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.

Sometimes, it’s about the right thing being wrong.

Heart Lessons

You know what I’m talking about. The great date. The stellar job interview. The perfect house. It fits; the stars align and it checks ALL the boxes. But, it doesn’t work out. He doesn’t call back. They don’t give you the job. The offer falls through. Why does this happen? Garth Brooks thanked God for ‘unanswered prayers.’ That’s one way to put it. Here’s my theory, if you will oblige me.

Would you agree that 2020 has been a year of national crisis (at least for Gen Xers/Xennials who haven’t lived through much other than 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror)? I guess, on many levels, it’s actually a global crisis. Well, 2020 is somewhat more of the same for me. Now hear me well; I’m not so delusional that I equate my personal problems with a global pandemic or hundreds of years of racial injustice. These things reach much further and affect millions more than my personal travesties. But, since 2015, it’s been a litany of death, loss, and instability. 2020 took it to a different level, but I’ve been in a very uncertain place for a while. I’ve shared, in other posts, how I’ve learned to hear my Father’s voice. Rick Warren calls pain ‘God’s megaphone’. Psalms 34:18 promises that He is ‘near to the brokenhearted.’ There is something about the nakedness of trauma that brings us to a raw desperation for His presence. If we are lucky, and most Americans are, this trauma is short-lived. We learn to breathe again and we find a new rhythm.

Then what? What does His voice sound like then? If my pleas don’t come from a gut-wrenching place, does He answer them the same way? Are my senses dulled? Is He even listening at that point, or does He have bigger things to deal with? Well, the answer to the last question is a resounding ‘YES’. He is always listening. Scripture is full of that promise. But just like my other relationships, my friendship with Him grows and changes. And the same way that my conversations with my mom have changed between the ages of 5 and 44, God speaks to me differently now. We’ve walked through some serious stuff together.

And while yes, He remains immutable, my trust of Him has grown.

So let’s look at my list from earlier.
The guy doesn’t call. Great guy. 3 stellar dates. Then, radio silence.
I didn’t get the job. 10 interviews over several months. Brought my A-game. Courtesy rejection email.
The house falls through. Looked for months. Perfect location and good school district. Right price. Given to someone else.

Now, let’s take it a step further.
The guy does call.
I got the job offer.
The house is mine if I want it.
I pass on them all.

Both of these sets of scenarios are very real, but the seasons were quite different. After my few tough years, as I’ve re-entered the land of the living, God began reintroducing me to good things. He was always good, and I’m certain much good was happening all around me, but I could not see that from my dark hole. When it came time to start doing new things like dating, or changing jobs, or moving, I was still really, really fresh into this newfound friendship with my Father. I trusted Him; I did. He had scraped me off of my proverbial floor and breathed new life into me. But, I hadn’t been through the process of making new plans with Him. I’d simply been surviving. Now it was time to start new adventures. But as exciting as all of that sounds, I still needed the training wheels. Someone else said ‘no’ for me. I had a guardrail. Each rejection most definitely stung, but I trusted that whatever the reason, God had me.

Now the second set of scenarios. A couple of years pass and the haze has lifted. My new strategy becomes ‘whatever You say, I’ll do it.’ So when the great guy calls, or the job offer rolls in, or the house is available, I pause, and I hear Him say ‘no.’ Mind you, I was prayerful before doing these things. And if He had told me ‘no’ before I took the leap, I wouldn’t have done it. But, He didn’t. Instead, He allowed me to taste something good. Why would He do something like that?

Why would a loving Father test me or torment me, only to say no to me?

I needed to know what things were not right for me, in order to understand what was. It sort of became a process-of-elimination based therapy for me. This did several things: it showed me how to believe for good things, without basing my identity in it; it strengthened my communication and relationship with Him; and it sustained me and gave me hope. You see, we have a Father who knows EXACTLY what we need and when we need it. What I was capable of 5 years ago is strikingly different than today. He cares enough to frame my life based on what draws me closer to Him and all of the things He has for me.

Regardless of timing or season, His answer in all of the situations above was always the same:

It’s good, but it’s not best.

And that’s all I needed, or will ever need, to hear.

So I now ask you this: Is what you are considering good, or is it best? Not compared to anyone or anything else, but for you. In the midst of social distancing and a plethora of solitude, are you allowing space to find out, or are you busying yourself with idle tasks and time wasters? This health crisis is an opportunity for solitude and reflection that you may never have again. Don’t waste it. His best awaits you!

It was only a candle.

Heart Lessons

And some sugar scrub, and candy, and nail decals, and a sweet note; a thoughtful token left by a generous gift-giver. What followed the unwrapping was unexpected and unpleasant, to say the least. Tears. Many, many, ugly, snotty tears. I was not prepared for the torrent of emotions that were unleashed.

Since I’ve learned to emote, which, in full transparency, has only happened in the last 4 years or so, I’ve come to master what I think is the most important step towards healthy emotional processing; when I am surprised by my emotional response, I ask God ‘where the hell did that come from?’. Those are my words. Verbatim. Sometimes I hear an audible chuckle in response. But usually, I hear ‘sweet girl, ……’ followed by a very short, but usually profound, explanation. This evening, while the tears continued wetting the edge of my t-shirt and the adult libation drained from my beverage glass, three words knocked the wind out of me.

‘You felt noticed.’

No. What? I am noticed! I have friends and family who love me and I am not alone. I just sat in the confusion of it all for a while. Who knows how long. And slowly it sank in. This was just a simple act of kindness for no reason whatsoever. It wasn’t in response to my having done or said anything. It was frivolous and touched on my femininity, which, as a single mom, doesn’t happen often; ever really. And it countered a lie that played on loop for several years after my husband left me.

‘You are discarded and invisible.’

And there it was. For all of my counseling sessions, recovery programs, study of scripture, and time with God, that blasphemous untruth had taken root and settled nicely into my subconscious. I thought it had been dealt with. But sometimes, it takes the antithesis to shine a proverbial light on the fallacy that corrupts the substance of who we are. Proverbs 18 says it best; ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’ I’d said the words ‘discarded’ and ‘invisible’ enough times that something had died. No amount of positive thinking will undo death. Only time at the feet of my Father will do that; allowing Him to woo me in the way that only He can.

In one fell swoop, He can deconstruct the scaffolding that holds the twisted thinking in its rightful place in your heart.

Let Him. He will leave no trace of the demolition. Try as you may to pull the blueprints back out to remind everyone that you were designed to live a life constructed by pain and suffering, He will counter with a canvas of dreams and promises too beautiful to imagine. But you have to willingly trade one for the other. He will not forcefully remove it.

The human mind is astonishing. My adopted son had a very traumatic start to life, and in my elementary understanding of how the mind and body protects itself, I’ve come to appreciate why there are times that he cannot believe my kind words, or accept my loving touch. To him, love wasn’t always safe. That candle sent a message that opposed what I’d come to believe about myself, and my body responded. Were it not for some understanding of what I needed to do to correct that belief, and a Savior who gladly guided me to the healing I needed, my life would continue on, subscribing to lies. Healthy love might feel uncomfortable and unsafe to me. I might be wary of well-intentioned gifts. I may even begin to behave in a way that warranted attention to counter the belief that I wasn’t noticed, however dysfunctional the attention might be. Knowing myself, I would likely shrink into oblivion, staying safe in the shadows and avoiding love altogether. But I am choosing the riskier, lesser known (to me) route. I am allowing my Father to paint a picture of who I am, and what my future holds.

What has been your candle? What has incited emotional outbursts that were disconcerting? What part(s) of your life are constructed based on lies that you believed? I do want to make sure that you hear my heart on this loud and clear. Trauma inflicted on you at the hands of another is NOT okay. You may have been simply surviving, and there is no shame in that.

But you were not meant to live a life at the mercy of your trauma.

When you are ready, ask this question: Where the hell did that come from? You might need a professional to guide you through the process of unearthing these truths. But if any part of you is unsettled by any of my account and you know that there is something out of alignment, start asking questions. And get ready to turn over the blueprints.

Mourn like Hannah

Uncategorized

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.