2020 Vision

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for…

Covid-19 is much more than a special news report, and if you’re anything like me, it has interrupted much more than a television program or two. It has interrupted our work schedules, our family gatherings, our shopping trips, our activities, our school system…. it has pretty much interrupted our entire lives.

While these are unprecedented times for all of us, we are all handling the unknown in different ways. During the stay at home mandates, some were staying cooped up in their homes because they were living in fear. Others were staying home and making the most of a bad situation. Still, there are some that continued to go to work every day, my husband and 22-year-old daughter included, but they had to do so following a whole new set of rules and procedures, such as wearing protective masks. As we all proceed with the re-entry process, those of us who are just now starting back to work are following suit.

I admire those who are making the most of a bad situation. I know those who, while spending the last two or three months cooped up at home, were doing their long-avoided spring cleaning, remodeling projects, and even starting new health and wellness routines. Me- not so much. Unfortunately, I was more in the former category. Not that I was living in fear, because we weren’t given a spirit of fear according to 2 Timothy 1:7, however, I will admit that depression had reared its ugly head since all of this began.

Because of my asthma (which, if my Pastor heard me say that, would tell me not to claim it), my husband and children put me under house arrest. Although I am more susceptible to bronchitis and upper respiratory infections, I can’t say for sure that automatically makes me more susceptible to contracting the Coronavirus. However, I do know that if I were to contract the virus, it would be harder for me to fight it off due to my compromised lungs. That being said, I had been holed up for over two months, and it did not serve me well.

Being out of my routine has certainly had its effects on my overall well-being. My sleep schedule had been off, I’d been consistently living off of carbs and sugar for some reason, and regretfully, I wasn’t even writing consistently. (As I’m sure you all have noticed!)  I found it impossible to write something positive for my blog, when I was feeling anything but positive.  In fact, I was beginning to feel lethargic, unmotivated, and irritable, and because I had bitten all of my fingernails to the quick, I felt ugly and less feminine, too.  My clothes were getting tighter, and all my aches and pains were back with a vengeance.

Being away from my family took an even bigger toll on my emotional health, though.  We were taking the advice of our Pastoral leadership and obeying the mandate put out by the authorities, so I was unable to go see my parents, and I definitely couldn’t go see my elderly grandparents because of their compromised health.  With my grandmother in the early stages of dementia, she was having trouble understanding the severity of the situation. She was agitated and emotional, because her family couldn’t come to see her.

I was also missing my oldest daughter terribly.  I had gotten used to seeing Brittany every day when I became a receptionist at the daycare where she works, and now I hadn’t seen her for weeks.  Married for going on four years, Brittany now has her own home in which she was cooped up.  The constant news coverage had caused her to have three anxiety attacks in just as many weeks, and I was growing increasingly worried about her.

By the time Easter Sunday arrived, it had been almost four weeks since I’d seen her, and the day was a difficult one for all of us.  It would be the first year our whole family wouldn’t be able to spend the holiday together, which was a hard pill to swallow for my Italian grandmother who believes her life’s purpose is to cook for and serve her family.  As we saw people posting pictures of their holiday festivities on social media, Brittany was at home crying because, in all her 25 years, it was the first Easter she wasn’t able to spend with her parents and siblings.

This new reality was becoming a great source of stress and heartache for me, and I wasn’t handling it well.  I have a good friend who is constantly sending me uplifting messages, and she was trying her hardest to not only keep me encouraged and motivated, but to also hold me accountable for taking care of my health. But for all of her efforts, it just wasn’t working. I knew it all came down to my state of mind, and frankly, it was a good thing she knew that, too, or she might’ve thought I was avoiding her.

I also felt very far away from the Lord, because I had even stopped spending time with Him every morning like I had grown so accustomed to when my normal routine was in full swing.  Now God?  Him I was definitely avoiding!  I was headed down a slippery slope.  I was already mad at myself for undoing all of the hard work I’d invested in my health, and I was getting worse as time marched on with no end of Covid-19 in sight.  I knew if I kept going the way I was going, I would be much worse off than I already was, and that wasn’t a pretty picture.  Yet for all my logical reasoning for why I should make a change, I remained unable to do so.

Not seeing Brittany for four weeks had soon turned into five weeks, and then six; it was the most time we’d ever spent apart from each other.  We tried to FaceTime regularly, but that was nowhere near the same as seeing her in person.  Depression engulfed me in waves, and the more depressed I felt about what was happening and what I had done to myself, the worse it got.

I stopped listening to Christian music, and I withdrew from God instead of running to Him.  I began to waste more time than I care to admit on mindless computer games and Netflix binges, because it took me away from my current reality.  Because I was feeling so unattractive and so disgusted with myself, I withdrew from my husband, too.  When it came to intimacy, I could take it or leave it, so I hadn’t been there for Greg in the way a wife would want to be there for her husband under normal circumstances.

Mondays were coming and going, and with each passing Sunday evening, I would resolve to make the new week better than the last, but to no avail.  It seems that the overall theme for 2020 is “Vision,” and most of us started the new year off with hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  But in the blink of an eye, all of that changed for me.  We were heading into June, and the way I saw it, half of the year was gone already.  Although I’m not trying to be the glass-half-empty type, I do bend towards being a realist.

A few days before the next “Fresh Start” Monday began looming over my head for the umpteenth time, the Lord was once again beginning to pierce my thoughts.  I had put Him on the back burner long enough, and with God’s gentle prodding, my heart and spirit were beginning to fight back.  I tried to avoid the impending battle instead of trying to embrace it.

But when Monday morning came, and I had to try on three different outfits for work before I found something that actually fit comfortably, I found myself at the proverbial rock bottom.  I looked at myself in the full-length mirror behind my door, but being all cried out from the years of repetitively being in this same predicament, all I could do was stare.

The usual feelings of regret and disgust ushered in, followed by defeat.  After I was finished getting ready for work, I collapsed in my kitchen chair and uttered, “Okay, God, You win.”  Instead of turning on my computer, I opened up my Bible app.  I would normally turn right to Psalms when I needed to be encouraged, but I couldn’t quite identify which emotion was weighing the most heavily on me.  I checked out my saved reading plans and clicked on one about God’s grace.  Although I wasn’t necessarily feeling it in my heart, I knew in my head that God’s grace was unconditional and unending.

About halfway through the devotion, a familiar sting in my nose signaled the sudden onslaught of tears.  There, right in the middle of my devotion, was the word that identified which emotion I had been feeling… guilt.  I realized I had withdrawn from God, not because I was angry with Him or living in fear, but because I felt like I had let Him down by not taking care of myself during this trial.  I felt that I had disappointed God yet again, because I allowed my circumstances and emotions to dictate my behaviors.  I was depressed, and so I became uncaring.

I didn’t care about what I ate, how I spent my time, or when I slept, and knowing I had “done it again” made me feel as though I had no right talking to God or spending time with Him.  I felt like the black sheep of God’s family, and rather than run into God’s arms, I chose to hide from Him instead.  I felt, dare I say, unworthy of His unconditional love.  The words of Matthew 17:17 must have been distorting what I know as truth.  In this verse, Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you?” (NLT) The silent cries of my own heart were, “Oh, Lord!  How long will You put up with me?!”

The answer is, as long as it takes!  The answer is, forever and ever, Amen!  I understand that Jesus found Himself feeling frustrated sometimes; after all, we were created in His image, so I have no doubt that Jesus, at one time or another, felt every emotion that we humans ever feel.  But the good news is that, above all, our Lord is kind, loving, and forgiving!  And not just today, but every day, forever and always.

The words in my devotion that struck my heart were this: “Guilt is not part of God’s plan.  It drains the life out of us and separates us from reality.  Yet, we keep guilt around never looking to see how much it steals or controls.  God wants more for us!  He wants us to be free.”

The author, Markey Motsinger, goes on to say, “Guilt is a mental and emotional experience that occurs when a person thinks or realizes they have compromised their standards of conduct and accept responsibility.  When we don’t give these experiences over to God, they can quickly turn into shame.  Shame, in return, attacks our identity, causing us to feel unworthy or not good enough.  Guilt and shame take us away from the heart of God.”

Have truer words ever been spoken?  For someone who devotes an entire website to our identity in Christ, I sure do forget God’s truths much more often than I should!  How easy it is for me to allow self-condemnation to breed guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness!  Oh, Lord!  I am so weary from this ongoing battle! Can any of you relate to this hamster wheel experience?  Yet, in those moments when I was reading my devotion, I felt anything but condemnation.  I felt warmth, peace, and love.

As I allowed God’s grace and forgiveness to wash over me, I made the conscious decision to lick my self-inflicted wounds and get my act together.  I began planning out some healthy lunches for the work week.  Greg was stopping at the grocery store after work anyway, so I asked him to pick me up some no-sugar-added strawberry preserves.  Apparently, our local grocery store no longer carries the brand I wanted, and Greg arrived home that evening feeling frustrated and disappointed because he was unable to find what I desired.  I know his comment wasn’t meant to sound harsh, but I was hurt nonetheless when he said, “You didn’t care about sugar last week when you were eating ice cream!”

In the moment, I wanted to retaliate.  But before I spoke, I took time to reflect on the variables.  For one thing, I know the underlying issue was really that my dear hubby felt bad for not being able to deliver.  For another, I was fresh off the Self-Destruct Express, so I immediately took offense to his words.  My first instinct was to take it personally, as if Greg were insulting my inability to stop the vicious cycle.  But the Holy Spirit instantly made me realize it was my own frustrations that caused me to feel angry with Greg.  I’m the one who felt self-conscious about not being able to stop the cycle.

I calmly told him that if I were going to eat refined sugar, I would choose to have it in my ice cream, not in my fruit preserves!  And really, that’s all life really is, after all.  A series of daily choices.  Instead of choosing to be strong during a difficult time, I chose to succumb to my weaknesses, which started a domino effect of repercussions.  Given what’s happened, I have a new choice to make.  I can choose to not forgive myself and sink deeper into the pit of despair that I’ve created for myself, or I can choose to accept God’s grace and forgiveness, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and start again.

I talked to Greg later that evening and told him that I can understand why he gets frustrated with me sometimes.  I admitted that I have times of weakness, and people that don’t struggle with food addiction will probably never understand how difficult it is to not give into certain impulses.  Enjoying chips and soda while watching a favorite television program is something about which Greg will never have to give a second thought.  I explained that that’s not the case for me, and I tend to slip up now and again- especially on the weekends when things are much more relaxed at home.  But I also told him that one thing I know for sure is that I never give up!

Hebrews 12:1b-2a states, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith….” (NIV) This is the race that is marked out for me.  This is my cross to bear.  Although I get frustrated more times than I can count, I am grateful, too, because it could always be worse.  I have a great job, a great purpose in life, and a great family who faithfully gives me their unconditional love and support.  Although this race makes me weary, God gives me the strength and endurance I need to keep going.

What is the race marked out for you?  What choices will you make when the going gets tough?  Will you give into guilt and shame the next time you take two steps back instead of one step forward?  Or will you pull yourself and remember God’s promises?  I know I’ve shared this verse in other posts, but it is one of my favorite promises, and it is worth repeating: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 1:6 (NIV) Don’t throw in the towel, my friend.  2020 still has a long way to go, so bring that vision into focus and carry on, because God is not done with you yet!

Birthday Blues

Balloons    We are now just over a month away from my next birthday.  As the day draws closer, I can feel myself start to fill with sorrow.  Not because I’ll be another year older, which, let’s be honest, is a problem for a lot more people than we realize, but because it is now, and forever, the anniversary of my dad’s passing.  Actually, I could feel the sorrow start to creep in as soon as the weather changed.  I felt it come on full blast when football season started, because it’s now just a blaring reminder that my dad didn’t get to see the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

Honestly, I am well aware that there are several people who will never understand my sadness at such a loss, for he was never really a big part of my life anyway.  If you read my blog post entitled His Princess, it gives a short synopsis of why my dad abandoned me when I was a baby.  To make a long story very short, he had suffered with a debilitating addiction to drugs and alcohol.  However, there is so much more to the story- his story, and mine.

I moved to the mountains of Pennsylvania when I was twelve years old, and as I met new people and made new friends, I began to realize that I didn’t really know a lot about my past.  As my friends and I continued to nurture our growing relationships and learn more about each other, I noticed that the memories I had of my “real dad” were few and far between.

I spent most of my childhood days at my maternal grandmother’s house, and one memory I have of my dad, that is still so prevalent today for some reason, is of the day he showed up to see me while eating a dog bone.  Yes, my dad was eating a big, crunchy Milkbone.  I remember worrying that he wasn’t getting enough food to eat.  There was another time he showed up eating an apple, and I was shocked to see him down the whole thing in a matter of seconds- core and all!

I was always so excited to see him, because it didn’t happen often.  My mother would tell me of times I would be playing in my grandmother’s yard and he would walk right by me.  I would yell for him like a banshee, but he kept on walking as if he never even heard me.  Once in a blue moon he would call me to tell me he was coming to see me.  I would plant myself on the front steps of my grandmother’s porch and never move a muscle.  I wouldn’t go in to use the bathroom, and I certainly wouldn’t go in for dinner.  I wouldn’t budge for fear of missing him.  Needless to say, just because he said he was coming, didn’t necessarily mean he was going to show up.

That’s how my relationship was back then with my dad… a long string of broken promises and missed birthdays.  I never got angry with him, though.  I was always so happy to see him on the rare occasions that he did come around; there was no way I was going to waste precious moments with him by being angry.  I do remember that each time he showed up, he professed his undying love to me and promised that things would be different from there on out.  Although, they never were.

What makes this story even more interesting is that when he wasn’t living on the streets, he was staying with his mom.  My grandmothers’ houses were just around the corner from each other, so when I was old enough to realize that, I spent my afternoons wondering if he was there.  One time I even escaped on my bicycle, hoping I would remember the way to Grandmom’s house and praying that my daddy would be there.  They were both so elated when I knocked on the door that day!  (But when he returned me later that afternoon, my mother and grandparents were NOT so elated that I had done that!)

Truth be told, I didn’t care that I scared the daylights out of them when I disappeared.  I loved my dad; I had him on a pedestal, actually, and I wanted to see him every single chance I could.  I eventually learned the truth about his addiction, but I accepted that things were the way they were back then because he was very sick.

When he got clean later in life, he even found a way to come see me up in the mountains when he could.  He had lost his driver’s license long ago, and he had no car, anyway, so in my eyes, it was no small feat that he found his way to me.  He was so remorseful and admitted there was no excuse for what he had done.  He asked for my forgiveness, but I honestly didn’t think there was anything to forgive.  His actions were dictated by his drug and alcohol abuse, not by a lack of love for me.

From that point forward, we were working hard to rebuild our relationship- to make up for the time we had lost.  So, when I became an adult, Greg and I would hop in the car and take the three-hour drive to go see him in Philly.  He had fought to get clean and stay that way, and he had been living with my grandmother again, helping to take care of her.  She never gave up on him, and neither did I.  And I wanted him to have a different relationship with my children than he had with me.  I wanted him in their lives, so we did what we could to make that happen.  As they grew older, we started to have my dad come and stay with us for a week over Christmas.

Things were finally going so well- too well.  It wasn’t long before my dad’s poor life choices caught up with him.  He had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C first, and later, with Cancer.  I would spend the rest of my time with him just watching him wither away.

As he was nearing the end, I prayed and prayed that he would not pass away on my birthday.  My birthday was on a Saturday that year.  I remember it, because we would have gone down to see him at the nursing home that day had we not already had a college visit with our daughter previously scheduled.  We planned to drive down on Sunday instead… but that Sunday drive never happened.

I clearly remember being in the car on our way to Slippery Rock when I got the call.  My husband got the call, actually.  We both thought it was odd that my aunt would call Greg’s phone instead of mine, but I’m the one that picked up anyway since Greg was driving.  In hindsight, I guess I should have known right away why she would call my husband instead of me.  When I answered Greg’s phone, she sounded shocked at first, like she had dialed the wrong number by mistake.  She clearly said she was trying to reach Greg, but after I explained that he was driving, she said the four words that I will hear every November 21st until I’m gone from this earth.  “Daddy died this morning.”

Um, come again?  That can’t be right.  We were going to go down to see him the very next day.  I had been discussing this moment with God on a daily basis, and He knew full well that I did NOT want Him to take my dad on my birthday.

I spent the rest of the drive in shock, I think.  I don’t really remember much after the phone call.  I tried my best to pay attention to what we were being told at the various sessions we attended during the college visit, but the thing I remember the most is when my aunt called back later to ask me if I wanted my dad cremated or if I wanted to have a viewing.

Everything after that is like a blur.  When I think about that time in my life, I am plagued with the memories of things that happened right before his passing.  When we had gone down to see him the previous week at the nursing home, he wanted to walk us to the door when we left, but I said no.  I could clearly see he was already so tired from the visit, and I didn’t want to wear him out any more than he already was.

That was the last time I saw him.  I am now consumed with the thought of, “If I had said yes, I would’ve had just a few more minutes with him.”  I try to replay the last words I ever spoke to him, and I wonder if there was anything I left out.  Is there anything more I could have said to give him, and well, myself, more peace?

When we went down to see him the weekend before that, I had found that he’d been hiding pain medication in his socks.  I took them away from him because of his past drug history.  I was so afraid he would become addicted again, but who did I think I was?  I had no right to do that to him.  I had no idea what kind of pain with which he had been suffering every day.  I made his fight against cancer that much worse.  Could I have contributed to his death by not only increasing his pain, but also agitating him when I took his pain medication away?

I started writing this blog six days ago.   Usually I can get something written in an hour or so, but this one… this one was giving me trouble.  You see, the purpose of my blog is to educate, edify, and encourage.  I was trying so desperately to figure out how I was going to be encouraging, when I was in such a bad place myself.  Originally, I had planned on simply reminding you all that we’re doing this together- learning life together- and I don’t have all the answers.  But then something happened.

Until now, I had tried comfort myself by believing that it wasn’t God “taking” my dad away on my birthday, but rather, it was my dad hanging on with every ounce of strength he had left, so he could make it to see one more of my birthdays.  Until now, I was plagued with the sorrow that came with the thought of him dying alone in an unfamiliar place.  I hated that he died alone in that nursing home, and I’d been trying to picture what it was like for him to Jesus coming toward him with open arms.  But still… that imagery left me feeling like God took him away from me forever.

I know for a fact that Jesus came and took my dad to paradise, because my father gave his heart to Christ years prior.  I know it was a tremendous struggle for a very long time, though.  Whenever my grandmother or I would try to talk to him about salvation, he would just hang his head and say, “Jesus doesn’t want me.”  I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling so badly about themselves or about their past mistakes that they would believe Jesus wouldn’t want them.  How tragic to know there are still people in the world today who truly believe that.  People who don’t understand God’s nature and His unconditional love and faithfulness.  People who don’t understand the whole reason behind God’s plan to send us Jesus!

I realized later that it wasn’t a matter of God not being able to forgive my dad, but it was a matter of my dad not being able to forgive himself.  He had asked the Lord to forgive him, but he just wasn’t able to accept the forgiveness that God so freely gives.

Finally, FINALLY, after years of prayer and prodding, he was able to forgive himself and accept God’s grace and mercy and sacrifice!  As if that weren’t enough to cause us all to rejoice, my dad was later baptized.  He was baptized at my home church, in fact, just one short month before his death.  He had been up to stay with us for a week, because we had been trying to extend his visits to more than just once yearly at Christmastime.  I was glad he was here, too, because he wasn’t doing well at all, and I truthfully didn’t think he’d be able to make it back up for Christmas that year, anyway.  I was right.

I had finally gotten my dad back, and then, in the blink of an eye, I had to let him go again.  I had spent my childhood crying after his sporadic visits because I never knew when I would see him again.  After his death, I cried because I knew I never would.

I mentioned above that “something happened.”  Something happened to change my perspective about this whole situation.  That something was my daughter and son-in-law who came over one night to watch the 2018 film I Can Only Imagine.  My daughters and I saw it in the theaters when it first came out, and I bought the DVD as soon as it was released.  It was still in its packaging when Brittany and Will came over that night.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the film adaptation of the story behind Bart Millard, of the band MercyMe, and how he came to write the most-played song in the history of Christian radio.  According to, not only Wikipedia, but also the information given to us in writing at the end of the film, the song I Can Only Imagine has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and as of April, 2018, has sold over 2.5 million copies.

Bart wrote that song for his father, Arthur, who had physically and mentally abused him all his life, but who later found redemption in Christ and became a new man.  Arthur was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and according to the storyline in the movie, had refused treatment.  The film depicts the journey that Bart and Arthur took together as they worked to repair their relationship.  In one of Bart’s journal entries, he wrote, “I finally have the dad I always wanted, and now he’s being taken away.  How is that fair?”  Oh my, how I could relate to that!  And I was tortured by the reality that my dad had overcome a horrific drug addiction just to later be taken by cancer.

When Bart’s Memaw, referring to her son, asked Bart, “Can you imagine what he’s seeing right now,” the seed was planted, and I Can Only Imagine was born.  Until now, whenever I listened to that powerful worship song, I would try to envision what it would be like for me to see Jesus.  What would my heart feel?  Would I dance for Jesus, or would I be still in awe of Him?  Would I sing hallelujah?  Would I be able to speak at all?

Since re-watching the film and reflecting on how closely Bart’s story resembled my own, I began to think of the song differently.  I began to think of my dad’s final moments differently.  Instead of dwelling on the belief that my dad died alone, I started to wonder… what was it like for my dad to see Jesus?  After such a hard life and even harder death, what did his heart feel when Jesus came for him?

I can only imagine… what was it like when Jesus walked by my dad’s side?  What did his eyes see when the face of Jesus was before him?  My dad wasn’t alone; he was surrounded by God’s glory.  Did my dad stand in the presence of Jesus, or did he fall to his knees?  Either way, I can now envision Jesus picking my dad up and wrapping him in His loving arms, taking away his pain, once and for all.  I can envision my dad’s body being whole again- a smile on his face.  I can envision his soul being whole- a smile in his heart.  For the first time since my dad’s passing almost four years ago, I can imagine him, arm in arm with Jesus, smiling at me as if to say, “I’m okay.  I made it, and I’m OK.  It’s time for you to be okay, too.”

It’s time for YOU to be OK, too.  Whether you’re someone who mostly resembles Arthur Millard or my own father- bound by guilt and shame, or you’re someone who mostly resembles Bart and me- suffering with pain and loss, Jesus wants to set you free.  There is no greater joy than the joy that comes when you give your heart to Christ.

When you let Jesus come into those broken places that only He can soothe, a divine healing takes place.  Even writing this blog post was cathartic for me, and it was no accident that the unwrapping of that DVD was carefully planned and calculated by our Father in Heaven.

He knows me better than I know myself, and He knew what I needed when I began to write this post as an outlet for my pain.  The earth is God’s footstool, yet He is El Roi, the God who sees me.  He also sees you.  He loves you, and as the Author of your own redemption story, He wants to take you into His arms and heal those broken places like only He can.  Let Him in, won’t you?  And if you have already given Him your heart, give Him your pain, too.  Just imagine being surrounded by His glory.

To hear the life-changing chart topper, I Can Only Imagine, click here.  To purchase your own copy of this movie that I believe everyone should own, click here.  To learn more about how to give your life to Jesus and let Him heal your heart, please visit my Jesus and You page.  For the first time since my Dad died four years ago, I can truly and wholeheartedly smile with joy and gratitude when I think of my dad’s final moments, and I thank you for taking this journey with me.  God bless.