A Samsonite Past

Shortly after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I began planning a trip to Europe with a friend of mine. I never had any of the typical high school or college experiences, so I had these ideas of grandeur to make good on one cliche – backpacking through Europe: a 20something girl, traveling through a half-dozen European countries, hopping trains, and making memories. Dad quickly put the kibosh on that one when he explained that I’d never be able to pack all I wanted or needed into a backpack and traveling the ancient, cobblestone streets, with a rolling suitcase behind me, just wouldn’t have the same appeal.

So in October of 2007, complete with a great traveling companion and more bags than any one person would ever need, two single girls set out on the trip of a lifetime. I remember dad telling me, as he was trying to fit all of my suitcases into the trunk on our way to the airport, how I would never be able to handle all of my own bags and that I was taking way too much stuff with me. Of course my independent, I-Can-Do-Anything-I-Want, self said I’d have no problem finding a guy on the airplane or at the baggage claim to help. And I didn’t. Chivalry isn’t dead; you just have to know where to look for it. I had all the assistance I needed to put my bags in the overhead bins or to pull them off of the baggage carousel. But what I hadn’t planned on was a cranky, middle-aged, taxi driver in Madrid, Spain.

Armed with my traveling expertise and what little broken Spanish I still knew, I negotiated a flat fee taxi fare before we ever put a bag in the trunk. After our 45 minute ride to our hotel had turned into an 1.5hr tour of every back road and alleyway there was to downtown Madrid (unknown to us or our taxi driver, the main streets had been closed due to a bicycle race) I felt really good about negotiating that fare up front that now would have been double had we been paying off of the meter. Good that was until he abruptly pulled over on a side street, dumped all of our bags on to the curb, insisted we get out of the taxi, and pointed in a general direction saying in broken English “Your hotel! Your hotel!”. The moment he drove off, leaving us stranded and dumbfounded, I turned to my friend and plainly said, “that’s NOT our hotel”. suitcases

After 7+ blocks, walking the busy Gran Via (uphill), lugging behind me two full-size suitcases, two carry on bags, and a personal bag, I could do nothing more than stop and begin laughing hysterically thinking “if dad could see me now he’d be saying ‘I told you so'”. Those words haunted me the rest of the trip, included as I was flying back and missed our connecting flight in Chicago and I found myself running barefoot (no time to put my shoes back on after security) through the terminal, trying futilely to catch another connecting flight, only to arrive at the gate, bags in hand, as the connecting flight was pulling away. I had never hated baggage so much in my life as I did at that exact moment.

These memories are what have come to mind each day this week as I woke up every morning with a song on my heart, Suitcases by Dara Maclean.

How can you move when they’re weighing you down? What can you do when you’re tied to the ground…You carry your burdens heavy like gravity. Just let them go now, there’s freedom in release. You can’t run when you’re holding suitcases. It’s a new day, throw away your mistakes and open up your heart, lay down your guard, you don’t have to be afraid.

Have you ever tried running with a bunch of suitcases? As you can see above, I literally have, and it isn’t easy; it’s downright exhausting. Now think of those suitcases as your past and give them a name:

  • Shame
  • Fearluggage
  • Abuse
  • Hurt
  • Bitterness
  • Anger
  • Blame
  • Failure
  • Worthlessness
  • Betrayal
  • Offense
  • Unmet Expectations
  • Broken Hearts

Can you imagine running, or even just walking, through life carrying all of that baggage around? People do it every day. Now think of your relationships – every one of those bags that you hold on to gets carried in to that relationship. Add to that, the baggage your partner brings, and before you know it you’ll be so weighed down by the past, you won’t be progressing forward any more.

You can probably guess what I’m going to say next – my one reoccurring theme: this isn’t God’s best for you! Carrying around your hurts, your brokenness, your baggage isn’t what God wants for you. It’s just like the new series my church has started, Found in You. In Him, in Christ, we have been redeemed, we have been washed clean of our past, and we have been made righteous in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 1:7
In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace. 

When we were redeemed and made righteous in Him, our past was wiped clean. Every bag we once held on to was thrown away. God keeps no account of our past we have been forgiven of. It’s only us, and our human nature, that continues to bring it back into the present. His word very plainly tells us that over and over again:

Psalm 55:22
Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

1 Peter 5:7
Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. 

Favim.com-12254Micah 7:19
Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

Those cares and sins are the bags we hold on to. The baggage of our past. God has a plan for every one of us (Jeremiah 29:11). When we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the plan (or flight) we had for ourselves got replaced (rerouted) with the plan (flight) God has for us. But the more baggage you hold on to, the more you’ll get held back, and the more likely you are to miss the next flight and have to be rerouted to another one.

God’s mercy on us will always bring us back to our final destination in Him when we repent and seek Him, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be the person standing at the gate, holding all of your bags, as you watch your plane pull away and wait for the next one. No, God’s standing at the ticket counter saying “Give ME all of your bags. You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to care. I’ll take your cares and lose them over the Atlantic ocean and make sure you have everything you need when you arrive at your destination and I’ll exceed any expectation you might have.” Trust me, it’ll be one flight where you won’t mind having your bags lost.

So don’t be someone who holds on to your past, to all of those bags. And don’t allow that baggage to define who you are. There should be only one thing in life that defines us – Christ. I don’t want my past to define me. I want who I am in Christ to define me and my future. The only piece of baggage I want to take into my future – into a relationship – into a marriage one day – is the suitcase labeled “Redeemed and Righteous in Him”. Let go of your Samsonite past, throw your suitcases into the ocean of forgetfulness, and look ahead to the future God has for you! He’s got a first class seat waiting for you, but checked bags aren’t allowed, so pack light.

Philippians 3:13
…BUT one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. 

Toss the List

GEN-checklist-for-you-vet-header

I began writing this blog several days ago, but then the lists of the holiday season took over. Ironic, I know. There were lists of what needed to bought. Lists of what needed to be wrapped. Lists of what needed to be made. Lists and lists of this and that.

I’d consider myself to be an avid list maker. Making lists is my own personal happy place – it can even give me a semblance of control over something or a situation by making lists. I can even think of countless nights over the years where I couldn’t go to sleep because my mind was in “list mode”. Maybe it’s just a woman thing, but I think in general women come by it naturally. Whether it’s a grocery list or a list of attributes and qualities of a future spouse, women start making lists in grade school. And we don’t just see Point A to Point Z, we see every other step in the alphabet in between, along with the bullet points and foot notes.

Now don’t get me wrong, lists can be a good thing. They can keep you on budget at the grocery store, they can help you remember things to do, but lists can go to the extreme too. So when does the list making go too far?

Like I said, girls start young with the lists. The grade school game of M.A.S.H. is all about lists. But as those young girls get older, and their hearts a little more broken, those lists start getting longer.

I had a pretty long list many years ago. And I justified those lists because of a word that had been spoken over me by a prophet to not settle for anything less than God’s best. I knew what I wanted and I wanted what I knew. But as my lists grew longer, my age older, and my self-esteem lower, God began dealing with me and my incessant list making.

It all started pretty simple, like most of my conversations with God do. “So tell me what is on your list?”, I heard Him say as I began rambling off everything from height and eye color to being a man like my father. I even spent time justifying each of those bullet points in great length with God. But then God really got my attention when I heard Him say, “Do you not trust Me?”.

Never, before that moment, had I looked at MY lists as being a way of not trusting God with my life and not living by faith.

That’s when He reminded me of what His word says: “I knew YOU before I formed YOU” (Jeremiah 1:5), “I know the END from the BEGINNING” (Isaiah 46:10), “My plans for you are good, not bad” (Jeremiah 29:11), so “Seek Me and I will gladly give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4), “If you know these things, and believe by faith that they are true, then why are you limiting what I have planned for your life with your lists?”. So I tossed MY list and began seeking God on what HIS list was for me.

Tossing my “husband list” all happened several years ago. And I thought I was done with the lists after receiving that correction from the Lord, until that is, I saw I had started using them in other areas of my life again.

Over a year ago I had heard from God to go and visit another church. But I didn’t want to – I was at my lowest (self-esteem) and heaviest (weight) point in my life. I didn’t even want to go to church and see people I’ve known for years, much less go somewhere different and meet new people.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my pastors and my personal relationship with them, but I wasn’t in love with my church. I had my list though! Foolishly, I shared it with God again (apparently I didn’t learn my lesson the first time). “God, if I can just have XYZ and ABC, even 123 if I really want to be real about what I want, I would have the perfect church!”. Let me add a little bit of advice here: there is no such thing as a perfect church. There is, however, such a thing as the right church for you – it might be for life, or it might just be for a season, but that is why it’s important to be led by God.

Not surprisingly, God didn’t answer me this time. I can see Him now smirking and shaking His head saying “Didn’t we have this SAME EXACT conversation a few years ago?”

So I went on. Running from what God had told me to do and holding tight to my list every Sunday morning. Pretty soon, I began to see things change at church and I began to see those things on my list get checked off. I actually got really excited….there was MY list, coming to life before my eyes! We were having these amazing moves of the Holy Spirit in our services, with praise and worship leaving behind the “production” aspect of it all and going back to the roots of my youth with tried and true (and anointed) hymns, but it still didn’t feel right.

How could it not feel right though if I was getting everything I had wanted?

That’s when I felt that urgency rise up again at what God had told me to do before. I guess that’s why it didn’t feel right because I was still looking for what I wanted for myself, not for what God wanted for me.

Even after my first Sunday visiting a new church, I still was holding things up to MY list of expectations. Which is exactly what most lists boil down to – expectations. So I sought God and heard Him say, “Do you not think I can be the same God there as I am at any other church, any other service?” And I heard again what His word says: “I knew YOU before I formed YOU” (Jeremiah 1:5), “I know the END from the BEGINNING” (Isaiah 46:10), “My plans for you are good, not bad” (Jeremiah 29:11), so “Seek Me and I will gladly give you your heart’s desires” (Psalm 37:4), “If you know these things, and believe by faith that they are true, then why are you limiting what I have planned for your life with your lists?”

I know God wants the best for me and that He knows better than I ever could of what I need. So I made the decision to allow peace to be my umpire (Colossians 3:15) and I tossed my lists along with all of my expectations. I don’t want to limit what God can do and what He wants for my life.

His word says says in Ephesians 3:20 (NLT) “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Don’t put God in a box limited by your lists and don’t narrow Him to your own expectations and ideas for anything in your life: be it a spouse, a church, even a job. You might not know what the future holds, but that’s where you have to let faith take over. As I have started being led by peace and allowing faith to take over my expectations and lists, I’ve seen God show up big time in my life with a new excitement about church. When we toss our lists and stop limiting God in our lives, and we start walking by faith, we’ll see Him show up bigger than ever before!

Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Last year, around this time, I was Christmas shopping in Target and came across this book: Never Have I Ever, My Life (SO FAR) Without a Date by Katie Heaney. Of course, I snapped a quick photo of it and sent it to Berta, jokingly saying “Hey look, it’s a book about ME!”

Well, I was mostly joking, but part of me was actually a little excited because that meant there was someone else out there like me (for the most part – the dating ship sailed a long time ago). No longer was I some mythical, sparkly unicorn alone in a world full of stallions and asses (yes, I said asses…after trying online dating and the slim pickings that are left over once you reach a certain age, that’s the only word that adequately describes some men you will encounter).  But right there in front of me, in print, was someone else who had the guts to actually share her real self with the world.  This blog is about as close as I’ll ever likely to get to her courageousness in putting something so personal out there.

It’s been two full decades since I sat in a Wednesday chapel service in 7th grade listening to someone talk about Godly and ungodly relationships. We were each handed two hearts; a blue heart and a pink heart glued together. At the end of the message, the speaker then asked us to remove the pink heart from the blue heart without leaving anything behind. After much trying, it was evident that the task before us was impossible. The two hearts could not be removed from one another without tearing and leaving pieces behind on the other heart. Once those hearts separated, they would never be whole again.

This example, of hearts intertwining in a relationship, really stuck with me, and obviously two decades later still does. I wish this analogy could be used with every young person before they reach the age of dating. Will it save everyone from heartache? No. My heart was still broken in high school. But it only took one painful time to know that wasn’t something I wanted to do again. I knew I only had one heart to give and I wanted to give as much of that as is possible to the man God has for me. I just wish I could yell it from the rooftops to today’s youth that the old adage of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ is a lie straight from hell.

I’ve been listening to my favorite ministry tape series this week on my lunch breaks. It’s amazing how much they still minister to me. For 13 years these tapes about Godly friendships, relationships, and marriages have spoken to me, at different points in my life, new rhema words from God every time.

In 2001, a precious pastor from Australia did a marriage seminar at our church. At that time I was just coming out of a nasty breakup – my only real breakup to this day. I was young, and completely naïve. I had spent two years dating on and off again with ‘D’, but more importantly, I was head over heels in love with him. Well, I was in what I thought at that time in my life was “love” – it was anything but love.

Now, at 32, I look back to my 17-19yr old self and thank God for His protection on me at that point in my life. When I broke up with ‘D’ for the last time in 2001, using a few choice words, I was devastated and my self-worth was non-existent. He knew I had made a decision to save sex for marriage. But somehow, by God’s grace and mercy, he never once pushed me to change my mind. It was absolutely a God thing, because at that age, and as in love as I thought I was, I would have probably caved quickly.  Sounds like a great guy, right? I mean he wasn’t pushing me to sleep with him or anything. Well, that’s what I thought too until Christmas vacation when he went to visit his dad. It didn’t take long, once he was back, for the rumors to make their go around. He wasn’t pressuring me for sex because he was getting it elsewhere. Over his vacation, his father had bought him a prostitute.

Feeling absolutely worthless and undesirable, with the rug yanked from under my feet, I turned to those ministry tapes. I turned to God. I truly believe, with every fiber of my being, that not only did God completely protect me in that situation, but He then hid me away to save me from any further heartache, to save me for my husband one day (FYI God, I’m ok if You are ready to unhide me).

I hear stories now from other friends of things that were happening in our circles at that time, and in the years to follow, and know that God kept me from all of that to protect my heart. Our hearts are far too fragile to be spreading them out, leaving pieces of them behind with each failed relationship.

Listening to the tape series this time (the millionth time), I heard something this week with a new revelation. Dating and breaking up over and over again is nothing but practicing for divorce. Practicing for divorce!

Frankly, I used to be ashamed to admit my inexperience in the dating world; my inexperience in all things really. My good friends can testify to me being the most awkward flirter ever – I either come across as super friendly or a bitch. But you know what? I’m ok with the inexperience (and trust me it’s taken a long time to own up to that – it’s a conscious, daily effort at times). Practice might make perfect when it comes to learning a new instrument or playing a sport, but practicing relationships with the wrong people will never amount to anything perfect by God’s standards!

I think deep down this is why I knew from the start with ‘T’ a couple of years ago that things weren’t right and he wasn’t the ONE. Oh, but “you should still go on a date with him, it never hurts getting in a little dating practice”. I think I can hear God laughing now. I knew then that I didn’t want to ‘date around’, but it took an abscess and a root canal (literally) to get my mind focused on staying the course, WITHOUT practice. God, if you’re reading:

If I ever end up in that boat again (which I never plan to), would you mind giving me a sign that isn’t so costly to my bank account? I’d be forever grateful.
Yours Truly, Gertie

So, here God, take my heart. It’s yours till you see fit to give it to the husband you have for me. No more practicing for failure and practicing for divorce. I’m setting my sights on You and on Your perfect plan. Experience or not, I’d rather fumble my way through life with the right ONE man God has for me than be some expert at it all with a lot of torn up hearts left behind. My ‘Never Have I Ever’ list might be really (REALLY) long, but that’s ok. It’s time to stand up, be proud, and take ownership of that list.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Gertie.

  
When I started blogging two and half years ago, this is not the place I ever expected to take it. If you know me, then you know, humor is my MO. Sarcastic humor, none-the-less. It’s how I cope with things, especially when I feel uncomfortable – it’s a wall I could put up. And on the cusp of my 30th birthday, with the pressure to try online dating one more time, writing a blog about it seemed to be the logical next step. I mean because the first two times I tried it, it was so successful. See there’s that sarcasm again.

But there are only so many funny encounters with online dating you can write about before it just becomes negative. And becoming negative is a slippery slope into bitterness. That’s the slope I was falling down over the last two years. Falling might not be the right word – sledding down on a rocket, at super-sonic speed, might be more accurate. It didn’t really hit me, that that’s what I was doing though, until Berta and I talked one night and she expressed her concern in not wanting to see me become the bitter, single 30something girl. We’ve both seen that girl in a story before, and trust me, it doesn’t end well…That girl? She’s now a 40something bitter, single girl.

All I knew, coming out of that conversation, was that I did not want to become that girl. Bitterness is the quickest way to let go of your dreams, and letting go of my dreams is the one thing I can’t do. Why is that? Because I know God loves me enough to see those dreams He placed in my heart become a reality. So I did what my heart and soul know to do best; I cried out to God, asking if He was still there – still in the middle of it all – because I didn’t feel like He was.

There is a song that always seems to come to my mind in times like this: Storm – by Lifehouse
………”I know You didn’t bring me out here to drown, So why am I ten feet under and upside down? Barely surviving has become my purpose, Because I’m so used to living underneath the surface. If I could just see You, Everything would be all right, If I’d see You, This darkness would turn to light. And I will walk on water. And You will catch me if I fall. And I will get lost into Your eyes. And I know everything will be alright………”

That song exactly summed up how I felt, and had felt for more than two years now. But all I kept thinking about was how friends had all told me that I needed to find contentment in my singleness.

Contentment?! Obviously none of them had been single in their 30’s. Why should I be content with something I know is not God’s best for me?

But then, God.

Just as He had been telling me all these years to “wait“, He reminded me of what he spoke to my heart sitting in service at the Southwest Believers Convention in 2013 and I knew it wasn’t about finding contentment in being single, it was about finding who I was in Him.

Matthew 6: 32-33 (NLT)
“These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” 

God still has some work to do with me…I’ve got to learn to listen to Him and obey the first time He tells me something. I’d save myself a lot of heartache in the end for sure. But this time (I’m not going to lie, it’s the second time around), I obeyed and stepped way out of my comfort zone. And what have I been rewarded with? CONTENTMENT! and excitement and anticipation and happiness! I have found that I have a new excitement about church again, an anticipation of what God has in store for my future, and in general a new happiness that I know now can only be found when you seek God first.

So look for a lot more posts like this. Luke 6:45 “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks…” or in my case, the fingers type and boy, oh boy, do I have a lot more to type. All in due time, dear readers. All in due time. Gertie is letting go of any negativity and bitterness and letting God’s contentment take over.