Tag Archives: love

Hopeful Expectancy – It’s Time To Start Dreaming Again

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It is no secret that I have struggled with the idea that hope, often times, seems elusive. Pain from trauma, brokenness, grief, mental illness, etc – that pain can be so intense it’s blinding. It removes hope as a word in our vocabulary. It insists that hope for anything beyond the pain isn’t a thing – that it never really was. It ensures we cannot remember what hope even feels like. It says hope isn’t real, at least not for me. I’ve also come to realize that this is dangerous, and false thinking – simply put: hope never goes anywhere. Yes, our life’s experiences that allow for that temporary blindness that makes hope appear to play a mean game of hide and seek – with us consistently losing. I urge you, however, to remember that hope is still real, and it always will be. Yes, I’m speaking to myself as much as the next person reading.

Today, however, something pretty interesting happened. I will explain more specific details in a future post, but I will say this. I was at a very low point today, and – if I’m being honest – the same can be said for plenty of the time recently. I have been questioning the meaning of life, in combination with the actual desire to keep on walking. To keep breathing. It’s been a struggle, trying to simply be, and live with the intensity of the pain. Instead of getting easier to navigate and deal with over the course of time, it’s been getting intensely more difficult. I have questioned my ability to keep fighting. Life shouldn’t be a fight.

Today, I was feeling really very overwhelmed, like giving up – and just, hurting. Instead of forcing myself to deal with it on my own, I reached out to a trusted friend. I will write more about this friend in time, but it became a moment, inspired by God Himself. That is not something I say lightly. But, it is something I say absolutely, with no doubt, was orchestrated by the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth.  Grace took on the form of human connection, and reminded me of hope. And smiles. And laughter. Even tears. But, more than that, reminded me of the life saving grace and love that God offers.

This day especially, I needed this reminder. Had I forgotten who God was, or all He’s done in countless lives, mine included? Absolutely not. Had I been blinded by the pain, so I was unable to see or focus on Him at all? Yes, more than I care to admit.

But, the beauty of it all? Hope arrived. Though it never actually left, it did become real again. I would be lying if I said all was now a bed of roses, and all my thoughts and feelings are suddenly all totally better. I would be telling a tall tale if I told you that I now have it all figured out, due to this magical conversation with a friend. Though, I will say that the conversation was absolutely a tool God used to penetrate some dark places – to shine light on hope again; to allow for hope to arrive. What did happen, was beautiful indeed. I dared to allow myself to hope again.

Then, like a healing balm applied to a painful wound, a word was beginning to take form, and be etched in my heart. Expectancy. More than that, to live with hopeful expectancy. That is a change from where I am right now. It became a moment of deciding to choose not to live life comfortably – a moment where I chose (and will continue to choose) to dismiss the status quo. I realized, I really do want more than just the pain that life has offered. I know there has to be more out there. I will not give up on it.

You see, just last night, I was listening to this same  previously mentioned friend talk about dreaming. That our dreams are possible. While he was speaking, something broke inside me though. It was at that moment that I realized that I do not really have a lot of dreams – big or small. I haven’t been dreaming anymore. This really bothered me. But, I didn’t have the answer – the “how to” on dealing with it.

During my conversation today, though, That word, expectancy – it became real again. It is taking up residence in my heart, and is helping me grow my thinking.  It is helping me believe that not only is hope real, but also that dreaming is possible again. I haven’t really dissected this all that much yet. I haven’t sat down and really put much more thought into it, but I am going to.  I need to be in a different place than I am right now, and I can already tell it will require re-framing of my own thoughts. Re-framing reality even.

So, even though I don’t have it all figured out – I say that’s okay. I have something much greater: hopeful expectancy. That, in combination with my faith in a God who loves – that, is where I believe life change will begin to happen. That is where I see hope growing and thriving. That is where redemptive grace takes hold, and doesn’t let go. For this, I am grateful.

With this, I say, let’s get to dreaming. Never let your dream(s) die. If you aren’t dreaming, it’s time to rekindle the fire that says to not give up, and to never stop dreaming. You’ve got this. I’ve got this. Together, we can change the world. Maybe not the entire world (maybe so though) but we can change our individual world. That is worth hopeful expectation.

Dream big.

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Pain And Healing – The Value Of An Outstretched Hand

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Pain And Healing – The Value Of An Outstretched Hand

Every human being alive knows the definition of pain. For some, it’s chronic illness – physical, or mental. Life has a habit of launching some curve balls aimed at destroying the status quo. Our action, inaction, or reaction to reality altering events is what sets the tone of our journeys and lives.

When the pain is unbearable, it is easy to lose sight of hope – hope for anything other than pain. In the intensity of a crisis or painful episode, the shaded sunglasses are fastened tightly. Through them, we only see darkness. The brightest sunny day, with birds chirping and life happening can appear dark and dreary as we wear these glasses. It’s being sight impaired to beauty for fear of the pain.

That is what pain does. It blocks our vision. It keeps us from enjoying the okay or good times because there is a paranoid expectancy of the demons and darkness lurking around the corner.

On the converse, those moments where we’re feeling those unexpectedly beautiful moments, and we are able to take joy in them — it’s more crushing when the pain returns. There is no denying that good and beautiful things happened. There are sometimes undeniable miracles at work. Even with those, it’s hard to hang onto what feels like fleeting beauty. Sunglasses continue to darken the world around us. 

We all have pasts. The collective pain and brokenness that each individual brings into a crowded room is unfathomable. Hidden scars. Brokenness. Some have walked through addiction, sexual abuse or rape, traumas of all kinds, physical or mental illnesses, bullying, crisis moments, losses of small and great magnitudes – just pain that is unimaginable.

We all need to recognize the FACT that every single person in there is a living, breathing story. Each comes with their own story – what brought them to where they are today.

Let’s talk about healing. And taking off those sunglasses. 

Healing is a term that people throw around when things hurt. Physical or mental. When life hurts, I can almost guarantee that you will hear that time heals all wounds. Whoever tells you that is lying. They may not intentionally be liars, but time doesn’t heal everything that hurts. Some things, time does allow you to better get a grip of, or to carry a little easier…but take away the pain? Nope, not so much.

However, there are  things in life that help heal. 

When life hurts, love heals. It doesn’t make the wounds automatically go away, but it dulls the sharpness of the pain. When someone offers an outstretched hand, and doesn’t greet pain with silence, healing can happen in unimaginable ways. Hope that we were temporarily blind to – that hope holds your hand and sits with you in the pain. That place is where healing happens.

It’s important to note that it’s okay to not be okay. But, when you’re not, please reach out – and allow someone else the honor of your taking their outstretched hand. No, reaching out doesn’t erase the pain. It won’t, and it can’t. Even when you feel that you’re walking through hell on earth, it’s heartwarming to know that you don’t have to do it alone.

Even not being alone doesn’t mean the storms aren’t damaging.

It is what we choose to do in these moments that define us. For me, it’s accepting the gift of friendship. When there is an outstretched hand, it’s taking it and allowing myself to just be. To just feel. To cry the tears that I want to suppress. A friend recently reminded me that I needed to feel what I was feeling, and that it was okay. Even the brokenness and tears. That is a reminder I have shared with many people over the course of time – but, hearing the words said to me – did something in my heart.

No, healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage is no longer permitted to control our lives.

I know it’s sometimes easier said than done. I’ve walked through hell on earth. I’ve known deep pain. But, I’ve also come to know hope and healing.

If you are or were a kid who was picked on and bullied, know that you don’t have to be defined by that. Healing is possible, and you are more. Your life is valuable, and you matter more than the words of any written language could express. There are many who may feel their pain is a result of their own doing. If you feel like you’ve messed up, always remember that you are not a sum of your past mistakes. You can make choices that enact positive change. You don’t hold all the keys to the universe, but you do hold some to your own world. We can’t control everything, but we can control our own actions.

Yes, bad things happen. Yes, it sucks. But, no, it doesn’t have to define your entire life. Brokenness can be exchanged for healing. It may not happen immediately, but it can happen. Sometimes love and friendship is like a healing salve applied to intensely painful wounds to aid in the healing process.

In case no one has told you this, please hear me. I believe in you. I believe in your story. I believe in the power of a shared story. So, let me offer this. If you have a story to tell, or just want to talk – reach out. I’m here, and others are as well. You can post in comments or send me a message via my “contact me” page. Just never give up on your story. Yours is a beautiful story, with chapters yet to be written. Never, ever give up. 

A Grateful Nation Remembers

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Take a look around you. What do you see? In neighborhoods, and on lawns across these beautiful United States, you might see grills fired up, parties happening, and celebrations going strong. This is a day off work, a day to celebrate, a day for BBQs and fun. But, it is a day for so much more.

This day is a day we link arms, and we remember. We remember the fallen – the brave heroes who paid the ultimate sacrifice to allow for the freedoms you and I take for granted each and every day. On this Memorial Day, let’s continue the beauty and celebrations of this day – but, let’s also honor and remember those who gave their all.

Having served our Country on active duty in the military, I walked through hell on earth at times. However, I got to come home. My heart is heavy, on this day especially, as I remember (I could never forget) my friends who did not come home. Some of my friends died as a result of military conflict, and some at their own hand. Either way, they never came home. Suicide isn’t the ultimate sacrifice that includes bravery in the way that we celebrate, but these beautiful people, my friends, never came home. They weren’t a direct result of war, but they were an indirect result of the affects of war.

This article isn’t about suicide, but I would be amiss if I didn’t mention it in the scope of people who have died in the service of our country. The intense darkness that people in the military face at times – it can seem unbearable. The mental health system in the military and all across the world, is so very broken. I know. I was in the military, and I faced unspeakable things. Thankfully, I got help, and I came home when the time came and I was able. For some, this isn’t their reality.

To all my brothers and sisters in arms – to those who still fight today, and to those who did make it home, I say thank you. To those who took their final breaths in support of our Country, and also to those who saw no end to the pain you endured and took your own life – you are, and never will be forgotten. I love you.

As you celebrate this day, I encourage you to also remember. Remember the fallen. Remember the heroes. Remember those whose lives were painful in a way they couldn’t escape and took their own lives. Let’s remember them all.

If you’d like to talk about this or anything, please feel free to comment below, or send me a message via my “contact me” page.

Suicide-Hotline

Side note. If you are a veteran or service member who has lost someone you love, and you are hurting – please know you are not alone. You are not ever alone. I feel your pain, and I see your hurting. Know this. There is help. There is hope. And, rescue is possible. I urge you to seek help. I hope you will reach out and connect with others. There are people, myself included, who love you. You can feel free to post in comments below, or connect via my “contact me” page. I am here. Others are available as well.
If you are in immediate danger to yourself or another, please dial 911. It is NEVER too late. You can anonymously call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-873-8255. If your voice is shaky and you would rather text, you can send a text to the @crisistextline 747-747 and you will be connected with a person who cares about you. Where you are. How you got there, and want to help you see that hope is still real. Love is still the most powerful force on the planet. You can find a host of local resources from @TWLOHA.

#RememberTheLove

 

Out Of Nashville Comes Beauty That Is Colorblind: Introducing Neely

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                                   http://neelymusic.com

The streets of Nashville are paved with the blood, sweat and tears of many a musician – and frankly, many who fancy themselves as such. Also walking the streets where musicians dream is a duo made up of two incredibly beautiful human beings, a husband and wife team: Jeremy and Kaci Neely, collectively known as Neely. There are not enough words in written language to explain these two and their approach to music, and sharing it with the world – but, that won’t stop me from trying.

The music industry as a whole likes people to fit into a cookie cutter mold of a single musical genre. Neely, however, defies this with their approach to music and the people who they know are listening. They do not fit into a neat little packaged box. Nor do their beats and lyrics fit neatly into one single musical genre.

There may be a country twang, or a bluesy feel – maybe a touch of rock. No matter what beat or sound their music entertains you with, you can be sure of one thing; they connect deeply with the human condition. They are unafraid of pain, or of emotion. Their transparency in music comes from life. They have a past, and it’s not all a bed of roses. They don’t hide the parts of their past that they may not be proud of. As storytellers, they allow their lives, the good and not so great, to tell of the journey that brought them to where they are today. Theirs is a story of grace and redemption – full of hope, and backed by love.

I had the honor and opportunity to have a conversation and ask a few questions – an informal interview of sorts. I have seen the love that fuels the duo play out time and time again on social much media, but in talking to them – their words matched their online persona.

In speaking with Jeremy, I watched his love for people, all people, play out. I asked if the duo has a target audience, and any age range they seem to cater more to. His answer did not surprise me, though it was precious. He thought for a moment and said that their music’s goal is, as previously mentioned, to be in touch with the human condition. People everywhere. All people. From the young to the old – all are important in their eyes. People have all experienced life in different ways, but many common threads exist.

What Neely does is play an epic game of connect the dots.

They connect with any living breathing person with ears to hear. They are able to connect those dots and meet people where they are – whatever walks of life they come from, and with whatever they bring to the virtual table.

The passion in his voice was undeniable when I asked Jeremy if there was any one message Neely would like to share with anyone reading this. With many examples of life, pain and even brokenness – They want people to know that they are not alone in their struggles – that they are truly loved, where they are, and who they are.

They have a heart for God, and also for people. Neely strongly values family, and community – and have coined the hashtag #NEELYFam on social media. They strive to create a community that is close, and forms bonds like family. I learned all this without having heard word one of their lyrics or music. Their hearts, and their mission- those things shine through like a bright beacon in a dark and dreary land. I knew they were musicians, but, I hadn’t actually known their music also. Fast forward. I listened, and it grabbed my heart in an undeniable way.

This is the effect their music has. On people of all ages. I have had the honor of watching several live reactions to Neely’s remastered for radio edit of their song – actually releasing today, Colorblind. People reacted differently hearing Colorblind for the first time. In those reactions were smiles and also tears; people found hope, and people made choices to be intentional with seeing people and life from outside the status quo – stepping outside comfort zones to impact their world. 

I had the opportunity for a sneak peak at this remastered version of the song, and immediately felt compelled to share it with you, my friends and readers – and the entire world at large. This song is pertinent to our world, and especially the state of our Nation.

“…Everything changes. Everything changes when we see inside. Everything changes when we become colorblind.”

That, if I could sum up the entirety of this song – it would be those lines. However, this song encompasses more of the human condition – and shows how pain and brokenness can collide with love – and the hope, unity, compassion and community form as a result of us just seeing things from an different vantage point, when we become colorblind.

Please do your heart a favor and listen to this song today. If you feel led, and I pray you do, please consider supporting them and downloading it from one of these sources: ITunesApple MusicAmazonGoogle, and Spotify. Neely isn’t represented by a producer, or any major labels. Instead, they are supported by their fans, and in a huge way, by their local church. Any download of this song would allow their mission to continue, and allow YOU to link arms with them, and the people desperately needing their mission and music worldwide.

Jeremy mentioned the love and incredible support of his church community and family, and the multinational congregation they have. He explains that there are more than 17 different countries represented, all under the same roof. In the same way, he says on any given day, he watches as people join together simply as people – business people, politicians, musicians, people with jobs of varying degrees, people with expensive homes, and people with no homes. The homeless person locking arms with people of incredible influence within their community and beyond. People being people. Doing life together. Love. That is God’s heart, and also the heartbeat of Neely. 

No matter who you are, and no matter your status in life – or what brings you to where you are today, please allow me to echo something I have said before (and will likely say again) – and as I mentioned, the heart of Neely: you are not alone! You are loved, right where you are – who you are. For YOU. Please know that the world is brighter with you in it, and your life matters. Take time to listen to some music. Take time to take care of YOU. You are valued. If you are in a place right now where you need help, know that it’s okay to not be okay. Reach out. Allow others the honor of reaching back.

If any of these thoughts, or any of Neely songs resonate with you today, it would be an honor to hear from you. You can feel free to post in the comment section below, or for more personal replies, you can reach out through my “contact me” page. I will also gladly pass along anything you’d like shared with Neely, other readers or just the general public. Anonymity, if needed, is offered. It is an honor to do life alongside you.

How Love Leads The Way When Shit Hits The Fan

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Love

How would our world look different if love led the way??

Love. It’s almost like a four letter word. Oh wait…

In a perfect world, love would be the first thought, the forefront of everything we say or do.  When life is painful – when life isn’t fair, I just wish love led the way.

The bigger picture, in the great big world we live in…

In a world where love led the way, small children wouldn’t have to hide from daddy because he might hurt them again today. In that same world, the terrified wife wouldn’t have to cover up her bruises or hide in the shadows because of domestic violence. Husbands wouldn’t have to feel less of a man because he is the victim of domestic abuse. Men wouldn’t feel the need to “man up” and “grow a pair” because of their pain and brokenness. The sexual predator wouldn’t set out to destroy lives. Rape wouldn’t control destinies. When husbands and wives are more of a partnership than a dictatorship, love is allowed to lead the way. If love led the way, broken marriages and families would be a thing of the past.

In the perfect world, there would be much less pain, and much more love.

In that aforementioned perfect world, suicide also wouldn’t be a thing that tears apart lives, hearts, families and generations.  Love would lead the way. People would be loved, and love others. People would know others, and be unafraid of being known. People could live and love, hurt and cry – and just be in the world where love led the way. When people hurt, and saw no way out of their pain, love would surround them, and messy grace would hold them up. People would sit with them when their pain is blinding.

In my little corner of the world, I wish these same things on a smaller scale, I guess. When life hurts like hell, and all I see is pain, I wish love led the way more often. What does that look like, exactly? It can vary from day to day – from moment to moment.

Just one example. When my daughter died, if love truly led the way, people would be less afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing (and thus doing nothing) and would still be standing and walking with me. The people who drew close, and who were welcomed close like family, wouldn’t cease contact almost within days or weeks of her death. They would still be there. I need them differently now, but I still desperately need them.

When love leads the way, little threads of hope and strength are found – giving way to glances at peace unlike any other. When people come alongside others in their time(s) of need, grief, or sometimes insurmountable pain – this is how love leads the way. With love leading the way, people wouldn’t shy away from pain, and wouldn’t greet pain with awkward silence.

Let’s stop treating love like it’s an evil four letter word. Let’s be love. Let’s strive to let others see the meaning of love by looking at our lives. There’s enough hate and pain in the world. Let’s meet that with love. Can we let love spread like wildfire? Let’s let love lead the way!

Traversing A Tornado – When Life Seems Like A Whirlwind

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This past week, I cannot count the number of times I heard that it just felt like we were being caught up in a whirlwind. I can relate. 

You see, my big brother died last week. There are still more questions than there are answers. The pain associated with his death seems unbearable some moments.

 

When I look at this picture, and one I’ll share in a few moments, I’m a mixture of emotions. I smile, and I cry. You see, he was just 40 years old. He’s supposed to still be here. My big brother. 

I wrote, and had the honor of reading a eulogy at his funeral. It was not without tears, but it was also not without giggles. Fitting for the dichotomy that walks alongside losing someone you love. The following words are my hearts voice: 

Steven was a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, he was my big brother. He is a son, a grandchild, a nephew, husband, daddy, an uncle, and a friend. He was my friend. 

If you knew him, you’d know he wasn’t any cookie cutter mold of what society thinks of as normal. But, that’s what made him, well, him. He could be out there at times, but he was passionate. He had such a tremendous heart. He loved his family deeply, and he valued himself as a protector. He would do just about anything for those he loved. 

I know that many of us feel like this is a nightmare, one we wish we could simply wake up from. It feels so surreal, and it’s hard to even believe at this point. 

In his honor and memory, I would like to ask and challenge each person here to live life on purpose. Be intentional with your time. Love people like tomorrow isn’t promised. Tell them you love them. Make sure you know what they mean to you. Treat people with compassion and kindness, and make sure people know their value. 

None of us know how much we mean to others. But when I looked around the room last night at the visitation, and I look around the room right now, I see love. I see people who my big brother touched in some way, shape or form. He had a tremendous impact on this earth, and his absence this side of Heaven leaves a giant Steven shaped hole in a lot of hearts. Nothing can or ever will take his place. And it shouldn’t. 

One of the last things I want to leave you with is a reminder. It’s okay to not always be okay. It’s okay to hurt, and to mourn a loss of someone pretty incredible. Just don’t stay in that place forever. Connect with other people, and connect with hope. Celebrate that he lived, don’t only mourn that he died. 

Please, do not ever forget my big brother. Let’s always strive to remember all the good, or even downright amusing moments that bring joy and make us smile or laugh. Those same moments may also bring tears at times, and that’s okay. 

Heaven welcomed an incredible person, and I’m proud to be his little sis. I know we’ll all miss him greatly, but we’ll be okay somehow, because we have each other, and none of us will carry his loss alone. Thank you.

I meant every word. Though miles apart, we knew love. He often joked that I was his little big sister, because he was able to come to me with “some really big shit” and he knew I would be honest, and I would help him in any way I could. He also knew he could trust me to tell him the truth, even if he didn’t really want to hear it. 

That’s what love is. Love does. It’s an action word. My brother walked through hell on earth, but he wasn’t alone as he traversed his tornados. Even literal tornados – just ask me about his treehouse one day. 

Just as he wasn’t alone, none of us traverse life’s most difficult whirlwinds alone. 

I won’t lie though; right now, life feels really heavy. It hurts. I think of Heaven, and I long for the reunion(s) that will one day happen there. But, reality then sets in, the here and now reminds me that life isn’t always fair, fun, or even good – and sometimes I’m just sad, really sad. And, I know that’s okay too. 

I will echo something I’ve said a lot of times. I firmly believe we were created as community people. To know others, and to be known. To love, and to be loved. The key here is: not alone. I’ve been reminded a great deal very recently – it’s okay to not always be okay. 

Grief needs to happen, and what grief looks like is very individual. If you’re sad, know that it’s okay. If you’re hurting, know that the pain won’t always feel as intense as it does in these moments. I’m there. I get it. These words are as much for me as the next person reading this. 

With that all in mind, let me share an open invitation: please walk with me. Don’t greet my pain with silence. Give my heart a voice, even if that voice may be a little shaky. I need you. 

And let me offer that same hand of friendship – If you need someone who won’t ever give up on you, and who will simply sit with you in your pain- allow me that honor. 

The Date That Would Alter Realities

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 This is the face of hope…of courage…of faith. This is my beautiful, then 4 year old daughter, Janet. Until this day, she had never had a hair cut in her life. Cancer treatment would take her hair away, and eventually her life. But, the smile you see here – it never really faded. She had a smile that could melt an iceberg.

This day in history. On some calendars, it is merely but a day. On mine, it will forever mark the day (four years ago today, if you’re reading this in 2017) – that our lives changed forever. It was this day, 2013, that our sweet little Janet was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That was the day that life as we knew it – it would never be the same. The normal we once knew, would never be heard from, or seen again.
 
From that day forward, however, we would also learn an indescribable love.
Yes, this journey would become not a sprint, but a marathon. A journey of epic proportions. A journey so painful, it is hard to breathe some days…but so full of love. It would be the beginning of our journey fighting childhood cancer alongside Janet. She was so very loved, and never alone — and knew both of these things to be truth.
 
With all the love in the world, it’s still a journey marked by intense pain and heartbreak. This day, 2013, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor…and three years later, she would breath her last breath this side of Heaven. Friends, I hate the fact that this is our reality. It shatters my heart, and I wish with everything I am that life wasn’t this way.
 
But, it is…and here we are. Continuing to breath, and continuing to have a heart that beats. I made some statements and promises to Janet just before she died. I told her that we were going to miss her like crazy, like there’s no tomorrow…and that it would hurt when she was gone, but that we would be okay, because we’d be together. I did tell her that we would ALWAYS #RememberTheLove. And, that is a promise I will never break.
 
For those of you following, and who share love and support – and also prayers, it is with heartfelt gratitude that I say thank you. Please, please don’t ever stop.