Really.

I shared a post on Facebook a few days ago.  Then I made the mistake of reading the comments on the original post.  The post was by the Christian author of a popular book, and it basically said, “I do lots of things I shouldn’t do, but Jesus loves me anyway, and I love you, even though you do bad things, too.”  It was a lot longer and much more eloquent than that, but you get the gist of it.  Y’all.  Based on the comments, you would’ve thought she had called Jesus some really bad name before kicking a puppy and tying firecrackers to a kitten’s tail before she stole some poor kid’s lollipop.  Not once in her post did she say that Jesus approves of her sin.  She simply stated a fact.  “Jesus loves me unconditionally.”

One of the comments that stuck out the most was one by a woman who had admittedly never read her books.  She berated her for “flaunting” her sins as thought she is proud of them, because a good Christian would never divulge such information. (I’m seriously paraphrasing here, because it’s getting late, and I’m tired, and I don’t remember word-for-word what she said.)  I didn’t reply to her comment, because I really don’t like conflict, but it really bothered me.  I mean, maybe the reason so many people are turning away from the church is because so many church-goers aren’t fully divulging their shortcomings.

I was raised in a Christian family.  I’ve never doubted that God exists.  But you know what?  I love the taste of tequila and the smell of weed.  I can cuss like a sailor.  Sometimes I listen to rap music.  I can quote every single line of every single episode of The Golden Girls.  Does that mean that God loves me less?  Nope.  Does that mean that He approves of those things?  Not at all.  What it means is, “I’m human, and God understands that.”

With that being said, I want to say this.  If it weren’t for my love for God and His love for me, I would have a really big problem saying no to the tequila and the weed.  I’d have a hard time controlling my tongue when I get mad.  I wouldn’t think twice about blasting the Nelly with my kids in the car. When I made the decision to start living the life God wants me to live, I decided to change the way I live.  I’m not perfect, and I do still slip up occasionally – because I’m human – but I try, and God forgives me when I fail.

If you’re a person who was raised in a perfect home and never faced any trials or temptations, good for you.  That’s not everyone’s reality, though.  Sometimes people can relate better to someone who’s been there.  Chances are, I’m not going to ask advice on anything from somebody who has never experienced it.  “So, um, how do I get out of my life of sin?”  “I don’t know, dude.  I’ve never sinned before.  Maybe you could try just not doing it?”  OR  “Hey, can you help me figure out how to stop sinning?”  “Well, I can tell you what worked for me.  First, I prayed for forgiveness, strength, wisdom, and deliverance.  Then I prayed every time I felt tempted.  I read my Bible a lot.  And I failed a lot, but God never stopped loving me and never left my side.  It got easier with God’s help, but without Him, I couldn’t have done it.”  Sometimes all it takes to make that connection is a simple, “I’ve been there.”

Honesty.  It goes a long way.  We’re called to love, and you can’t love without being honest, which is not the same as “flaunting our sins”.

Memorial Fundraiser

I was recently introduced to the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation by a friend after searching for organizations that offer a chance for children with terminally ill parents to make wonderful memories with their parents before it’s too late. I have set up this fundraiser in memory of my husband, Ray, as a way to pass on the generosity that was shown to our family.

If you’d like more information about the Jack & Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation, you can go here: https://jajf.org

To donate, please follow this link:
https://jajf-inmemoriam.everydayhero.com/us/birthday-fundraiser-in-memory-of-ray-joyner

Let’s help these families make some memories before it’s too late!

Thank you!

Identity Crisis or Identity in Christ?

I’ve typed and erased and typed and erased this paragraph several times. I don’t really know where to start. If you know me, you know that Ray passed away almost a month ago. I was holding the baby, his sister was holding his hand, and it was very peaceful. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I’m sure at some point I will, but I’ll save it for another time. It’s taken me a while to figure out what I wanted to say, because I had so many thoughts going through my mind that I couldn’t get them straight. Identity has been front and center lately, though, so I’m just going to go with it.

I’ve had several people tell me that they don’t know how I can even get out of bed. It took a while to figure it out myself, but I think I finally have. There was actually a time that I couldn’t make myself get out of bed. A little over ten years ago, I was going through a divorce. For four months, I stayed in bed eating M&Ms. I had no desire to do anything at all. None. I had no idea how to be me. I felt like I didn’t have an identity at all. Now, I grew up going to church. I got “saved” when I was in middle school and baptized in high school. I knew who God was. Or at least I thought I did. Turns out, I didn’t know Him at all. Since I didn’t know Him, I didn’t know me. That’s the difference.

In the last few months, I’ve spent hours reading devotionals and scripture and praying. I’ve done so much praying, it’s become second nature. “Pray without ceasing” finally makes sense to me. And because I’ve started praying about everything, my path has become clearer. I now know that my identity doesn’t depend on anyone else. It doesn’t matter what others think of me. My identity is found in Him. If I’m seeking Him in all I do, then I’m becoming the person that He created me to be. THAT is how I get out of bed every morning – granted, it’s usually late morning, because I like to sleep, but I digress. I can get up and live my life, because I know that God is in control and is going to lead me in the right direction.

So, as I sit here in my Chip ‘n’ Dale pajama pants while switching between my incredibly slow laptop, my phone, and my coloring book while a Hallmark Christmas movie plays in the background, I know that I am free from needing anyone’s approval.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” -Psalm 139:14 ESV

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” -Jeremiah 1:5 ESV

Fearless-ish

I’ve never been “fearless”.  I’ve never really been a “scaredy-cat” either.  I guess I’ve always been somewhere in the middle – or probably somewhere along the lines of “too lazy to really try anything scary but not so lazy that I won’t try anything new”.  There are lots of things I am or have been afraid of, like the recurring nightmare I had when I was a kid about living in a big store that had bombs inside or the book I read when I was ten or eleven that made me feel really silly by the time I got to the end of it.  I still get uneasy sitting by a dark window or door (which I’m doing as I type this, so I’m going to stop and reassure myself that there is nothing there and that the dog would bark if there were).  On the other hand, I’ve never shied away from a haunted house or a really big roller coaster, and I don’t think twice about driving across several states by myself.

Then there’s death.  Am I afraid of death?  Well, yeah.  But, no.  I’m not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of what happens while I’m dying, and I worry about what will happen to the people I leave behind.  Recently, though, I was hit with an all new fear of death.  I’ve lost lots of people I love, but I never feared life without them.  I knew they were all going to die and had time to prepare, but I never once thought, “How am I going to make it without them?”  I miss them terribly, but I was not and am not afraid.  Losing my husband is in a completely different ball park, though, and it’s weird.  I don’t really have fear of my life without him.  My fear is for my babies.  I have three little boys who are going to grow up without their Daddy.  How can I make up for that?  I don’t have the slightest clue how to be a daddy!  I’m barely making it in the Mommy department.  I’m not a girly-girl by any means, but I don’t know a single thing about being a man.  I don’t really want to know anything about being a man.  I know a little bit about baseball, and I can tell my kid to stop swinging the bat around before he hits somebody in the head with it, but how exactly do you pee standing up?  Is it weird that I’m worried about things like that?

There are a lot of unknowns right now.  I never thought I’d have the task of raising three boys alone.  Three.  Boys.  Alone.  And I’m not sure how to handle it.  The one thing I am sure of, though?  Even though I’m “alone”, I’m never actually alone.  God is always with me.  He promised me that, so, when I’m feeling alone, I just have to call His name, and He’ll be there – kinda like “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, but much, much better.

“Don’t worry—I am with you. Don’t be afraid—I am your God. I will make you strong and help you. I will support you with my right hand that brings victory.”  -Isaiah 41:10 ERV

Side note:  When I was looking up the verse I wanted to share tonight, I came across a version that I’d never heard of.  I normally don’t read the King James Version, because it has too many thous and -eths for me to easily understand what it’s saying.  I try to stick with the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV).  The one I found tonight is the Easy-to-Read Bible (ERV).  And guess what?  It is actually easy to read.  But, more importantly, I feel like the wording of this verse hits the nail on the head.

Just a note.

My husband is on hospice.  It’s not something I like, but who would?  It’s not hospice that’s bad, though.  The bad part is the need for it.  Hospice itself is such a good thing.  His nurse is so sweet and helpful.  The social worker and volunteers are amazing, and the chaplain is so kind.  It can’t possibly be an easy job, but these wonderful people are doing this difficult work with smiles on their faces.

If you are a hospice worker of any kind, thank you for what you do!

Beauty and the UnBeautiful

Life is messy.  It gets ugly.  Really ugly.  And it’s so easy to get caught up in all that ugliness and completely forget to look for the beauty.  When you’re up to your elbows in poop and spit-up, you haven’t had a chance to shower all day, and you still have 3 hours until somebody can relieve you?  That’s ugly.  But that baby – the cause of all your problems right now – smiles at you for the first time, and all of your problems disappear.  How beautiful is that?  You, for whatever reason, have to give up your house – the one that you have poured hour upon hour into making into a home?  There’s nothing beautiful about that, is there?  Oh, but there is!  It’s not the house that was your home.  It’s the people you share it with.  The laughter, the smiles, the tears – all the things you shared in that house are the things that turned that house into your home.  Your home, wherever it may be, is beautiful because of the love that lives there.  Your preschooler just thoroughly embarrassed you at the park in the middle of his t-ball game, which is actually a pretty common occurrence, but you know that he’s going to come up with another awesome way to hug you when you get home.  Jump hugs, double jump hugs, spin hugs, squeeze-tight hugs.  Can you think of anything more beautiful?

Cancer, though.  Cancer is ugly.  There’s absolutely nothing about cancer that I can think of as beautiful.  It literally sucks the life out of you.  I’m sure I could come up with some pretty unsavory words for cancer, but what’s the point?  As ugly as cancer is, though, I can still find beauty in this crappy situation I’m in.  In these last two months, I have opened up to people.  I’ve made new friends.  I’ve experienced kindness from total strangers.  I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for and accept help from others.  I have experienced love like never before.  The day we found out that the diagnosis was probably cancer, I climbed up in the hospital bed with my husband, put my head on his shoulder, and cried.  We said things that have needed to be said for a long time.  We forgave each other.  We fell in love again.  It was beautiful.  Caring is beautiful.  Kindness is beautiful.  Love is beautiful.

If, by some miracle, he pulls through this, it will be beautiful.  We will have a messy, loud, chaotic, beautiful life.  If he doesn’t pull through this…  I can’t even begin to imagine the beauty he will experience!  So, no matter what happens in this crazy, messed-up life, I’m going to keep looking for the beauty, and I’m going to keep on keepin’ on until I get to experience that ultimate beauty for myself!

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” -Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV

Don’t be anxious?

He spent an entire week in the hospital.  The first three days were lots of waiting.  The last few were test after test after test.  It was definitely cancer, but they needed more tests to determine what kind it was.  I went to the hospital, then I went home.  Every. Single. Day.  I tried to explain to the boys that Daddy was sick and had to stay in the hospital for a little while, but how do you explain cancer to a five-year-old and a four-year-old?  I couldn’t make myself sleep in our bed, so the boys and I camped out in the living room – with the baby in his bassinet – the entire time he was gone.  I stayed strong until they went to sleep, then I would lose it.  I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.  I hyperventilated.  I was nauseous.  I barely slept.

And anxiety attacks.  Oh, the anxiety attacks.  I had recently started a new anti-anxiety drug, because, after an incredibly difficult pregnancy and losing my father less than a month before, I was having attacks almost every day and sometimes several times a day.  I couldn’t deal with them at all.  Talking didn’t help, and I was mostly alone with the boys anyway, so I picked up my phone, opened my Bible app, and started reading.  I read and read and read.  Then I kept reading.  “God loves you.”  “Don’t be anxious.”  “God will give you peace.”  “God will give you the desires of your heart.”  My anxiety started to fade away.  When it came back, I’d start reading again.  I’d read, then pray.  I would read until the anxiety was gone again.  I have never in my life felt that kind of peace.  It’s amazing.  Now, I’m not saying that this is going to get rid of everybody’s anxiety.  I still take the meds.  BUT I have a peace that I didn’t have before.  Two months later, and I haven’t had another attack.  I start feeling anxious, I start reading.  I read until I’m calm again.

Peace is a funny thing, I guess.  I don’t like this crappy situation, but I can’t change it.  Even so, I know that we’re going to be OK.  God’s not going to leave my side.  When I turn to Him, He’s there.  And He always will be.

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  – Philippians 4:4-7, ESV