Focus

They say beginnings are the hardest part. I think they’re the scariest, but it’s the middles that really show us what we’re made of.

When you fall hard enough that your entire life changes in a few months, it can take a while to get back up again. The time spent in that dip between the break, and the getting up and on with a new life, can be a treacherous place. Some stay there, and never recover.

For me it was my divorce.

The tear was jagged and deep. We all felt it in our own ways. A great many people were so tightly woven to us, our parents and siblings especially, that the rip turned into a ripple of pain and that kind of separation isn’t meant to be weathered. No family is built for a divorce.

This past Easter weekend was one of those times when I realized how far I’ve come. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon, basking in the sun in a friend’s back yard, sipping a beer and laughing with friends, that it dawned on me. I was getting married 10 years ago on Easter Sunday.

See, over the last 2 years I’ve been building up to all these anniversaries. I mourned and drudged myself through all of them. 2013 was the year of “firsts.” My first Valentine’s without him. My first summer without him. Our first day of school without him. The anniversary of the day we met, got engaged, Christmas, etc… I’m a deeply sentimental woman so it all held such heartache for me.

Realizing it at 3:45 in the afternoon was actually kind of liberating. It meant I hadn’t spent the week leading up to it in misery and anguish. It meant I was moving on. It meant my focus was finally on Christ and no longer on him.

What I wasn’t ready for, however, was how my kids would handle his upcoming marriage.

Watching them drive away with their dad and his fiancé is always hard. It always hurts and I still always cry. I don’t know if my heart will ever be able to swallow the sight of my babies with their dad and another woman.

But what I wasn’t ready for was how they might actually feel about it. I mean, we talk about it. We talk about everything. They’re so happy and easy going and joyful that I didn’t see it coming.

Last Sunday night I picked them up as usual and as we began our hour long drive home, my daughter (who’s 9) began to quietly weep in the backseat. I kept asking her what was wrong and she insisted her eyes just hurt.

“Do you not want to talk about it in front of Quinn?” I asked her. She nodded. So I pulled off of the road into a parking lot and got out and came around to her side and squatted down to her level. She fell into my arms and sobbed.

“Tell me baby. You can tell me anything. Is it the wedding?”

We had been discussing their dad’s upcoming wedding and the kids were sad that I wasn’t going. Quinn asked if it was because it would make me too sad. I took a deep breath and answered truthfully.

“No baby. It doesn’t make me sad. It actually makes me really, really happy. Daddy loves Jesse right? Well I love daddy too. All I want is to see daddy happy. So if Jesse makes him happy, then I’m so glad they’re getting married. It’s just that it’s not really appropriate for me to go to daddy’s wedding. Ok?”

He seemed to get all that and quickly dropped it. But Kierra’s eyes welled up and soon I found myself holding her on the side of the road while she wept.

“I don’t want daddy to marry Jesse. I want him to marry you again. I don’t want us to be divorced. I don’t like missing you when I’m with daddy and missing daddy when I’m with you.”

What do you say to that? That’s the story of my life, my sweet baby girl. So I kissed her and hugged her tight and said all I could think to say. “I know, baby girl. I know.”

We get through. We crack and we bend but we hold tight to each other and pray we don’t break. The wind weathers us. It fills our sails and tears the battered boards from our nailed up windows. It bangs us up and drives us forward and brings new things around each bend. All we can do is hold on to the things that don’t change.

This year’s wind brings lots of changes. It brings things I’m not ready for. But holding on to my babies – and the promises that God had for us – will see me through. His grace has always been enough. It doesn’t run out and it doesn’t change.

Now that I’m officially not at the beginning, and I’m somewhere in the middle, I’m trying to figure out where exactly I am. I still feel like I’m in a transition between something. I don’t feel completely settled and where I’m meant to be. And maybe I never will. Maybe that’s something I’ll never fully experience on this side of heaven. But I’d like to think there’s some sort of permanence and physical security in my future. We’ll have to wait and see.

My one year challenge

I’ve been putting off writing this post because there’s so much going on in my heart, that I don’t know how I’ll possibly do it justice. I’m not sure where to start, but I think I need to go back to last fall…

In September I met a really great guy who I truly thought could be the one. He was just what I was looking for – Team Realtree, Ariats… antlers and turkey fans on his living room wall… drove a big lifted Ford and loved Jesus… Sigh. Be still my heart. The problem was, he was still so broken from his divorce and his wife’s affair with (several) of their close friends, that he had built a wall up so high around his heart, he was afraid to let me in.

It wasn’t just that he was afraid. He was absolutely terrified, and would have a complete panic attack as soon as he started to feel anything. It didn’t matter if we were cooking dinner together or watching a Heartland marathon – as soon as he started to feel comfortable, he’d get scared. We could be laughing til our sides hurt, and he would just suddenly clam up. He eventually admitted the truth that broke my heart.

Amber, you’re more than I ever hoped for, and you treat me like J- never did, ever, in our entire relationship. If I fall for you, and you hurt me, I won’t get over you. It will kill me.

So this was the story of our brief relationship. We were on opposite ends of the pendulum. His past hurts caused him to hide his heart and lock it up. My past hurts fuel my faith to find what I’ve never had before. I refuse (blatantly refuse) to be afraid to love again. I may get my heart broken – but I will never miss out on loving someone because of fear. It’s not in me.

He flip-flopped so much that it was torturing me. He loved me – he just wanted to be friends. He loved me – he couldn’t give me what I needed. He loved me – he was too afraid to get hurt.

I was sitting in church the week before Advent started, and pastor Pete was preaching on “rolling out the red carpet” for Jesus at Christmas. He challenged us that if there was anything stealing our attention from Christ, that we give it up for the Advent season and get back to it after Christmas. Immediately, I heard a resounding dating echo in my heart. I decided then and there that I was done with the flip-flop, and he was getting moved to the back burner so I could focus on the birth of my Lord. We became just friends, period.

It was a really, really rough Christmas, and not because of him, but because I was still struggling with being “alone.” I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to not be married, but I so desperately miss being a wife. I crave the comfort and contentment that comes with having someone to bestow all my affection and devotion on, which is likely why God is asking me to wait. My heart needs to crave the Lord more deeply than a man.

So. As my 30th birthday approached, I began to panic. My birthday is January 1st, so I always feel this epic need to get my life together and know exactly what I’m doing for the year when my birthday rolls around. It’s more than a new year’s resolution thing. And since I was turning 30, I felt like I had to get my whole decade together. I put way more pressure on myself than God ever has.

With this decision to put an end to the yo-yo relationship I had been trying so hard to make work, I felt a peace and a certainty that this was the right thing to do. So, like I always do, I tried to be more devoted and more faithful and more self-sacrificing. I promised God that I would take my entire 30th year off from the dating game. I was going to give him the first year of my 30’s and focus only on him.

Epic promise. Epic fail.

In the spring, I went on 3 dates with a really nice cattle farmer (I should have known when he showed up in a Silverado, but I wasn’t being too picky since it was at least lifted). But by date 3 I knew he wasn’t the one. I kept going back to my promise and wrestling with it in my mind.

I wasn’t sure if this was a silly rule I had made up myself to try to prove to God that I love him, or if God was actually asking me to take the year off. I had so many friends tell me that my heart just needed to be in the right place – I didn’t need to swear off dating for a whole year! I just needed to put my focus more clearly on Christ. I didn’t know what to think. I was all over the road.

Then, out of nowhere, I started getting emails from a cattle farmer/trucker from eHarmony. He lives in Manitoba and that gave me a huge sense of safety because I was getting to know him over the distance and there wasn’t a chance of me getting swept off my feet over text/email. We texted a lot. A lot, a lot. And I was completely blown away by his faith and his desire to “date holy” and his unwavering integrity. We would text for hours and hours on end. His conversations were deep, and Christ-focused, and I was definitely a huge fan of his farm upbringing and the photos he would send me of his horses and loads of hay as he fed cattle. But righteousness is a huge, huge turn-on for me, and I loved his respect and honourableness. And a tall, stocky cowboy to boot? I was going to lose my heart over text after all, and fast.

I work for a wonderful Christian couple and I run the office for their business. We build grain handling and storage equipment and service existing systems. My work vocabulary consist of augers, drag conveyors, down spouts, distributors and legs, hoppers, etc. I’m truly a farm girl at heart. And I love my job because I can wear my cowboy boots and pink Realtree hat to work. I also love my job because of Tina, my boss. She and her husband are truly the best example of what Christians should be, that I have probably ever seen in real life.

So I confide in Tina a lot, and she is amazing at speaking discernment and wisdom into my life. I had told her about my one year commitment and told her about my dates with the cattle farmer, and finally about M-, the amazing guy from Manitoba. She patiently listened and constantly reminded me, “Don’t settle for less than God’s best for you.” I kept wrestling with this one year off dating promise I’d made, and the possibility of my dream man right in front of me.

A dear friend of mine had sent me the link to a series by Andy Stanley that she really wanted me to watch called “The New Rules For Love, Sex & Dating.” She hadn’t seen it in a long time but in our brief talk after church it triggered her memory and she thought I would enjoy it.

I had it on in the office while I was re-organizing all our filing cabinets one week. I asked Tina if she minded and she said she was enjoying listening to it too. I kept being blown away by the things he was saying and Tina and I would chuckle whenever he said things that totally lined up with what I had been talking about over the last few months.

And then it happened.

Andy said something along the lines of this…

I want you to go in your calendar, on your phone or wherever you keep it, and skip ahead to one year from today. And I want you to not date until then.

I gasped out loud. I literally gasped, and Tina laughed out loud! “Wow Amber, do you think the Lord is telling you something?”

So there it was. I knew it. I couldn’t put a question mark behind that thought anymore. God had clearly put a period.

No dating for a year. Become the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.

I stood up and circled April 15 on our giant Varco yearly calendar in front of my desk on the wall. No questions. I was sure.

And then I thought about M-. He was very busy with his cattle and his trucking company and contracts, so we had pretty much decided that he was too busy to date for the time being and we were going to step back and not put pressure on it. But I still felt drawn to him. He had talked about giving it a shot when things slowed down in the fall. I was going to be patient. But a whole year was a lot.

I texted him and sent him the link to Andy’s series and told him it had changed my whole heart, and that I was doing the one year challenge. And then silence for 6 days.

Then, on Good Friday, in the middle of my Passion of the Christ meltdown, my phone whistled. It was M- and he said, “So I watched that series u suggested… It was amazing… I want to take the one year challenge too…” And we had a good talk about it.

So I’m not talking to him anymore. He’s somewhere in Manitoba, and I’m praying for him. But my focus is on Christ.

Andy talked about how important it is to become the very best version of yourself before you find your partner. Become so deeply in love with the Lord, and rid your life of everything that holds you back from being the person God wants you to be.

I deleted all my playlists and started fresh. (That was a tough one – I love my Eric Church and Jason Aldean…) But listening to those love songs was only making me more and more unsatisfied with my relationship status, and made my heart long for a lover to park the truck and take off running to go listen to the night train. So I decided to take a break from secular music too. I made new playlists with all my Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin and Tim Hughes and Hillsong music. I’m focusing on Christ, and it’s insane how much just changing my music has changed my heart.

And may I randomly add, that someone needs to market some seriously good country worship music? Hey Luke, could you stop shaking it for me and sing some praises instead? Mmm-kay? Thanks.

So here I go. I have a little over 11 months to go (but who’s counting) and I am soaking up my Bible and being more careful of what I put in front of my eyes. I stopped following a bunch of facebook pages like I want to marry a country boy that occasionally posted sexy cowboys without their shirts on, or love song lyrics that just made me lonely. It’s absolutely baffling to me how much things like that can affect my contentedness.

I don’t know what kind of challenge this year is going to be, but I’m sure of one thing – Anyone who asks me out this year isn’t the one God has for me because He isn’t going to ask me to take a year off and then send me someone to break that commitment. I got asked out on the weekend and didn’t even have a hint of a desire to say yes. I truly believe that anyone I meet now would only end up breaking my heart, because it’s not God’s plan for me. I’m not settling for less than God’s best for me.

I’m sure it will be difficult. I’m sure it will push me and challenge me. I’m sure I will wish I hadn’t made this commitment at some point over the next year. I do live in a farming community and I’m a sucker for a lifted pickup truck and a man in muddy boots. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is God’s will for my life. And I know He only wants good things for me. So I’ll wait and see what He brings instead of searching myself.

Not only that, but I realized in listening to Andy’s series, that if I’m spending this year becoming the kind of woman that the man I’m looking for is looking for – then I want a man who is doing the same for me! I want a man who’s heart is longing for ME, and who God is going to prepare for me as well. Maybe he’s in the middle of a really horrible divorce right now and God has some healing to do in his life before he’s ready for me. Maybe he’s never been married and he’s not sure what he wants yet and God is still directing him. Maybe he’s one of the farmers we will work for this year. Maybe he’s a cattle farmer in Manitoba. The point is – I don’t have to worry about it. God knows exactly who he’s preparing my heart for. And until I want to love Christ more than I want to love a husband, I’m not deserving of such a man.

I have a song on my playlist called “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Matt Redman. I had it cranked up as I was driving the other day and was singing about all the time I have ahead of me to sing praises to my God. The line “10,000 years and then forevermore” just grabbed my heart and gave me a good spiritual shake. My heart is so out of line with where it should be. Praying for a husband when I have eternity to praise Jesus? I’m such a weak, broken woman. I need some serious priority adjustments this year. And I need a completely new perspective.

Please pray for me, and please listen to that series! I’m sure not everyone needs to take a one year challenge. But I am certain that God is asking me to, because I need to.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come! – 2 Cor 5:17

All things. Even me.

I make all things new.

– Jesus

It’s been a long time since I felt anything so deeply resonating truth through my soul.

I was curled up in my chair, weeping so loudly my dogs left the room, watching a movie depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. I watch it every year on Good Friday.  There is a scene when Jesus is carrying the cross, bloodied and broken, and He falls down on the street while His mother looks on. She flashes back to Him as a small boy, falling and scraping His knees. It’s in slow motion of course, for added dramatic effect, and any mom with a little boy is guaranteed to lose it at least for a moment as she relates to Mary. Which is precisely what I did.

As Mary rushed to His side, weeping, Jesus’ eyes met hers and He cried out to her, “See mother? I make all things new!” He grabbed the cross with a surge of strength and lifted it to His back and continued on up the hill to Calvary.

Now I’m fully aware that this scene is a creative liberty and doesn’t exist in scripture.

But I was so caught up in the deep, guttural emotion of what God and Mary both would have been feeling, watching their Son tortured unto death,  that it made my thankfulness that much more real to me. (I’m not kidding when I say I scared the dogs). And the second He uttered those words “I make all things new,” I cried out “Even me!”

The movie is too gruesome for me and I have to fast forward some scenes because I can’t bear it. But I’m thankful for how real it made His crucifixion for me. I’m thankful that I was able to grasp a little deeper what He went through.