Unafraid

Last night at the witching hour, I lay in bed sleeping. Something woke me, and I opened my eyes just in time to see a leprechaun-like man racing toward me from my walk-in closet. I sat up, threw my hand up in front of me, and said, “Stop in Jesus Christ!” (A pentecostal girl knows the Power in the Name, even when she’s dead asleep). He immediately evaporated into smoke, and I lay back down with my heart pounding in my throat. I stared up at the ceiling for a full two minutes before I was able to recognize that what had just happened probably had not *really* happened.

I have nighttime hallucinations, and have as long as I can remember. While they are happening, I am completely unable to discern reality from unreality. Until my mid-twenties, these experiences were always, 100% of the time, wrought with complete terror. I called them “wakemares”  because I was wide awake – the next morning I could remember everything I said, and everything that happened with absolute clarity – yet they were crazy, fright-filled, unreal, chaotic. I would wake, screaming bloody murder, giving family members near heart failure; and when they would try to reason with me, I would yell at them in frenzied panic, trying desperately to get them to understand what was happening. In those moments, I felt I was the only sane person in the room, and everyone else was obtuse, totally blind. The worst part of it was the palpable fear that would grip me, its fingers tightening until I couldn’t breathe, until my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t hear for the roar of my pulse in my head. When they were over, I would lie on the bed, the horror thick and pushing down on me, unable to sleep and afraid to shut my eyes. Eventually, exhaustion would overtake me and I would sleep. The next morning, as I awoke, the memories of the night would rush into my head, and I would think, “Oh, my…” I would then proceed to apologize to everyone involved, for scaring the life out of them, and for being irrational.

I used to pray that God would take these hallucinations away, but He never did. He did something better.

One day, in 1996, I was reading in Proverbs and I came across this and I had an epiphany:

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden fear, nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:24-26

My eyes were opened, and I knew that God might never take away theses nighttime episodes; but what he was ready, and willing, and wanting to take away was the fear. I had a promise. “I will not be afraid. My sleep will be sweet.” I wrote the verses into my prayer journal, along with the words, “I receive this promise,” I signed my name, and I dated it. And then the terror that stalks by night returned.

I was lying asleep next to my husband, when something woke me and I saw a giant dark shape looming up at the foot of my bed. The terror gripped me. I frantically grabbed my journal, held it up in front of me like a shield, and barely able to form the words I whispered, “I have a promise.” And it was gone. Instantly. The hallucination ended, but more than that, the spirit of fear left me, in an instantaneous, sudden rush. It was like snow melting away and me seeing, with absolute clarity, the hard, solid granite underneath. Although the hallucinations continue, I have never again felt the fear, not once. It was gone, and forever, and not just at night, but in every nook and cranny of my life. When I had cancer and literally fought for my life through treatment and two horrible infections, people would say, “LaRae, you’re so strong.” And I would think, “I’m not strong. I’m not. I am unafraid.”

This is why I love Christmas; not the man-made tradition (although I enjoy that, too) but Christmas itself — the coming of the Christ Child. Everything I do during this season, from preparing gifts, to decorating, to baking and cooking for my family, all of it brings home with exquisite tenderness the amazing love of God in giving Jesus. It is because that baby was born, and eventually shed His blood, that I have access to the Father. Because of Jesus, I can run boldly into the throne room of grace and say, “Help me, help me, O God, help me.” The miracle of all miracles is that He does. He helps me, and I am overcome.

So to you, dear reader, I wish a very merry Christmas. My God pour blessing on your head.DCP_4145

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Praying Circles

I haven’t been here in, well … forever. At least it feels like it. My summer didn’t shape up quite like I envisioned. Instead of having a super productive summer, I’ve had about four months of almost daily headaches. I’m tired. And it’s hot.

But…

It is a new season. Not literally, you know, but my kiddos are back to school and that is a mile marker in our year. My older daughter decided to go back to her Early College High School for 10th grade, and my younger daughter is homeschooling. And so, although I have many projects I want to do in my home, and in myself, I’m going to spend some time focusing on my health. I feel myself slowing down, like a car running out of gas, so I’m changing some things.

First – I’m seeing a chiropractor a few times a week. This has definitely helped the headaches, but has not yet touched the tiredness.

Second – I’m trying to juice at least once a day. There are many health benefits to fresh juices, but my main goal is to get raw food nutrients every day.

Third – I’ve started, just this week, keeping a food journal. I’m trying (not always succeeding, but trust me, trying) to be very thoughtful about everything I put in my body. I realize that my system is probably toxic – I’ve had cancer with all the ensuing treatments, and still receive medical therapy (in the form of a daily pill). I was reluctant to write down everything I eat because it seemed obsessive, but it has actually been really helpful. I have someone who will be reading it, and that accountability makes me pause and think before I eat anything, always striving for the most nutrition per bite that I can get.

Sometimes I look at really healthy people – physically fit, boundless energy, perfect weight – and being healthy seems like an impossibly hard goal. However, I’m currently reading The Circle Maker, a book about prayer, and I’m daily circling the following promise like the Israelites circled Jericho. Eventually, those heavy walls of fatigue and pain will fall.

“The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Day 108 ~ A Sticker Chart

I have totally fallen off the wagon. It’s not that I have an addiction and I’m suddenly back at it. It’s that I have a terrible habit, and if I’m not consciously fighting it, I slip back into it and am firmly entrenched before I even recognize it. That habit is flying by the seat of my pants.

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maybe this isn't the wagon they mean...

I have dutifully been carrying my life-changing notebook with me everywhere. Yet, yesterday when I went to make an action item list, I realized the last notation I had made was on March 31. Are you kidding me? I actually went 3+ weeks without writing anything down and it never once occurred to me, “Wow – I should be updating my action item list.” Yesterday was obviously my day to come back to reality, because when I went to do my “daily” hard-surface clean in the bathrooms, the spots on the mirror told the sad story that this little job certainly hasn’t been done in … well, we’ll just say it hasn’t been daily at all. Yesterday was a catch-up day for laundry, too, because I’ve missed that train as well.

What happened, you may ask. Well, that last week of March we went on vacation and I apparently never came back. Now, it hasn’t totally been wasted time. I’ve been focusing on spiritual things, reading “Flunking Sainthood” and “The Only Necessary Thing,” a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen. I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer and meditating on God’s Word. I guess you could say I’ve been cleaning up internal clutter. But good grief. I’ve dropped the ball with my home. (The blessed and beautiful thing here is that I can pick it back up). It’s not like I’ve lost all the progress that has been made – I haven’t, and it will only take a couple of days to get back on track. But I’ve learned something about myself. I’m no different than my children – if I’m not constantly reminded, oh, how quickly I forget. And the only person to remind me is, well – me. Maybe I need a sticker chart.

Day 34 ~ The Nitty-Gritty

Yesterday, when I came downstairs in the morning, a beautiful package was sitting in front of the coffee maker. My husband, wanting to surprise me, had left a Valentine’s gift a few days early. He wrote me a note, telling me what a difference he can see in the house since I’ve been working on changing things. This is HUGE – for me anyway, because I’m so goal oriented, and none of my projects has been completed. I am “destination” oriented and this work I’m doing is forcing me to be “journey” oriented. So his encouragement was just that  – very encouraging.

In the package was a Kindle. I am, by nature, a saver, not a spender. I rarely buy things for myself, and so I did what any sensible woman would do when being given a gift she didn’t expect. I burst into tears. I was filled with the overwhelming sense of how wonderful my husband is – giving me something so unnecessary, but which he knew I’d enjoy immensely, just because he loves me and is proud of what I’m doing. I only cried for a few moments, and I’m sure it would have been ridiculous to watch, but thankfully I was alone.

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So the picture is perfect. It shows what I’ve been doing (the out-of-focus picture of my Kindle) and inadvertently, what actually is in focus is the mess on my desk. You can even see the stains on the papers where I spilled my coffee yesterday because I haven’t yet sorted through them to decide what to do with them. This is a picture of my life these days. Even when I’m trying to ignore the mess, it rears up and says, “Ahem – excuse me – I need to be dealt with.”

I’ve mentioned before that paper is the bane of my life. My “to shred” pile threatens to come to life and devour me. And so, I practice a very refined form of denial. In fact, as I write this there is currently a box of papers, waiting to be dealt with – UNDER MY BED! I pushed it under there so I wouldn’t have to look at it. This is sad, but true. However, there is also a pile of papers on a square table in my kitchen, next to the shredder and trashcan, where I sat for several minutes yesterday shredding, throwing and filing. I am slowly, but surely working on the backlog of paper (just as I’m working on, and have nearly eliminated, the backlog of laundry). Since I’ve added “dealing with mail” to the 10-minute tidy, this pile of paper will not grow.

I hate every minute of fighting the paper. I can’t explain this but I’m sure there’s some deep psychological meaning to it. However, although the exercise is hateful, I do feel a sense of victory as I see the pile disappear. And when it’s gone, it will be gone forever because I’m implementing a system to deal with it on a daily basis. And when the laundry backlog is gone, it too will be gone forever, because I’ve started a system there as well (sorting as we go and washing one load each day, if necessary).

And so, each day, I deal with the nitty-gritty of sorting and deciding. I throw, or give, or store, or put away (or shred or file or wash) each thing I turn my focus to for the day. After just over a month of this, I am beginning to feel the choking sensation subside. I can breathe. There is slightly less chaos, slightly more order. The balance of peace to stress is tipping just ever so slightly toward peace. And this small measure of success makes me feel empowered. I will defeat the Clutter Monster. One day in the not too distant future, it will lie dead at my feet.

Day 32 ~ The Power to Change

Today, with a little bit of melting and refreezing, the icicles just keep getting longer. Last night, my husband broke one off the garage that was over three feet long. They are beautiful, and they go the full length of our house on the north side. This picture is looking out of my younger daughter’s bedroom window.

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Today, I focus on having a grateful heart. I’m thankful for the stark cold beauty of winter because it reminds me how blessed I am – I have a new furnace in a warm home. It may be slightly dilapidated and mostly disorganized, but True Peace, the warmth of my children’s love, pets, down comforters, hot cups of tea and a totally refreshing, uplifting and satisfying relationship with my husband fills the space.

My body may not be all I’d like. It is scarred and frequently causes me pain. But it served me well fighting the Dragon (bringing me through surgeries, chemo, radiation, hormone therapy and two life-threatening infections). I’ve been given a gift called Survival and every single day is an “extra” for me – a day I might not have lived except for the grace of God. I am thankful for each morning that I can open my eyes and choose to rejoice.

I am surrounded by friends and family in a supporting community. I have positive associations, Real Friendship, and people who love and uplift me, and pour into my life. Some would call me lucky, but I know I have been infinitely blessed in my relationships.

And today, after a month of taking tiny steps, I am thankful that the power to change lies within me. I can choose to be different tomorrow than I was yesterday. I am not helpless. And when I feel discouraged, and think I might not have what it takes, I remember that I am not alone. I have you, dear reader, and that accountability keeps me going in the right direction. And I have Him, who when I ask, gives me grace and strengthens my resolve.

 

Day 26 ~ Power Through Weakness

simplicityThis was my milk cooler this morning, and the snow continues to fall, so I thought it would be a good day for reflection. It’s just that kind of day.

Of course I had a minor fiasco  – involving baking powder, because chaos is still (unfortunately) my norm, but I’ll share that with you tomorrow. In spite of the frustration of the morning, I did still reflect.

One of the aspects of my life I’m changing is working toward making my life more missional. I want to live with intention. I want to have purpose. I know that missional living has an aspect that is spiritual – perhaps it is primarily spiritual. Knowing this, however, has not translated to action. I struggle to find quiet time to connect with God, recognize His sovereignty, and toss my cares in His lap. So, in order to facilitate this, I’ve started a devotional. This is something I haven’t done in a long time, and I hope it gives some structure to my quiet time. I’m using Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. I’m really trying not to race through each reading, but instead, take the time to digest it.

This whole process has gotten me thinking about Paul (the apostle) and what he says in 2 Corinthians. He’s got some kind of serious affliction happening to him, and he asks God three times to let it end. But it doesn’t end. Instead, he writes, ”He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’” One of my greatest weaknesses is my seeming inability to organize my home and myself. Yet, here I am on this journey. A friend unknowingly inspired me to overhaul my whole life, and starting this blog felt like such a “God thing.” Every day, I wonder if I will have what it takes to keep making changes. And every day, I fear that I will fail. Yet, as I trust Him to keep me inspired and strong, and as I trust myself to stay committed, I see little changes in my surroundings. Each day, He brings power into a place where only weakness once dwelt.

Then I think about my strengths. I am a speaker of the truth – even when it’s hard, or humiliating, or awkward, I speak the truth and in so doing, I am able to encourage some. I’ve had a couple of friends tell me they’ve been encouraged reading my posts. Is God taking my greatest weakness (organization) and turning it into a vehicle in which I can operate in my greatest strength (encouraging women)? It would be very like Him. It is within His character to take something totally messed up and turn it into something beautiful and useful. And so I fight the internal Clutter Monster, by shedding negative thoughts, focusing on Him, quieting myself … and trusting – one of the hardest and most rewarding things He’s ever asked me to do.

Day 24 ~ The Invisible Woman

A friend sent this to me when I was sick with cancer. I loved it, and if I’m ever feeling discouraged with my life, I pull it out and read it. It’s not just for moms, but for anyone who’s ever been a mentor or teacher.

 

*The Invisible Woman* – by Nicole Johnsonsimplicity

It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake to
school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street when
the crossing guard said to him, “Who is that with you, young fella?”
“Nobody,” he shrugged.

Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we
crossed the street I thought,”Oh my goodness, nobody?”

I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to
my family – like “Turn the TV down, please” – and nothing would happen.
Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there
for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, “Would someone
turn the TV down?” Nothing

Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We’d been there
for a bout three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to
a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the
conversation, I whispered, “I’m ready to go when you are.” He just kept
right on talking.

I’m invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way
one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be
taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
Obviously not. No one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping
the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see
me at all.

I’m invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more. Can you fix this? Can you
tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock
to ask, “What time is it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is
t he Disney Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.”

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes
that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now
they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She’s going? She’s going? She’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England . Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and
she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there,
looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to
compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress;
it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was
pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut
butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a
beautifu lly wrapped package, and said, “I brought you this.”

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn’t exactly sure why
she’d given it to me until I read her inscription: “To Charlotte , with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.”

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover
what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could
pattern my work.

No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their
names.
These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see
finished.

They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God
saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird
on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you
spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by
the roof? No one will ever see it.” And the workman replied, “Because God
sees.”

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost
as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the
sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of
kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is
too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great
cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.”

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease
that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of
the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work
on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went
so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime
because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the
morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three
hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built
a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And
then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna
love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel,
not only at what we have bui lt, but at the beauty that has been added to the
world by the sacrifices of invisible women.