This past year contained much of the same struggles as the years before.
But this year was a little different than the ones before it. This year has brought changes, changes in me.
I have found a deeper well of faith, a securer confidence in who I am, and especially who I am in Christ.
I have found grace, grace that I did not know could exist, for those who have betrayed, wishing them well (and really meaning it) on their journey.
I have learned to walk with my head held high despite the pain.
I have learned of a Hope that never fails, a hope that looks for the other side of pain, the side that brings perspective.
I have learned I carry His peace,, despite the swirling chaos that can surround me.
I have learned that I possess a strength that is pretty remarkable.
I have learned that women are more potent than most of them know.
And as I turn the page to a new year and a new chapter, I will carry those lessons with me.
I will carry His peace as I encounter discord that pain and brokenness always bring with it. Because this peace is a peace that brings clarity to our broken hearts.
I will tightly hold onto a hope that is hard pressed to my being, as if it was sweetly branded into my soul where depsair once was.A hope that sustains ALL levels of devastation, knowing that GOD will redeem all things according to his purpose, even that despair.
I will draw from that well of faith that grows deeper with each use, knowing God does not fail.
I will walk in my innate femininity, not hiding it as a point of weakness, but fully embracing it as a source of strength, knowing that God himself has empowered and endorsed and approved those skills that He has weaved into to me, to lead and empower those around me. And knowing that I am made in His image, as well.
I will walk in My God given identity as the "tip of the arrow". And even as I am plunged into darkness, I will remember that the tip of the arrow is only plunged into darkness when it has hit its mark.
I will walk in confidence knowing that even as I fall, I will stand back up, knowing this confidence all comes from God's divine infusion of strength.
These things I carry with me, looking ahead to the adventure that this new chapter begins
2 Corinthians 4:7
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay toshow that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us."
Happy New year!
I read A LOT! Different articles from a variety of different sources. Liberal, conservative, christian, atheist, right, left, up, down, and everything in between.
I hear christians proclaim emphatically that our Founding Fathers were believers and this country was founded on christian ideals, etc.
Then I read from others that the founding fathers were not christians but agnostic or atheist or humanist.
Of course, both sides have credible resources to back up their claim.
So this is what I have been thinking...
WHAT IF everyone is right?
WHAT IF... our founding fathers were men who followed Christ, AND men who were agnostic, AND men who maybe had no religious preference? BUT YET, they saw the value of humanity to come together and allow each individual the freedom to express their ideas in an environment that valued each other and the liberties to explore.
AND they even fought for their fellow mans freedom to be wrong?
WHAT IF...that is what this country is really about? NOT who is right or wrong, or who is left or right, or who is going to heaven or hell?
WHAT IF...this country is actually about the freedom to walk this journey of life out in the best way we know how?
WHAT IF...this country was founded on the ideas of walking through this life and respecting and valuing the ideas and thoughts of others EVEN when you don't understand or agree?
WHAT IF... those who founded our country actually fought for your freedom to be wrong? As in, men laid down their life, just so you can have freedom to be utterly wrong? Even if your choices were not in alignment with their way of thinking? But they believed so wholeheartedly in freedoms and liberties that they fought tyranny and oppression of the religious and political kind in the divine monarchy?
WHAT IF... we are supposed to fight for other peoples right to be wrong? ALL OF US? Liberal, conservative, christian, atheist, right, left, up, down, black, white, hispanic, and everything in between.
My family has an inside joke based on a fond memory of our grandmother.
Whenever one of us would take her home, we would get to this certain spot on the road, and she would start searching for her keys in her big handbag. It would start with her searching in one pocket, then she would quickly move to another pocket and then another in an almost panic.
I share that trait with my grandmother, that near panic attack when I can’t find something I have lost. I abhor the feeling of having something in my possession and moments later finding I have lost it. I search in panic, frantically going through my past steps to recover whatever was lost. Even if it is a lost shoe, there is still that frantic searching that goes on.
But what happens when you lose something bigger than the shoe, more valuable, more subjective, more ethereal? Where do you go to retrace your steps to find bits of yourself? How do you find “you” when you look up to find it is not what you remember?
WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN YOU NEED TO FIND YOURSELF?
I think so many of us have been here. This is not where I thought I would be. This is not where I thought I was going. Whether it is a tragic accident, an unexpected diagnosis, a houseful of kids, no kids or a broken trust, life never seems to obey the direct path we have set our eyes on … what we planned and dreamed for in our younger years. That young, idealistic self can get lost in the living.
We are often thrown off track or even slightly veered off track only to look up and see that this is not where we want to be, this is not who I thought I would be, this is not where I imagined my path going. And it is in that first look that the panic starts to creep in, regret starts to make itself known.
There is a quiet undoing in this panic of losing yourself. Because then the searching begins.
The things that once seemed so incredibly important loses its brilliance and allure when compared to the desire of a life lived with authenticity and depth.
The search for that life being lived the way the Creator designed us to exist starts in a few tentative steps of asking.
What makes my heart beat fast, what do I love? What are those things that make me feel alive again?
And because the best place to start is with the Creator of my soul, I ask Him, the one that created my heart to beat.
I sit in the silence and ask God to just show up and throw my agenda out the window. I just need to see and hear and feel Him again. I don’t even need the answers, I just want to experience Him and find myself somewhere in Him.
And slowly as I sit with God and seek His face, the panic subsides and He reminds me of who I am and how much I am loved, no matter where I am.
On those many car rides home, not once did my grandmother lose her keys. She always found them, even in her semi-panicked state they were always right where she had put them. And I always smiled because I always trusted she would find them because she had never lost them in the first place.
I wonder if God smiles at our frantic searching … knowing we have not been lost. He has been with us all the way long.
Is it possible that we could just take this day to mourn and reflect and regroup instead of making political or religious statements?
Tragedies and massacres should never be used to further one’s political or religious agenda. Ever.
We don’t need to point fingers and place blame when tragedy has hit our community.
Loved ones have been lost. Lives have been changed dramatically. And yet, some use this opportunity to push their own ideas and agendas.
Now is not the time to preach for or against gun control. Now is not the time to quote bible verses about sin and sinners. Now is not the time to preach against radical islamic teachings.
Now is the time to come together and lean on each other. Now is the time to mourn and offer comfort to those who mourn. Now is the time to pray for strength for the hospital staff who are struggling to save lives.
Now is the time to shine light into the darkness, to bring hope to the hopeless, to speak life to those who are in despair.
Yes, I do have strong political and religious feelings and inclinations, but the value of human life supersedes all of that. There will be a time and place when those views can be expressed but the day of or the day after the tragedy is not the time. For goodness sake's, the bodies have not even been cleared out the building yet. Have some decency. Have some compassion. Have some heart. There is no law in offering kindness. And also love.
Because as a follower of Christ, I am bound by two commandments, “Love God. Love people.’ That’s it!
I wish I could say this whole restoration process was a one and done exercise. But it’s not. This is a lifetime process. Somedays it is 3 steps forward and 2 steps back. Some days it feels like pain just a lot of pain. But then there are days that you see a glorious light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
But that is not today for me.
Today is the 2 steps back.
This moment hurts.
This is where my soul remembers that familiar ache of helplessness and pain, so much pain. But this pain that I hold in my soul is not mine, it is someone else’s. But I feel it all the same as if it were mine. Because it is my child.
My heart aches for my child. As I sat with this beautiful child of mine last night, she told me some of the worries that bounces around her head.
Worries that an 8 year old should not carry. Worries that most adults would have a hard time processing. And as I listened to her, I realized that I could not reach in her mind and capture and quell those ideas and imaginations that torment her. I give her tools and practices to release these worries but she is still young and doesn’t quite grasp these concepts. I want so bad to hug them right out of her, but I am helpless to do so.
So I do what I usually do when I don’t know what to do, I pray.
I pray silent prayers of healing for my child. Healing for her mind. Healing for her body. Healing for her soul.
I want her to see herself through my eyes. I want her to know that she has been rescued from all of these thoughts. I want her to see how much she is loved.
I want so bad to hope for her future but right now I am scared. Scared of what the future holds for her.
But I can not let her know that. Instead, I tell her that I am right there beside her. I am loving her in this and through this. I reassure her that her family is right beside her and loves her. I tell her that I see her pain and I know she is strong, and I will be strong with her.
But the truth is I don’t feel strong. Because if I were strong enough, I could vanquish all of her fears with just my love alone. I feel defeated in this. I feel hopeless and most of all helpless.
But then I am reminded of the higher truth. When I am weak, He is strong. He alone is my hope and my fortress in an ever present struggle. He is the one who heals with His love.
And I have to trust Him. Trust that He hears the silent prayers of this heartbroken mama. Trust that He will heal his precious child. And trust Him to heal her in whatever way He sees fit.
I have nothing left but to trust my God and my Savior.
A few years ago I found myself in a place I never thought I would be.
I was emotionally, mentally and in every other way done. I wish I had another word to describe this feeling I had other than “done.” But for those who have been in that place, no other word is needed.
And I’m not talking about just having a bad day or long season. I mean I was ready to walk. I had lost hope. I had lost all sense of joy. And somewhere along the way, I had lost bits of my soul.
There was no great conflict or problem. No cataclysmic event. Just the stresses of raising a family of six children and building a successful ministry. In fact, from the outside, it probably seemed as if everything was going well. But the truth was that on the inside I was just done with it all.
I looked around at this family and church and lifestyle I had helped to create and I had nothing. Wasn’t giving of yourself supposed to be the path to righteousness? At what point was I supposed to feel at peace? I was equally mad at myself and this culture, because I felt I had been lied to along the way. Where was this joy that is supposed to come out of sacrificing myself? I felt the bitterness start to seep in. I remember thinking if something did not change, I would self-destruct and take my family along with me.
And I knew that could not happen. Something had to change.
And this verse was a steady whisper, echoing within my mind, “What good is it for you to gain the whole world but lose your soul?”
My soul was dying, yet I had no idea how to prevent its last breath from escaping to nothing.
I had been in church for the last 20 years, so how had the health of my soul escaped me? I thought if you prayed and served and gave and sought after all of the good things, then everything would fall into place, your soul would be magically healed and whole and restored.
But it didn’t work for me. And that started my quest to find whole healing of my soul. And like most journeys, it started with small, tentative steps. It started with more fails than triumphs.
There was lots of prayers and lots of tears as I began to find my way back to healing and the restoration of my soul.
I cried out to God and searched for God and prayed He would just make it all better in my soul. But as is often the case, God had a different path of healing. He had a plan of restoration that I had to work through and strive for and fight for, with Him encouraging and guiding me every step of the way.
So these last few years have been a journey to finding healing.
There are so many twists and turns and dead ends and reroutes on this journey, and I know many more to come. And so many lessons along the way. While some are personal for my eyes only, there are some that are universal to share with others.
I have learned about me and the Lover and Creator of my soul.
I have learned to love myself in new ways, and even allow myself to love myself. In turn, I have learned to love these people that surround me as souls created in the image of God.
I have learned there is so much more to this life we live. We are so much more than spiritual or physical beings.
I have learned that we are:
And those parts of us are not mutually exclusive but they exist together in this beautiful dance of a symbiotic, cohesive, interdependent relationship.
I have learned you cannot feed one part of your soul while neglecting the others.
And I have learned it is entirely my responsibility to feed my soul, not my husband’s, not my friends and, most certainly, not my childrens. It is mine and mine alone. My responsibility is to seek out the Creator of my soul and partner in this healing dance. This dance He knows so well, this dance He choreographed for just me and Him, I just have to follow His lead.
My soul does not automatically rejuvenate, it must be fed and cared for and nourished, just like this body and mind and every other aspect of life. And I am the only one who is responsible for the condition of my soul. I am the only one who must give it the sustenance that it needs.
The beginning of this journey was laden with heartache and pain and disappointment. But as God does so beautifully, He turned that turmoil into this beautiful adventure of rediscovering me and rediscovering Him. He created beauty from the ashes. He brought joy out of mourning. He gave hope to this hopeless one.
He restored my soul.
I was not raised in church. Growing up, we went to church occasionally. It was usually Easter and January. But we never went the first week in January because my mom said that she didn’t want people to think that we had made a New Year’s resolution to go to church. We usually went the second or third week. So this whole church culture thing is new to me. And this whole pastor’s wife thing is completely foreign. And for truth’s sake, I really have a hard time with being the pastor’s wife.
I think part of it is not being raised in the church. When I was lead into this role as being THE pastor’s wife, I struggled. I tried to fit in that mold for a time, but it quickly became too confining. Too bound by tradition and expectation.
Because, here is the crux of the issue...I am not my husband’s profession.
I was not created to be a pastor’s wife. I can’t even sing or play an instrument, so I was definitely not created to be a pastor’s wife.
So when I hear a reference to me as the pastor’s wife, I cringe. Really. Part of my insides just shrink a bit. And in fact, I have a joke with some of my close friends that if they refer to me as the pastor’s wife, they have to buy me a drink. See, not very pastor wifely of me, is it?
And here is why I cringe, when people refer to me as the pastor’s wife, my identity is no longer valid. I merely become whatever they expect of me. I don’t live very well in others expectations.
I am glad that I wasn’t raised in the church, because that same momma that took me to church on the second Sunday in January taught me things that the I may have never learned. She taught me how to pray. She also taught me that God still talks to His people. She taught me that God answers prayers in tender ways and in mighty ways. She taught me to be grateful for the little (and big) things. She taught me compassion for others.
But she also taught me that God sees ME. Not through the eyes of other church members. Not through the career choice of my husband. Not through the failed expectations. But He sees me, just me.
Not as a pastor’s wife. But the woman that God created me to be. Because I was created with an identity. I was created to serve and pursue God in my own ways, my own time, and my own abilities, with my own dreams. I was not created to be the pastor’s wife. i was created to be Christie, beloved of God. And that is who I will be.
(This is the revised article of This Body. To see the original post at Middle Places, go to http://middleplaces.com/2016/02/20/this-body/)
I am in this peculiar age of life. I am no longer even near those twenty-something years. And I have quite a few years before AARP comes knocking. With the newlywed and baby years behind me and the retirement and grandbaby years way out in front of me, in the middle of these two places, I contemplate me. My walk, my life, and unfortunately, my body. This body is not what it used to be. This body that has seen and held so much.
Like so many women I know, I have long struggled with body issues that provides great fodder for therapists. I have stood naked in front of the mirror and felt disgust at the image glaring back at me, pointing out every scar and imperfection and wrinkle and roll. I can no longer blame this on childhood experiences, I must now take responsibility for me. I must look with fresh eyes. To see. To really see. Not what others see. Not what loved ones see. Not the image that is compared, and ultimately fails to live up to societal and media standards. But only to see.
To see what this body is…
And this morning, I woke up seeing it in a different light, seeing it as this wonderful machine, full of grace and love and heartache and pain and ...LIFE. So much life.
This body has created and held life in its womb for 3 years of its existence. It has also seen death in that same womb and lived through it.
These breasts have sustained that little life, giving nourishment when at times it was too tired to give to its own nourishment.
These hands have held babies, so many babies. These hands have wiped tears out of baby's’ eyes, others as well as her own baby. Cradling babies as they have smiled for the first time, laughed for the first time. These hands have tickled tiny feet and bellies. These hands have pulled that wiggly tooth when the little hands just couldn’t. These hands have stroked the hair out of a face to see the beauty of her child. These hands have brushed hair and braided and straightened and fixed. These hands have held little hands to provide security and comfort when crossing streets or going into school on that first day. These hands have comforted during those teenage years, when no words could help. These hands have pointed the way. These hands have prepared so many meals, so many.
These hands have also prayed with her friends during times of loss and sorrow and rejoicing. These hands have prayed for so many people. These beautiful hands…
These feet ran when there was a child who had fallen, or had bad dreams, or needed me. These feet have walked alongside a teetering child on his first bike ride. These feet have kicked soccer balls and played kickball with giggling children. These feet have paced the floor comforting a squalling child, or waiting on news from the doctor. These feet have walked many trails in search of a glimpse of natures beauty. These beautiful feet…
These arms have been a resting place for many nights of sickness. these arms have embraced when no words could comfort. These arms have held babies on this hip, while cooking, walking, cleaning. These arms have flailed in frustration. These arms have expressed love when no words could express the deep, deep affection. These arms have pushed laughing children on swings. These beautiful arms...
This belly has been a pillow so many nights when nothing else would do.
This lap has bounced babies and toddlers and held too big children with delight.
These eyes have cried tears. So many tears. Tears of sadness and joy, anger and frustration. The ones no one sees. Tears of pain. Tears of reconciliation. Tears of “I am screwing all of this up. I know I am.” Tears of forgiveness. Tears of gratitude when hearing words of love.
These eyes beheld the joy stretching across her child’s face. These eyes locked gazes with the sweet baby at my breast. These eyes have looked into the eyes of her friend and have seen the pain she tries to hide. These eyes have seen the beauty of a thousand amazing sunrises. These beautiful eyes …
The beauty is this same body would do it all again for a thousand lifetimes. It will pull itself out of bed in the morning, when it really doesn’t want to, doing it all again...and again...and again. Embracing the imperfections it carries as a badge of honor, knowing that it has loved with every cell of its being. It will see with amazement and newfound awe, and a renewed sense of gratitude at this life this body creates and lives. It will honor itself in this journey of love and heartache and pain and joy.
We were a family of 5, mom, dad, and three beautiful boys. I was content with my little family. But, as is often the case, God had other plans for us. It happened quite gradually. I began to see little girls in the grocery store and think how cute she was, and what if we had a little girl. Soon the desire to have a little girl overwhelmed me to the point that I sought counseling. Surely, this was some unresolved issue I had about my mother (because as we all know, it’s always the mother’s fault :). I truly wrestled with God about this desire, asking him to either take it away or make it grow stronger. It grew stronger!
I was very hesitant about becoming pregnant again because my pregnancies were very hard on me and my family. We struggled with which direction to follow, either give birth to a child or seek out adoption.
It was also during this time that we were introduced to a couple from our church who were foster parents, and who had a little girl that was close to being adopted. We began walking through the foster care with this couple and ultimately, becoming foster parents ourselves.
One particular event forever changed me about adoption. I had truly been praying for God’s will to be revealed to me during this time. This was such a time of struggle and indecision and fogginess. I will never forget when that fog lifted. I had been on the internet researching adoption in all it’s myriad forms. I came across a site that had pictures of waiting children. One particular picture of a young infant boy captured my attention. I remember praying specifically to God, worried that adopting would negatively affect my boys. I asked God, “Is this wrong?”. I will never forget the words I heard in my heart. He said, “How can it be wrong?”. It was in that moment that the fog started to lift. I began the journey of understanding God’s heart for adoption. His love for the orphans. And His desire for His people to stand up and rescue the fatherless.
We become foster parents, in hopes of adopting the little girl that our friends were fostering. But through a series of events, we did not get to adopt her. But in January 2007, I received a phone call that her little sister was taken into care. In May 2007, this baby came to live with us. And then in November, just a few days before her 1st birthday, Summer Rae, was adopted into our expanding family. We named her Summer Rae because she was a ray of sunshine in our life.
Again, I was content with my little family. And again, God had other plans.
Just a few months later in February 2008, we received a phone call from a couple in our church. Their newborn baby girl was being removed from the home and they asked us to foster her. We agreed to take her in, believing that we were in this to help educate and support the parents into being the kind of mom and dad this baby needed. She came to us at 12 days old. Over the next few months, we realized that this was more complicated than we knew. And this began our journey of becoming the voice for the voiceless in the foster care system. Over the next few years we fought for her story to be heard. ANd finally in August of 2011, we adopted our 2nd daughter, Serena Jolie.
This journey of adoption has been a journey of extreme highs and extreme lows. It has taught us to pray without ceasing. It has opened my boys' eyes to how incredibly blessed they are. It has taught us that God LOVES it when we participate in the ministry of restoring home and hope to the abandoned and abused. We, who are called by His name, must begin to stand in the gap for those who have no voice.
I am not sure what the future holds for our family, but I know God is in the rescue business. And that is where I want to be also.
Sifted - by Christie O’Brien
By definition sifted means to be separated by or as if by a sieve. When a material is passed through a sieve, the lesser things flow through and the greater things remain. As is with life circumstances, I want the things of little importance to pass away while the greatest of things remain.
My husband and I planted our church in August of 2005. We were a family of 5, my husband and I and 3 amazing boys. I felt as if God was not finished with our little family. I prayed for direction, “Do we have another child or adopt?” was my cry. Finally, we decided to let nature take its course. And I quickly became pregnant with our fourth child in December of 2005. I was ecstatic! Everything was going well, maybe a little too well. During a regular sonogram at 12 weeks, we discovered that our baby had no heartbeat. It had died sometime during that week. I cried out to God, “But I thought this was YOUR will!” It was a time of great darkness for me, wondering where God was. He was the author of life, yet He had forgotten me.
I truly thought this pregnancy was God’s will for my life. And the death of my child not only left me with grief untold, but it also made me question God. Was He really for me? Had I heard him wrong? But how could I get pregnant and then have the child die inside of me? And the biggest question of all, do I really trust God?
When we came home from that dreadful appointment, I picked up a devotional, that I just happened to have bought the day before, and turned to that day’s devotional. On the day we found out about our unborn child’s death, these are the words that spoke to me through my devotional:
Approach this day with awareness of who is boss. As you make plans for the day, remember that it is I who orchestrate the events of your life...I may be doing something important in your life, something quite different from what you expected. It is essential at such times to stay in communication with Me, accepting My way as better than yours. Don’t try to figure out what is happening. Simply trust... (from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)
It was in that moment, that very moment, that I had to decide, Am I going to trust God even in this? In the things I can’t explain, in the loss, in the pain of utter despair. I have to trust God, even when I don’t want to. Even when my heart is shattering.
I sat for two days in my darkened bedroom feeling hopeless.
And that’s where they found me. The ladies, who I had regular prayer meetings with for the previous two years, came into that place of despair and showed me where God was. They cried with me and listened to me beat on His chest demanding answers and they let me wail and sob. And then they gently reminded me that God is there in that despair. He was in that dark place with me the whole time! They brought light and laughter and love, God’s love, with them. They walked me through the next few weeks with love and tenderness. And then they helped me accept the healing power of God’s love.
Even now as I write this, I cry. I cry for the loss of my unborn child. But I also cry because of the blessings that these women are to me.
I want the death and sorrow to pass through this sieve of my life, but I want the love of God’s people, who ultimately shine because of His love, to remain. And above all, I want my faith and trust and hope to be solely and ultimately in Christ alone. 1 Cor 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love”
(Original link http://storiesofsifted.com/sos-christie-obrien/)
Christie is a writer, speaker, and advocate, especially for children in foster care and adoption. She teaches about motherhood, womanhood, and her favorite subject: restoring the soul.