Stretch Marks

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I have four new scars on my body that I didn’t have a month ago. Four lines of pink skin that marks the spots the surgeon’s instruments were placed. Those four scars join a host of others. Some visible, many hidden. All of them with a story to tell.

The biggest scar is from my very first surgery. An emergency caesarian section that welcomed two tiny babies into the world two long months before their due date. That scar changed my body and gave me a new name. Mom. It was the first permanent mark made on my body.

For seven months before that day my body was stretched to capacity to make room for two growing babies. And the stretching left marks that still linger, twenty one years later. By the time they were born I thought I couldn’t be stretched any further, but I soon learned that the stretching was just beginning.

Premies… neonatal intensive care… heart monitors… tube feedings… going home without my babies… middle of the night phone calls and trips to hospitals… that is how motherhood began for me. And it stretched me further than I dreamed was possible. I thought at any moment I would break. But I just kept stretching.

The stretch marked me.

In a few short years I was stretched and reshaped by two more pregnancies that each left their marks. After baby number four was born I thought my days of stretching to bring forth life were over, but I was wrong. The stretching was just beginning, it continues to this day.

Whenever I hear the word resilience the first image that comes to my mind is that of a woman. To say women are resilient is an understatement, don’t you think? We are stretched, we push until we collapse in exhaustion then get up the next day and make breakfast. We carry heavy burdens, live years without sleep, can cook an entire meal with a crying, teething toddler on one hip, and can stay up past our bedtime waiting for the sound of the teenager’s car in the drive way. We know how to bandage a scraped knee and how to advise middle schoolers who just want to fit it. We pack lunches for first days of school, sleeping bags for summer camp, and mini-fridges for the all-too-soon journey to college. And though our once firm bodies stretch and soften and sag… and our once thick and shiny head of hair falls out and turns grey… and our never ending energy becomes a distant memory that is replaced with back pain and unplanned naps… we are still fierce, we still bounce back. We are resilient.

Womanhood changes our bodies, but it also changes our hearts. When we are soft and vulnerable and courageous in love we’ll pick up a scar or two along the way. When we love wholeheartedly our hearts are stretched from time to time.

And the stretch marks us.

They say women are strong. I agree. But our strength doesn’t lie in our toughness, it lies in our softness! It lies in our ability, our willingness, to be stretched and scarred and marked by love.

 

All the days…

It’s been over a year since I’ve written anything, at least publicly. My journal has gotten quite the workout, but I didn’t blog at all in 2015. I didn’t set out to take a year off from writing, it was purely accidental. Honestly, I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say. Normally that wouldn’t matter because I would still post out of a sense of duty or obligation. But if I learned anything in 2015 it’s that God’s not really concerned about the pressures I put on myself to perform, He just wants me to love Him and let Him love me with no strings attached. That’s a hard lesson for a girl whose identity has always been tied to her performance.

Every time I felt the pressure to post something I would ask myself a simple question… why? The answer was always the same, “because I feel like I should.” But my therapist told me to quit “shoulding” on myself. So, I’m trying.

And now… here I am. Writing again. I honestly wondered if I would ever be back here. The good news is, I’m not posting because I think I should. I’m posting because I want to.

Last summer I did something I do on a fairly regular basis, I went away for a weekend prayer retreat. What was different about this retreat was the structure, or I should say, lack of structure. Usually when I set aside a weekend for a prayer retreat I plan an agenda, pick out some deep theological books to read, and decided ahead of time what I’m going to be talking in depth to Jesus about. But this time I did none of those things. I just went.

On my way to the retreat center I decided to stop at Hobby Lobby. A few friends had introduced art journaling and art therapy to me and I decided I might take a few supplies with me. I bought some markers, Washi tape (because I have an addiction) and a roll of paper. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but God did.

When I arrived and got settled in my room I knew what I had to do, make a timeline of my life. I rolled out over 5 feet of paper, dividing it into 80 segments, each marking a year of my life (not that I’m hoping to die at 80, it just seemed like a good stopping point) and taped the paper to the wall. Over the next 3 days I asked God to help me remember whatever it was that He needed me to remember, and as the memories came I wrote them on the timeline.

As my scroll filled up, I noticed it was becoming quite depressing. There were a lot of really hard memories. Moments that I wish I could erase from my past, or at least from my memory. But there they were. Written down in black sharpie marker.

I asked God if there were any good memories, and He flooded my mind with them. Moments of laughter, friendship, feeling safe, feeling loved, feeling free, enjoying life and the people in it. I wrote those memories down too. Woven in and among the ugly memories were shining, joy filled moments. Why are they so much harder to recall?

By the end of my weekend the scroll was full, or should I say half full. Forty some years of memories, and forty some years of blank paper. There was my life, the good, the bad, and the unknown future.

I sat and stared at it for hours. Why did I do this? What was the point of writing it all down, of creating a visual scroll of my life? What was God trying to show me?

And then I remembered a verse from one of my favorite Psalms:

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This scroll on the wall before me held the story of my life, and it’s a story that was written before I drew my first breath. It’s a story of days ordained for me by the One who loves me fiercely.

I’ll be honest, part of that was (still is) hard for me to reconcile. There are days on my story-line that I am convinced make God’s heart hurt for me. Yet, there they are. Written for me. And yet… I’ve rejected so many of my days. I’ve been angry, bitter, pouty, about so many of my days. I’ve yelled at God, stamped my foot, and asked “why me” too many times. There have been so many days when I have begged God for a different narrative, a different story.

But this story is mine. It was written for me.

Do I believe all of the hard things were God’s choice for me? No. I don’t. I think free will allows us to face some things we wouldn’t face if we lived in a world without sin. The question I was wrestling with wasn’t is God good or bad to write my story this way, but can I accept this story as mine? Can I embrace my life instead of fighting against it? Can I say, this is my story and the God that is writing it is good, even if there are moments (ahem, years) that aren’t?

Before I left for home that day I wrote down two things:
1. God is writing a story in me, for my good and for His glory.
2. I receive every moment of this story. It is mine and it is meaningful.

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Do I believe these things? That day I didn’t. I knew it was truth. I knew the story being written was for my good and His glory, but I didn’t live like I believed it. I knew that until I received every moment of this story as mine it couldn’t be meaningful. Hard truths to accept, even harder truths to live.

It’s been about 7 months since I created that timeline. I’ve celebrated another birthday, filled up another line on my scroll with both good and bad moments. I’m learning to lean into my life. To hold it gently. To embraced it as mine. I’m reminding myself that while I might not like the page I’m on, I do trust the One who holds the pen. And the more I’ve quit fighting against my life the more I’ve grown to love the story, and the one who’s writing it.

Keri

Shhh! 

  

It’s been almost 5 months since my last blog post. Strangely it’s titled The Silence. I wasn’t trying to be prophetic. 
I didn’t intentionally set out to take a break from blogging, it just sort of happened. I was tired. Tired of all of the noise. I’ve also taken a break from books, and social situations and anything else that felt too noisy. 
It seemed like every book and blog I was reading had the same message over and over again… try harder. Try harder to be a better mom. Try harder to make a better meal. Try harder to be a better friend. Try harder to fit into those jeans. Try harder to be closer to Jesus. Try harder to conquer sin. Try harder to be happy. Try harder to… well, you get the idea. 
And so, like an irritated 3 year old, I put my hands over my ears and stomped my foot a bit. I was just done with all the noise. 
The world has been very loud lately, and Jesus has been very silent. I kept trying harder to hear His voice, but all my straining to hear wasn’t working. It seemed like the harder I tried the quieter He got.
So I stopped trying. I put my finger to my lips and and let out a long and loud SHHHH!!!
In the last five months I’ve gone for a lot of long, quiet walks. I’ve filled a few journals. I’ve paid a counselor to listen to me. I’ve napped. I’ve said “no” a lot more than I’ve said “yes”. I’ve let books gather dust. I’ve deleted blogs in my inbox without reading them. I’ve watched movies. I’ve laid in the grass. I’ve sat on the edge of the dock and stuck my toes in the water. 
Five months ago I shushed the world because I was tired of all the noise. I haven’t written a thing in five months because I didn’t want to add to the noise. I still don’t. 
I’m not in a hurry to leave this place. 
Jesus is still pretty quiet here. But I’m starting to hear whispers of what sounds like His voice. I was hoping that after a few months of quieting the world I’d have some sort of burning bush experience with Him. That’s not the case. Instead it’s just been two quietly whispered sentences; “Stop trying so hard. I love you.” 
It’s the opposite of what I’ve been told my whole life. It’s a message so foreign to me that at first I couldn’t even decipher the words. 
My whole life the message my heart has received is “if you want me to love you, you’ll have to try harder than that”. And so I did. 
But I don’t want to anymore. And so… here I am. Intentionally being quiet. Intentionally limiting the noise of my life. And it’s surprisingly, refreshingly good. 
There’s room to breathe here, and room to listen. 

New Year’s Reflections

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It’s that time of the year again, time to pause before a new year begins and spend some time reflecting and planning. Below is the list of questions I work through each year. I find them to be quite helpful, and hope you do too.

Happy New Year!

~Keri

 

A Year in Review

  1. What was the best thing that happened in the last year?
  2. What is the most challenging thing that happened?
  3. What was an unexpected joy?
  4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
  5. Pick 3 words to describe the last year.
  6. What were the best books you read?
  7. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
  8. What was your biggest personal challenge?
  9. In what ways did you grow emotionally?
  10. In what ways did you grow spiritually?
  11. In what ways did you grow physically?
  12. In what way did you grow in your relationships with others?
  13. What was the most enjoyable part of your work professionally?
  14. What was the most enjoyable part of your work at home?
  15. What was the most challenging part of your work professionally?
  16. What was the most challenging part of your work at home?
  17. What was your single biggest time waster this past year?
  18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
  19. What was the biggest thing you learned this past year?
  20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year.

 

Looking Forward

  1. What healthy character traits would you like to see developed in your life this year?
  2. What is your plan for maintaining accountability for progressing in personal growth?
  3. What are some of your learning goals this year?
  4. What books would you like to read this year?
  5. What is one area of growth at your job that you would like to develop this year?
  6. What is one area of progress you’d like to see this year for improving your physical health?
  7. What are some tangible daily choices you can add to your life that will improve your health?
  8. What are some goals you have to strengthen your marriage?
  9. In what ways can you grow in intimacy with your spouse this year?
  10. What will deliberate, regular family time look like this year?
  11. Do you have specific planned vacation time in mind for this year?
  12. What are some ways you’d like to see each of your children grow this year physically, emotionally, spiritually, and educationally?
  13. What is one specific area of progress you’d like to see this year in your financial health?
  14. How much debt do you have? In what ways can you eliminate a sizeable portion of it this year?
  15. How is your savings? In what ways can you save more money this year?
  16. Are you giving regularly? In what ways can you give this year?
  17. In what specific ways would you like to grow in relating to your friends this year?
  18. What are some ways you can be of service to your community?
  19. Who are some specific people in your life that can use some encouragement? What will you do to encourage them this year?
  20. Who are some people in your life that you admire? How can you positively use their influence in your life?
  21. Are there any damaging relationships in your life? What will you do this year to make it better?
  22. In what ways can you develop your prayer life this year?
  23. How do you feel about your consistency in reading the Bible? What steps will you take to see this area grow?
  24. What area of weakness do you feel like God wants to strengthen this year?
  25. What will be your spiritual theme for this year?

The Silence

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In my Bible between the Old and New Testament is one single sheet of tissue-thin blank paper. One page. I can flip past it in the blink of an eye, which is deceptive, because that single sheet of empty paper represents 400 years of silence. 400 years of wondering. 400 years of questions.

Will rescue come?

Will love come down?

Will God ever speak again?

Silent years are hard years. Silence can drive a person mad. Laugh with me, cry with me, correct me and even yell at me, but don’t give me the silent treatment. I can’t handle that.

But that’s exactly what God gave to the Israelites; silence. For 400 years.

I wish we knew what they did in the waiting. How they processed the ceasing of His voice and instruction. Did they grieve? Did they jump through hoops trying to make Him talk? Did the blame themselves? Blame God? Draw closer to Him or shrink away? We don’t know. All we have is a blank sheet of paper filled with silence.

I wonder how many years passed before they began to believe that maybe He would never speak again. Did they quit straining to hear his voice? Did they sit around and talk about what it would be like to hear Him again? Did they place bets on how it would happen; through a prophet or a burning bush or a talking donkey or a thunderous sky? Did they look for Him in all the obvious places? And then start looking for Him in the obscure?

Did they expect a baby and a teenage girl and a carpenter would be the vessel that carried the Word of God into the silent world?

Did they ever expect for love to come down to them?

We’re often told when we can’t hear God to press in, to push through, to pray harder, read more, to seek and knock until we wear ourselves out with the seeking. And I do believe that there are seasons when that is exactly what we need to do. But sometimes, in seasons of silence, maybe what we need to do most of all is simply wait. To quiet our hearts, and still our striving, and hope beyond reason that the gospel is true and that the silent God is also a loving God who is willing to come to us in the dark quiet places and wrap arms of love around us… right where we are.

The story of Christmas isn’t that we chose to come to God, but that God chose to come to us.

And so maybe today, in our own maddening silence, in our own place of questioning and wondering and waiting… maybe today we can stop. Stop striving and begging and chasing after god. Stop thinking that we’re doing everything wrong, and just rest in the reality that a blank piece of paper and 400 years of silence is part of the Bible too, and that our seasons of silence might be part of the story that God is writing in us as well. Maybe instead of filling the silence we can just be here and hope beyond reason that at the right time and in the right way love will come down and rescue us.

~Keri

Everything is Different

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Three years ago I found myself sitting in my car in a parking lot on a Friday night. I knew I needed to get out of the car and go in but I was afraid. I was also desperate, and that night I let desperation win.

I got out, walked across the parking lot and pulled the doors open. I was greeted by the distant sound of people singing. I made my way across the lobby, and into the sanctuary where I quietly slid into the back row. Before the first song ended I was fishing tissues out of my purse to try to stop the flow of tears. For the first time in a long time I felt safe.

That night after service was over I made my way to the kiosk where I picked up half a dozen flyers describing the different small groups offered by Celebrate Recovery. I had no idea what was wrong with me, only that I felt broken and desperate. I walked out to my car with tear stained cheeks, a fist full of flyers, and determination. I was going to figure out what was wrong with me and how to fix it.

That night I went home and sat in bed with those flyers. I circled every bullet point that was true of me. I did a lot of circling. It was pretty painful. I felt overwhelmed and quite hopeless.

I take a class on Monday nights and this past week our teacher passed out those same flyers to each person in the class. She asked us to skim through them and circle one or two items that were true of us. I’m not really a “circle one or two items” kind of girl, so I set out to circle everything that applied to me. I was a bit panicked; after all I had done this before and used a lot of ink the first time around. I was scared to death to start circling and have my fears confirmed; that all the work I’ve done in the past few years hasn’t changed anything.

My fears were unfounded. And I was shocked at the results.

Instead of circling almost ever symptom on the papers I only circled 2. Two!

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I still have lots of work to do, and I’m far from perfect. But on this issue that I’ve been praying about and working through… there’s been progress. And I had no idea.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes,

but when you look back everything is different.”

c.s. lewis

 

Sometimes we’re working so hard, pressing into God so much, that we lose sight of how far He’s brought us. We’re so focused on the next (hard) step that we don’t notice just how many steps we’ve taken. Until one day we look up and notice… everything is different.

“He led me to a place of safety;

He rescued me because He delights in me.”

2 Samuel 22:20

 

Have you stopped and looked around lately? Where are you? Are you in a safe place? A different place than you were a few months (or years) ago? Have you been so hard at work that you haven’t even noticed? Maybe it’s time to stop and look up, look around you and see how the view has changed. Maybe it’s time to stop and savor the goodness of God in this place.

Are you in a really scary, overwhelming, desperate place? That’s okay too. I’ve been there, more than once. Can I tell you something that your heart might not be ready to hear? It will get better. YOU will get better. I promise. Maybe not today, maybe not next week, but in time… you will.

It’s worth the work. Worth being vulnerable and brave. Worth going to counseling or Celebrate Recovery or your pastor and asking for help. Secrets keep us sick, but sharing our hurts brings healing. (please seek out healthy, Godly community for traveling companions)

In the Old Testament we find, on more than one occasion, a situation where someone stops and raises an Ebenezer, a memorial stone, to reflect on and remind them of how far God has brought them. I think we need our own Ebenezer stones. Our own moments to pause and recognize where we are. Our own reminders of the road God has brought us down. We need to look back and see how far we’ve come. And we need to be reminded on future hard roads that the God who brought us this far is able to take us the rest of the way.

I think we’d all prefer a “quick fix” on our journey to healing, but that’s not the way it usually goes. It’s usually longer and harder than we would like it to be. But, that doesn’t mean we’re not making progress. Sometimes it’s just hard to see, until we stop and look around and realize… everything is different.

Grace Abounds!
~Keri

Death of the Phoenix

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the forest here is dark and deep
and He watches while I sleep
and walk upon the tangled roots
of elder trees barren of fruit

He watches as I stumble, fall
bow my head, defeated, crawl
the heavy dark upon my back 
deep and shallow gasping breath

long grows the night and colder still
as trees give way to rocky hill
and bloodied knees trod up and on
eyes blind of beauty to gaze upon

the wind! it bites and gnashes teeth
upon my barren face and feet
shivering, trembling, hopeless climb
He watches me, ever behind

fallen in defeat I lie
upon the summit of mountain high
no stars above nor warmth below
no voice, no comfort in death’s shadow

the earth, it stills, the ticking stops
and silences life and breath and thought
and there alone in hopeless lament
my soul in anguish ripped and rent

and as the breath creeps from my bones
my only wish… be not alone
I lift my eyes and meet His stare
still and silent standing there

in the dying silent cry
my fears no longer will deny
that light is gone and life is passed
and yet He stands behind, detached

nothing lies within this tomb
of grown cold heart and bloodied wounds 
the body empty, lifeless, still
He slowly approaches, stops and kneels

fingers brush what’s dead and cold 
fire errupts, body blazes whole
comsuming fire, without – within
lapping, licking, flaming skin

embers, ashes, smouldering dust
no more life, just silent hush
as mountain, rock, sky and He
gaze upon what once was me

the mountain waits with bated breath
the sky bends down to see what’s next
the rock beneath the ash is still
as He breathes onto what was killed

and reaches down with spotless hands
into the dust that was a man
but now is only useless grime
He bends low, His lips to mine

and into dust He blows and breathes
in ashes cold He beckons me
and I, though dead, awaken rise
and rousing from the darkness fly

with outstretched wings I grasp the vault
and circle higher in my assult
I soar atop the forrest deep 
and rise above the deadly sleep

upon the whisp of cloud I hear
a shout, a clap, a laughing cheer
spiraling through expanse I see
He is there! Leading me

~Keri Lynn