under the big top

life is truly a circus.  it’s filled with tight rope acts, flaming rings of fire and, if your lucky, cotton candy.  this year, my big top housed some amazing acts–   three rings of constant change and surprises.

i thought to honor turkey day i’d take a moment to reflect on my crazy circus–  and try to be thankful for each and every spectacular, life-changing moment in 2011.

so, homeskillets, here’s my pre-turkey thankful list with a big top twist.

clearly, He needs a megaphone for me

first and foremost i’m super grateful the BIG MAN upstairs is my ring master.  i can’t imagine what i’d be like today if i hadn’t handed my life to God eight years ago.  i was a mess right after i had thing 1.  i was lost and sad and empty.  BUT GOD.  He opened my eyes and my heart.  this circus would be one clown car closer to crazy town without him.

sweet moments make my life better

second, i’m so glad i got a beautiful, cotton candy moment in june when the Lord (and many of you) allowed me to go to haiti.  this experience changed my life.  i have new friends because of this trip–  women of all ages and  at different stages of life.  i feel so blessed to know each and every one of these sweet ‘skillets, and it wouldn’t have happened without this trip.  i also got to feel for 6 sweet days just how big God is.  He has no limits and He can use me in spite mine.  my haiti experience was definitely a cotton candy moment–  so sweet.  thank you,  homeskillets for helping me go!  i love you all.

my nemesis, seriously

third on my list are some tightrope moments.  i believe the tightrope is my biggest nemesis in the circus.  a tightrope represents ultimate balance, concentration, and confidence.  there have been times this year i haven’t had any of those, and i could feel myself falling.  one of these moments came before haiti.  i was struggling as a mom.  i felt as if my skin was too tight, the rooms were too small, and my boys were too much.  i was off balance.  my concentration was gone.  and, i was questioning myself and my abilities every second.  BUT GOD.  thankfully, He has provided awesome help for me when my anxiety/depression gets the best of me.  thank God for counseling and medication!  can i get a word and holla.  fo’ realz.

Lord, refine me

and, i can’t close out my thankful list without being thankful for the flaming rings of life.  i’m walking through the fire as i type.  cancer and chemo are my flames.  i am thankful because through the flames i will be refined.  i will be able to lean into the Lord and my faith even more.  i will learn just how weak i am, and just how strong God is.  so, i say with a thankful heart, bring it on!!

there it is.   a year under this homeskillet’s big top.

freedom, boobah, and another lesson from haiti

bittersweet holiday

well.  another 4th of july without the boobah has come and gone.  this one was bittersweet. bitter because it was the 2nd july 4th celebration without my sister, but sweet because i know next year at this time she’ll be home!!

erin is on her 2nd year of a 2 year sentence for aggravated vehicular assault.  she caused an accident while driving drunk that seriously injured herself and 2 other people.  since she’s been in prison i’ve wondered how much boobah has allowed God to change her, i’ve wondered how much she’s allowed the reality that life is DIFFERENT now, sink into her heart, and i’ve wondered how often she’s sought God’s will for her life, after her sentence is complete.

this is how i’ve  thought about prison, God, and my sister before the Lord sent me to haiti.

now i know how limited and narrow these thoughts have been.

see.  while i was in Haiti i thought about boobah a lot.  she helped fund my trip by sending me a $25 money order from prison.  before i left for the trip, she sent me letters encouraging me to not be afraid.  she also called me the week before haiti, and the first thing she asked was,  “are you so excited about your trip??!”

how do i show enough gratitude for being loved like that?  how do i thank erin, who has no freedom,  for helping and encouraging me to take a chance–  to spread my wings?  i don’t know.

i just know she blows me away with her awesome heart.  so i thank God for giving it to her—  her heart, her unbreakable spirit, her amazing love. 

THANK YOU, GOD.

i’ll let you in on an obvious truth–  she’s the cooler sister.  i’ve known it for a long time.   and, that’s why i miss her sooooooooo much.

so. there i was in haiti thinking about my sister and how amazing she is to give me this chance to serve.  i mean, He used my boobah– in prison—  to get me where i needed to be.

God is amazing, homeskillets.  He truly is.

He used haiti  to help me see my sister, freedom, and His love in a new way.

FREEDOM. bound by Christ.

i now realize freedom is a very subjective thing.  i mean, is a person behind bars trapped or free?  is a person dropped into a new country, a new culture, with no skills  trapped or free?  God taught me in six days it all depends on Him.

see.  in haiti, i was led by the rules of the trip.  i woke up when i was told to wake up.  i ate breakfast when i was told breakfast was served.   i got on the bus and rode to the work site, walked the path to the site, and worked when i was told it was time to work.  i stopped for lunch and ate what was provided.  i packed up and went to the orphanage, when i was told it was time to go.  dinner came like clockwork every day, along with worship time, and time to reflect on the day’s events.  i didn’t get a shower until all of this was done.   i got to live 6 days putting myself last– after God had been fully served with all i could give.

and i’ve never felt freer.  i truly had no regrets for 6 days.  this is HUGE for me.  i have a tendency to over think ERRRTHING— and, i always think there’s room to be better.  so, to not want to change anything about how i spent my time for 6 straight days was a gift from God.

i thought about erin.  i thought how God was so kind to help me understand in some very small way what boobah must be experiencing in prison.  her days are not her own.  she can do nothing without permission.  her life is planned down to the millisecond everyday.  yet,  she has not let that break her sweet heart or her amazing spirit–  because God is at the center of it.  God is making beauty out of her mistake and showing her a freedom she never experienced before.   in prison, she’s finding freedom because she has finally submitted herself to Him.

i got to talk to erin on the 4th of july.  i apologized for my obnoxious worry that has been filled with her “choosing” change.  i told her i wasn’t worried about her future anymore or how she was processing everything that had happened–  because God taught me in haiti that He does all the work.  while on the trip, He used every moment and filled my days with service, obedience, humility, brokenness, and love.  i truly did nothing for myself until His work was finished for the day.

i thank God for using haiti and prison to teach me that in serving time with Him, whether just 6 days or 2 years,  there is freedom.

so limited

sweet haiti

it’s been two weeks since i went to haiti and it might as well be two years.

i miss it.

i miss the closeness i felt with God.  i miss waking up everyday knowing i would have no regrets when my head hit the pillow, because every fiber of my being was focused on seeking God’s will.  i miss the people of haiti and feeling a part of God’s bigger picture.

boy, do i miss it.

i can’t remember any other experience in my life that has stripped me so completely in such a short amount of time.  every day i was there God showed up in amazing ways.  He taught me a lot about myself and how He has made me–  uniquely flawed.  i feel like a kaleidoscope–  clear and able to take in God’s light, but my faults somehow shatter it.  the great thing is, God still makes rainbows out of my messiness.

before going to haiti i was lost.

motherhood had become an overwhelming task i couldn’t seem to get my hands around.  i was operating out of fear, instead of celebrating the opportunity to love these two great boys.  there was a day when i cried out to the Lord.  it was raw and desperate.

i couldn’t stand my own voice and behavior– so critical, so condescending.  i was so afraid i was “breaking” them.  i even started going to therapy again.  i was hoping this would help me understand the boys’ personalities–  if i could just understand them, i would be better.  ha!

i was quickly told i needed to search my heart and re-evaluate myself, before putting any of the pressure on my boys.  ouch.  that’s sounds about right.

i had to admit i was uncomfortable showing love to my guys.  i was totally able to fill their basic needs, but i was really limited when it came to filling their hearts.  i was so focused on correction, i was losing the joy in being a mom– their mom.

then, God sent me to haiti.

the first full day we were there we went to church, and then we went to the school area we’d be serving all week.  there were children around, and we had a chance to start building relationships.

i was uncomfortable.

so.  i prayed.

Lord, where should i start?  what do i have to offer?  what is my purpose here?

i’m usually very outgoing and feel comfortable around new people.  but this was different.

i couldn’t use my natural ability to make connection–  talking.  

surprise.  i like to talk.

but, the language barrier took me out of my comfort zone.

i felt limited.

so, i looked for ways to fit in.

negative to soccer, 'skillets

the first thing i spotted was a pick up game of soccer– uhmmmmmmmm yeah.  that would have just been wrong.  (me + any type of sporting equipment =  tears)

then one of the guys pulled out marbles and jacks for the kids to play with–  the kids grabbed the marbles, as fast as they could, and stuffed them in their pockets, as fast as they could.

they have nothing, and they’re not willing to share.  the need they live in every day has taught them to grab first and fast.   so, playing a game of jacks or marbles wasn’t going to happen.

too much to share

i felt limited.

how can i help or make a difference when all they know is survival?

i felt God saying–  love like ME.  seek MY will.  respond like ME.

but, i didn’t know how to love like Christ.

i’m the one struggling to show love, remember Lord!!??  what can i do?

hands and hearts-- connecting

then the girls started playing patty-cake games– wow.  there was contact!  to watch a simple thing like patty-cake break down barriers is amazing.  simple acts make a big impact.   watching our girls playing with the children showed me the heart is seen very clearly when you let your guard down, look into someone’s eyes, and purposefully spend time with them.

again, i felt uncomfortable.

i felt my physical limitations—  because of my cerebral palsy, i have limited use of my right hand.

i can’t play patty-cake.

i felt limited.

so limited.

could God use me at all?  was i even needed on this trip?

i didn’t know, so i pulled back and watched.

and i felt God saying,

“you don’t have to be in the action to be changed by me.  it’s okay to be on the sidelines and be taught how to love.  that’s your purpose here–  learn how to love better.  watch.  really see how a simple touch can make a huge difference.  look at the joy in the eyes of a child when you really spend time looking at them.  learn from those with you, that love easily and well.  you are mine and i want you to see.”

simply. love.

and, just like that, homeskillets–  God’s light poured into me, and i knew His love COULD be reflected through my flaws.  i just had to be willing to be teachable.  to be changed. 

the ahhhhh-mazing teenagers on this trip opened my eyes.  they were my teachers.  they lived out love.  and, i thank them for that.

i also thank the LORD.

“thank you for knowing me, creating me, orchestrating this trip for me to see love.  thank you for showing me every detail of my life has a purpose.  i am meant to walk in this good work — for my family, for the hearts of my boys.  and, to see how much YOU love me.”

i am grateful God allowed me to see love lived out.   i am grateful i am limited.

how can i not?

bon jour, haiti!

the first glimpse of haiti was beautiful–  beach, mountains, gorgeous clouds.  the land looked untouched–  full of promise and potential.

port au prince

then the city was underneath us–  tents smushed together, scattered among very small plots of grassy area.  the poverty and NEED jumped right off the ground into my heart as i looked out my plane window.

how would i feel when i was living in it?

how do they feel living in it?

is God here?

these questions rolled in my head as the wheels of the plane hit the ground.  no turning back.  for better or for worse i was in haiti.

i said a short, silent prayer–  “Lord, help me see you.”

the airport was overwhelmingly hot, simple, dirty, unwelcoming.  my senses were on alert trying to take everything in. we walked through a narrow glass hallway that separates the outgoing flights from the incoming ones, down a broken escalator, past a few men with stony faces playing music for tips.  in that short walk i felt a million things–  fear of the unknown, sadness for the conditions, uneasiness because of the unwelcome looks i felt, embarrassment for the amount of STUFF i had with me.   my arm was actually aching from the carry-on i had with me and i still needed to pick up my luggage.

i said a short, silent (and a little more desperate) prayer–  “Lord, please let me see you.”

we made it through customs, gathered our things, and moved in groups of two or three outdoor to find our ride.  the heat and humidity hit me first, then the calling started–

“this way!! i’ll take your bags!!   it’s okay, it’s okay, come this way!!”

i can’t even lie– i was in sensory overload in about 2.1 seconds.

i didn’t know where to go, who to trust, or how to say “slow your roll” in creole.

i.was.vulnerable.

and, just like that.  with one short walk.

God began answering my prayers by stripping me down–  goodbye sense of security,  goodbye control, goodbye ability to communicate with just words!!!

by the time we made it to the bus, i realized God wasn’t gonna let me hide, homeskillets.

He wanted, and got, my FULL attention the entire trip.  i had nothing normal to cling to– i had ONLY  Him to rely on.

and He totally had my heart.

broken.

life goes on

i cannot put into words the heartbreak i experienced as we drove through port au prince.  no smiles, no laughter on the faces we passed–  just the mark of hard-fought life.  the people are beautiful, but their faces are as hard as stone.  they live surrounded by rotted food, crumbled buildings, human waste and extreme filth–  yet, there are babies and children there naked, playing, living.  God showed me LIFE continues and it has nothing to do with convenience or comfort and everything to do with love, perseverance, and hope.

i started in on the ugly cry flat out from the get go, and in that moment when God had my full attention and my heart was completely ripped to shreds ,  i knew my Lord HAD to be real because if He isn’t i couldn’t see this level of depravity and be able to bear it.  without a faith in His redeeming love…

… some may ask, “how can you go to Haiti and believe there is a God?”

to that– my heart’s only full response can be,

“HOW CAN I NOT!!”

perseverance and hope

haiti…

where do i start?

how do i put into words how MUCH six days changed my heart?

how do i share:

the group—  feeling displaced.  what is my purpose? what do i have to contribute?

the place—  how can one believe in God in this level of desolation?  my response– how can i NOT?

the people—  choosing to live instead of just exist, hearts for God and a faith i long for, kindness and hope to share.

the kids—  God heard my prayers, knew what i needed, and arranged each moment.

the quiet moments— the mountainside, the breeze, holding hands, smiles, constant prayers, new friendships.

the tears— the first glimpse, the shoe shine, how great thou art, the market place, feeling misunderstood, the orphanages.

the laughter—  dancing on bug spray, toe jam, dancing in a box, card games-nnnnnnnUKE, the desperate rooster, giving the Lord praise (oooOOOO), newsflash– i’m competitive!

the relationships —  they’re messy, must be intentional, take time, moments, opportunities.

my heart—  God sees it even if no one else does.  willing to grow.  no mission except to see God, hear God, do the work of God.

i'm gonna be bold, yo.

i think i want to start to share my haitian journey by being bold.  i am gonna say i believe there is a God.  i believe He did send his son, Jesus,  to die for our sins, and i believe Jesus did conquer the grave.  now, these entries will have my normal take on life — the silly, the sad, the serious– but, i cannot truly honor the experience i had if i don’t first and foremost say  i believe the gospel is REAL and worth living for.

maybe me writing this down doesn’t seem “bold” to some, but to a recovering “people-pleaser” like me  this is huge.

my short time in haiti taught me that i can either be lulled to sleep by the conveniences and comforts i have here at home, or i can choose to see life stripped of the bare basics and ask tough questions of God.

it may take me a while to sort through all my thoughts, emotions, and God lessons.  i know that’s okay.   in time, i’ll be able to get it all down.

i hope i NEVER stop getting God moments from this amazing experience, but there is one thing i HAVE to say before i get into all my “stuff”–  God is in haiti, and the faith of the haitians taught me i don’t have to be afraid of the sadness and strife of life because God is in it.  their unwavering love for God  leaves me longing for a closer relationship with my savior.

and here’s  the kicker, homeskillets– all i have to do is ask.

i heart vampire diaries

elena and the boys

okay.  i have a slight love for a couple of brothers–  damon and stefan salvatore.  they are the awesome vampire duo from ‘the vampire diaries’.    these two guys have a hold on me fo’ sho’.  they’re cool, passionate, and fully devoted to the girl of their dreams, elena.

i know, i know–  VAMPIRES, again?!!  what is it with me and these guys?

i’ve been asking myself the same question.  a lot.

and, here’s where my thoughts have gone…

the salvatore brothers are tied to this world with no hope for anything more.  because they are vampires they’ve lost their souls–  drinking blood and avoiding the sun is as good as it’s gonna get.   the idea of living day in and day out, for centuries, with the only constant being that everything will change, drives most vampires on this show to switch their emotions off and just give in to the monsters they’ve become– but not my brothers.  they’re different.

they’re different because they’ve found something worth living for,  worth dying for, worth changing their entire lives for– LOVE.

both damon and stefan love elena gilbert with their entire being, but their response to that love is completely different.

stefan loves elena enough to deny his nature.   and this is HUGE.  he has super powers for heaven’s sake!!  he’s stronger, he’s faster, he can manipulate people’s thoughts–  he could easily swoop in and save the day at any moment, but he doesn’t.   instead he filters every thought and action through elena’s trust and love for him.  stefan has even said, “because elena trusted me first i choose to trust her. ”   this choice forces stefan to stand back and NOT immediately react when elena finds herself in danger.  this choice moves stefan to confide in her, to seek a relationship with her based on honesty.   ultimately, stefan’s decision to live a life denying his self draws he and elena closer and closer.

then there’s sweet, dysfunctional damon.  poor, poor boy LOVES his brother’s girl–  truly he does.  but, he responds to this love purely out of the fear of losing elena.  the thought is sooooooooooo heartbreaking for him he acts first and apologizes later.  his life is one emotionally-driven mistake after another.  damon can’t imagine a life without elena, but the way he pursues a relationship with her is filled with selfishness, manipulation, and a battle for control.  he knows elena deserves the best of him, but his emotions and fear continue to keep a true relationship with the girl he loves at arm’s length.  he moves two steps forward, two steps back all because he can’t surrender himself and trust.

and here, homeskillets, is why i love this show– these brothers, this love story, and how they pursue the thing worth living for reminds me of my walk with Christ.  i think vampire diaries is a beautiful, twisted picture of my sanctification.

i, just like my beloved salvatore brothers, have found someone worth living for, worth dying for, worth changing my life for.  i love my God with all my heart,  i long for a closer relationship with Him every day, and i can say, “because Christ loved me first, i love Him.”

now, here is where i wish i could write the words ‘i’m just like stefan’. 

i wish i could say the moment i gave my life to Christ i totally let go of my self and began filtering every thought and action through the ONLY relationship worthy of my surrender.  i wish i could say my life reflects the peace that comes from choosing NOT to live according to my nature.

of course, during my walk with the Lord there have been definite moments, days, weeks of beautiful surrender.

but on the whole……

uhmmmmmmmm.  yeah.  not.so.much.

poor, poor, dysfunctional ‘skillet. 

love worth changing for....

i love the Lord with all my heart– but, i’m a little more on the damon side of things most of the time.  i react out of my emotions INSTEAD out of the trust i have in Christ,  i definitely act first and apologize later (uhmmmm, crazy eyes anyone?), and most of the time–   my fear of losing control leads to making one mistake after another.

if this were it, i’d say i was in BIG trouble.  thankfully, my love story is not a fantasy based on mythical creatures.  my love story is fully based on Christ’s love for me– and He’s given me the gift of this life  to grow into a woman that reflects His love– which is DEFINITELY worth living, dying, and changing for.

you’re a people, i’m a people

soooooooooooooo surprise, surprise–  life is hard.

and, i’ve finally figured out what makes it so hard– PEOPLE.

i am realizing more and more i have no control over the response of others.  i can not make ANYONE do ANYTHING.

darn it!

why won't anyone let me lead?!

this totally bugs me to no end because i think i’d make an awesome cruise director– like julie on the love boat.

i’d be all– “here are directions to the lido deck where you’ll find rest, relaxation, and scott baio making out with kristy mcnichol, but to get there you really need to walk through your junk first.  i know some excellent activities that can get you started such as, admitting you need help, communication, and being open to change– of course, most of these take place on the poop deck.”

are you ready to be a better passenger and enjoy your trip?   are you?   ARE YOU??  well then,  just listen to me okay… OKAY??!

(insert me in an awesome 80’s ensemble with a white-knuckle grip on my clipboard and crazy eyes)

me. with crazy eyes. holla.

i believe i can fix EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY–  i want to take action,  move toward change,  address messy issues head on.  unfortunately, PEOPLE get in my way.

darn it!

when this happens i’m left with frustration, anger, and out-of-control crazy eyes.

clearly, there is something wrong with this picture.  clearly, being in charge is not a good plan for me.  clearly.

i have to say–   God gave me an awesome set of crazy eyes as a clear indicator of my limited power.   whenever i get to feeling a little too big for my britches those eyes seem to pop out like a done turkey dinner.   HOLLA!

the most recent set of crazy eyes actually happened during my visit with boobah.  i was hoping for a certain type of visit.  i guess after a year of letters and missing her i had a few expectations some i was conscious of– and, some i had no clue i was feeling until the crazy eyes popped out and captain stubing was standing beside me welcoming the latest celebrity guest.

the obvious expectations were the tears that came as i rolled into marysville and saw the prison for the first time.  wow.  it’s a real place.  in the middle of nowhere.  and boobah is there–  with no freedom.

another feeling i expected was nervousness–  when we went through security and talked to the guard i said “yes, sir/ sorry, sir” like 3 million times in 2 minutes.

he finally said, “what are you sorry for?”

and, i was all, “i don’t know!  i’m just nervous and i want to get in there to her.”

(insert me in a slightly cool “mom”ensemble with fidgety hands and just a touch of crazy eyes)

note:  this behavior is NOT the best when entering the prison system– i’m pretty sure they flagged me and kept a close eye on me the entire visit.

i also knew i was gonna be excited to see boobah– i mean come on, it’s been a year– this is a no brainer.  i actually squeaked when she walked in.  i let out a loud, high-pitched squeak, and kinda did a spastic dance in my chair, and then we got to hug– it didn’t last nearly long enough.  ahhhhhhhhhh…. so good to see her face.

but, what came next really brought out my cruise director tendencies, and i truly didn’t see it coming.  boobah started talking about her hopes for her future–  where she would like to live once her time is served,  who she wants to be with, what she would like to do.  and, none of it looked like i wanted.

not.one.bit.

that’s when my insides started getting all antsy-like.  i could actually feel my, julie, cruise director, self start pulling out the clipboard.

clearly, boobah was WAY off track.

this was totally in my head

in my head the love boat theme started to play, and i was convinced she needed my guidance.  she just needed to listen to my directions and stay on my course and all would be right with the world.

i know.  i’m slightly not right.

i admit it was a HUGE internal struggle NOT to cruise direct.  i just listened and probably looked completely miserable, but i got through the visit just saying i wanted nothing but the absolute best for her future and i was here and committed to help her any way she needed.

this would be a happy ending IF i wasn’t so inclined to pull out the crazy eyes.

that’s right homeskillets, i blame it all on the eye balls–  i got home and wrote not 1, not 2 but 3 letters explaining how boobah should live her life the way i see it.  I KNOW — total crazy. complete loony.

thankfully God is FULL of grace and is working on my crazy-eyed, cruise directing ways, and i have sent apology letters and cards– i am nothing if not thorough in my nuttiness.

the beautiful thing about growing up in Christ is these fits don’t last quite as long as they used to, and i am quick to admit that the clipboard is just too much power for this ‘skillet.

seriously, who am i kidding?

once my crazy eyes have gone back to their natural state,  i UNDERSTAND boobah is in God’s hands– not mine.  i UNDERSTAND He has a plan that i cannot see.  i UNDERSTAND the Lord loves her more than i ever could.

I UNDERSTAND God is the ultimate cruise director.

sometimes i just forget– because i happen to be a PEOPLE too.

darn it!