Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Thanks: Memories and Moments

My parents' cabin in the woods - Calcis, AL
As I get older, time seems to move at a much faster pace, as if it's snowballing year after year, gaining momentum.  Sometimes, it's almost as though it's barreling on ahead and I'm running behind, trying to catch it.  I think this is why I love photographs so much, and why my love for photography continues to grow.  I want to capture it all, every detail.  I want to take it all in and, in some ways, a photograph gives me something we all long for: a frozen moment in time.
My maternal grandmother [whom I call mom] was granted custody of me when I was around a year old.  She was a vietnam war widow in her very early forties, having [almost] finished raising three girls of her own.  And so, I spent the first decade of my life in a brick home on a culdesac.  She remarried when I was 7 and soon after, they began secretly plotting our move to the woods.  I say "secretly" because I was, in fact, included on any of these plans, I don't remember it.  I just remember the day we got in the car and drove for what felt like forever to see this old, abandoned structure that they were giddy over.  Long ago, someone had placed shoddy wooden siding over the large, square logs.  The roof had caved in and the floors on the lower level had rotted, exposing the earth below.  Vines were growing up around and in it.  It was 1985.  This was going to be our new home.   Eventually. You know, because being nine wasn't weird enough... My parents labored over the next year on their dream home, tearing it down log by log and having it moved to the twelve acres they'd purchased even farther in the woods.  I remember very little about this time... I remember a yard sale in the cul de sac when our house was on the market.  I remember the anxiety - and dread - of changing schools.  Mostly, I remember the awkward horror of having to live in a tiny camping trailer with my parents in the months between our house selling and the cabin being finished.  My stepdad had taken a year off work to complete construction with the goal of having the original portion of the cabin completely rebuilt and restored by Thanksgiving, 1986.
Now, I wish I could tell you that I have such wonderful memories of that first Thanksgiving huddled in our cozy cabin in the woods.  And I could... but it would be a lie.  The truth is, I have exactly zero memories of that first Thanksgiving in the cabin.  Again, I was ten.  And now that I am the mother of an [almost] ten year old daughter, I can attest to the fact that at that age, you are in your own little world.  If your immediate needs are met, then your mind is often elsewhere. At ten, I couldn't have possibly appreciated their labor of love or the work of my stepdad's hands.  In fact, it would take another sixteen years and his sudden, tragic passing to make me gaze upon that home with new eyes.  By the time I was a teenager, it felt cozy to me.  In my late teens and early 20s, I loved holidays huddled around the fire.  But after his passing, I began to love what the cabin represented to my parents, and to him.  I began to love the fact that, after he was gone, he was still in every part of the home.  The rafters that hold up the tin roof are trees that they cut down and skinned together; the stones in the hearth are ones they hand-selected from the property and lay themselves; they stairs going up to the loft are trees cut in half and the railings are smaller, skinned trees.
Over the years, it became more than a cabin in the woods, and more than just a home.  And I don't have a just one memory that stands out, but thousands.  I cannot choose just one favorite memory, but I can share a favorite moment.  It's the moment before the feasting begins, whether Thanksgiving or Christmas.  All of us, at least twenty in numbers, cram in, circle up, hold hands and pray.

Giving thanks. Always.
"Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
~ Ephesians 5:20  

Friday, November 15, 2013

In the Middle of Redemption - A Marriage Restored

"You will restore my life again..."  ~ Psalm 71:20
I am getting married tomorrow. 
And to be honest, it’s rendering me speechless. I am in bewildered awe of what the Lord has done and the last few weeks have left me a little bit undone trying to take it in.
It’s been almost fourteen years since we stood at the altar and established a covenant. It is a covenant that the Lord remained faithful to, even in the midst of my outright faithlessness and unfaithfulness.
I can’t wrap my brain – or my heart – around that kind of faithfulness. This kind of love. This kind of joy. Oh, how He loves us. Even in spite of us. Regardless of what we have done or who we have been. Regardless of what kind of mess we have made in our own lives or in the lives of others, He is faithful. He will do what He says He will do, even when we have done nothing to do deserve it.
Even when we have done everything in our power to un-deserve it…
In the darkest, most broken moments of my life, He would whisper His promises of restoration and redemption to me. So much like a father, gently urging his child to trust him. And so much like a child, I’d try and fail. Time and time again. I’d make a mess of my life over and over and over again and He remained steadfast. Unchanging. It was a tattered and torn journey, this path from divorce to reconciliation.
To look back, I can see His sovereign grace guiding every step – and yes, every misstep. Ultimately guiding me home.
People have asked me what it’s like to fall in love all over again. I tell them that it’s really much more like how I imagine one would feel after being lost and wandering in the wilderness for years, then being found and brought home. Everything about being home would feel both new and familiar, routine and extraordinary, and underneath it all – a constant, nearly overwhelming gratefulness that you were found and a profound, life altering gratitude for your home.
I am home. 
In recent days, random people have sent me messages urging me to write it all out – to tell our story in full. ”Someday,” I tell them. For now, I don’t even know where to begin.
And so, as I sit to write and new words won’t come yet, I look back at the thousands of words I wrote through the years. And I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that He moved me to write, to keep a record of His faithfulness – knowing that even today, He is weaving these old words in with my present reality and giving us a story, a testimony, a ministry - so that one day, people may see and hear and put their trust in Him.
Tomorrow doesn’t mark the end of anything, but a new beginning and the fulfillment of a promise spoken to me nearly five years ago.

Excerpt from Summer 2009:
The end of our marriage was a battle. Emotionally. Spiritually. We had been caught in a repetitive cycle of trying and failing and giving up and trying again. My relationship with Chris mirrored my relationship with Christ and I went through that vicious cycle – of confession and repentance and then, inevitably, failure – my failure – more times than I can count, each time more brutal than the one before. Until there was nothing left – nothing for him to give – nothing for me to take. Until we were both standing in the midst of the rubble of our life together and each waving our own white flags of utter defeat.
And then, we retreated. He, into quiet anger and bitterness, and me, further into darkness and shame and failure.
I think, in some ways, I naively believed that God would somehow, finally leave me alone now. That I had somehow finally disappointed Him past the point of His forgiveness. I would be own my own, able to choose my own path for my life. It was my first legitimate taste of so-called ‘freedom’ and yet, it didn’t feel like freedom at all. In fact, it felt just the opposite.

For the last year, I have busied myself with life, my kids, with friends, exercise… with anything and everything I could. I have moved at a pace that never allowed for a quiet moment. I couldn’t bare the thought of lying still. I was terrified that of what that moment would bring. I didn’t want to feel anything. I used everything and everyone in my life to self-medicate and avoid anything below the surface.
Needless to say, no one can move at such a pace for too long. And the moment that I paused to reflect, to allow myself to see even a glimpse of my own heart, it was even worse than I’d feared. And the heartache was compounded by the resounding reality of finality. It was too late.
I was divorced. I was a single mother. These are the circumstances – no, the consequences – that I would have to live with, that my children would have to live with. Indefinitely. Maybe forever.
I did what I do best: I candy coated this harsh reality for myself and for others, making it shiny and sweet. I consoled myself with the thoughts of how much worse things could have been or could be still. And this worked, for a time – from time to time. But it was clear to me, as it had been for years, that God really was not going to leave me alone.
“I – we- have made a terrible mistake“, I finally, reluctantly confessed to Him – and to myself – one night in prayer.
Yes, you have. It wasn’t an audible answer, of course. Nor was it harsh, but more of a simple, emphathetic nodding – the same way I imagine a real father, like Chris, would comfort his daughter, like our chloe, after realizing she had made a tragic, life-altering choice.
He ached not only for me, but with me and I felt it. But I also felt something else. Something that had been foreign to me for some time: hope. “Hope only in Me”, He said, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12 NIV) I contemplated these words. Affliction – check.
I had one out of six down… I’d have to work on the others…
It would be another three years before I purchased a ring for my left hand that [providentially] had this same scripture engraved on it.  Three more years riddled with more mistakes and wrong turns than I can count, and yet it was all of these years collectively that He was engraving this scripture on my heart – changing me, transforming me into a woman who could not just read these words, but by His grace –

one who can live them.
“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” ~ Psalm 9:1

original pospt: