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.

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.

Home for Christmas

A few years ago I accidentally ruined one of my favorite Christmas songs. So, spoiler alert, this post might actually do the same for you. You have been warned. This is also another one of those downer posts. Therefore, I am also issuing a tissue alert. You have been double warned.

I love Christmas music! I am one of those people who will turn it on in October and keep it going through January. I am also a sucker for the classics from decades long gone. Give me Peggy Lee singing “Jingle Bell Rock,” Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and Dean or Frank or Bing singing just about anything. I have always been an old soul who dreams of living in the past.

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” was always one of those classic tunes that could quickly put me in the Christmas spirit. Until one year I actually listened to the lyrics and really took them to heart.

“I’ll be home for Christmas. If only in my dreams.”

An idea popped into my head and my interpretation of those lyrics changed forever. Sometimes you can only go home in your dreams. For some that is because they are too far away from home so going there is too expensive or physically impossible at the moment. But what if you can’t go home because your concept of home doesn’t exist anymore? What if when you think of going home for Christmas you can only picture a time in the past that will never happen again?

When I hear this song now, my mind wanders back to the Christmases of my childhood. Going home for Christmas means crowding into my Grandparents’ houses with all my aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and more. Home is spending the day sneaking Christmas candy the adults thought they hid in the garage. Home is my Dad only putting the video camera down long enough to take some photos. Home is my Grandma wrapping me up in a big hug just because she loves being a Grandma so much. Home is a handmade doll crib crafted with so much love from my Grandpa. Home is a place I can’t go back to no matter how much I want to. Home is lost in the fading memories of those who are no longer with us.

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My mom has a VHS tape from Christmas 1992, I think, that just has random scenes from a typical Christmas at my Grandparents’ house. There is absolutely nothing special about it but it’s a treasure to me. Sometimes I love watching it to remember all the good times. Sometimes, though, it hurts. Sometimes I wish there was a way to go back in time and tell my 4 year old self to take it all in and not take anything for granted. Relish in the hugs and kisses. Be grateful for the thoughtful gifts. Enjoy the carelessness that comes with feeling completely safe surrounded by those you love.

When I hear this song now, I miss my Dad. I miss my grandparents and all the other relatives who are no longer around. Then, that darn busted mustard seed starts to creep back in. (See Busted Mustard Seed) Who can I blame for the sadness that comes from missing those loved ones? Who’s fault is it that I can’t go “home” for Christmas? It always puts one more issue between me and God. It throws just a little more kindling on the fire of anger that has been brewing for years.

I wish I could say that in writing this post God and I have totally worked all this out together but we haven’t. I know that I shouldn’t be angry with Him simply because I can’t have what I want. But my head and my heart aren’t always on the same page.

I also realize that the reason I can’t go “home” is because He has called those people Home. They are in a place they don’t dream of ever leaving. They are having the best Christmases with the one it’s all about. How selfish is it of me to wish they were still here? Especially, when I know how much suffering each of them went through toward the end.

I think it’s time for me to find a new meaning of the word home. Home can’t be in the past. Home, also, doesn’t have to be a place. Home is where you feel comfortable, safe, and loved. Home is knowing that no matter what everything will turn out alright. Home is where your heart should lay. Home is God. At least it should be. This year I have slowly started moving from my past “home” into my new “home” in Him. The trouble is nothing ever feels like home until you accept it. Sometimes you just have to live there for a while until you slowly start to settle in and unpack some boxes. I’m terrible at unpacking and decorating new places. So this is going to be an awfully slow process.

Here is to hoping that this year we can let go and make Him our home for Christmas.

Busted Mustard Seed

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a thousand times, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.” Matthew 17:20. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this phrase, been given lessons on this phrase, and had this phrase quoted to me in times of hardship. It’s something we teach little kids because we can show them a real mustard seed and let them marvel at its size compared to a gigantic mountain. It’s something we reinforce with teenagers by giving them their very own mustard seed in a little glass tube necklace. It’s the simplest way to explain that just a little faith in God can help you achieve big things. It’s a phrase that completely ruined my life.

Alright, so that might be a little dramatic, but it has been something that I have been questioning for many years. It was something I never truly understood and as a result took it’s meaning a little too literally. Let me tell you the story of how this simple concept threw me into years of questioning everything.

I come from a proudly religious family. I grew up in church. We were there every time the doors were open. I went to church camp every summer. My sister and I sang specials almost every Sunday. Daddy played drums and Mama strummed the guitar. When I was 10 years old I accepted Jesus as my savior and threw myself even further into our Christian lifestyle.

Now the perfect little Christian family, we were not, but those are stories for another time. Long story short, we had a decent life, as far as I was concerned, and things were going pretty well. Except for the fact that my Daddy had a lot of medical issues. Many of my childhood memories take place in hospital waiting rooms. He was in and out of the hospital more times than I could count. So much so, that it just became part of the routine for us. I didn’t know any different and no one ever really told us that sometimes things were really serious.

That being said, when November 2000 rolled around and Dad was once again in the hospital I didn’t think much of it. When we were told that Dad needed to have surgery on his heart it was no big deal to me. I couldn’t understand why the adults seemed a little more worried this time because he’d had heart surgery before and everything worked out fine. When we were in the waiting room after the doctor came to talk to my Mom the first time and she started crying, I still wasn’t sure what was going on. We came together as a family and prayed for Dad in that waiting room and in my head that was clearly going to take care of it.

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At some point it was decided that my sister and I would go home with my grandparents that night. I don’t think Dad was out of surgery but it was getting really late. We were only 12 and 14 and pulling an all nighter in a surgery waiting room probably wasn’t the best thing for us. I remember crawling into that pull out sofa bed with my sister. She was upset and worried about Dad and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t. I remember asking if she wanted to pray. Right there on that sofa bed in my grandparents’ living room I prayed the most earnest prayer I have ever prayed in my life. I prayed with faith the size of a galaxy that God would help my Daddy be okay. I remember feeling so much peace after that prayer knowing that God had everything under control. I quickly drifted off to sleep thinking about how great tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, would be and excited to see Dad again.

A couple hours later the telephone’s non-stop ringing woke us up. I remember Grandpa talking quietly on the phone in the kitchen. I remember him telling us we needed to get up and get dressed because we needed to go back to the hospital. I don’t remember if he told us why. I don’t know how long it took us all to get dressed, but I’m sure it wasn’t very long. I think my Grandma took the longest because she wanted to shower or something, but it’s all a little fussy. My vivid memories pick back up when the phone rang again. I can almost feel what it was like standing in that little living room with my sister wondering what this next call could be about. I can hear Grandpa’s voice cracking while he talked to someone on the other end of the call. I can feel his hug when he came over to wrap his arms around us and choke out the worst words I have ever heard in my life. He is gone.

The next few hours, days, month, even years went by in a fog. A daze that only comes when your entire world is rocked and flipped upside down. I honestly don’t know how we made it through those first few days. I know that our family was a big part of it.

The problem was, though we survived, we never really worked though it. Mom was heartbroken and us kids were lost. I think we all found ways to cope but we never really worked through it together. Life kind of just found a way to move on.

We were back in church the next Sunday. I continued to be a devout Christian. It took me a long time to realize something wasn’t quite the same. I probably just thought it was because I missed my Dad. I don’t know when it happened but at some point, years later, I realized the problem was that I blamed God. I blamed God for taking my Daddy away from me. I blamed God for putting my family through all this pain. I not only blamed Him, I was angry at Him. How could He do this to me? How could someone who loved me so much hurt me so deeply?

Then I remember being in Sunday School one morning and we had a lesson over that phrase. That is when things clicked and started to really go downhill for me. I was being told, once again, that having just the smallest morsel of faith would give me the power to overcome the biggest obstacles. I remember thinking in my head, well if that were true my Dad would be here right now happy and healthy. I had never asked God for anything more important or with more faith than that night I asked Him to save my Dad. Yet nothing happened. If anything, He did the opposite of what I asked. I remember sitting in that classroom realizing that I had lost faith in God and that doubts were starting to set in. I was devastated. My mustard seed was busted.

I held on to that anger and blame for a very long time. The problem was, I never admitted it or talked to anyone about it. I continued to be the good little girl who showed up to church on Sundays, more or less. I sang all the old hymns, helped with bible school, even wrote and directed Christmas plays. No one knew, or let on, that I was struggling with hating God and even questioning whether I even believed in Him at all anymore.

I was once again directing a Christmas play I had written when I had a moment that scared me. I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember sitting in our little rehearsal space with about 8 kids who were acting out a nativity scene. I remember someone made a comment and in my head I said, “if God even really exists.” It was sarcastic and mean spirited. That is where I was in my relationship with God, standing in a church, watching children reenact the birth of Jesus and questioning His sheer existence. It scared me.

Shortly after the Christmas play, I don’t know if it was out of fear or if God really stepped in but something lead me to watch some episodes of Touched by an Angel. Yes, that old TV show from the 90s about Angels who work cases on Earth and share God’s message to all. The episodes kind of whispered to me, but there were a coupled that knocked me down with messages that I needed to hear. There was the idea that people die when they are supposed to, not when we want them to. No matter how meaningless their death might seem, there is a reason. The one that really got me though was when the  message was that sometimes God says no to prayers. They aren’t unanswered, you just didn’t get the answer you wanted. What? The more I watched of the show, the more I realized I wasn’t ready to give up on God just yet.

This year has been a struggle of trying to find my way back to God. I was terrified, lost, and unsure of where to start. It took every ounce of courage I had to accept an invitation from a friend to attend church with her. I sat in the parking lot debating whether or not I really wanted to go in. I could just go home and back to the comfort of my anger and frustrations or I could walk through those doors and take the first step in my journey back to Him. It was hard, but I did it. It helped that the song “Come as you Are” by Crowder came on the radio just as I was thinking about leaving and then they sang it in the service.

I’m not even close to where I need to be but I have already felt a difference in rebuilding my relationship with God. He and I both know there is still a lot of work to do and I still have a lot of questions I would like answers to. For now though, I’m just thankful I took that first step.

My biggest problem right now though is that my mustard seed is still busted. My faith in God and a lot of things shattered that night. It took me so long to realize it was busted that I’m still rounding up all the pieces and trying to glue them back together. Remember, mustard seeds are tiny so it’s a challenging puzzle. It’s a puzzle that I might never fully complete, but I’m trying. I have hope that one day I will get back to where I was in my faith. I have comfort in knowing that even though I’ve been mad at Him for 16 years, He still loves me. I have peace in knowing that, whether I like it or not, everything that has happened has been a part of His plan.

Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal, but you have to be open to the healing and help from above. I think I’m finally ready to start that healing process. This blog is going to be a part of that journey. Writing has always been an outlet for me, but I have never shared it with others. This could get interesting. Let’s see what happens.