Sentimental Value and Heart Smiles

Material things are not at all important to me. I couldn’t care less about the latest technologies or newest toys. I do, however, cherish gifts because of the thought and care put into them by the giver. I’ll just go ahead and admit it. I’m incredibly sentimental. A card often means more to me than the actual gift because of the words spoken by the giver to my heart. I’ve been known to keep cards, print out emails or other messages so I can look back on the love and care shown to me. For our first anniversary I printed out all of our messages and texts and put them in a book I titled “Our Story”. I know, gag. But I really cannot emphasize enough what sentiments mean to me. Knowing that someone cares enough about me to show kindness in the form of words, gifts, or prayers touches me deeply, humbles me, and makes my heart smile. Their tokens of love serve as reminders of their presence in my life every time I look at them. Very, very sentimental!

Now that we’ve established that I get all heart-fluttery over sentiments, allow me to tell you a couple stories. My grandma Kate passed away when I was 12 years old. I’ve mentioned before how close I was to her. After she died, my grandpa gave me one of her rings. I would occasionally open the box and look at it, remembering her and the unique style that I loved. Once I got a little older, we had the ring sized so I could wear it. And I’ve worn it every day since then. However, there was this one time…

Our family was out perusing car lots as my dad loves to do. While riding in the car I decided to put lotion on my hands so I took off my ring and placed it in my lap to put back on when I was finished. I bet you can guess where this is going. I still cannot believe I did not remember to put it back on. We got home and went about the rest of our day. It wasn’t until evening that I suddenly realized my finger was empty. I tore the house apart trying to find it. I tried to play it cool but I was dying inside. Pure panic! This was the ‘thing’ that meant most to me in this world and I had lost it! I said many, many prayers, begging God to help me find it.

Finally, my dad drove me back to the car lot to see if it happened to be there. Fat chance! This was FIVE hours after we had been there, walking all around the car lot. And it was now dark. There was no way we were going to find it. I was heartbroken. But we made one last-ditch effort. We pulled in the lot and got out of the car. I promise you within 15 seconds I laid eyes on my ring, in the middle of the parking lot, on the ground, in the dark. No one had picked it up. No one had run it over…in five hours. I immediately put it back on my finger, shed some inside tears, hugged my dad and we went home. I later wrote a prayer of thanks to God for helping me find it, even after I had done something so irresponsible. I cannot describe the relief I felt, and still feel every time I look at my finger!

Fast forward to the present. One of the few gadgets I have is a Kindle Fire that my parents gave me for Christmas last year. I didn’t even ask for it, so it was a total surprise. I had just found out I was leaving my job so this Kindle has provided much mind-relief for me, in the form or books and music. It had more value to me because it was a gift than it would have had if I had bought it myself.

The other day I knocked the Kindle into the bathtub…as in, dunked the whole thing in water. Just for one second, but that’s all it took. It still worked at first, all except the sound, but it quit altogether shortly thereafter. Once again, I felt so irresponsible and heartbroken. I hadn’t even had it for a year! I spent most of yesterday on the phone, chat, and email with Amazon customer service. I talked to four different people, who all came to the conclusion that it couldn’t be fixed and all they could do was offer me a discount on a new one.

Believe it or not, I will eventually get to the point of this jumbled post, but before I do that you need to understand that I’ve been going through an extra-rough patch for what seems like a long time. I’ve been even more sick than usual for quite some time now. I can sometimes handle things alright if I know there is some kind of treatment coming up that ‘might’ give me at least a small amount of relief. Looking forward to treatments or next steps is what keeps me from losing my sanity. I had a treatment of what I call my ‘detox juice’ two Fridays ago and I just have not been able to recover from it. Each day I go to bed thinking tomorrow has to be the day I finally get some relief from the physical suffering. And each day I am disappointed. It takes a massive toll on my mind and emotions.

So when I killed my Kindle, it was just the icing on my very own cake-wreck. I was somewhat irrationally upset about it, but really it was the combination of everything that sent me down the depression hole.

I complained to the Facebook world, I complained to my sister, I agonized about how I was going to tell my parents, I beat myself up, I cried to my husband, I pleaded with Amazon and I came up empty. Finally, I was smacked in the head with the thought… I have not prayed about this. Prayed? God, you really want me to pray about a Kindle? So, I did. I prayed and then the Kindle teased me for awhile, turning on and then turning right back off. I thought that was sort of cruel.

Right about that time, my self-proclaimed ‘meddling husband’ entered the room. He told me he had messaged my mom and she had called Amazon herself. They offered to replace the Kindle free of charge. Oh. My. Goodness. Relief, joy, thankfulness rushed over me. Praise God!

I think there are two morals to these stories. The first is that, believe it or not, God does care about the little things. They may seem silly or insignificant to mention to an all-powerful God, but he wants to know how we feel. He knows absolutely every detail of our lives and he wants to talk to us about them. How amazing is that?

The second is that God can work with our irresponsibility. And he can turn it around and/or use it for his glory. He can use us even when we mess up! I find such relief and comfort in knowing that! We are not powerful enough to ruin God’s plan just by making mistakes. That’s so amazing to me!

So, dear ones, if you’re sweating the small stuff and it feels silly to talk to God about it, I guarantee he wants you to tell him anyway. If you’re worried about messing up his plan by making mistakes, please know that God can use your mistakes to bring him glory!

Yes, these ‘things’ of mine have some monetary value, but what matters far more to me is their sentimental value. Did you know that we have sentimental value to God? He created us in his image (Genesis 1:27), we are worth more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10), we are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31), if we get lost he will come searching for us (Matthew 18:12)! God values us so much that he will come looking for us if we are lost, even if it’s because we’ve done something dumb. Amazing! It’s as if we are the ring on his finger, the one he looks at and his heart flutters with how much he loves us. He smiles at the memories we have together and looks forward to the ones to come.

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When My Heart Grows Faint, I Climb

“From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” – Psalm 61:2

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I picture a hiking trail, the beginning of which winds through a thick forest of trees. The canopy of foliage makes the pathway dark and shadowy… until I reach the heights, the rock on the top of the mountain that allows me to see above the trees. The most beautiful view over the darkness.

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Continue reading “When My Heart Grows Faint, I Climb”

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Working With All My Heart

I usually read my “On This Day” memories on Facebook. I love to look back and see where God has taken me and how he has walked with me on this journey. However, I’ve noticed that it can be a bit depressing when I see things like: 2011 – I was sick. 2012 – I was sick. 2013 – I was sick. Etc, etc, etc. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t complained so much on Facebook so I wouldn’t have to remember that I’ve been sick for years. But really, who could forget? And if the memories weren’t there, I wouldn’t be able to remember the good times either, and to clearly see God’s hand in my life all of these years. So, I read them.

Today, I was accosted by this status from 2010:

"Go rest high on that mountain. Son your work on earth is done." When I see all my wonderful, mostly grown-up cousins, I know your work was good and lives on in all of us. We will continue to make you proud, Grandpa. Headed back to TN today and in the words of my sister, the next time we get together needs to be because the family is getting bigger, not smaller!

The status was not explicitly stating that six years ago today was the day my mental health fell apart, but reminding me all the same. We had just lost our last grandparent and I was leaving my family again to go back to Tennessee to a stress-filled job after losing the last of a generation and barely having time to grieve. Just a few hours after this status was written, I would be calling an ambulance on myself during my first panic attack.

Let me tell you a little bit about my Grandpa Hays. He was told years before I was born that he would only live five more years due to his heart problems. And yet, he outlived all the rest of my grandparents and lived to see his great-granddaughter, Kate, the namesake of his wife, Grandma Kate. I’m incredibly blessed to have even known him! Praise God! Everyone who knew him said that he was a great man, well-known in his community. He was extremely hard-working, organized, and he continued to live his life to the full, even with all of his health issues.

When I look back on my life, I believe I am most like Grandpa and Grandma Hays. They were honest, albeit somewhat blunt, and I can definitely tell it like it is. I am certainly the organized one in my immediate family, and my grandpa was always proud of me for that. I remember one day he stopped by in the morning when I was just getting started with cleaning our incredibly cluttered house and he just kinda looked at me, shook his head, and wished me luck. He then stopped by again several hours later when I was almost finished and I will never forget the astonished look on his face as he told my mom, “this girl needs some kind of an award!” It seems like such a silly little thing, but I beamed with pride at my grandpa’s approval. I then grew up to be very hard-working in my jobs, just like him. I knew he was proud of me, as was stated in my Facebook status.

But just a few hours after the status was posted, I fell apart and just haven’t been able to quite put myself back together again. I let stress ruin my mind and probably my body. I lost my health and I lost my job. And today when I saw that status, a thought crossed my mind that I have had trouble letting go of ever since. Deep breath. If I’m being honest, my thought was, “I bet Grandpa is not proud of me anymore.” Now, I know that’s not a God thought and it’s probably not even a Grandpa thought, but it hurt my heart all the same. I wonder what he would think of me now – not working, applying for disability, sometimes barely able to get out of bed. What happened to his hard-working, honest, and organized granddaughter?

And as I’ve sat with this thought throughout the day, mulling it over and talking to God about it, the answer is – SHE’S STILL RIGHT HERE. I may not be able to muscle through my health issues to do all of the things I used to do, but I can get out of bed. I may not be able to go to a normal job anymore but I can walk the dog. I may not be able to follow the normal ‘rules’ of society, but I can write a blog. I am still the same person, and I will never give up. I still work just as hard as I ever did before. It just looks different now because everything takes more effort and strength.

Maybe you are feeling like you are not doing enough. Take heart! It doesn’t matter if your work doesn’t look like everyone else’s, as long as you are doing it with all of your heart. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” – Colossians 3:23 (NIV). You know your body’s limitations, just as I know mine. You may hate them sometimes, just as I have a love/hate relationship with mine. But if my limitations had not come, I wouldn’t have been able to see the beauty in the ‘slow down’, the joy in helping others through their journey and allowing them to help me, and the love of a God who carries me through all of my days. I pray that you are able to see the good in your limitations and thank God for his work in you! “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

So while that status hit me like a ton of bricks this morning, and I was already too weak to even deflect one brick, my God is strong enough to lift them off of me and kiss my wounds. He is teaching me to reject the thoughts that don’t come from him, and embrace HIS PRIDE IN ME. I’m fairly certain my grandpa would still be proud of me because he loved me so! But I’m absolutely certain that my God is proud of me, even when I don’t deserve it, and that is the best thought of all!

Love to you,

~Karina

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Faith in the Waiting

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

It's me again, bowing so low
One more defeat, another low blow
My heart's desires fade into shadows of doubt
Growing weary trying to figure it out
Lifting tear-filled eyes, I beg you
Do something, anything

But that's what you're doing
Stretching my faith
Making sure I'm sure you're there
Though I can't see your face
But what are you doing?
I'm waiting to see
All that I hope for finally coming to be

It's me again and humbly I come
I've seen your hand in my life
My heart's desires fade in the light of your face
No use trying to make sense of your grace
Lifting tear-filled eyes, I thank you
For doing something, everything

For you hold my life in your faithful hands
You hold me and I'll never understand
You love me and I don't have to understand
All that I hope for is you and I'm in your hands
You hold me in your hands

This song that God gave me years ago could not be more relevant now. It’s yet another bit of proof that God has always been working in my life. If you would like to listen to one of God’s gifts to me, click here.

In Matthew 9:18-26, a ruler asked Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead. Jesus started to go with him when he was touched by a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. He stopped to acknowledge her and heal her before continuing on with the ruler. How anxious do you think this man was to get his daughter back? The Bible doesn’t say that he questioned Jesus’ lack of haste, but I’m willing to bet I would have been a bit impatient if it had been my daughter!

God’s timing is absolutely perfect. If Jesus had not stopped to heal the woman, she may have lived the rest of her life bleeding, witnesses may not have been able to fully understand the power of just one touch from Jesus, and we would not have this recorded miracle that gives us a glimpse of how God works.

We want so badly for God to move on our time schedule. But think of all that we could be missing if he worked in that way. Sometimes I think I am like the ruler, waiting impatiently while God works miracles in other people’s lives. It would be, and sometimes is, very easy to envy the healing touch of God. But what if I’m actually like the woman who was bleeding and finally received her miracle? How grateful I would be that he stopped to acknowledge me!

I find comfort in this anonymous quote that says, “Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” Do you think the woman longed to be healed for years? Of course! But if she had already been healed, she would not have had this incredible encounter with Jesus. Think of what she would have missed!

Oh, how I long for God’s healing touch! I dream about it all the time. But if God can use my longsuffering to reveal a greater glory later, I want his miracle instead. If he stops to heal others ahead of me, I rejoice in their miracles! If my waiting eventually places me directly in the path of Jesus, I certainly will wait! Even if I am never physically healed in accordance with my plan, I know that God is working other kinds of healing miracles in my life according to HIS plan. And his plan is always better.

"I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope."- Psalm 130:5 (NIV)
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A Light Shining in the Darkness

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." - Genesis 1:1-3 (NIV)

Sometimes life just seems so dark. The light seems to hide behind layer upon layer of pain, grief, illness, and struggle. But it is in this darkness that God so often speaks.

"The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." - John 1:9 (NIV)

Into the darkness of this savior-less world, God sent his Light. His Son. God spoke his word into the darkness and there was light. There was finally a way for people to receive God’s forgiveness and eternity, through Jesus – the Way, the Truth, The Life. The Light.

It may sound strange but in darkness is my favorite way to come wholeheartedly into the presence of God. It seems that he makes his presence known to me more clearly without all of the distractions that come forth in the light. I know that I am only intimately seen by God in those moments so I can relax and just be me, the person he already knows so deeply.

A few weeks ago after a difficult doctor’s appointment, I pulled into and shut the garage and turned my car off but I wanted to finish listening to the song that was playing. I waited so long that the garage light and car lights went out and it was pitch black. I found myself crying out to God in the darkness. I have never felt his presence so real to me as it was in that moment. I knew that he was in the car with me, within me, holding me and wiping my tears. It’s impossible to explain the deep sense of Holy, but I so long for all of you to experience moments like that!

When I can’t sleep, sometimes I feel a longing to just be with God for awhile. Sure, I can pray in my bed, but I am often distracted by my concern that I’m not sleeping, or…ahem… somebody’s snoring. So, I get up and go to our guest room, close the door, and get on my knees before God. There’s something about that position and the darkness that pushes away the distractions and allows me to be fully real with God. Prior to my illness, it had been ages since I spent time fully engaged with God in that way. It is there in the darkness that I find peace again.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace."

I believe part of the reason God allows us to have times of darkness is so that his presence can be more intensely known. So that we seek him with our entire being in the midst of our suffering. When our world has grown dim behind the shadows of sorrow and pain, it is then that the Light can be more clearly seen. It is then that the shadows can be lifted and the splendor of the love of God can be revealed to our hearts. If we never experienced darkness, we would not fully understand the glory of the Light.

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"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." - 1 John 1:5 (NIV)

My prayer is for everyone walking in darkness to experience the brilliance of God’s light. He loves each of us more than we are able to understand, but we can better understand that love and light when it shines through our darkness.

Love to you,

~Karina

 

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My Love/Hate Relationship with Vulnerability and Chronic Illness

“If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brené Brown

The emotional side of chronic illness. This topic makes my skin crawl simply out of habit. For most of my life, I’ve had a rock-solid emotional ‘off’ button. Many of you may even be surprised to know that I actually have feelings. I’m only sort of exaggerating about that. As a matter of fact, I feel quite deeply, so much so that it is often painful. I love so fiercely that it hurts. I can look stone cold stoic while my heart is breaking. If you saw me laugh out loud or, heaven forbid, cry, I was most likely a young child. I remember as a teenager occasionally forgetting myself and letting out a belly laugh and then looking around to make sure not too many people had seen it. How sad is that? I’m really not all that sure where this intense need to be in complete control of my emotions came from. But I think maybe it had to do with my painful shyness. I so desperately wanted to keep the attention away from me. Laughing aloud or crying made me feel weak and out of control and I hated that feeling. I’m not even sure I knew I was doing it, but it became such a habit that eventually I couldn’t express myself emotionally at all unless I wrote it down (ahem… perhaps the reason for this blog?). I never said, “I love you” to anyone unless they said it first. So, so painfully shy. And like Brené Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” So, I numbed them all.

My first experience with grief was when my grandma passed away when I was in 7th grade. I dearly loved Grandma Kate and considered myself to be most like her in my personality and tastes. Everyone knew how close I was to her so after losing her just 13 days after her cancer diagnosis, I knew I was being watched for a meltdown. But my habit of pushing that ‘off’ button stayed strong and not a public tear did I shed. Instead, I cleaned the house with much fervor. As was the habit by now, I couldn’t allow many private tears either, even though my pain was great. Because of this strange emotional coma I had put myself in, I am not sure I properly grieved for her until many years later.

When I was a senior in high school, that ‘C’ word came barreling back into our lives when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. And what did I do? I cleaned the house with much fervor. Instead of being grateful to the wonderful food-bearing friends, I was angry. You see, my only experience with anyone bringing us food was when my grandma died. I wanted to shout at these lovely people, “My mom is NOT dead!” But instead, I cleaned. I felt I had to be busy and strong for this incredibly strong woman whose resemblance I bear. My hero. She would come home after chemo and declare, “I got poisoned today”, and go right on cooking dinner for her family. Talk about taking life as it comes. And that is what I thought I was doing. Except I wasn’t taking control of any life circumstances. I was simply tightening that emotional ‘off’ button. We celebrate mom being cancer-free for 14 years now (YEAH!!), but I will never forget that time in our lives.

Fast forward past college and grad school to the first job of my Social Work career. Remember how deeply I feel? Compassion and empathy are wonderful things, except when you don’t know where to put them. I listened to and witnessed terrible things in the lives of broken families. I thought I would be a great therapist because my emotional ‘off’ button was so strong. But I didn’t realize the necessity of being able to release those feelings at some point in some way. All I did was internalize every intense emotion I felt because, of course, I couldn’t scream or cry while leading a therapy session. I also was afraid to let out the intense emotions at home. Sometimes I would go days without talking to my roommate because I thought if I let one tear fall, the dam would break. It takes a very special person to know how to grieve with hurting people while still maintaining a professional distance, and I was not that person. I was a miserable, ticking time-bomb of pent-up emotion. To top everything, during those two years, all three of my surviving grandparents passed away. I felt that since I didn’t cry when my first grandparent passed away, I shouldn’t cry when the others did. I also used work as an excuse to stay busy and not grieve. Even if we took time off, the work still had to get done, just in fewer hours, so I would take the calls that they had passed away and go straight back into whatever meeting I was in at the time. I would take very quick trips to Pennsylvania for the funerals and straight back to work. The one time my ‘off’ button almost failed was when the family was saying our final goodbye after our last grandpa’s funeral. I watched as what I had always perceived as the less emotional side of my family just fall apart. It was almost my undoing. But I mostly held back the tears and headed back to Tennessee.

That’s the day it all went down. I was exactly halfway between my two homes in the middle of nowhere West Virginia when I had my first panic attack. I remember thinking maybe I just needed to eat something so I stopped and tried to stomach a couple chicken nuggets before throwing the rest away. I kept driving but felt like I might have a heart attack or pass out. I remember trying to find the nearest hospital but I couldn’t find it and driving around was making the feeling worse. I was shaking uncontrollably and I truly thought my heart could stop at any moment. I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant for the address so I could call an ambulance for myself. Riding alone in an ambulance to an unfamiliar hospital where no one I knew was waiting for me is something I never want to experience again. They told me I was having a panic attack and prescribed Xanax, but told me I couldn’t take it and drive. A kind nurse drove me back to my car and my wonderful friends talked to me on the phone as a distraction for the four more hours until I was home. After continuing to numb my emotions with medication, I went back to work the next day.

Later, I tried to describe the feeling of my continued panic attacks in a song called Replenish, that you can listen to here. It always amazes me just how often in my life I have needed the songs God has given me. He always knows best!

"Lord, what is happening to me?
Sometimes I feel I can't even breathe
Shaken to the core til I can shake no more
I close the lid on my heart.

Won't you come and break my seal?
Expose me so that I can heal
Anoint the altar of my shattered dreams
And replenish my supply with you.

The question's always, 'how are you?'
Why can't I tell them the truth?
A simple, 'I'm just fine'
Though I'm dying inside
Tightening the lid on my heart

Won't you come and break my seal?
Expose me so that I can feel
Anoint the altar of my shattered dreams
And replenish my supply with you.

Afraid to overflow, I keep pushing it down
My breath is running out as I start to drown
God, please pour me on the altar of my shattered dreams
Accept these broken pieces as my offering
Please breathe new life into me
And hold me in your arms til I can shake no more
And replenish my supply with you
I am healed by only you."

If you’re interested, you can also listen to the song I wrote as a tribute to my grandparents called Grandma’s Chair and Grandpa’s Song.

Even though, as the song says, I longed for God to break me open so I could let some of these feelings out, I still couldn’t allow him to do so. I was too afraid. I continued with the emotion-numbing medication throughout the rest of that job. I never spoke openly about my emotions bottled up from that job and my grandparents, or really any other emotion in my life….

Until I met Jason. Something about this man made me feel free to open the vault of my heart. He was so understanding, allowing me to cry in his arms. I suddenly wanted to share the depths of my soul with someone, the good and the bad! I was so grateful to finally have a bit of an outlet, but I was still hiding from everyone else. It’s a die-hard habit.

And then my illness hit. My doctor told me this week that many autoimmune diseases are triggered by some type of trauma. He says the body tries to fight off your emotional stress but there’s nothing to fight off so it attacks itself. I’m not saying that to be true for everyone, but for me, the timing is exactly right.

Life after those two stressful years was awesome. I had a job that I loved, I was living in my favorite town, and I met and married my amazing husband. But I was still stuffing my emotions with the sheer force of my will. Until my physical self broke. Once the thing you can still use to hide your emotions wears out, the ‘off’ button doesn’t work quite so well anymore. I’ve spent so much energy fighting my physical body that I no longer have enough energy to fight off the emotions.

Christmas of last year is when the dam broke. If you’ve ever seen the third Hunger Games movie, I felt just like that scene where they light explosives, the dam crumbles, and the water spews out with enough force to drown or severely maim those in its path. We tried to travel to Pennsylvania to spend Christmas with my family. I haven’t been well enough to go there in ages. I don’t know what I was thinking. Of course I couldn’t do it, but we tried anyway. That’s when we found out that not only was I very sick, but our dog gets carsick. We got an hour away and had to come back. Since we planned to be gone, we didn’t have any food in the house. I knew I had to go get groceries before completely falling apart so I tried to immediately go back out the door. I didn’t realize that our dog had been so traumatized by the day’s events that she tried to follow me out and I almost shut her in the door when she yelped in pain. I knew I hadn’t really hurt her badly, but that was the last straw. Something inside me snapped, shattered, collapsed, burst. I fell on the floor next to her wailing that I was so sorry, and then I moved from that to yelling that I hated myself and my body. I was so tired of being sick and couldn’t take it anymore. I screamed at the top of my lungs that I wanted to die and I hated God for doing this to me. I recoil at this picture of myself and I’m still shaking as I type this. Who knows if I’ll have the guts to actually publish this. I tried to get to the bedroom so my husband wouldn’t see me like that but both he and the dog followed me, mostly so she could hide in her crate while momma had a complete meltdown. I sobbed and wailed and yelled at God so much my throat hurt and I thought I might pass out. Jason was amazing. I thought perhaps a trip to the psych hospital or concern for the neighbors crossed his mind, but he just held me and prayed over me. Eventually my dog came out of hiding and licked my tears.

My emotional ‘off’ button hasn’t quite been the same since then. Years of habit and fear of vulnerability still cause me to try and hold back the feelings, but I’m too tired. And now I have a love/hate relationship with vulnerability. I have discovered the wonderful gifts that come with sharing the deepest corners of my heart with people. I deeply love. It’s impossible to tell someone you love them without being vulnerable. And vulnerability leads to an even deeper mutual love. Illness has forced the protective shell around my heart to shatter and it feels better each day. It’s incredibly scary and I hate it but I love it. The old me still tries to rebuild the protective walls while the new me and God work to tear them down. The namesake of this blog, “Beautiful Rubble”, comes from a song God gave me called, “Brick by Brick“.

"Brick by brick, I was building up my cold, hard walls
Brick by brick, you chipped away and watched them fall
I once stood in the beautiful rubble 
Of my own cold and heartless walls
Too afraid to leave them that way 
Too afraid of the pain it might cause
So brick by brick, I lay them as you tear down.

Bruised and battered, my heart once shattered 
As tears flowed from another's eyes
Through visions of this aching world, wept until the tears ran dry
Longing for comfort, I cling to the lie that pain can't touch a calloused heart
The mortar of my jaded emotions filled up the cracks of my stone.

Brick by brick, I'm building up my cold, hard walls
Brick by brick, you chip away and watch them fall
I once stood in the beautiful rubble 
Of my own cold and heartless walls
Too afraid to leave them that way
Too afraid of the pain it might cause
So brick by brick, I lay them as you tear down.

This unfeeling stone has been here too long
I'm not even sure I can feel anymore
Numb from the pain I see all around
I wonder how long til the bricks tumble down
Break my heart once again for the pain that breaks yours
Replace the cold stone with your living warmth
Use the hammer that nailed you to that tree
Til my heart is alive once again.

Brick by brick, I was building up my cold, hard walls
Brick by brick, you chipped away and watched them fall
Now I'm standing here in the beautiful rubble of my own cold and heartless walls
I want to see with your selfless eyes and feel with your tender heart
So brick by brick, I lay them at your feet
Pierce my heart with the nails that caused you such pain
I lay it at your feet
I lay the bricks and my heart at your feet."

Tears still spring to my eyes when I think of the awful things I said to God but he already knew my feelings and he knows how deeply sorry I am. Even when I was beating up on him on the floor of our bedroom, he was holding me and loving me. I am relieved and overjoyed to stop hiding from him and others. I want people to know how I feel about them. I love hugs and saying, “I love you”, but I’ve always been too afraid to initiate them. How sad! The people that I love so fiercely need to know! I am slowly learning to let my emotions come out. It’s not easy. It’s terrifying and sometimes still makes me feel weak. But when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). Another great quote from Brené Brown, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Vulnerability is just another gift my illness is giving me. Thanks be to God.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” – Brené Brown

I lay the bricks and my heart at Your feet. Amen.

 

Feel free to join me in the encouragement group, Beauty in the Rubble. I'd love to get to know your story!
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Food, Fellowship, and the Isolation of Chronic Illness

My relationship with food is tenuous at best. To me, food is more of a stress and hassle than it is an enjoyment. I have never liked to cook. In fact, I pretty much hate it with a passion, second only to grocery shopping which, unfortunately, is required for cooking. A form of torture for me is navigating the grocery store aisles under the dizzying fluorescent lights through the faces of people I should probably recognize but can’t put my finger on, and THEN lugging 20 bags of groceries up the stairs at home (all in one trip, ideally!), putting them away and then having to decide what to cook for dinner and actually cook it. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

Oh, the irony of my life. Chronic illness and food sensitivities require a lot more time in grocery stores and the kitchen. I know that I am severely wheat intolerant so I have been gluten-free for about a year and a half. Thankfully, the universe is becoming more respectful to those of us with this particular sensitivity and many food labels say ‘gluten-free’. Such a blessing. However, I am also currently dairy-free while I try to get my stomach lining to heal. At one time I also had egg and corn sensitivities so I try to stay away from those as much as possible. Much to my dismay, I believe I have discovered that chocolate makes me itch. So subtracting all of these things from my diet doesn’t leave me with the means to throw together easy meals. I’m so inflamed that at any point I could react to any food, no matter how healthy, even just eating a vegetable. Putting anything in my mouth at any moment is a complete gamble. Hence, my growing fear and hatred of food. It’s not a very healthy attitude, but really, what can be expected?

Even more irony in the lives of those with chronic illnesses is that we are often too tired to cook but healthy cooking requires so much more thought, planning, and effort. I’m so thankful we have very tall kitchen chairs because when it gets really exhausting I can sit in front of the stove. We also cook almost every meal as opposed to being able to go out. Going out means risking not being able to find anything free of our particular problem foods on the menu, or cross-contamination with those foods. Going to someone’s house for dinner means risking our host not understanding that she/he cannot put our food on the same surface as bread, or not knowing that things like soy sauce and tomato soup actually have wheat in them. It’s so much easier just to stay home.

Hence the isolation. Food is often associated with fellowship. I dare you to find a gathering of people without some sort of food involved. If we get together with friends, it’s likely over a meal. I don’t often go out to dinner with people because it’s expensive to eat just a bowl of lettuce and I’m usually too sick to go anyway. I do not go to anyone’s house because I don’t trust that they know enough about hidden wheat (and why should they, really?). I don’t have people over because cooking is so difficult for me and entertaining is so exhausting. I’ve declined enough invitations that the few people who ever asked have stopped. I truly cannot remember the last time I just hung out with someone other than my husband. I pushed people away. Some pushed back (for which I am eternally grateful), but most didn’t. Sometimes I feel like people are just waiting until I get better without realizing how much time has passed and that I may never get better.

Food is almost as much about relationships as sustenance. Even Communion is a different experience for me. I confuse the server every Sunday at church when I only take the juice and not the bread (I either take the gluten-free stuff provided, bring my own, or only take the juice). And while the style of going forward to dip the bread in the juice is a beautiful practice, I cannot participate. I’m truly not complaining. I like to watch and I would never want to take away from anyone else’s worship experience. It simply is what it is.

My illness has strained some of my closest relationships and I fully admit that some of this is my own doing. While I am slowly learning to be more vulnerable, there was a time that I hated it with every fiber of my being. I also dare you to find anyone ‘prior illness’ who ever saw me cry. When my illness started to affect my everyday life, I didn’t want to admit that I needed my friends. I didn’t want to bring them down with my woes, and I was also having a big-ole pity party. Now, I’ve decided to take the risk of saying all of these things ‘out loud’ so that perhaps others who feel the same way will not have to take the same risk. If I’m painfully honest, with the exception of a very few all-weather friends, I feel mostly forgotten.

On the other hand… oh, the beauty of the other hand! The treasured relationships I have found through my illness have been life-giving to my soul. A new friend of mine calls these gifts “friends in sorrows”. I LOVE that sentiment. There is something about a shared difficulty that forms a much deeper bond.  Because of my own struggles, my heart feels so much more attached to those who have their own struggles. I promise I would take every ounce of pain from them if I could, because I know. I understand. And my heart hurts so deeply for them. If I could go back to a time before my illness began, but have to give back these ‘friends in sorrows’, I would not do it. They are much too precious to me.

So what is the point of my long food lament? I guess I just want to give voice to the world of food allergies and chronic illness and the isolation that often accompanies them. My message on behalf of those of us who suffer from illness is this.

– We’re still here. God hasn’t called us home yet so please don’t forget us. We understand that ‘regular’ life goes on, but we already miss out on so much. Don’t make us miss you too.
– Although the thought is sometimes unbearable, we may never get better. So please stop waiting for that day to be a part of our lives. We need you NOW.
– We may not be able to eat with you. But that’s not the only form of fellowship available. A text/message in the middle of the day letting us know we’re in your thoughts and prayers means infinitely more to us than an elaborate meal.
– We may try to push you away because we’re afraid you will break our hearts by running away. And yes, we realize the irony of this but that doesn’t make it any less true. We also may be afraid to be vulnerable or look weak so it’s easier to hide.
– Our illness has likely made us fragile in many ways. Please try to understand when we are moody. It is very likely just re-directed pain. We don’t mean it and quite often beat ourselves up later for being such storm clouds.
– You don’t have to be afraid to talk to us about your struggles just because you perceive ours as greater. It’s not a contest and your pain is just as important.
– At the same time, we are exhausted from fighting our own battles so we need you to offer us the same courtesy of lifting our burdens. We are not strong enough to carry both yours and ours unless you help.
– Nothing means more to us than hearing that you love us, you are thinking of us, and you have taken our struggles to the Lord. Nothing. Hearing someone pray for us is more life-giving than we can put into words.
– Please be our friend in sorrows. For that is when the deepest bonds can form.

1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son, purifies us from all sin” (NIV). Notice it doesn’t say anything about food being a requirement for fellowship. God may change the way we fellowship, and that’s OK. I’m not so much a fan of food anymore. It’s not important to me. My true, life-giving soul-sustenance is the fellowship of those who walk alongside me in the light. Love and blessings to all of you.

“A friend loves at all times” – Proverbs 17:17a (NIV).
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There is Beauty in the Rain

There is beauty in the rain.

Flowers need rain or they wilt. But if they receive rain and still wilt, that’s when you know there are problems. No one ever accused me of having a green thumb. When my sister sent me an herb garden starter kit, I got nervous. Has she met me? And while the herb garden seems to be coming along, here is the current state of my outdoor ‘flowers’.

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Pretty bad, huh? They are supposed to look like this:

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Well, minus the dog… and this:

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Irises, my favorite flower in the whole world. Poor irises. They never even had a chance.

These particular iris bulbs came from my parents’ house in Pennsylvania. They have never once bloomed since my parents brought them to me. They always grow leaves, but never flowers, and then eventually they get too much sun or too much water and just die because I don’t take care of them.

It’s not difficult to see why these poor flowers have likely met their final resting place. Perhaps they are just old and tired from blooming year after year in the same soil. Then, some homewrecker digs them up and tries to re-plant them in completely different soil and these poor souls just say, ‘that’s it, I’m done. I’ll give you leaves but you took me away from my home so I just can’t bloom anymore.’ Apparently in my mind, flowers can talk. Moving on.

Or perhaps I’ve tried to cram these beauties into a pot that is too small to contain their roots. Maybe they are unable to grow deep enough due to small space or improper soil. Maybe I’m choking the roots because the HOA frowns on planting flowers in the actual ground. Silly HOA.

There’s also the likelihood that the scorching Tennessee sun is just too much for these flowers, since I never move them out of the heat during long periods of no rain. I do water them occasionally but the damage may already be done.

Or maybe when the rains do come, these cheap-o pots do not have the proper drainage to keep them from dying. I’m certain that’s what happened to the impatiens. After days of sun, the rains finally came but by the time I realized what was happening, the flowers had drowned. I’m terrible at this whole gardening thing.

I got tired of blooming once. Year after year I had the same routine. I love routines. I was very good at what I was doing and I thought that was enough. But after years of stifling some of my God-given gifts under a whole lot of comfortable busy-ness, I forgot to bloom. I lost my good soil because I only occasionally read the Bible and often prayed one-liners before getting distracted. Little did I know the soil was eroding around me. Before I knew it I had taken my bulb away from its home. I had taken myself away from God. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know I was doing it. If you had asked me during that time how my relationship with God was, I would have told you it was fine, but I had no idea how beautiful a blooming relationship could actually be, and how much I had to lose in order to gain it. I had also shoved myself into a neat and tidy little ‘pot’ with no room to grow. Boy did I love it there. So safe, so comfy. Those were the days. I completely shut out any possibility of a bigger plan for my life, one that would stretch my roots further into the soil of God’s grace and allow me to reach to the sun in the glory of his mercy. I had no idea what I was missing in that safe little box. Life felt really, really good. The sun was shining on my home, my career, and my relationships. But I had no idea just how scorched I was becoming.

And then one day the rains came. They poured. A hurricane came and brought with it a flood. What little good soil that was left around me washed away. My tiny, safe pot broke open. I was drowning. My lack-luster relationship with God had been scorched and then broken under the weight of the downpour.

But you know what? Those iris bulbs can bloom again. If I get them a bigger pot with some better soil or if I take them back to their proper home, they can thrive. And I can thrive too. God had to drown me before I realized I needed to re-plant myself. I needed the proper soil – his Word and his presence. I needed to sink my roots back into my Home.

Now I am striving to take care of myself Spiritually, spending time with my God, searching for his beauty even when it’s difficult to find. I thirst for him now, and maybe when the rains come I will be able to accept them instead of drowning in them. He tends to me, making sure my roots are growing strong and my leaves are still bright and that I’m getting just enough rain to keep me growing. I cannot wait to see how I will bloom.

Lord, Send Your Rain.

You may listen to the song God gave me here.

The rain came down from Heaven today
Bringing new life to the ground
The flowers grew as the storm clouds passed
And the rain came pouring down

Lord, send your rain
I know you stay the same
But I will grow in beauty and grace
If you send me your rain

The storms you send can seem so loud
As your voice thunders over the wind
With fear and trembling I come to the One
Who will never flood again

Lord, send your rain
I know you stay the same
But I will grow in beauty and grace
If you send me your rain

Remind me of your truth
With a rainbow or two
Show me how you're growing me
When you send me your rain

Lord, send your rain
I know you stay the same
But I will grow in beauty and grace
If you send me your rain.

 

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He will Show You a New Beauty

I saw the strangest thing yesterday. I was at my favorite park where I love to walk or just sit and enjoy the incredible view of the mountains. The mountains are some of my favorite things about living here.  I have always loved just staring at them, basking in the glory of God’s creation, and imagining his hands forming them. This quote from the series, Christy, describes my feelings about the mountains perfectly:

"The great Smokies. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the wonder of those mountains. Smoke blue and serene folded one behind the other. I counted eleven ranges rising up toward the vault of the sky. I didn't realize it then but from the very first moment I saw them the mountains were a source of peace and strength to me, always there to quiet my mind and satisfy my heart."

Yep, I get chills every time I watch that part. I’m not ashamed to say that a huge reason I moved back to TN was because I couldn’t imagine not being able to look at these mountains every day. One day I will have a house that overlooks the mountains… perhaps in my dreams.

But back to the strange thing I saw yesterday. There is a particular gazebo with a bench that has the best view of the mountains at the park. After my walk I love to sit there and talk to God or just admire the incredible beauty. But yesterday there were two people sitting in that gazebo, which is fine. Everyone deserves to sit there. It’s not just MY place. However, these two people were facing AWAY from the mountains. I could not get over such a travesty! HOW could they be in the presence of something so inexplicably beautiful and be looking in the opposite direction?! Just to drive my point home, I took a picture. This, my friends, is the view they were ignoring.

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I thought, if they are going to occupy the prime spot at the park, the least they could do is stare at the beauty. For real. I still can’t get my mind wrapped around it.

But then, as usual, God always teaches me a lesson. I almost immediately thought about how often I look away from the beauty of God. When circumstances were still pretty good, I think I just got used to seeing the same view every day, the same beauty in my life. So, I kind of forgot to bask in the glory. It’s sort of like driving past the same mountain view every day. Eventually, you might not notice it so much. Then, when circumstances got really bad, I focused on the past and wondered why God had taken me away from the beauty.

I was reminded of the Israelites in the desert. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt and gave them manna to eat, but once they got tired of the manna, they complained that God took them out of Egypt. They remembered the good food they ate in Egypt and forgot that God had just freed them from slavery! They focused on the past instead of finding the beauty in their new situation. They said in Exodus 16:3 – “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death(NIV). Talk about ungrateful!

During my period of darkness, I pretty much refused to look for the beauty in my circumstances. I thought something so painful could not contain any blessing at all. It’s like God was standing there waving his arms and saying, “Over here! Look! I’ve done all this for you!”, and I just kept looking at the ground and sulking. What a waste of time and fellowship I could have had with the God of the universe, if only I would have been paying attention.

I remained focused for a long time on the past, when things were what I considered ‘good’. I stood facing the past, which had all grown dim in the horror of my present circumstances, and screamed at God, “Why?! Why have you brought me here to this ugly place? How could this be anything but a terrible gift for your child? A father is supposed to know how to give good gifts, and this is anything but good!” And the whole time he was whispering to me,

“My precious child, all you have to do is turn around. I can show you a new beauty, one you have never seen before. It is my gift to you, if you will only turn and look at me.”

My friends, I never, EVER want to face away from my God again. I want to bask in the beauty of his presence! I don’t want him to look at me, like I looked at those people in the gazebo, and think, “If only she would just turn around. I’ve made this gift just for her.” I pray that no matter what painful circumstances we find ourselves in, that we will be able to see the incredible beauty as we turn toward God.

Love to you,

~Karina

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Facing My Giant – I Invite You to Join Me

I have a lot of giants in my life. But most boil down to just one:

FEAR.

I have always been afraid of uncertainty, uselessness, and change. Ask anyone who used to work with me. I LOVE rules. For real. Who loves rules?! I just like things to be neat, tidy, and very predictable, and I like to know exactly what I am doing and how to do it. It makes me feel safe. But I’m pretty sure feeling safe is not the life to which God calls us.

It seems that whenever there is a certain theme in the multiple avenues I’ve been reading and studying, that is a sure sign that God is trying to reach me. I am following along with Jennie Allen’s Daniel study and it is amazing. You should check it out on her Facebook page. One of the things she said during the first part of the study was that to be the people through which God chooses to display his power, we must choose holiness over comfort. And her very first study question was, “what convictions have you been ignoring?” Good grief, why don’t we start with something easier? Oh wait, that’s not how God works. God wants holiness and faith over ease and fear.

I’ve shared before that since my illness and not having a job, I have felt useless, purposeless, lost, and paralyzed by fear of the unknown. God has been slowly teaching my stubborn soul to see each moment as a gift from him, and a new opportunity to see him working in the challenges. I definitely spend much more time with him now, seeking his guidance. He has led me to re-discover ignored passions like writing and song-writing. He is so much more a part of my life than he was even just a year ago.

I’ve been torn for such a long time between focusing on what it takes to ‘make it’ in this world and what God wants me to do instead. I’ve felt such a call on my life recently but I have largely ignored it. I keep thinking I don’t have the knowledge, the skill, the technology, or the right heart to do this. And what if no one listens or cares? Excuse after excuse. I felt like Moses, whose excuse was, “but I can’t speak well.” I felt like Gideon, whose excuse was, “but I am the least of my family.” Would God really choose me? I thought of David, who followed God’s call to defeat a huge giant when he himself was only a little bit of a thing!

For so many years I have ignored God-given opportunities because I was too busy and too focused on the life I was building for myself. Now I am ignoring them because I am too sick, too angry, too broke, and too lost. I may have earned an extra hand squeeze from Jason when one of my recent dinner prayers sounded a little like, “Give us a freakin’ break, please!” I thought, THIS is the girl God is going to use? Really?! God is going to call someone who is in the midst of turmoil, doubt, and fear? And the answer is so clear.

OF COURSE HE IS.

Fearful, inadequate people are exactly the type of people God uses. Because it’s not about the person at all. It’s about God working in the lowest of the low, to accomplish HIS purpose and not ours.

I’m struck by how similar my own response has been to Gideon’s:

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." 
"But sir," Gideon replied, "if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian." The Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" - Judges 6:12-14 (NIV)

That. Is. So. Me. God, if you are with us, why has all this happened to us? In all Gideon’s “why, God?” questions, I find it so interesting that God doesn’t respond with a reason. Instead, he simply tells him to go in the strength he has to accomplish God’s will. Like me, I’m sure Gideon got a little ironic chuckle out of God attaching the word “strength” to him. He said he was the weakest in his clan and the least in his family. There are many days that I have thought I cannot possibly have an ounce of strength left in me. But it’s not our strength that God is after, it’s his. To ‘go in the strength I have’ means to go in the strength God gives me.

God is usually patient with me when I need clear confirmation and he graciously gave it to me. I had posted a song in a Christian Songwriters group. From there, someone found my music page and then stumbled upon my blog. He sent me a message about his own struggles with illness and said that he and his wife really needed to hear the words of one of my posts. God used me to touch someone I don’t even know. I shared it with my husband, along with an instantaneous excuse (my habit, I guess). I asked him if I should really be focusing time and energy on something that will not earn an income. Here I go again with the worries of this world! He, in all his wisdom said, “I think you already know the answer to that question.”

So, while God has not called me to lead an army or lead people out of captivity, he has called me to defeat the biggest giant in my life = FEAR. Although I fear the unpredictable unknown, I absolutely know God will have an impact, small or large, even if it is just on me! It doesn’t matter to me, as long as it is about him. I must become less so he can become greater (John 3:30).

As of right now, we launch Beautiful Rubble Ministries. I have no idea what it will look like in the future but for now I am in this writing thing for the long haul. I will continue to write and share what God gives me through this blog and through the songs he gives me. The “Next Big Thing” he has called me to is an online support group of sorts called Beauty in the Rubble. It will be a safe place for those who are experiencing illness, pain, or other life struggles to share in each others’ lives. It will be a place to share how God is building up beauty from our brokenness. If you or someone you love is experiencing struggles or brokenness, please join us at Beauty in the Rubble. If I can figure out how to put all of this together on the website, it will make more sense, but for now I’m taking the leap and knowing things will fall into place as we go along!

Through whatever direction God takes this ministry, I long to allow him to use me to help others through their dark places. God, speak and act through me, a flawed, fearful lover of rules and predictability. A broken person climbing out of the rubble of her life, into your life. Guide us through the dark places and show us beauty in the rubble.

Amen.

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