Eleven

Heart Lessons

About 20 years ago, I started noticing an odd pattern. I was seeing 11:11 everywhere; clocks, receipts, license plates, you name it. It kind of freaked me out until I asked some friends about it and they simply asked ‘Well, what does God say about it?’. I didn’t sense anything specific, but over the next decade, I came to know it as a simple nod from God that He was there, and that He was ordering things. It makes sense that He would do that with numbers, as I am a lover of them.

And as my Creator, He knows what might get my attention.

With that context, let’s jump to 2019. It’s late in the year, I’ve sold my home and am crashing with a friend until I determine next steps, and I start sensing that I should visit a church in Mansfield. It’s not entirely random, as the word ‘Mansfield’ had been popping into my mind for a couple of years. Without knowing what it meant or really anything about the city, I’d just jot it down and hope that clarity would come. In a conversation with a friend, she mentioned a new church that she was hoping to start attending, but was disappointed that it was so far away. The location was, you guessed it: Mansfield. Where He drops breadcrumbs, I follow. So, every-other week, when my son was with his father, I’d make the thirty-mile trek to-and-from the high school where this church was meeting. No goosebumps. No providential encounters. I’d drive aimlessly around the town after church, looking for some indication as to why I was here. This went on for several months, screaming fits on the return trip most weeks, until, on one road trip back, I heard ‘You’re moving to Mansfield.’ And so began an Enneagram 1 style frantic planning session to find suitable schools, neighborhoods, look at viability for my newly formed decorating business, ALL the things. And then, in March, everything came to a screeching halt. The world went into a Covid-driven lockdown. Assuming this meant our plans were also pausing, I took a deep breath and laid back. ‘You’re still moving to Mansfield. The weekend after Memorial Day.’ So, we moved. Mid-quarantine, unable to meet neighbors or attend church. With zero clue why we were here, everything in me ached for some sense of understanding. The ONLY thing I had to cling to was knowing I’d heard Him.

Some months later, church reopened and desperate for human interaction and connection to locals, I dove into serving. As we discussed where I might want to serve, the advising pastor asked in what capacity I’d served before and suggested they could definitely use me on the media team. So we began showing up at 5:45am most Sundays to unload the trailer, roll everything into the high school, set it up, serve, and pack everything back up. The drummer, T, befriended my son and enlisted him to help him set up week after week. As I came to know him, he shared that he was in end-stage renal failure, and on the kidney transplant list. A fleeting thought entered my mind. ‘Huh, wonder if that’s why God moved us here?’. A couple more months went by and life changed.

On December 30, 2010, on my son’s 10th birthday, I ended up in the ER. It was the perfect end to a truly terrible night of waiting in the rain for our Uber, after being unable to restart my car at the drive-in. After that hours’ long ordeal and us falling exhausted into our beds, I awoke with stabbing pain like I’d never had before. Cue another Uber ride to the ER, where they determined I had kidney stones. While unpleasant, not terribly surprising, as I’d failed miserably at managing my physical health after my divorce in 2017. I heard God’s sweet voice twice that evening, once in the ER and again at home at 4am. ‘This is not at all what I have for you, Kerri. I have so much planned for you that will not happen if you do not get healthy.’ And so began a year-long journey of getting control of my health.

6 months into that journey, the conversation again resumed with T regarding his need for a kidney transplant. This time, it wasn’t a ‘Huh, I wonder….’ thought. It was ‘Yeah, I’m supposed to do this.’ The odds of being a match were a fraction of a percent, but I just knew. The process started pretty smoothly. I was a viable candidate, then approved as a tissue match, but then further testing revealed some heart abnormalities. Follow-up EKG, more heart abnormalities. First stress test, same result. And while I fumbled over my testing, T became increasingly ill. He was in and out of the hospital with blood toxicity and erratic blood sugar. After telling me that he was tired of this years’ long journey and couldn’t move forward, I went on a very long walk and leaned over the guardrail of the trail, crying uncontrollably, unable to catch my breath. All this and now he’s just going to let himself die? Just like that? At just that moment, a friend called and calmed me with her words. ‘Kerri, you aren’t here for no reason. Go home, and read over your prayer journals. I think you’ll find the answers you need.’ For the next 4 hours, I culled through years of journaling. And, as she suggested, found that God had been speaking to me about this for years, letting me know that I needed to get healthy to save his life.

So while nothing pointed to this happening, I was emboldened. It had been written.

He reluctantly decided to continue forward. However, the process still wasn’t smooth from there. Another failed stress test led to a cardiologist referral. Several weeks later, I had the all-clear from cardiology, and in August we received confirmation that I was his approved living donor. But now we had a new hurdle. The transplant hospital was requiring that T get a Covid vaccination to even be considered for surgery. Only a year prior, he’d almost died from Covid. Unaware of his DNR order, his parents ordered doctors to resuscitate him after he coded. So the idea of intentionally injecting the serum into his compromised body was earth-shattering. But what option did he have? His life literally hung in the balance. Given the certainty of death with no surgery, he conceded. As expected, his body reacted horribly and his health continued to decline. But unexpectedly, one October day, the clinic called. It was time to confirm the transplant date.

November 11, 2021.

11/11. A .2% chance of it falling on that date. The minuscule chance that I’d be a match. The move. The church. The ER visit. All the delays and tears. I could palpably feel God smiling.

There it was. Order.

Did absolute order follow that providential 11/11 date? No. The fallout after the euphoric faith-filled high was nothing short of a complete crash landing. I suffered from what I now know is a post-surgical ‘postpartum’ of sorts, and I struggled emotionally. The very real need to secure paying work after I’d put life on pause for several months hit me like a ton of bricks. And relationally, dreams I’d held close began to crumble, and I felt alone, rejected, and completely heartbroken. It was then that He began speaking to me about another bold move.

Why does He do that? Why, when you are at rock bottom, does He ask big things of you? Why was it after my divorce that He began speaking so clearly and asking me to step out and do scary things? Is He that mean? The kind of man who kicks you while you are down? The answer is no. There is no kinder being anywhere. Psalms 34 tells us that He is close to the brokenhearted. There is something tender about those moments with Him, where I truly believe we just hear Him differently. And when are you ever more motivated to trust Him than when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain? When I think of a life of faith, I often think of The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. He is a heavenly being. He is holy. Isaiah 55 tells us that His thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. Try as we may, we cannot comprehend Him. Although we strive to become more and more like Him, there is no ‘arriving’ on this side of heaven.

Thy kingdom come. The goal is to encounter heaven, by encountering Him. But this invasion of heaven on earth creates a tension that is uncomfortable for most because we are earthly beings. And just when you find yourself growing the slightest bit comfortable, here comes an increased level of exposure to heavenly things.

Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy will. Not MY will. Again, the tension. Oh, the tension.

Give us this day our daily bread. He has committed to taking care of us today, and we are instructed not to worry about tomorrow. How’s that for turning over control.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The forgiveness of others comes BEFORE the extension of forgiveness. Which wars against every human need to exact justice so that balance is achieved.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. If we have subscribed to the truth of this prayer thus far, that His thinking far exceeds ours, then we do not get to understand every single evil from which He might choose to deliver us. This means trusting that He is leading us towards good, even if we do not understand the loss.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. The glory of every outcome is His. And solely His.

So here I am, just over 10 months post-op. Physically, I’m doing fine. We’ve moved yet again at His urging, on to another adventure into the complete unknown. Emotionally, there is much that was left undone in Mansfield. I took big leaps with my heart and had big hopes that were not realized. Very, very real heartache and many tears. There is so much that I simply do not understand; things that I thought were part of His big plan for me. I don’t know if I got things wrong. I don’t understand why others’ hearts and visions didn’t align with what I thought He’d shown me, and I may never know. Perhaps the promises are yet to be fulfilled and it just wasn’t time. But I have 11/11 to stand on as a miracle. I know that He is my loving Father, and He has good things for me. I know that He can and will heal my broken heart. I will continue searching for Him and the good in all things, and watching as He orders more miracles.

Where is Poppy?

Heart Lessons

I met a friend for lunch today. She showed up with a small gift bag, and set it to the side when we sat down. While waiting for our coconut curry, she started telling me a story. For Christmas, she’d ordered a red-headed doll for her red-headed granddaughter. When she asked her daughter what name should be embroidered on the doll’s dress, she advised ‘Honey’ was the name of the lovingly worn doll that was being replaced. But the delivery date for Honey 2.0 was uncomfortably close to Christmas, so Grandma (also Honey) decided she’d place a backup order with another vendor, just in case. To ensure that granddaughter didn’t end up with two Honeys if/when both arrived, she paused when entering the personalization details on her order. Another very specific, albeit seemingly meaningless, name came to mind and she decided to type that in the order details. Honey 2.0 arrived in time, and granddaughter received her for Christmas, as originally planned. The backup doll also arrived, but as Grandma Honey scrolled her social media news feed, she saw something that jumped off the screen. And she knew that backup Honey was not for her granddaughter, but for me.

Each year, I prayerfully seek a single word for that year. A guiding theme, if you will. On January 20th, I shared my 2022 word, and Grandma Honey saw that post where I penned what the word represented to me; healing and resurrection.

As I allowed God to reveal to me what those things meant to Him, He showed me a picture of a little girl who’d called dreams frivolous.

Who’d said that silly girly things were okay for others, but not her. Who’d not even allowed her heart to begin to imagine what those things might be, and grew up to be a woman who then suffered loss, and dare not envision ever having those things again.

I was not prepared for what was in that gift bag. As she handed it to me, eyes brimming with tears, she softly said ‘Her name is Poppy.’ I couldn’t breathe as I pulled her out of the bag. And there she sat next to me; the sweet little girl with red hair, with her name embroidered at the bottom of her floral dress. The same word God had given me two months prior promising a year of healing and resurrection emblazoned on her girly smock of pink, purple, yellow and green blooms. The girliest of all girls sat happily donning my theme for the year, alongside her bright pink mary janes and a bow on her high-and-tight ponytail. Her fiery hair the same shade of red in the poppy petals on my phone wallpaper. Through my tears, I uttered the only thing I could. ‘I have no words.’

This same time the day prior, I’d completed something absolutely terrifying to me, including all things frivolous and feminine. You see, for this grown-up girl who dared not hope, stepping into those hallowed places triggers fears that can only be described as facing an insurmountable phobia.

But in this year of Poppy, my sweet heavenly Father had been gently prodding me to take vulnerable steps toward newfound dreams.

And with each new ask, the prodding and risk grew, the latest taking me somewhere I never could have conceived. I will share the details of this big request someday on the other side of the promise, but as Poppy looked back at me, I knew that He’d orchestrated this lunch with sweet Grandma Honey, which had been delayed multiple times, to fall twenty-four hours after I’d been obedient to His request. He’d prompted her to order backup Honey, and name her Poppy. He’d delayed her delivery of Poppy to her granddaughter, knowing she’d see my post. This doll represented everything about His love for me.

As I climbed in my car after our four-hour lunch wrapped and saw Poppy’s red hair poking out of the bag in my peripheral vision, I again cried. He’d seen it all. The fears of that little girl avoiding hope at all costs. The vows of that single mom to protect her heart. The trembling hands of an obedient daughter, desperate to walk out anything her Father asked of her. But beyond it all, He saw His original design for her life, complete with feminine edges, feelings, and frivolous sundries. And dreams far, far beyond her comprehension. I pulled up the scripture He’d assigned to 2022, inserted my name, and spoke it aloud:

Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in Kerri and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than Kerri’s greatest request, Kerri’s most unbelievable dream, and exceed Kerri’s wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for his miraculous power constantly energizes Kerri.

Ephesians 3:20 TPT

I’m still considering where Poppy should perch now that she’s comfortably home, but it must be someplace fitting the embodiment of those consecrated words out of Ephesians. Where does your Poppy live? Is she placed prominently somewhere, ready to be picked up and tended to? Is she tucked in a drawer, only to be seen when you need to access something you absolutely must have? Is she stuffed in the dark corner of the closet, a heartbreaking reminder of what no longer fits? Did you even ever let her out of the box? Have you misplaced the box entirely? Try as you may to pretend like Poppy doesn’t exist, the Manufacturer produced her to your exact specifications. She fits perfectly. You are suitable to carry her. She may fade and wrinkle a bit, but she will not expire, no matter how long you leave her unattended. And what we cannot fathom, is the joy waiting for those in the legacy of our having followed those dreams, for they too will one day hold Poppy. Do not allow the fears paralyzing you today to thwart that endowment.

I may not always perfectly tend to Poppy, but now that I have the hope of her, I am never letting go. Find your Poppy.

Don’t fill the space.

Heart Lessons

Priscilla Shirer refers to it as ‘margin.’ As a less experienced writer, I’ll refer to it as its simpler term; space. Who wouldn’t want that? Time to rest. Mental and physical capacity to manage the unexpected. The glorious freedom to tackle that pile of ‘stuff’ and get going on those ‘things.’ Meditation. I didn’t want that. Me. When I am on, I’m on. Productivity, efficiency, excellence. When I’m off, I’m tuned out. Trash tv, a glass of wine, copious sleep. But where’s the in-between? That time when you ponder things, or make the tough phone call? Yeah, no. Hard pass. But let’s talk about what these last two years have been for me.

I didn’t know I was tired. But after sequential years of losing my father, my husband leaving, and subsequent single motherhood, I hit a wall. And it wasn’t until I was forced into an extended medical leave that I realized just how tired. There were months for which I honestly couldn’t account. I had never been one to equate busyness to productivity. The opposite, actually. A calendar with overlapping obligations was not something to which I aspired. I was very intentional about resting, but I had not made space for healing. My attempts to maintain normalcy for myself in my work life, and for my son in our home life left me with ZERO bandwidth for anything else. So as I floated in my pool on that leave of absence, the dreaded space began to set in. Thoughts of necessary change were percolating. My mind was not consumed with conference calls and meetings and soccer practice. It was just me, and my newfound BFF (you may know him as Jesus).

I’ve elaborated on my leaving my corporate job, joining a nonprofit for no pay, selling my house, moving in with a friend, starting a new business, and moving to a new town in another post. Those changes were most definitely prompted in those moments of space; whether through intentional meditation or more casual conversations in the car. I have learned how to better manage allowing for those sweet times.

What I’m coming to understand only now, several years since this portion of my journey began, is that I have to be okay leaving the space completely empty, for as long as it needs to remain.

So the process is actually two-fold. In the first step, there’s the room you make in your life to allow these thoughtful moments to happen. In the second phase you are left with the fallout of those revelations. So in my case, I found myself without a paying job after 20 years in corporate America. Now what? Or I sold my house and felt uneasy about buying another, so I crashed with a friend. Now what? Or, more recently, I accepted that I needed to stop getting in the way of what God wanted to do in my son’s heart, so I had to let him fully feel all of the pain that I’d been mitigating for 4 years. Now what?

I’m inclined, as I believe are so many of you, to fill the cavernous space with something. Anything. Progress. Therapy. Work. Friends. Planning. Oh, the glorious fragrance of a well-charted plan. In isolation, all of these things are good. But we don’t live lives separate and apart from our actions. If you are filling the void with something of your own making, no matter how good, you are bypassing the ONLY one who knows what lies ahead, and how to get you there. I’ve written before about good versus best, and yes, that applies here as well.

But what I’m really talking about is leaving the desolation alone after He clears the debris.

Don’t try to add landscaping or call in a backhoe to put in a pool. That may well be what He wants for you, but you have to let Him draw up the plans; not you. Logically, any mom would want to protect their kiddo from hurt anywhere, anytime she could. But that may not be what truly shapes him into the man he was created to be. And even when the plans seem to be in full-force, there still needs to be DAILY space made to continue the conversation. What if the business He had me start is not going the direction at all that I’d imagined it would? Just this week, I found myself making small daily plans that would seem perfectly logical for anyone else running a similar business. I paused, checked the plans with the General Contractor, and it was a no-go. What now?

If, through the process of healing and growth, you have found yourself in that in-between place that feels like an abyss, understand that He is the pro at restoring the years you feel have been lost. Don’t try to construct a spaceship to get you back to earth as quickly as possible. Most of us are ill-equipped to man, much less assemble, that ship. He IS working all things together for good, even if you cannot see or fathom it. Leave space for the space.

Mourn like Hannah

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Almost a year ago, I sold our family home. We adopted our son in this home. I put my creative stamp on every square inch of every wall. The summers were full of squealing children splashing in the pool and family and friends gathering to enjoy the sun. We spent winters around the roaring fireplace. Our neighbors became family, and I marveled at the detail of God’s provision in knowing what school our son would need, how we would fall right between both commutes to work, and how near we would be to our church. This story would only remain intact for 3 years. A family of 3 would become 2. Post divorce, I would try my damndest to piece together what little stability I could for my son, and I would buy the house from my husband. We settled into a somewhat normal routine, and I decided ‘Hey, we can do this!’. Work was going well. While challenging, I could tend to the house on my own.

One of those wonderful summer days, a year or so after the divorce, I lounged on my pool float, admiring my house, and thanked God for the blessing it had been, despite the heartbreak we’d experienced here. It had been my safe place where I’d found the version of God as my friend. I was completely, totally, madly in love with Him.

And He gently said ‘Don’t get attached to this house.’

I thought, okay, good reminder to put my trust in you and not things. Check. Another 6 or so months goes by, and I feel Him telling me that we’d be moving. I thought, ‘Oh hell no. We are just getting our bearings and my son NEEDS this house.’ And He listened to my tantrum, and continued letting me know that a move was coming. So each day, after I dropped my son off at school, as I turned back into my neighborhood, I’d ask ‘Do you want me to sell now?’. Each day, He’d say ‘Not yet.’ Until one day, He said ‘Yes.’ And 2 years after the divorce, I did. My memories of packing up that house are a complete blur. I know I purged stuff. A lot. I know I cried. A lot. Because I wasn’t sure where God was sending us, we moved everything into storage and crashed with a girlfriend. While we were lucky enough to take most of my son’s things (again, my need to provide him some sense of stability), I only took a handful of clothes and toiletries. In my mind, we’d be here a couple of months, and then the plan would be made clear.

We were there almost a year. Life was really, really bizarre, but much simpler. I wasn’t occupied with upkeep on the house, and I had the chance to start dreaming about new business ideas. And I was away from all of the things that filled that dream home that we’d left behind. About 6 months in, God began preparing me for our next move. His way with me is to ease me into it, starting with a general directive that the change is coming, and then filling the details in over the coming months. I had the next 6 months to wait on those details, and then they began to unfold.

So here I am, one week into another move. This place is not my own, but it’s perfect for us for now. The move was relatively uneventful, but the transition into the house has not been. I’m again sorting through painful relics of a life that’s no longer mine. I’m making this change alone. And in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the reality of raising an African American son on my own is a tsunami of responsibility that I did not sign up for. The past 2 days, I’ve been inconsolable. I dreaded each box to be opened. I pined for help hauling heavy articles to the attic. I wept over the card again from my deceased father, sharing his love and hope for my new marriage. I sat and cried over the dog collar of the sweet pup that we got together, that I had lost only 2 weeks earlier. As the house came together, I mourned how it all used to look in the other home. I was hit again, and again, and again with the death of the dream. And then a tidal wave of guilt would wash over me because I have a home and a son, and I am loved, and that should be enough.

And then I remembered Hannah from 1 Samuel 1. She too was shamed for her mourning. Her own husband asked her why she was sad about being barren, and suggested that he was better than 10 sons. Others mocked the passing years and her infertility, and in response she would weep and not eat. On her last trip to the temple to make a plea for a son, she promised God that she would commit her son to the Lord for all of his days. Eli overheard what he thought was a drunken display, but she explained her actions as having come out of ‘the abundance of my complaint and grief.’ Eli then asked Hannah to go in peace and promised that God would grant her petition. Hannah’s reply? She ‘went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.’

Just like that. Hannah went from years long, gut wrenching sadness and mourning, to steadfast belief that the promise would come to pass. It does say that ‘in the process of time’ Hannah bore a son, so we don’t know exactly how much longer she waited. But we do not hear anymore about her travailing prayers. I believe that Hannah’s desire to be a mother was a righteous one. This was not God responding to a childish fit in order to quiet her. And I believe it is a holy thing to grieve the loss of a dream. There are SO many things we cannot know about God’s timing around fulfilling hopes. Why did God’s promise come on the heels of her commitment to give her son back to Him? Was He moved by that? Had He been waiting on that bold step, knowing that if her heart wasn’t there, she would hold her son too tightly, and worship the child himself instead of the Giver of the child? Was He waiting on Eli to be present, so that he could be used to share that encouraging promise?

Whatever the catalyst, we know that God heard her consistent prayers, honored her broken heart, and fulfilled her dream.

So today, I wept a bit like I imagine Hannah did. My new neighbors might have even thought I was drunk. And I cried out that this is NOT how the dream was supposed to go. I heard my sweet Father say ‘I know, Kerri. I know.’ He did not say ‘but look at what you DO have, Kerri.’ He knows my heart to be a wife and to give my son a 2 parent home, and that is a holy and righteous thing. And I am allowed to grieve the loss of it. As He begins to share bits and pieces of the new dream, I will commit those things to Him, and my face will no longer be sad. Today is not that day.

If you are engaging with others who are mourning, please hold their hand and let them weep. Do NOT diminish their loss by attempting to redirect their focus to the ‘good.’ I’m not saying we should set up shop here and never leave. But Ecclesiastes tells us that there is an appropriate time for mourning, and sometimes it comes in waves, very unexpectedly, like when you unbox your custom monogrammed beer mugs or the mover asks where to put your preserved wedding dress box. Let the tears fall. And then let God show you His version of the next dream, and know that one day, your face will no longer be sad.