Friday, June 27, 2014

Who knows...

With the overwhelming response of my last post, I thought maybe it would be good to write a post just telling you why I started this because it is truly a story of God working in my life for His greater good.

We have to go back several years to get the whole picture, well at least the whole picture up until now. (who knows what is in store!)

Many years ago, our family was in such a great place. God had blessed us with an amazing home that I had only dreamed of, I had finished college and was teaching (which I had wanted to do for a long time) and Trey was with a fire department and truly loved what he did; it was more who he was than what he did. In February that year, Trey was honored for his hard work and dedication. In April, things changed completely and quickly. A series of events, decisions and actions (some in our control and most out of our control), led to what felt like a deep spiral of loss, despair and hurt.

Trey lost his job, and with it, a large part of his identity. In the next two years, we lost our house to foreclosure, our only reliable vehicle, and even more devastating,  many relationships. Some of those relationships just simply walked away and some just didn't know how to handle all the bad so they just faded into the background. (after being hurt several times, I will say we also probably withdrew out of fear, creating more isolation)  We were under the heavy blanket of waiting to find what was going to happen next and we were hurting to the core. To make matters worse, we felt isolated, and confused and almost violated as much of what we were going through was undeserved and unfair. We cashed in Trey's retirement and praying, felt led to start a bakery/deli called Five Loaves Bakery and Deli. We had never owned our own business and were so clueless about what we were doing, that despite our strong opening months, unfortunately the bakery also went under and with it, the $75,000 we had invested. ( and the last money we had to live on) At that point, there were very few people left in our cheering section, and we were succumbing to self pity and devastation. We sort of circled the wagons around our little family and did our best to hang on tight to God's promises and teach the girls about faith and perseverance in action. Eventually, after 2 years without, Trey finally found a full-time job and things started improving little by little.

Blessings did happen throughout those years; God never failed us. When the house was foreclosed, we had nowhere to live, but God provided a sweet little house that would allow our pets at a price we could afford through a couple we knew at church. We started just going through the daily motions and trying to put the awful last few years behind us. The problem is that there is so much residue left from those years. I personally had lost a lot of faith in people (especially those closest to us) and in systems designed to protect people. I had a lot of trust issues. On the flip side, I also saw the goodness of people, usually who barely knew us, in how they stepped up and gave our children Christmas that year or helped buy us groceries. It was an internal conundrum, a battle of wills to see whether I would stay in a protected environment or put myself out there again for relationships to flourish.

Knowing God's design is not for us to be alone, but not really having a group of friends any longer, I felt the need to connect. I asked my mom to go with me to a ladies' Bible study at our church. It was a Beth Moore study of Esther. It changed the course of my life. I was quickly drawn to Beth with her intensity and attention to details in the scriptures. She is beautiful, funny, knowledgeable, and inspiring. In these studies, we would discuss our homework and then watch an hour long video of Beth talking/teaching. One Wednesday night, after teaching Algebra all day, I attended the study with Mom. I wasn't really part of the discussion at the beginning, as my mind was elsewhere. When the video started, of course I focused.  Then something really strange happened. As I stared at the TV screen, it was like Beth's mouth was moving but no sound was coming out- as if someone had hit the mute button. All I saw was Beth on the screen teaching, and all I heard was God clearly saying, "You are supposed to be doing this." Immediately, I argued. If someone could have recorded my thoughts that night it would have been something like : "Are you crazy, God? I am NOT Beth Moore! She is adorable, fashionable, knows your Word inside and out. She is so full of energy and speaks to people so well! I can't even keep a best friend! You've got the wrong girl, God!" and he would just respond "You are supposed to be doing this." I spent the entire hour trying to convince God that he had the wrong brain. That somehow he accidentally opened the wrong mind and spoke; maybe he meant the girl in front of me or something. Honestly this is the only time so far in my life I have audibly heard him speak to me and his words never changed, "You are supposed to be doing this." As soon as the video ended, I was teary-eyed and very emotional despite not hearing anything Beth said (which I am sure was amazing and am a little sad I missed it). I just sat there kind of dumb-founded for a few minutes and looked up and mom was watching me with that motherly look. I said to her, "I just think that I am supposed to be doing this; talking and speaking into women's lives." Can you believe, she looked me straight in the eye and said, " I know. Me too." What??? Now granted, my mom has a condition that affects her hearing, so maybe she didn't understand what I said, but she answered what God wanted her to answer. I am not sure if she meant that she was supposed to also or if she agreed and felt that God was leading me to it, but I was, well, astonished. I had a LOT to process that night and the weeks to come.

So once I came to grips with the idea that God wanted me to speak, teach or something to women for His glory, I just felt this need to do something but had no clue even where to start. That is where this blog began. I had seen blogs of all kinds and thought it couldn't be that big of a deal and that if I just shared it with people I knew then that would be a start, right? Amazingly, setting up the blog was easy and then God gave me a lesson to share. I spent a couple of hours typing and revising a voila! I had my first blog post: "Perhaps." I then wrote once a week for four weeks. Every post had about 50 views which was really cool, but didn't seem to be whatever it was God wanted from me. Then He placed me in a position within a Christian based company where I would have the opportunity to speak to women and share Him with others on a fairly regular basis. For the last two years, God used this position to teach me, to build my confidence immensely and to restore my faith in friendships and others and to even restore some damaged relationships. I changed so much over these two years that you can actually see the confidence change from the outside in just pictures.
I want you to look at the selfie pictures. Obviously my hair is different, but ignore that for a minute and look at the eyes and the smile; can you see the confidence change? I know I sure can!

Recently, I felt the winds of change again and have felt a need to take the next step in this incredible journey. I am still clueless about where this will end up or what I am supposed to do, but I am taking one step at a time. Mom suggested that I begin writing again. So, the other night I was awake and thoughts about what I should write were swirling in my head. The next day, I wrote my last blog post. Within three days, over 1100 people have viewed that one post! That is incredible and a little crazy to me! God is such an amazing interpreter that he took my simple words and made them something that others relate to and that spoke to them! So that is where I am right now. I would love someday to teach and speak to women about what I've learned over the years with my walk with God. I am still no Beth Moore! Someday I hope to meet her face-to-face to tell her thank you for being obedient to his call.

This post is a little different than the others as it is more just my story, but I hope that it encourages you to know that even in the craziness of all those dark times, God was teaching and molding me and giving me things that someday may come out in a post that will speak to someone I don't even know. When you know God has told you to do something and you have no clue how to even begin, just do something; just take a baby step. I love the saying that often we can't see the whole staircase, but God just wants us to take the first step! It is so true. If I had not stepped out and asked my mom to go with me so I didn't have to go by myself to the Esther study; if I had not responded to God's urging that night; if I had not started to write a blog two years ago; if I had not said 'yes' to an opportunity in a company at a time when one extra thing seemed impossible to add to my plate; if I had not listened to my mom and written that last blog...If I hadn't, make no mistake, He would have found someone who would have and I would have missed out on a period of growth, friends, love, confidence, blessings and preparation for the next step. Don't miss out! He wants to use YOU! If you refuse, he will use somebody because the ultimate goal is to expand his kingdom, but oh my could be YOU!

Esther 4:14 " for if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?" 

On a sidenote: The verse above has been my guiding verse for the last two solid years. The company I spoke of allowed me to lead a team of women and I used this verse as our team verse. I called our team the "Royal Beauties". More than once, God showed up in the details and gave me the assurance that it was all His plan. I even recalled at one point that my name, Stephanie, means "Crowned One." How cool for God to show me that this is more than just "right now", but that it is past, present and future and he sees it all at once.

Blessed more than I deserve,

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When God Closes a door...

"When God closes a door...look for a window." Seriously, this was a Contemporary Christian song when I was growing up and it just almost elicits a gag on the trite cliche' when I think about it. Of course there is also the tried but true: "When God closes one door, He will open another." (Oh, please don't.) What is bad about these kinds of sayings that people just blurt out when someone has a huge disappointment or is going through a really rough moment is that it does absolutely nothing to help them other than cause more frustration. When you are on the receiving end of these cliches you are most likely in a place of waiting, in a place of stretching and confusion and a place of not having a clue what to do next; a place where you do not want to hear some trite cliche' spoken by a well-meaning friend.

However one day I heard a speaker say this with a new twist and man did it hit home!

"When God closes one door, He will open another, but sometimes, it is hell in the hallway."

I wish I could remember exactly who I heard say this, because to me it is genius! I laughed out loud and had a huge connection immediately, for I had been in the "hallway" for quite a while! The more I thought this over, the more God revealed to me all the aspects the hallway entails. The hallway is where the battles are won or lost. The hallway is where trust is built. The hallway is where God speaks directly to our heart. The hallway is where faith is birthed and obedience is decided; in the hallway; the battleground of our heart. You see it is easy to trust God when you understand the direction things are going. It is easy to trust when things are going just like you anticipated. True faith and trust happens when we are faced with uncertainty and confusion and disappointment but we know that God is in control and we are just charged with following His lead regardless of what appears to be the situation.

And just to be completely clear, the hallway is NOT a fun place to be; not even a little bit. Don't get me wrong, we can choose to be joyous in the hallway because we know our God is in control and loves us, but that doesn't make the hallway a fun place to be. I mean, think about your house. If you were asked to pick the most fun room of the house, the hallway definitely would not be it! No one really wants to go to the hallway, it just sort of happens. It is the connection (get this) between rooms; from one door to the next. (See that amazing parallel there?) 

I remember one time when we lived in an older pier and beam house and my husband, Trey, was a firefighter. One summer day (maybe late Spring), there was a late afternoon storm coming in and it looked to be a big one. We live in North Central Texas, so storms can become pretty scary really fast. This storm came in fast and hard and started flooding some areas in our town so Trey left to go help the fire department and sheriff's department put out barricades to keep people safe from the flash flooding. The girls were fairly young at the time. Amanda was probably in 2nd grade and Kaitlyn in Middle School and neither were very fond of storms. 

Not long after Trey left, the skies turned eerily grayish and tornado sirens started going off around us. Our house was one of those old houses where you go from one room to the next in a big circle but there was small hallway in the middle and it was the only spot that wasn't on the outside of the house and the only spot without windows. (both things to look for when you need a safe place in a tornado) So I hastily grabbed my daughters, our two dogs, (a rambunctious lab puppy named Liberty and a little spastic weenie dog named Ginger), closed  all the doors to the connecting rooms and grabbed pillows and blankets to sit on since it was old hardwood flooring. The girls grabbed their favorite stuffed animals and despite the sweltering heat, blankets. Almost immediately Trey called me, out of breath and yelling over wind and rain, to make sure we were safe and in the hallway and to assure me that he would call when it was safe to come out. Now I really want you to chew on that thought for a few moments and we will come back to it: safe in the hallway.

Since I am such a visual learner, I want to give you a little mind picture of what was happening at little 505 Brown Street. The hallway itself is no more than 4 feet wide and about 15 feet long maybe. There is one door on the end that we have closed (these are the old doors with glass knobs and skeleton keyholes) that leads to the girls' rooms. There is another door on the opposing end that is also closed that leads to our bedroom and a door in the middle back wall that leads to the bathroom. the fourth side had a door opening, but no actual door so I had one of the girls' twin mattresses propped up there. There were no vents in this hallway, so it was stuffy and with two wide-eyed young girls and two dogs who had no clue what was going on, it was a little chaotic. Soon the electricity went out so it grew even hotter and very uncomfortable. We were sweating and trying to convince Liberty to not jump over the mattress and Ginger to quit her pacing and whining. 

Apparently more than one funnel had appeared in various locations near us around this time so the sirens seemed to keep going off. I was worried, but also frustrated with trying to keep my girls calm and the dogs contained and my sanity intact! I put on that mom mask of calmness and fun in the face of things that are described by neither of those words and we sang, I ran and got coloring books and colors and things like that. As more time passed, I grew impatient as we had not heard an "all-clear" from Trey yet. I began to sneak out of the hallway to see if I could see anything that would tell me if we could come out or not. I would insist that the girls stay there and I would go watch the news station on the TV or even venture to take a look outside and then quickly return to them. The girls, succumbing to the heat and uncomfortable conditions began complaining that they didn't want to stay in the hallway or that the dogs didn't want to be in there and we should just let them out. I don't remember how long we stayed there for sure but my guess is that it was around an hour. Trey called and said there had been a couple of small funnels that didn't seem to do much damage and that the main part of the storm had passed. Thankfully, we were all safe, albeit a little sweaty and cranky, but safe and sound and we began putting the weird collection of things that we had in the hallway with us back in their rightful places. 

This memory came back to me when I thought about the hallways of life. Like I said before, the hallway is not a fun place to be, but it is a vital part of the house. Without the hallway, you couldn't easily move from room to room. Some houses have big hallways and some are small; so it is with life. When we go from one stage or moment where things really seem to be moving along nicely and then suddenly there is a change; likely a change we didn't expect or want or like. Often it is a change that we have little or no control over and that makes it a little scary; tornado-like. This is when we are placed in the hallway. This is when we are learning to trust. This is when it sometimes gets hot and uncomfortable and we try our best to sneak out and see if we can "fix" it. But this, this hallway, this is where we are safe. In fact, sometimes, being in the hallway, isn't even about us. I was doing my best as a mom to keep my two girls and two dogs as safe as possible. Maybe your hallway is more about keeping someone else safe or more of a battle for their heart and trust than your own. 

I wasn't the most obedient wife in that hallway. I snuck out, checked things out; tried to see if I could return the situation to normal. As Christians, how often do we do that with God? When He has us in this waiting state, in a hallway of life, asking for us to simply trust. In fact often He doesn't give us so much as a glimpse of what we are trusting for other than the heart knowledge that He loves us and works for our good; we are just to trust Him.  Instead, we try to sneak out of the hallway of life by figuring out how to fix things ourselves, as if we are able to do a better job than our Lord. We sneak out simply because we are tired of being hot and uncomfortable and dealing with the conditions of the hallway and even more because we do not want to be mature enough to be the adult in the hallway. Thank goodness there was not a tornado about to rip through my house at the very moment I chose to step out of the hallway and check. How selfish, silly and immature of me to leave my children to check. We knew that someone who loved us very much would call and let us know when it was safe, but that was not good enough in the midst of the discomfort. What a slap in the face to my loving husband that act was. How many more times and how much more must it be a slap in the face to our God when we try to fix things and all he wants is for us to be still, be safe, and to grow in maturity and trust in him. 

So if you find yourself in the hallway of life, take heart! Eventually the storm will be over. I do not know if yours is a long hallway or a short hallway. I do know that you will probably face some uncomfortable things, you will probably feel isolated and it may get a little hot in there as God tries to teach you things for your next open door event. I do know that hallways are necessary and that often they are for the safety of you or someone else. They might even be a battleground for the heart of someone else. How you handle yourself in the hallway speaks more than how you handle yourself in any successful open-door moment. God will not give you that moment until He is ready for you to walk through it, (notice I didn't say until we are ready for it, because usually we are never truly ready), but that next door might be one that rocks your world more than any storm ever could. God's ultimate agenda is to further His Kingdom of believers and to use His children to do so. He wants to use you as soon as that door opens, but you have to be able to handle a little hallway chaos first!

Hebrews 11:1 " Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Isaiah 40:30-31 "Even youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

Romans 5:3-5 " We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us , because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us."

Blessed more than I deserve,