down into very small steps to make it easier to read and follow.



Candy Cane Kisses Cookies
Ingredients:
48 Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1-½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk

Red and/or green sugar crystals

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter, granulated sugar, egg, and vanilla until well blended.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk to the butter mixture, beating until well blended.
  5. Chill dough in refrigerator or freezer until able to be worked into balls (dough is extremely sticky when first mixed).
  6. While dough is chilling, remove wrappers from candies and set aside.  You might want to unwrap a few extras, just in case you happen to eat a few while you are finishing up the cookies!
  7. When dough is ready, shape into 48 one-inch balls and roll in red or green sugar crystals.
  8. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes.  Cookies will look under-baked when first taken out of the oven, but they will finish baking and firming up while they cool on the pan.  I found 8 minutes of baking was perfect, but it will vary depending on your oven.
  9. Allow cookies to cool on the pan for about 3 minutes before pressing a Kiss into the center of each cookie.  You’ll want to set a timer for this so that you don’t forget to put the Kisses in while the cookies are still soft.  Also, don’t rush this cooling time!  If the cookies are too hot when the Kisses are placed into them, the Kisses will melt into little piles of lava.  Even when you do this correctly, some of the Kisses will start to melt a bit.  Just experiment with the best waiting time and try not to jostle the cookies too much once the Kisses have been placed in.
  10. Carefully remove the cookies from the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack until completely cooled.  Actually, it’s okay to eat the cookies before they cool completely—just be aware that the Kisses will be very soft and may turn into a pile of dripping melted chocolate when you eat them.  It’s kind of like eating a cookie s’more.  Messy but oh so yummy.
  11. Last but not least, you really should take these cookies to a Christmas party so people can oooh and ahhh over how fun they look and how good they taste.

And here are a few more pictures to convince you of the your need to bake these:






Now that your mouth is watering, go bake some cookies!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Birthday Blessings

These are some of the unexpected blessings that showed up for my birthday and poured joy into my heart:


My dad made a pie for me


My mom brought me flowers


My friend Rachel gave me this enormous cookbook that I'm already in love with


My friend Mayna surprised me by showing up on my doorstep on her way to the airport--just to wish me "Happy Birthday," give me hugs, and leave a gift full of music, tea, and homemade focaccia bread


My friend Steve baked sticky buns for me--yum! (you can see a few are missing already...)


My mom's cousin left this sweet tea-themed gift on my porch:


Dave and Carol, my "second parents," brought me more flowers...

...and gave me birthday money.  I used some of it to take myself on a birthday thrift-store outing where I found these fun mugs for 49 cents each:

One of them is a kitty cat Christmas mug that goes perfectly with my little Christmas tree theme:

I also found three of my favorite kind of puzzles at the Goodwill for 99 cents each:


And last, but not least, I bought the perfect journal to begin recording my Love Notes:


Because that's what all these things are, really.  Love notes without words.

I am loved.  I am blessed.  And I am so very, very grateful for all of it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Than A Pie

My dad made me a pie for my birthday.

A strawberry-rhubarb pie, to be exact.  With a lattice-top crust, just the way I wanted it.

My dad doesn't do a lot of baking, and this was his very first pie.  It came out beautifully and oh so yummy.  But even if it hadn't turned out so well, it still would have been absolutely perfect.

Why?

Because it had "I Love You" written all over it.





Guess what, Dad?

I love you, too.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tomorrow

Sometimes I feel as if I'm the "odd woman out" in my family.

Maybe that's the inevitable outcome when a family is composed of only four people.  Maybe if I had more than one sibling, there would be someone who was like me.

But as it stands now, I'm the only one in my family who thinks Christmas colors should include purple, pink, and lime green.  The only one who doesn't like chocolate.  The only one who hates the sound of a ticking clock.  The only one who has curly hair.  The only one who reads and writes poetry.  The only one who has more art supplies than any sane person could ever use.  The only one who would rather make a gift than buy one. 

And I'm the only one in my family who believes that birthdays are not about getting older or getting presents but about celebrating life and celebrating the people God has made us to be.

Tomorrow is my 29th birthday.

No, not the "I'm 29 again!" birthday but the real one.  I do reserve the right to be 29 again next year, but this time it's the real deal.  Honest.

And I guess I've had a sort of love-hate relationship with my birthday for a long time now.  I love having a birthday, choosing a special dinner and dessert, and blowing out candles after an off-key serenade of "Happy Birthday"--all of it done while surrounded by the people I love.  Somehow, it leaves me feeling special, feeling like I matter, feeling like I am loved.

But having a birthday in the middle of December means having a birthday in the midst of one of the busiest seasons of the year.  It means many people are traveling to visit family, attending office parties and church events, and hosting gatherings of their own--all of it done while madly rushing around to complete a long list of things to do before December 25th.  Trying to coordinate even a small birthday celebration during this holiday season is a challenging proposition.  And when it seems that most people are too busy to stop and celebrate with me, it leaves me feeling anything but special, feeling like I don't matter, feeling like the people I love do not love me back.

Some years, things work out beautifully.  Last year was one of those time.  In fact, I just got a big smile on my face while looking through the pictures from that birthday celebration and remembering how fun it was and how loved I felt.

But other years, things don't turn out quite so lovely.  This year has definitely been one of those times.  In fact, during the week leading up to the chosen day of celebration, I probably cried more tears than I've shed in the last several months combined.  Tears of disappointment, frustration, loneliness, and hurt.  And then there was that little voice in my head saying over and over, "You don't matter.  You don't matter."

It was a hard, hard week.

But during all this drama, I had a few important revelations about myself.  And I am left feeling more than a little grateful for the chance to see things differently, however painful it has been to get there.

When I pondered the question "Why is it so important to me that I feel special on my birthday?" the answer took me by surprise.  It's because I spend the whole year trying to make other people feel special--not just on their birthdays but whenever I think they need it--and all the while looking forward to and hoping that I will have the chance to feel special on my birthday.  It's my one day of the year to be special. 

The biggest flaw with this thought process is that it ignores my own responsibility to take care of myself.  Sure, in an ideal world, I would take care of you and you would take care of me.  But it doesn't exactly work that way, does it?  I want to give.  I'm called to give.  But I also need to have something to give in the first place.  I have to balance what I give with what I take in.  And standing around waiting for someone to notice what I need and give it to me on my one day to feel special isn't really the answer.  How can I expect others to celebrate me when I can't even celebrate myself?  And why am I not living a life of celebration all year long--in the big and the small, the struggles and the victories--so that all the burden of celebration doesn't fall to just one day of the year?

The second thing I have come to realize this week is that I expect people to love me in the same way that I love them.  I'm not talking about the depth or strength of someone's love.  I'm talking about the way they demonstrate it and act upon it.  Because I love people in a certain way--with gifts, with words, with empathy and sympathy, with birthday celebrations galore--I want them to love me back in the same way.  And when they don't, all my old struggles with Shame erupt and tell me that I'm not loved, that I don't matter to the people who matter to me.

But it's a lie.

I am loved.  And I do matter.

I just need to open my eyes to see that love doesn't always look the way I expect it to or even the way I want it to.  But it's love.  And love is a beautiful, mysterious thing that we all so desperately need--both from the One who is the Lover of Our Souls and from the ones who are the lovers of our flawed, human selves.

And I don't want to miss a single drop of that love because I am waiting for it to show up the way I expect it to.

So tomorrow, on my 29th birthday, I will be doing two things I've never done before.  I will be teaching myself to celebrate on my own, and I will be starting a Love Note Journal--a place to record all the ways people show love to me throughout the year, no matter how varied or strange those ways may be.

It isn't the birthday I had planned or wanted or hoped for.  But I am quite certain it's exactly the birthday I need.

And, of course, I'm pretty sure God knew that all along.  Because He has a habit of showing me love by teaching me hard lessons.  I guess we all know Who'll be getting the first entry in my Love Note Journal tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In the Ordinary

To be honest, I've been feeling a little down lately.  And for a girl who loves, loves, loves Christmas, that is a very sad statement indeed.

But something about this particular Christmas season has left me feeling a bit lost.

Maybe it's because my beloved ornaments are packed away in storage--their happy shades of purple, pink, teal, lime green, royal blue, red, and gold still hidden in the darkness of cardboard boxes.  Or maybe it's because I've spent 18 months in a temporary living arrangement, trying desperately to make it feel like my home and trying even harder not to be a burden to those who have so graciously taken me in.

But after a year and a half, I am only certain of two things:  This is not my home.  And I have no where else to go.

Which leaves me feeling lost.

A few days ago, I pulled one small box out of storage.  I was looking for something specific.  I found it easily, but I also found something I wasn't expecting:  Inspiration. 

And a little inspiration was all it took for me to realize that what I needed had been staring me in the face all along.  It was simple.  It was ordinary.  It was perfect.

One trip to the store and two evenings later, I had transformed this:


Into this:



It's true, there is a distinct lack of purple, pink, teal and lime green on my little tree.  Those ornaments are still packed away somewhere.  But the theme I chose instead still makes me very happy:  "It's Snowing Cats and Kittens!"

Because as you can see, there are snowflakes:



And there are lots and lots of kitties:








And suddenly, I don't feel quite so lost.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Am Loved

I heard a song today for the first time.

Actually, I heard it for the second, third, fourth, and fifth times today, too.

Because it spoke to me in a way I desperately needed.  And I needed to hear it again and again and again.

And I thought, just maybe, you might need to hear it, too.

It's called, "I Am Loved."

(If you are viewing this post in a reader or by email, you may need to visit the blog to see the video--or you can click here to watch it on YouTube)


Here are the lyrics--I've highlighted the ones that spoke most deeply to my heart today:

"I Am Loved" by Above the Golden State

I didn't think this could happen to me
I wanted the easy road
I had my parade, but it started to rain
And now it looks out of control

Why do I feel like Your hiding?
Oh remind me again

I am loved

I am Yours
I have someone beside me
I can't deny I am loved

Sometimes we go to sleep wishing that we could be
Different than who we are
Chasing our dreams has taken its toll on me
I tried just a little too hard

And I, I keep beating myself up
Oh remind me again

I am loved
I am Yours

I have someone to find me
Someone to guide me home

I am loved
I'm not alone
I have someone beside me
And I can't deny I am loved

You're not far away
You're not far away
You're not far away

Maybe your driving out there on the highway
Feels like you're out on your own
Let me remind you God never left you

He's right there wherever you go

You are loved
You're not alone
You have someone to find you
Someone to guide you home


You are loved
You're not alone
Cause God is beside you
And He won't deny you are loved

Cause God is beside you
And He won't deny you are loved

_______________________________________________________


If God won't deny that I am loved, who am I to deny it?

I am loved.  I am loved.  I am loved.

And so are you.

Music Giveaway Winners!

Thank you to everyone who joined in the fun for this Christmas Music Giveaway!  We had mentions of everything from classics to techno to country, and that makes me very happy.


The winner of the MercyMe Christmas album is......

Steve--good friend and author of SteveLansingh.com


The winner of the Ginny Owns Christmas album is......

Sharon--long-time friend from Oregon and fellow tea lover


Please send your mailing addresses to any of my emails--blog, Facebook, or personal--and I will get your CDs in the mail very soon.

Thanks again for participating and I hope you are all enjoying this beautiful season!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Few Changes...

I've been working hard this week to make a few changes here at Growing Is Beautiful, and I'm so pleased with the results.

The most exciting change by far is that I transferred my blog feed over to Feedburner.  What does that mean?  Well, it means a lot of things for me, but for you it means this:  You can now subscribe to Growing Is Beautiful by email!  If you sign up for this feature, you'll get an email whenever I post something new to the blog--and the entire new post will be contained in the email, complete with photos and links.  If I don't post anything, you'll get no email.  If I post more than once in a day, you'll still only get one email containing all the new posts from that day.  And best of all, it's completely FREE.  A few of you have been asking for this feature and I'm thrilled to be able to offer it.

If you want to subscribe by email, look for the box in my right sidebar where you can enter your email address and hit "subscribe."  A verification window will pop up, and once you complete that, you'll receive a confirmation email at the address you entered.  You'll need to click the link in the confirmation email in order to activate your subscription.  This protects you from being subscribed to the feed by someone else entering your email address without your consent.

The other changes I've made are not quite as exciting but still worth mentioning.  First, I decided to utilize the recently added "pages" feature in Blogger, which means a lot of information that used to be in my sidebar is now located in the tabs at the top of the page, just beneath the header photo.  This is where you can find the link to my photography site, information about my books, and my contact address.  Second, with a whole lot less information in my sidebar, I was able to switch back to a two-column format for the blog--allowing for slightly larger photos in my posts as well as a simpler design overall.  Third, I added a site-specific search box to my sidebar, which means you can now easily search Growing Is Beautiful for whatever you are looking for.

I'm very happy with end result of all these changes and I hope you will be, too.  As always, if you have a question or can't find something, leave a comment here or send me a note at Courtney {at} GrowingIsBeautiful {dot} com.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Growing Is Beautiful: The Collage, Part 4

(If you missed any of the previous posts on this collage, catch up here:  Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Finally I am sitting down to pen the final chapter in this saga.  It's not that I'm tired of writing about this, but I'm sort of afraid you might be tired of hearing about it.  Every time I write about my art projects, I worry that they will be sheer boredom for anyone but me--but that's when I remind myself that I am writing, in large part, for my own benefit.  I want to remember my process, my challenges, my lessons learned.  want to remember what inspired me in the first place, what I discovered along the way, what I hope to do differently in the future.

And if you aren't that interested in all those things, that's perfectly okay.  I'll just continue on as if I'm talking to myself.  I do that in real life anyway.  Don't you?  No?  Oh.  Well, that's perfectly okay, too.  We can still be friends.

Ahem.

Where was I?  Oh, yes.

When I first had the idea for this collage, way back in the beginning of 2009, I thought I wanted to attempt some kind of artistic representation of who God was to me.  At the time, I was in the midst of a spiritual reconstruction project.  Which is a nice way of saying that God had successfully torn a part my life and I was standing in a pile of ruins, trying to figure out how to rebuild--or, rather, how to be rebuilt.

Because even then I knew I wouldn't be the one to bring something out of nothing, to turn ashes into beauty and loss into gain.  I knew it would be Him.  The One who had brought me to that place.  The One who had promised to carry me through.

The only problem was that I didn't know who He was anymore.  Everything I had previously thought or believed about God had been challenged and, for the most part, blown out of the water.  I was hurt.  I was scared.  I was angry.  And oh so lost.

But when I sat down to try and generate some sort of "picture" of God through words and art, I knew right away that I wasn't ready.  Yes, I needed to process.  Yes, I needed something to help me move forward.  But I wasn't ready to redefine God.  I was still trembling and grieving from the loss of the God I had loved and clung to for most of my life.

Instead, I decided to create a reminder of the truths I still knew, the things I wanted to remember in the midst of so much struggle and loss.  Simple things.  Little pieces of hope and aspiration for a very weary soul.

And these are the phrases that spoke to me:

Growing Is Beautiful:  This, of course, became the namesake of both my collage and my blog.  And it gave perfect voice to what I was trying to draw attention to in this art piece.  I wanted to remind myself that there was still beauty and hope and grace intertwined with the hard business of growing, changing, letting go of the past, and choosing a different path for the future. 
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  (1 Corinthians 3:7)
 And suddenly, it all becomes clear.  Growing is beautiful.  Because it is God who does it.
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Praise Even When the Sky Falls:  As much as I was struggling to do this at the time, I still knew it was important.  I still knew I wanted to live a life of gratitude.  I wanted to stand with the Psalmist and say:
Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5-6)
 I am still working on this, still needing to be reminded.  And thankfully, after 18 months' time, these words now hang on my wall to help me remember.
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Laugh More:  I love to laugh.  I have always been a "loud laugh-er."  But I am also prone to grief.  And as a person in the midst of her longest, deepest stretch of loss and grief, I wanted these two simple words to shout at me and say, "I know it hurts.  I know you can hardly breath.  But laugh, Child.  Laugh more than you have ever laughed before.  Choose joy in the smallest ways, and trust that it will make a difference."
Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  (Philippians 4:4)
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Create Stillness Inside and Let Silent Nights Inspire Emotion:  I am putting these two phrases together here because they are both, essentially, about the same thing:  Being quiet when everything around and inside of you is screaming for attention, telling you to worry, warning you to stay busy so you won't have to face the thoughts in your head or the emotions in your heart.  The first phrase reminds me that I have to choose to be still, to make room in my mind and heart for Truth, for Hope, for Gratitude--for the One Who is these things.  The second phrase reminds me that I am more open, more vulnerable, more able to connect with God and with my deepest self when the dark of night descends.  Perhaps I am too tired to keep my walls up.  Perhaps I am less afraid to reveal myself under the cover of quiet darkness.  Regardless, I still must choose not to fill up those precious hours with things that distract and busy and pull me away from what matters.
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  (Psalm 46:10)

The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
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 Choose Extraordinary Life and Find Adventure in the Everyday:  Believe it or not, I don't have aspirations of being a superhero or a rock star.  I do, however, think we are called to live an uncommon life.  One that is overflowing with things this world doesn't often value:  Grace, forgiveness, love without strings, humility, integrity.  That's the kind of "extraordinary life" I'm talking about here.  It isn't easy.  It doesn't gain us the kind of kudos or recognition we might hope for.  But that's because it isn't meant to.  It's meant to point to the One from whom all things extraordinary originate.  And just because it's hard and painful and sometimes thankless, doesn't mean this extraordinary life can't be an adventure.  You just have to look for it, expect it, find it.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.  (1 Peter 2:9)
 Now doesn't that sound like an extraordinary adventure?
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Tell Your Story and Be a Poet of Truth:  These phrases are my reminders to be the person I was created to be.  I was born a writer.  I was born a poet.  I was born with the desire and the courage to be real about who I am, where I've been, and what I've learned along the way.  But I often doubt the impact of telling my story, of telling the truth, of creating art that expresses my journey.  I need to be reminded that it isn't my job to make an impact.  It's my job to be the woman God created me to be and let Him take care of the impact.
For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)
I hope someday I can say with every ounce of my being, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I know that full well."

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Save Space for Mystery:  This, perhaps, is the crux of what I have learned these last difficult years.  As much as we want answers, as much as we want to understand the how and the why and the when, as much as we want to know God and His ways--most of the time we just can't.  And really, that's what makes God who He is.  He is different than us.  He is greater and wiser and more full of love and grace than we can even begin to comprehend.  But this is a good thing.  It means we can trust His unfailing love, His unchanging nature, His unwavering goodness--things no human being could ever offer us.  But first we have to let go of the desire to know and understand.  Only then can we be grateful for the Mystery that is our God.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.  "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."  (Isaiah 55:8-9)
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Phew!  Not even I expected to have that much to say about one piece of art.  I guess it's a good thing I don't make things for myself very often.  I seem to have a lot less to say about the ones I give away!

And for those of you who are still listening, don't tell anyone I talk to myself, okay?


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Soundtrack of Christmas (...and a Giveaway!)

For some reason, it just doesn't feel like Christmas until I've listened to these albums:

(click on the album titles to preview songs on Amazon.com)

The Carpenters' "Christmas Portrait"
I love the whole album--all 21 songs!--but a few favorites would have to be "Christ Is born," "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays," and "Little Altar Boy."  I grew up listening to this album at Christmas time and I still consider it one of my top choices.


Jim Brickman's "Peace"
A beautiful, mostly instrumental collection.  Many lovely renditions throughout, but hands-down favorite would be "Rejoice (O Come, O Come Emmanuel)."  I think it's my all-time favorite version of this song.


Another album I've been listening to for years--with just the first notes of the very first song, I know it's Christmas.  Nothing like a little saxophone to jazz up the holidays.  Favorites would be "Silent Night" and "Away in the Manger."

 
I'm not much of a Point of Grace fan, but I really enjoy this album, especially "When Love Comes Down,"  "Emmanuel, God With Us," and "Not That Far from Bethlehem."  They are welcome additions to the traditional songs.


Love, love, love this album.  If you haven't seen it performed in concert, you're missing out!  It's referred to as "rock opera," and it's pretty amazing.  Hard to pick favorites here, but I'd have to go with the opening song, "An Angel Came Down," which sets the stage for the entire story.  Also, "O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night" and the most well-known track from the album, "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24."  I've been listening to this album a lot the past few weeks, and it lifts my spirits every time I turn it on.


This is a more recent addition to my playlist, but it has quickly become a favorite.  What I appreciate most about this album is that it stays true to MercyMe's style throughout, and they've done a nice job of altering some of the classics by adding great worshipful choruses.  Favorite songs would be "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," "Gloria," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," and of course, "Joseph's Lullaby."


Another recent addition, this album has such a warm, jazzy feel--staying very true to Ginny's style.  Being a big fan of Ginny Owens, I was thrilled to bring this into my collection and she certainly didn't disappoint.  Top songs would be the originals, "Christmas All the Time," "Miracle," and "This Is Christmas."  Also the beautiful and haunting rendition of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" to close out the set.

I have about 30 albums in my Christmas collection right now, and really, I love them all for different reasons.  But these are certainly some of the favorites--and ones you should try if you haven't heard them.  In fact, I think I might know a way for you to try a couple of them....

I'm giving away two Christmas CDs!

The first one is a copy of MercyMe's "The Christmas Sessions" that I found at the Goodwill.  The case has a little wear, but the disk is in pristine condition and plays perfectly.


The second one is a copy of Ginny Owen's "Bring Us Peace," brand new and still shrink wrapped.  I think I bought it on clearance last year for far less than I paid for my own copy!


All you have to do is leave a comment here or on Facebook and tell me one (or several!) of your favorite albums to listen to this time of year.  I'll be doing two separate drawings, so you can indicate in your comment which album you'd like to enter for--or write "both" if you'd like to be included in both drawings.  Leave your comment before midnight on Sunday, December 5, 2010.

I can't wait to hear what you are listening to....I'm always open to adding new music to my playlist!