Monday, July 3, 2017

Independence Day Is Coming

Independence day... Those words are heavy this week. They're exciting, they are scary... they are hope.

I have been working really hard on myself this past year and a half. Harder than I've ever worked at anything. I've had to lean into some major discomfort as I've learned how to let myself feel those awful feelings through my journey. I've had to learn to set boundaries and practice enforcing them. I'm not perfect at it, but I'm improving. Its uncomfortable at times. But I stand taller, more self assure... more me when I succeed in it.
In my journey, an author who has greatly helped me bridge the gap between my hurts and the Lord is Melissa Haas. And the other day, as I was reading, journaling, and just chatting with the Lord, this author, like many more before her, likened my journey to that of a butterfly. Honestly, my first thought was "oh... cliche... I thought we were going to get deep into heart issues here." And then it did.
Basically, yes, I was this caterpillar before I embarked on my journey and I was pretty prickly, but the cocoon is where the action happens. It's where I've been for 19 months...  and the place of all the change on this journey. The learning to protect my heart. The truth about my identity. The undoing of all my false beliefs based on my past experiences. The work on me and my heart - the hard stuff. The Whole Process. And you know what? Cocoons are dark and scary and leave you hanging upside down!! That's just plain traumatic. If the biggest changes in your life are happening to you while you are upside and in the dark - whoa! This is no "beautiful butterfly" speech, this is dirty truth that total transformation isn't instantaneous, but rather something that is distressing... harrowing... demanding. And worth it.
Seemingly suddenly... boom. It's time to break out of that cocoon and fly away. But first, those wings need to dry. I'm still vulnerable. I made it through the most upside down and darkest part of my journey. And yet, my fresh baby wings aren't instantly ready. They need a minute. AND I GET A MINUTE. God gives me what I need and what I need is a stinking minute! I just hung upside in the dark and did hard things. For 19 months. This is the week of INDEPENDENCE. And I need a minute. This week, after many months of waiting on judges and attorneys and paperwork, my divorce is final. My marriage ended a long time ago, but now the law acknowledges that. And I need a minute. That's okay. I'm okay.
You know, I watch Liam look with wonder at these sparklers and .... I get my minute. I watch him swirl them around, embers falling in the dark and I take it all in. Because I'm not hanging upside down anymore. I'm not in the dark anymore. I'm here, right now, in my week of independence with sparklers that emit just enough light to illuminate the very next step. I don't have to know how my story ends, or how my week ends, or even this day. All I have to know is the very next step and God gives me that. Psalm 119:105
When you are in a dark space for a long time, your eyes adjust to the dark. You get pretty good at seeing in it.... so much so that you begin to forget there is anything any different than that dark. And then, light floods in and you're briefly blinded. Overwhelmed.... but just for a minute. So as my wings quickly dry and my eyes adjust to the light, I'll breathe deeply. I'll check that my footing is solid and just as soon as I've had my minute... I'm flying.

Happy Day of Independence.

Living Loved,

Saturday, June 3, 2017

You're Not Going to Like This.

This post is going to ask you to look at yourself. Your choices. Your intentions. It might be uncomfortable. It might change your life. 

I have spent hours… more like days…  pouring over research about how relationships can be destroyed by pornography. I frequently reference the non-profit organization Fight The New Drug in my social media outlets, and I rep the movement every chance I get with their shirts and stickers. I have been very personally effected by this issue and I believe in the message they are trying to get out there. Its science. I can spout facts about the detriments of pornographic images on the brain and what it does to the viewer emotionally. I can speak to how porn use impacts society. And I can completely put aside my own experience with it to talk about the black and white scientific facts. And this is all great but… 

You see, the way our society works, we find something "super awesome," and then, once its been mass consumed for years, we then begin to see, and consequently study, the effects that “super awesome” thing had on society - on the consumers. Remember that morning sickness medication that caused like 7,000+ serious birth defects? Yeah - kept people from throwing up during the first trimester of pregnancy. Promise of that relief sent women running to the drug store and fairly quickly, those no-longer puking mothers were holding infants with deformed limbs… No one knew how bad it would hurt in the long run. Our society thrives on immediate gratification… but didn’t Newton (in his Third Law) teach us that every action has a reaction? Right, this isn’t physics, but the premise is the same. Every choice has a consequence. Watch porn, deal with its effects. They exist. And sadly, just as science didn’t catch Thalidomide’s propensity toward birth defects BEFORE thousands of women consumed it, science is just now catching the ill effects of pornography on its consumers. And y’all, porn sites receive more regular traffic than Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter COMBINED each month. That’s a lot of traffic…. more importantly, that’s a lot of PEOPLE consuming.

Some of the Facts from the Research
- Frequency of porn use correlates with depression, anxiety, stress and social problems. 
- Watching porn literally shrinks grey matter in the brain that oversees cognitive function. 
- People who watch porn are significantly less satisfied with sex than those who do not consume pornography.  
- Exposure to pornography (violent or not) increases behavioral aggression including violent fantasies and actual violent assaults. 

I look at all this and I think, wow…. am I doing everything I can to educate those around me of the importance of this issue? Am I going to address it in my home in such a way that it is not shamed, but communicated effectively so my son, his friends, whomever may be in my life and in my home can know how big this issue is and how critical it is not to invite in this drug? All I can say is that is my goal. 

And then I realized y’all… we need to sit down and discuss what PORN is. There is a general idea, right? Everyone understands the porn cites and the dirty magazines, but I don’t mean just the stuff that comes up with a sexualized google search. I mean even in our daily life. 

Pornography is defined as erotic or sensual behavior or material intended to cause sexual excitement.

 I think back to my high school and college years and the clothes I wore on occasion, the looks I hoped to get, and the pictures I took with friends and shared with others. We were “kids” but we weren’t doing “kid” things. We were hyper sexualizing ourselves and in this age of technology and social media, those care free choices of a junior high or high school student suddenly become soft porn images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. That girl that wants that boy’s attention now gets asked for it in “pic” form over snapchat because… why not? Sex is everywhere for free on the internet so isn’t it a compliment to be asked for a nude? The lie that “if he’s looking at pictures of me, then maybe he won’t use porn” begins to circulate. And why is it common place for teenagers to be posting pictures of themselves barely dressed in suggestive poses simply to get more “likes”? This is just another way pornography has effected our society and we have to undo it. We need to explain to everyone, teenagers and adults alike, that posting “sensual material or behaviors” of THEMSELVES "intended for sexual excitement” IS PORNOGRAPHY. Posing sexy so someone will think its hot and putting it on the internet = porn. Pornography destroys relationships. Pornography increases negative attitudes toward women. Pornography literally changes your brain. And posting sexy photos of yourself to entice another is inviting porn into his or her life. What is your intention? Remember those facts I mentioned? Those effects of pornography aren’t permanent, but they are altering and just as drugs can be addictive, so can pornography. Stop the cycle. Repair the damage. Fight The New Drug. 
Living Loved, 

Facts, definitions, and images/shirts from Fight the New Drug. 

***For more information on the effects of pornography, please visit Fight The New Drug. And no... I don't work for them. I just believe in the research. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Fake Pearls

Guys... I think the storm stopped. I'm not sure when, I didn't even notice that the rain let up, but I realized yesterday that I'm no longer in the eye of the storm. For 3 years, I have been riding out this storm, seeing its destruction, grieving everything in its wake, but I didn't ride it out by sitting and waiting. Well, maybe I did for awhile. But then, I got to work. I have been working on me.

When I first left Liam's dad a year and a half ago, I did so because I was so hurt and lost that I didn't know who I was any longer. I needed space to find out. I needed room to heal and process my life. I needed enough quiet to hear the Lord. And I wanted to be the best version of me. Liam needed that just as much as I did. During this time, I read every book I could get my hands on that I thought might help me. I sought counseling. I joined a support group. I've been doing the work. And on my journey to heal my heart, I figured out a lot of stuff. I started believing the truth, realizing my worth, and letting the Lord show me those things. I sought safe connection with people that I can trust based on their behavior. I processed some deep deep hurts from my marriage and I began setting boundaries on others and on myself. These things did not happen overnight. And I'm confident I'll be on this journey for the rest of my life.... but y'all... that excites me! I GET to do this.

The last two months, I've found myself stumbling into situations and then conversations where I can share what I've learned. I can explain the importance of safe connection and boundaries. I can talk about trust and forgiveness and how those things are not one in the same. And from having been met right where I was/am with incredible empathy by some very significant people in my life, I realize the immense impact I have on others when I can do the same. When I find myself in these conversations, I get fired up! I'm excited to expose people to the things I've learned and the strength I've gained. I want to be vulnerable and disclose the hard stuff because "vulnerability begets vulnerability; courage is contagious" (Brene Brown). The isolation and the shame I carried for so long are no longer welcome in my life and I want that same freedom for others.

After countless opportunities to share what I'm learning and share my story over the last two months, it hit me. I was driving home from an out of town graduation yesterday where I again had the chance to share some tools I've acquired when I realized that the storm has quieted. I have come out on the other side of the hurricane. I think I got really accustomed to what the storm felt like. I got used to buckling down and hanging on during the crazy. Chaos. Uncertainty. I don't know what I thought it would be like when I no longer felt like the storm was sucking all the air from the room. A big "FINALLY" moment, I guess. Maybe I assumed my heart would be healed once the doctor removed the staples... I don't know what I thought would be my indicator that I was no longer in crisis mode or self preservation status. A clean bill of health note from a therapist? Whatever I was waiting on... I was wrong. Its so gradual that I didn't even notice the progress until it looked back at me in my rear view mirror.

I did not seek out a single one of the opportunities I've taken lately to connect with someone and share what I'm learning. But it keeps happening. And I find myself thankful for the opportunities. I'm not naive enough to think that I'll never struggle again with the things I've been working through. I understand that as my life moves forward, I'll have to deal with various pieces of my broken marriage and the lacerations to my heart again and again in different situations. But the STORM has passed. I'm no longer holding tight the cellar door so that the tornado doesn't drag me away. It'll still rain now and again. That's "normal".... but I'm no longer paralyzed by the storm or its destruction. I'm also not naive enough to think that I'm "healed" and that my work on me is finished. It is hard work rewiring myelf and growing healthy relationships. It is no easy task removing from my life the people that steam roll my boundaries and mistreat me. And looking introspectively at my flaws and the bad coping skills I accumulated throughout life and working to change those - that sucks. But the rewards have been so worth it.

In bible studies for as long as I can remember, I've heard of the story of the father who every night at bedtime asks his daughter to give him her pearls (her most favorite possession). Every night she would cry and tell him she just couldn't. She loved them too much to give them up. One night when her father asked her again for her pearls, she took a deep breath and said yes, she loved him and trusted him enough to give her most prize possession to him. He graciously took them and explained to her that he'd been waiting for her to let go of those fake pearls because he had real ones to give her instead. The lesson being, sometimes we get so caught up in knowing ourselves and what is best for us that we miss out on the blessing God is trying to give us because we aren't letting Him drive. During my journey this last year and a half, I have been working on giving up pearls. Unlike the little girl, I think I've been giving them up one pearl at a time as opposed to the entire strand at once. Its been so hard. But I realized yesterday that that is what I'm doing. And God is giving me little glimpses of what He has for me. His promises. Y'all... that makes me want to rip off this fake necklace and hand it over! It makes me want to do the same for you! And yet, the Lord is so patient to wait for me. I cannot wait to continue this process of growing me into the best version of me, for the Lord, for myself and for my son. And I love how the Lord is dropping opportunities for me to share (and remind myself) of each fake pearl I've given to Him in complete trust that He has something so much better for me. The lacerations to my heart aren't so raw and wide open anymore. They are scars that are beautiful and lesson filled and sometimes tender. So while I work on whatever pearls I have left to hand over to the Lord, I am doing so with joyful anticipation of what the Lord has for me next. The storm is over.

Living Loved,