The Chasm Between

There’s nothing for me in the in-between.

Pick a side, cuz that chasm falls deep.

Can’t climb out, no second chances,

A black hole pit, a temporary release…

That burns the bridge over the in-between.

There’s nothing for me in the in-between

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3 am thoughts

Have you ever took up your life, forgone the seatbelt and purposely crashed into a wall?

Metaphorically speaking. …I believe we all have at times.

You see, unwise decisions and habitual sin lead to devastation.

Injury.

Death.

And, I have done it myself, speeding along at my will, wrecking my life, and all the while God is watching and allowing me to be wounded by my carelessness.

For example, I’m a writer, and I have many pieces that I’ve written that have not been shared. Many are too personal and many are simply waiting to be finished. Many are finished and the timing isn’t right.

Whatever the reason, when I read over them, I am remembering the WHY of why I wrote them. I can see them for what they are, as well. I know when they are ready and when they need work. I know when, let’s be honest, the written work is not very good. The intention and labor behind it was good, but the body needs a lot of work.

My whole point here is that God knows us and knows when we need work. He knows, probably like a writer too,  that even the best piece can be better. But,  at some point, the piece is just ready, and the refining will come along the way.

And I, in my humanity, can’t wrap my brain around this. I can’t comprehend how I could possibly be ready to serve him and so fallen, so imperfect and so undeserving of his attentions.

Especially, knowing that nothing is hidden from God and that on my own, my righteousness is like dirty rags…. God knows this about me, you, for we are all a people naturally bent towards rebellion.

Even more so…..

God knows us and our capacity to forget him.

Can you imagine? What if you had a spouse, and you knew that your spouse’s natural tendency was to forget you? What if you caught your spouse cheating, but it didn’t shock you because you knew it would happen?

But, what if you still loved your spouse anyway? What if you let it go at his or her own detriment, knowing all the while the damage they would do, but vowed  to wait for their return, anyway?

Wouldn’t we question the sanity of the faithful spouse I just depicted?  Yet, that is exactly what God is like. He is our faithful bridegroom.

We deserve divorce papers, but instead, he draws us into his will

We deserve separation, but instead he bridges the gap between heaven and hell with his own body, bent and broken on the cross for his glory and for our benefit

Yet, we continue to turn away from him;  we have little indiscretions, big ones, and sometimes, we plainly forget Him.

Yet, there he is..still waiting, still faithful, and still loving us without wanting to shame us, beating us down with “I told you so’s” or making us atone for idolatry because Jesus….

Because Jesus……who left his glory in heaven to walk the roads of humanity and than later… to die for us all, even those of us who spit upon his brow with our total rebelllion.  He embodies true mercy.

True mercy….

I don’t know about you, but I can’t fathom that. I don’t want to most of the time. True mercy is scandalous and makes us want to say  “he doesn’t deserve it! She doesn’t deserve it.”

But,

mercy doesn’t accuse and it doesn’t follow human moral codes of justice.

Instead, it comes, undeserving and so beautiful…and

It’s for those of us, just like me and like you ….who are violently driving themselves towards their death, ready to wreck against an iron wall upon our own violation.

I see that ….

God has allowed me to be the driver to my own death. I see now that He didn’t swoop down to pull me out at certain times.

And, in light of this, I can see that God allowing me to wreck myself is one of the best gifts he has given me.

Because only in the midst of my deep forgetfulness, can I remember how MUCH I need the wonderfulness of his mercy.

God, may your mercies work miracles through me….

-A

Cancer Free

****I wrote this in February of 2017, the day Natalie received her official cancer free diagnosis.  But, this time two years ago was when Natalie was first diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve asked her mom’s permission to share this story, from my own perspective. I hope you read it…and celebrate Natalie’s beautifully victorious life with me.**** 

I remember it now.

Vividly.

The phone calls came, one after the other.

“Hey, I told Rhonda about the lump on Nat’s tummy, and she said we need to go to the doctor right away.”

“They think it’s a tumor. She will have a biopsy done today.”

“Natalie has cancer….they are hurrying to get us admitted to St Jude’s.”

I didn’t want to believe it; I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stand, frozen in time, pretending that this wasn’t happening to our closest friends.

But it was happening, and so I went to support our friends.

I stayed in the hospital for hours to play guitar for Natalie.IMG_0817

And then, we heard the treatment plan estimate.

Two years!

So, we did what we could. We brought food; we helped pack; we made a care basket for the road. We made a list of how we would help look after their house…

And then, we hugged.

We said goodbye

(Here we are, minutes before they walked out the door.)

All in just TWO days.

As I left their house, I began to weep ugly, big, fat, rolling tears.  I was devastated, scared, and most of all, angry!

I wish I could say I was angry over the injustice and brutality of cancer, especially, childhood cancer.

That would be normal and unselfish and…..righteous, even.

But, at the time, all I could think about was how our life would be forever changed. This cancer was taking away our best friends, leaving us on the outside, in a completely different world, watching, helpless, out of control….

Yet, here I was, angry that our weekly coffee dates were gone. There would be no more last-minute dinner invites. Our weekly habit of putting together our leftovers and other random foods (the extreme opposite of formal dinner parties) would not be resumed.

(In actuality, there would be more dinners.)

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I was angry that my own daughter would lose a very special presence in her life. Natalie, you see, is the closest thing to a sister Isabela has. How could we bring her through this? How could we show her hope in the face of this destructive and life-threatening cancer?IMG_8335IMG_8299IMG_3643IMG_0268

I was angry and there was nothing I could do to save the day….

Because, that’s what I do, you know? I’m that friend who swoops in, brings food, cleans your house, helps you move, takes you to the airport at 3 a.m., watches your kiddos, helps wherever and however  I can. I am there, and I want to be there for my friends.

But this time I couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing I could do but pray, wait, pray, wait, pray wait, pray wait and OH, how hard that is for a broken and fallen person, such that I am.

So, with shaking hands and faith,  I pulled over into the parking lot of a mall and I wept.

Loudly …

I felt like I had experienced a death, yet I knew, even in that moment, that it wasn’t about me at all.

Still, I wept.

I weptselfishly at how everything would change for us, yet I knew that this was the least of things to weep over.

Oh, how I wept.

I weptbitterly over the loss of our strongest support system. Yet, I knew that in reality, they were the ones losing their support systems, their home, their community and quite possibly, their daughter…

Yet, however self-consumed I was, I never said word. I have never shared those feelings about that day. Part of it was shame – man, I felt guilty – but mostly, it was because it wasn’t a story that needed to be shared, from me, at the time. It wasn’t my right, it wasn’t my priority, and most importantly, it wasn’t my truth.

Somehow, even in my anger, even in my grief, I knew this.

It wasn’t about me.

It was about them.

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It was about Natalie, her family and doing everything we could to bepositive, even if we were scared out of our minds. It was about sending small gift packages and funny memes, even when we were depressed and questioning God’s providence.

It was about always respecting, and valuing their faith and never-ceasing to share scriptures of hope with them. Even when hopelessness was raging inside me so much so that all I could hear was the rushing winds of fear and the howling screeches of anxiety….I could NOT give in. I needed to be strong.

And, in the dark night of my anger,  I realized I could not stay. I could not live there. That knowledge gave me gumption. It gave me the ability to speak back to the storm around me.

You know, looking back, I’m glad I stopped to weep over my selfish concerns. I’m thankful that I got it all out, then and there. I needed to take a few minutes to release my fears over the situation and even the ones pointed at myself, the “what if I won’t know what to say,” and the “what if I won’t know how to be a good friend through it all” kind of things…

I needed to release it so I could see clearly. So, I could stand on the other side of fear, and say, ” No! I will NOT  hide out. I will not be so distracted by my day-to-day that they will have to go through this alone. I will be a constant. I will listen. I will supplement fear with faith. I will pad frustration with gentleness. I will finish negativity with reminders of blessings and truths,  however I can.”

Sitting in that car, I calmed down and made an internal vow to not just encourage my friend, Natalie’s mom, to be strong. But, I also made a vow that I would stay strong too, even if I had to fake it….

My friends, I have truly  failed at a lot of things; I have truly failed a lot of people.

But, this is one thing I might have done good on.

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Still, I do have regrets. 

I wish I had visited more. I wish I had quit my job so I had the freedom to leave and give Natalie’s mom a break when she needed it most (this is a big one).  I wish I had sent more care packages. I wish I had texted more often. I wish I had prayed more; I wish I had cleaned her house more while they were gone.

But most of all…I wished I had loved Natalie more. I wished I had hugged her more. I wished I had enjoyed her laughter and freedom to just be who she was more.unnamed

(Beautiful Natalie, home from St Jude’s)

I wished I had given more attention to her, I wished I had talked to her more. I felt so ashamed when I thought of the type of friend I was to my own best friend’s daughter.

I felt intense regret for not playing with her more or playing the guitar for her more, all day if she wanted……

This precious and beautiful life, our Natalie. So full of joy and perfection, our Natalie.

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This is my greatest regret…..

But yet, there is hope, you see. Read on…

Today, I received a phone call from Natalie’s mom. I had been waiting all morning for this phone call; I knew it was the day of her scan. When the phone finally rang, I ran around the house, desperately searching for my phone, answering it when I heard it.

This silence was tinged with anticipation, and in a split second, I thought “No, please do not let this be the silence of mourning.” But, her voice broke through the tension, choked with tears, saying, “ She is cancer free, Natalie is cancer free!”

I don’t remember what I said. I’m quite certain there were no real words spoken, anyway. Whatever it was, it was lovely, shattering the darkness with one loud, beautiful and deafening crash!

It’s over!

It’s finally over! This time, I can cry tears of joy, defiant joy! No more death, no more disease, no more cancer, fear, anxiety and no more insidious and ruthless cancer lurking behind us!  Life has won today! Life has won; Natalie has won; God has won and hope has returned. Thank you, God. 

Thank you, God.

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(cancer-free and home-coming party)

-A.

“Why do we doubt the Lord of the seas

Who has parted its waves; made a way from the enemy!

Why do we doubt the God of miracles

Who has raised the dead, created the world!

From dust, He made flesh

From death, He raises LIFE

His works never stop

His word stands through time….”

Military Family

“There’s nothing like family.”

Thats the saying, and it’s true. There is nothing like family. For us, we are keenly aware of this because we have lived away from our dear family for so long.

You know,  as a military family, we have our own little sayings. I’m not sure if this is an official one, but “there is nothing like military family” rings true for us.

This family doesn’t have the same DNA running through our veins, but we are family none the less. We are the ones who get together on Easter, Thanksgiving, the 4th of July, and other holidays, because none of us have family nearby to celebrate with. We are the emergency contacts on each other’s school forms; the ones who bring dinner when the other is sick; the ones who mow the yard when the other is deployed. We are the babysitters and the pet-sitters; the extra-key holders and the come over for let-over eaters.

We can sit at a table with other veterans and automatically bond, even if we do not know each other or have anything in common except for the service of sacrifice. And if we are lucky…we adopt each other, becoming the family that gets each other through our assignments

There is nothing like military family. Listen…in  this family, we get it.  We get the sacrifice, the burden and of course, we get the lingo. We get it and that knowledge alone brings us into family. It’s a beautiful comfort in such a temporary world.

When I go to Belgium this summer, that is one thing I am excited to witness. I am excited for these kids to find a new family in their hearts. To bond together, to adopt each other, to become brothers and sisters and to sit at the table of fellowship, ingesting the goodness of family.

“There is nothing like military family….”

While that is true, I know something truer. We are all family, made one in Jesus Christ, with the same blood running through our veins. And in Him, we are called to extend and enlarge our family.

This is what I hope to do there and with my life. I want to live with intention and  invitation into my family. I am not sure who I will be when I’m there in Brussels, maybe a mentor,  a sister or even a mother,  BUT I do know that whatever role I fall in,  the love of God will be with me. And, through His love, my family will grow. And for that, I am blessed.

Eternally blessed,

A.

missions donation link: https://www.gofundme.com/getAliciatoBelgium

Maundy Thursday: Let Us Not Hide Our Feet

Maundy Thursday: The Last Supper, The foot-washing. I wrote this quickly before work this morning and would like for all to read.

For most of us, it is easy to see our weaknesses. Even more so, we know the secret mutterings of our hearts. We know the ugly whispers and the fight to bend our will to wrestle the ugliness with kindness. When the result is compassion, mercy, kindness or simply “doing the right thing,” we know that we have been victorious! Yet, if we had to go back and search our heart and motive, we would find a wrestling match, if you will.

Some things are easier to see. The outward decline of a body and soul ravaged by drugs are easy to see.  Even easier to see are the garments of pride, blinding the proud soul from embracing the knowledge of it’s poverty.  And of course, anger, with her chains, is often surprises us with a thunderous roar, prowling and hunting for a challenge.

But the wounds of the heart are an invisible and underground cemetery of other lifeless things. Our secret shames, our internal struggles with self, our deepest pains, our past failures, every unforgivable wrong, every bit of violence done, walls of pride and legions of anxieties reside here.

Oh how these graveyards are deceptive, for they seem to be dead, but instead, they  work in the dark grounds of our being, trying to shape us, lead us and drive us into the opposite of who we are intended to be.

On this Maundy Thursday, I think of my wounds. They are so deep in my heart, I can ignore them effortlessly until BOOM….a trigger is pulled, and I find them still swirling into my being, taking my breath away and rendering me helpless, a child alone in the desert searching for water.

On this Maundy Thursday, I think of my pride. For others, it may be a covering of accomplishment, but for me it is an undergarment of insecurities. I am not brave, I am too shy, I am not skilled, I am too sensitive, I am not enough, I am too introspective. The “why can’t I be like everyone else” of my childhood coming into play.

On this Maundy Thursday, I think of my internal agonies. I think of them more often as I get older and I soothe them with the balm of Jesus.

Jesus.

ON this Maundy Thursday, I see Jesus taking care of things. After all, it was his last day to be free, to be alive, technically. For us, that would be saying goodbye to family and making sure our affairs are in order. For Jesus, that entailed breaking bread, feeding those around him and than doing the unimaginable.

He would wash their feet….dirty from walking dusty roads. Unattractive, from years of labor. And not worthy of a King, for these subjects were not always trusting or loyal.

Yet, Jesus ministered to his disciples before His final hour. His hands touched their feet and cleaned them in a parallel of what was to come. His body, becoming their sin, dusty, unattractive, not worthy, but cleansed by the touch of a servant-King sacrifice.

Peter could not handle this. And, I say that we are Peter, too. We cannot handle His healing touch on our feet and to those who say that we can, I call out your pride. It is a lie. For, if we could, than we would not need Him; we would not need His healing touch.

And oh, how we do.

Today, let us remember that the greatest challenge in our humanity, in our walk, is in allowing Jesus to touch our dirty feet. I am not speaking of before we knew Christ. The disciples knew Christ; they were His closest friends.

I am speaking of the after. We are eternally cleansed, but our feet still touch dusty roads. They are tinged and sooted with the dirt of unrepented sin, bitterness, pride, anger, pain, and distraction.

Jesus would like to come and wash our feet but will we allow him to? Will we allow him to soothe away our pride, heal our pain, cleanse our wounds, humble our pride?

ON this Maundy Thursday, may we remember that evil roars like a lion in wait, pouncing, hiding, and preparing. But there is hope in sight, for our Servant King will not allow us to be ill-equipped. Jesus, taking care of our greatest needs, feeds us in our weakness. He kneels before us, washing our travel-weary, sin-exhausted feet.

And most importantly, He goes out and dies for us. It’s not the earthy victory we understand, but its the heavenly victory God has understood for us. And now, we can get up and truly walk on the road to Easter Sunday. Even though failure, through rejection of Jesus, through loss, we will find Jesus there! On the other side of Easter, we will find Jesus there. For He has burst through the grave and defeated the last enemy – death forever crushed!

ON this Maundy Thursday, let us remember the dark but rejoice for the light. Let us see our sin but remember the cross! And lastly, let us sit to rest with Jesus but not hide our feet from Him. He has come to wash them…and we would do well to surrender them.

Despite All Things, Redeemed

Brave.

Fearless.

Warrior.

Courage, my heart.

For some reason, those words popped into my brain, a vision of letters somehow engraved into thin air…..

And I thought of every bar necklace, every t-shirt, every coffee mug that stands boldly with declaration of intent.

BRAVE

FEARLESS.

I wonder….what if we actually held the sign of our truths? What would mine be?

Fearful….

Afraid….

Insecure…

Anxious….

Lonely….

Regretful….

Not all at once, but sometimes and many times…too many times.

I am a vessel of many feelings, fear probably the strongest and most deceptive of all. Oh fear….what death is born from your whispers!

And,

The older I become, the more this truth empowers me, rushing through my veins and carrying me through unpredictable, volatile, HEAVY, storms:

That

despite all things, I am REDEEMED and living in a yet-to-be-fully-explored FREEDOM, and THIS is the fulfillment of ANY dream, EVERY hope, and where my humanity and eternal JOY collide.

The fear of the unknown?

The devastation of fairy tales ruined?

Rejection and betrayal?

More specifically:

When my marriage is in the desert place, due to our neglect, and as we rebuild, we wait, hand in hand, for the rains? I am still redeemed.

When miscarriage upon miscarriages reveals the betrayal of body to heart? I am still redeemed.

When rejection from family turns spring into winter, chilling your very insides into a frozen congealed mass of tears ready to BREAK out. I am still redeemed.

When anxiety paralyzes and handcuffs and whispers and rages and threatens and tries to re-identify you. I AM STILL REDEEMED.

In the valley of death...I AM STILL REDEEMED.

And this is my and YOUR greatest JOY – the horizon of HOPE waiting …….

THIS is what I believe. And this is what has carried me.  THIS has redefined me and EVERY relationship, my marriage, my perspective, my PEACE and has EMPOWERED me to survive with my mental and spirtual health not just intact, but strengthened. Stronger.

The beauty of redemption is that it changes FEAR into PEACE.

I am redeemed. Today, and forever, redeemed. And I seize that as my biggest WIN, my brightest JOY and my driving HOPE.

I am redeemed. Despite all things, redeemed. We are redeemed. Through all things, redeemed!

 

Thank you, JESUS

The Unshed Tears Of A Military Child

“I can see them. As we read books together before bedtime, I see them. I see the side of her mouth trembling a little, just like her dad’s does, keeping it all in because in this world,  STRONG is what we teach.

As we read, I go over the day in my mind:

  • The 3 times she broke out into weeping, the prayer we prayed in carpool, the goodbye, the dropping her off at school, the text to her wonderful teacher asking to keep a tender eye on her…..
  • The alarms I set on my phone to remind me to pray for her and myself, too…..
  • The more than 5 times she broke out into tears over small things, so small I don’t even recall what they were…
  • The arguing over her not doing her chores and the inevitable consequences…
  • The letter she wrote me, apologizing and explaining that she feared she would never be able to be a good girl because she isn’t strong when her daddy is gone…
  • The tugging of my heart and the sheer panic rising as I calmly try to determine the next step….
  • The walking of the tension between punishment and grace…..

And then, in a blink of an eye, I’m back to reality and I see them. Fluid waters of grief held at bay, they are.

Unshed tears, they are.

All of a sudden, my heart is squeezed with pain over what I cannot undo, over what I cannot fix. I see the unshed tears; I wonder what is keeping them in and than it hits me. She doesn’t want to disappoint me. She wants to be a strong little girl even though her emotions are wild and confusing and overwhelming.

Where did she get that? Why does she think that? How did this happen?

Even in this sudden realization, I know that there is nothing I could have done or not done to prevent her from exercising her will. After all, she is her own being, and this is her world. Dad is gone, mom is running the show, and even though she loves mom, her world is rocked every single time he has to leave.

And so, she weeps and she cries, but the time comes,  even for an almost 8 year old, where she chooses to leave her pain untended to so she can experience something – anything – else besides it.

As she reads to me, I wonder,

Why do we teach being STRONG with such fervor? If anything, maybe we should forget about being strong and just try to be TRUE. Maybe, we should  pay attention and tend to the unshed tears around us…in our families, in our communities, in our sons and daughters….our sweet military children in their untended grief.

We should! I should!

You know, I don’t know a lot about how to be a “great” mother. Who really does? But, I do know this. I will notice her tears…shed and unshed. And I will welcome them.  I will love her and I will be here, standing in the void, every time her dad leaves….wiping away all those shed and unshed tears. I will tend to her in her pain, and help her carry the burden of unspoken grief and separation from family. “

Guys…this is just a small little snapshot of my normal life.

However, it is not just my life. There are so many of us military families with struggles that are specific to our subculture. I can tell you through veteran eyes that it is difficult and that there is truly very little support. But the world has enough stories about people like me…..Not saying mine isn’t important. NO, not at all.

But, I challenge you to think about the child, the children, of military parents. As adults, we know how to function and we aim to protect our children. But there are realities we can’t always protect them from.

  • Mom or dad may be going to war or already there….
  • They may friends who have lost a parent in the line of duty…
  • Mom or dad may go TDY a lot …
  • Mom or dad may work insane hours because manning is low and the reality is that military members do not have the option to keep their family first…..AND
  • The kid starts to learn about war in school and the revelation hits them that mommy and/or daddy is in the military too and they could die…..

This,my friends,  it does more than affect our children. It helps form them, their dreams and their perspectives. Every story is different…but I am certain that the grief of missing mom or dad is the same….

This is the burden of the military child…

So that is one of many reason why I want to go to Brussels this summer. There in Brussels, on June 22nd, middle school children from every branch of the military all across Europe, will gather together at a camp sponsored by Jacob’s Generation. My team will be providing the music and stepping out as mentors during our time there.

I HOPe and I PRAY that I can be a light into their lives and that their stories will be heard. I pray that I can make a lasting impact, one where love really did pour out and fill up; fall down and lift up;  release and be received.

And I pray that each child will encounter the true, non-discriminating love of God, who promises to wipe every tear from our eyes, accepts us unconditionally, and knows what each tear drop carries- shed or unshed.

This is why I want to go; this is why I feel led to go…

Will you help me get there? Every donation is valuable; every prayer is cherished. Please partner with me as I prayerfully raise funds to minister to these very special, in need of love and tenderness, close to my heart, children.

https://www.gofundme.com/getAliciatoBelgium