The Hand that Holds You Up

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Nothing in this world compares to the comfort and security of having someone just hold your hand. – Richelle E. Goodrich

Life is unpredictable. One moment you are high up in the clouds, free, and in love, and the very next moment, you are lying face down on the ground from a blow to the head you didn’t see coming. You are left completely blind sighted, with a broken heart, and shattered dreams. It’s quite possibly the darkest moment of your life.

I know this because I was just there seven short days ago. I did not think I was going to make it, but by the grace of God I did. Fortunately, I had a women’s retreat previously scheduled tucked away in the Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg TN. The solitude, the seclusion, and the support of Godly women were exactly the medicine I needed to soothe my broken heart. I took that time to grieve and just be.

Time moved on and now I find myself fully standing on my own. In looking back, I can clearly see God’s provision in this trying time. I know without a shadow of a doubt that God knew this attack would come. The night before this all happened, I felt His peace wash over me. It was the peace that kept me moving, dragging forward. He sent me the truth in the words of a song, in the words of a friend. If I needed to grieve and fall completely apart, He just let me be. Once I cried out for that peace again, He swiftly came to my side. He was the hand that held me up.

Through this song by Shane Harper, Hold You Up, I am reminded that there will be times when the world breaks us and we honestly don’t know how we will be able to go on. God will usher in during our time of need and hold us up until we have the strength to stand again on our own.

Wherever you are at this very moment, God is right there waiting to take you by the hand and comfort you during this difficult time. He will never leave your side. He will carry you through to the other side. I assure you. I would not be sitting here typing out these very words without that very hand keeping me together. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone and someone out there is thinking and praying for you. And remember this, God will not allow pain without allowing something new to be born (Isaiah 66:9).

I’ll see you on the other side.

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When the Sun Fails

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It is the artist’s business to create sunshine when the sun fails. – Romain Rolland

It’s the week I have been looking forward to for months. I’m off to Madison, WI for a very close friend’s wedding, but first, I’ll make a pit stop in my beloved Chicago, my former home. I love Chicago. I love its vibe. I love its wonder. It’s such a big city filled with the unknown and many, many possibilities.

When I woke up this Thursday morning, I was greeted with gray skies and dreary rain. It was not quite the conditions I was hoping for. I was looking forward to playing tourist and rolling through the streets of the city to H & M, my favorite coffee spot, and then my favorite sushi spot.

As I sit here typing, the mood outside is trying to affect the mood inside. It is trying to bring me down, to cover my internal sunshine. So in order to stop it, I look away from the window. I think if I look away that will help.

If you were to look outside the world’s window, you would find the conditions to be the same – dreary rain and cloudy gray skies. It’s hard to find the sunshine. It’s hard to smile when there is so much turmoil (riots, the violence, natural disasters) happening in our world today. So at times, we turn away. We turn off the t.v. We turn off the radio. We turn off the emails. We in turn, hide from the world.

I believe that hiding goes against our design. We were created to deal with the rain. The rain is what makes us grow. The rain changes us into better people. If we hide our sunshine, then the world will suffer too.

As I take another sip of coffee, I turn back towards the window. The conditions are still the same, but my mood is not. I’m not going to let a little rain stop me from enjoying my day or making an impact on another.

I’m going to create my own sunshine and I encourage you to do the same. The world needs us now more than ever. It needs a little sun.

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Tug of War

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It’s an interesting combination: Having a great fear of being alone, and having a desperate need for solitude and the solitary experience. That’s always been a tug of war for me. – Jodie Foster

Part of my nightly “wind down” routine is to sit on the couch, turn the lights down low, and listen to Pandora. The Lumineers, The Lone Bellow, Mumford and Sons, and Need to Breathe are a few of my friends that accompany me and my wandering thoughts.

In the last few nights, I have heard the song Poison and Wine by The Civil Wars. It’s the kind of song that makes you stop and take notice. Their voices are sharp yet, harmonious, and you can hear the conviction in their voices as they repeatedly sing this line.

I don’t love you, I always will.  

They are torn in the fight of loving someone.

I don’t love you, I always will.  

For some reason, my mind keeps drifting back to playground days where the game of Tug of War was actively played. I can still feel the earth as my body is being dragged across. I can feel the stinging, the burning of the rope peeling away my skin. The pain, the scars are reminders of the fight. I can’t let go.

I dig my feet into the earth and make my stance. I fight hard to hang on. I refuse to loosen my grasp and let go. Why do I hang on so tight? Is the fear of losing too great for me to bear? Does surrendering into something more powerful than me show weakness?

It’s the same with love and with relationships. Why do I fight so hard to hang on to this image, this impostor of a girl who really does not exist? Why can’t I just let go and completely be myself with the one(s) that I love?

I am haunted with this question. What do I have to offer? The answer frightens me. All I have to offer is myself and that should be enough, but for some reason it (I) am not. What am I so afraid of? Afraid they will see the real me and reject me? Afraid they will turn and walk away?

As the song continues on, I hear this and I find myself agreeing.

I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back
The less I give the more I get back
Oh your hands can heal, your hands can bruise
I don’t have a choice but I’d still choose you

I don’t love you, I always will. 

Over the course of my life, I have played the game of tug of war and I have played it well. I have the scars to prove it. If I am ever going to experience real, amazing love, then I have to lay the rope down and surrender to what is and what always has been. 

Myself.

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Release

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One of the hardest lessons in life is letting go. Whether it is guilt, anger, love, loss, or betrayal, change is never easy. We fight to hold on and we fight to let go. – Unknown

Release is defined as allowing something to move, act or flow freely. It is also defined as to set something free. By definition, the process of releasing or setting something free should be pretty simple, right? You release the grip you have on the attachment, whether it is a person, place, or thing. You simply let go.

I have spent my whole life trying to let go. Let go of past hurts, my broken heart, the effects of a traumatic childhood, those who abandoned me and left me to defend life on my own. But what I have learned over and over is that “letting go” is a process.

I read in the article, 7 Ways to Let Go, that in order to “let go”, you have to trust the process. For the longest time, trust was not in my vocabulary so I’m not quite sure how I was going to exercise this, but I kept on reading.

So much of letting go is finding the right timing. You let go too prematurely, and your process is going to be harder and more time-consuming than it needs to be. You wait too long and things spoil… the relationship or the project. In Dennis Merritt Jones’ book The Art of Uncertainty, he includes this great quote about timing by Gary Zukav:

Fruit drops from the tree when it is ready. Staying too long, or moving too early, misses the mark. The mark is the appropriateness that causes the fruit to fall when it’s ready…. The process has its own timing, and it creates changes in your life when those changes need to happen.

In the place I am in now, I am dealing with something I should have let go of a long time ago – unforgiveness. I have put this off and put this off for years actually. I kept thinking, I deal with this later. Well, it’s 30 plus years later.

Why is the timing right, you ask? My little childhood baggage, the effects of this unforgiveness, was trying to sabotage my current relationship. I was asking someone to pay for something someone else did to me 30 plus years ago. It was not fair to him.

For some reason, I wanted to hold on to what my dad didn’t do, like not showing up when he said he would, keeping his promises, and honoring his word. I guess holding on to the pain, the resentment, the anger was comforting. It made me feel secure because pain was all I knew.

So in order to “let go”, I wrote my dad a letter. I dug through every painful and not so painful chapter of my life with him. I was completely transparent with my feelings. No stone was left unturned. With each letter I typed, each tear drop that fell, I felt the pain lodged deep into my heart, start to release. And it fell, and it fell, and it fell until there was absolutely nothing left to feel.

Not long ago, I was posed with this question. Nichole, when are you finally going to let it all go? As I choked back the tears, I responded with I don’t know. Because honestly I didn’t.

Life is a process. Forgiveness is a process. It pretty much all comes down to timing. The change that needs to happen indicates when to let go. For me, that was yesterday and so I did.

Knowing what I know now and if asked the question again, I would say when the time is right. Just like the fruit drops when it’s ready, we will let go at exactly the right time and exactly the right place in our life. All we have to do is trust the process.

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The Blind Spot of Love

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Love is blind and love can be foolish. Our heart doesn’t always love the right people at the right time. Sometimes we hurt the ones that love us the most and sometimes we love the ones that don’t deserve our love at all. – Unknown

On this particular Wednesday, I left work and was heading north up Briley Parkway to Church. I was knee-deep in my thoughts with the music blaring from the radio.  My mind was relentlessly trying to decompress the day. I was just trying to get to the next place, when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a green Ford S-10 merging into my lane. The truck was heading right into my right passenger side.

I immediately served to the left and was headed right for the retainer wall. My heart was about to leap out of my chest. In that next second, the driver of the green S-10 realized what was happening and thankfully was able to merge back into his lane without causing a wreck. I however was a wreck emotionally.

I equate this to love. You are cruising right along, consumed by its comfort and its care, oblivious to your surroundings. All you care about is how love makes you feel. If you are anything like me, then you love how love makes you feel special, like there is no one else on the planet. You are completely blindsided. You don’t care about the warning signs that have been dancing in front of you along the way.

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But something happens, and without a moments notice, something or someone  unexpectedly merges into your life awakening you to your surroundings. As time moves on, you realize you have been living with blinders on. You couldn’t see the real picture, the dishonesty, the secrets, at times how you were being used, because you were too consumed with feeling special.

As you move towards this unexpected something or someone, you begin to let go and eventually you release the grip that this love once had on you. And finally, you can see exactly where you are headed.

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Something New

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You can’t make a flower grow. But when you give it what it needs, the growing happens on its own. – Unknown

I would never consider myself a green thumb, but I have a great love for plants. Apparently my two cats second that emotion as they will be go to great links, scale walls, leap onto furniture, just to sink their teeth into a green and luscious leaf. Because of them, I have to stick with office plants only.

I’ve had my plant, a golden pothos vine, for a couple of years. This plant is low maintenance. Its needs water once a week and it is tolerant of any lighting conditions, even though it is fond of low light. It even has a reputation for improving the quality of the air. This plant started off strong and full of potential. It was growing like wildfire and eventually outgrew its pot. When I transferred the plant to something bigger, a place where the roots could stretch out, the growth became stifled. It was like something was choking the life out of it.

I began to wonder if this plant would make it. The leaves, once vibrant green in color, started turning yellow and falling off. I had to trim away the dead vines until there was only one left standing. Determining not to give up, I kept watering my one little vine. I even positioned it right next to the window so it could receive direct sunlight. For whatever reason, the plant held on and over time, a new bud started to appear. Then, another leaf appeared. Before long, a few more leaves sprouted until the plant was in full bloom.

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Just looking at the plant, you can see something different. The leaves were once spotted (as appears on the left) and now they are a lush green. The texture of the leaves are smooth as before they were a bit rough. The plant is now standing upright where before it was dragging across the ground and appeared lifeless.

This plant is similar to a particular relationship in my life.  There was a season where the relationship was thriving and full of life, and then there were times when it felt like the relationship was dying. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There were days I wanted to wrap my hands around that little sucker and shake it violently until the leaves completely fell off. I know this sounds harsh, but it is the truth.

There were days I deliberately chose not to water it. Well, he made me mad yesterday so I’m not going to be nice and I’m sure not going to pray for him. There were days when we felt no sunshine at all, and we experienced some very dark times because of it. We were not kind to each other and sometimes we deliberately hurt each other.

Even though the situation looked dismal, I still loved this person. The roots, the reason we began the relationship in the first place, were solid and still in tact. It seems we just had to wade through some nasty, unwanted weeds. Remembering the love for my “plant”, I made a commitment to water it everyday, no matter how I felt.  I watered it with my love, my words and my actions. I nurtured it by picking off the dried up yellow leaves and trimming back the lifeless vines. I let hope grow.

Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants. – Psalm 72:6.

As I sit in my office staring at my plant, I’m still amazed by its unexpected growth. I am also amazed by the unexpected growth in my relationship. This time the relationship feels different. There is something new in the air. The atmosphere feels light where it once felt heavy. There is no animosity hovering over left over wounds.  The memory of the hurtful words and the deliberate actions have been erased. It seems all it needed was a little love, a little bit of forgiveness, and time to heal.

Joyce Meyer said, “We don’t grow when things are easy; we grow when we face challenges.” I honestly believe we would have never reached this place without the hardships we had to endure. Those hardships made us grow, they made us strong, and they made something new.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. – Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)

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Illusions

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Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. – Friedrich Nietzsche

When I was a child, I loved looking, staring at optical illusions. Optical illusions are images that differ from reality. The brain and the eyes “see” something different from what appears. My two favorites were the Young Lady/Old Lady illusion and the Duck/Rabbit illusion.

Young Lady / Old Woman Illusion

At the first glance, you see a young lady staring off to the right. She is wearing a hat with a feather on her head. However, if you fixate your eyes, eventually you will see an old woman looking down.

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Duck / Rabbit Illusion

My other favorite was the duck/rabbit illusion. You might see the duck looking to the left or if you look more closely, you might see the rabbit looking to the right.

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I think it is all in where you position your eyes that determines what you see.

For so many of us, our lives are like an optical illusion. We paint a picture of our perfect little world, but if you were to stare closely for too long, you might find that the world is not so perfect after all.

Our desire to look good consumes us. We have to wear this or wear that. We have to eat this or eat that. We have to go here and go there. We have to be seen with this person or that person. We have an image to protect.

What if we got real, real with ourselves and stared closely at the image of us? What if we let our eyes fixate on the lives we portrait? What would we see? Imperfections? Flaws? Chaos? Yes, I’m afraid so. We would see something totally different and the picture may not be so visually appealing.

We would see that the honey moon stage is far from over and our marriage is suffering. We fight more than we get along. We sleep in different beds. We live separate lives.

We would see that our kids aren’t so perfect. They are disrespectful. They are going down a dark path. They are damaged, broken, and “dying” to fit in.

We would see in spite of  all the trips and all the nights out with friends, that in fact, we are alone. We suffer from loneliness and depression, and often cry ourselves to sleep.

We would see truth. We would see life. We would see reality.

What if we had the guts, the gall, to let go of that perfect image? What if we smashed that picture down on the ground and let it shatter into a million little pieces. What would happen then?

Let me tell you. It would hurt like hell. You would feel vulnerable and exposed. You would feel ashamed.  You would feel like you are losing your mind and your whole world.

I know because a few short years ago, I let it all go – the image and the need to be in control. For most of my life, I held on to this perfect image of who I was and who I was supposed to be. I didn’t want anyone to know all the hell and all the chaos that was in my life. So, I hid behind an image so you couldn’t see my flaws.  For my flaws would make me unworthy of you.

What I am learning is that the flaws are what make me who I am. They make me real. They make me authentic and they make me unique. If you don’t like me because of how I look, what I drive, where I live, the mistakes that I have made, or the dysfunction that comprises my life, then you really aren’t worthy of me after all.  For the first time in 38 years, I am proud to be me. I am fulfilled. I have purpose and I have self-worth. It took me all this time to figure this out, and I’m so glad I finally did.

If you do decide to let it all go and to walk down the path that I did, you should know that you won’t stay broken forever. Eventually in time, the pieces will be put back together. Only this time, you will be restored, you will whole, and you will be redeemed :)

“When suffering shatters the carefully kept vase that is our lives, God stoops to pick up the pieces. But he doesn’t put them back together as a restoration project patterned after our former selves. Instead he sifts through the rubble and selects some of the shards as raw material for another project–a mosaic that tells the story of redemption.” ~ Ken Gire

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