I will KEEP remembering

This blog has been a bigger blessing in my life than I anticipated when I began writing. Sharing my journey has helped me make real connections with people going through similar trials. It has helped me know how many people are supporting me around the world which makes me feel less alone and isolated. Another thing I have appreciated, as I hit the 1 year anniversary of various milestones, is that it has captured my thoughts and feelings through this year. I can look back and read posts about my surgery or feeling scared before my first chemo infusion. I can relive some of the grief from lost dreams because I have chosen to be honest in this forum. Being able to look back helps me to look forward and that will be the topic of this Storm Survival post.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a post titled: I will remember. That was not a good season. That was an especially bad day. I was just starting chemo and it was going…well as good as chemo can go…but life outside of cancer had just become excruciating. I was broken. I was overwhelmed by everything that was coming at me. I didn’t have the capacity to deal with or process things that I needed to. I spent a lot of time in bed or on the couch in a daze. Breathing seemed to take too much effort. But I chose to write a post about remembrance. I believe in a good and faithful God, who is bigger than my circumstances, who has worked miracles and loves me more than I can imagine. A God of redemption. When my life was falling apart I chose to lift my eyes and remember the works and miracles of the past. His character hasn’t changed just because my life circumstances are hard.

I re-read that post…remembering all the pain I was feeling in that moment…and thinking some things have changed…some things haven’t. I had no idea what was in store for me over the next year when I wrote that. I had no idea what would still be stripped away and what I would need to surrender. I had no idea that God was actively training my heart to rely ONLY on him because the biggest tests were coming and I would be forced to my knees like never before. I had no idea that I would be able to point to practical examples of God’s protection of me. That I would be pushed completely out of my capacity into his and he really would sustain me…through the most difficult season I have ever faced…and am still facing.

I am not the same person I was a year ago. Only by God’s grace I am a better version of myself. This year has been scorching but it is solidifying who I am as a woman and a child of God. But the act of remembrance is one I need to renew and struggle with every morning. It wasn’t just a nice thought a year ago but the beginning of a continual process of calling to mind God’s faithfulness when my life circumstances want to pull my eyes down to my own hardships. This is an excerpt from my post a year ago:

Psalm 77
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.
1 I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted.
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion? ”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.

11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy.
What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
you display your power among the peoples.
15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God,
the waters saw you and writhed;
the very depths were convulsed.
17 The clouds poured down water,
the heavens resounded with thunder;
your arrows flashed back and forth.
18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
your lightning lit up the world;
the earth trembled and quaked.
19 Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters,
though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

At this particular moment I feel like I am living in the first half of this psalm (vs 1-10). Where my spirit is grieving and weary. It is difficult to be comforted or to find the strength to carry on. Sleep is hard to come by and it is impossible to know what to do. Except remember. I will choose to remember the ways God has worked in my life and the power/miracles he has displayed throughout time. This is not overly spiritualized my heart is still heavy…but I know my God. I know he is the giver of life and redemption. I know he can move mountains and pray fervently for transformation and provision.  And with this remembrance comes the peace of knowing it will not always be this way.

Once again…Psalm 77 by Kristin Serafini

I would love to say that after a year all my struggles are in the past. Unfortunately that is not the case. I am, however, in a different place. I have my moments of grief but I don’t feel like I am trapped any longer in the overwhelming, emotional cycle of the first 10 verses. It is easier for me to see and hold on to how faithful God has been through the generations and in my life. Again, note that I said easIER…because I still have to fight against my pride and desire to control things. It is not easy for me to truly let go but I am learning every day that that is the only way to true freedom. There is a mountain being moved in my life. It is still in process and in general it isn’t fun but God REALLY is moving a mountain. So I will keep remembering…I will keep clinging…I will keep hoping.

Practical tips:

  1. I have a list of the very real, very practical ways I have seen God provide and protect me this past year. When I doubt, when I am scared, when I am losing hope I read it. I remember the faithfulness of the past and wait expecting the same for the future…even when I can’t see the path yet.
  2. Sometimes “remembering” is hearing someone else’s testimony about how God has transformed their heart and life. Everyone’s story is different but hearing the ways God has worked helps keep me going. There are so many but here are a few I would recommend “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom (This book will give you an amazing perspective on what Thanksgiving is), “Blood Brothers” by Elias Chacour (Finding God’s hope for reconciliation in a difficult region), “A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken (Read this one with a box of tissue…but definitely read it)
  3. Once again with the journaling. 🙂 Nothing tells you how far you have come like a record of where you have been.
  4. No other practical suggestions except do what you can to get up every morning…it wont always be like this.

Here’s to surviving another week,

Lynnea

 

Allowing space to grieve

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Old_Man_in_Sorrow

Vincent van Gogh – Old Man In Sorrow

Grief. It isn’t pleasant but it is an inevitable part of our life if we choose to invest our heart and care about anything. In general our society does not deal very well with it. We avoid it. We judge it. We numb it. No wonder people choose to harden their hearts and keep them locked away. It is safer that way. Grief hurts. It is a natural response to loss. Losing dreams. Losing people. Losing your reality and adjusting to a new life. And the process of grieving is unique to each person.

I am in a course right now and we just completed a section on grieving. In general we tend to experience/judge emotions based on our family upbringing. If anger or tears weren’t acceptable then you might have a tendency to judge those aspects of your grieving process. For me, I want to hit the fast forward button and get to the healed part. I know the emotions themselves are OK and necessary…I just don’t like being in the midst of them. However, experiencing them, in their natural timing, is the only way through them. Big sigh.

If you are grieving yourself or someone in your life is, it can be difficult to know how to ask people to relate to you…or know what to say. The material I am studying gave permission to share these tips with “family and friends”…maybe sharing them on the blog is a liberal interpretation of that. I hope not because they are useful. I didn’t write them but I don’t feel comfortable revealing the source because it’s too personal.

To be helpful, those dealing with a grieving individual should…

  1. Normalize what they are going through.
  2. Not throw Scripture band-aids at the grieving individual (even with good intentions)
  3. Refrain from telling the person that they know exactly how they feel.
  4. Let them talk about it if they want to, while being respectful if they don’t.
  5. Keep from making assumptions about anything
  6. Encourage them that one day their pain will be manageable – And it REALLY will be
  7. Give them hope for better days, but be realistic about the time frame. (The first year is difficult the second may be a bit easier)
  8. Continue to support them over time without expectations.
  9. Call and leave messages without expecting to hear from the hurting one.

Basically, give them freedom and space to be authentic with their feelings without griefjudgement. Because grief can come from SO many different places. It can be having something irreplaceable destroyed or stolen. A miscarriage. Your security in your home or health might have been taken. Loss of a cherished pet. The key is being honest with the feelings and allowing them to pass through you because experiencing them is the only way to move beyond them. If you don’t…then they will continue to influence your life in negative ways. I go back to this post I wrote about the hidden beauty of pain. I truly think that we need to allow ourselves the space to experience the hard emotions in order to experience the positive. Otherwise we just get numb. And personally I would rather experience pain/joy than nothing.

So here are a few practical tips:

  1. Again I am going to come back to the journaling – write it out. If you tend to judge your feelings ask yourself why? Do you think you should be feeling something different than you are? Do you think you should be over it by now?
  2. Read “A grief observed” by CS Lewis if you need to normalize the pain you are experiencing
  3. Scale back on commitments if necessary. Give yourself some space but be aware if the space is turning into isolation and depression. You might need a professional to help you sort through your feelings. That is not weakness but courage to face the real issues head on and recognizing that you can’t do it alone.
  4. Know that there is hope. I am still in the midst of the storm but I feel the tide shifting. Things are hard but not as hard as they used to be. There is a small part of me starting to believe everyone who told me “I wont always feel like this”.

Here’s to surviving another week,

Lynnea

//

Find your center

I think one of the hardest things to do in difficult season…or maybe in our busy, noisy, distracted western lives in general…is to find our center. This sounds all Zen but from what I can tell it comes down to a single question. Who are you? Who are you when no one is looking? Who are you when you are free to make choices without external expectations? And are you OK with that person regardless of what other people think? It is easy to get pulled in a million different directions by responsibilities and life and to lose ourselves amidst the chaos. When a crisis hits we then become swept away by a tidal wave of fear or grief and get kicked around by the waves. The wind and waves of life are inevitable and unless we know what our center/anchor is they can move us from where we want to be without us realizing it.

I picture it kind of like a buoy in the ocean. When the wind and the waves come it will be a rough ride for a while but if your anchor stays in tact…you wont shift very far. If the anchor breaks or you never had one to begin with you might wind up in uncharted waters or on the beach. Either place you are no longer where you want to be and ultimately ineffective.

navigation buoy

My center is defined by my faith.

Who am I? Well, I am Lynnea. Nice to meet you. 🙂 I am absolutely known and loved by my God. Even though I’ve done my best in this life, I screw up A LOT and rely completely on God’s grace and forgiveness to bridge the gap from me to Him. I trust that as I wake up everyday He will help me to become the best version of myself but it will be a life long process.

This might sound overly spiritual but by defining myself this way my anchor is stable despite my circumstances. My choices then flow from this anchor point. I am currently attempting to:

  • fight for love and forgiveness/fight against anger and bitterness even when it is difficult…it sometimes seems impossible
  • try to be authentic even when it is scary – example: this blog
  • fight to keep my heart soft and vulnerable even when fear of pain can tell me to keep it safe and tucked away
  • live my life according to the principles outlined in the Bible…even when it doesn’t make sense to people around me.
  • practice thankfulness
  • daily recognize that I will continue to fail miserably in all these things but it does not keep me from continuing to try

I don’t do these things perfectly by any means…and actually I can’t do any of them without God’s grace…but as I fight for them he is faithful to provide the strength and transform my heart. Notice that they are all internal not external activities like: wife, engineer, success, intelligence, etc. They are all good things and am thankful that they add to my life but I don’t find my center in them anymore. (I’ve tried in the past…it doesn’t work) They can easily be stripped away and then I find myself beached.

Also notice that I use the verb fight a few times because life has a way of making these choices difficult. I have to fight against my own selfishness. I have to recognize that even though circumstances can be excruciating…the only control I have is over my own reaction. I can respond from my wounded places or fight to attempt to respond from a life giving place (very very hard – but ultimately worth it). Fight against a culture that will abandon something once it “no longer works for me”…but really believe/hope that God will keep his promise to work all things out for my benefit.

It’s not always easy and requires intentional choices but living in our center is where we are the most FREE.

OK, now how do you find your center. Excellent question. I don’t believe that everyone reading this is Christian so I will try to keep the tips more general.

Practical Tips:

  1. Can you answer the question “Who am I?” If not maybe carve out some quiet space for 15 minutes a day to either write or pray about this. And if your first response is a role you have (wife, engineer, artist) maybe try to dig a bit deeper. What kind of a person do you want to be? What makes you want to be that person?
  2. Take a hard look at your choices and actions. Do they reflect the answer you gave to question 1? Or do they show something different? Sometimes we can mentally define ourselves one way but our choices show our true heart.
  3. If there are behaviors you want to change set your intention. Maybe tell someone. Write it on a piece of paper or put something somewhere to remind you. (Similar to a tip on Practicing Thankfulness)
  4. Go for a walk without head phones/music. It’s springtime and (hopefully) sunny…new life is everywhere. Listen to the birds. Some how walking always helps me to refocus and clear my head.

Happy Wednesday and here’s to surviving another week.

Blessings,

Lynnea

It wont always be like this

“It won’t always be like this”…A phrase I have heard countless times this past year and one that has even escaped my mouth once or twice. 🙂 I recognize the truth of the words and hold on to the hope of a better tomorrow. But what are you supposed to do when it is “like this” and tomorrow isn’t here yet? How do you live well in the midst of a storm season you would rather not be in? Excellent question. And one that I have found does not have an easy answer. Sorry. It takes time and patience. Two things that don’t fit well in our “I want it now” culture.

I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel. It was amazing to walk places Jesus walked and to put some of the bible stories in context. It was frustrating to see how “Religion” and icons have taken over many holy places. The bible said Jesus sneezed here once…Let’s build a church! OK that’s an exaggeration but it doesn’t feel too far from the truth. It was humbling to reflect on the span of history that God has been operating in…Exodus…Solomon’s Temple…Jesus…Present Day…Many many thousands of years. I truly am just a breath in the grand scheme of things. It was inspiring (and sometimes exhausting) to meet new friends and share stories.

One thing I learned very profoundly on this trip – it’s not about me. If you have followed my writing this year you will notice there are a lot of references to the desert and the desert season I am in. Waiting. Hoping. Trusting. I don’t like my desert season and I would rather exit it as fast as possible. I wasn’t sure what I would learn on this trip but I was hoping God would give me a clear view of what I am working towards…what I am waiting for…my personal promised land. He didn’t. What He did do is shift my eyes from my life and problems  to His big picture (At least what my finite mind can comprehend). His character does not depend on my circumstances. I didn’t get my end game but a historical lesson in His love, faithfulness, protection and redemption that rolled over me like a tidal wave. It’s really not about me. I left Israel feeling like God spoke these words to my heart:

“I am not going to give you the end because I am asking you to stay close and follow me. I know it is frustrating. I WILL work all things out for your good. I am leading you to still waters and green pastures but sometimes the path there requires a stint over rocky inhospitable terrain. There is a bigger plan trust that I know where I’m going…this season will end…just not today.” – God

Deep sigh…OK. I get it…at least for right now. I will probably need to be reminded tomorrow. But my question from the beginning is still relevant. How do I have hope for a better tomorrow while still trying to do life in a today I would like to change?

Practical Tips:

  1. Be honest with yourself and God. Every morning and evening…and many times through out the day my prayers go something like: Lord you know me, and you know my heart…you know the pain and my desires for tomorrow. Take the pieces of my heart and life…Heal me. Help me to hear your voice and surrender to your path. Wash, rinse, repeat…this is not easy.
  2. The repetitiveness of waiting can become overwhelming. Plan things to look forward to. Break up the routine. It can be a trip or a coffe break at a favorite cafe. As big or as little as you are able.
  3. I like the devotional “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. Some small moments every morning helping us tune into the voice of Jesus. It helps me to focus on His character rather than my issues.
  4. When I hear of people talk about their “Waiting” times they are rarely completely absent of activity. Most of the time there are specific things you can engage that will challenge and grow you as a person. For me I am getting more invested in my church and I took a huge risk by launching my jewelry website.

Please pass on suggestions for your own strategies for navigating the “Waiting” periods in the comments section. What gets you out of bed and inspired for the day?

If you are interested please check out my Tree of Life website HERE. Sorry for the abscence of photos…I haven’t had time to upload and process them from my trip. Here’s to another week.

Blessings,

Lynnea

Colors of Hope

The colors of hopeSince I am travelling I don’t have time for my normal Storm Survival post…and it is a day late. 🙂 But I am going to write a quick review of the book that has been the biggest inspiration for me walking through this season. I first read this book, Colors of Hope by Richard Dahlstrom in December of 2011. (You can check it out in more detail here) It was at a time in my life when things were pretty “easy”. I was working in Europe…we were traveling when we wanted to…living an expat life can be lonely and isolating but all things considered it was good. However, everything felt a bit empty. It is hard to describe. I could do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it but I wasn’t investing anywhere and without that life was pretty selfish and seemed to lack direction.

This book is a call for Christians to be artists in this world…to paint our lives with the gifts God has given us and to truly share mercy, justice and love with the people around us. Artists! People who create beauty. People who share real hope for redemption and transformation. It was as if something in my heart was waking up and my eyes shifted from myself to actively looking for ways I could paint beauty on this world. I was inspired.

THEN came cancer…do I still want to be an artist with hope knowing now how much I can’t control? Yes. Absolutely. And the door opened with this little ‘ol blog to share my thoughts along the way.

THEN the chasm went deeper with a marriage crisis and separation…Crap, do I still want to be an artist with mercy and forgiveness when that seems like the last thing I want? Gulp…harder…but again YES. Absolutely.

This book and this year have transformed my heart and my faith. The colors we, as Christians, are asked to paint with are not trivial. They can be hard choices. But there is real hope and redemption in the suffering. I just re read this book through the lens of all the securities that were stripped out of my life…and the words still pierced my heart…in fact I read them with more urgency. Through all the hardships I have felt more freedom, more joy, more love than ever in my life and honestly I can’t help but share. Not to convince people of a path but to be authentic and let people judge for themselves if it is true. Because no one will believe that Christianity is good news until it is at least different news.

Blessings,

Lynnea

Write it out

I guess before I was a “blogger” I was already a writer…but in journals and much more personal. It was a big step to send some of those thoughts out to the internet for y’all. Journaling is freeing. I don’t have to worry about grammar or whether my thoughts flow and make sense. I am free to just pour my feelings out on the page. I find that the physical act of writing focuses me and helps me to process through emotions. When I am left to just think my brain can run away and wind up in an endless spin cycle. Writing helps my thoughts have a direction.

Here are some of the benefits I have found with journaling…especially during a storm season. 1. I can look back and see how far I have come. How God has answered prayers and how I have been transformed as a person 2. It keeps feelings from being trapped inside 3. I found more acceptance for myself. If I wanted to write about the same feeling 2 days in a row…2 weeks…2 months in a row it didn’t matter. I was free to be honest without judgment. If I wanted to draw pictures…I drew pictures. It was a space to explore myself. I could write to myself…to God…to other people in my life. Sometimes I transferred these thoughts to e-mails most times I didn’t. 4. When I see the words on a page they become more real to me and often I need that. I have written sentences and just sat and started at them waiting for the reality to sink in. One from a year ago:

“I am 31 and I have Breast Cancer”.

I would come back to that over and over until it was no longer shocking…until I was able to accept my new reality.

Starting to journal can be a bit intimidating if you’re not used to it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let go of the idea of there being a “right” way to journal. You can even start your journal by writing “I’m not really sure how this is going to turn out for me but…” Write questions, write emotions, write hopes/dreams, write prayers. This is for you. Don’t judge yourself if you don’t write everyday or fill volumes and volumes. Use it as a tool to get to know yourself and document your process.
  • Buy a journal you like and are inspired by. I like to collect my thoughts in beautiful books. Some people are content with a plain sketch book or want their journals to be all the same. I select a journal by how I am feeling at the moment I am starting it. This is a photo of my last 3 journals (all of them by Paper Blanks):Photo1(4)The blue one I selected when I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer…I wanted something soothing and calming The orange/brown one I selected when I was exploring my desert season The illuminated Gutenberg Bible (Genesis) is the one I am just starting because right now I am holding on to how God has been faithful through the generations.
  • Use a pen you like to write with. I like Gel Rollers. The words just seem to glide from the end. 🙂
  • Find an inspiring location. Maybe it’s a park…maybe it’s a café…maybe it’s in a chair in the sun.

Happy writing.

Lynnea

Active Waiting

On Monday, I wrote about a song that has inspired my “waiting” this year and today I am going to write about how to be active while you wait. Actively waiting may seem like a bit of a contradiction but our storm/desert seasons are profound moments God uses to mold and shape us.

Waiting is not a very popular attitude. Waiting is not something that people think about with great sympathy. In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time. Perhaps this is because the culture in which we live is basically saying, “Get going! Do something! Show you are able to make a difference! Don’t just sit there and wait!” For many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go. And people do not like such a place. They want to get out of it by doing something…

From “Waiting for God” by Henri JM Nouwen

Waiting. Everyone has had to do it. Waiting for the elevator. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for someone. Waiting for a situation to change. Waiting for treatment to be over. Waiting for healing. We don’t like waiting because by definition there is something we want that we can’t have (yet). We become focused on what we are waiting for…either by trying to get there faster or by trying “not to think about it”. This type of focus takes a lot of energy.

When I was in Jordan this past fall (if you’re interested you can read about it here) I was often reminded of the 40 years the Hebrew people spent in the wilderness before God allowed them to enter the promised land. 40 years?! Yikes…that’s a long time to be waiting. They were oppressed and captives in Egypt…God performed some powerful miracles to break them free…God promised to establish them in a land flowing with “milk and honey” (read: pretty sweet place 🙂 )…and then had them wait in the desert…and not just wait for a year or two but 4 decades. I imagine I would lose hope because right now I can get frustrated with waiting for a month or two. But Israel actually needed this waiting period. They weren’t going to go from slaves to an independent nation overnight they actually needed a season to grow and become ready…a desert season.

It got me thinking about my own current desert season and how much time I spend focused on what I am waiting for…my “promised land”. I have absolutely no control over certain things in my life and I have to continually let them go. When I let go and admit there’s nothing I can do to influence the waiting time it is easy for me to down shift into a passive mindset. “Things will happen the way they are going to happen…I just need to sit back and let it unfold.” While there are certain things I need to let go of there are probably many opportunities to embrace my own internal change.

Next question…how do you figure out what you would like to or need to work on?

  1. Were there choices you made that got you into the storm season? Do you know why you made them? This may be an opportunity to explore and understand some of the wounds in your life and see how they have influenced your path. With understanding comes the ability to make better choices in the future.
  2. Get to know God better…Book recommendations: The Bible (maybe try The Message translation), “The Jesus I never Knew” by Philip Yancey, “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis, “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer. Get to know yourself better…take a personality test (www.humanmetrics.com) find out where you get energy and how you make decisions.
  3. Is there something you would like to study? or need to study? Maybe it’s time to go back to school for another degree. Maybe it’s joining a hobby course. Read some non-fiction books. Maybe it is teaching yourself a new skill. Is there something you have just always wanted to know more about? Photography, Cooking, Painting, etc. Take a step back out of the reality of your life. If you didn’t have all the practical constraints what would you love to do? If you can’t answer that…give yourself a little bit of space to soul search. OK, now mentally step back into reality and see if there is a creative way to work your interests in.
  4. Evaluate your fears. What are they keeping you from? Do you need to move? Change churches? Step out of people’s expectations? Has life become too “safe”? For years people have been telling me that I should sell my jewelry. I always said no because I didn’t want to turn my hobby into a job and take the fun out of it. Reasonable right? I sat back last month and was very honest with myself…Is that the whole reason? No, not totally. I was insecure that what I made would never be good enough and fears that people wouldn’t actually want to pay for them? What if they criticize me? How do I put myself out there like that? Well…I can tell you that after living through this last year I had to laugh at myself a little bit. Seriously, what is a bad review in the grand scheme of things? 🙂 So, I decided to give it a whirl…I will use the money I raise to fly home to Seattle more often and I can always stop if I don’t like it. This is part of my “living” in 2013. I will start with my trees but might expand to other items. You can look for the store opening sometime in mid-April. Get excited.
  5. Are there disciplines you want to explore? Yoga, running, meditation?
  6. There are some interesting practical tips on active waiting at www.selfgrowth.com

If you have any other suggestions for “active waiting” please leave them in the comments section. Til next Wednesday.

Blessings,

Lynnea

PS – You can follow this link for a sneak peak at my online store – Burning Brightly
I will be out of town until the middle of April but will open it up for sales then…eek it’s really happening 🙂