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.

What have I done?

Heart Lessons

It’s been 6 months since I last wrote, because honestly, I haven’t known what to say. But this morning’s thoughts sort of wrapped things up. ‘What have I done?’. This adventurous life of following God’s purposes is mostly amazing. And then there are very honest moments, like this past week, where big decisions have to be made that highlight just how differently His thoughts are from our own. It was time to decide whether or not I was going to re-up the lease on the house we’re living in. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d decided that we’d be in this home one year, and next steps would be crystal clear by the time we moved out. Well, here we are. And there’s no more clarity to be had. If anything, things have changed even more.

I felt a pause in January of this year (after my last post) to halt my new business and wait on next steps. The business I’d formally launched only 10 months prior. Only 6 months after we’d moved to a different house, in a new town, with a new school and church. I didn’t love that directive, but I’ve come to know His voice well enough to know that if He asks me to do something like that, it’s for a purpose. He is sharing what He wants me to accomplish in the downtime, but there truly is no rhyme or reason yet as to how all of this will come together to provide a stable income and future for my little family of 2.

So, I asked to see His plans.

Yes, I did. And when He didn’t reveal how these floating puzzle pieces all neatly come together, I sat down and attempted to draft it on my own. It was a disaster. Firstly, I didn’t invite the Holy Spirit to guide the process. I was angry and full of despair, and while the Power Point template was beautiful (that’s right, there’s a Power Point) it was a disheveled mess of consciousness, half based on my volatile emotions, and the other half somewhat based in truth. Secondly, my intent was not to understand, but to control. I don’t want to write a check for a year’s worth of rent without a fully vetted plan.

I was negotiating the level of risk that I was willing to take based on how much information He was willing to share.

The issue is not one of provision. He has provided. The issue is that I think He owes me more than He is giving me. Kids are inquisitive, but let’s be honest, much of their asking ‘Why?’ over and over is because they want to control the smallest of things. It’s in our nature to seek control. The only difference between that childlike response and mine was that this guilty party was much taller and had some pretty fonts and graphics.

Let’s be honest, we don’t want to see the back-end support. It would stress us out. Have you seen the motherboard of a computer? Or the inner workings of a rollercoaster? For the layman, does that help you enjoy the finished product any more? No. There’s a reason that they don’t offer behind-the-scenes tours before you get on the thrill ride or purchase your laptop. We wouldn’t begin to understand it, and we’d be so distracted with unnecessary information we wouldn’t even enjoy the experience. And, we’d likely derail things in the process, pushing buttons we had no business touching.

By saying ‘What have I done?’ I’m taking credit for having gotten myself here. Like I somehow assembled the components of my machine. I like to equate my relationship to God as my business partner. He and I signed an agreement a few years ago, and we do work together. Now imagine walking into a business meeting to review a project that’s at mid-point. There are no actual results to be reviewed, but you storm in, declare everything a failure, and without having actually owned the process, fall on the sword and say that everything is your fault. How would that make the project leader feel? Do you think you are communicating trust? In Him as the owner, or in the project itself?

Well, I am the project. And He is the project owner. And despite my very confusing mixed messages, I do not want Him to hand me the hardware and walk away. We’ve come too far and He has proven Himself too incredible to stop now.

So, let’s change our language from ‘What have I done?’ to ‘What would You have me do?’.

The tendency will be to focus on the past (done) and linger there, lamenting over what we think has gone wrong, rather than His current will (do) and the good that will inevitably come out of the finished product. Choose the now.

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.