The Chasm Between

There’s nothing for me in the in-between.

Pick a side, cuz that chasm falls deep.

Can’t climb out, no second chances,

A black hole pit, a temporary release…

That burns the bridge over the in-between.

There’s nothing for me in the in-between

3 am thoughts

Have you ever took up your life, forgone the seatbelt and purposely crashed into a wall?

Metaphorically speaking. …I believe we all have at times.

You see, unwise decisions and habitual sin lead to devastation.

Injury.

Death.

And, I have done it myself, speeding along at my will, wrecking my life, and all the while God is watching and allowing me to be wounded by my carelessness.

For example, I’m a writer, and I have many pieces that I’ve written that have not been shared. Many are too personal and many are simply waiting to be finished. Many are finished and the timing isn’t right.

Whatever the reason, when I read over them, I am remembering the WHY of why I wrote them. I can see them for what they are, as well. I know when they are ready and when they need work. I know when, let’s be honest, the written work is not very good. The intention and labor behind it was good, but the body needs a lot of work.

My whole point here is that God knows us and knows when we need work. He knows, probably like a writer too,  that even the best piece can be better. But,  at some point, the piece is just ready, and the refining will come along the way.

And I, in my humanity, can’t wrap my brain around this. I can’t comprehend how I could possibly be ready to serve him and so fallen, so imperfect and so undeserving of his attentions.

Especially, knowing that nothing is hidden from God and that on my own, my righteousness is like dirty rags…. God knows this about me, you, for we are all a people naturally bent towards rebellion.

Even more so…..

God knows us and our capacity to forget him.

Can you imagine? What if you had a spouse, and you knew that your spouse’s natural tendency was to forget you? What if you caught your spouse cheating, but it didn’t shock you because you knew it would happen?

But, what if you still loved your spouse anyway? What if you let it go at his or her own detriment, knowing all the while the damage they would do, but vowed  to wait for their return, anyway?

Wouldn’t we question the sanity of the faithful spouse I just depicted?  Yet, that is exactly what God is like. He is our faithful bridegroom.

We deserve divorce papers, but instead, he draws us into his will

We deserve separation, but instead he bridges the gap between heaven and hell with his own body, bent and broken on the cross for his glory and for our benefit

Yet, we continue to turn away from him;  we have little indiscretions, big ones, and sometimes, we plainly forget Him.

Yet, there he is..still waiting, still faithful, and still loving us without wanting to shame us, beating us down with “I told you so’s” or making us atone for idolatry because Jesus….

Because Jesus……who left his glory in heaven to walk the roads of humanity and than later… to die for us all, even those of us who spit upon his brow with our total rebelllion.  He embodies true mercy.

True mercy….

I don’t know about you, but I can’t fathom that. I don’t want to most of the time. True mercy is scandalous and makes us want to say  “he doesn’t deserve it! She doesn’t deserve it.”

But,

mercy doesn’t accuse and it doesn’t follow human moral codes of justice.

Instead, it comes, undeserving and so beautiful…and

It’s for those of us, just like me and like you ….who are violently driving themselves towards their death, ready to wreck against an iron wall upon our own violation.

I see that ….

God has allowed me to be the driver to my own death. I see now that He didn’t swoop down to pull me out at certain times.

And, in light of this, I can see that God allowing me to wreck myself is one of the best gifts he has given me.

Because only in the midst of my deep forgetfulness, can I remember how MUCH I need the wonderfulness of his mercy.

God, may your mercies work miracles through me….

-A

Cancer Free

****I wrote this in February of 2017, the day Natalie received her official cancer free diagnosis.  But, this time two years ago was when Natalie was first diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve asked her mom’s permission to share this story, from my own perspective. I hope you read it…and celebrate Natalie’s beautifully victorious life with me.**** 

I remember it now.

Vividly.

The phone calls came, one after the other.

“Hey, I told Rhonda about the lump on Nat’s tummy, and she said we need to go to the doctor right away.”

“They think it’s a tumor. She will have a biopsy done today.”

“Natalie has cancer….they are hurrying to get us admitted to St Jude’s.”

I didn’t want to believe it; I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stand, frozen in time, pretending that this wasn’t happening to our closest friends.

But it was happening, and so I went to support our friends.

I stayed in the hospital for hours to play guitar for Natalie.IMG_0817

And then, we heard the treatment plan estimate.

Two years!

So, we did what we could. We brought food; we helped pack; we made a care basket for the road. We made a list of how we would help look after their house…

And then, we hugged.

We said goodbye

(Here we are, minutes before they walked out the door.)

All in just TWO days.

As I left their house, I began to weep ugly, big, fat, rolling tears.  I was devastated, scared, and most of all, angry!

I wish I could say I was angry over the injustice and brutality of cancer, especially, childhood cancer.

That would be normal and unselfish and…..righteous, even.

But, at the time, all I could think about was how our life would be forever changed. This cancer was taking away our best friends, leaving us on the outside, in a completely different world, watching, helpless, out of control….

Yet, here I was, angry that our weekly coffee dates were gone. There would be no more last-minute dinner invites. Our weekly habit of putting together our leftovers and other random foods (the extreme opposite of formal dinner parties) would not be resumed.

(In actuality, there would be more dinners.)

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I was angry that my own daughter would lose a very special presence in her life. Natalie, you see, is the closest thing to a sister Isabela has. How could we bring her through this? How could we show her hope in the face of this destructive and life-threatening cancer?IMG_8335IMG_8299IMG_3643IMG_0268

I was angry and there was nothing I could do to save the day….

Because, that’s what I do, you know? I’m that friend who swoops in, brings food, cleans your house, helps you move, takes you to the airport at 3 a.m., watches your kiddos, helps wherever and however  I can. I am there, and I want to be there for my friends.

But this time I couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing I could do but pray, wait, pray, wait, pray wait, pray wait and OH, how hard that is for a broken and fallen person, such that I am.

So, with shaking hands and faith,  I pulled over into the parking lot of a mall and I wept.

Loudly …

I felt like I had experienced a death, yet I knew even in that moment, it wasn’t about me at all.

Still, I wept.

wept selfishly at how everything would change for us, yet I knew that this was the least of things to weep over.

Oh, how I wept.

wept bitterly over the loss of our strongest support system. Yet, I knew that in reality, they were the ones losing their support systems, their home, their community and quite possibly, their daughter…

Yet, however self-consumed I was, I never said a word. I have never shared those feelings about that day. Part of it was shame – man, I felt guilty – but mostly, it was because it wasn’t a story that needed to be shared, from me, at the time. It wasn’t my right, it wasn’t my priority, and most importantly, it wasn’t my truth.

Somehow, even in my anger, even in my grief, I knew this.

It wasn’t about me.

It was about them.

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It was about Natalie, her family and doing everything we could to be positive, even if we were scared out of our minds. It was about sending small gift packages and funny memes, even when we were depressed and questioning God’s providence.

It was about always respecting and valuing their faith and never-ceasing to share scriptures of hope with them. Even when hopelessness was raging inside me so much so that all I could hear was the rushing winds of fear and the howling screeches of anxiety….I could NOT give in. I needed to be strong.

And, in the dark night of my anger,  I realized I could not stay. I could not live there. That knowledge gave me gumption. It gave me the ability to speak back to the storm around me.

You know, looking back, I’m glad I stopped to weep over my selfish concerns. I’m thankful that I got it all out, then and there. I needed to take a few minutes to release my fears over the situation and even the ones pointed at myself, the “what if I won’t know what to say,” and the “what if I won’t know how to be a good friend through it all” kind of things…

I needed to release it so I could see clearly. So, I could stand on the other side of fear, and say, ” No! I will NOT  hide out. I will not be so distracted by my day-to-day that they will have to go through this alone. I will be a constant. I will listen. I will supplement fear with faith. I will pad frustration with gentleness. I will finish negativity with reminders of blessings and truths,  however I can.”

Sitting in that car, I calmed down and made an internal vow to not just encourage my friend, Natalie’s mom, to be strong. But, I also made a vow that I would stay strong too, even if I had to fake it….

My friends, I have truly  failed at a lot of things; I have truly failed a lot of people.

But, this is one thing I might have done good on.

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Still, I do have regrets. 

I wish I had visited more. I wish I had quit my job so I had the freedom to leave and give Natalie’s mom a break when she needed it most (this is a big one).  I wish I had sent more care packages. I wish I had texted more often. I wish I had prayed more; I wish I had cleaned her house more while they were gone.

But most of all…I wished I had loved Natalie more. I wished I had hugged her more. I wished I had enjoyed her laughter and freedom to just be who she was more.unnamed

(Beautiful Natalie, home from St Jude’s)

I wished I had given more attention to her, I wished I had talked to her more. I felt so ashamed when I thought of the type of friend I was to my own best friend’s daughter.

I felt intense regret for not playing with her more or playing the guitar for her more, all day if she wanted……

This precious and beautiful life, our Natalie. So full of joy and perfection, our Natalie.

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This is my greatest regret…..

But yet, there is hope, you see. Read on…

Today, I received a phone call from Natalie’s mom. I had been waiting all morning for this phone call; I knew it was the day of her scan. When the phone finally rang, I ran around the house, desperately searching for my phone, answering it when I heard it.

This silence was tinged with anticipation, and in a split second, I thought “No, please do not let this be the silence of mourning.” But, her voice broke through the tension, choked with tears, saying, “ She is cancer free, Natalie is cancer free!”

I don’t remember what I said. I’m quite certain there were no real words spoken, anyway. Whatever it was, it was lovely, shattering the darkness with one loud, beautiful and deafening crash!

It’s over!

It’s finally over! This time, I can cry tears of joy, defiant joy! No more death, no more disease, no more cancer, fear, anxiety and no more insidious and ruthless cancer lurking behind us!  Life has won today! Life has won; Natalie has won; God has won and hope has returned. Thank you, God. 

Thank you, God.

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(cancer-free and home-coming party)

-A.

“Why do we doubt the Lord of the seas

Who has parted its waves; made a way from the enemy!

Why do we doubt the God of miracles

Who has raised the dead, created the world!

From dust, He made flesh

From death, He raises LIFE

His works never stop

His word stands through time….”

Lessons in Vulnerability, part 1

I think I’ve lived most of my life feeling unworthy in some way.
Unworthy of belonging.
Unworthy of being loved.
Sure, I could probably list a lot more there, but they all boil down to those two:
Love and belonging.
Why?
How did I become a 35 year old woman, who is certainly loved by her family and friends, yet often feels so disconnected and alone?
How did I become a 35 year old woman who struggles with depression and discouragement, rather than a woman who has gratitude and joy for the victories in her life?
 I don’t know….but I do know this.

All my life, this woman has longed to be seen. 

NO, she has not longed to be seen as the visible “center of attention” seen; She has never desired to stand out in any crowd.
NO, she has longed to be deeply seen.  Deeply seen in the way that her passions, her fierceness, her loyalties, her needs, her worth, her imperfections, her fears, and EVERYTHING that makes up her spirit is somehow as visible as the clothes she wears, BUT…
Somehow, even at the age of 35, this woman is still very much like a child inside. She needs to be healed of the injustices she has experienced, reassured of her worth and held in arms of strength and tenderness that cultivate trust, confidence, and authenticity.
Perhaps…
Perhaps, healing is as easy as getting dressed in the morning. First, she would take off the veils of mystery. Than, one at a time, she would add elements of self-expression. Some are more necessary that the other, but all are intentionally chosen.
Would it be so easy?

What if she could get up and wear courage as easily as she wears her favorite skirt? What if confidence was her most flattering color?  What if belief in her worth was as striking as the width of her smile?

What if releasing who she thinks she should be was a real thing? Then, she could reach inside, grab those pointed, jabbing, fingers, and throw them in the garbage!

Would it be so easy?
You see, then she could  be who she is meant to be, without shame or question, without fear of not belonging, and without the scent of anxiety lurking.
And finally…I think she would know.
She would know.
She would know that THIS is the necessary part of life. Not clothes or sparkly things, or hardwood floors, or all white-kitchens, or open floor plans or brand new cars or cherished guitars or songs we sing or labels we’ve made…Not worrying or obsessing or restricting or dieting or hiding or panicking or analyzing…..
She would know life beyond the shadows and peace amidst the noise.
She would know.

She would know that THIS sense of worth, made possible by courage and worn with risk, is necessary and more beautiful than anything else; because unlike the perfect face or body, this sense of worth doesn’t fade over time and isn’t weakened by age’s hand.

She would know.

Well,
I want to know.
I want to try and wear this.
I want this for myself…
This sense of worth, this courage, this vulnerability that would allow me to be deeply SEEN.
I want to know;
I’m willing to know.
And, maybe….just maybe…that’s enough.
Today, I was getting ready to bring my daughter to the water park. I was wearing a bathing suit I normally only wear around my family because it is red, bright, and noticeable; and, I was also inwardly annoyed at myself for buying such a color. Then, all of a sudden,  my daughter excitedly barged in and shrieked,
“Ooooh mommy, you look so beautiful!”
“Thank you, Bels!” I said, when all of a sudden, it struck me…
True self-worth cannot be captured by unveiling the perfect body, belonging with the right crowd, having the perfect job, making lots of money, possessing what many covet or looking/eating/appearing a certain way.
True self-worth cannot be captured by chasing after the superficial.
It can, however, be captured in our willingness to accept our our beauty as others do; to celebrate our beauty as others do.
And, to believe it, too. 

May all of us women, who constantly jump over the battle lines of superficiality and authenticity, know that we are worthy and deserving of love.  – A. Stephens

THE.END.

Despite all this, I will worship

God’s worth is not diminished by our circumstances. Rob Miskowski  (from the sermon, Worship Anyway)

At one time,  I struggled with malabsorption issues related to Celiac disease. During one period, it was so bad that I could not accomplish daily chores at home without suffering from pain and fatigue. Even in my sleep, my bones hurt, not allowing my body to rest.

I would read the Bible, pray, and do my best to stay the course. Admittedly, there were many times I didn’t feel like reading the Bible, and many times I didn’t feel God close.  Even more so were the times I stayed in bed, with only enough energy to pray, “I love you God. Thank you God.”

 At some point, the Holy Spirit put on my heart:

“Despite all this, I Am.  

Despite all this…praise God.

And so, this became my declaration everyday:

Enter doubt…“Despite my doubt, I will praise you God.”

Enter fear…“Despite my fear, I will praise you God.”

Enter weariness….”Despite my weariness, I will praise you God.”

“Despite all this, I will praise you God.”

Today, I am physically much better. And yet, even still, I find myself awakened in the dark hours of the morning, heart already whispering,

“I love you God. Thank you God.”

#WorshipAnyway

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 4

2 Kings 19:11-14

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

 

Response:

Stop. Think about the scripture for a moment. Envision it.

Pause. Reflect. Now…go.

What a powerful demonstration here.  Certainly, God can be in the midst of such glorious displays.  Yet, it was a whisper that the Lord chose to reveal himself here.   The wind may destroy,  the earthy may quake and the fire may consume. But the voice of God, even in His whisper, is more powerful than any force of the earth combined.

What a marked contrast! What a reminder!

Let us remember that displays of power and glory do not automatically change a person’s heart.

Let us remember that the voice of God is what convicts – not the voice or works of man. May we trust in His strength and not our own.

Let us remember this as we go about our days, planning our services, and ministering to the treasured hearts God loves so much.

And finally,

Let us always seek to create an atmosphere where the voice of God is welcome and where we are are inclined to listen and respond.

 

“He first wrapped his mantle about his face – he became subdued and awe-stricken – full of reverence. Oh! it is a great thing when a sinner is willing to wrap his face when he is confounded, and say, ‘I cannot defend my course; I am guilty.’ We know that if at our judgment-seat a man pleads guilty, he is punished; but at the judgment-seat of the gospel whoever pleads guilty is forgiven. Wrap your face.” (Spurgeon)

 

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 3

1 KING 19:9-10, NIV

 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

 

When Elijah was rested, he went into one of the many surrounding caves. This is the man who prayed for a drought for 3 years, and the Lord answered. This is the man who prayed for rain to end the drought and the Lord answered. And, this is the man who prayed earnestly to the Lord in his time of fear. Elijah did not hold back. He said to God, “I have been zealous for You. I have been obedient. And now, I am alone and in danger of death.”

Elijah unburdened his heart to the Lord, raw in his honesty.  Yet, it was God who subtedly prodded Elijah to unburden his heart, asking, “Why are you here?” Certainly, God knew. But, He wanted to hear Elijah’s heart in the words of his choosing.

God wants a real, authentic, relationship. The kind where we actually talk to him. A lot.  The kind where we unashamedly tell him the journey is too much, or that we have had more than we can bare, or that we feel abandoned and alone, despite our faithfulness.

Even in our deepest discouragement, even when our words are most bitter, even when we find ourselves surprised at the condition of our hearts, we can trust that God is not surprised at all. Instead, He is prepared and waiting.

In closing,

When my daughter’s bestfriend moved away, she told me, “I am all alone now and there is no one to play with me. Nobody loves me now!” And then, crying loudly, she ran to her room and slammed the door. As a parent, it broke my heart. The sound of my daughter crying always pains me, no matter the circumstances. I suspect that God looks down on us as compassionately as I did my daughter. You see, I knew that her loneliness was real and justified. I knew that her sadness was real and untamed. Because I knew,  I did not tell her to stop crying or to stop feeling sad. Rather, I entered her room and sat beside her for a while, waiting. Eventually, she crawled into my lap. When she calmed down a little, I talked to her, validating her feelings and guiding her through them. Soon enough, the moment passed, and my daughter was ready to play again.

Just like a parent, God knows our circumstances. He knows that, just as a child, sometimes we run to our “rooms” crying and distraught. He knows that our pain and loneliness is big and real, and He does not prevent us from enduring all the difficulties living a faithful life yields.  He knows, just as parents do, that tribulations produce perseverance, character, and hope.

He knows and He waits beside us.  He waits for the crying to settle, the heart to soften, and the soul to calm. Tenderly and patiently, He waits.

And then, in the most perfect of moments, He speaks…(Please come back tomorrow to read my response to 1 KINGS 19:11-14

I leave you with this scripture:

Romans 5:1-5, NIV

 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragement, Part 2

1 Kings 19:5-8 New International Version (NIV)

Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

My response:

The angel said,  “Arise and eat.

But the message from God was  “Arise from this pit of despair. Take from my strength and feed yourself. Rest and be replenished.”

God,

When we allow fear to settle,

when we hide in shame and despair,

when we are drowning in doubt,

may we always remember Your response,

A Stephens

The spirit needs to be fed, and the body needs feeding also. Do not forget these matters; it may seem to some people that I ought not to mention such small things as food and rest, but these may be the very first elements in really helping a poor depressed servant of God.” (Spurgeon)

“It was very gracious for God to deal this with his servant. We might have expected rebuke or remonstrance, chiding or chastisement; but we would hardly have expected such loving, gentle treatment as this.” (Meyer)

Elijah, A Series of Responses: Discouragment

Elijah.

A man. A prophet. Called by God and simply obedient. What can we take from his life, his story?

 

I am currently reading about Elijah and in the next few days, I will share parts of my writing (from my daily devotional times), along with a few quotes that I find striking.

Today, I respond after reading about Elijah’s greatest moment of discouragement.

1 KINGS 19:1-4

Even the prophet Elijah, this mighty man of prayer,  became discouraged, fearing for his life. This is interesting, because God just moved mightily though Elijah, and in front of hundreds of witnesses. How could Elijah, after all God had proven, suddenly distrust God’s protection ? So , Elijah ran, and certainly, this is a low moment. A failing moment, at that.  But instead of running from God into eternal rebellion, Elijah ran into isolation and prayed, saying, “”It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

What about his prayer? Can we not, in all our natural humanness, understand such a prayer?  While it was not necessarily honorable to run, this prayer to God depicts that Elijah still had a heart set after God’s.  Elijah was honest with God, praying earnestly in his discouragement.

We should all take note here. There will be times of uncertainty, yes? There will be times when we feel burdened by ministries, yes.  But instead of building walls, becoming disingenuous in our walks, or turning into rebellion, we should seek to be honest with God, trusting in his response. We should run into solitude, just to fall down at the mercy of Christ. When in despair, that is where our hearts should be found. It is there where God reveals himself as as tender God, full of love and affection, treating our frail humanities’ most offensive failures with the sweetest grace possible.

~May our prayers be unceasingly honest, as we can be sure to entrust God with our frail hearts and premature words. We may fall; we may arise. Wherever we are, we can be sure of God’s great affection,

A Stephens.

 

“Elijah failed in the very point at which he was strongest, and that is where most men fail. In Scripture, it is the wisest man who proves himself to be the greatest fool; just as the meekest man, Moses, spoke hasty and bitter words. Abraham failed in his faith, and Job in his patience; so, he who was the most courageous of all men, fled from an angry woman.” (Spurgeon)

“Elijah said, ‘It is enough,’ yet it was not enough even for his own enjoyment, for the Lord had more blessings in store for him … It was so with Elijah, for he was to have that wonderful revelation of God on Mount Horeb. He had more to enjoy, and the later life of Elijah appears to have been one of calm communion with his God; he seems never to have had another fainting fit, but to the end his sun shone brightly without a cloud. So it was not enough; how could he know that it was? It is God alone who knows when we have done enough, and enjoyed enough; but we do not know.” (Spurgeon)