Open the Eyes of my Heart

I have really been trying to take time to write in my journal everyday this year. I will do well for a span of time and then I forget for a month or two or more. I haven’t been very consistent with it, but looking through it I have snapshots of my journey back to faith this year. As I am sitting here at 7:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night trying to decide what to write for my 8:00 a.m. Wednesday post, I caught a glance of my journal. I flipped through a few pages and reread something I wrote on earlier this year. There was a message there that I needed to hear again. So, why not make it this week’s post as well?

July 28, 2016

Today’s devotional had me reread 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

I want to let everything go and just believe, but I am constantly looking for a sign. I just watched a documentary about God’s love and seeing how it truly is visible outside of the traditional church, the western world church. I’m watching video proof of God’s love moving, but all I can do is think, “if only I could experience that.” If only God would blatantly pour His love over me in a way that was truly undeniable, then I would finally have the proof I need to just believe.

Then I read the passage, “what is unseen is eternal.” Even now I struggle with admitting that was God speaking to me. That was Him telling me to stop looking for proof and just believe. Stop looking for physical or visible signs and just let God guide me in the way He wants.

Earlier this week I prayed about my finances. I was worried that even with some extra money coming in this month I would be short on cash. I knew my electric bill would be crazy expensive because it is so hot outside. My bill ended up being $200, but somehow I only owe $24. I had somehow gotten ahead on payments and had a balance of $176. There is no way this was just a coincidence. I asked God for help and He took care of it. For some reason though, there is still doubt. Why can’t I accept this is one of the signs I have been asking Him for?

Beyond the signs and proof, one of the biggest things I still struggle with believing and accepting is Jesus. It is hard to wrap my brain around the fact that God sent His son to live on Earth, perform miracles, teach, and ultimately be viciously murdered on a cross for our sins. My sins. It’s a brutal story that has actually been simplified and cleaned up over the years. I almost think, when you grow up in the church, hearing over and over how this man died for your sins, it can become just another story. Another verse to memorize and spit back out.

No one wants to truly think about how disgustingly violent it was for Him to be beaten over and over again. His flesh ripped from His body. Treated worse than an animal. Nearly killed by just the beating, but then forced to carry what must have been an incredibly heavy cross up a hill. The very cross He knew He would die on. Then they drove what must have been giant nails into Him. I imagine that took awhile to get in. He then hung in the blistering sun for hours while people stared until He finally gave in to death.

I honestly can’t think of a more horrific way to die. And He did it for me. For all those who had sinned and those who would sin in the future. He was beaten and murdered to cleanse away our wrong doing, even though He did absolutely nothing wrong. He died because I cuss too much. He died because of that stupid bad sin I committed. Like I said, it’s a concept that is hard to wrap my brain around when I really break it down and think about it.

It’s my fault that He died, as much as it was the people who were actually there and asked for Barabbas instead. As much as it was the people who physically drove the nails into His hands. And yet He loves me anyway. I caused His death, but all He wants is to love me and for me to share His love with others. He wants me to embrace Him fully and live the life He has planned for me. He knew about me even back when He hung on the cross. I was a part of the plan all along.

It’s time to truly accept that there was a man named Jesus who really was the son of God. He came to Earth to remind us of God and give us a way to be forgiven. He provided the way for us to have a direct relationship with God.

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you.”

December 20, 2016

There are so many things about that journal entry that speak to me again today. I had forgotten that devotional lesson about what is unseen is eternal. I had forgotten about that electric bill. Most importantly, I had forgotten about the thoughts I wrote down about Jesus.

As we head into the upcoming Christmas holiday, I find it extremely fitting that I landed on that page to be reminded of the other part of Jesus’ story. This time of year it’s easy to focus on the sweet little angelic baby laying in a manger. The foretold child who came to save the world. Yet, we also have to remember that baby grew into a man. A man who endured terrible suffering because He loves us. He loves us so much that He paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. That is a part of the Christmas story too. It is so much more than just what happened on that oh so holy night.

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Conceal, Don’t Feel

I have never been one to show my emotions freely or openly share my feelings. I just don’t do that. I come from a family that doesn’t really do that. I have always been very aware of that fact, but I didn’t know how strong my poker face really was until I started this blog. I just assume people can see when I am struggling. I always assumed people realized I was falling away from God but just never said or did anything. I even held some anger and frustration toward people because no one ever stepped in and offered to help.

But how can people see something that isn’t there? How could anyone know that I was struggling when I hid that struggle deep down within myself. One of my favorite songs has a lyric that says, “you may not believe that I’m broken, for all you can see if my smile.” That is me. I smile when I am uncomfortable. I laugh when things get awkward. I make jokes when stuff gets too real. I hide behind this jolly personality so well that no one ever gets the chance to see the real me and what I am truly thinking or feeling.

There is a specific moment I believe started me down the path of concealing my emotions and putting on a brave face. I remember sitting at my dad’s funeral. I remember looking around at all the people who were there. I remember feeling the sheer sadness that was in that room. My mom was sobbing. My sister was clinging to me. My brother was a wreck. A little voice inside said, “I have to be strong for them. I have to be the brave one now.” I grew up a lot that day, whether I wanted to or not. As a twelve-year-old sitting in my father’s funeral, I made it my mission to become the strong one that my family could lean and rely on.

Fulfilling that mission took on different aspects throughout the years. I made sure to get good grades and do what was expected of me in school. I kept going to church every time the doors were open, as we had always done. I was always there to help out when someone asked me to. I tried my hardest to follow all the rules and not cause any trouble for anyone. I never let on that I was struggling to deal with the loss of my dad. I never told anyone that I was losing my faith in God. I never showed signs that my mustard seed was busted. I just kept it all in. Thanks to Frozen, I now know my motto has always been to conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let them know.

This trait also comes up when I try to meet new people. It takes me a long time to warm up to people. It takes me even longer to open up to them. I have never been comfortable sharing my personal life with others until I have known them for a long time. Though my past shaped the person I am today, I am not defined by those events in my life. I never wanted to be the girl whose dad died. I never wanted people to judge me because my brother has had too many run-ins with law enforcement. I never wanted to be treated differently because my family didn’t have a lot of money. I want you to know me as the person I am today. Then maybe, in time, I might let you in on how I came to be this person.

My sophomore year of college my sister was visiting my apartment and my roommate had some of our friends over. I introduced my sister and one of the girls, in complete shock, said, “I thought you were an only child!” This was a girl I had known for nearly a year and a half. She was my sorority sister and we had hung out many times. Yet, I never said a word about my personal life.

Part of that comes from never wanting to be pitied. Even though I have been through a lot, I have never felt like my life was all that bad. I have always been aware that it could be worse. I have always known that many people have lives and struggles that are harder than mine. I also would never want someone to be nice to me or give me something because they feel bad for me. I don’t need pity, because I have a lot of pride. I am proud of who I am today. I am proud of the family that I come from. I am proud of the struggles that I have overcome. So don’t belittle those victories by feeling sorry for me.

It’s a daily struggle for me to share my true thoughts and feelings with others. My poker face comes so naturally that I don’t even know I have it on sometimes. I snap into a smile so fast I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I can be crying alone in my car, but the tears will automatically dry up as I arrive at my destination and have to face people. If it weren’t so frustrating at times I would almost call it a talent.

Thankfully, I have a few people in my life that can see past my mask. There are a couple of people who can almost read my thoughts with a simple glance in my direction. Yet, even they don’t know everything. There is one person who I trust more than anyone in the world. I know that I can literally tell her anything and she would never judge me. I tell her things I have never and would never tell another soul. I could never lie to her because she knows me too well. I say all of that to say, there are still things I don’t even tell her.

There are thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I just can’t put a voice to. The next line of that song I mentioned earlier is, “but He hears the heart that’s unspoken and He gives me strength through each trial.” All this time I thought no one truly knew the “real” me and the thoughts in my head, but He has always known. He has always known the feelings of loss, fear, and anger I had when my dad died. He knows when I am jealous of others or wishing my life had turned out differently. He knows it all. Whether I want Him to or not. Luckily, as the song goes on to explain, when words get in the way He still hears and understands.

He understands when all I do is cry

He feels the hurt that no one can see down inside

And when the words get in the way I know He still hears

For He understands my tears.

-He Understands My Tears, the Isaacs

This blog has given me the opportunity to let it all go. I’ve decided to not hold it back anymore. I don’t care what they’re going to say. Let the storm… Oops, got a little too caught up in the Frozen reference. (Perfect example of how I crack jokes when things get too real.) In all seriousness, this blog has become a way to share not only my story and my journey back to faith, but also it’s become an outlet for the feelings I don’t know how to put a voice to. Face to face I would never be able to sit down and say everything I did in this post. I feel like God has led me to share my story and through this blog He provided a way that feels safe. I am so thankful to have this open door.

Turn Your Radio On

“Turn your radio on and listen to the music in the air. Turn your radio on and glory share. Turn the lights down low and listen to the Master’s radio. Get in touch with God. Turn your radio on.”

-Turn Your Radio On by Albert E. Brumley

I don’t remember a time when music wasn’t a huge part of my life. Growing up if there wasn’t a radio on in the house, someone was playing an instrument or we were going to a singing. My mom plays guitar, my aunt and uncle are in a singing group, my grandpa attempted to play the fiddle, and then there was Dad. My dad was one of the most musical people I know. I honestly don’t know if he was all that good, but what he lacked in true talent he made up for in sheer enthusiasm. He lived music. He played the drums every Sunday at church and would sing a special anytime someone would offer him a microphone. He also taught himself to play the mandolin at some point when I was a kid. Even driving down the road he couldn’t help but tap his fingers on the steering wheel along to the beat. Music was everywhere.

Of course, the music playing was always Christian music. Southern gospel to be exact. I don’t know if I even knew other genres of music existed until I was in middle school. Vacations and special nights out seemed to revolve around gospel concerts. Hot summers days were spent in Springdale, Ark. at the Albert E. Brumley Gospel Sing. The first celebrities I ever met were all the great gospel groups: the Gaithers, the McKameys, the Isaacs, Jeff and Sheri Easter, and so many more.

Some of my favorite memories are of Sunday mornings when I was a kid. Dad would get up early, turn on the radio, and start making pancakes. I remember waking up to the delicious smell of breakfast on the stove and the sweet melodies of worship in the air. I honestly don’t remember if this happened often or only a couple of times but the memories stuck quite vividly in my mind. I also have a strong memory of helping my Grandpa work on a project in his wood shop and his old radio was playing the song that inspired this post, “Turn Your Radio On.” My memories of happier times are set to a soundtrack packed with these old songs.

If having a busted mustard seed set me on the path to turning away from God, music is the thing that kept me from completely letting go. Music, though I didn’t know it at the time, helped me hold on to that last thread of hope.

Music holds memories for me. Songs are like little time capsules that can transport me back to special moments. (See Home for Christmas) I can hear a song I haven’t heard in years but still know every lyric and tell you a story about the first time I heard it.

When I’m feeling nostalgic and particularly missing my dad or a time from my childhood, I listen to music from back then. I have a special playlist packed full of the songs that hold the strongest memories and meaning to me. The thing is, they are all gospel songs.

Even in my darkest hours I never fully turned away from God because I never turned the music off. The more I missed my dad and yearned for the past the more I listened to that playlist. I wasn’t intentionally listening to sing praises to God but just hearing those words must have meant something. As much as I hated and blamed God for taking my dad away, He inspired the very music that kept Dad’s memory alive for me. It was God’s music that held some of the most important memories of my childhood.

That being said, it seems fitting the thing that pushed me back into church earlier this year was turning the radio on and hearing just the song I needed to hear,  “Come as you Are” by Crowder. It didn’t stop there either. This week I have been trying to decide what to write. The last two posts spilled out like they had just been at my fingertips waiting to be shared. This week’s topic has been a little harder. I knew I wanted to write about the importance of music in my life but I couldn’t figure out how.

Sunday on the way to church I prayed God would allow me to open my heart and mind to whatever it was I needed to hear. I prayed He would move in my life and show me what it is He wants me to do. Occasionally, the church I attend shows special testimonial videos. This week’s was a woman sharing her childhood difficulties and family struggles. My attention was grasped when she started talking about how her father had died of cancer last year just before Christmas. She talked about feeling sad, hurt, and lost in the questions of why she had gone through so much. That is when she heard the song “Come as you Are” by Crowder. The lyrics spoke to her and gave her what she needed to hear to move on. Then we sang it in the service. I was beyond moved. I asked for something and He delivered.

The first time I attended church since starting this blog and sharing my story that song just happens to be featured. I have spent two weeks happy that I shared my story and started this blog, but uncomfortably trying to figure out what to do and say next. Though I have had wonderful feedback, I am still extremely insecure about sharing my writing and personal stories with everyone. I have been asking God to show me that I am doing the right thing and give me the words to continue. I believe He answered on Sunday through that song. Again.

This year of rediscovering Him and finding my way back to faith began with me turning my radio on and listening to what He had to say. Time and again this year leaving my radio on has reminded me that He is there just waiting for me to come back. He has always been there in the melody of an old hymn, in the lyrics of a worship song, in the chords of the precious memories I have clung to throughout the years. I’m so thankful there has always been music in the air. I’m so glad to know that getting in touch with God has always been as simple as turning the radio on.