Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Love Letter to (in)courage

(This post was written in thanksgiving for the creative writers at my favorite Christian website, (in)courage.  They have uplifted me in immeasurable ways.  Please consider visiting the site if you are in need of grace, guidance, or just feeling like someone else "gets it.")
The new (in)courage website with Lisa-Jo’s invitation to share what the community means to its readers truly gave me pause.  I can’t recall when I stumbled upon the beach house.  I only know it was Providential.  At the time, I was rudderless, complications from my son’s Type I diabetes threatening the whole family through anxiety and sleep-deprivation.  I, a career singer and voice teacher, lost my voice.  And then I lost my way.

Somehow, you found me.

Your words of grace and inspiration lifted me out of the pit.  I grew to depend on my morning coffee and “conversation.”  God was working a miracle through you.
There was Annie, laughing tongue-in-cheek through her posts until, “Zing!” I got hit with depth and lesson.
Then, Deidre, her straight-shooting way of expressing thoughts resonating profoundly in my heart.
Lysa, soothing those childhood insecurities I still carry;
Holley, exuding comfort and calm and Robin, free-spiritedness;
Amber, speaking the language of this Alabama-raised city transplant;
Emily, becoming my neighbor-next-door.
The list goes on and on. 

Still I must mention Ann whose blog first introduced me to this glorious community.  Who, unbeknownst to her, but with words and heart in hand, sent a post into the world to comfort me the morning of my father’s funeral last May.  The first line?  “Father of the Broken-hearted Daughter…”  I was covered in His grace through her words.

Oh, how can anyone doubt His presence?

Today I’m surrounded by you.  Lisa’s bracelet, Dream God-sized dreams,” adorns my wrist.  Holley’s books sit on my coffee table.  Your individual blog posts clog up my inbox (but not for long!).  What would I do without you?

So, because of your words, I’ve taken my own leap of faith.  You said I could do it after all, right?  I ignored the doubt and the insecurities, following His call to foster community through my big, bold, God-sized dream.  Branching Out in Faith is being born.  I don’t know when.  I don’t know how.  I’m in the 11th hour, and I HAVE NO IDEA HOW IT WILL HAPPEN.  Three years ago, this would have sent me into the fetal position.  Today, miraculously, I’m not anxious. 
Because it’s Him, you know? 
He’s got it.  He’s got me.  He’s got the future. 
So I can just settle down and walk in faith. 
(Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits!) 

So thank you. 
Thank you each one of you. 
You have walked beside me…understood me…cheered me on…helped me discover blessings born of brokenness. 
This love letter embraces only a small portion of the appreciation I feel. 
But for today I want you to know…
In awe and in gratitude I write this.
In grace and encouraged I follow His dream.
In community and (in)courage you’ve helped me bloom.
I’ll be forever grateful.

Photo credit:  Christine Walding, snapping a heart message from our Daddy while at the Gulf of Mexico

Sunday, June 23, 2013

1000 Gifts Sunday

Special thanks to Ann Voskamp for her 1000 Gifts challenge on her blog "A Holy Experience."  Ann has been in Africa for the past week meeting her adopted child, Anna, through Compassion International.  The pictures, stories and lessons she has shared have been so uplifting and inspiring. (#FarmGirlsinAfrica)  It has made me realize how richly blessed my life is.

May I share those blessings with you here in this sacred space?

Gratitudes 972-995

972. Seeing Cathy Lewis at St. Hedwig...singing, living, and sharing the Holy Spirit.
973. For Neysha's visit, making Colleen feel and look beautiful...and for getting Coll's product to me before her trip to Michigan!
974. For days of doubting and believing...crying and rejoicing...feeling anxious and uplifted.  So many lessons...

975. For a terrific endocrinologist to look after Braden… for her reassurance and comfort… for a tissue at the exact moment I needed it
976.  For my husband who works so hard, working through the night four days in a row to do his job beautifully, taking incredible care of our family.
977.  For the most valuable visit I've had with Dr. Gray in months…receiving terrific advice and insight.  And for absolution of guilt. :)
978  For an impromptu dinner with friends… Elizabeth & Annie.
979. For French cuisine…sharing small plates…for bread pudding…and dark beer. (Can you say gluten overdose?)
980.  For bearing souls and laughing and sharing and accepting each other as beautiful, flawed women.
981.  For generous contributions to my big, bold, God-inspired project Branching Out in Faith.
981. For cheers from the sidelines… for friends and family who encourage… for those who believe in me even when I don't believe in myself.
982.  For moments light and bright with Colleen...and moments deep and personal...for the most amazing daughter on the planet.
983.  For Braden's heartbreaking offer, "Mom, don't give me that $60 you owe me." (I borrowed it when I was short of cash for the Farmer's Market one Sunday.)  "What do I need with $60?  Just use it as a donation for your campaign, Mom.  Take it...please, take it."  (Cannot.Take.Him.)
984.  Watching movies and laughing together until it hurts.
985.  Jeopardy!
986.  For the sacred mundane...laundry and cleaning and straightening and dish washing.  A reminder that working with one's hands is good for the soul.
987.  For airplane tickets purchased exclusively on miles...a visit home to the family is much needed.
988.  For the Brawleys caring for my sweet Colleen in her trip to Michigan,
989.  Mary Leist...enough said...
990.  For a day of Colleen helping me by running errands; taking her brother to get his hair cut; shopping for her own travel needs plus a little grocery shopping.  Who knew a 16 year old driver could be such an amazing help?!?
991.  For having a child so trustworthy, you can hire them to do work for your workload - which is overflowing! 
(BradenYou hired Colleen to do some of your writing input?  Can I do it too? 
MeI don't know - how fast do you type? 
BradenFaster than you!)
992.  For prayers said on the floor, just like my childhood.
993.  Emails from Nico and from those girls!
994.  For a beautiful homily today by Father Jim. So gorgeous. So deep. Love that man!
995. For letting go. 
For trusting
For being okay with not knowing. 
For accepting I will never understand. 
What freedom I've found (for today, at least) in this.

 - Will reach 1000 by next week.
Wow...such an endeavor.
And an incredible blessing.
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Does God Take Summer Vacation?

I really love summer.
The warmth (and the air conditioning).
The late mornings (and even later nights).
The company of my children enjoying their first few days off from the scholarly grind.

Mickey Mouse is calling less.
Church obligations slow down.
The prospect of visiting with friends and family is something exciting to look forward to.

Still, with the change of schedule, scenery, and company, I've been feeling a bit like God is getting lost in my summer plans.
Does God take summer vacation?

I'm sure it's just me.
My schedule.
My priorities.
My mornings are less about sitting down, reading my devotionals and having a cup of coffee with Him in the dark, quiet hours.
They're more about games and television shows and workout schedules and sleeping in just a little. 
They're about "Have you eaten breakfast?"
"What's your blood sugar?"
"Have you had any water yet today?"
"What time are you working out?"
"Have you read anything today?"
"What do you want for lunch?"
Well, you get the picture.

But my kids are home and I have to be honest...these past few years, I CANNOT WAIT for them to get out of school and be with me.  I just love spending time with them so much.  And isn't that part of what He has called me to do?

So what's the deal, Cynth? 
Maybe I'm supposed to be Jesus with skin on to my chilluns in the last few years they are home. 
Or is it the other way around?

I was having a funky day a couple of days ago.  Agitated and anxious over my big, bold God-sized project(Maybe running the campaign into the first few weeks of summer wasn't such an awesome idea?!? Duh...) Plus I had to take Braden to his every three months endocrinologist appointment.  On my way out the door, Colleen said, "Are you okay, Mama?"  And I said, "Yeah...I'm just stressed.  Say a prayer for me while I'm gone, yes?"  As I hugged her hard, she whispered in my ear:

"He has a plan."

I fell apart.
So maybe it isn't about me showing them and living in faith for them.
Maybe it's about the people I have home with me ministering to me.
That they're my Jesus with skin on.
That we can all get close to Him in a different way in these lazy, breezy summer months.
That He's still talking to me...just in a different voice.

Thank God that God doesn't take summer vacation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hitting the Wall

Well, it finally happened.
In the campaign marathon I'm running, I've officially bonked.
I hit the wall.
I'm out of gas.


How is it I'm crashing and burning a mere 22 days into the project? 
I felt my faith stores were full when the starting gun was shot...overflowing, actually. 
And daily, whenever I've started to feel low, I've replenished the stores with Word...prayer...positive language.

Was my training time too short?
Did I start out of the gate too quickly, so anxious to see the finish line come into view?
At Mile 13, am I hearing less cheers from the crowds and seeing fewer signs of encouragement?
And if so, should that drive my energy? 
Or should I be drawing fuel from The One who gives life?

I think of all of those faith marathoners from Scripture who should have bonked and didn't.
Joseph and Paul imprisoned and abused...
Noah, looking like a fool with an impossible building task ahead and a potentially fatal deadline to meet...
Job, covered in boils, devoid of family and property, sitting in a pile of ashes...
Moses and the Israelites walking...and walking...and walking...(and did I mention walking?) looking for the Promised Land.
David opposing Goliath...
Ruth fighting hunger...
Jesus, all adversity...


When I study these greats, I am humbled at the smallness of my problem.
Yet why does it feel sooooo big?
Because it's my race.
My finish.
My strength being challenged.
It may not be a giant or an ark or a prison cell or a matter of life & death.
But it feels giant.
It feels as though I'm building something for Him.
And I feel as though I'm imprisoned by my fear of failing.
I don't want my faith to die in the process.

I want to finish the race.

So what to do?
I know the answer, but now I need to muster the resiliency.
I have to place one slow excruciating step in front of the other.
I need to feed off the stores of my faith, trusting in my years of training.
I need to listen for the cheers, search for the signs, and know, even when I can't hear or see them, His is loudest and clearest from the finish...shoring my spirit and strenghtening my heart.

- Searching for Him today.
Thanks for praying with me.
Thanks for reading.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

1000 Gifts Sunday - Father's Day Edition

Today I have two guest writers joining me for this 1000 Gifts Sunday, Father's Day Edition.  Both experts in the field of successful paternal parenting, they each have over a decade of experience - one having almost seventeen years - with studying, assessing and experiencing the relationship between fathers and children.  Their fieldwork is unparalleled, and they have been fortunate to have intimately studied a stellar subject.

They are my children, Colleen & Braden.

Coll, Brae & I have come up with the things for which we are most grateful in the favorite father in our lives, Drew McGarity.  We are blessed to know that he is faithful, loving and showing up every day to give, give, give to our family.

(Thanks, as always, to Ann Voskamp and her 1000 Gifts challenge from A Holy Experience to write and share the things for which we are most thankful.  We'll make it there yet, Ann!)   

Gratitudes #953-971

(Braden's list)
#953  His love for our family and his kindness toward our family
#954  His love for sports (someone I can actually talk to about them)
#955  His love for music that we all share with him

#956  His jokes that make us laugh
#957  His dedication about everything he does

(Colleen's list)
#958  His continuous support for all of us in everything we do
#959  Having him as a great workout buddy
#960  His love for music, which is contagious, that he shares with our family
#961  How he dedicates himself 100% in everything he does, including his work which he is committed to doing to support our family
#962  His spending time with each of us
#963  His unending love for all of us

(And mine...)
#964  His sense of adventure, get-up-and-go-ness, and encouraging us all to get outside of our comfort zones (which are a bit too wide, I'm afraid :)
#965  His relish in all things physical, pushing himself to his limits just to see how far he can take it...a great example for the kids in being active and honoring your body as a temple
#966  His love of music and his desire to, not only share it but, ensure that the children are both cultivating their musical gifts (which are enormous, I might add!)
#967  His little chuckle followed by "sweet girl" that he started saying when
Colleen was a baby - and continues to say today    

#968  His hugs and kisses every time he leaves the house as the words "love you, Bud, proud of you" linger in the air
#969  His willingness to learn and encourage the children to continue doing so, demonstrating that it's a lifetime pursuit, not just a K-12th one!
#970  His showing up and staying in our lives, day in and day out - when things are hard and trying as much as when they're happy and loving.  Drew, you are an amazing example of love and commitment to family, marriage and fatherhood, and for that, I cannot be more grateful.  Thank you for setting such an amazing example for the kids.
#971  Most importantly, his faith in God; his commitment to our church community; his example of patience and grace.

We love you, honey (Daddy)!!!

- Thanks for reading.
Praying for all fathers today.
Longest shout-out in history to
my Daddy in Heaven...
so happy you're with our Father, Daddy. 
Love you. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Best Kind of Multiple-Personality

Sometimes I read a passage or hear a turn of phrase, and that one thought can transport me to three different perspectives...all mine, but all unique.  Evolved over time from what I've learned, they remind me that I am the clay in the able, beautiful hands of The Potter, and that I continue to be molded into His best version of me.

I read on Saturday, "I want you to be all mine, filled with the Light of My Presence...Hold back nothing from Me."  Sarah Young's poignant instructions brought to mind three separate occasions of reading these very words and how vastly altered my interpretation of them has become.

Two years ago, I read these words for the first time and realized that if I continued to follow my own path, I would not be living a life whole and healed.  I remember digesting them and wanting so desperately to transform my thinking immediately, so I could extricate myself from the slimy pit in which I was trapped.

Last year I read them, healed and whole for the most part, and I recall being concerned that if He was in me
in every moment...
and every task...
and every word...
and every dream...
I would somehow lose myself. 
I was afraid that I would not retain many of the qualities that I love about myself and that make me...well, me.
I was afraid I might no longer be funny, spunky, decisive, in control, even a bit ironic. 
(I kept all but one.  Can you guess which?)

Saturday I read the same passage and recognized how far my thinking had developed. 
I realized that without Him, there is nothing I want. 
But with Him, I am not only myself, but the very best version of me. 
Still funny...still spunky...still decisive. 
Perhaps a bit less ironic. 
But of course, no longer in control because - SURPRISE, CYNTHIA! - I never was. 
He has always longed for that role of total caretaker in my life but sat on the sidelines awaiting my free will to figure it out. 
And not only am I the best version of myself when I keep Him with me,
I am more than I could hope for...
less quick to judge...
more quick to help. 
And I take none of the credit because it is simply His Spirit making me better. 

I still have so far to come but I strive to make it there.
I long to be His light, shining bright in the dark places for others.
I long for the day when I hold nothing back, surrendering every thought and deed to Him.
I long to be Him to everyone I meet.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Feed the Meter

I shared with my girlfriends last night an email about the progress of my campaign -my big, bold God-sized dream...
About the blessings and the challenges...
The pitfalls and the doubts...
The signs and the undeniable graces.

I summarized, "I don't have any clue how that remaining $15,000+ is going to appear...and that's okay because clearly His plan is not my plan...His ways not my ways. He makes everything beautiful in His time..."

Difficult, yes, to keep this train of thought going.  But it's truly how I feel.  And no matter how hard it is daily to persevere without knowing the outcome (who am I kidding?  Not just daily...moment by moment!!!), the path has been set, and I know I just need to stay the course.

My friend, Jessica, emailed me back and said, "Thank you for giving my faith meter a boost today."
Jess always has such a happy way of putting things.
Her words got me to thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if it were that simple?  If we all had a faith-o-meter and we could just feed it quarters...or peanuts...or love letters...or any number of easy items on hand...and the meter would register "Paid?"

I guess that's what Jesus did for us already, though.
He died on the cross to pay for our doubts and our misgivings...
Our wrongdoings and our ugly words...
Our selfishness and our ickiness.
That life of His was meant to fill our meter and keep it fed.

And if I look around, I can easily find those bits of silver and gold to slip into my meter's coin counter:

He is in all of it and it's there to keep us full.  Our job is to take it in a bit at a time before we reach "zero", so we're never dashing in panic to our faith-o-meters only to find a big "Expired" message blinking back at us.  Our job is to make sure we have the provisions required so we aren't met with that stickler, life's meter-maid, ticketing us and charging us for our lack.

Yes, His riches are all around us, ready to provide nourishment and reward to our faith-o-meters.

How have you fed your meter today?

- Feeling in need of visuals right now. 
Helps my faith to see it tangibly. 
Thanks for stopping by. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What's That Smell?

{Post update:  The very day I wrote this post, after hours of saying, "Remain in Me and I in You" whenever I got nervous about my campaign, I received an email notification about a new donation...$2,500!  From the most generous benefactor, an old friend from my vocal studies days, Phil Lisle, who made this incredible contribution, I'm convinced, in answer to a call to shore up my faith.  Thank you, Phil, for your generosity.  Thank you, Lord, for answering prayers.  Thank you, each contributor, whether $5 or $2,500, for your faith in this project.  You are amazing.}

There's a strange odor emitting from my refrigerator.
The light in my kitchen has burned out, and I haven't replaced the bulb.
The recycle bin in my kitchen cabinet has been masking a disgusting conglomeration of leaks, stray paper and general filth I just discovered.
My planter weeds threaten to strangle my darling, iron "garden girl" who is holding a flower pot, incidentally, containing a weed and nothing more.
Meanwhile, my stack of undone paperwork threatens to strangle me.

In our Pinterest perfect world of show and tell, how would these pictures fit in?


Why has this inventory of to do's gotten so out of control?
Where has my focus been?
And what is that smell anyway?

I have been working on my big, bold God-sized dream these past weeks, and I could easily tell you that it has taken every spare moment; however, that would be posting a mental picture of diligent me, hard at work on the computer and in life, moving things forward in faith. 
If I'm honest, that picture wouldn't be worth the thousand words of admiration you may come up with.
Because those words would be based on a canvas of exaggeration and untruth.
The reality of the picture is one of me, feverishly wasting time checking to see if the financial snapshot of my campaign has changed and increased. 
And does anxiously pushing "refresh" on the campaign page 100 times daily change or advance anything? 
Except the need to refill to a bottle of Xanax?

No, if I'm to accurately give a depiction of my last week and a half, it's of a woman driven to some pretty OCD behaviors.
  • Check Facebook for a new message or a new share.
  • Check email for three messages in a row:  Two from Paypal saying a donation has been made to my campaign, and I have paid the website the percentage they make on the donation; one from Indiegogo alerting me of the donation so I can send a thank you.
  • Check the various faith-based websites where I've posted news about my project.
Do it again.

And again.

And again.
Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

My head is no clearer for it...

And the smell?  Other than whatever that is I've left too long in the fridge?
It's the whiff of desperation from a woman who lacks the very faith she is trying to grow.

When God gave me this dream, born of a desire to deepen and share my prayer life, share a sense of community with the world, I'm sure this was not what He had in mind.
He did not hope I would drop everything for which I am responsible to work without purpose, wasting time on those things over which I have no control.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time..." the phrase from Ecclesiastes reads, not "Cynthia has made her campaign monetary progress beautiful by needlessly wasting time on checking and double checking." 
"With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," Matthew 19:26 proclaims.  It may as well say, "With Cynthia this is impossible...only God can do it, Cynth." 
I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the instances Jesus was imagining when he uttered those words thousands of years ago.

Still, it isn't too late. 
And shouldn't I look on this as part of the lesson? 
(And what if this is the whole lesson?  Wow...)

The picture of my faith can be refocused and retaken.
It may not be Pinterest perfect.
But it can be filled with light and clarity.
I can clear the air of desperation and stank, instead inhaling the sweetness of new possibilities.
I can alter my motivation and my habits to reflect the verses that have helped shape my project, Branching Out in Faith:

"Remain in Me as I remain in you.  Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing If you remain in Me and I remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you."  - John 15:4-5, 7

Today I ask not only for the success of my project.
Today I ask simply that I remain in Him and He in me.
That my faith does not waver.
That I continue to grow in my gratitude of Him. 

 Now I need to go clean out my fridge.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

1000 Gifts Sunday

Thanks to Ann Voskamp and the weekly challenge on her blog, "A Holy Experience" for the impetus to continue counting my blessings.  Here they are for the past two most heartfelt gratitudes.  Enjoy!

Gratitudes #927-952

#927  Farmer's Market fresh produce shopping with Colleen
#928  Running into Melissa, our kids' babysitter from years back...meeting her fiance'...reminiscing about old times
#929  Reading at church with my girl, having the whole church pray for the repose of my Daddy's soul
#930  Empathetic middle school teachers, more concerned with my son's health than with pushing homework deadlines 
#931  Good workouts...looking forward to doing more
#932  His grace, goodness and care for my family
#933  Braden's Spring Concert...hearing his voice ring out so clearly
#934  ...then his choir festival event, taking home all gold
#935  ...and in a dazzling display of quick-action, watching his teacher physically carry off a kid who fainted onstage while the all-boy choir maintained composure and continued singing.  Grateful that Mrs. Riley's priorities were so evident...what a great example for the kids!
#936  Dinner out with Colleen and Drew, just the three of us
#937  Beautiful conversations with various family through the one-year anniversary of Daddy's passing, knowing that they were together and supporting each other - and supporting me from far away
#938  A really good year follow-up with Colleen's doctor...hearing that her scoliosis curve appears to have corrected by two degrees over the year!  Such awesome news!  Thank you Lord!
#939  Great doctors for my kids...blessed to have healthcare insurance.
#940  Cooking with my girl...amazing guacamole!  Even better asparagus/tomato salad!
#941  Haircut & color! Praise the Lord and pass the biscuits!  The grey is takin' over...
#942  Three AMAZING Disney workshops...great classes of kids, so open and creative
#943  Helpful and enthusiastic Disney Guest Talent Coordinators and Audio Engineers...makin' the workshop work!
#944  A dedicated and understanding husband who listens and supports
#945  Memorial Day and the opportunity to honor those who fight, and have fought, so hard for our country
#946  A fun day for Braden at Knott's Berry Farm
#947  An incredible evening with my friend, Jessica, enjoying dinner, conversation, laughter and a show, "Next to Normal" - Tony award winner for a reason!
#948  A visit with Lisa on a lazy Sunday afternoon
#949  My big, bold, God-sized dream, "Branching Out in Faith"
#950  Friends and family who have supported me financially and by spreading the word 
#951  A challenge to my faith and the opportunity to say, "I believe...with God all things are possible...and everything is possible in His time."
#952  Walking in faith

- Thanks for reading.
For your continued prayers.
For your support.
For visiting me in this sacred space.
Have a blessed week.