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.

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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

Worlds Apart

I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve come in the last year, and the deeper I look into it, the more it blows me away. Earlier this January I made a comment on my Facebook wall about how the Mayans were right – my world did end in 2012. My marriage, some very deep friendships, my home, and my family came crashing down around me. My world ended – and a new life began. My life as a broken woman, completely lost and alone, began with the shattering of something awful, and the promise of something new.

My life has grown not out of the remains, but in a fresh place, filled with new people, a new town, a new job, a new home, and a completely new me.

I used to sing this song so freely on my worship team, called “Holiness” – made most popular by Sonicflood. I used to beg God to break me, and make me into something new.

For years, my favourite song was “Worlds Apart” by Jars of Clay.

So really, I asked for it. And I had no idea it would hurt so much, or what it would mean. But now, after a fresh start, and after the pain has subsided and the brokenness has given birth to something fresh and alive – I am so thankful. Not only for the new creation He has made out of me, but of the grace that drenched me in my brokenness, and for His faithfulness during my darkest days.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! – 2 Corinthians 5:17

2012 was dark. It was heavy, and bitter, and lonely, and miserable. I was completely broken – bent and twisted and utterly pathetic. But with that brokenness came the ability to hand everything over to God. I had nothing left, I had nowhere else to turn, and nothing else to cling to but His grace and His promise of unconditional love. As soon as I let go of my pain, and let go of the need to be in control of my life, the night ended and the sun began to rise.

His joy comes with the morning. And morning has come, and with it all the light and newness and freshness of the dawn. I can’t wait to see what He’s going to do each day. I finally feel like I am at home, and I feel like He has given me a song in my heart again, after so many months of silence and desperation. I am alive! And it feels wonderful, and each new morning is a gift and an opportunity to rejoice and praise Him for who He is and what He’s done!

I’m sure there are some of you who’ve watched me go through last year and wondered if I’d ever be okay. I have drawn much strength from some of my dearest friends, and I am forever grateful to them… Brandy, who is always in prayer for me, and always giving me a word from the Lord, whether I want to hear it and whether she wants to say it or not… Kristel, who loves me without asking of me or judging anything about me – just loves… Khoral, who hurts with me, cries with me, laughs with me, inhales sushi with me, stargazes by a bonfire until the wee hours or snuggles kittens in the hay loft with me… Dawn, who never fails to check in and send me love and random owls… Karen, who loves me over great distances of time and space, who hugs me like it’s the first and last time she’ll ever hug me every time, and who will kiss my cheek and jump up and down with excitement to see me even in a crowded Montana’s and no matter who’s watching… Adam, who shoots so straight I could smack him half the time for his honesty, but whose heart is kind, his words sincere and his concern for me often brings me to tears… I am a blessed woman because I could go on and on with this list of dear ones in my life. Father, thank You for blessing me with these true friends.

In my darkness, I can only pray that the light that kept burning – although only a small candle for so long – was enough to see Jesus in. I pray that it continues to grow into a mighty forest fire that consumes the bitterness and brokenness of those around me and draws them in to the love of Christ as well. I just can’t believe the works He has done in my life this year.

…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6

He doesn’t make mistakes. When He starts something, He will see it through. His promises never fail. His mercy never ends. And His joy will always be my strength!

If you are lost, broken, or hurting – put your faith in Jesus. If He could turn my pathetic life into a happy, fulfilled, meaningful one filled with light and love – He can – and wants to – do the same for you. It only takes a leap of faith, that may rip the ground from under your feet – but He WILL catch you…

Resurgence

I have a friend who I love with all my heart. She has been my closest friend since we were niners in high school. We’ve been through some pretty crazy times together. When it comes to the details of my life – the pains, the joys, the sorrows, the trials, the successes and triumphs – she knows it all. And we broke up in December.

We have this history of breaking up and getting back together. We love each other forever, there’s no doubt about that. She’s my soul’s sister and she owns a piece of me that I’ll never even try to take back. She’s the David to my Jonathan. But we also tend to hurt each other, and because our love is so deep, so is the wound when this happens.

We haven’t spoken since before her wedding and since before Christmas.

And she sent me a text yesterday telling me she misses me.

And my heart leapt inside me.

I have so many people who judge our relationship and urge me to write her off. I’m sure you all have had a relationship like that – where the people who don’t like to see you get hurt want you to bail on it and leave it at the curb. And maybe I should. But I can’t.

There’s so much more to it, but I can’t help but feeling puzzled at this concept.

Some have called it a toxic relationship. And in some ways it very well could be. But I don’t understand why that qualifies it for termination.

If Jesus walked away from me because I hurt Him and continued to blaspheme Him or deny His love, even after complete and total repentance and rededication, I would be wallowing in a grave of emptiness and total aloneness right now. But He never does. In fact, He commands me to forgive, again and again, over and over, until it breaks me, and then 70 times 7 times after that.

I love this woman. I love her with the purest of loves that only God could have given me. I love her as I love my own life. And when I define love, and as I search through scriptures and teachings from my Saviour, I find no justification for giving up on that love. Nowhere.

In fact – Christ gave us a beautiful definition of love that we all know or have at least heard.

 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love isn’t supposed to be conditional. Love isn’t supposed to have rules and limits. It’s not supposed to remember the hurts of the past and hold onto them and hold us back from loving in the future. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be real. Nothing about love is easy! Love requires dedication, commitment, selflessness and complete and total devotion without conditions.

I’m not talking about the love this world shows us. I’m talking about Christ’s love. He never gives up on me. He takes my daily sins and wraps them in His nail-scarred hands, and flings them as far as the east is from the west. And He turns the other cheek and loves me the next day. That is the kind of love I want to exhibit and experience in my life. I don’t want the kind of love that asks for love in return, or requires perfection in order to receive all its benefits. I want REAL love. And it has to come from a desire to be more like Christ, even – especially – if it hurts.

I’m going to see her and meet her new husband tonight. I am itching to pull her into my arms and hold her close and feel her warmth again. Doesn’t God restore all things? Is there anything that is beyond His redemption? This past year has proven to me that yes, he does, and no, there isn’t.

Perhaps I’ll get my heart broken again. But I don’t see how not stepping out in faith and love is an option when Christ commands me to love others more than myself. If loving her means breaking my heart, I’m prepared to do that. Christ broke Himself to love me. So following in obedience and submitting to the love He has placed and burned and fired inside me is what I am choosing to do.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

February 6

I wrote this blog post on February 6 and didn’t have the courage to publish it at the time. So here goes.

The future I had planned for burst into flames and blazed for the past year, melting down the life I knew until I was left kicking embers and covering my head with ash. Wandering through the melted, charcoal smeared rubble, I am left wondering what to do next. Rebuild, of course, but what?

For now, I focus on the tasks at hand. Keeping my house clean. Making meals. Snuggling my kids and making sure they get enough of my undivided attention and security. Working my ass off. And starting over again the next day.

This isn’t living. This is surviving. How long will my life consist of making a home and working and sleeping, and spending every other weekend when they’re with their father recovering from the previous two weeks?

I’m not who I was a year ago.

I’m stronger.

And I’m terrified.

Each day that passes, I gain a little more strength, but I also break a little more inside. I bend to the will of my Father, when all I want to do some nights is rush back into the arms of the man who tore me down. I press on; surging, then crawling, aching, then rejoicing, twisting, bending, pushing, until I don’t recognize myself anymore. I am clay, and I surrender myself to the only One who can turn this brokenness into beautiful.

My heart is alive, and I am redeemed. My brokenness still cries out. I still fail to live in the grace that drenches my sweet little life, until He reminds me with a countryside of frost-kissed trees on my way to work, that He makes my heart beat, and not my own will.

I fall for those little lies that are sweetly whispered in my naked ear.

You have low self-esteem. No, I truly don’t. Human nature is to love ourselves more than anything else. I fight it every day.

You are a strong, independant woman. Ha! The battles I’ve fought this year have been waged with a paper sword and a tattered shield. He has been my protector. He has been my strength. He has stretched out His hand of provision and paid my hydro bill and put gas in my car and food in my cupboards. Independant? No, not me. I am nothing without Christ.

And so I grasp, with white knuckles and a soul that desperately yearns for understanding, so tightly to the promises He’s made to me. I will never leave you. Never, for certain. He’s proven it so far. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All those things he yelled and cursed and beat my heart with, are not true. I am the daughter of the King of kings. I have called you by name, and you are Mine.

I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine… I will cling to that this Valentine’s day when I snuggle my babies and long for a husband to love. No man could ever love and cherish me the way the Father does. And until He sends me the one who will try, I wait patiently by. I get up, and brush my teeth, and smile, and kiss my babies, and try to shine a little brighter. I smile to the strangers and fuel myself with His joy. I wait, and pray, and wait…