Just Passing Through

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“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:20

FogAheadI had been driving from Southeast Wisconsin to Northern Wisconsin late one night on an intensely dark two lane highway when it started pouring rain. The densely thick fog made visibility strikingly difficult and I could barely see the white stripe on the edge of the road let alone two feet in front of me. I didn’t want to stop because I was afraid someone might come along and rear-end me so I unknowingly coasted forward hoping the rain or fog would subside in mere moments.

Up ahead I could see what appeared to be the taillights of a truck that was coasting confidently through the storm. He must have had fog lamps in front because his fearless and deliberate pace was no comparison to the disorientation I had been feeling in that instant. But somehow I knew that if I could just follow those taillights, I’d be headed in the right direction.

This experience provided a metaphor for clarity as I have reflected on the last two weeks or so. As some of you know my grandma has been fighting to live as her health is declining. In fact, just last week the doctor’s were not very optimistic about her even surviving through the holiday’s. It breaks my heart because she is my last living grandparent and our relationship is closer than almost any other relationship I have within my family. The deep and intimate talks and moments we share are etched in my memory forever.

About a week ago my mom had been leaving the nursing home where my grandma is staying temporarily and as my mom went to give her a hug to leave, my grandma tearfully gripped my mom’s shoulders tighter and didn’t want to let her go… she was afraid she would die that night. Up until these last few weeks my grandma’s tough outer shell has been broken down and her vulnerability for comfort and clarity is resting in the hands of those closest to her. Immediately the next day I went down to visit because I knew the fear and anxiety she must have been feeling and I just wanted to be there to comfort and encourage her through some of those troubling thoughts.

me and grandma 2When I walked in she lit up with joy as her smile contagiously brought a huge smile to my face as well. Before walking in I asked God to give me the strength to encourage her and give her hope in the midst of her darkness. Even though I know she is a Believer I am not certain if she fully understands God’s love and promise and hope in eternal life. I wasn’t sure how I would bring it up to her but I was just trusting in God to reveal to me the right time and I just knew that it was necessary to give her comfort in her last days, weeks or months.

Our conversation transitioned perfectly later in the evening as she said to me, “Kristen, I am dying” with defeat and fear written on her face. While everything in me just wanted to hold her and weep I just knew I couldn’t. I wanted her to know that dying is not a defeat and it is not the end. I wanted her to know that dying is actually a victory because when our bodies are no longer here on earth it means our souls are rejoicing with Jesus in Heaven for all of Eternity. It means that all the pain, struggle, fear, disappointment and chaos are now behind us and we get to live victoriously with the Creator of the world. I told her that she needs to live the remainder of her days with hope in her heart and celebration, not fear and defeat because whenever God decides to call her Home it’s because He couldn’t wait to meet her face to face.

I also told her, “if you live each and every day as if it’s a celebration, I would be willing the bet God would keep you here a lot longer because you will have appreciated the gift of life He has given you. Heck, He might even keep you here another 10 years!” She laughed and said, “I don’t know if I can handle another 10 years.”

It was so wonderful because her spirit turned completely around over the next week leading up into Christmas. Two weeks ago we were talking about Hospice and funeral arrangements and now we are talking about who is going to take care of her when she goes home!

church steepleSo let me finish the story I began with. I had been just passing through this storm while trusting in the taillights of this unknown truck for what seemed like hours when eventually the storm had passed and I could finally gain some visibility.  I could clearly see some landmarks as I rounded a curve that was silhouetted against the night sky. Just ahead I saw the steeple of a church and the cross of Christ reflecting off of the moonlight and I realized in that instant that the confusion of the fog, the heavy rain, the uncertainty of direction – it was all God revealing to me the beauty and light that is promised in Heaven beyond the fear and disorder of the world.

That experience helped me to realize that this life is only temporary and we are all just passing through for a period of time. It also encouraged my grandma during a very unfavorable and scary stage in her life. Even though it’s hard, we have to have faith in the unknown, we have to trust that God is leading us in the right direction, we have to have hope beyond the darkness and we have to realize that our struggles are temporary and eventually the storms of life will pass as victory awaits us.

People need hope. Not just hope for tomorrow but hope for all of eternity. And it is our responsibility as believers to share that hope with others. It’s real easy to allow our own fear and doubt to cloud the truth that we know in our heart. My grandma knew the truth, she just needed confirmation that what exists in her heart is the real promise of God. We celebrated Christmas to thank God for sending His spotless son to earth to die on a cross for our sins so we would never have to experience an ‘end.’ Jesus was just passing through for a mere 33 years just like we all have our own timeline – the difference is, His life (as short as it was) is the exact reason we celebrate – it’s because His legacy changed the world and our eternal lives forever!

Join my grandma in celebrating life and God’s promise for us all:

(At the request of the couple in the mirror – who were Jewish, we all joined them in Celebration on Christmas Eve – just two days ago. Enjoy!)

(I should probably clarify, grandma is still here with us. This is my way of being able to celebrate her life while she is still here).

Love,

Kristen

This… is Water…

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A fish doesn’t appreciate water because they are born into it. They have never experienced life without it; until they are taken out of water and realize how important that water is to them.

Americans who are born into freedom don’t always appreciate freedom because they have never lived without it. Until that freedom is taken from them, then they realize how important freedom is.

 

In order to have freedom, we have to be aware of our freedoms.

“Awareness to what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight, all around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over, this is water…this is water.” David Foster Wallace

God Bless,

Kristen

Cut the Bull!

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“What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?” Lynette Mather

My student moved from Zimbabwe to America two years ago; a smart, likable dark-skinned 15-year-old with a positive attitude and a low self-esteem. As he walked into class I over-heard one of his outspoken 17-year-old peers sarcastically comment, “Hey, Zimbabwe! What’s up?” …as he went to slap him a high-five and pulled his hand away just as they were about to make contact. The 15-year-old chuckled as the other students laughed under their breath but little did he know that his peers were laughing at him and not with him. Immediately I pulled my 15-year-old student aside and asked him if he was okay with his peers calling him Zimbabwe? These kids were all the same ethnicity so I wasn’t sure if it was a nickname or an insult. Sometimes it’s hard to tell with teenagers. But I thought I would ask just to be sure. In his sweet pre-pubescent voice he responded, “well…not really, but so many people do it now that I’ve kind of gotten used to it…”

Immediately I spent the entire class period wrestling with the words that I wanted to say to these particular students who I just knew were bullies. I didn’t want to humiliate my 15-year-old even more in front of class so I formulated a plan to talk to these students privately afterwards.

bullying (1)In my most choleric and serious tone I glared into their eyes with tears and anger as I told them about my friend in high school who committed suicide because of bullying, my brother who was humiliated and ridiculed in middle school and needed a restraining order against his bully (who today the guy is now dead from drug overdose) while my brother is a successful business owner and musician. I told them that people can get kicked out of school, get fired from jobs and go to prison for bullying and harassment.  I told them, “I don’t care if you think it’s a joke, if you think it’s funny or if you think it’s harmless…….because it’s not a joke, it’s not funny and it’s hurtful.” I told them I have NO TOLERANCE for bullying at any level and I would do everything in my power to stop it from continuing. Needless to say I have not seen or heard anything since.

BULLYPIC2This topic has and always will hit close to home for me. Not only have I seen and witnessed the effects of bullying and harassment in people who I care deeply about, I have personally dealt with it in my own life. Subtle comments that are remembered from my past: the tall girl, the tom boy, the girl with man hands, ghetto booty, the shy girl who doesn’t talk… probably the most hurtful was in high school people liked to ‘joke’ because I dressed in athletic clothes, played sports and rarely had time for a boyfriend that I was the single girl with a big question mark above my head. Stereotypes that were completely UNTRUE began as a joke which escalated to rumors all because one person wanted to be funny. In fact some of those comments were what led to my years of battling an eating disorder because of low self-confidence, insecurity, low self-esteem and poor self-image. I wanted to believe that I was strong and I could ‘handle’ their jokes but my heart was hurt as I began to get angry, depressed and isolated. One thing that is important to remember is that bullying doesn’t always look like bullying. We recognize that when we hear stories of parents verbally abusing their kids, friends teasing and spreading rumors about other friends, rampant gossip or inappropriate texts, e mails or social media messages about another person. It sometimes looks harmless but rarely is it actually harmless!

Bullying is a serious topic that needs more awareness and that is why I am posting this article. Just look at the statistics:

  • Over 3.8 million students are victims of bullying each year.
  • Approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of bullying.
  • 90% of 4th through 8th grade students report being victims of bullying.
  • Almost 60% of those bullied early in life are also bullied in high school.
  • Approximately 30% of young people ADMIT to bullying others.
  • 70.6% of young people admit to seeing bullying in their schools.
  • 62% admitted to seeing bullying three or more times in the last month and 41% admit to seeing it at least once a week or more.
  • The MOST common types of bullying are verbal and social
  • According to one large study, the following percentages of middle schools students had experienced these various types of bullying: name calling (44.2 %); teasing (43.3 %); spreading rumors or lies (36.3%); pushing or shoving (32.4%); hitting, slapping, or kicking (29.2%); leaving out (28.5%); threatening (27.4%); stealing belongings (27.3%); sexual comments or gestures (23.7%); e-mail or blogging (9.9%).
  • Out of 100 – LESS THAN 20% of students who are bullied ever notify an adult about the bullying!

Don’t be mistaken, young people are not the only one’s who are targets for bullying. Many adults face similar challenges in the form of harassment, verbal and emotional abuse and physical harm. None of this should be taken lightly and if you see it and it doesn’t seem normal – it probably isn’t. It’s not okay to be a bystander or walk away!

Check out this video that is both disturbing and encouraging…but mostly disturbing:

 

Leadership is doing what’s right regardless of the consequences. If there were more people with a hunger for leadership we could not only stop bullying while it was happening but more importantly prevent it from starting.

I believe LIFE Leadership provides the best information to develop adults and young people into strong leaders who would not only recognize an inappropriate situation but sacrifice their own comfort and safety to help someone else. The Edge series was designed specifically for young people to develop their confidence, self-esteem, leadership and thinking. George Guzzardo stated recently in his article, Everything I Always Wanted for Christmas how important it is that we get the right information into people’s hands this holiday season and it starts with the Edge series for teens.

I truly believe it will be leaders who get the right information into the hands of the right people who will make a difference in their schools, communities, churches and professions. It will be leaders who sacrifice the comfort of their own lives in order to change someone else’s life and it will be leaders who spread the message of bullying prevention across the nation and the world.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18

God Bless,

Kristen

A Time to Give Thanks

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Winter and I have a love/hate relationship. I dislike this time of year purely because of the cold weather and early darkness in Wisconsin. But my love for it far surpasses my hate. I love this time of year because I can get away with dressing in warm baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts, I can fill my house with the winter aroma of Gingerbread and evergreen, I can sit in front of the fireplace and read deep books to challenge my thinking, I can watch classic Christmas movies that never get old and experience the beauty of watching the snow fall into the wee hours of the morning. But beyond these blissful moments, it’s a time when families are brought together, with the stress of life being put behind them while we quiet our souls for reflection and thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has lost its meaning over the years; it’s not just meant for stuffing our bellies, watching football and preparing for the black Friday specials. Its roots go back nearly 400 years to a shared autumn feast between Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians. The two groups came together in 1621 to celebrate the harvest in what is known as the first Thanksgiving celebration in the New World.  Thanksgiving is really all about our devotion to God and His laws. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.

Orrin Woodward, founder of LIFE wrote a wonderful and touching article titled Thanksgiving Thankfullness:

On Thanksgiving morning, as I sit at my desk, overlooking the Bay of St. Lucie, watching the sun rise out of the water, I am thinking thankful thoughts for all the blessings in my life… (click to read more)

George Guzzardo also writes about the the meaning behind Thanksgiving:

This week most of us will prepare to set aside time to celebrate the national holiday we call ‘Thanksgiving’. It begins a busy time of year most of us call the ‘holidays’, when we schedule time with what I call the 3 F’s: Friends, Food, and Football...” (click to read more)

I pray that God moves the hearts of all those who seek His love and all those who are servants in His kingdom. In a few words, I am so thankful for our military and veterans who fight for us to be free, good health, a loving family, amazing friends and a God who is faithful and forgiving. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

“O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His loving kindness is everlasting.” 1 Chronicles 16:34

Blessings,

Kristen

Unspoken Love

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“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.” Psalm 136:26

This time of year often carries a different meaning for different people. Many people love this time of year because it is filled with the holidays, fun, family, food and love. Other people dread this time of year because it can reflect a time of grief for loved ones not here, conflict in families, loneliness and stress. I personally fall right in the middle of these two categories. Living room Christmas

I spent this afternoon setting up my Christmas tree and hanging decorations for the holiday season – a fairly common ‘ritual’ for most people around this time of year. But it was while listening to the meaning behind the lyrics of the Christmas songs that were playing in the background while warming my hands and feet in front of the fireplace that I was inspired to write this post.

Earlier this week I was extremely frustrated and stressed about some personal matters. I had a hard time dealing with the emotions associated and found myself yelling at God in anger because I just didn’t understand why it was happening or how to fix it (as if it was God’s fault). Instead of humbly asking God to help me, I was angry with Him… and carried this anger with me all week!

As my heart started to race and tears began to shed this morning in church I couldn’t help but ask God for forgiveness, help and guidance. He reminded me of Friday afternoon when my high school students displayed the sort of love that is often times only revealed through God.

One of my seniors had injured her self fairly severely in an activity and immediately my students took action. What I didn’t realize until I got into my car that afternoon was the type of love they displayed. A type of love we don’t often talk about and doesn’t always get recognition – unspoken love. In a matter of seconds I had students leading with their heart; one student ran to get an ice pack, another ran to get a wheelchair, another ran to get a cell phone to call the girl’s mom and another ran to get a nurse while others stood by to encourage her and dry her tears. Seconds later one student boldly suggested, “I think we should pray” and she led her remaining classmates in a prayer. What was so beautiful about this moment was the realization that they did this all without my instruction – it came purely from the love in their hearts. It was a very proud and memorable moment for me and more importantly for God. I guarantee that young lady left school feeling deeply loved.

It was in my reflection this morning and again later this afternoon that I realized how simple it is to display love and conversely receive love without words (just like my students modeled on Friday). Like…the unspoken love of laughter, the unspoken love of a warm hug, the unspoken love of a card filled with X’s and O’s, the unspoken love of holding someone’s hand, the unspoken love of a listening ear, the unspoken love of dancing to no music, the unspoken love of a child climbing into your lap, the unspoken love of a knowing glance, the unspoken love of a tiny hand grabbing your finger or the unspoken love of serving someone else. Who doesn’t like to give and receive this kind of love?

love GodBut I believe the most obvious and powerful unspoken love we can receive is the love of God. No matter how angry we may be with Him (or ourselves), no matter what sin we violate, no matter how broken our hearts may be or how lonely we may feel we can find peace, comfort and hope in the unspoken love of God. It was the unspoken love of God that filled my heart this morning when I needed it the most. He continued to love me even when I didn’t deserve it.

God hears every unspoken word, sees every unseen wound and mends every unbearable pain. There is no problem He can’t solve or question He can’t answer. We just have to be patient enough to listen and faithful enough to trust Him.

So as we enter into a time of holiday cheer, laughter, fun, family, food and love, lets not forget about those who don’t have anyone to celebrate with or those who are facing health challenges, a family crisis or overwhelming stress. Not only should we embrace the love in the everyday things around us but also display and share the unspoken love of God in our hearts to those who may need the hope and love of Jesus the most during this time.

“God’s unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God’s love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.” Jerry Bridges

Much love,

Kristen

Encouragement for Singles

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I had been sitting at the airport restaurant waiting for my flight to depart when the waitress approached and asked if anyone would be joining me. To which I responded, “nope, just me.”

single 2For the majority of my life that phrase has been a normal part of my vocabulary. In fact, thinking back, the longest relationship I ever had in high school lasted three months and I can hardly call it a relationship because I was barely 16 years old. In fact just a couple of months after I broke up with him he started dating a really good friend of mine and they have been together ever since. Today he and my friend are married and have a child together. What a blessing that it didn’t work out because they are the perfect couple. God had it planned.

College wasn’t any better. For four and a half years I devoted my life to education, basketball, business and work. The last thing I cared about prioritizing into that schedule was a man. Once I graduated I realized how lonely life had been due to the poor relationships I had with people and many years of isolation; that loneliness led to a period of desperation where I just wanted to meet someone. A good friend of mine from college was in a similar boat so we willingly agreed to try online dating together. Both of us were too prideful to admit to our friends and family we were doing it and our lack of success in the process proved to be accurate as we both failed miserably… but, formed a library of funny stories in the process.

About a year after that experiment I took it upon myself to give it another try. This time though I had been starting my spiritual journey and I could see more clearly the type of man I was looking for. Another friend had referred me to a Christian dating website that she had found success in and it had led me to my first official adult relationship at the age of 24 (nearly 8 years later). The person I met had every quality I had been looking for but I realized 9 months into it that we had no chemistry so… we broke up. Six months later he met the woman of his dreams and he too is now married with two children. God had that one planned too.

SingleEver since then I have been single. In fact when people say they have been single their entire life, I hesitate to believe them unless they have a track record as slim as mine (less than 12 months of relationship experience in 28 years). I am still not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed of that. For as long as I can remember I have questioned what was wrong with me as I patiently sit on the side lines lovingly watching my friends walk down the aisle and bring children into this world with tears of joy streaming down my face but tears of sadness filling my heart as I question whether it will ever happen for me. I jokingly embrace my single-ness to other people but deep down I long to meet that special someone. I confidently express my patience to the public as I wait on God’s timing but deep down I continue to question if God really does have someone for me.

Psalms 145:16 says, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”

I read this verse as if it says, if you desire to be married, if in your deepest of hearts you desire a mate, then God will satisfy that desire. It wasn’t until I started to grow closer in my relationship with God that my patience grew stronger. Granted, it is easy to lose that grip when the temptation and pressure to be in a committed relationship gains weight and you start to lose your patience. But, my single friends, you are worth more than a casual non-committed relationship. Don’t lose your grip. You are valuable, you are precious. You deserve commitment and stability and God promises that. It’s funny because I often tell my friends that when I find ‘the one’ he better be ready. I don’t have time to waste in the normal two years of dating and another two year engagement. Ha, but then I am reminded of how naive that statement is. It isn’t my timing, it’s God’s timing. (Oh, and I suppose he has to know to).

What I have learned is that when we pursue a relationship for the wrong reasons we ultimately fall into relationships that are drenched in drama. God does not want us to ‘settle’ for something less. It is finding that place of peaceful existence with the person God has prepared for us. I want to be in a relationship that doesn’t compete with my relationship with God. I know it exists. We can have both. We don’t have to choose one or the other. We just have to have peace in knowing that it’s out there for us.

The purpose of this article is to encourage other single men and women to be patient and find peace in being single. I promise that the plan God has for you is worth waiting for.

Love, Kristen

In the meantime, God promises this:

21 Days of Service

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To stand up to any challenge, spend time on your knees.

Yesterday was the one year mark of the car accident that drastically changed my life. It still amazes me how blurry this last year has been and yet each moment is vividly clear as I stomach the thoughts of how difficult it was. Last year I spent Thanksgiving alone and in bed and I can hardly remember celebrating Christmas. I think I made an appearance somewhere? And yet this was all before the brain tumor diagnosis. I had ignored every potential sign that there was anything seriously wrong for months or even years which of course led God to intervene. I guess I just didn’t realize how persistent He was going to be. I certainly wasn’t grateful (at the time).

I was reminded this past weekend listening to Chris and Terri Brady speak at a LIFE Leadership seminar that people and community are what matter most, especially during challenges. I have always known this being that I love to serve other people. But the word ‘service’ means and feels totally different when the role is reversed. I have always had a hard time accepting help and even when I could barely make decisions on my own I fought tooth and nail with those who were only out to serve me. How selfish was I to be so stubborn. But I am so thankful looking back that the people and friends around me, especially men and women like George and Jill Guzzardo and Dave Chatmon, didn’t buy into my stubborn and manipulative ways and continued to serve and love anyways.

So as I was thinking about this topic I couldn’t help but reflect on the last couple of months. Despite a fantastic victory after a very challenging year, my life didn’t immediately turn into roses and butterflies. In fact, the challenges continue to pour like hot lava that just won’t harden. I haven’t been able to figure it out. My frustration led me to seek God.

One thing I know about God is that He always finds a way to show us what we need to see.

I was out and about and stopped to fill up at a gas station at about 10pm last night. Normally I pay at the pump with a card because it is quicker and easier but this time I wanted to get coffee so I went inside and paid with cash instead. There was a gentleman in front of me who was paying for his gas along with what looked to be possible dinner. He didn’t bring enough money in with him so he would have had to run back out to his car and get more. Listening to his conversation with the clerk (which I normally don’t do) I realized I had a few extra bucks in my hand so I offered to throw him the remainder to pay for his food. He said, “no no, I have money in the car that I will run and get.” To which I responded looking him dead in the eyes, “no, please let me.” And he did.

serviceIt wasn’t much. In fact, any random person off the street could have and would have done the same thing. But I left that gas station feeling so great. It got me thinking so much about this last year and how little I have been willing and able to serve others. I had been so focused on myself and my own problems that I forgot what was truly important – other people! No wonder I was feeling so crummy.

Philippians 2:4 says, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Oh sure, I never gave up loving people but I was missing the most important piece: serving them.

Steven Covey talks about in his wildly popular book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that it takes 21 days to create a habit. What I realized after last night is that I was not making a habit of serving other people. My acts of service have been so sporadic and inconsistent that I often forgot how good it felt to do it. I know from past experiences that it was always when I was focused on other people’s needs that my needs seemed less critical and in turn didn’t consume my life.

So with the holidays approaching and knowing how difficult this time of year can be for so many people I am marking today as the start of my ’21 days of service’ project. Every day for the next 21 days I will do something, big or small, to serve someone else. I want to create a habit of serving others every day. Anyone reading this is welcome to join me.

Certainly life will still continue to throw curve balls, mountains and speed bumps along our path but if we just stay consistent and focus on the needs of others then maybe, just maybe, those challenges will seem less severe. In fact, the other day a good friend of mine sent me an encouraging text reflecting the words of one of her second graders which read, “You could be nailed to a cross!” WOW – Perspective change right in that moment. Jesus came to earth to serve us and died on a cross to give us victory and hope. We owe it to Him to pay it forward. Who is with me?

“Not to the strong is the battle,
Not to the swift is the race;
Yet to the true and the faithful
Victory is promised through grace.” Fanny Crosby

God Bless,

Kristen

Tearing Down Walls & Removing Our Mask

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A mask of plastic happiness often covers her sadness
Her beliefs hidden from most
Afraid of, but willing to face the unknown
Wondering where her place is in this life
She has come close to sharing herself
Never completely revealing anything to anyone
Feelings of invisible chains corner her
When she dreams, reality shatters before her very eyes
Accomplishments she strives for just at hands grasp
She feels lost sometimes, not yet finding her notch in this world
At times the glimmer in her calm eyes slowly disappears
But within her heart a silent flame burns her inside and out
She roams day by day, playing roles
Strength unknowingly resides in her
History repeats itself once again
The translucent veil she so proudly wears
Little by little answers will come, pushing it aside
One day there will be no more mask for her to wear
One day her beliefs will be known
One day she’ll know her place in this life
One day she will share herself
One day this mask will be no more.

Author: Unknownhappy 1

For as long as I can remember I have been accused of not showing enough emotion. My natural tendency is to build a wall up around me that is so rock solid that even the strongest storms of life can’t tear it down. In fact, for many years I was proud of my proverbial toughness. I thought unemotional people were more stable, independent and strong. So anytime I was put in a situation where I was asked to express myself, the walls would only thicken. The less people knew about me, the stronger I felt. I could wear this mask that I believe rendered a woman of strength, confidence and happiness. What I didn’t recognize was the expression on the face of the mask. It only displayed one emotion – emptiness.

Connecting to our emotions can be scary. Most of us have been brought up to hide, suppress or even completely deny how we are feeling. We often believe we will be overwhelmed if we feel too much, so we take the very unhealthy option of shutting down or escaping by numbing and hiding our emotions. We often times forget what it feels like to be happy, excited, surprised, afraid, angry, sad or embarrassed. Instead we become very expressionless.

wallsI always believed (regarding myself) that it was no one’s business what goes on inside the walls of my life. Those ‘behind the scenes’ moments were between me and God. My emotions were less revealing as my walls grew thicker and thicker. The years of guarding my heart and hiding inside my emotionless state of being left me standing inside those walls lost and alone. I would have friends share very personal struggles with me as I empathized with them trying to put myself in their situation and I welcomed those conversations with open arms. But when it came to removing my mask and tearing down my walls, I just turned my cheek. This not only changed the dynamic of our conversation but also the relationship I had with that person.

What I have recognized is that if we are not open to feeling, it makes it harder to actually give and receive. We can’t truly connect or engage with others. Our body is our barometer of truth. It never lies. It was very evident to me yesterday morning at church. We stood up in worship, one of my favorite parts of the service, and I could just feel the tension in my body. I was stiff and emotionless. My songs of praise felt more like songs of practice as I didn’t appreciate the message or meaning of the lyrics I was singing. In most instances my heart is filled with joy and gratitude but this particular morning I could feel the walls starting to build around the most important relationship I have. In this case my lack of openness and emotion affected my relationship with God but on a larger scale it affects every aspect of every relationship we cherish. God forgives but sometimes people don’t. God knows how to break down our walls but sometimes people don’t. If we want to truly connect with people, we have to be willing to remove our mask and tear down our walls. It is the only way we can genuinely empathize with other people, celebrate with other people and love other people.

Just as the word itself suggests – emotion is e-motion. It simply means energy moving through us. It needs to be expressed! If you’re excited – hoot and holler! If you’re happy, smile :)

I would be deceiving myself if I didn’t admit that I still struggle with this daily. But having an incredible organization like LIFE leadership that encourages the development of deep relationships with others and mentoring with men and women like George and Jill Guzzardo and Orrin and Laurie Woodward who model what it means to be transparent, makes the growing process so fulfilling. I pray that God inspires others to tear down their walls and remove their masks in order to reveal the beautiful masterpiece that has been created – YOU.

Thought this video was very fitting for this post. I hope it blesses your day:

 

Love, Kristen

The Forgotten Man

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I got into an interesting conversation about a week ago with a former student I taught a couple of years back. I was sitting at one end of the coffee shop while he was sitting by the fire-place reading a fiction thriller drinking his $5.00 coffee. Ironically this former student was quite the challenge for me when I was his teacher. At the time I was teaching health and he had been the only senior in my freshman health class. This wasn’t his first go around and I just knew he had to pass in order to graduate. He was an extremely intelligent teenager that challenged everything. He barely passed my class due to in-completes, absences and missing assignments but squeaked by because he was a great test taker. This student was certainly unforgettable. So when I saw him at the coffee shop reading I was impressed and excited to talk to him. I sat down across from him and just started asking questions; I really wanted to know how he was doing.

He proceeded to tell me that he was currently unemployed and dropped out of college this semester. He was living at home with his parents and just trying to figure out life. I understood to a certain degree how he was feeling as I have been there many times before. I then asked him how long he plans to do this and he proceeded to tell me, “until my unemployment runs out.” He said, “my parents pay for my food, my housing and my cell phone bill and the government pays for my gas and my fun – oh, and this tasty coffee drink.” I shook my head slightly in disappointment. I then asked him if receiving all these handouts ever made him feel guilty or lazy. He of course responded, “guilty? For what? As long as they keep giving, I will keep taking. It won’t be until I actually have to do something that I will. But for now I am content (in my complacency). I can do what I want, when I want with very little effort.” I proceeded to ask, “where did you learn this thinking?” He said without hesitation, “my family, society and the government.”

It was a very frustrating conversation but another reminder of how important it is for we the people to start educating the population about community and freedom. I went to my trunk and handed this former student of mine the best seller by Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille titled Leadershift with a business card for a bookmark and encouraged him to read this fiction book instead. I can’t blame him for his naive thinking. He has spent the last 19 years of his life witnessing the results of a nation who has taken freedom for granted and was swept up into the belief system that the government (or someone else) will always have your back.

the forgotten manThis conversation inspired me to write this post. I recently found this controversial picture painted by Jon McNaughton titled, “The Forgotten Man.” (video below) The painting depicts all of the American Presidents, both past and present, standing in front of the White House and on a bench in the corner sits a dejected and impoverished man who represents the men and women that the Presidents have ‘forgotten’ in their quest for power.

But the real controversial part of the painting?  Underneath the foot of our current president is the crumpled Constitution of the United States. Now, I’m sure that some of you would object to something so outlandish and over-the-top. But, is the symbolic message of the painting that far off?

Crumpled constitutionMen and women trample and disregard the American Constitution every day as they pursue power and security instead of community and freedom. People forget that this pursuit encourages the design of more programs and initiatives to strengthen the power of the government. There is ample evidence of this when we see overwhelming government expansion, welfare programs, income taxes, the Patriot Act and ObamaCare.

When governments gain more power, they do so by displacing the power of the people.  The more powerful governments become, the less freedom people have. It’s that simple.

In 1776, after witnessing the abuses of a large and out of control government, our Founding Fathers decided to create a government of limited powers, a government that gave political power to the people.

A major champion of America’s freedoms came from the American Constitution: a document defining a government of limited powers; a government that derives its power from the people; and a people that have greater freedom as a result. Furthermore, the Constitution promotes and protects the rights of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

Let me make this very clear, I don’t side with a particular political party. In fact, until I joined LIFE Leadership I didn’t really care about politics, the government or freedom; I was no different than my former student. But now I have developed a hunger to educate myself about what I can do to play my part. I am simply a concerned American attempting to share some of the truth that I have learned. As George Guzzardo states so passionately, “WE will probably make it out just fine, but that may not be so for our children and grandchildren.”

This concept is not complicated. We (the people) need to take matters into our own hands. As people continue to pursue power and security instead of community and freedom, they trample the American Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson wrote “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

I think that Jon McNaughton’s symbolic painting of “The Forgotten Man” is a powerful warning for those who pursue more governmental power at the expense of the people.

Is freedom worth it? Is the next generation worth it? That’s only for you to decide.

God Bless,

Kristen

Check out the book, Leadershift by Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille to begin the process of educating yourself on what you can do to play your part. 

A Good Hug – Taking Time to Enjoy the Little Things

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What would you do if you had just one more day?

fall dayYesterday morning was one of those sweatshirt, leisure walk and coffee kind of days. As I made my way down to the river my mind started to wander in directions I didn’t anticipate. I first reflected on the incredible weekend I just had in Milwaukee for the LIFE Leadership convention. I am so blessed to be able to spend time with and learn from so many incredible men and women. The warmth in my heart spread throughout my body as I fought to stay warm on this brisk 38 degree morning.

I sat down on one of the park benches overlooking the water and gazed up at the beautiful colors of the changing tree leaves and looked around realizing just how quiet and empty this often busy area was today.

It made me think about life and how important it is to just slow down and appreciate all the little things that surround us. I think sometimes we forget that our lives are filled with so many intricate details that fill in the gaps of our happiness where most big things just can’t reach. I love to hear people tell me stories about the little things they enjoy.

Kara's party (2)For instance, I have so many great memories of when my grandpa was alive. One of the little things I loved to do was sit in the back patio with my grandpa on a summer day and look out into the yard. We would watch the squirrels chase each other up the trees and watch birds splash in the bird bath. Then we would play in the garden searching for the ripe vegetables that needed to be pulled off the vine. We didn’t have a lot of conversation but just enough to know that we were both there, that we loved each other and that we enjoyed our time together. Our evenings consisted of watching his favorite show, Wheel of Fortune while I would lay on the couch, head resting on his lap as he would rub my back. He was called Home in 2008 but I have nothing but wonderful memories of the time we shared together.

Another little thing I love to do is give and receive hugs. I have this friend who I believe gives the best hugs in the world. Have you ever met someone like that? (She knows who she is). Most hugs last less that two seconds and don’t carry a lot of meaning behind them but ours will carry on for 30 seconds or longer. For most people that might feel awkward, but for us we just love it!

Lake MichiganOther little things like curling up with a good book next to a warm fire place, watching ducks float along the surface of the water, morning coffee and scripture while sitting on the rocks over-looking Lake Michigan, sitting in a boat with good company fishing for an experience (not just fish), afternoon lunches with grandma, warm apple cider, hammocks, Fall colors, making small talk with people, sunrises, sunsets, the sound of children’s laughter, having a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend, an afternoon nap, serving people, candles, singing out loud, laughing uncontrollably, hearing a good song for the first time, a good workout, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, a good hug, gazing into a babies eyes, hot chocolate, board games, the first snow fall, skipping rocks, and on and on and on.

I once heard this quote, “In an effort to reach the moon, we often fail to see the flowers that blossom at our feet.” Life is so much more than working, paying bills and climbing up the dead end ladder of success. Unfortunately most people I talk to say this is all their life is about. When I ask them what they enjoy to do outside of this reality most of them hesitate and have forgotten what makes them truly happy. We don’t need fancy vacations, nice cars, big houses and a lot of money to make us happy and yet, that’s what most people are chasing after. I dare you to ask anyone with material things if those items are their source of happiness. I guarantee 99.9% of all of them will tell you no. It’s about having choices, not being limited, trapped or controlled and living in such a way that is fulfilling and purposeful. And no matter what it is that you do or what direction you are going, it is important to make time for the little things that you love. For me, I love all these things listed above and while I certainly can’t fit in all of these things daily, I can make time for just a few. And I do – every day – no matter how busy the day is.

I found this video to show a pretty powerful illustration of how important it is for us to enjoy each day:

So I ask again, what would you do if you had just one more day?

This question invaded my mind every day over the last several months when I was battling life with a brain tumor – I was not guaranteed 28,835 days (none of us are). I was only guaranteed one day, the day that I woke up and realized I was still here. And some of those days I felt so bad that I would pray it wouldn’t be my last. I didn’t go sky diving or rocky mountain climbing, I just did all the little things I love to do – every day – no matter how busy the day was.

The video illustration was only an average, not a guarantee. God only knows when our last day will be and as far as I am concerned we all really only have one more day to live – and that’s today. We should all plan and prepare for the future but never forget to live in the present.

So what little things will you do today to fill the gaps of the happiness void in your life that so often gets neglected?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” Galatians 5:22

God Bless,

Kristen

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