Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Growing Older (Part 1)

Getting old... it's something that I have been dreading for most of my life. I can remember, even as a child, feeling that bit of sadness on my birthdays as I realized that I was getting ever closer to adulthood. In my mind, being an adult would mean losing the magic, the freedom, and the innocence of childhood. It would mean giving up things and people that I loved. It scared me.

In most ways that never changed. As I approached each new stage of life I would feel that familiar feeling of loss and fear of the unknown. I guess maybe I don't handle change very well. Graduating high school, going to college, graduating college, leaving for graduate school... all these events that were supposed to be exciting brought on the fear and the sadness of leaving the familiar and safe
spaces that I loved.

And my wedding day... my poor husband. I was so in love and excited to marry him. The wedding was everything I dreamed of but then that awful moment came when we were leaving, and it hit me that I was stepping from one life to another. I was still in love and excited but also sad and scared. Having children certainly didn't cure me of this. Watching them grow and change is one of the most fulfilling things of my life but also one of the hardest. With every new stage, I find myself mourning the loss of the previous. It is something I will never understand or be able to adequately describe.

So, all that being said, maybe you can understand just a little bit of why I have dreaded getting older. All the fear and sadness of letting go of the past and moving forward into unknown things. Oh, and the wrinkles, grey hair, aches, and pains... they sure don't help.

As I approached a dreaded milestone birthday last summer all of these feelings came to a head. I found myself stuck and afraid and trying to cling to the past. I was dwelling on all of the things I felt I was losing and leaving behind and all of the dreams and goals that had never been realized. I was paralyzed with grief and fear and sadness. The birthday came and went and I survived. And now, I am happy to say that I have found a path forward that is bringing me joy and contentment that I have never before experienced.

If I had to sum up the change that has happened within me, I would have to say that I have realized that I am not GETTING older but I am GROWING older. That may not seem to be a big distinction to you but it has made all the difference to me. Getting older is something that happens to me. I have no choice or no control. Growing older is  something I choose. It is a way of life that I control each day with the way I think and the choices I make.

With this new mindset, I have made peace with my age. You might even say I have embraced it. Growing older is a gift I have received. My goal is no longer to try and stay young but to grow older gracefully. For me, that means slowing down and listening to myself. When I do that I realize that through all the hard things the younger me faced, I was learning. I was storing up wisdom that the older me can take the time to process and share. All the dreams and goals that I thought were unfulfilled were really just waiting in the background; waiting for me to be ready to embrace them fully and with grace and wisdom. This is a gift I treasure. I have found that I like me. I like the girl I was, the young woman I was, and the older woman I am becoming. I see her and I appreciate the way she lived and loved and all of the things she learned. I want to take her with me as I grow. She has become a good friend to me.

As I write this, I am sitting in a coffee shop in Pittsburgh. Sitting at the table beside me is a group of women older than me. Probably a couple of decades older. They are laughing and gossiping and speaking in the traditional Pittsburghese that I love to hear. Listening to them, I hear women who have lived hard stories and faced change and loss. I see lines on their faces and grey hairs on their heads, but I also see the girls inside them as they giggle and make plans. I hear and see women who have wisdom and peace as they grow older. They are making me smile and I no longer fear becoming like them.

And so I choose to GROW older today, and every day, with grace and wisdom. I hope the younger me would look at me and not fear age, but embrace each new stage of life with joy and peace. I wish she could know that she is not getting older but is growing older and every experience she has faced has been worth it. Nothing has been wasted.


Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Storm

I come by my love of storms quite honestly. Whenever we felt the winds growing stronger and the sky was getting darker, my mom and sisters and I would gather on the front porch and watch as the sky lit up with lightening and the trees swayed in the yard.  When the thunder boomed we would cover our ears and hide our faces but we stayed there on that porch as long as we could, enjoying the thrill of our own bravery.
And, still, even today as I was cooking dinner and I looked out the window to see the sky darkening and the wind whipping the jungle of weeds in our yard, I had to stop and run onto the porch so I could watch the storm roll in. Standing there with the wind and the rain and the thunder was where I needed to be in that moment.
Tonight I’m thinking about that and wondering what it is about a storm that draws me in so strongly that I have to stop and watch. Not just watch but be right in it. It’s so many things really…
it’s the display of power and me feeling so small
it’s the wind blowing in my face and me feeling so free
it’s the thunder crashing and me feeling so brave
it’s the rain letting loose and me feeling refreshed
it’s the shelter of my porch and me feeling safe.
One storm, coming in so quick and then gone, and it leaves me feeling changed, better, stronger.

I’ve seen my share of real storms but it’s the storms of life that have left the biggest mark in my life. I can’t say that when I see those kind of storms coming I run out to meet them with such eagerness. No, these are the storms that make me want to hide under the covers until it passes. But life isn’t like that. Try as we might, there are some storms that we have to face head-on and I’ve seen my share of these also.
And while I may never look forward to them, I can face them and I find that with each one I feel a little stronger. I’m learning to look at them for what they are…life. Life is full of storms and we can run from them, be angry about them, or learn from them. Here are some of the things I am learning.

A storm helps me to grow. I have been studying and memorizing the words of James 1:2-4 in the last several weeks, Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. It’s hard to look at my storms and see them as a gift. At least the kind of gift I don’t want to return unopened.  But they are really. When I look back at the storms I’ve come through I know that I’m a different and better person because I weathered them.  And, you know, I want to be mature in my faith. I don’t want to be found deficient in any way.  I want people to be able to look at me in the midst of my storms and see my faith and its true colors and not find me lacking. So I’m learning to let the storms work in me.  And it’s hard. But worth it.

Storms force me to run for cover.  When it storms we all look for shelter, don’t we?  We look for a safe place to land and wait it out. And that’s what happens when the storms come in my life.  I find myself running for protection and I always find it in the same place; He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection (Psalm 91:4). I run to the shelter of His wings and there I find my safe place. I remind myself of His promises and His faithfulness and protection in the past. And as I hide myself in Him I find comfort and rest in the midst of the raging storms.

Storms show the glory of the creator.  When we watch a storm we can’t help but be in awe of the sheer strength, the beauty, the power. When we look at the storms of life we see the same. We see the way He works in us and through us and beyond us and we are in awe of His power to calm us in the midst of the worst of the storm.  And, in the end, His glory will be on display. Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place.  I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.‘”(John 12:27-28)   All around me is the evidence of His work in my life, Him using the storms to bring out His beauty in me. If we let Him do His work in us, we become the rainbows, symbols of His glory and faithfulness to those looking for hope in their storms.

There is no way to escape the storms and there is no way to soften the blows. Storms are hard. Storms are scary. Storms are powerful. But, in the midst of the storm, we can praise the One who is more powerful. We can thank Him for what He is doing in us and for us and through us as we walk through the storm. You are strong and He is stronger.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Feeding Lambs... the answer to life's questions?

My heart has been battling some things lately. Things I can't even put to words because they are evasive and all muddled together.  I try to sort them out so that I can figure them out but there they stay.  Tucked away in my heart because I don't know what to do with them.

But in the midst of this I have heard my Saviour speaking.  Through His own words as found in scripture, which is how I believe He almost always chooses to speak to us.  Words He spoke so long ago to another struggler named Peter. 

When I am wrestling I hear Him...

Stacey, do you love Me more than these?

Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!  I mean, haven't I left people I love to follow you?  Haven't I sacrificed time and money, and sometimes my family, to serve you?  Didn't I trust you even when my own little girl was suffering and when I held her lifeless body in my arms?  How can you question my love for you, Lord? Haven't I proved it over and over?

Then feed my lambs.

   But Lord, don't you see how I've denied you?  How I've let fear and anxiety keep me from doing things I know you've called me to do?  How I've denied the power I have in you and focused on my own weakness?  Lord, I'm not worthy to feed your sheep.  I'm so prone to wandering and losing my way.  How can I lead your sheep when I can get so lost?

Stacey, do you love me?

  Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!  Haven't I endured misunderstandings and conflict for your name?  Don't you see how I teach my children to love you?  Didn't I keep silent and turn the other cheek like you asked of me?  Why in the world would you ask me if I love you?

Then take care of my sheep.

     Jesus, I think you have the wrong person for that job.  I deny you all the time in the way I live my life. I can be such a mess. I struggle with pride and insecurity all at the same time.  You don't want someone like me to be in charge of caring for your sheep!  Most of the time, I can't even take care of myself!

Stacey, Do you love me?

    Lord, you know everything.  You know that I love you.  Even when it hurts, I still love you.  Even when I don't understand, I still love you.  Even when it really makes me angry, I STILL love you!  You know that I love you.  Don't you?

Feed my sheep.

   Really, Lord?  Really??  Is it that simple?  All of these things I struggle with and the questions that I have... are the answers really found in serving others?  Or is it that the questions suddenly don't matter when you are reaching out in love?  I don't know, God.  I don't know what you are teaching me.  Except maybe that all of the time spent in trying to figure things out should be spent loving your sheep.  And from an eternal perspective, feeding your sheep is the only thing that matters. 

Lord, I've still got issues.  I probably always will.  But, for today, I lay them at your feet.  I will show you that I love you, not by figuring everything out, but by loving your lambs.  Today, Lord, I will feed your sheep.  And trust the rest to you.  Because I know that you love me too.