It’s not about me.

Heart Lessons

Since virtual schooling started this year, my anxiety about protecting my son from any-and-all damage has seen a marked uptick. And I know most moms are similarly on team worrying-our-faces-off. The worry then snowballs into full-fledged panic, escorting me on a very dysfunctional trip back to 2011, when I was becoming licensed as a foster parent. I should have seen the cracks in my marriage. I should have known that my divorce would leave a boy already suffering from trauma and feelings of rejection to deal with more trauma and more rejection. How could I have done this to him? Anyone see a theme here? I. I. I. Here’s the voice I heard that stopped me dead in my tracks: ‘It’s not about you, Kerri.’

Whoa. Are you saying that self reflection is not a good thing? That I shouldn’t own my part in others’ pain? I avoided dealing with my feelings for decades, and now You are telling me to stop?

And off I went again, down the logic rabbit-trail; guided by nothing more than my own insecurities and delusion that I’m somehow capable of rerouting, nay, REWRITING another’s destiny.

The revelations that followed wreck me.
‘You don’t get to undo the good that I want to do in the midst and aftermath of the bad.’
And ‘I get to decide what Deacon needs, not you.’
And finally ‘Often your part is simply to make way for what I’m doing for another.’

Try as I may, there is no reconciling how I live in a world created by such a wonderful Father, yet horrible things happen to children. And that’s often where I go off track. When we attempt to make sense of something that is counter to our nature as humans, we will spin off into questioning what we deem the logical implications of it. The only way to regain control of something so horrific, so unimaginable, is to decide that I somehow now affect the outcome and that my role is to right a myriad of wrongs. This logic is what sends those in the holy fight for social justice into an early grave.

We aren’t built to assume the sins of the world. Only Christ could and did do that.

Our job is to ask what our purpose is, wait on the answer, and obey when we hear it. We have to trust that others will do their part, and where there is a deficit, God will step in. The solace that I must lean on EVERY moment of EVERY day is that God is working all things together for good for those called according to His purpose. His purpose; not mine. We know that our thoughts are not His thoughts. So if I am not fully aware of His thoughts, I do not have a full comprehension of how He is making things good. I don’t get to control what that looks like. And even if I’d like to think so, I’m not undoing what a masterful Creator crafted as part of the good. It’s not about me.

Somewhere along the way, I became a martyr to being a foster and ultimately adoptive mom. Layer on doing this unexpectedly as a single mom, and, well, you now have a legitimate Joan of Arc parental saint situation. This again twisted my thinking to this whole thing being about MY cause, MY need to help him heal, MY role in mitigating further harm. God’s role as his Father gets lost in the shuffle. So, as God pulled on the loose thread in my very flawed thinking, something became abundantly clear. He knows better than I. Few things make me angrier than this input from others when they see me struggling: ‘God knew this was coming and He will take care of it.’ Behind my tolerant smile is a silent eye-roll and a thought that obviously God knew (insert stressful situation here) was coming. He’s God. But knowing this fact and understanding it are two very, very different things. My humanity continually takes me back to seeing time as a linear thing. Using readily available statistics, we can determine that the average human male life span is xx. My son suffered trauma at the ages of xx, xx, and xx, which, based on studies typically results in behavioral issues x, y, and z. If my marriage fails, that applies a multiplier of xx and additional struggles x, y, and z. Volatility surrounding racial tensions and a global pandemic further increase his trajectory towards full-fledged dysfunction, likely at the age of xx. Identified root cause: failures of the mother. Where in this timeline is the room for the plans for prosperity; to NOT harm?

If the Word of God creates the very universe, and He has already SPOKEN these good things over my son, then they already exist.

We are simply on a crash course towards the good thing. The in-between is messy. I don’t think He would argue with that. But ultimately, it’s not about me.

I’ll veer away from parenting for a moment to speak to His last point. There have been several times in the last 5 years when I took a big leap of faith, which I believed was based on very clear direction, and there was never any clear understanding why. For a pragmatic girl who has only recently begun taking risk, this pains me. There may be several explanations. Someone else may not have done their part. God’s plan is infinitely complex and far-reaching, and the many moving parts require obedience of others. You may have heard incorrectly. Yup. We get it wrong sometimes, but that’s where the whole ‘working all things together for good’ promise jumps in and does its thing. But this last line of reasoning, which I think is what happens most of the time, is that you are part of a plan that is contributing to His good plans for another. Yes, He desires to bless you in your obedience, but ultimately, this may not be part of what you understand to be His larger plans and purpose for you. I remember speaking to a coworker when I was transitioning roles at a company, and she said something that has stuck with me. ‘Sometimes it’s about giving someone else a new opportunity.’ Here I was, looking at my long-term growth potential by considering a lateral move, and ultimately, the greater need was for someone else to grow. Let’s look at the flip-side of opportunity and consider, for a moment, the fact that failures might not even be about what we do or do not need, or even some big life lesson. How much have you learned from the testimony of another’s missteps? Sometimes there’s not even a triumphant ending. But their transparency in telling their story is exactly what you needed to hear to avoid a landmine. Their ‘Well, at least I know what NOT to do next time’ was your segue into successfully navigating some rough waters. As a parent, what opportunities do we have to introduce our kids to an idea or experience, and then step back and let God take it from there? It would be myopic to think that the role of parents does not greatly alter the lives of our children, but where have we significantly overstepped and removed the opportunity for God to do what He needs to do?

Here’s a mind-blower; maybe part of my role in my son’s life is simply logistics.

Maybe it’s a big part. God wanted him in this town, at a specific school, in a specific church, playing with specific teams, making specific friends. The bold moves that I made in stepping out in faith may not have evidence of a providential encounter. Maybe I am simply the car that drives him to the house, to go to the school and church, to meet the friends. Maybe it’s not about me.

Be encouraged, however begrudgingly, that even if it’s not about you, it is always for you. Take a cue from Carrie Underwood and turn over the wheel. You are destined for big, huge, wonderful things; some so overwhelming that it will make your heart hurt (in the best possible way). But assuming the weight of the outcome will only hurt you physically and emotionally. And in your state of disrepair you will miss the beauty of all things working together for good.

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!

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.

Don’t Ignore the Pangs

Heart Lessons

Hindsight truly is 20/20. Which is beyond annoying, because for most of my life, I’ve had 20/15 vision. It’s only recently that I’ve had to get glasses, and it was a 20/20 prescription. But I digress. If you read my ‘about’ bio, I’m a planner. I know what I want, and I go after that. While I do not look to offend, it’s never been my goal to have people like me or approve of me or my achievements. Something in my belly just drove me to always do my best. That drive usually meant that my head was down, blinders on, charging forward. This left little time for frivolous things like introspection or vision mapping. I knew myself and my capabilities, had a good understanding of what scripture said about me and general guidelines on how to live, and a sound support system around me. I. Was. Set.

Here’s the kicker. Side note….anyone care to venture WHY it’s called a kicker? This is my uneducated but experienced guess, but I’d wager that it’s because it legitimately kicks you square in the face. Life doesn’t give a single crap about drive or plans or even, wait for it, focus. And that stupid, stupid saying ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ is absolutely, positively, the farthest thing from the truth. The book of John says that we WILL have tribulation. James tell us to count it joy WHEN we meet trials. What He says is that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Christ. Which means that we cannot do it without Him. Which in turn means that there WILL be things that we cannot handle. Now the part about Him giving those difficult things to us rings true. He did not reign down chaos on my life. It just means that He will strengthen me when it does.

Okay, rant over. When those things began to collapse around me, I started looking back. There’s that blasted hindsight. And what I began to see clearly with my 20/20 vision were milestones that were created by pangs; deep aches in my heart. I’m not talking about a lovesick pang or deep want for a cool vacation home. I’m talking about the discomfort that comes from a thought that gnaws at you. Maybe it spawns from something disturbing you read or saw in media. Maybe you remember dreaming or thinking about it as a child.

Maybe, in the midst of your own upheaval, you had sudden clarity that the blaze burning down your life was, in fact, a controlled burn that was ridding you of brush that obscured your vision and path towards something different.

I had clarity on my first pang when, at the age of 35, my ‘geriatric’ uterus failed to produce a baby. Much of those years are a blur, with flashes of injections and failed pregnancy tests and office visits to discuss probability of conception. Then a failed private adoption. Then foster care entered the picture. I was having a difficult, but necessary, discussion with my then-spouse about the concept of adopting a foster child and he shared his very honest thoughts on the challenges we would face with a child from that background. His feelings were not wrong, and mirror that of so many others. But something knocked the wind out of me. At that moment, I somehow clearly read that pang as a deep compassion for these children, and righteous indignation rose up in me on behalf of the helpless. There was that controlled burn. The brush of infertility and disappointment was gone momentarily, and I could clearly see back to thoughts as a little girl. I couldn’t process stories about abused children. News stories or movies would haunt me for years. It became so crippling that I decided at one point that I, myself, must have been abused for it to incite such a paralyzing reaction in me. No. Those pangs were intentional. God knew that I would face infertility. God knew that I would be needed with a foster care nonprofit. I ignored, heck, ran from the pangs. I never thought to lean into my Father and ask Him what they meant. Yes, this was Him ‘working all things together for good’, as is His way. But it was also the product of decades of a carefully sown burden.

The next pang is still disconcerting to me, even now, likely because I am living in the throes of its wake. For all of my career, I’d very blissfully enjoyed being a dedicated worker for large companies. There was something so energizing about the bustle of corporate life, watching things come to fruition via large teams, each owning a small part of the puzzle. I loved being a very qualified owner of my puzzle piece. Then something truly annoying happened. After years of watching coworkers come and go, I suddenly found myself pining over their coming entrepreneurial adventures. They were taking big leaps, leaving behind their medical benefits, 401K contributions, and 9-to-5 pace. My verbalized response was always ‘Wow! Good for them! But I love the structure of working for someone else.’ But something was growing inside me; a disconcerting need to make a similar leap. Towards what, I had no clue. Again, what sort of frivolous distraction would it be to consider a change. Or, dare I say it, starting something of my own.

Here’s the thing. My God is frivolous. He relishes the thought of hashing out these notions and going to deep, painful places that will unearth what these pangs are leading you toward. And sometimes, the something it’s leading you towards is simple; Him. But if anyone knows about my low threshold for risk it’s Him. We’ll unearth more about that in another blog, but He waited so patiently for me to even consider a drastic career change. He loved me through the infertility and adoption, losing my father to cancer, and losing my marriage. He knew that trauma would bring new perspective and with it, a more adventurous spirit. And a heart that heard Him more clearly. So as those pangs for a career change grew louder and more annoying, I finally took it to Him. ‘What is this nonsense?’ I would yell in my car. And I would hear an audible laugh. In my daily journaling He would download a staged plan: you’ll be leaving soon; then, it’s time to leave; then, I want you to join the foster care nonprofit (unpaid, mind you). And eventually, the most shocking revelation of all; a friend would share her dreams of starting a decorating business and I would hear Him again, ‘I want you to do this.’ And I did.

In total transparency, there were MANY tear-filled conversations between me and God where I truly attempted to negotiate my way out of all of this. And He would always give me the option of staying the course, because in His complete love for us He is incapable of controlling us. But I would always go back to the pangs, and His careful orchestration of timing and providential guiding hand.

To continue ignoring the pangs would lead me one place. At the end of everything, we will stand in front of Him, and give an account for what we did and did not do with these burdens. Even now, I weep at the thought of saying ‘I knew and I did nothing.’ I cannot. I will not.

There are new pangs brewing. I now recognize that sting well enough to tearfully take it to Him, ask Him what He would have me do with it, listen to His response, and obey. There are some that I hold to so tightly, for the thought of them not coming to fruition is too painful a burden to bear. But even in my reticence, I trust that they were planted by Him, and He is faithful to finish what He started.

Lean into your pangs. You can trust Him with them.