Monday, July 7, 2014

Can We Be Real?

Yesterday, I posted a Facebook status that basically said I was done with cable TV. Well, it got me thinking that I'm actually starting to feel the same way about social media. I'm not saying I'm going to delete my accounts, but I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My main reason is this: It's not the real story of our lives. What it usually is is what we want people to "think" our life is like. It's a snapshot. A cozy little image of our best selves, or should I say, "best selfies." It's pictures of our adorable children smiling big smiles, or siblings with their arms around each other, snuggled in their bed reading together. Where are the real pictures? You know, the ones from ten minutes before where the kids were fighting and screaming at the top of their lungs and you were locked in your bedroom counting to ten. Can we be real?

Where are the selfies after you've just given your child with Sensory Processing Disorder a shower and you're soaked from head to toe from all of the thrashing around it took just to wash her hair? Not to mention totally exhausted, your back muscles in knots, crying right along with her; both from exhaustion and also the thought that it's just not fair that a shower is torture to your child, even though you are just trying to be a good parent and keep her clean. Then, we move on to drying off and brushing the tangles out of her hair. More torture. Next comes teeth brushing. At this point, we're just praying the neighbors don't call CPS from all the screaming. All because our little girl has an over-stimulated nervous system and can't handle a single ounce more of sensory input. This is often my reality. Can we be real?

Social media can be a substitute for what our realities actually are. Where are the 420-something "friends" when you are walking through a deep, dark valley? I can count on one hand, maybe two, the friends who are walking with me through my valley times. And there's nothing wrong with that! We need to be careful who we allow into the valley with us. We need to be sure they are people who are encouraging us, speaking positively, and helping us to get out of the valley, not camp there. My point is that we can get unnecessarily lonely when we look at the number of friends or followers we have on social media compared to the number of actual phone calls and visits we get in reality. I know people who have, at times, based their worth on how many followers they have on Twitter and Instagram, or how many "friends" they have on Facebook. That is so sad to me. It's sad because that used to be me. Can we be real?

Where does this need for followers come from? Why do we get so obsessed with the numbers? Why do we compare our friends lists with other people's lists? All of these things lead us down a dangerous path of needing approval, craving attention, feeling rejected or accepted, and for what? And by whom? The only person we need to make sure we're impressing is Jesus Christ. The people who deserve our undivided attention are the ones who live in our home with us. Our spouses and our children. Too often, social media takes the place of spending real, quality time with the ones who are actually craving our attention. Our true followers. Our biggest fans. They are the ones who would rather spend time snuggling with you and a book, not you and your smart phone. Can we be real?

I got a serious wake-up call a few months ago when my youngest daughter said to my oldest daughter, "I really want to play a game with Mommy, but I know she won't stop looking at her phone. So, maybe we can just play later. I know her phone is more important." Oh. My. Gosh. I was wrecked. I thought, "Of course my phone isn't more important than playing a game with my child! I'm just crushing candy to take my mind off my legs feeling like they're being crushed!" But, that's not what my daughter thought. I am still guilty of spending too much time on my phone, but I have gotten much better since that day and am determined to get even better. Maybe to the point of not even touching my phone, with the exception of answering a necessary phone call, until after the kids are in bed. Better yet, until the next morning once my husband and kids are gone for the day. Candy crushing can wait. Tweeting can wait. Selfies can most certainly wait. Surfing my timeline can wait. There is no excuse I can give that will make my daughter change her mind about me and my phone. I have to show her with actions. Love acts. Love shows. Love proves. Can we be real?

What if we were real? What if the picture we paint isn't all sunny and full of flowers? I've tried my best to show my real side on my Facebook page. But there's only so much I want to share about my reality. I want to maintain a positive attitude and outlook that will be a blessing to others, not just one more sob story on someone's timeline. Not everyone needs to know everything you're going through. But that is why social media frustrates me so much! There are times when I really do want to be real. I want to say, "I'm really lonely. Open for visitors!" I want to explain more details of what I'm dealing with so that people will understand why I physically haven't been to church in a month. I want to share our parenting challenges in raising a child who suffers every day. And maybe I will. Maybe I can be real and still keep it positive. After all, my true reality is that Jesus is my source. He walks with me every day. There is always something to be thankful for, even in the dark valleys.

I will continue to ask for prayer when I need it. I will continue to post things that I hope will encourage people. I will continue to share my heart, my songs, some pictures, and my blog posts. But my attitude toward social media has changed. I want it to be the right kind of vehicle for the right kind of purpose. If it's not enhancing my life, if it's taking away quality time from God and my family, if it's threatening to trap me in depression or loneliness because I wish I could insert myself into the pictures I'm looking at, or making me desire to impress people, then it's not worth it. My value is found in Jesus.

I will end by saying that social media is not all bad. I've reconnected with many good friends from my past. I've strengthened relationships with people I thought I'd never talk to again. I've gained a lot of new, truly wonderful friends. I am able to keep in touch with my friends and family all over the country. That's why it's a love/hate thing for me. I love it for so many reasons and I hate it for even more reasons. However, I think it's where the future of communication is headed. I don't want to be a hermit. I just want to be sure that my priorities are in the right place. So, I've been real with you tonight. I've shared my opinion. The beauty of these "platforms" is that you never know who you're really talking to. I hope that those reading this will hear my heart on the subject. I pray that we would all just be a little more real. Make a phone call, send a card, show up with flowers. You know, like we did "back in the day." Can we be real? I think we can.

Love, Tracie

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

"The Healing Project"

It's been a couple months since my last post. Much has been going on with my family, both immediate and extended, and also with me. It's been a bit overwhelming at times and I'm really tired. Like, really tired. I think there are different levels of tiredness. You can be physically tired, mentally tired, emotionally tired, and spiritually tired... just usually not all at the same time. I have hit a level of tiredness that encompasses all of those things, and even more it seems. I thank God that he has made me aware of this because when I am this exhausted, in every area I mentioned above, it makes me vulnerable to my enemy.

I don't want to be the "someone" my enemy is looking to devour. As it says in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." No way am I going to become food for his dinner plate tonight. I may feel chewed up and spit back out already, but as long as I have air in my lungs I can fight and believe for the dreams that seem impossible from this vantage point. More importantly, I know Who is fighting for me...and I've finally learned to let him. I also know that not a single Word that comes from Him will return to him void. Every promise He has spoken to me, every promise he has given each of us as His children will come to pass. No matter what our enemy throws at us, we already have the victory through Jesus.

What I do when I am this tired is be still and know that He is God. I stop freaking out a lot sooner than I used to, put down my weak, human weapons and pick up the most important weapon I have... The Word of God.

Hebrews 4:12 - For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

I'm a pretty stubborn person. Kind of like the Israelites when they were wandering in the desert. If they would have just learned how to trust God the first time with no hesitation, grumbling, or complaining, they would have seen their promised land a lot sooner. God has revealed to me that I have done the same thing in my life in regards to one specific area. He has spoken to me many times about it over the last ten years or so, and I have finally done what he's asked me to do. I wrote eleven songs and, with the help of an incredibly talented dear friend, recorded nine of them last week, creating my first "raw" album. It's called, "The Healing Project." This has been a dream of mine since I was in high school and it feels amazing to have finally accomplished it.

As much as I wish I could have done this sooner, I had to go through a tremendous amount of suffering in order to birth these songs that God put in my heart. The songs tell my story. They tell of the incredible faithfulness of God. They come straight from my heart. As much as I want to hang on to them until they're "perfect", I believe I'm supposed to begin sharing them in their raw, unedited form. Of course, I will be working to find other musicians to add to the project, and a studio to record them professionally. But, I have no idea how long it will take to pull all of that together. God is asking me to humble myself completely and just start sharing them. This makes the perfectionist in me want to rise up and throw the biggest, pouting tantrum you've ever seen. But this project was never about me in the first place. It's about bringing glory to the God I love with my whole being.

So, with that being said, I'd like to introduce you to one of my songs. It's called "Carry You." I wrote this song at 5:00am during a time when I felt like I couldn't take another step. And yet, as I began to write, I felt faith rise up inside of me that no matter what season of life I'm in, I can choose to let Jesus carry me through it. Most of this album was recorded lying down with my swollen feet propped up, crying my way through it. Seriously. The glamorous visions I had in my head of the day I finally recorded my first album faded really quickly. But, what happened during the recording was miraculous. It was healing, and it was restoring. So, rest well tonight my friends. Let Him carry you. He will carry you... Click here to listen to "Carry You."



Monday, April 7, 2014

In The Vine

I have had many opportunities in my life to wonder whether or not Jesus is real. But, I've had even more opportunities to see him at work in my life, and the life of others, so I have come to a place of total belief and trust in him. However, this place of trust didn't just happen overnight. In fact, it's still being developed every day. I don't think I will ever "arrive" at a perfect place of trust because every day brings new challenges, new reasons to doubt, new reasons to wonder about life and my purpose here. Trusting Jesus doesn't just happen magically. It happens by our own choosing.

Every day we have an opportunity to trust Jesus, or not. We decide. We choose which voice we're going to listen to, and who we're going to trust when we're up against a wall. We have a choice between putting our trust in Jesus, ourselves, or someone else. We have a choice to believe what Jesus says about us, what the enemy whispers in our ear, or even what we say negatively about ourselves. Unfortunately, trust building usually requires suffering of some kind. If we never suffered or faced difficulties, we would have no need of a Savior. If we could do it all on our own and save ourselves, then there would have been no need for Jesus to go the cross.

As much as I don't like suffering, I do like what it's producing in my life. I'm starting to see the fruits of putting my trust completely in Jesus. I'm seeing the effects of remaining in Jesus, and him remaining in me.

In John 15:1-8, Jesus says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

He wasn't kidding when he said, "Apart from me you can do nothing." I've tried doing life in my own strength. I've tried it "off the vine" so to speak. Not only does it not work, but it's very painful. We must remain in the vine if we are to make it through this life with our minds, bodies, and souls in tact. And not just in tact, but living abundant and fruitful lives! And able to share the love of Jesus with the world! We must trust the true vine (Jesus) and the gardener (God) to do their most excellent work in our lives. Pruning hurts, but it's purpose is to promote growth. I'd rather endure the temporary pain of being pruned than choose to live apart from the vine and become a dried up withered branch that gets thrown into the fire and burned.

Everything I've gone through, everything I'm going through, and everything I'm going to go through in the future is already known by the Master Gardener. He knows what must be pruned in order for His will to be done in my life. I trust every day that he is in control even when, in my flesh, I feel like my whole world is out of control. That's why I said that trust is a continual process. 

I've been reading Sheila Walsh's new book, "The Storm Inside." It's been amazing so far. I highly recommend it. In the first chapter, she talks a lot about disappointment. Not just disappointment in people, but feeling disappointed with God. She said a few things that really stuck out to me and I'll leave you with them...

"Truth is like a lighthouse on a stormy, pitch-black night that steers us clear of the feelings that would wreck us."

"While walking through a dark season, if we attempt to navigate our lives by what we feel, we will run aground onto the rocks. We must navigate by what we know is true no matter what we feel."

"My emotions can change in a moment, but God's Word is rock solid, so I am learning to drag my emotions in line with what is always true, not just what might feel true for a moment." 

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. ~ Romans 5:3-5

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Day 21: The End

It's hard to believe it's already the last day of my 21 day blog challenge. Where in the world did March go?! It's funny that my last post would fall on April Fool's Day. I seriously didn't plan that. I am not a fan of practical jokes. I mean, the definition alone brings back bad memories. A practical joke is: a prank or trick usually intended to make the victim appear foolish. Well, being that I am an extremely gullible person (either that, or I just trust people too easily), I usually end up being the one looking foolish. It doesn't bother me much anymore when I fall for something. I can just laugh it off now. But it used to make me feel really stupid and embarrassed, and it affected my self esteem. I'm all about having fun and laughing at jokes, but I don't like to be duped. I'm not a party pooper and I'm not trying to bash April Fool's Day traditions. I'm just saying that, in my opinion, there's enough deception in the world every day as it is, without devoting an entire day to it. 

OK, rant over. That wasn't even what I wanted to write about today. But, I've been very open and honest with you over the last three weeks, so why stop now, right? :) Besides, now you know two things about me that I've never told you. A. I'm gullible. And B. I don't like April Fool's Day. So, there you go. Josh learned this about me when we were first married. We made an agreement that we would not play April Fool's Day tricks on each other, and we've stuck with that agreement. Just one more reason why I love him.

For my last post of this challenge, I want to talk about two words. "The End." As I've been approaching the end of these 21 days, I've been surprised at myself for actually sticking with it even though life has been really challenging. There have been several days where I wanted to forget about it and just quit. I started out really not wanting to do it, and now I want to keep writing. I want to continue to share my story. It's inspired me to pick up where I left off on writing my first book. And it's been really healing for me to be so open and honest every day. Whether or not I will continue to blog every single day, I'm not sure yet. But I know I will be writing frequently again.

I have a feeling that "the end" is really just the beginning for me. I don't know where it will lead, but as long as the Lord is leading me I know it's going to be amazing. I'm excited for this new chapter in life. Ecclesiastes 7:8 says, The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. I know that I am better on this Day 21 than I was on Day 1. Now comes the challenge of being patient and waiting to see what God calls me to do next. This blog challenge certainly has stripped me of any pride I may have been tempted to feel. It's been rather humbling actually, and I'm grateful to God for what he's taught me through it.

I wanted to say, "Thank you!" to all of you who have been reading my posts. And also thank those of you who have left comments and kind encouragements. I sincerely pray over each post and the people who will read it. I pray you will be encouraged and find glimmers of hope in your darkest situations. I pray you know Jesus and have a relationship with him. It is the most important relationship of my life, and it's the most important relationship you could ever have. I pray you will always know how much He loves you and that you can trust him with your life.

So, dear readers. Until.... Keep your eyes on Jesus and know that "the end" of something is just the beginning of something greater.



Day 20: Forever Faithful

I only have 45 minutes until it's officially Day 21 of 21 and I've fallen asleep at least three times just trying to write this first line. Haha! So, I'm going to try my best to finally finish today, Day 20, before I fall asleep again. 

Today has been exhausting. Hailey was sick and home from school. I was basically taking care of her all day, along with trying to clean all three bathrooms, do laundry, pay some bills, make phone calls, wait for phone calls, and on and on it goes. It was also a day for a lot of "news" from three different people that I care deeply for. The news from the first person was good, but involves a close friend moving away. The news from the second person was bad, possible cancer based on test results today. And the news from the third person was good and a huge relief to me. From 8:00am until this evening, "news" just kept coming in. 

Do you ever reach a point where your brain just shuts down? It's like it's saying, "OK, way too much input! Cannot compute!" That's how my brain has felt all day trying to process all the information it's been given. In the midst of taking care of my daughters and doing things around the house, I've been in constant prayer. My brain and heart can't handle all of this "input." I've had to continue giving all of it over to the Lord several times today because every time I was tempted to take it back and process it on my own I would get overwhelmed. I have been working really hard on casting my anxiety on Jesus and taking my thoughts captive.

When I was putting Hailey to bed tonight, she was feeling very overwhelmed. She's scared that she's sick again because she doesn't know how long it's going to last this time. She's tired of hurting and feeling so nauseated and dizzy. She just wants to feel good. I started to talk to her about how she needs to take her thoughts captive so that she doesn't get overwhelmed. I was trying to think of an analogy that a nine year old would understand. An image of a cowgirl with a lasso came to my mind. 

I said, "OK, close your eyes and imagine you're a cowgirl. You're standing in a bull pen and you have a lasso in your hand, raised in the air. You're ready to wrangle the bulls that are coming at you so you can capture them. Can you see it?" She said she could. I said, "OK, now imagine that those bulls are your negative thoughts. The ones that are making you worried and afraid. Now, imagine that you're twirling your lasso in the air and catching each one of those thoughts. Now that you've caught them, you can lock them up and never think of them again. And if they try to come back, you just lasso them again and lock them up over and over if you have to. You see what I mean?" She said she understood what I was saying and she was smiling. She got it.

Then she said, "Mom, I want to see Jesus. I know he's right next to me but why won't he show himself to me? If he would just show me he's here with me then I wouldn't be scared anymore." Wow. I didn't know what to say to her at first. But I said, "I know it's hard to understand, but we have to have faith that even though we can't see him, that he's still right here with us. He promised us he would never leave us or forsake us. That's how we know he's always with us, even when we can't see him with our eyes." Then I asked her, "Would you like me to pray that even though you can't see him, you'll be able to feel His presence? Like a big, warm hug around you?" She nodded and said, "Yes, please Mom. Do you think I really could?" I said, "Yes. I know you could." 

So, I prayed. I prayed to Jesus with all my heart that the presence of the Holy Spirit would fill her room and that he would wrap his arms around her so she would feel it. I watched in awe as her pain-filled face filled with peace. I watched her worried frown turn into a smile and I asked her if she could feel it. She sighed deeply and nodded. The next instant, she was asleep and she's been asleep ever since. 

Sometimes I feel so helpless as a mother. Especially when my child is in pain and I can't take it away. But, I know The One who can take her pain away. And I know he's with me. What a privilege it is for me to be able to pray over my daughter and see my prayers answered right before my eyes. What an amazing God I serve. The God that created the heavens and the earth heard my cry for my baby, and he cared enough for me, and especially for her, to answer me right away in that moment so that she would feel him. How thankful I am to my Savior, who loves me so much. He is the only reason I could ever be a mother. I could never do this without him. I say this often and I mean it... He is forever faithful. With three minutes to spare I will say, "Until tomorrow then..."



Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. ~ Psalm 36:5