Photo Credit: © 2006 Lynne Holder

Thursday, December 31, 2015

365 Blank Pages

The calendar says December 31, but while people are preparing for New Year celebrations, we wonder what is going to be new about 2016. While others go out to parties or celebrate with happy anticipation at home, posting their pictures to social media, Leland and I find ourselves with no money, and from a strictly financial perspective, struggling to find anything to celebrate after another difficult year in business. 

The videos we've all seen of a person standing stationary while the world around them speeds by in hyper motion is how we feel. Everywhere we go it seems we are in some parallel universe watching as people load their late model cars with new furniture, TVs, Kitchen Aid mixers, cases of wine--and we walk slowly by; detached, observing.

Stuff, I remind myself. There is no material thing here on Earth that is of eternal value

Then why does my heart hurt? Why does my whole body feel this burning question, 

If not this, then what else? 

That famous quote by C. S. Lewis comes to mind, If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

But I am here, in the physical, not there. For now, I continue my journey as a soul walking about in a flesh and blood vessel. I search once again for purpose and doing things in the years that I continue on Earth that have meaning, as those years of raising my family had. 

Family. My heart continues to live in two at home, and 275 miles away in a lovely city in North Carolina. Every time I visit, that feeling of detachment disappears. 

How the littles have already changed, just since my 59th birthday celebration in August!

Yes, I always go off onto this rabbit trail and have to talk about my people. That's a good thing because it reminds me of the things I DO celebrate. This crew!

The difficult part of moving into a new year for us is facing the great unknown. So many "ifs" that my head spins. There aren't any details right now, but when I see the image below, it awakens a sense of adventure in me that I thought was long gone. 

I visualize 365 blank pages and I pray for God to be the Author of an amazing new story. Send us somewhere, keep us here, revive our business, shut it down and give us other means of making a living, give us to missions and let us journal in photographs. Head spinning stuff, for sure.

Detachment from the shiny distractions of this life was the only way I could have come to this mindset. As I look back over the losses, life-changing events, and waiting that have led to surrender in my 60th year, I think of the song, Nothing Is Wasted, by Jason Gray.

We are your servants, Lord. You write our 2016 story on those blank pages--all for your honor and glory.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Surprise #3: Grace

On Monday of this week, my phone rang and a number showed up on the caller ID that I didn't recognize, which always makes me nervous given our history.

Hello?, I said, quietly and cautiously.

The pleasant voice at the other end announced herself as Lisa, the assistant to the Stewardship Director at our church, Fellowship Bible Church. She said she was calling to follow up on our previous conversation.

A little back story here: I had called several months ago asking if the church had any recently donated cars that they might consider letting me have. I had applied for a job about 20 miles north of home and I knew transportation was an issue since public transportation does not extend that far and the fact that Leland's photography bookings took priority over any job I might have. Since our bankruptcy, obtaining a car was problematic, and I had zero dollars for a downpayment. Lisa told me that they hadn't received any donations lately, but she would keep me in mind if one came up. I thanked her, and that was the end of the story.

So I thought.

Back to the phone call, slightly embarrassed, I asked her to refresh my memory, which resembles something like Swiss cheese of late. She reminded me of the car request and said she was curious as to how it worked out.

Letting a little laugh escape, I told her that her call was timely, and very considerate. I launched into the sad story of how my "great job" had turned into the biggest nightmare in recent months. I couldn't help the tears that flowed, and the shaky voice.

When I told her the part of how I was told to leave my job, she gasped a little, then suggested taking advantage of the counseling services the church offers. Having logged many hours pre- and post-divorce sitting in a counselor's office, and knowing in my heart where my help comes from (it comes from the Lord, as the Pslamist said), I told her I would consider it, but I wasn't really interested in just sitting and talking. I wanted to DO something--like WORK--so we could continue eating and living indoors!

Lisa asked me if she could make an appointment for us with Kevin Cross, the Stewardship Director, and I agreed that Leland and I would come Wednesday at 3:00. I had heard Kevin speak at church and I knew a tiny bit of his story, but was anxious to meet him and get to talk to him face-to-face.

Wednesday, around noon, my phone rang with another number on caller ID that I didn't recognize. Since the sky hadn't fallen on me the last time, I wasn't nervous about answering this time. It was Kevin. He told me that he needed to leave unexpectedly on account of a family emergency, but wanted to speak with me first.

Lisa had already told him about our conversation. He offered that it sounded like we were having a rough time and he wanted to know what our financial situation was; what bills we were behind on, what we needed. I gave him the rundown, and told him our car needed about $1,000 worth of repairs.

What I heard Kevin say next took my breath away.

Here's what I'm gonna do. I want you to bring your mortgage statement, and other bills to Lisa at the church. I'm paying next month's mortgage and catching you up on healthcare coverage fees. I'm going to call Carl at Roswell Auto and tell him you're going to drop your car off. I'm going to pay for him to fix your car.

GASP, was all I could manage. More tears, more quaking voice, and a muffled thank you!  

At the appointed time we met Lisa and handed over our documents while Leland and I were spending a ton of mental and emotional energy trying to process what was happening to us. It felt surreal, to be honest. To that point, our lives were largely a string of disappointment, save for the grace of sweet respite in time with family, and joy when we had work on the calendar.

To our surprise, Kevin suddenly breezed around the corner. He's tall. He's full of energy, magnetic even, and met us with warm greetings. We talked for about an hour, during which I was taken aback by the vision he had for the 2 people sitting in front of him that he didn't really know, but instantly started forming a future story about.

I remember him saying something about dreaming, to which I replied, I don't dream anymore. I felt instantly sad to hear myself say it, having once been a big dreamer, but in my heart I knew my dreams were selfish; dreams of personal achievements, a better house, replacing our old car, and my favorite dream--my horse farm and a pasture full of horses.

The death of dreams can be very painful, but even though I have been very sad, deep down I have hope that the loss will be redeemed by God, replacing the dreams I've surrendered with HIS dreams for me. Way better, I suspect.

The short time we spent with Kevin was such an encouragement, I can't even begin to communicate it. As we said our goodbyes, Kevin blurted out, Oh, I almost forgot! He ran to his desk and handed me a $100 VISA gift card, on which he had written, "Enjoy your trip!" This will get you to Charlotte for Christmas, he said. Another hug, another thank you. I think I had run out of tears.

We left him to prepare for his flight to see family, with 3 books he handed to us, hearts with hope instead of despair, renewed faith in God and His timing and ways of working in our lives, and still with that surreal feeling of, Is this actually happening?

I devoured one of the new books, Kevin's own story, Embezzlement--A True Crime Story. I can't recommend it enough. It was crime drama and suspense, a story of brokenness and renewal, a life transformed, and many examples of what living and leveraging our money for God's glory looks like. I was stunned when I closed it. I will never look at money the same way again.

As I finished the book, Leland got a call from the mechanic's shop, saying the car was ready for pick-up (a relief, since it had been there 2 days and we were hoping to depart on time for Charlotte). Without hesitation, Leland was out the door, fleece hat snugly over his South Florida-born head, for the walk to Roswell Auto.

As simple as thank-you sounds, it comes from a heart overflowing with gratitude to Kevin, Lisa, and the church at FBC Roswell. We are grateful for your giving hearts, and for that, I am hoping this little blog will bring glory to God in the telling of the story. God bless you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Surprise #2: Grief

Sunday, was the 4th day since being rudely dismissed from the office where I was working under a contract agreement. I thought I had been doing fine since then, albeit disappointed it didn't work out. At least I felt safe and able to detox from the hostile environment I was in for 5 weeks.

And then......

Getting ready for bed that night, I found myself suddenly feeling alternately very sad, confused, and wanting answers I couldn't have.

  • For 2 weeks I was so excited and happy to have work again. I was contributing and I could see Leland's stress ease and attitude improve. I can't believe we're back where we started.
  • We had lost a friend. Never easy. Rather a heartbreak. 
  • Every day we watch our checking account balance get lower. My faith is again tested.
I laid in bed, wide-eyed, unable to sleep. I sat up and told Leland, with tears welling,

I'm so sad.

Over. It.

Why has our situation not found a remedy? After a relatively good business year in 2014, must we repeat the previous 3 years?

How long Lord?, King David said all those millennia ago. His words echo through the ages, right into my heart.

Then, I began the slide down the slippery slope of comparison. I started to think of all the people I know who have been mean, hurtful, manipulative, lied--someone I called friend, someone I called husband, a brother, a sister, an employer--and in every case, these people continue to not just survive, they thrive and live well. I don't get it.

Answers, please.

I wanted to know how and why life works this way. I watch Leland work so hard and give away so much of his time and talent, from a true heart of generosity and love for people. I've prayed for God to bring him a 10-fold reward for all he does. Still waiting, while the scales tip in favor of those who don't ever seem to suffer for the pain they've caused.

Once again I am drawn back to the story of Job; the last few chapters.

Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? (40:2)
Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (40:8) 

If I know what's good for me, I'll repeat Job's answer to God, in chapter 42.

I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. 

And then what did Job do? He "repented in dust and ashes," then he prayed for his friends (who had been anything but a help, by the way).

After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before. (42:10)

So I go back to David's psalm, the 13th. And I read it all the way through.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me? 
 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
          and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation. 
 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Surprises Are Not Always Good

For the first time in a very long time, I find myself sitting in front of this blog and actually find it's time to write again.


In the recent past I have thought about writing--*should I? I shouldn't* thoughts going back and forth like ping pong balls bouncing off the walls of my skull. I would decide I should, come sit at the laptop, look at the blinking cursor, shut it, and walk away.

Nope, not time. 

So, why now, you (and I) ask? Especially after all the silent months, save for the happy wedding shoot blog I posted over a year ago. Because life is a shocker sometimes, and the only way to deal is to skip talking and go straight to writing. The latter has always been easier for me anyway. And it's the only form of therapy I can afford.

A lot has been bouncing around in my mind lately. It started a long time ago, with the end of my job at the pharmaceutical company I worked for for a year and a half. To a degree, I let the company owner run over me, out of fear. So when that ended and I moved into a consultant role, I thought everything was awesome. When the consulting evaporated, well, all you have to do is go through the blog archives to see how that turned out. 

I asked God over and over, What do you want me to do? Anything. Just tell me.

Silence. But years of job searching and coming up empty-handed seemed to have ended this year. I had a 3-hour interview with a small business about 20 miles away from home, and after waiting weeks for them to come to a decision on filling the position of Office Manager, an offer from a friend of ours dropped into my inbox. Part-time, perfect hours, independent contractor agreement, flexible, the potential for development, someone I knew. 


I know nothing is perfect, but I had very high hopes. Silly me. The person I thought I knew was actually 2 different people: the social, kind-hearted friend and the angst-ridden, bully, disrespectful work person.

People have baggage. They stuff their bags full of hurts, wrongs done, and unmet expectations. Some people carry their heavy load around with them through life, wearing their victimhood like a badge, allowing it to become their identity. 

The brain seeks what is familiar before it seeks what is good for the person, I read once.

Maybe this is one reason why the Bible instructs us to renew our mind (Romans 12:2)--so that we may not conform to the pattern of this world and know what the will of God is. The world excuses anger, bitterness--even murder--on the basis of past wrong done to a person. Jesus transforms the heart and that healing results in fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). [Preaching Gospel to myself!]

So, everyone has a choice to make. 

My father's life story is the perfect example of someone who was badly hurt, yet chose a better path than to be angry, bitter, and hurtful. His parents divorced when he was about 10 years old, which would make the time period 1935. He told me that his parents took the advice of a psychiatrist who had evaluated the family and told his parents it would be best to split the family so that his sister went with his mother and he went with his father, since all they did was fight. His sister went to live with their mother; however, his father wasn't on board with single parenting his son, so he abandoned my father, who then became a ward of the state of New Jersey. Placed in foster care at age 10, my father suffered through, and survived, pneumonia. Understand that this was miraculous, since there were no antibiotics to treat infections at that time. Eventually, his aunt and uncle took custody of him and he lived with them, and his 2 cousins, in deservedly grand style.

I asked my father, "How did you survive all this? What happened to you was horrible!" 

His answer: "I had a choice to either sink or swim. I chose to swim."

My father was not a man of faith until his 40s, but I remember him in the years prior to that as a kind, thoughtful man who believed everyone should strive to be good; a good person, and a good citizen. He served America as a young man in the U.S. Navy during WWII, as a Lieutenant. I never heard him ever speak an evil word about a neighbor or a co-worker, or show anyone any disrespect. And he raised me to always be respectful of elders and never question authority.

Sorry, Dad, I believe in respect but not the never-questioning-authority thing.

So, after all of my life experiences, I took my lessons from my father and added them to the basket full of other lessons from the tough things I have been through. A big lesson I learned after a potentially life-threatening situation and a failed marriage is that NO ONE should ever be allowed to exert the power to make another person feel threatened, fearful, less than, or disrespected. This week, someone tried it. I stood up for myself. It was met with a very ugly demand to vacate the premises. I have peacefully and rightfully ended the contract work agreement.

Remember this lesson, friends: Christian ≠ doormat, scapegoat, or whipping boy.

So now I have come to the same conclusion as my good friend, Lea, which is, I don't want to just make a paycheck. I want to do something meaningful. Something to change the world a little for the better. I will find that elusive thing, one day. And I will be sure to share what that is. 

Meanwhile, Leland and I are once again looking at a diminishing bank balance and happily preparing for Christmas festivities with the kids and grandkids. And there is a certain peace that passes understanding; the kind only Jesus gives.

For now, I have laid down my sword, but it is never far away. There will always be dragons to slay in this world.

P.S. Don't click away until you read these final thoughts. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are commanded to love our enemies and pray for them. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:43-45
I ended my work agreement with a fellow believer, and in the process of that email exchange, I blessed her and I have prayed for her. This is very counter-intuitive when someone hurts your heart and doesn't care, but it is not optional and it is not easy. We forgive because we have been forgiven by our Father in heaven.