His Grace is Better.

Grace: the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

Everything about who I am as a human being rages against the idea of grace.

I am stubborn. I was educated by the school of hard knocks as well as an inner city liberal arts university. I am a survivor of abuse and of being an abuser myself. I am an intelligent, independent minority woman who in many regards has had to fight tooth and nail to become the person I am today. I am passionate about Love and give everything that I can to those whom I love.

Grace conflicts with nearly everything on that list.

Grace is a gift. Grace is unjustified favor, and in other words, as a child of God, there is nothing I could ever do to earn it or lose it.

Grace is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received from God and for some reason that makes my soul bristle a bit.

Think about it all for a second…

The Son of God came down to this earth in the most lowly of ways– by being born in a filthy barn. He lived amongst the outcasts, healing the sick, loving the poor. He was not popular, glamorous, or concerned with pomp and circumstance as a “good king” should have been, and yet He was and is our Good King.

As one of His last acts of Love, he took the filthy bare feet of His disciples– the same feet that walked miles on end collecting dust, grime, slime, and excrement– and HE WASHED THEM.

Part of me has always understood the beauty of that picture– the Son of Man washing His disciples’ feet and urging them to go and do likewise to the people whom they met.

And maybe it’s because I have a strong stomach and a job history as a CNA, but washing the disgusting feet of others doesn’t bother me. Not literally and not figuratively. It’s what my God has called me to and I love to do it.

I love to serve and tangibly love on people, which is why I work where I do.

I love to sit across from students after they scream and cuss at me, after they throw furniture and break windows. I love it because I get to look them in the eye and tell them that there is nothing that they could do to make me love them less because of the love that Christ has given me for them.

And secretly? I love those moments because I slightly enjoy watching them squint their eyes in disbelief and squirm in their chairs.

They don’t ever get it, this grace that is being offered to them…

And honestly, I don’t either.

Because when it’s time for other people to extend grace to me or wash my feet– my feet that are bloodied from battle wounds at work, covered in salt streaks from my tears, and my own crap that I continuously walk in circles through, I recoil.

I pull my feet under myself and I refuse it.

Fuller, our Bible teacher, has been teaching this story from John in chapel. A few weeks ago, he announced at the beginning of chapel that he was going to wash the feet of all of the teachers. Panicked, I slipped into the back of the room. I’m wearing my running shoes. My feet probably smell terrible. This is totally not happening. There is NO WAY I’m letting him near my feet.

It was stupid, but I refused his act of grace, even though it was a chapel illustration. This being the same man whom I have cried in front of countless times over the years in staff meeting, my brother in Christ whom I literally trust with my life and process so many of life’s silly problems with.

I would let him see all of my baggage, wounds, and tears, but there was no way I was going to humble myself to let him serve me by washing my yucky feet.

(Thankfully in true DSS fashion, one of my advocates had a total meltdown and ran out of the room crying right as Fuller began to call the teachers forward. So naturally, I had to run out of the room after her. I thought I was off the hook from learning that lesson…Turns out I was wrong.)

Three weeks later, the phrase “Believe. Jesus is better.” came up so many times I could have sworn that everyone around me had been reading my mail.

At first, it came out of the mouth of one of my best friends, who just so happens to be on the other side of the world. Three hours later, it came from a friend in my Gospel Community at dinner. Two times in one day? I was willing to chalk it up to coincidence.

Then it came from my roommate… Then during worship at church… Then in a song an old friend sent me. Then during a theology class I’ve been attending on Monday nights. Jesus is better. Pray that your heart would believe.

The icing on the cake of “coincidence” came Tuesday afternoon when I stuck my hand into my mailbox and pulled out a maroon envelope addressed to me with no return address or explanation of where it had come from. The contents?

Jesusisbetter

Like a logical human being, I screamed and threw the letter on the ground upon reading it… And then I went to work on an unfruitful, mad hunt to figure out who sent the letter. Instead of answers, all that I got back were questions.

“How are you responding to this message?” one of my friends asked me after I rattled off my “Jesus is better” chain of events.

“I honestly don’t even know what to do. I don’t know what to think or how to feel or anything. I’m just overwhelmed…” I rambled through iMessenger, desperate for some sort of action I could take to understand this mess.

I do believe, God. I believe in You! I don’t know what the heck you want me to believe?! Something specific? Am I doing something wrong? What can I do to understand?! I sat and thought and thought…and thought.

In the midst of the stress that these last three weeks has caused me, I managed to spin myself into a tizzy.

“Hmmm… I don’t know, Kace. Maybe it’s more than an instruction but a confirmation. Maybe just to rest in the truth and lean into the truth that He is ALL you need.”

Great. Really helpful there bud, I thought snarkily as I read my friend’s text message, trying to process how to practically apply that to my life in addition to this Truth that “Jesus is Better”.

“You know, I can spin myself into a tizzy trying to figure this kind of stuff out…” He continued. “But then I recognize that by trying to figure out why something is happening, I lose focus on the One who is guiding me. Just turn and focus on Jesus… the rest will come.”

Mmmm good. So now I had a friend who was trying to wash my feet with Godly guidance and I was being told to stop working to figure it out and rest… Two more things that make my antsy, sinful heart twitch.

By the time last Thursday evening rolled around, the confusion, panic, and tizziness (I’ve decided that tizziness is a word; deal with it.) was piled just about as high as I could take it, but due to the nature of my month, I was fresh out of tears and emotional energy.

As I sat in rush hour traffic while trying to bust across town for parent/teacher conferences, the song “Jesus is Better” by Austin Stone Worship flipped on through the shuffle on my iPhone and I just about lost it.

“WHAT?!” I shouted in my car as I slammed my palm on my steering wheel. (Sidenote: Shouting in your car at a red light with all of your windows down? Yeah, not recommended… You’ll get some weird looks.) “WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME?!”

Stop working and running and spinning yourself into a tizzy. Just accept my Grace. My Grace is better than your works, so stop. Accept my Love and know that it will never fail when everything else does. Just accept it and stop trying to fight Me on it already. I am better. Just stop and let Me wash your feet…Let the people I have placed in your life wash your feet. Just stop, Kacy. Just stop and focus on Me…

 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Make my heart believe.

Adoption changes everything

“You must be so strong.”

“Adoption is the most selfless thing you could have done, you know, given the circumstances.”

“I can’t even imagine how hard that had to have been, even though they weren’t your biological kids.”

People say these words when they hear our story– the story of how we gave up lost …whatever happened with my godkids four years.

I don’t tell the story often because if you look at my life today, you probably wouldn’t guess that things used to be entirely different.

I also don’t tell our story often because unlike the people who try to console me, I simply don’t have words.

As a writer it’s frustrating when you can’t come up with flowery words for something you want to describe in detail, or when you can’t even think of a metaphor for the situation when you want to be more discrete.

There is no way I could ever describe the way my stomach churns every time I wonder if I made the right decision, testifying that my babies were better off in a home full of strangers than with the people they grew up calling their family.

There is no way I could explain the splintered feeling I get deep in my being whenever someone tosses a “you’re so strong” my way in regards to the adoption, and all I want to do is scream,NO, I’M NOT!! I’m a freaking mess over here. I just want my kids back.”

There are no words that even get close to expressing the feeling I experienced four years ago when I handed our case worker the brown paper bag containing Mary Ray’s 6th birthday presents– presents that she likely unwrapped in a family visitation room while she sat, confused and terrified, with her 2 year old little brother waiting to be placed in a foster home, just hours after the judge ruled that they would not be returning to the home they knew.

There is no synonym for brokenness or pain like that. 

I don’t have words that accurately describe the way that pain grips my heart when I think about someone else tucking my sweet Mary Ray into bed at night, let alone tonight, on the eve of her 10th birthday.

As I sit here and ruminate on the “selfless” aspect of adoption, all that crosses my mind is how selfish I really am– How desperately I want to know what my babies’ lives look like today, no matter the cost…

On days like today, the only words that come to mind, come in the form of questions:

Did they get goodnight kisses? Did their new mommy or daddy read them a bedtime story? Are they eating their vegetables? Does someone sing to them from the front seat of the car on the way home from school?

Do they know how desperately I long to read them stories from the Bible each night? Do they know their worth? Do they love Jesus? Do they know that Jesus loves them? Do they know that I love them?!

Do they even remember me?

Does Mary Ray remember the Build-A-Bear that was in that brown bag four years ago? Has she ever looked at its tag and read my phone number, wondering whose it was and why it was there?

I don’t know… And I may never know on this side of Heaven.

All that I do know, all that I cling to within this situation– this never ending battle with my selfish and broken momma heart– is Jesus.

Over the last four years of birthdays and Christmases, first and last days of school, and all the ordinary days in between, Jesus has been teaching me what adoption really is.

Yes, adoption involves pain because for there to be a need for adoption, there has to be a lack of something else– a lack of someone to be there to take care of you.

But adoption is so much more than the pain. Adoption is a display of Supreme Love because adoption was created by God Himself.

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Holy Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:14-19)

God understands the pain of those learning how to come to terms with earthly adoption; He gave up His Son, that we might have perfect union with Himself. He understands what it is to turn His face from His Son, for His good and the good of all man kind.

As my students make fun of me for saying, “Jesus knows, child.”

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

And just like I struggle to find words to tell the story of the two little humans who shaped me the most, there aren’t words for the type of beauty or grace that is found at the throne of God. There simply aren’t…

So while my heart grieves and I kneel before the throne, begging for my babies to know that they are loved by me if by no one else on earth, He has brought me to a new place this year. A place where I can cry out just one simple prayer:

“Lord, this year on her birthday, let my sweet baby girl know that she has been adopted by the most beautiful and glorious Father in the universe. For every ounce of my love for my babies fails in comparison to the ocean that is Yours.”

sweet

Happy 10th birthday sweet girl. I la-la-la-love you, no matter how many miles there are between us.

Being Made Whole

Abuse says a lot about a person. In some cases the abuser is crying out for help. In others, the abuser is attempting to make someone else cry in order to project the pain in their hearts onto someone else.

I went to school for a ton of different things (veterinary technician, English teacher, pre-med., film production, and theater acting, just to name a few) but I never went to school for psychology, so I can’t give you the exact explanation of what abuse says about an abuser.

I can however, tell you some of the things that abuse says to the abused.

Abuse says you’re worthless.

Abuse says you’re weak.

Abuse says you should be filled with shame for the part you have played within a certain situation.

Abuse says you deserve everything that has come your way.

Abuse says you are flawed.

Abuse says you are unlovable.

Abuse says you should keep your mouth shut.

Abuse says that the abuse will only get worse if you speak up.

Abuse says you’re the only one that feels this way.

For years I have foolishly listened to the things that my abuser(s) and abuse have spoken into my life.

But recently things have begun to change. Roughly a month ago, I felt God open the door for restoration and healing of some of the worst abuse in my past; abuse so dark and deep seeded that I had never told anyone about it. So when the opportunity for healing first came, my answer was a no brainer.

I said, “Oh hell no.” and slammed the door to healing shut, right in God’s face.

But true to His loving nature, the door swung back open less than a week later– A door which I promptly slammed shut once again… Only to have it swing back open yet again a few days after that…

Annoyed, it became fairly obvious to me that I was going to have to deal with my past.

For the first time in my life, I confided in a good friend about the abuse that riddled my past. For weeks I sobbed and screamed and was absolutely miserable as I worked to lay my pain and brokenness at the feet of Jesus.

Why are you making me walk back into this?! Why now?! Can’t we do this at a less stressful or more opportune time when I’m not trying to balance grad school, teaching, and having a social life? What the heck God!

What. The. Heck!

For the first time in years I was hit by wave after wave of depression and anxiety attacks, sometimes so vicious that I literally had to give myself a pep-talk just to get my tush out of bed in the morning or get out of my car and walk into work. Part of me was dying to talk about everything, but another part of me continued to listen to the voice lingering in the back of my head:

“Don’t say anything. No one will understand.”

And this is the state that I found myself in at the beginning of my students’ spring break leadership retreat– a trip that I was chaperoning.

In the days before the retreat, I began to second guess whether or not I should even go on the trip. After all, how was I supposed to lead a group of teenagers closer to God when I couldn’t even talk to God without spontaneously combusting? But against my better judgement, last Friday one of my co-workers and I packed two vehicles full of students and snow gear, and headed to Yampa, Colorado for a weekend away.

Fish&CrossRanch

On our first evening of the retreat, our students were all given the opportunities to tell their stories– the good, the bad, and the ugly of what had landed them at the Street School and how their lives had changed since becoming a Bulldog. After hours and hours of listening, laughing, and crying together, we called it a night and retired to our respective rooms.

As I was sitting on my bed reading, one of my girls came in, plopped down on my bed, and asked if we could talk. There, in a room 150 miles away from our homes and comfort zones, we exchanged pieces of our stories that had been shared with only a select few– stories of hope, pain, and the beautiful redemption of God. And in a way that only God can do, a piece of my heart was healed that night– the piece that had long been kept isolated by the fear of my past.

The next evening after dinner and group Bible Study, I felt a pull on my heart to share my story– the very same story that I have kept under wraps for over a decade. As all of my students were going to bed, I called an “emergency girly meeting” and all of my girls congregated in my room. In possibly the most clumsy and panicked way, everything I had been holding in for weeks came pouring out. At the end of my bizarre spew of words and tears, I looked up to see all of my girls staring at me with wide eyes.

Terrified, I tried to adjourn our meeting. Telling them that I didn’t know why I felt like God was telling me to say all that, but I was just trying to be obedient… and yeah… that they could all go back to their rooms if they wanted… or that they could stay and talk… or hangout… or whatever…

As I sat there and rambled, I expected them all to hop up and walk out, but no one moved. I tried yet again to adjourn the meeting, stumbling over even more awkward words.

Still nothing.

Slowly, after a few more moments of awkward silence that made me want to crawl out of my own uncomfortable skin, variations of the phrase “me too” were echoed throughout the room and the stories that had been shared the night before were expanded upon. Stories that we had all held in for years, out of fear of judgement or misunderstanding, became common ground and “No one will understand” became “I understand and I promise to walk beside you through this.”

And there, in the basement of the Fish and Cross Ranch, through tears, laughter, and stories God began to heal the hearts of five of His beautiful, beloved daughters.

Abuse tells us to keep our mouths shut– that our stories aren’t important, that no one will understand. But this weekend through the grace of God I learned that is the exact opposite of the truth.

How beautiful is it that He has blessed us with community, so that we never have to walk through life silent or alone?

Through Him, all things are made whole.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

~Psalm 147:3

Perfect Weakness

I’m a hypocrite when it comes to counseling.

If working with students who have been victims of abuse has taught me one thing, that would be it.

You can ask any one of my students and they’ll tell you that I am all about sitting on floors in empty hallways and letting them verbally process their lives and trauma when they can’t focus in class or simply are having an “off” day.

I do this so frequently with some of my kids that last week one of them sweetly asked me, “Miss, don’t you ever get tired of listening to stories about other peoples’ lives?”

And the truth is that I don’t. I love that part of my job the most. I love sitting on floors, listening, hugging, and reassuring them that they can bring anything to me in confidence.

But when it comes down to it, I’ve realized that I’m terrible at doing this myself.

Oh sure, I can hold a deep conversation with my girl friends about God, love, and what life is like today and what it might be like ten years from now… But there are some things that I simply am too afraid to verbalize, even though I know that I would be speaking in confidence with my closest friends on their bedroom or kitchen floors.

I suffer from crippling anxiety. About ninety-five percent of the time, you wouldn’t know this simply by looking at me; God has truly done miraculous work to bring me out of this through the last few years… But over the course of the last week, it has returned.

I know exactly what triggered it and I know that my inability to talk openly about the source with the people closest to me is only feeding into my anxiety and the accompanying restlessness and insomnia.

Every night for the last week I have had nightmares. I’ve woken up in tears; restless and fearful for my safety and obviously less than rejuvenated to face the day ahead.

Deep down I know that I need to speak up, for my own sanity, for the sanity of the thousands of people like me, but when I open my mouth to explain what I’m currently feeling or what I felt five, seven, or even nine years ago… Nothing comes out.

It’s like fear has me by the neck and I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe because I’m afraid of being judged. I’m afraid of people not believing me. I’m afraid that the nightmares and panic attacks won’t go away if I say something– if it becomes ‘real’ again. I’m afraid of the repercussions of the truth.

I’m simply afraid.

And to be honest, as a Christian woman, I’m a bit ashamed that I have let fear root so deeply in my heart.

In my heart I know that “Perfect Love casts out all fear.”

I’ve memorized the lyrics to the Chris Tomlin song and know that I have no one to fear because my God is “for” me.

I have read and re-read all of the verses in the New Testament that talk about God overcoming fear with His loving & powerful Spirit, and yet, I still laid on my bed tonight with my blanket over my face trying to remember how to breathe.

But tonight, as I laid there, I realized something.

This can’t be the way that I handle this any longer. I can’t just “wait” for these feelings to fade away, as I have in the past when they’ve risen up and taken over my life.

I can’t continue to allow myself to pretend like I’m perfectly healthy at work while I am waking myself up at night from screaming in my sleep.

This has to stop.

So students, if you’re reading this, know that you have inspired me to seek help. Your strength and openness has taught me that I can’t continue living like this, even if it is only for a few weeks at a time every few months, or years.

Anyone else reading this, I would genuinely appreciate your prayers over the next several days, weeks, and months. I know that whatever “this” is, that the healing process is going to be messy.

Speaking up is going to make me weaker than I already am, yet becoming weaker is a pre-requisite for becoming stronger in this case. Through this I will not become stronger on my own, or stronger because I will be “healthier” in the long run. No. I will be stronger because I will have laid my greatest fear down in front of God and said, “This is Yours because I can’t carry this burden on my own anymore.” And He will become my strength.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2 Corinthians 12:9)

“Turn the other cheek”

Happy-New-Year-2014

I’m typically not big on New Year’s resolutions, or really the concept of “starting fresh” when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st/January 1st. Maybe I’m too cynical or too much of a realist, but the whole thing just seems silly to me, because deep down we all know that nothing resets when the clock chimes. I mean seriously people, we’re not Cinderella & this is not a Disney movie. (If my sister is reading this, I can guarantee that she is semi-frowning right now… Sorry Cam.)

Anyway, several years ago I went out to lunch with two of the wonderful women that I have the privilege of working with at the Street School. Both of them are older than me; one is in her late 50’s with children around my age and the other is in her early 40’s with kiddos in elementary school and junior high. As I sat and listened to them talk, Carey (the one with the younger kids) mentioned that she had a word for the year, and at that point her word was “war” because of all of the battles she felt like she was going through to come out a better mother, wife, and woman of God. (P.S. She’s also a phenomenal author, blogger, and life coach. Check her out here!)

That afternoon I sat in our booth at Chili’s, listening to the conversation and I got to thinking: If I had a word for each year, what would it be?

At the time, it was near the end of 2011, which was by far one of the roughest years of my life. Henceforth my word for the remainder of that year became “survival”.

In 2012, I followed suit and my word was “rebirth”. When 2013 rolled around I felt like my word was supposed to be “growth”.

Looking back on the last three years, I can see exactly where those words came into play in my life and shaped me into the woman I am today. When the clock struck midnight and drew 2011 to a close, my sister and I both looked at each other and burst into tears, gasping, “I survived. We survived. I never thought it would be over, but it is.” Slowly, 2012 brought rebirth into my life through my move back to the city, truly reconnecting with God, and establishing myself within two healthy, growing Christian communities. In 2013, God pushed me to my limits spiritually, personally, and professionally, and from that came growth that I never would have fathomed last January.

So this week, as I sat and prayed about what my word was on New Year’s Eve, I instantly knew that 2014 was going to necessitate a phrase instead of a single word: Turn the other cheek.

By no means would I consider myself an outright angry or hostile person anymore (Thanks for fixing that one Jesus). However, when my personal and familial life went to crap at the beginning of Christmas vacation, I realized that I suck at turning the other cheek. When I am verbally attacked and pushed and put down and then attacked some more, I start off calm and collected, ready to turn the other cheek, but eventually I snap and attack back… and it’s bad. I’m quick with my speech and if I don’t intentionally use my powers for “good instead of evil”, well, things get REALLY messy REALLY quickly. Maybe this is a byproduct of the culture I was raised in, or maybe it’s just human nature, but either way I have realized that harsh words in response to harsh actions are unfruitful.

So this year, I am making Matthew 5:38-42 my mantra:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

This year I am going to learn to hold my tongue, smile, and let God do me fighting for me. Even if it kills me, I will be nicer to those who persecute me and cut me down. I will love people; I’m not giving myself an alternative. It’s not going to be easy, but I know that it has to be done in order to save my floundering relationships and rebuild ones that have completely fallen apart.

Where is God working on your heart? What will your word be for 2014?

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)