Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Past, Present, & Future

 "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
Romans 15:13

The other night I enjoyed a nice evening out with my husband finishing-up our Christmas shopping and dining at one of our favorite spots in Lawrence, KS--the town we consider, "home."  I have written many times of my love for Lawrence with all its quirkiness and unique appeal.  It is a rarity to see a town of its size thriving with such a sublime dichotomy of old, hometown charm mixed with hipster art, music, diversity, and culture.  It seems there is always something interesting happening in Lawrence and the other night was no exception.  As we walked down Massachusetts Avenue, a pack of about 150 people were on what they call, "The Jingle Jog."  This group was running up and down "Mass Street," as it is typically termed, while festively adorning all sorts of Christmas attire--from Santa hats to battery-powered Christmas lights and Rudolph noses.  One guy was speed-walking and wearing one of those head-light hats.  He was emphatically reading aloud from Dr. Seuss' famous Christmas work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Right as he breezed past me he read the line, "Mr. Grinch, the words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!"  I died laughing.  It was a good reminder that though I am a bit overwhelmed right now with the approach of Christmas and how behind I am with pretty much everything, I need to watch my attitude and remember the real reason for this season.

I have since thought about some of the other beloved Christmas stories that I read as a kid.  Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, came to mind as I worked on my Christmas cards the other day and pondered Christmases past.  In working to finally update my new address book, I shed a few tears of grief at the awful reminder of so many special people who have gone on to be with the Lord since my last updating.  Even in just the last year, there have been several changes of lives lost, as well as, family members and friends who have moved, and those who have, "moved on," so to speak.  As we all know, things change, people change, and we just lose touch with each other at times for various reasons.  Life happens.

I know I am not alone when I say that this time of year brings to mind all the memories of the past year and of prior Christmases, as well.  Perhaps it's a natural tendency for us to reflect as one year closes and another begins--or maybe I'm just a sap!  But many of us do find ourselves thinking of all the memories of Christmases past--good and bad.  We also desire and work ourselves silly in hopes of giving our loved ones a wonderful Christmas-present (both the literal and figurative).  I came across a poll the other day which found that American women spend approximately 86-hours preparing for Christmas during the month of December, and American men spend approximately 67-hours preparing (and I found myself wondering who those men are--sorry, guys)!  But obviously, we all work very hard to prepare for this season and bless those we love in great and memorable ways.

Why do we do this?  To impress people with how Martha Stewart-like we are?  To wow our family with our creative, gift-giving abilities?  To over-compensate for our failings during the rest of the year?  God forbid!  Our motives to bless our loved ones, friends, and the less-fortunate should be wrapped-up in one person--the Person Who is the true reason for the season, and Whose name the season bears--Jesus Christ.  Without Jesus, this holiday is pointless and meaningless.  The commercialism, the chaos, the stress, and the pressures just aren't worth it without Him.  But if we know Christ, and if we make Him the center of our focus for this holiday, suddenly it all makes sense--we show love to others because HE first showed love to us.  When we place all our hope in Him, we can easily share joy, love, and blessings with others because we know a Savior Who was born just to die for us.  Regardless of how our actual Christmas turns out, it's already a fantastic one with that free, priceless gift from above (2 Cor. 9:15)!  I recall a friend (one who happens to sadly have, "moved on"), telling me that religious Christmas music was depressing because not everyone feels joyful at Christmas.  My first thought was, All the more reason to relish that music and cling to the Person for Whom it was written.

As I thought about those whose names I did not rewrite into my newly updated address book, I took great comfort knowing that they are all in heaven celebrating a Christmastime unlike any we have ever had here.  They have not had to wait in long lines buying things that won't be given a second thought in a month.  They have not battled illness while attempting to cheerfully serve in ministry capacities. They have not felt loneliness, sadness, or exhaustion at a time when they should feel only joy and peace.  They are WITH the Person for Whom CHRISTmas is celebrated.  What a grand and perfectly glorious time they must be having!  As I think about Christmas-future, I not only pray for many more blessed Christmases with those who remain in my life, but I look so forward to the day when I can celebrate with the actual Birthday Boy.  I am convinced that Christmas-future is where it's at!  God bless and Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Leading in Love

"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."
Hebrews 13:17 

When we think of, "leadership," we typically think of people in management positions, levels of high-rank, or those in authority.  But in reality, God has placed us all in leadership roles to some degree--even if we are only leading ourselves in our personal lives.  In thinking about the above verse, I am reminded of the various leaders in my life--those who have mentored me, counseled me, guided me, shepherded me, and been in direct authority over me.  I also think about those over whom I have led.  At first glance, this verse can make you cringe at the words, "have confidence," and "submit," because if we are honest, we all have had leaders in the past, or even currently, for whom we have no ability or desire to do either.  But after reading the entire verse, we quickly see that this verse is not just about being a good subordinate.  It also tells the leader a couple of things:  to keep watch over their subordinates, and to be prepared to give an account for how they do that.

Based on God's Word, Godly leadership first, carries a high responsibility for the well-being of others, and second, recognizes it is in direct submission to God (which is the underlying motive for the first).  So what motivates leaders to truly care about the well-being of their subordinates and to truly fear God's authority over them?  Love.  Love of God and love of others. 

This flies in the face of what most secular books on leadership will tell you.   You can read a lot of books on leading and leadership, and they say a lot of the same things--being firm, fair, consistent, honest, reliable, confident, an effective delegator, a utililzer of talent, and so forth.  Those are all crucial leadership traits.  But I believe the one thing that makes a good leader a great leader, is leading in love.  If God IS love, and love comes from God (1 John 4:7-8), there is no way to be a loving leader without being a Godly one. 

Being a Godly leader will many times mean personally taking the hard road so someone else can have the easy one.  It may mean letting go of how you want something to be done so that the majority of others involved can be pleased.  It will mean demoting yourself at times so others can be elevated.  It will mean letting go of your fears and your desire to control things due to them, and just trusting God.  It will mean letting go of what is, "fair," and letting God deal with injustices.  It will mean looking at the bigger picture, and choosing unity and peacemaking over proving points, teaching lessons, & winning (ugh...will that word ever carry the proper connotation after being taken captive by Charlie Sheen?)!  Being a Godly, loving leader will demand having many, "get real" moments, as I call them--meaning, having honest evaluations with yourself in areas where you are giving yourself passes but holding others hostage to their infractions.  It will require comparing yourself to Christ and not to others.  It requires giving-up the temptation to play, "conviction-police," to those beneath you, proudly touting and twisting Scripture in true, God-complex form to subordinates who you believe need your expertise, opinion, and control.  Instead, a Godly leader desires to spend more time tweaking and perfecting their own life, and praying fervently for those they lead.

We have all led and we have all been led.  When you think about the leaders who have most effectively led you and shown you in turn, how to lead, what do they all have in common? A personal drive to claw their way to the top? Ambition, visions, and dreams so deep and wide a canyon is left in their absence? Confidence & smooth talk? Flashy appeal and book smarts galore?  Nope.  They had a pure love for their service (and that is how they viewed it, it was not "work"), and they had even more love for you and others beneath them.  They were trustworthy, immovable, and steady--which gave you security, peace, and made you trust them all the more. They had a humble peace about them--resolute in their decisions, but not with an attitude of showing, "who's boss." They possessed inner strength and joy in all circumstances, good and bad. They humbly listened more than they talked.  They truly cared about what was going on in your life and sought to understand you.  They were fair and honest--which earned them your deep respect.  They were grateful for your service, and told you so.  They humbly desired to glean wisdom from those beneath them in order to reap a better harvest.  They were quick to admit mistakes or admit when they were wrong--and they said they were sorry.  They were willing to change things that needed changing and could be changed.  They helped develop you and lovingly pointed-out areas where you could improve.  They were immovable in areas of black-and-white, and highly flexible in areas of grey.  They entrusted you with stuff and showed you they believed in you.  They never diminished those beneath them, gossiped, picked sides, jabbed, double-talked, belittled, played favorites, bent the rules for those favorites, or used passive-aggressive tactics as punishment--which by the way, are all quick ways to lose the respect and trust of subordinates and encourage criticism, anger, decreased job performance, and even rebellion.  The truly effective, great leaders in your life worked to gain and maintain your trust and respect, realizing that both are earned.

One of the most important leadership roles a person can be given, is that of parenting.  I've blogged previously about this in a blog post entitled, "Few Parental Regrets."  In this post, I share about how our only child, Allie, never rebelled against my husband and me, even with our very strict rules (which by the way, flew in the face of how others around us were parenting).  I believe this is due to two things:  she had no doubt of our immense love and value for her and her life, and she knew we were in direct submission to God.  It sure wasn't because we were perfect parents or strict, wise authoritarians.  When pure love is the source of the leadership, the subordinates trust and respect.  They love in return.  We would all follow a deeply loving, trustworthy leader just about anywhere--and we would do it with a wink and a smile.  As Hebrews 13:17 states, we desire to make their job easy and joyful, in return.  It is amazing how quickly points of contention and strife diminish when we believe we are being led in love and when we know we are valued, heard, and understood.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, "I don't have any position of leadership, so how does all this apply to me?" Or worse, "So what?"  Well, friend, as I stated initially, you are in the least, in leadership over yourself and your life--and we will all answer to God about that, as well.  And chances are, you will be given another leadership role at some point.  In summary, I believe being a truly great leader means helping others reach their potential by humbly entrusting yours, and only yours, to God--and you can do neither without love.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

In Joys AND Sorrows

 Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

As I write this blog today, I can't help but think about the silly journey I have been on for the past six months battling Plantar Fasciitis from a runner's injury early last May.  Suffice it to say, it has not been a fun one.  I recently had the privilege of enjoying some time with a dear friend who asked me at length about my feet and how my physical therapy is going.  I could tell she was very concerned about my situation and truly cared that I am struggling greatly with pain-management and healing.  It meant the world to me that she was more concerned about my issue than any of her own--and quite honestly, my issue is not that pressing in the scope of life.  But I thought a great deal about this verse in Romans 12 that day, and I thanked God for this friend who has always been the kind of fellow sojourner in Christ to be genuinely happy for me in my successes and joys, and sincerely sorrowful and concerned when I am hurting.

We have all come across people in life like this--faithful friends who place more interest on us than themselves.  They are the ones who after spending time with them, we almost feel guilty that we would receive such an undeserved blessing in another human being--someone who behaves as if we are more important than they are.  We also feel remorse because we did most of the talking, as is typical in the relationship (these folks rarely want to speak at length about themselves).  Likewise, we have probably all met people of the contrary, who seem to bask in our sorrows and mourn selfishly in our joys.  These "friends," who disappear or hide when things are good, suffer from the all-too-typical-green-eyed-monster-syndrome, and they would rather play counselor than cheerleader where we are concerned.  These are the friends who cannot muster up a genuinely kind word about good things in our life, but place great demand and expectation on us to bask at length in the glory of theirs.  Last and on the opposite end of that negative spectrum, there are people whom we could term, "fair-weather friends." They are the ones who only want to be around us when things are good.  But once they aren't, they are no where to be found.  They have no time or patience for anything less than fun and smiles.  But we are called by God directly in His Word to be loyal, faithful friends in every circumstance, regardless of the current situations of others or ourselves.  Not just when it feels good to us or is convenient for us.  Not just when God is blessing us equally.  Not just when things are in our favor. 

Though I have truly despised the past six months due to the pain, time, and expense of my injury, I know that the Good Lord has used this for my personal betterment.  I know that my empathy for those who deal with constant pain has heightened immensely.  My empathy for those who battle weight loss issues due to be unable to exercise has increased significantly (I am still wearing 6 of the 10 pounds I gained last winter, and here we are approaching the good ol' holidays again)!  My awareness of how blessed I am to even be able to walk has risen greatly.  My appreciation for doctors and therapists and the genuine care and support they give, has gone through the roof.  I have come to realize that patience, peace, and self-control are the three Fruits of the Spirit upon which I need to work much harder.  Before my injury, I was feeling pretty self-assured that I was working on all the fruits pretty consistently and effectively (funny how a hardship brings out the reality in us)!  This injury has brought me to deeper prayer and forced me to rely more fully on God in order to do my work and my ministry.  This is a humility all of us need, but to which none of us ever look forward.  When you spend the first two hours every day holding onto counters and furniture just to endure pain as you work, you learn humility really quickly.  When you lie awake at all hours of the night because your feet are throbbing, you learn to pray harder.  As it turns out, feet are pretty important.  I won't be taking them for granted again.  

So what does my stupid, petty feet-injury have to do with Romans 12?  Well, for starters, I am hopeful that I have learned to have more mercy for my fellow believers who are struggling with things--namely health issues.  It is easy to be quick to judge others who gripe and complain about their aches and pains until you have them yourself.  I am grateful for those who have genuinely cared about me--in my joys and sorrows.  I am humbled by friends who are suffering and warring right now with much bigger battles than I, and doing so while exhibiting all nine Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), unlike me.  I am blessed that God has provided my needs during this time (physical therapy and orthotics aren't cheap) and allowed me to continue in my work and ministry in spite of my pain.  I know my Lord is teaching me peace, patience, and self-control in this journey and He has my best interests at heart--even though there have been days where I am just really weary.  He does not desire for me to view this as His wrath upon me (a clear epiphany given to me by Him one day after I threw myself before Him in anger and despair about my feet).  Though this is a small but greatly annoying battle, I believe God is also preparing and teaching me things about aging.  None of us are immune to that, and in the, "pride of life," I know deep down I was not really wanting to face the inevitability of it.  We girls are told in all forms of media that we are supposed to be timeless, and that our lives and looks should show that in every sense of the word.  During this second half of my life, I am going to have to learn to deal with health issues gracefully in God's strength--not my own.  I am going to have to let go of vanity and the arrogance of youth and life--aging will remove both whether I choose to let them go or not.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, "This ain't heaven, folks," and, "There are three things you can count on in life:  death, taxes, and change."  So though the wrinkle in the middle of my forehead is now deeper from furrowing my brow from pain all summer and fall, I am reminded of how it really doesn't matter.  One day all pain, all struggles, and all wrinkles (can I get an, "Amen," up in here?), will be gone forever.  

I pray that I can be the kind of friend who supports, encourages, and blesses in joys and sorrows--even when I am hurting or it is not reciprocated.  I pray I can be the kind of believer who never criticizes or judges someone else's lot in life until I have walked a mile in their moccasins.  Though I have to admit my fear and trepidation about it, I desire for God to continue to prune me to the point where I just love people.  But I ask Him now:  "Father, please prune me thoroughly, but gently.  Help me to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn--regardless of their situation, regardless of mine, and regardless of how they treat me in return. Amen."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Broken and Blessed

Luke 9:16-17a
"Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke them. Then He gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied"...

Nearly every day, I begin my morning quiet-time with a bowl of cereal and reading Rick Warren's, "Daily Hope," e-devotional before plunging into my Bible to read on my own.  On October 14, 2013, I was reading Pastor Warren's post, "God Breaks, Then He Multiplies."  That devotional has bugged me ever since.

In it, Pastor Warren discusses how God has to break us before He can bless us and then multiply our gifts and service.  I have thought a great deal about this, "breaking" part.  Why does God have to break us before blessing and using us?  What is the purpose of that?  Then came the classic, pity-party, Stephanie-question:  Why is God so hard on us at times?

When we ponder Christ breaking that bread in order to bless and multiply it, we first see that the bread had to become smaller in order to grow bigger.  At first glance, this may seem harsh--to tear the bread and rip it apart.  But it couldn't be shared if it wasn't first broken.  In the same way, God breaks us so we can be shared and multiplied.  It is important to notice that even though the bread was torn, it was still bread and still served its purpose--and an even greater one at that.  So when we are broken, we can likewise trust that God isn't going to break us beyond ourselves or to the point of uselessness.  He actually wants the exact opposite.  He is making us smaller or humbling us so that we can be shared and multiplied.  He wants us to also recognize our great need for Him and for this greater purpose in our lives. 

It is also important to notice that before Christ actually broke that bread, He prayed over it first to thank God the Father for it and, "bless" it.  If Jesus did this for a loaf of bread, how much more does He intercede on our behalf to the Father before God breaks us?  I am guessing loads more.  I imagine Christ saying of me, "Father, thank You for this child.  Thank You for what You are going to do in her life once You break her for the sharing and multiplying.  I ask You to bless her and this process, Father."  We can rest in knowing that we are much more valuable to God than mere bread. 

God's Word says that He loves humble servants and resists the proud.  Part of this breaking process also involves us viewing ourselves as we should--as sinners who are helpless without His blessing and aid.  When we are broken, we are also typically much more willing to submit to God--that is, we should be.  There are times when we proudly rebel and fight the breaking-stage.  No one likes to have their life torn apart on any level.  But eventually, we must come to terms with our need for God's help, strength, wisdom, grace, and mercy in that which we are striving or struggling. Oftentimes, when we are strong and feeling overly confident, we seek to do things our own way instead of giving them over to God first.  When we are broken, we are also much more focused on giving God the glory for any successes because we can easily recall that it was not our effort that brought them.  We are better able to see God's hand in our lives when we are humble versus proud.

Over and over in Scripture we see examples of God using broken, humbled people--sinful people with big issues.  God loves to take broken things and turn them into beautiful ones.  Why?  Because this is His character.  It's the entire essence of Who He is.  He is a fixer.  We had a major problem in The Garden with the initial sin, and what did God do about it?  He brought another fixer.  He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to give us a solution to our problem.  God loves to fix things for two main reasons:  to show His glory and to show His great love for us.  It may not feel like He is loving on you when He allows you to be broken.  But we know that we cannot fully appreciate the good things God does in our lives if everything constantly goes our way.  This isn't heaven and we have much to learn before reaching it.  We all have character flaws which we don't even want to face or admit.  But they need removal.  This removal does not happen when we get everything we want.

Sometimes in our walk with God, we hear things many times and they are not new to us.  But for some reason, we read them later and they strike us differently.  In reading Rick Warren's devotional, I realized with fresh eyes that to serve others or be used by God on any level, we have to be willing to be broken.  When you begin to put yourself out there for God and attempt to serve Him in ways that He is urging you, you have to prepare yourself for some pain.  First, the enemy will be ticked-off, and he will begin to work on you and use people you never dreamed he would use to hurt you in order to stifle you in your service, ruin your attitude towards it, and discourage you from even doing it.  Secondly, people you love may not support or understand what you do for God.  But as we know, we are here to please God not people.  Thirdly, not everyone will value your work.  Again, if your identity and purpose are not in the Lord, you will falter in your mission and perspective.  The ONE THING you must always tell yourself:  other's opinions of you are not your business.  It's their business.  It's their issue.  Your only responsibility is to God and what HE thinks of you.  It is also important to mention that when you are in God's will or trying hard to find it, oftentimes you will reek of joy.  Others, who are NOT in God's will in their own journeys (or who aren't even trying to be), may be turned-off by this.  They are not at peace, but do not allow their discomfort and discontentment to begin to seep into your heart, poison your purpose, or plague your mission.  Taylor Swift's song, "Ours," speaks to this:

"And don't you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
But they can't take what's ours, they can't take what's ours, they can't take what's ours
The stakes are high, the water's rough, but this love is ours."

When we have been burned or hurt in the past, it feels easier to withhold our love and service to others.  We may even say, "What is the point? It did me no good last time, God."  Well, God is the point.  When others don't reciprocate or fully appreciate your love and service, you can focus on two things:  First, there is always someone else who needs your love and service, and who will value it.  If you are spinning your wheels in your ministry or service to others, perhaps you need to find a less-muddy road.  Secondly, God sees, values, and reciprocates your love and efforts--far above anything you ever give or do for Him.  So regardless, we are here to give in God's name for His purposes.  We are not here for ourselves, for reciprocation of our efforts, or to hoard our love and gifts.  They cannot be blessed, used, and multiplied unless we are willing to be broken.

For nearly seven years, I avoided putting myself out there in ways that I knew God could use me.  One of these ways was in blogging and getting on Facebook.  Now there are many reasons I despise Facebook and I stand by them all (i.e. people spending more time on it than in God's Word; people spending more time looking at it than having real conversations with those in their presence or current life; people using it to be passive-aggressive; people "meeting-up" with those whom they have no business reconnecting; etc.).  But one honest reason for my lengthy refusal to succumb to the societal pressure of becoming a, "card-carrying member of the social media world," was that I did not want anyone to know anything about my life.  I was afraid of being judged, ridiculed, and simply wanted to avoid experiencing any kind of painful snarkiness posed by others.  I had heard enough horror stories from others about the negative things that can happen in this realm, and made-up my mind that I would NEVER set myself up for unneeded abuse (the world is harsh enough in real-time). But one thing God has been painfully pruning off of me is the need to be loved, accepted, and affirmed by others.  As I've blogged about repeatedly, fear and people-pleasing have ruled my life for too long now.  God has shown me that both have to go--for good.  Even though I still truly dislike Facebook on many levels, I know that I cannot be effective for God if I refuse to use the current-day capacities at my disposal for Him and toward areas He is nudging me. 

Two of my biggest spiritual gifts are encouragement and intercession.  I was not effectively doing either by hiding from people or avoiding getting to know others better.  I am also done being afraid to put myself out there and share my faith with others.  If I can do that more effectively by exposing my creative joys, my stories, and my life, then so be it.  We cannot be effective for God hiding in our house and keeping 95% of the world at arms-length.  We cannot be a light for Christ, an encouragement to others, or get to know others well for the purpose of intercession if we avoid people and keep our life hidden.  We have to be willing to be broken in order to be used by God.  Have I experienced some brokenness by putting myself out there?  You bet.  Do I really care in the scope of God blessing and multiplying me?  No way.  It's all part of the process--the process of God's work in me and God's work through me.  We can trust His intentions in both.

There is risk involved in putting yourself out there to serve God and love others.  God will challenge you when you agree to submit to Him.  He will show you areas in your own heart that need challenging--and it is painful, at times.  Serving others is an even bigger risk because people are not perfect.  They are selfish and they are sinful--even Christians.  If you get involved with people, you will be hurt--you can count on it.  If you choose to do God's will, brace yourself--the enemy will be attacking you, as well.  If you choose to love others above yourself--make sure you are operating off God's wellspring of love, not your own.  Yours isn't renewable, and it will get sucked dry by others in a hurry.  But God's love breaks you, and then it makes you.  His love is enduring--it blesses, and it multiplies.  Praise be to God.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Relish the Moments

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
Philippians 4:8 

As I've mentioned in prior blogs, I despise this time of year.  In pondering why, I realize that one major reason for my lackluster attitude towards autumn is that my husband, Matt, begins a rigorous schedule of nightly meetings for work.  Through the months of late October til mid-April, he is usually gone at least one night a week.  My husband works about 55-hours a week not including these night meetings, his six to nine business trips per year, or the fair amount of work he does at home. I also calculated that I only see him about 52-hours a week (again, without the night meetings, the business trips, and the homework).  Add to that the fact that I'm gone two to three nights a week for my music commitments--my worship team rehearsal at church, my other band's rehearsal, and perhaps a couple gigs for that band per month.  So the time Matt and I have together is not at all balanced with our work.  No wonder I hate fall and winter.

It is truly sad to realize how much of our lives we spend working and sleeping.  We really don't have much time with those we love or to make an impact in their lives.  It has been determined that we sleep one-third of our lives.  If we are working more than half the time we are awake, there isn't much left--and we haven't even talked about household chores and errands, which are certainly work!  Maybe it is because I am "in" my forties now, but I think about time a great deal.  It is both sad and hilarious for me to realize that in my twenties and thirties, I fretted about money.  Now, time is the bigger issue for me!  I prayerfully try to make the best use of mine in order to have as much time as possible for enjoying those I love.  But how can we make the most of the very little time we do have with others?  

When we are with those we love or anyone whom God has placed in our lives, we need to shut-off the rest of the world and just enjoy them.  Being present in mind and spirit, and not just in body, is crucial if we're going to truly relish the moments we've been given with others.  You cannot make an impact in any one's life if they are just a side-note to yours.  On the flip-side, we also have to stop thinking we can be, "bosom buddies," with every single person that comes into our lives.  There are seasonal friendships, phone-friendships, church-only friendships, work-only friendships, and even once-a-year friendships.  This is good and fine--we can't be all things to all people, and if we try, we will fail at being anything to anyone.  We have to be willing to adjust our minimal time with the changing demands in our lives.  We also have to be willing to allow others the space to do the same. There is a hierarchy for prioritizing people in our life given directly in Scriptures--God comes first, your spouse is second, your kids are third, your parents are fourth, your church is fifth, and from there it gets pretty fuzzy.  But if these five are not in-line or others are making demands that will require you to fudge on those five, stand firm.  Your time is limited and your energy is even more limited.  If you are trying to relish too many moments with too many people, you will end-up relishing no moments.

Whether I am with Matt, my band-mates, my church-mates, my family, my friends, my nail salon tech, my hairdresser, or whoever it may be--I think the verse above is key.  When we are with others we need to always focus on them and the good stuff.  We need to always be honest.  We need to share loveliness.  We need to speak fairly, do justly, and give good report.  We need to appreciate both who they are and who God has made them to be.  We need to truly listen and yet be willing to share.  We need to just have fun and laugh--a lot.  We need to recall the past and reflect on the funny and great times we have shared with them.  We need to give value and share joy for the great things happening in their life now.  We need to look back at where we have been with them and what God has done in their life and ours.  We need to care about them and their stuff more than we do ourselves and our own stuff.  We need to realize it isn't an accident that they are in our life at this time.  We need to just bask in the gift of life with these people we love and with whom we share our very limited time. 

I don't want to be on my deathbed one day regretting that I worked too much.  I also don't want to get to the end of my life and regret that I worried and focused on the negative things too much, or on too many things, instead of relishing pure and beautiful moments with those I love.  We need to stop expecting others to fill voids and meet expectations only God can fill and meet--and we need to stop trying to do that for others.  God didn't give us people so we could get stuff from them or control them.  He gave us each other to teach us how to love.  The time we have in life is unknown, valuable, and a gift of enjoyment from God Himself.  The people God has placed within that allotted time, who have remained through thick and thin, are also valuable and rare gifts meant for relishing.  Time and special people--I praise God today for both. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Exception to the Rule is one of the great rules of life. It is a norm upon which you can count.  A great many songs and commentaries have been written about change.  We have all heard the old, clich├ęd quotes: "Nothing stays the same," and, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  Regardless of which you believe to be truer, change is a topic to which we can all relate.  No one is immune to the changing seasons of life or exempt from the changes those seasons bring.  I happen to believe there are actually three things you can count on in life:  death, taxes, and change.

You could discuss change with a wide-variety of people and get a wide-range of responses.  Some folks thrive on change, feeling a renewed sense of purpose and refreshment to their spirit when it occurs.  They view it as an opportunity for growth and a chance to solve new problems in pliable and exciting ways.  Others dread it like a common cold.  They have more of the, "if-it-isn't-broken-why-are-we-changing-it," mentality.  To these people, change typically brings initial, overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and perhaps even fear.  God has definitely wired us all uniquely and given us individual strengths and weaknesses.  Furthermore, life has more than likely taught these two different groups of people very different things where change is concerned.  This demands understanding by each group and a recognition that some of us are better suited for change than others, just as some of us are better equipped to bounce a basketball than manage a checkbook.

I would fall in the latter group of people and change (I can also manage a checkbook a lot better than play basketball, so I guess I fall in the latter of both above comparisons).  To me, change is typically a nuisance and an interruption.  It feels like I just get used to the way things are in life and I have to start all over again.  Depending on the specific type of change, it can feel that adjusting to it is a colossal waste of energy and time.  Now I am not talking about trying a new food, vacationing to a new destination, or rearranging the furniture in your living room.  Those are simple and fun changes that most of us do enjoy.  I am talking about the kinds of change that require major adjustment, deep thought, or new problem-solving tactics.  During those seasons, it can be difficult to let go of the familiar and add unfamiliar things that the new change requires.  When you are a person who tends to cling to people and things a bit too tightly, there can be some grief involved.  There is always loss felt when something common or comfortable in life is now missing.

So how does a non-change person survive the constant changes life demands?  For starters, we must look to the steadfast, unwavering love, grace, and mercy of God our Father.  God's Word tells us plainly that He never changes--He is timeless.  In James 1:17, we read, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows."  We can also stand firm on the lasting Word of the Lord.  In Isaiah 40:8, we read, "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.”  Because God's Word is sound, ageless, and true, we can always look to it for wisdom and guidance in times of change.  We may face broken promises and fickle, dishonest manipulations by others, but God always keeps His promises and He loves us eternally.  In Deuteronomy 7:9, we read, "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments."  Furthermore, we can trust in the unchanging love of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who like His Father, " the same yesterday and today and forever," (Hebrews 13:8).

Perhaps you read these verses and think, "Yeah...well, things are different today, so how does this apply to me?" Well, friend, God's Word says that, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun, " (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  God's unchanging love and eternal Word are as applicable and reliable today as they were in the very beginning.  The problems and challenges people faced thousands of years ago may have looked differently on the surface than ours do today--but they are essentially the same.  God's Son, Jesus Christ, is the One immovable presence in our lives Who we can count on for everything and Who we can trust to always be there.  Change in people and life are the rule--but God is the great exception.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Facing My Biggest Fear--Part 3/3!

Okay, friend.  You've made it through to the final blog post on this story!  God bless you for hangin' tough with me.  I pray for each of you to be blessed in some special way by this story (or in the least, for taking the time to read it).  Part of the reason I wanted to write about this is because I sadly don't have the time, energy, or vocal stamina to share the entire tale with every family member and friend who has asked me about it (or with whom I desire to share it).  Writing about it simplifies that problem.  My son in-law, Kale, who is working on his Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Univ. of IL, also encouraged me to blog about it for a variety of reasons.  But more than all that, I pray that the effort I have expended doing so serves some higher purpose:  that you, too, will be prompted to live fearlessly and face areas in your own life where you are letting fear trump what you know you really want or need to do.  If we say we believe in Christ, if we have come to know Him as our personal Savior, Father, and Friend, if we are new in Him, if He rules our lives, if we trust in His promises, if His strength can be ours, and if we believe everything God's Word says about His character, there is just no place for fear of any kind in our lives--period. 

We ended Part Two with the conversation I had with my uncle's wife on the phone on Labor Day of 2012.  Allie and I both felt so much relief that we had made a family contact who would now be in charge of handling the awkwardness of letting my father know I was looking for him.  As I mentioned, my aunt had told me that her husband (my father's half-brother) and my father are somewhat estranged. She also said that in a couple of days, she was about to embark on a two-month excursion with her sister for a traveling jewelry business doing shows and fall craft festivals around the country.  So she warned me that it might take her several weeks to get in touch with my father and handle all this for me.  I wasn't sure why she couldn't just call him that night, but assumed it had to do with the fact that my father and uncle were estranged (might have been an awkward call for that reason alone).  I was just so happy that someone else was going to deliver the initial blow, I let that go and trusted God with it all.  Since the ball was no longer in our court, so to speak, Allie and I felt a great amount of freedom. We knew at this point, all we could do was pray and wait.  So that's what we did.

Then it happened.  Exactly seven weeks later, on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, my father called me.  I was lying in bed at around 7AM at the time, awake and trying to muster-up the motivation to get up and get rolling.  Matt had just left for work, and I was mentally organizing and planning my typical Monday morning do-list as I laid there (and probably dreading that it was Monday)!  Then the phone rang, which was a bit of a surprise--we rarely get calls at 7AM (thank God--I am not a morning gal and you don't even want to talk to me before 8AM).  But this was a call I was delighted to receive.  As is typical, Matt and I had been gone a lot off and on that weekend, and had seen the same number on caller ID a few times upon returning home.  But no message was ever left.  We had suspected it might be my dad trying to call because though it didn't show a name for the number, it listed the town from which it was coming, and I knew it had to be him (my aunt had told me where he lived).  So when the phone rang that Monday morning and the number reappeared, I jumped up and answered with excitement and hope.  In my best, no, I-didn't-just-wake-up-voice, I said, "Hell-ooo?" and the caller said, "Stephanie?  It's your dad, [insert his name here]."  I let out a soft shriek and replied with something like, "Oh, my goodness!  Thank you so much for calling me!"  Amazingly, all fear was gone--not one trace existed in me.  We talked and talked for several hours--so long I don't really recall how long!  Time was pretty much a blur that entire day.  In the scope of the moment, the clock just didn't matter.  I don't think I've ever been able to go without using the restroom for that many hours in my life--especially having not gone even upon awakening (sorry...I know...too much info).  We cried, laughed, filled each other in on the pertinent, current details of our lives, talked about God, talked about the past, and even hashed-out a lot of the hard stuff.  Most importantly, I got to tell my father how very sorry I was for telling him to, "go away and leave us alone," when he called in an effort to see me at age 10.  My father's response to this was pretty incredible--he claimed he had never heard me say that.  So I had needlessly tortured myself for 32 years...and to think...he didn't even recall it.  Now I'm no dummy--he may have just said that to ease my pain.  As a dad, there's a good chance he just "played dumb" so I would not guilt myself anymore for something I had said as a child.  But regardless, it felt so good to apologize and hear him say that I had not hurt him by those words.

I love that my father called me on a Monday morning.  I was born on a Monday morning, and it seemed fitting.  He shared some great stories of his life with me, some funny tales, and some hard ones.  He asked me to share all mine.  I hung on his every word, taking notes fiercely so as not to ever forget one word.  I wanted to be able to not only recall and share all the details and stories later with my daughter, Allie, but also to have them for my grandchildren one day.  I don't know when I got out of bed that day, but it was probably a new record for me, other than when I am ill!  The one thing that kept resonating with me throughout our awesome conversation was my friend, JB's words to me from that previous March:   "I just think people change. I think your dad is a sixty-something-year-old-man, and I doubt he's the same person he was 42 years ago."  Since I hadn't been given the best information regarding my father while growing up, I feared him.  But JB was right--my father was nothing like I had feared.  He was tender, caring, compassionate, funny, sweet, a great listener, and quite a gifted story-teller.  I loved him right away.

One of the coolest things I came to learn that day was that I am one-eighth Cherokee Indian.  My dad's grandmother, on his mother's side of the family, was a full-blooded Cherokee. This was an intriguing factoid for me because I have always loved Native American art, jewelry, and history.  It was also pretty funny to find this out because I've had people tell me my entire life that I look like a Native American-mix.  Go figure.  I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Native Americans and what our government did to their way of life.  Finding out that I have a decent amount of that blood running through me, made me distinctly proud.  It was an unexpected blessing to glean such knowledge of my own roots and history.

I found it utterly healing to gain a better understanding of a lot of things which I had never known.  I knew my father was Mexican, but I didn't know much else about his family history.  I learned that my dad's grandparents, on his father's side, were full-blooded Mexican and originally from Guadalajara, Mexico--so our family has only been in America for four generations, which amazed me.  My father shared the details of his growing-up years and the hardships he faced.  Being Hispanic and Native American in a white, Midwest town, and knowing little to no English to boot, did not make for an easy childhood.  Some of his stories were very hard to hear and broke my heart.  Upon sharing with my father that I had been an elementary teacher for many years, he shared a precious story about one of his elementary teachers.  This particular teacher was the first one who had ever truly cared about him and treated him like he was as good as, "the white kids."  She was the first and only teacher who really took the time to teach him English and try to help him make it in school.  She took him home with her to tutor him personally and make sure he got a good after-school snack.  She went the extra mile for my father.  But she was the only one.  As a former educator, I was appalled at the level of mismanaged, educational deprivation he suffered at the hands of people who should have known better--and who were perhaps racially, "unmotivated."  Though this was prior to specialized, ESL classes in our country's education system, there should have been no excuse for passing my father to repeated grade levels without helping him learn the language and learn to read and write.  (Sorry...the teacher in me needed to rant about that for a bit).  I felt an immense amount of understanding and compassion for my father and his personal history and struggles.  It was insight I needed--and I wasn't even aware of that need.

As I had expected, the past events and issues of my father and mother surfaced in some of our discussions.  I had been counseled by a couple of wise friends and my therapist son in-law to be careful not to focus on the past and what has been done when talking with my father.  As the wise old sayings go, "Past is past," and, "It's water under the bridge."  So when these tough discussions would occur, I would try to remember to focus on the rules of, "not playing the blame game," and just avoiding the slippery slope of pitting one parent against the other. What would the point of that be anyway?  Nothing can ever change what has been done.  Some questions and things that have arisen have just had to be discussed, forgiven, buried, and left behind for good.  Both my father and my mother made mistakes, and both have certainly paid.  So from my viewpoint, I praise God that I do not harbor any anger or bitter feelings for either of my parents for any of those mistakes.  My parents were young and they did what they felt they had to do at that point in their lives.  Being able to honestly say all of that is a huge God-thing.  In our human strength, we cannot easily overlook the errors others make that vastly affect our own lives.  But with God-designed, love-tinted glasses, we can not only overlook them, but also feel empathy, understanding, and utter love for those who have made them.  We all make them.

The following Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012, Allie and I got to meet my father (her grandfather), who she now lovingly calls, "Abuelito" (or, "Lito" for short, at times).  This was just five days after speaking with him for the first time, so things happened pretty quickly after that initial phone call from him.  We made plans for the four of us (Allie, Kale, Matt, and I) to meet him and his sweet girlfriend for brunch at a town halfway between his home and ours. We chose a neutral locale so as to make it easier on everyone.  [Side note:  What a blessing that he doesn't live very far from us--it has made it much easier to develop a relationship with him than if he had been at a distance.  God was so good to provide for us in that way. My father is 45-minutes from me!] When we arrived at the restaurant, we parked right next to my father and I knew it immediately.  His girlfriend got out of his truck first and came to hug me.  Then my father came to hug me.  Amazingly enough, he was more emotional than I was (it was so unlike me to be that, "together")!  I know God gave me the strength to be strong for my father (and he has since been strong for me when I have needed it)!  But he was just precious and so sweet.  I felt an immediate connection to him and felt safe with him right away (I suppose our lengthy phone conversations that week had provided a fair amount of bonding already)!  When we got inside the restaurant, the fire alarm was going off, and a flurry of activity was happening inside.  The manager told us it was a false alarm, but then firemen began arriving.  The alarm was so stinking loud we couldn't hear ourselves think, let alone try to talk.  I could tell all the chaos was making my father very nervous, so I reached over and held his hand as we stood in the entryway of the restaurant waiting for the ruckus to die down. We held hands until they seated us.  I love the funny, contradictory memory of that horrifying, obnoxious fire alarm blazing and shrieking...and me, standing there in total peace, holding my daddy's hand for the first time and glowing like a content little girl.  Hilarious and totally unforgettable.

Once the stupid alarm stopped, the firemen left, and they seated us, we had a lovely first meal together.  We visited, laughed, and just enjoyed time together over great food.  My dad's brother (my uncle) even dropped by to meet us.  He was as funny, congenial, and welcoming as my father.  He is a part-time professional musician, too, and plays in a couple of bands.  So it was fun to bounce things off of him and "talk shop," musically-speaking.  I still marvel at how cool I was throughout the entire morning--I never really felt nervous.  God amazes me.

After that first meeting, we saw my father several times within a pretty short period of time.  It was so fun to enjoy visiting in person and just get to know one another better and get more comfortable with each other.  We dined at a lot of Mexican restaurants (and still do--his favorite and mine alike)!  I love hearing my father speak Spanish with the waiters!  I even got to meet my half-brother and his wife on one occasion, which was a wonderful thing, as well.  My brother is also musical, which is a fun commonality.  I have also connected with a couple of cousins who I look forward to knowing better, too.  As I said in Part Two, there aren't many of us left.  But I am happy that I have my father and that he loves me.  That's all I really needed.

The first 3 months of our relationship, we were literally on the phone talking for 1-3 hours nearly every day, trying to attempt to catch up from 42 years of life (which can't be done, but you sure try)!  It was awesome and exhausting at the same time.  Some days, it was pretty emotionally draining to process and work through such a variety of details and things.  Every few days, I would pull out my notes, call Allie, and fill her in on all that he had shared with me.  All that phone-talking coupled with all the singing I do was pretty hard on my voice.  So that is about all I had time and energy to do most days.  I loved every minute of it though.  Sadly but necessarily, I ignored my extended family and friends to a degree during this time.  So I want to say, thank you, for understanding that I needed the time and space to do this with my father.  Allie and I both needed time together to talk and think, as well.  At times, we still do actually.  So to those of you who have felt ignored but have stood by me all the same--thanks so much.  To those of you who have shown care, concern, interest, and support--thanks a million. You are loving, true friends and a loving family--and I love you all.

In those later talks with my father, I began to be more impressed by the power of genetics.  Though I think I am a pretty good mix of both my parents, there have been things I have heard or seen in my father that are certainly present in me.  I have his skin tone most definitely--my mother is much fairer than I.  I have some of his other facial features.  But more than the superficial, there are things like how he is a bit of a neat-freak (okay, I am a borderline OCD-germaphobe, at times), and how keen his sense of smell is, that ring true for me, as well.  My father loves to wear cologne all the time, and I am the same way (and I love how my father smells)!   My father has some similar expressions and his voice lilts in ways that mine does--he has even noticed this.  When I call him, I always say, "hEY, Dad!" (with a slide tone) and apparently, that's exactly how my other half-brother (the one I haven't met) says it.   I have my father's temper (though my mother is no passive person--sorry, Mom).  My father has soft, artsy hands, and I have always remarked to my daughter, Allie, that her hands are so expressive and artistic-looking.  She is a piano player and my father is a guitarist, and both have those artsy-looking hands--go figure.  My father is a worry-wart (now I know where I get it)!  My father hates winter, cold, and snow, and struggles a bit with seasonal affective disorder (undiagnosed)--as do I.  He dreams of moving south for this reason, just like me.  My father loves fishing and water--I am a water-fiend.  My dad is an avid and talented card-player.  He even played so well he made money playing in tournaments for a while.  I love to play cards, too (though not on a "professional" level).  I love that his birthday is Cinco de Mayo--so perfect for my Latino Papa, and so fun that it is the day after mine.  We actually celebrated our birthdays together this year for the first time--just the two of us (and of course, Mexican food was involved).  That was very special to me.

My favorite similarity is that my father is also a musician--I know I get this from him since my mother has no musical bone in her body (her words, not mine).  Furthermore, my father's favorite type of music is R&B--just like mine.  My mother believes that since she went to listen to him play in his R&B band while pregnant with me, that this is what influenced my taste. Could be...or it could be that genetic-predisposition-thing again.  It has been so fun to talk about music with my father.  He has been a great source of advice, encouragement, and support this past year as I have worked hard trying to do this music-thing. Mostly, it's been an enormous blessing to have someone in my court who understands how hard the music arena is, and how fickle and undependable a lot of the people in that arena are.  I have loved hearing all my dad's stories about his music days and playing in bands when he was just sixteen-years-old.  He played some pretty big gigs in Topeka and Kansas City even as a teenage boy.  Being a former professional musician, former professional card player (he wouldn't call himself that, but that's what he was), a railroad engineer, and then a professional race car and automobile restorer, my father has had an interesting and full life. He has skills upon skills for a kid who struggled horribly through school, and he is as humble as they come.  I love his stories and feel like a little girl giggling at his humorous tales and all the fun, detailed accounts of his life.  He is one of the most interesting and bravest people I have ever met.  

The most unexpected blessing of all is that my father has healed places in me that I didn't even know were hurting, just by his precious words to me.  It felt divinely wonderful to hear my father say for the first time, "I am proud of you and the life you have made for yourself.  You and Matt have done so well," and, "You're beautiful!!! You hear me?!" I also simply adore that he tells me, he loves me, nearly every time we speak, and always closes out our conversations with a very cheerful and sincere, "Okay, baby!  I'll be calling you!"  Knowing that my father wanted me, wanted to see me, and having proof that he tried to do so many times has blessed me in ways that I didn't know I needed blessed.  It is amazing the things we "stuff" and repress.  Talking about God often and even praying with my father over the phone, have been other immense blessings.  Hearing his words of worry about me when he knows I will be on the road alone late at night, and just feeling his love and care feels really good.  Hearing him speak so proudly of my only child and daughter, Allie, has also been such a great thing--for Allie and I both. Hearing him say that I am his only daughter and he is so glad that he has one now--well, I can barely type that without welling-up in tears.  I love that my father is a no-bull type of person.  He says what he means and he means what he says.  The conversations we have had have been real.  If you know me at all, you know that I am not a big fan of people who put on false heirs or seek to impress.  I like to share about my life and talk openly with people--sometimes this scares people off or they view it as negative or too forward in some way.  But I like real people, real honesty, and real conversations--and my father is as real they get.  He is a genuine guy with a big heart.  He is easy to talk to and he cares about what you are saying.  He cares deeply for his family, for his kids, for his grand-kids, and for his friends. My friend, JB, likened my father not knowing Allie and me, to missing out on the lottery.  As I write all of these things about my dad, I realize that I am the one who struck gold.

The daily hour-long conversations began to become weekly conversations sometime after the New Year, in 2013.  Now they are still nearly weekly, but aren't always an hour in length.  As great as those long talks were, my father and I have found a comfortable groove in which we are no longer striving and straining to make up for lost time.  My father no longer fears that he will lose me again (his words, not mine).  Though I believe those long talks were so fabulous and so healing for us both, I know that neither one of us had the time or energy to keep up with that pace.  But I praise God that we have grown to feel secure in our relationship to just ease into a place where we talk when we can and for however long we can, and see each other when we can.  We don't feel pressure to fix the things that aren't perfect or that aren't fixable.  We are just a father and a daughter walking forward together in love and joy, writing one chapter at a time--as my dad's girlfriend stated it best. 

Let me be clear--not every "dream" I had about finding my family has come true.  As with any personal upheaval, there have been some hard and sad things to know, face, and accept.  One sad thing I have yet to mention is that my half-brother (the one I got to meet) was a twin--and his twin brother was killed in a car wreck when they were very young.  So there have been many hardships and challenges in the family.  My father has suffered a great many trials in life.  The story isn't, "perfect," and I am not trying to make it sound as such.  But honestly, it has been only a good thing and only good has come from finding my dad--just as God reassured me would be the case from the start.  You can only move forward and write a new history in life when you choose to reconcile a broken relationship.  You can't change or fix the past.  Only God can really do that, and I praise Him for giving me the strength and courage to rewrite this story with my father.  God is a God of reconciliation--He loves it.  He came here Himself to die for our sins to give us a chance to reconcile with Him.  He blesses those who attempt to reconcile and He delights in it.

I shared in Part Two of how I began praying for my mother while I was praying for my father--that she would take the news of my seeking and finding him well, and not let fear begin to rule her or cause her to doubt my love and loyalty to her.  I told my mother after the New Year in 2013 once things settled down from the holidays.  There never seemed to be a good time before that, and I didn't want to ruin my mother's November birthday or the holiday season should she not take the news well.  I also think I just needed to focus on my dad at the beginning (facing another major thing would have been serious over-load for me).  When I called my parents (my mom and adopted dad--I will share that precious story another day) this past January 7, 2013 (another Monday morning), they took it quite well.  I, of course, had been given wise counsel again from my son in-law and a couple of close friends on what to say to them--and we had all prayed and prayed.  My mom expressed her concerns as I knew she would, but it went way better than I had expected.  So God answered yet another huge prayer for me.  My mom and I rarely speak of my father, just as we rarely ever did--and I think that is for the best.

Toward the end of one of my favorite movies, "Oceans 12," Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, "Isabel," meets her father for the first time as a grown woman.  My husband and I personally own all of the "Oceans" movies, and have watched this one numerous times (my hubby is a big Catherine Zeta fan...go figure).  In this scene, "Isabel" approaches her father upon realizing who he is, and says, "Where the hell have you been?" To which he replies, "Waiting..." And she says, "For what?"  And he says, "For this," and they fall into a tearful embrace.  This scene has haunted and disturbed me my entire life, and my darling husband knows it.  He always looks over at me in my attempted, hidden discomfort and softly says, "Honey, are you okay?"  As many times as I've seen this scene, I never truly would have thought it would become part of my own reality, though I longed for it to be.  I think deep down I never really thought I'd ever have the guts to go find my father.  It still shocks me sometimes.  Pretty much every time I hang up the phone after hearing him say, "Love you, baby!"  I am astounded that I did it.  But that's just it--I didn't do it.  GOD gave me the courage to do it, and my daughter and my friend, JB, gave me the major nudges I needed.  Much like the scene from the movie, my father says he has been waiting for me to come find him since I was 18-years old.  He thought I would surely do so once out on my own with a mind of my own.  He did not feel that he should try to come for me again because he had done so numerous times and been shut-out. After all this time had passed, he assumed I had been brainwashed to think only the very worst about him.  I know I disappointed him taking this long to come find him, but he knows me now and how timid I can be.  Better late than never, I guess--I do wish I had mustered up the gumption earlier.  But I love that this movie scene will no longer haunt me--it is mine now.

When I think about it, it is so hilarious and special that this once fatherless child now has THREE awesome fathers:  First and foremost, God my Father, and now my two earthly fathers--both of whom I love so dearly.  It also cracks me up to realize that all three of my fathers love to fish--I have decided I will never get away from these fisherman!  My two earthly fathers are fishing-crazy and Jesus was a big fisherman, too.   I guess my Heavenly Father is trying to drive home the point to me that our purpose here is to, "fish"--but not just in the regular sense of the word.  He wants us to, "fish for men," as His Word states in Matthew 4:19.  I guess that's my even deeper purpose in writing this story.  Though I will not share my two earthly fathers with you (sorry, they're mine), I do desire to share my Heavenly Father with you.  I pray that you will know Him in His fullness, grace, and love if you don't already.  And to all the fatherless people out there--here's a reality you, too, can embrace and own:  You aren't really fatherless. Your Father is right there waiting for you to fearlessly find and follow Him.  So that movie scene can be yours, too.  Praise be to God, our perfect Father and Friend.

Matthew 4:19, "'Come follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to fish for people.'"  Amen.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Facing My Biggest Fear--Part 2

Bienvenido de nuevo, amigos or, welcome back, friends!  You've come back for Part Two of the story of, facing the fear of finding my biological father--and I thank you.  A few of you have spoken or written privately to me regarding this story, and I appreciate your kindnesses and sincerity.  The support and encouragement I have derived from you is monumental, and I pray a special blessing on you for this.  Sharing the guts of your life isn't easy, so it has been very helpful to know there are people reading this who appreciate it, support it, and aren't just "curious."

Deciding to share this particular story of my life posed some problems for me--the least of which was length.  If you are a remotely faithful reader of this blog (or know me personally), then you know firsthand that "pithy" would not be a fitting adjective for me.  But this story isn't a short one, even for someone with the gift of brevity.  Hence, the continuation.  So thanks again for sticking with me.

As I stated briefly in Part One of this story, talking about my life with others has been only a good thing and has brought a lot of healing in my life.  God calls and equips us all differently, and talking and writing are areas in which I feel very comfortable.  It's always a great thing to help others and give glory to God for the things through which He has brought us.  It's a natural out-pouring of a relationship with Christ to want to testify to His power and the strength you derive from knowing Him.  Speaking and writing have always been the avenues to which I've been naturally drawn for doing this.  But as great as sharing is, it has never seemed to bring full closure to this issue in my life--as much as I have always wanted to think it did. 

There is another part of this story that warrants addition.  After that night of meeting my daughter, Allie, for dinner, and making the decision together to begin searching for my father, I felt an immense amount of relief.  The weight that was lifted off me that night was unexpectedly huge.  Though I hadn't actually faced the fear of meeting my father yet, not making the decision to do so had been weighing me down more than I realized.  Oftentimes, the fear and avoidance we carry due to not wanting to deal with an issue is actually worse than dealing with it!  Being a middle-aged woman, having occasional sleepless nights is a common problem (as it is with many of us).  So I justified my restless nights those previous three months as just, "middle-aged" issues, when I know God was actually trying to get my attention many of those nights.  God often awakens us in our sleep to talk to us because it is sadly the best time for Him to do it--no one and nothing else is beckoning our call or distracting us at that time, and we are still.  I realized that God had been trying to get my attention many nights since my chat in March with my friend, JB.  After finally making the decision with Allie to find her grandfather (my father), I slept like a baby every night afterward.  Why do we fight God in areas where He just wants to help and guide us?  Fear.  It's always fear with me.

It was odd really--you would think making such an enormous decision would have created more anxiety for me.  Though making the decision and promising my daughter to search for my father did bring fears to the surface that I was trying to bury, it simultaneously gave me unexpected clarity and relief from the pain I was stuffing.  Just as sharing about my life in smaller settings has always forced me to process feelings and thoughts, making the decision to finally resolve the issue entirely brought purpose to the meaningless.  All the time I had seemingly wasted over the years thinking about doing something, and all the painful thoughts I had ever had, now seemed like stepping stones to a divine plan. The entire situation seemed hopeful instead of hopeless.  I felt like the, "big scary monster" in my life was being slowly put to death--and it gave me such empowerment and freedom.  I know and believe that God gave me the grace and peace I was going to need to deal with the situation on that night because I had FINALLY listened to Him and trusted Him to walk with me through it.  God just rolls like that--He gives us what we need when we need it most.  Even more than that, God has used that fact as a reminder in my life of His provision and trustworthiness many times since.  It has become yet another stone in my altar of faith in Him.  I pray it spurs me to act on faith and quick obedience to God in the future, knowing I can trust Him.  His character is such that He will provide for me regardless of how scary things seem.

Personally, I think, "what-ifs" totally suck.  Yes, there's risk involved in facing a fear of any kind--and yes, it doesn't always work out just as we expect or want.  But if you never take the leap, how will you ever know how it would have turned out?  That question can stifle and torture you in your life all on its own.  In my quest last year to remove all fear from my life, (and I'm still working to maintain this in my life, by the way), one of the visuals I gave myself was to think about lying on the side of the highway in a car wreck, alert and aware that my death is impending.  Of whom and what would I be thinking?  What would I regret?  What would I wish I had done or been less afraid of doing?  With whom would I regret not having a needed conversation?  Would there be anyone I had wronged on any level to whom I should have apologized?  Would there be anyone I'd regret never telling them I love them?  This visual not only drove me to face several fears last year, but it prompted me to make some needed changes and strive for some things in my life that were past due:  trusting God more and acting on my faith in Him for starters.  Being less of a, "people-pleaser," was another biggie.  Basically, living each day with more hope and way less fear!  The cool thing is that I can now answer all of those questions knowing full well that I've handled the business of my life (the good, the bad, and the ugly)!  With continued maintenance, there will be no regrets if I end up on the side of the road one day (and with my current driving behavior in my Mini Cooper, this isn't that far-fetched)!   It became clear to me by mid-summer last year that finding my father was the last item on my, "fear and regret" list.  It was a biggie, so I guess I saved the best for last.

Though I write of this story as if it were a "big deal," it's also important to state that I am well-aware that there are many others out there who do not know their real parent(s) and who never will.  There are precious children adopted every day who were left at orphanages and will never know much about the origins of their life.  Do I believe this will stifle and torture their future?  Only if they let it.  But I fully realize that this story is not rare or special at all--and that is actually one of the main reasons I chose to be transparent and write about this.  It is my strong desire to encourage anyone else out there who is carrying the same unknowns, guilt, questions, regret, fears, and pain to take the chance and face it all--or if that's not possible, to release it for good to the Lord.  He is your one true first origin anyway.  But I am convinced that putting missing puzzle pieces into place in one's life is only a healthy thing if you have the ability to do so. 

Let's where did we leave off?  The search.  Allie and I made the decision to find my father (her grandfather) on June 19, 2012.  That week was a life-rocking week for a non-boat-rocker like me.  In my quest for fearless living, God had also urged me (okay, it was more like He had drug me) to make the decision to go to a friend with whom I'd suffered a broken relationship.  He had been prompting me to go apologize for my part in our misunderstanding for several months, even if only to free them and myself from the whole, "what-if" scenario.  So this was another cause for many restless nights that spring.  I obeyed God and went.  Let's just say it didn't go well.  As if that wasn't enough, we began the search for my father that week, too (it was a bit much for one week--pace yourself, Steph)!  Allie, being a good sleuth with Internet savvy skills, found a few addresses for him, as well as phone numbers.  She also found out information about other family members--some of which was pretty hard to discover.  My Aunt Dorothy (or Aunt "Socorro," as was her given Spanish name), had died several years ago.  So my dream of meeting-up with her again, getting to know her better, and eating her amazing Mexican food died right along with that knowledge.  It was a painful night.  Allie also discovered many other deaths in the family that day and we began to realize that there actually weren't many in our family left.  I grieved this a great deal that evening, realizing that I had only recently missed opportunities to know my grandfather, my grandmother, and several other relatives.  If only I had gotten my act together with this fear-thing ten years ago, I would have perhaps been able to meet and know all of them.   But this is what we get when we live with fear for too long--more regret.

I allowed my grief to swell that night, but realized the next morning that there was no point in it.  Thank God for mornings--things always look better in the morning.  It hit me that what was done was done.  At least I had the hope of meeting and finding my father.  My daughter, who is so level-headed and such an encouragement to me, reminded me that this was our initial desire anyway.  But being me, I then prayed fervently that we wouldn't find out that we were too late for that, as well.  I was tempted to fear about this for a few days, but each time I would cast it down in Christ's name and leave it at God's feet.  I knew that God would not have brought my friend, JB, and I, to the conversation we had in March, and Allie and I to the decision we had made that week, only to kill all my hopes entirely.  God knew this particular test in facing my fears was huge for me, and I believed that He wasn't going to allow His faithfulness to appear disproved in it.  The many recent deaths we had found in our biological family were a set-back (as was my grand apology with a former friend that week).  But I didn't allow any of that to completely destroy my faith in God in what I was seeking to do with this fear-thing.  That in and of itself was a huge victory over fear for me.  My grief faded and I was even filled with a strong feeling that this was going to be nothing but a great thing.

For reasons such as travel schedules, vacations, and other commitments, Allie and I decided to wait until Labor Day weekend to call my father.  We wanted to do it at a time when we could be together and do it together, and our schedules were such that Labor Day weekend was the first time we could make that happen.  In considering the feelings of my father and what this knowledge might do to him and his life, we also wanted to call him on a long weekend.  This way if he weren't retired, he would have some extra time to process receiving such a phone call before having to return to work.  Our plan for Labor Day seemed perfect.  We would call first thing on Saturday morning and pray in the interim.

The remainder of summer seemed endless.  I pondered over and over in my mind what I would say to my father.  I rehearsed--a lot.  I sought counsel from wise friends who knew my story and whose opinions I trusted (God bless you--you know who you are).  I asked them for prayer support and I know they gave it.  I asked them for precise wording advice on how I should handle the conversation.  I took lots of notes, mental and actual, from those friends.  I practiced differing versions from their advice for various scenarios that could occur in my conversation with my father.  I went over and over it while driving in my car, working out at the gym, running my trails, swimming laps, laying at the pool, you name it--I rehearsed.  I was going to be prepared and ready for anything.  And I prayed.  Boy, did I pray.  I prayed for my father--for God to soften and prepare his heart for my call and my entry into his life, even if the one phone call was all that happened.  I prayed for myself--that God would at least allow me to meet my father, even if it was a one-time deal.  I prayed that God would bring healing, peace, and fearless love to us both regardless of how it all turned-out.  I prayed for my mother--that God would prepare her heart for the knowledge that I had found and met my father.  I asked God to help her understand the reasons why Allie and I needed to do this, and that she would never question our love and loyalty.  I asked God to shelter her from fear (there's that word again) and that He'd give me the exact words and perfect timing to tell her and my dad (her husband). 

Labor Day weekend came.  Matt and I headed to spend it with Allie and our son in-law, Kale.  When we arrived, the four of us went out for a fabulous dinner that Friday night, and Allie and I discussed our plan more.  We prayed about it, let it go, and just enjoyed our evening together.  The next morning, we ate a nice breakfast and prepared for the big moment.  Allie and I had our notes in front of us and the four of us prayed.  Then I placed the first call to the first phone number.  It was disconnected.  So we moved on to phone number #2.  No answer.  Upon calling the last number we had for my father, a woman with a Latina accent answered.  I said, "Hello.  My name is, Stephanie Teagarden, and I am trying to reach, [insert my father's name here]."  I told her I was the daughter of, [insert my mother's name here].  She replied, "I don't know her," and hung up.  I was dumbfounded.  That was it.  That was the last number for him that we had.  Did this lady live with my dad, and just didn't want to let me speak with him?  Was it a wrong number?  Was she pretending to not recognize my mother's name in an effort to avoid me and keep me from my father?  I had no way of knowing.  I was so discouraged that we had built this up all summer and now we were hitting all these dead-ends.  Allie immediately said, "Mom, we have other family phone numbers.  Let's just move on to someone else."  But I didn't want to ignore the number with no answer because I felt it was better to not involve other family members if we could possibly reach my father directly first (in order to alleviate more worms in the already big can of worms).  So we made many attempts to reach him at the one remaining number.  But each time it was the same thing--no answer and no voicemail message.

By Labor Day (Monday), we decided it was time to go ahead and call another family member.  I placed the call to what ended up being my uncle's house--my dad's half-brother.  His wife (my aunt) answered the phone and we spoke for nearly two hours.  She was very kind.  She listened to my story and shared the details of the family history with me.  She filled me in on the recent deaths and on many other matters of interest.  It was a hard but good conversation.  I enjoyed speaking with her greatly, but she sadly shared that her husband and my father were somewhat estranged (though she didn't share many details as to why).  She did say that they could get a hold of him for me if I wanted to go that route.  She basically offered to kindly play, "mediator," in the situation to lessen the stress on both ends.  I felt this was perhaps her way of hinting that my dad would prefer this method.  So at the end of our conversation, I felt comfortable enough to give her all my contact information and tell her to let him know I was trying to reach him.  I told her to tell my father that if he felt comfortable doing so, he could call me anytime, and that I didn't want anything except to talk to him and/or meet him.  I added, "If he doesn't want to talk or meet, I completely understand.  I just needed to try."  She agreed to do all this and to also tell my uncle (her husband) about my call when he returned home that night.  I hung up feeling total relief and peace.  The ball was in my father's court and I had done what I had set out to do.  Now it was up to my aunt, my father, and God.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Facing My Biggest Fear--Part 1

In a blog post of mine from last November (2012) entitled, "Shine His Light," I hint at some personal journeys on which God has been taking me this past year to enable me to let go of some personal fears and obstacles.  I promised to write about one key journey at a later date, and well, that date has arrived.  One of those journeys was hands-down, my biggest fear and largest personal demon~that of finding my biological father.  So in celebration of reaching the one year milestone of writing this blog (as of July 31, 2013), I will begin the next year by sharing this story of my life with you, my dear readers and friends.  I will share it in a three part series to hopefully make it more easily readable. 

As I've blogged previously, I grew up in a single-parent home for the bulk of my young life.  My mother was married to my biological father for three years and divorced him when I was an infant.  She remarried when I was four years old and divorced that man when I was six.  After that, she remained single until I was 19 years old.  She then remarried again, and has been married to the same wonderful, Godly man for the past 24 years.  I am proud to have always called this man, "Dad."  Until recently, he has been the only father I've ever truly had or known.  Years ago, I wrote a devotional about my dad that I will more than likely re-post here in the future.  He has been one of the biggest answers to prayer that God has ever given me.  I have shared more details of my personal life-testimony with smaller, more intimate groups in church settings.  But for the sake of brevity, and in honor and respect to my mother, I will not divulge all the history and "whys" of the family-brokenness in my young life.  Life happens--we'll leave it at that.

Growing up in a single-parent home brings many hardships and obstacles for a youngster.  There is the obvious one--you have no father, and every kid needs a father.  You don't always feel "safe."  As a girl, you also grow-up a bit afraid or unsure of men.  Oddly enough, you overly strive to seek their approval, as little girls typically try to do even when they have a loving father present.  You also grow up with a messed-up idea of, "God as Father," when you have never had one of your own.  When there is no one to compare God to as, "father-figure" in your life, you are uncertain of the validity of God, as well as His trustworthiness in the provisions of your life.  In my young years, I watched my mother struggle and cry tears of fear and uncertainty over many things--bills, car repairs, medical costs, broken down water-heaters, household maintenance, child-care, aloneness, and the like.  Money was so tight that the stress of it posed significant strain on me.  I remember being made fun of at school for my limited clothing and shoe attire.  I was lucky if I got a new pair of tennis shoes, a pair of loafers, and one other pair of dress shoes per school year--and those three pairs of shoes looked pretty rough by the end of the school year.  Eating a bowl of cereal for supper was a regular occurrence, and this was due to necessity, not choice (this is probably why I tend to overeat and excessively love food to this day).  I recall being overly concerned that we wouldn't have enough to eat--and many nights my mother would encourage me not to eat seconds so that we would have enough to eat the same meal the next night.  When you have to use your own babysitting money just to buy a new hairbrush and toothpaste at the ripe old age of 13, you just don't always feel God's provision, especially when you have friends whose parents are buying them cars and taking lavish vacations.  Looking back now, I realize that God ALWAYS provided.  It may not be in the way we want it, but He is there and He does meet our needs--even when we go without.

But sadly, I have many times resorted back to that little-girl mentality and carried it into adulthood fearing things such as:  being alone and having to make it on my own; fearing that God isn't going to come through for me; fearing that my husband, Matt, will leave me or fail me (as the other men in my life did); worrying that someone is going to break-in and harm me; etc.  I've previously blogged in more detail about some of these fears in a blog post entitled, "Modern Take on Psalm 23."  While I was growing up, my mother and I suffered numerous break-ins to our home and it left some pretty big scars of fear.  Instead of realizing and appreciating that God protected us from any physical harm through those experiences, I sadly focused on the fact that we'd been violated.  Regardless of that, you grow up pretty fast when faced with these kinds of dilemmas and stresses.  At the same time, you grow up with some thought processes of God that need serious correcting.  Just as I struggle at times with the fear that someone is going to break into my home, I also have a tendency to worry about money and to perhaps even be overly frugal due to that fear.  To this day I still at times battle the doubts of whether God is there for me and whether He will provide for my needs whenever I am faced with serious hardship.  Worrying that I may need to stand on my own two feet one day, I scrimp on things and at times have struggled with generosity due to my desire to save (okay, hoard) money.  Saving money is a great and wonderful trait when it doesn't affect what God asks of us with regard to giving and showing charity toward those less fortunate.  It is an area I have worked to improve in recent years, but it boils down to a trust issue with God.  The bottom line is, I can't put my faith and security in my pocketbook.  If it isn't in God and God alone, it is founded on a faulty foundation.  It doesn't matter how many CDs, investments, mutual funds, or IRAs you have--it can all be stripped away from you.  God is showing me this and teaching me to just trust Him with everything I have.  It is a hard lesson for a control-freak like me.

Funny how many of our adult fears stem from childhood. I know that many of mine come from living in a single-parent home.  I firmly believe that God designed the family unit the way He did for a reason.  Children need both a mother and a father because each has unique roles, abilities, and important, balancing values for the family that all kids need in order to thrive.  Fathers and mothers also need each other.  Women aren't meant or suited to play both roles, and neither are men.  My mother did the best she could and did a great job in so many ways.  She astounds me to this day and is definitely one of the biggest heroes in my life.  But she wasn't all I needed, and I am convinced that single-parent homes were not God's design for many obvious reasons. 

My mother rarely spoke of my biological father.  When she did, I could tell it evoked feelings of great anguish and pain, and that she was not comfortable with the discussion.  As I got older and braver, my line of questioning became more in depth, and this again would create tension.  So I grew-up knowing very little about my real father other than that he was Mexican and a musician.  To my knowledge, my father had only called once to ask my mother to see me when I was 10 years old.  I recall that evening distinctly.  The tears my mother shed that night arguing on the phone with him upset me greatly.  In my loyalty to her, I refused to talk to him and yelled passionately, "Tell him to go away and leave us alone!"  I carried the guilt of that with me until last October--so for about 32 years.  Yes...I know...I was only 10.  But this is what we do to ourselves in life, isn't it?  We can guilt ourselves for everything--even things that don't make sense.  Some of us are better at it than others. 

Since I knew at that point that my father did care to see me and he hadn't fallen off the face of the earth in total disinterest, I secretly carried all the blame that I didn't know him from age 10 on up.  This created a great deal of pain and tension in my teen years for me.  At the same time, I would oddly find myself fantasizing that I found my father and that all was well.  I envisioned myself singing alongside him as he played guitar.  I imagined sitting at his table feasting on homemade Mexican dishes prepared by my great aunt, Socorro (my great aunt Dorothy).  I had actually met and seen Aunt Dorothy several times during my young years.  She was a wonderful, loving woman.  My mother stayed in touch with her for quite a while without my father knowing (Aunt Dorothy respected my mother's wishes on this).  She spoke little English, but was so kind and hospitable.  The last time I saw her was the summer before my senior year in high school.  My mother had not taken me to see her for a few years, and though Aunt Dorothy was very loving and delighted to see me, I recall it was an extremely uncomfortable visit for me--internally speaking.  At that time, I was not in a place in my life where I wanted to face all the unknowns of my life. The visit was a fairly short one. I recall sharing the basics of my life with Aunt Dorothy--the fact that I was a lifeguard, a singer, and I told her all about the boy I was dating (my husband).  Then while my mother was using the ladies room, Aunt Dorothy gave me some contact information for my biological father (her nephew).  I thanked her, but at the time, it was nothing I wanted to face.  I felt ill just thinking about meeting him.  I saved that contact information though.  I still have it.

Throughout my adulthood, I dreamed of truly knowing my aunt and being a part of her life, as well as that of my father and my entire biological family.  But life gets busy and we don't always know how to make dreams realities.  I carried this dream, along with the guilt I had for telling my father to, "go away," in a painful dichotomy my entire adult life.  Every time I have seen a Mexican family anywhere near the town from where I know my family resides, I have wondered if they are my relatives.  Each time I have seen a Mexican or Hispanic-looking man around the age of my father, I have wondered if he is my father.

It is amazing to me how important "blood" is to us.  As I have already stated, the man my mother married when I was 19 has been the only father I've ever really known or had.  He is all that a girl could ever hope for in a father.  But for some reason, the wonderful love I have received from him for nearly 25 years still did not trump my curiosity and desire to find my biological father.  I will never fully understand why that is but I believe it is just innate in most of us to desire a full understanding of our roots and past.  It isn't just a desire--it can become a need.  When we have missing puzzle pieces in our own history it can be quite enticing and troubling all at once.  Though those voids aren't perhaps making or breaking our current existence, they do shape our identity in deeply hidden places we don't even like to talk about, let alone face. 

Not knowing my "real" father has not been a major secret in my life though.  Once I get to know people and feel reasonably "safe" to share, I'm pretty much an open-book.  So I have shared openly of it in my personal testimony with various church families, ministry groups, and close friends all throughout my adulthood (and have done so pretty fearlessly).  When I've used this part of my life-story for Godly purpose, it has at times felt "healed," or as if it can be neatly placed back into a box and left on a shelf for safe-keeping.  Sharing with others about the things through which God has brought me, and helping others handle their own broken family issues, has given me great strength and joy in my life.  But it has never seemed to fully heal it, as much as I always wanted to think it did.  When something is "undone," it's just undone.

Last March, I was sitting backstage in my church resting and preparing to lead worship for the next church service.  One of my dear worship band-mates and friends, John, (JB, as I call him--and yes, I've blogged about him recently), casually plopped down beside me and began jokingly harassing me in true JB-form.  Then out of nowhere he asked me a very blunt and random question:  "So Steph, have you ever found your real father?"  I was extremely caught off-guard by this question, but not surprised due to the source--JB rolls this way in his discussions (and I actually love him for it)!  He is one of those brutally honest, very open conversationalists that keep you on your toes.  Very few people could be so forward and yet never make you feel the least bit nervous.  But JB sincerely cares about his friends and it is a gift to have such a friend.  So I replied that, no, I had not ever really looked for my father, other than one time long ago.  I then shared that when I was 24 years old, I found my father and drove up his driveway to spy on him or perhaps even knock on his door.  But I saw him outside (or who I believed to be him), panicked, and fled.  JB replied, "Well, Gina (his wife, who happens to also be Mexican) and I were out on the patio the other night talking.  We got to thinking about your story and wondering if you'd ever looked for your dad.  We haven't asked you about this in a while and were just wondering."  I said, "Oh, guess I'm avoiding it."  He questioned further with, "Why?"  I said, "I guess fear."  JB said, "Fear of what?"  So I explained, "Well...fear that he won't want to know me...that he won't be all I've envisioned...that he'll be unimpressed with me...that he'll mess up my life or expect me to take care of him in his old age when he has never done anything for me...fear of a LOT of stuff.  It's all the unknowns, and I guess I'm just not sure it's worth 'upsetting the apple-cart.'"  JB said he understood my fears--he even validated them all.  Then he said with that typical little twinkle in his eye and the love of Christ in his face, "Well, I just think people change.  I think your dad is a sixty-something-year-old man and I doubt he's the same person he was 42 years ago.  I think it is a cryin' shame he doesn't know you."  Then he said the part that still makes me warm and fuzzy inside, "All I know is, if I knew I had a daughter that looked like you and was the person you are, and a granddaughter that looked like Allie and was the person she is, and I didn't get a chance to know you both, I'd feel like I had lost the lottery." This hit me like lead.  What a great compliment--as precious as they have ever come.  But there was an immense amount of truth in what he had said about the likelihood of my father being different now.  Perhaps my father needed the same healing I did.  I pondered all this daily for a few months.  Actually, it tortured me.

As I stated, I have only had a handful of conversations about my biological father with my mother throughout adulthood.  In those discussions, I have received bits and pieces of new information about my father, my half-brother, and other blood relatives--some grand and some painful.  Those talks have always been brief and awkward for both of us, and they typically send me into a spiraling down effect that spurs both my curiosity and pain even more.  To the contrary, my only child and daughter, Alexandria ("Allie"), and I, have had many conversations about my father (her grandfather). Her curiosity and desire to find him and know our family roots or "blood-line" have become increasingly heightened throughout her life.  Last summer while meeting Allie for dinner one night, she expressed through tears her strong desire to find her grandfather.  She shared from her heart that she was growing ever more concerned about his age and posed two tough but poignant questions to me.  The first question was, "Mom, you have recently declared that you are sick and tired of being afraid of everything in life, and that you are going to take steps to remove all fear from your life.  So why are you afraid in THIS case?" The second was, "Mom, are you going to be okay if he dies and you never meet him?"  At that moment, my conversation with JB from a few months prior came strongly to mind, yet again.  I shared of it with Allie, and she agreed that John's remarks were no accident.  I already knew this, but in my typical, "avoid-rocking-the-boat-in-life-at-all-cost" mentality, I'd just been personally burying it.  My answer to Allie was an easy, "no"--I wasn't going to be okay if I never got to meet my father. We shed some tears and made the decision to begin the search.  The last real fear that I had been burying and reburying in life was getting unearthed...and I would be facing it soon.