Thursday, August 15, 2019

I'm in Good Hands

"It looks benign!

After about three weeks of doctor appointments, praying like crazy and wondering about the future, the heaviness that was pressing down on me dissipated in a moment. I was tempted to step on the scale because I felt I lost about 5,000 pounds! (smile)

A few weeks ago, I went in for a routine Calcium Score test for my heart. I had two friends have heart attacks this past year. Healthy, young and fit guys. So, it made me think that getting this calcium score would be a good idea. My results were great - my score was a 1 and that means I have little to no blockages - whew! 

But during the scan, they found a spot on my right lung.

My head was spinning.

After another chest CT scan, the radiologists recommended a biopsy. With the help of a dear friend, I was able to get in with an amazing doctor at Huntsman Cancer Hospital at University of Utah Medical Center within a few days. He looked at the scan and recommended a PET scan because the spot was so deep into the lung, that he was afraid a biopsy would collapse my lung. He told me it looked like it was either benign or a very treatable type of cancer, so he recommended I relax, go on my trip to Florida and enjoy myself. He said he would get me in for the PET scan the week after I returned. 

My PET scan was on Monday. My sister flew in to go with me and my husband came, as well. The test was over in a couple of hours. I knew it would be a hard time for me, so I asked people on Facebook if they needed prayer. During the test, they don't want you on your phone, you can't talk to anyone and they just want you to rest. So I prayed most of that time - thinking about each person who left a request on my Facebook wall. I can't tell you what a blessing it was to think of others during a time when my mind was tempted to overthink and worry about my own situation. I actually think back to that time and just feel in awe of the peace that I felt. I'm so thankful.

The doctor was kind enough to call me the very next day with my results. The phone rang at 5:05pm and he told me it looks benign and that he will have me come back in six months for a follow up scan and make sure it's not changing or growing. It could have been so much worse. My sister and I sobbed and held each other so tight! I was actually happier for her than I was even for me, honestly. The thought of losing my sister is way harder than the thought of going through something myself. She's my best friend in the whole world, and I am hers. I know she hadn't breathed deep in weeks - and now she was finally able to let it out! I'm so glad she was there when I got the news. And when I told my husband, I could hear the relief in his voice. He has had a hard three weeks, too. We all have - the whole family. But we always had peace that God had me in His hands.

I'm so much more empathetic to people who are going through this now, but some do not get the good news I received. I know the feeling of waiting, of wondering. But at this time, I can only imagine the horror of hearing the words "it's cancer". My heart breaks for my friends who are going through treatments, waiting on test results or watching someone they love go through it. This is hard, hard stuff. It's life at its roughest, no doubt about it.

I heard a teaching from Beth Moore once that never left me, and I'm hoping it won't leave you, either. It actually rescued me from thinking some pretty dark and scary thoughts over the past three weeks. She said that God is our deliverer. If we are at the doctor and we're told that we have a spot or a lump that looks suspicious, one of three things will happen:

1. You go in to get it checked out and the doctor cannot find it. It just goes away. Or it is benign. God delivers you from it. 

2. You go in and the doctor says it's cancer. You must go through treatments, possibly surgery, chemo or radiation. The road is long, but your Creator is right there with you. You finally get the all-clear and you are in remission. God delivers you through it. 

3. You go in and the doctor confirms it is cancer. After months or years of treatments, you cannot seem to get rid of it and you pass away and stand before your Creator. God has delivered you by it right into His loving arms! 

No matter what, He is your deliverer. Last I checked, the mortality rate for humans is 100%. But we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what we go through, God will deliver us. After my three weeks of knowing something was there, but not knowing how serious it was, I can honestly say that God was (and is) my Deliverer. And He wants to be yours, too. 

Whatever you're going through, you can trust Him. He will not leave your side. He will be right there with you! He will deliver you - and He has a plan to bring you closer to Him than you could ever imagine - if you will just let Him. He can turn a dark time into a time of sweet intimacy with Him. It's truly miraculous!

Thank you SO much to those who knew and have been praying for me. I have felt those prayers! I'm so thankful that my doctor called with good news. But even if He hadn't, I promise you, I would still be in the best Hands ever. :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

There's No Hurt Like a Church Hurt

If I asked you if you have ever been hurt in church or ministry, what would your answer be? 

I have a feeling I know what most of you would say.

Sadly, I have been hurt, too. But I’m not writing this to complain or throw stones at any church or ministry. I’m writing it because I don’t think I’m alone. And I think it’s okay to not be okay with this. 
It started as a young girl, when we went to a church that was extremely legalistic. We were not allowed to wear pants, watch TV, listen to anything but Christian music and every “sin” we committed (wearing pants, sitting closer than 6 inches to a boy, etc.) we were reprimanded by the church, in the name of accountability. When we left the church, we got hate mail from some of the members, pointing out that someone saw us in jeans at the roller rink and in bathing suits in our back yard. We were completely devastated, to say the least. I’m surprised we didn’t give up on church then and there, as we had only been going to church for a few short years.

I ran from God once I graduated from high school and went to college. I met Rod in college and when we married, we were not a churched family. I didn’t care - but I did know that God was real - and honestly I was terrified of Him. I felt like the churchy people in my life were an extension of Him. And since I was not able to live up to their standards, I knew I couldn’t live up to His. Why bother trying? It all seemed useless.

Fast forward to the age of 33, when my husband and I were desperately seeking God. We knew, somehow, that He was real and there was more to Him than we had believed. We both surrendered our hearts to Christ in February of 2003. The same night. It was awesome. And the beautiful reality of the grace and love of God was filling our hearts and our home for the first time. (if you want to read the whole amazing story, it's in my book, Wholehearted: Living the Life You Were Created to Live)

We settled into a church where our middle school kids wanted to attend because the youth group was very popular. We loved this church, and the people! However, I began to discern something was up with the youth pastor. I couldn’t pin point it, but I felt something was off. I prayed about it, talked to my husband about it and then went to the pastor for counsel. I was dismissed about my misgivings and basically made to feel like I was being judgmental. I cannot explain the feelings I had - except to say we had done everything we felt God was telling us to do, but we were ignored. We left this church, with heavy, heavy hearts. Within a year, we heard that youth pastor had fallen into some awful sin, had hurt many people and left the church without remorse. I had hoped I was wrong about him and that I was over-reacting. I still wish I was wrong about him, as he hurt so many people that I loved, including my children.

The ministry I was working in had some serious issues, as well. I tried to pray and work through it, but I ended up leaving. Every other ministry I worked in served up a big heaping bowl of hurt to my heart in some way, too. Several other things happened in literally every church I went to. I kept leaving and trying to find the “right” church and ministry. 

I began to wonder if I was the problem, because the common denominator in every situation was ME. I even heard a sermon once where the pastor said if you are always the one getting hurt, perhaps you should look in the mirror. I decided I must have been the one causing all the problems. I begged God to help me see where I had gone wrong. I was so afraid of being hurt - and I was even more afraid of hurting others. 

In retrospect, I know I handled some situations wrong. I know I am not perfect. But nothing that happened to me was fully on me. They were humans - just like me - who were doing their best, but who were just as afraid as I was of being hurt. Sometimes people act out of fear, out of frustration, out of self-preservation, out of past hurts…it’s all a mess, honestly. But it’s also quite beautiful.  In church, I made some amazing connections, learned some life-changing and life-giving truths, worshipped to the point of overwhelm and was given opportunities to serve and love on others that I haven’t had since walking away. I miss that.  I’ve actually been out of church (except for the occasional pop-in) for a couple of years. Literally every ministry & church I’ve been immersed in has had some sort of dysfunction and I came to the point where I decided I needed a break from it all.

I spoke with a friend once who counseled me that perhaps Jesus was calling me out of the boat? Remember when the disciples were in the boat and Jesus called Peter out? Perhaps the boat represented the church in this case? As I prayed about this counsel, I really felt that Jesus called me out to spend time teaching me that my focus needs to be on HIM, not the people in the boat, not the waves around us, not the clouds above us. HIM. And that’s where I was going wrong. That was the common denominator. I was not focusing on Him.

I have decided it’s time to get back in the boat. I realize that the people in the boat are sinners, saved by grace, just like me. I have been a bit isolated out here on my own - and though I have Jesus (He has never left my side), I can honestly say that the community He provides in the local church has left a huge vacancy in my heart. 

Jesus tells us that in the church, there are wheat and weeds - and that we cannot discern which is which. He doesn’t tell us to stay away, though. He tells us to stay in the field (the church) and trust that HE will weed out the weeds in His time, as we trust and obey Him in all things. I will never find the wheat - the true, Spirit-filled believers, if I don’t get back into the church. 

I haven’t wavered even once in my faith in Christ or in my belief in the grace and goodness of God over these past couple of years. And I do think He used this time to teach me more about focusing on Him, trusting His plan and loving others in spite of their sin and shortcomings. Perhaps He even taught me to love myself a little more, to show myself some grace, too. A couple of months ago, in my quiet time He spoke to my heart clearly. He said, 

“When you turn back - and you will - encourage your brothers & sisters.” 

I hear you, God.


So, again, if I asked you the question, “Have you ever been hurt in ministry or the church?”, what would your answer be? If the answer is yes, please hear my heart here. There is nothing the enemy of your soul wants more than for you to stay away from the wheat. That’s why the weeds are there, to choke the life out of the church. You have a choice, and God loves you no matter what you decided, but mark my words: the enemy is using divisions and offense in the church right now to divide us for a reason. He knows God can use us best when we are unified and strong. And we can only be that when we are together.

Perhaps it's time to get back in the boat? Will you join me?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Words Matter

Words Matter.

Years ago, a close relative said something to me that "stuck". You know what I mean? Sticky statements - either good or bad - that never go away and seem to replay themselves in our heads.

I was going to go visit where a lot of my family and friends lived. I told my relative that I was coming and I'd like to organize a get-together because I knew I wouldn't have time to see everyone individually. My relative said, "You know the world doesn't just stop spinning because Leslie comes to town." That stuck.

That was what was said. Here is what I heard, "You're annoying and not worth our time. Just stay home. You're bothering us." No, that was not the intention. No, that did not reflect the heart of the individual. But it stuck.

Recently, I went back to SC to visit, even though I had been there just a month and a half prior. I didn't tell many friends. I didn't want to make a fuss and honestly, my "sticky statement" was playing over and over in my head and heart. I figured they would be annoyed with me. I mean, the world doesn't just stop spinning when Leslie comes to town, right?

I thought I was doing my friends a favor. Keeping them from having to rearrange their schedules. Keeping them from having to drop everything to come see me again. I imagined the eye rolls as they had to try to "fit me into their busy lives". 
 
But I was wrong. So wrong.

My friends were so surprised I didn't let them know I was coming. They were disappointed, but not enough to let it stick with them. Instead, we planned a last minute get-together and those who could come, came. Those who couldn't, didn't. And the world kept spinning. And my heart began to heal a bit. How? Well, at our gathering, I told them the reason I didn't tell them I was coming was because I was afraid it would be an imposition. As we talked, I realized why. I shared my "sticky statement story" with them and as light was shed on it, it lost it's grip on my heart. As it turns out, the darkness it was hiding in was the super-glue holding it to my heart.

Words matter, friends. 
 
What we say has a lasting impact on the minds and hearts of those to whom we speak. Make those words count. Let the people you love know that you love them. Be careful with quick, hurtful statements. People can be very tenderhearted, even if they seem strong. And if someone ever said something negative to you that stuck, share it with someone you trust. Let it lose it's grip on you. And be free!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Freedom

Since turning 50, something has happened to me. I know it's not a magical number or age, but there's
just no denying that my thoughts are shifting. I find myself realizing what's most important and what's absolutely not. I want to...
  • let someone take a picture of me without thinking of how fat I look, how bad my skin looks or how old I look...
  • not care what other people think about me. At all...
  • give more time and effort to making sure I'm emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy...
  • leave a legacy of love, acceptance, truth, joy and life with everyone I meet...
  • judge less, love more, live freely and give generously...
  • listen more, talk less.

I know 50 sounds old to some of you and young to others, but for me, 50 is actually quite freeing. In my 20's, I cared way too much for about my outward appearance, in my 30's, I cared way too much about how people perceived me as a person and a Christian, in my 40's, I started to realize that life is more complicated than I ever realized and much of what I had previously focused on was all in vain, but I fought against it and tried to live in my tradition. Now that I've begun my 50's, I hope that I can start truly living freely, in the truth of who God says I am. And I hope that as I come across others, they will feel that same love from me. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My Journey Out of Legalism: What God is Teaching Me About Love

As a young girl, I was raised in a very legalistic church. We were taught that when someone did wrong things, the best thing to do was to show "tough love" and disconnect from them until they realized how awful their choices were. It was an act of love, they said.

When I was in 8th grade, my family left that church and our best friends there were told by the Pastor that they had to disconnect from us because we were now "the sinners". He said they couldn't be "unequally yoked" with us. They came over, opened their Bibles, read some scripture out of context, prayed with us (actually prayed FOR us - because they were the holy ones and we were the sinners who left that church for another, healthier one) and broke our hearts by walking out the door, never to be seen again.

This really stuck with me. I had never felt so abandoned in my life and I felt unloved, judged and like I couldn't measure up. It was devastating, to say the least.

When you are raised in legalism, something strange happens. Either you get very judgmental yourself, or you get angry and try to help others understand how dangerous legalism is or worst of all, you completely run from God because you feel like you can never measure up to His perfect standards. I've done all of the above - at different seasons of my life.

Currently, I'm in the "help others understand" category. But I find I still have to fight the deeply ingrained temptation to be legalistic, myself. If you don't understand what legalism is, allow me to paint this picture for you:
God tells you not to play in the street. Not because He's angry or mean, but because He loves you and wants you to be safe. If you do play in the street, in spite of His direction, He will still love you, but you will put yourself in danger. But you don't realize this. You think that playing in the street will cut you off from His love and make Him angry.  So you do all you can to make sure you play anywhere but the street, in order to make God happy and to make Him love you. 
When you play in the side walk right beside the street, you begin to fear that you are going to accidentally go into the street, so you step into the yard beside the sidewalk. But the temptation to go into the street is so strong, that you go inside the house. You find yourself looking out the window, and there's a deep desire to play near the street, so you close the curtains. The temptation to open the curtains gets so strong that you actually lock yourself into a closet because you don't want to peek out the window and see the street. 
Then, you tell everyone you come across that they, too, must not play on the sidewalk, in the yard, or near the window - they have to go into the closet, too. And if they don't, you judge them. If they play in the street, you abandon them instead of fighting for them. The reason you do this is because you have a false idea of who God is. So you behave the way you think He would toward you.  It's all about keeping the rules, not loving the person. Love is not the goal. This is legalism. It's when humans put rules around rules to keep people from sinning as an act of control - and it leads to disconnection and devastation.
As I was saying, I still fight the temptation to be legalistic. I find myself judging others instead of dealing with my own sin. It's much easier to judge others than it is to deal with my own stuff. I've lost some friends I really connected with by believing I was better than them and judging their behavior. How this breaks my heart!

Legalism is what makes us feel better about ourselves, when we behave the correct way. However, it can backfire on us - big time. You see, when you do end up "in the street" and find yourself doing something wrong, you begin to think God doesn't love you anymore and all hell breaks loose in your life.

If this is a struggle for you - if you find yourself thinking God is mad, unloving or cranky about your decisions, I want to encourage you. If you find you like to judge others and you disconnect with them if they end up in the street, please know this is not God's way.

In Matthew 23, Jesus had some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees - the people who loved the law and followed it to the letter, but did not love people. In verse 23, He said, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." 

See, they were good at obeying the Laws, but they were neglecting what Jesus said was more important - justice, mercy and faith. Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus said the greatest and most important commandment was to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. Nowhere did He say, "The greatest law is not to play in the street." (or fill in the blank with a sin that you think is the worst of all).


Why would Jesus say this? Why would He say that the Law is summed up into one thing: to love? I believe it's because when we genuinely love others - no matter if they play in the street, the sidewalk, the yard, the house or the closet - that connection is so strong that it can break down even the coldest heart. When you love someone, despite their behavior, and you pursue connection with them no matter what - their heart can change. God knows that when people feel loved, they respond. But if we are always focused on their behavior, they will feel judged, unloved and misunderstood.


People change when hearts change. And hearts change when they are loved. But the goal cannot be to act like we love someone in order to change their heart - the goal must be to genuinely love them - unconditionally. When love is the goal, everyone wins. Our job is not to change people, that is the Holy Spirit's job. Our job is not to judge people, that is God's job. Our only job is to love people. I believe Billy Graham had a quote about this years ago. But it's just now sinking into my heart. 


And I like it.


How freeing is that?


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Empty Nest, Full Heart

When I was a young mom, I would have older moms come up to me in the store and say things like, "Oh, you'll miss that one day! Enjoy it while you can!"and "It goes so fast!" They would look longingly at me with envy as I had a kid draped on my hip screaming in my ear, another in the cart throwing a fit and two others begging me for everything in the store they could see that had sugar in it.  I'd be wearing sweatpants and a messy bun. Make-up was a total luxury. No time, no energy, no sleep...

What in the world was she thinking?!

Today I will be dropping my youngest off at the airport to catch a flight back to SC to return to college after having her here for nearly one glorious month. And now I get it. 

What I wouldn't give...

to clean fingerprints off the sliding glass door...
to break up a fight...
to be woken in the middle of the night by a sweet voice needing mommy...
to hold and comfort a fussy baby...
to experience shopping with four kids, no sleep, no make-up and no energy...

Young moms are a bit envious of the quiet I experience these days. I get it. I've experienced that envy myself. But the noise, the chaos, the cleaning, the exhaustion...it's all part of being a Mom. At least temporarily. And as each child has left the house one at a time and I sense that my very last one will be leaving the nest soon, I can honestly say I really do miss it.

Thank God, I will always have my role as a Mom. It may look different now, but it will always be my name to four amazing humans. And as I watch them grow, I'm proud of the job Rod and I have done with raising them. Really proud. My nest may just about be empty...but my heart has never been more full.

I can also honestly say that I look forward to discovering new adventures in this new season of life. After all, I went from being a daughter to a wife to a mom by the age of twenty. I am a nurturer by nature, that's how God created me. How can I use what I've learned as a Mom to serve the community around me? What will I do with all this time? Is there a support group for us? (haha) There are so many possibilities! No matter what I end up discovering, I'm sure at some point, you'll find me looking longingly at the frazzled mommy at the store, telling her to enjoy every moment, it goes so fast...


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