Posted by: karanoel | September 22, 2022

A helpful alarm

If you look on my phone, you will find all sorts of alarms scheduled to alert me to various activities. The obvious one is my morning alarm that makes sure I am awake to get Chase fed and ready for the school day; one I’m particularly dependent on after transitioning from summer when I was free to start the day whenever my body deemed it pleasing. But I also set alarms to remind me to pick up Chase from school at varying times depending on the day of the week, as well as for his extra-curricular activities (and mine) which I’ve been known to completely blank on without a reminder. 

But, after embracing this idea of alarm setting, I still had a problem.  Sometimes my phone would be ringing its chimes at the top of its lungs in a clear attempt to tell me something, but I would stare blankly at it, having no clue what that might be and hoping it wasn’t important. Or I would talk to it in bitter tones, feeling exasperated with its constant demands and saying things like “I don’t know what you want from me!” Very mature, I know. So I began naming my alarms so that when those aggravating chimes sound off, I’m able to look at the screen, know exactly what I’ve intended to do with that block of time and carry on with it. Considering my weakness in the area of time management, this has been such a helpful tool.

A conversation with my mom yesterday gave me a whole new application of this concept. It was the idea that a particular struggle could serve as an alarm to help us remember something specific and useful. I can think of so many things that could work as that aggravating intruder to the flow of our day – anxiety, anger, fatigue, depression, self-pity, temptation, among a host of others. These can all be very loud in their demands, but I think we can agree they aren’t typically helpful, creating nothing more than confusion or frustration. 

But what if we identify a potential purpose for that alarm – a label, if you will – so that it becomes a productive part of our lives? If instead of using it as a reminder to pick up a kid from school, we use it as a reminder to pick up a piece of truth? Would this weakness not then become a strength in its own way?

The big, blaring alarm for me is usually tiredness. Without going into the history of why I have such a dramatic response, suffice it to say that it is a discomfort that interrupts my peace, propels me into a state of fear that I will not have enough or that I will not be enough, and makes me want to run toward places of comfort and self-reliance. Sometimes those fear-based choices create their own fall-out, further undermining my ability to get the rest I need and numbing me enough to prevent dealing with the fear behind the fatigue, which is by far the bigger problem. Not to mention the hopelessness that sometimes rises up, saying things like “this will always be a struggle” or “I’m a loser for feeling or being this way.”

So yeah, wow, that’s not super helpful. But if I determine ahead of time that whenever my tiredness alarm starts blaring, I will use it as a reminder to speak truth to myself and invite the Lord into that moment with me, then this struggle I loathe might just become the catalyst I need. I might have to get back to you on the exact messaging of my alarm, but I think for now it’s going to be, “It’s okay to be tired. There is nothing to fear. I have all that I need. Lord, will you be my rest and my strength?” Even if I’m double-fisting Diet Cokes and feeling the panic rise, I am still going to declare what is true, invite the Lord in and carry on with the good things He has intended for this beautiful life He’s given me. 

Is there an alarm in your life that could be used to remind you to pick up truth? Is there a specific truth that would speak to the heart of your struggle? Would you be willing to invite the Lord into that struggle, even if you are in the middle of behaving in a way that feels ungodly? I am obviously in the middle of walking this out myself, so feel free to share any suggestions you may have!

Posted by: karanoel | September 17, 2022

A love note from heaven

Hi friends. I just posted yesterday, but something hit me last night that I can’t help but share today.

Chase and I have been reading the book Wonder each evening before bed. It is a fictional account of Auggie, a 5th grade kid with severe facial deformities who is foregoing homeschooling to attend school for the first time. His is the kind of face that shocks people when they see it for the first time and occasionally makes kids scream in terror. Because of the obvious self-consciousness arising from this perfect storm of genetic abnormalities, he had taken to wearing an astronaut helmet that was given to him by his sister’s friend. It hides his shame and gives him an empowering alter-ego. But the helmet was lost, leaving him exposed and vulnerable.

Near the end of the book, after Auggie has experienced both the pain and beauty of putting his uncovered self out there and the resulting transformation and realization that he belongs, this conversation with his dad takes place:

“Good God, I hated that thing,” he laughed, almost more to himself.

“I was so bummed when it got lost,” I said.

“Oh, it didn’t get lost,” he answered casually. “I threw it out.”

“Wait. What?,” I said. I honestly didn’t think I heard him right.

The day is beautiful, and so are you,” he was singing.

“Dad!” I said, turning the volume down.

“What?” he said.

“You threw it out?!”

He finally looked at my face and saw how mad I was. I couldn’t believe he was being so matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I mean, to me this was a major revelation, and he was acting like it was no big deal. 

“Auggie, I couldn’t stand seeing that thing cover your face anymore,” he said clumsily.

“Dad, I loved that helmet! It meant a lot to me! I was bummed beyond belief when it got lost – don’t you remember?”

“Of course I remember, Auggie,” he said softly. “Ohh, Auggie, don’t be mad. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t stand seeing you wear that thing on your head anymore, you know? I didn’t think it was good for you.” He was trying to look me in the eye, but I wouldn’t look at him.

“Come on, Auggie, please try to understand,” he continued, putting his hand under my chin and tilting my face toward him. “You were wearing that helmet all the time. And the real, real, real, real truth is: I missed seeing your face, Auggie. I know you don’t always love it, but you have to understand…. I love it. I love this face of yours, Auggie, completely and passionately. And it kind of broke my heart that you were always covering it up.”

As I read this aloud, my heart ached with the truth of it and my eyes welled up with tears, because just like Auggie, I needed to hear it. To know that my heavenly Dad looks at me with this kind of loving affection. Not because he feels sorry for me and wants to show pity. Or because there are parts of me he can find that aren’t so ugly. Or because someday I will get it right and turn into a beautiful swan, or at least become closer than I am now. But because he thinks I’m beautiful as I am. He loves to look at me and to be with me. Not in a tolerating kind of way but with delight. And it breaks his heart when I hide and reject who I am and refuse to look in his eyes.

I don’t know if you have felt weak, ugly and unworthy in some way, whether it be inside yourself or out, but I hope you too can receive this love note from heaven. You are worthy and acceptable and beloved and beautiful – not “if” or “when” – but right now, in the midst of your weakness and ugliness. Because your heavenly Dad, the creator of heaven and earth is saying, “I know you don’t always love yourself, but you have to understand… I love you. I love you, completely and passionately. And it breaks my heart when you hide.” 

So let us drop our walls and defenses and hiding spots. And all the judgments we’ve made against ourselves and the fear of rejection. And all the things we do to make ourselves acceptable. Let’s let him wash away the shame and renew our vision toward ourselves. Let’s let him love us. Because there’s nothing he wants more. And if our truest hearts could talk, they would say there’s nothing we want more either.

Posted by: karanoel | September 16, 2022

A shift in focus

When talking with a friend at the dog park last month, we briefly touched on the topic of our school age kids not being super goal-oriented. I joked about how Chase clearly inherited from me his focus on “enjoying the ride” rather than getting anywhere in particular, and then we moved on and talked about other things. But after Sunny had exhausted her energy and I hopped in the car to head home, I found a little ember from the conversation smoldering in my mind. “Are there any goals you’d like to set this year?,” I asked Chase later that evening. “Yeah,” he responded, “I could think of a few.” “So could I,” I said.

Chase quickly made a list of goals which mostly had to do with things he’d like to achieve in Minecraft, as well as a few real-life ones related to swimming and a language arts software he uses for school. I tried to keep my list fairly simple and focused on the things that are in my heart to do, but often get neglected as time gets away from me. Write one blog post a week. That’s doable, right? Write one rough draft chapter of a memoir each month. Still daunting to someone such as myself who’s never written a book, but not impossible. Make time to have meaningful connections with the people in my life. Yep, that’s gotta matter. I also added some projects I’ve wanted to complete and gave myself a generous deadline for each one.

This might not surprise anyone who has not just rolled along like myself, but wow, it feels like my whole life has been reoriented. I mean, it mostly looks the same from the outside. I still take morning walks, care for my household, meet up with friends, try to get some writing done. But each day now bears a focus and purpose that is serving to crowd out some other activities that weren’t bad, but maybe weren’t the best use of time. A case in point…

A favorite indulgence of mine is a leisurely wander around one of my favorite stores, usually followed by a purchase of a few (very reasonably priced) items that catch my eye. But then I usually need to return at least one of these items, which leads me to back to the store for another wander, at which time I buy a few more things and the cycle continues. Well, one day last week, I had returns to make at Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx, both favorites that can swallow me whole. Chase was at school. I had no firm commitments that day and had the time to mosey around these stores and see if there was anything else I “needed.” Oh happy day! 

“Except,” I told myself, “if you do that, you won’t get the rest of your errands done before picking Chase up. Which will delay the writing you planned to do tomorrow and the project you were going to finish the following day.” In no time at all, the weightier matter won out and get this… I arrived at my favorite stores, got in line, returned the items and left. I mean what??!! I didn’t know this was even an option!

The interesting thing is that I’d been hoping for a while to be spending less money on things that don’t really matter, as well as to be spending less time on mindless distractions, but wasn’t really gaining any traction (unless you count my irritating, fruitless statements about wanting to change my habits). But as my focus shifted toward the things I actually want to accomplish, along with an honest assessment of the time I have to do them, the lesser things started getting squeezed out without much fanfare or effort. 

Let me clarify, though: This post is not about goal-setting. It’s not about striving. It’s not about feeling bad for having distractions or about filling every hour of your day with something meaningful. I am still spending time on my phone and watching TV and will certainly allow myself some delicious wanders through Marshall’s. This post is about focus. When we focus on what matters, rather than on what we want to change, a shift happens and transformation is the natural byproduct. 

If you’ll follow me just a little further. I have some far more significant struggles than wasting time. Sometimes I feel stuck in a cycle of behaviors that don’t line up with my beliefs. The more I try to do better, the more stuck I seem to get. But so many times, when my focus has gotten shifted onto who the Lord is in all of His wholeness (instead of on me and my brokenness), the suction of sin just seems to break and it loses its hold on me for the moment. I mean, I’ll be listening to my audio Bible while I’m doing housework or gardening – not even really paying attention – when I’ll find that the pressing need to self-medicate decreases or evaporates. Or, I’ll listen to a grace-filled sermon on a walk or read a truth-filled book before bed and find a calm over my previously agitated mind. When these moments are strung together and my focus really gets captured, the whole atmosphere of my life is transformed into one that feels propelled forward by hope… pretty much effortlessly.

This doesn’t happen because I’m being “good” or doing spiritual things. God isn’t granting me some kind of special favor as He sees me crack the Bible or listen to worship. That will never, ever be the case. But there’s no escaping the fact that when we turn our focus toward Him, our hearts are captured for the things that really matter; the things that will bless our lives and those around us. And when that happens, the lesser things naturally get minimized in their significance and their pull. And as it continues to happen we find ourselves moving forward, without stress or strain, in freedom and purpose. I’m guessing this is why Paul says in Philipians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Does this make any sense? I’m hoping so. Anyways, there you have it. With my weekly blog post done, I should probably move onto the next very important task at hand: Lunch!

Posted by: karanoel | September 9, 2022

The gift of weakness

John and I were watching a show the other night called Help! I Wrecked My House. The episode’s home was set in our very own town of Tustin where the new owners, a young couple who were very proud of their purchase, thought they could save money by doing their own renovations. The guy was a welder by trade and good with his hands so it made sense that he, along with help from his enthusiastic girlfriend, could figure out how to replace the dated flooring and cabinets and knock down an unwanted wall or two. 

After ripping out the kitchen floor and attempting to knock down a pesky wall before turning their attention to the cabinets, the couple made the difficult discovery that welding expertise, even when paired with hard work, enthusiasm and good intentions, does not translate to construction know-how. They ran into problems they didn’t know how to handle, leaving a mess in their wake and making their house uninhabitable. 

This is when they sought help from designer and builder, Jasmine Roth. “This is worse than I was expecting,” she said as she walked through the disaster zone. She then proceeded to point out the damaged subfloor and the potentially catastrophic dangers they had exposed themselves to, like the live electrical wires in the wall they were sledgehammering or the gas line they neglected to turn off when attacking the cabinets. Oops.

Fortunately, Jasmine was not daunted by the task at hand because she is trained and experienced in home renovations and has a team of knowledgeable people who provide the additional labor and expertise she needs to get the job done safely and effectively. The couple had come to the right place for help, which was proven by their great joy when seeing the finished project and getting to move into a sound and very beautiful home that will now serve them well. 

Here’s the thing that struck me. There was no shame in this couple trying to tackle this task on their own.  Yes, they came up way short of their goal and it probably felt like a huge failure. But the process of trying to do it on their own led them to the knowledge of their limitations and a realization of their need for help. And because they had the humility and courage to act on that realization, rather than giving up on the hope of a livable house or continuing to make things worse with their own renovations, they ended up with results that were far superior to anything they would have been able to achieve on their own – even if things had gone more smoothly. And I’m guessing they learned a lot in the process that they can now use for the benefit of others undertaking similar projects.

Which got me thinking. We have a culture that places an incredibly high value on independence, as well as personal strength and achievement. We generally see weakness and failure as something we should avoid at all costs and hide if it presents itself. But what if it is one of the greatest gifts we could ever receive? What if it is the very thing that lands us in the exact place we wanted to be?  “How?,” you may ask. By enabling us to see the limitations of our own ability. 

You see, it isn’t usually until we’ve tried – and failed – to create joy, peace, security or freedom for ourselves that we realize that we just don’t have what it takes. It is a heartbreaking realization as we survey the time lost, the damage we’ve done or the apparent impossibility of the task ahead. We could easily get stuck there, disheartened and depressed, as we continue to try – and fail – to make things better or give up altogether. But this honest moment of acknowledged weakness could also be the birthplace of hope; where we humble ourselves and ask for help. Where we seek out people who are trained or experienced in what we are walking through. Where we call out to God who is not daunted by the task of “you” or the mess you’ve created, but sees your weakness as the most pleasing canvas to demonstrate His love and ability. Where lives that were simply lacking or were all-out disaster zones become more sound and beautiful than anything we could have accomplished it on our own; lives that serve us well and teach us how to serve others well. 

This is good news! It means our struggles are not the end of our journey; just a necessary beginning. So let us stop resenting our weakness and being ashamed of our failures, but instead be thankful for this very privileged place, humble ourselves and seek out the help we need. 

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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Posted by: karanoel | September 2, 2022

Unexpected collapse

Last month, after stuffing our car with gear until it resembled a giant, bloated tick, we set off to join a few other families for a camping trip in Malibu. Only a couple hours later, we pulled into the beautiful loop that held our campsite. Nestled beneath a host of sycamore trees with a collection of hills on one side and the gleaming Pacific on the other, we were very excited to get settled and explore.

We were also excited to use our tent for the first time; one we had purchased right after a pre-pandemic visit to Yosemite in a small tent that had us feeling very cramped. We might have overreacted since we bought this enormous, twelve-person tent with three separate rooms for our very small family of two adults and one featherweight child. But our palatial abode was glorious and went up more quickly and smoothly than any tent we’ve ever used. We then filled it with air mattresses and comfy quilts. So much for roughing it!

Our mornings were spent hiking or mountain biking or just enjoying some quiet time at the campsite. Our afternoons were spent at the beach with the whole gang where we whiled away the hours talking and playing before heading back to camp to clean up and make dinner. Apart from the perpetual presence of yellow jackets and surprisingly strong gusts of wind, it was a pretty ideal getaway.

But one evening, just before dinner, John and Chase were in the tent getting changed when a particularly strong gust blew through, collapsing the whole expansive thing right on top of them. After extricating Chase and himself from the tent’s innards, John confirmed that one of the poles had snapped right at the joint, where it could not be taped back together. Not the best news, especially with a few nights of camping to go and no desire to leave so soon.

One of our friends – our own, personal MacGuyver – took a look, got a glimmer in his eye and said, “I have an idea.” After dinner, all four men in our group, as well as a helpful neighbor, hoisted up our tent by using paracord to tie it to the large sycamore branches above. We were overjoyed by this success and enabled to enjoy the rest of our trip, yet baffled by what went wrong in the first place.

Last week, John received the replacement pole he had ordered and spent a good bit of time getting it fixed and set up in our backyard. While we were assessing its soundness, we came across a warning label we had previously overlooked. It stated, “Secure the guylines to help prevent the tent from collapsing in inclement weather. Failure to do so may result in personal injury or property damage and may void the warranty.” 

When I looked up the definition of guyline, a word I’d never heard before, I found it to be “a rope or cord that ties a tent wall to the ground, serving as additional structural support to keep the tent body anchored into the ground and upright—especially important in inclement weather, like a rainstorm, snow, or heavy winds.” The Curated author adds, “If nothing else, you want a stable shelter!” Um, yes. Yes, I do.

So it turns out that we could have prevented the unfortunate collapse if we had taken this step. The good news is that we have guylines because they were actually included with the tent and we now understand their importance. So you’d better believe will use them whenever we set up… whether the wind is blowing or not, because you never know what’s coming.

This was a first for me in regards to camping, but I have had my life collapse on me more than once. Guess I missed (or disregarded) the warning label that God’s “guylines” were there to protect me from the gusts that would inevitably blow through. I’m not the quickest learner so it took me a long while to grasp this concept, leaving me to deal with fallout far more disastrous than a deflated tent in Malibu. But that’s okay because God is patient and so very kind. He was gracious enough to hoist me up while I was broken, all the while teaching me about how much more secure my life would be if I would stake my life into His love and truth. 

I finally got it. Thank God! Because I have faced some very big, very intense storms since then. And I am happy to report that not one has knocked me down. I am still standing, enjoying this beautiful life with the brilliant sun above and the winds that come and go. And I have no desire – or need – to head home early.

If you are feeling blown about by life’s storms, near collapse – or maybe already collapsed  – and bewildered about what went wrong, take heart. There’s nothing more the Lord wants than to teach, strengthen and protect you so that you can confidently inhabit your tent and have no fear of any wind or storm. If it takes a while to accept His help or learn to trust, that’s okay too. But believe me when I say it will be so worth it when you do!

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

Posted by: karanoel | August 26, 2022

Hold onto hope

Hello! I’ve missed connecting with you and pray you are well. I am still savoring the full, rich, people-filled summer we’ve had, but am also so happy to be here, in my sweet little writing shed, to get some thoughts down for the first time in a very long while. What I’d love to share today is a palm-full of hope to those who have experienced loss or, really, pain of any kind. 

The anniversary of Cole’s death swung around again this summer, as it seems to do every year. I’ve never wanted to make a big to-do about the specific date because I don’t want it to be forever memorialized in my heart as a bad day; one filled with sorrow and dread. Still, I know when it is. And the past few years have borne some struggle as that day approaches. This year, the fourth since his death, was different. I nearly forgot. I was reminded in the morning by an email from the Navy offering a kind remembrance, which instigated a moment of fear that I would now feel the weight of pain, but I didn’t. And the implications of that email were quickly forgotten as the day’s activities unfolded around me and then carried me off to bed. This does not guarantee me freedom from future struggle, but it was a gift that held hope.

When I first lost Cole, several people with personal experiences of loss told me that it would hurt forever. I certainly knew that it could; that it was the natural way of things. But it didn’t make sense to me in light of the God I serve. I had seen too much of His restoration in my life, from all the damage done by myself and others, to think that the damage done by Cole’s decision to take his life would be beyond God’s reach. When Jesus healed people in the Bible, they weren’t left with symptoms of their disease or brokenness or suffering. So I trusted that as God healed my heart from this loss, I would not be left with the symptom of pain.

So, when someone recently said, “You must hurt every single day,” I was able to answer that no, I don’t. Honestly, I don’t hurt most days. It’s not that I have forgotten Cole or shoved the memories of him into some far-off corner of my mind. And it’s not that I never hurt or cry or have days of longing as I continue to work things out with the Lord. But God has been so incredibly faithful in showing up in every moment of hurt, confusion and sorrow, healing me gently and expertly with His very presence, that I stand humbly astounded at the joy my life holds and at the hope I get to hold for others in their suffering. 

I offer up that hope to you today and challenge anything you’ve believed that says you’re stuck with pain for good. Because God loves to heal. There’s no pain too deep; no loss too devastating that He is not able – and willing – to pour His powerful, loving balm over and restore you to joy.

Posted by: karanoel | June 15, 2022

More fully you

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4 NLT

My mini sheepadoodle, Sunny, recently had a terrible ear infection. The vet had to put her under general anesthesia to clean out her ear and diagnose the problem, which turned out to be a foxtail that had somehow managed to lodge itself deep in her ear canal. He retrieved the weed and cleared out all signs of infection, sending us home with a healthy dog, a hearty bill and medication to reduce the inflammation. 

Two changes occurred as a result of the three-week round of steroids. The first was that Sunny’s notoriously picky eating habits and grazing style gave way to the ravenous horking down of anything we set before her. The second was that her energy dwindled dramatically, taking with it her need for puppy playdates, her constant demands to play frisbee and her bad habit of jumping on guests. This lazy ball of fur was our dream dog!

Except not really. I mean, we thought that’s what we wanted… a mellow, behaved dog. But Chase and I decided that while this version of Sunny was decidedly easier, we missed our dog. The one with the spunk and the joy; the one that challenges us and makes us laugh. Don’t get me wrong. I am beyond grateful for the mellowing that has happened since her boundlessly spastic days as a young puppy and for the improvements she’s made in her behavior, and I anticipate the future will hold more such maturing. But the joyful exuberance that vents in some unwanted ways is the very thing I love best about her and as it turns out, I wouldn’t be willing to trade it in for an easier time. 

I sent my brother a video of Sunny’s dog beach antics this week, commenting that she had gotten her spunk back and he thought it was hilarious that we had considered her downswing “boring instead of calm.” We chatted a wee bit on the topic of our newfound appreciation for her personality and then moved on with our day. What I didn’t realize was that I would walk away with a newfound appreciation for my own personality as well.

I was a hard kid. There were some good traits tucked in there, but they were heavily affected by my very headstrong and often selfish nature. Definitely not the kind of sweet, compliant kind a parent dreams of or that most anybody wants to be. Fortunately, my parents loved and appreciated me anyway, but I always resented myself for the way I made life so much harder for everyone, including myself.

When I became a Christian, I assumed it meant all my negative traits would become so whitewashed that God and the people around me would be gifted with a demure, well-behaved version of me… you know, kind of like drugged Sunny. Would I lose my spunk? Probably. But better than being destructive, right? It was a worthwhile cost, I figured, for being “good.”

Except that’s never what God wanted from me or expected me to be. Sure, maybe I would be an easier kid, but He would miss me – the passionate, determined me that He dreamed up before the foundations of the world. Even in the thick of my worst behaviors, he knew that the same traits that let off steam in destructive ways were going to be just the thing needed to bring Him joy and glory on this earth. Rather than muting or severing them, He longs to breathe life into them and train them into fulfilling their much-needed purpose. This seems like a daunting task to me, but fortunately I serve a God who is not only up to the challenge but enjoys nothing more. I mean, what better way to show His love and power than to take someone with such “difficulties” as me to delight in and use as a messenger of hope to a needy world?

In light of this, I want to encourage you to set aside any assessments or you’ve made about your identity, worth, usefulness or lovability based on something so trivial as your bad habits or behaviors. God delights in you! You bring Him joy! He has no interest in dumbing you down or making you more like someone else who is better behaved. Set those lies aside. He wants to breathe life into you and make you fully you. The bad habits won’t stay when your heart is released into the freedom of being loved as you are, but what you won’t do is so minor a point compared to what you will do as you begin to walk in the fulness of this Love. He has the ability. He has the patience. And trust me when I say He is not going to settle for anything less.

A video of Sunny in motion….

Sunny in motion 🙂
Posted by: karanoel | May 19, 2022

Mint & grief

A couple years ago, I planted mint in my herb garden. Having heard of its invasive properties, I kept it in its plastic pot, wrapped thoroughly in mesh fabric to block the drainage holes, and then dropped it into the soil. Having happily outwitted the plant, I triumphantly enjoyed its benefits for a long while. Then one day, I noticed mint leaves popping up a fair distance from where I’d placed the plant. Turns out that its roots had squeezed through the drainage holes, broken through the mesh and sent runners throughout my garden bed. So much for my cleverness! But I decided it was a good thing – a mercy, if you will – to see the leaves above ground since it helped me recognize and deal with the problem beneath the surface.

Not too long after that, this same concept played out in a different way. We had guests in town and there were some plans in the works one particular day. I’d already tempered my expectations for an outcome where everyone didn’t participate since that’s often the case, but I didn’t foresee the majority choosing to go elsewhere… without me, since the decision was made too late for me to alter my own commitment. I love these people dearly and fully understood their reasoning, but my special day felt hijacked. I usually try to put on a happy face and process my emotions privately, but my disappointment was evident to all as I headed out the door.

Before I’d even turned out of my neighborhood, a torrent of tears began and kept coming from what felt like an endless well of disappointment. A ways into the drive, I realized that this reaction seemed pretty extreme. I mean, it was a bummer, but certainly not worthy of this level of emotion. So I asked the Lord to show me what was actually going on. Out of His great kindness, He did.

The following day was the third anniversary of the death of my dear son, Cole. Not only had I wanted the outcome of his struggles to be different, but I also had expectations that it would be different. That God would rescue Cole like He had rescued me. That my surrender would result in the same beautiful way all my other surrenders had – in a delightfully happy ending. Sure, I had tempered my expectations, knowing that it had to be done in God’s timing and in His way, not mine. And I was certainly aware that suicide was a possibility. But ultimately I thought it would go in a different direction. And it very definitely did not. 

What the Lord showed me that day was that lingering disappointment from Cole’s death was planted in my heart. Because its invasive properties could not be kept in one little corner of my life, it had a life of its own beneath the surface and was now popping up a fair bit away from its entry point. I don’t think anyone would blame me for feeling disappointed and I had every right to let it stay, but clearly it was not serving me or my relationships well and I knew it had to go… every single root and runner. 

While I can’t rip disappointment out of my heart the way I uprooted my mint plant, I can recognize its destructive properties, agree with God that it does not belong (no matter how much I can justify its presence), and place it in His expert hands to uproot. This holy exchange is a powerful act of trust in God’s ability to bridge the gap between my hopes and my reality. I am always astonished at what He is able to do with this simple, but often difficult, step of surrender.

The thing that really stands out to me is what a mercy it was that my plans went sideways that summer day. While it’s not what I would have chosen, it helped me see above ground (my reactions) what was going on beneath the surface (my heart issues). Time alone in the car gave me space for cleansing tears and needed revelation that probably wouldn’t have come amidst a people-filled outing. As a result, I was able to step into more surrender and receive more healing. I can’t help but see God’s goodness in it all. 

In light of this, I want to encourage you to look at your difficult circumstances in a new light – as a place of discovery and hope, where the Holy Spirit can use your reactions to help you see what is hiding beneath the surface and hindering your freedom. As you yield your understanding and justifications, He will expertly uproot all that has been given room to roam but isn’t serving you well. I have no doubt that just as I have, you will see time and again that He does indeed use all things for our good and for His glory.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Posted by: karanoel | March 3, 2022

Stepping into freedom

Walking has been my primary form of exercise for a great many years, so it was a no-brainer to incorporate my puppy, Sunny, into my outings when we got her nearly two years ago. Several times a week during that time, we’ve made our 4 mile loop around the hills by our house, bonding, training and expending our energy. I would like to say that she is now perfectly trained and a dream to walk with, but alas no. While she has made strides, she still pulls on the leash to sniff bushes and mark mailboxes, or sometimes plants her feet because she would rather go home and catch frisbees. But that doesn’t mean our time together has been wasted.

A few months ago, instead of taking our normal neighborhood walk, I took Sunny to “dog beach” in Huntington where dogs are not only allowed on the beach, but where they are (at least informally) allowed to be off leash. At that point, I trusted her enough not to run down the beach and never come back (which would not have been true last year), but wasn’t sure how much self-control she would exhibit in this wide open world. To my surprise and delight, when I took her leash off, she clung to the spot immediately by my left leg – exactly where she is trained to be. As we continued our walk and she got comfortable, she ventured a little ways off to greet other dogs and play a bit – which was fine by me (get that energy out, girl!) – but she kept track of where I was and always returned to my side to rejoin me as I kept moving. If she got distracted, she came immediately when I called.

It is hard to describe the joy of this experience. This dog I love with me in my favorite place, with the sun shining down and the waves breaking; walking alongside me not because of a heavy hand on her leash (or because of any leash at all), but because of this sweet relationship we’ve developed and a level of mutual trust. Just heavenly, I tell you. We’ve had the pleasure of returning to dog beach several times now and I think it is safe to say that it is our favorite place to be. And while I certainly wouldn’t yet trust Sunny on a busy street, she remains far better off-leash at the beach than on-leash anywhere else. Which got me thinking about my walk with the Lord and some things He has been showing me lately.

There was a time when I desperately needed a leash – and some training. I had rebelled against pretty much all authority, hated boundaries of any sort and regularly put myself (and sometimes others) in harm’s way, nearly self-destructing in the process. When I was finally desperate and humble enough to submit to God’s authority, He lovingly took me under His wing and began to train me in His ways. We walked together each day, much like I’ve done with Sunny; nothing glamorous and certainly nothing that looked especially impressive. But a sweet relationship was established and trust grew as I came to see and know that God was not depriving me of any good thing… and that He had nothing but my very best at heart. Though I resisted some of the limitations, especially at first, I came to feel so safe with the knowledge that I couldn’t go too far because I would always sense the gentle tug pulling me back where I needed to be. 

The past couple years, I’ve been feeling a shift happening. It’s as if the Lord has driven me to the beach, taken off my leash and told me I was free to run and play. The implication is something like: “I know you trust me… and guess what? I trust you too!” Um great, but what if I don’t trust myself? I don’t think there is anything in life I’ve wanted more than freedom, but it scares me. After all, I didn’t make great choices with the freedom I had before. So honestly, part of me wants to stick to the leash and familiar paths, which feel safe and predictable. And also to the self-created boundaries, systems and formulas I’ve developed to regulate and control various areas of my life.

But control is just fear in disguise, which really isn’t something that benefits me, and God’s training was never meant to be the end-all. It was meant to foster relationship and prepare the way for freedom for me (and each of His kids). Not to run off and do our own thing as we have in the past, but to be in sync with this loving Master who delights in our company as we walk and run and play in this beautiful creation of His. It is heaven to Him to be with us; His absolute favorite place to be. So… if He trusts me enough to give me some space to run, then who am I to deny Him that pleasure? I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Posted by: karanoel | January 24, 2022

A crisis of pain

What started as fairly mild leg pain at the start of the year quickly became a searing pain that refused to let me sit or drive without the sense of being tortured. After assuming it was a recurrence of a self-diagnosed quad strain I suffered last summer, I changed my mind and re-diagnosed myself with a pinched nerve.

(Not my actual body!)

A visit to my chiropractor confirmed that it was indeed an issue with my back, not with the leg I’d been coddling, which was frankly very confusing given my complete lack of back pain. It is most likely a herniated disc, I was told; something not uncommon for someone my age as wear and tear catches up with our middle aged bodies. But that was little comfort to this interrupted version of my life when my days became centered around seeking help, avoiding pain and wrestling with discouragement over this new freedom-sucking reality.

I’m still waiting on an MRI so I can start physical therapy and learn to tend to the right body part in the right way, but after several chiropractic appointments, a fair bit of advil and ice packs and a good dose of caution, I am now feeling almost all the way better. I can sit in the car without crying – or even tensing up, and I’m hardly thinking twice about the existence of this issue. 

This is certainly something to cheer about… and believe me, I am. However, I am shocked at how quickly my passionate promises to “do whatever it takes!” waned as the crisis passed and the pain subsided. Even though I knew in my head the problem was not resolved, I felt a sense of relief that the ordeal was over and permission to return to the fairly careless way I’ve treated my back. If there is a clear path back to a crisis of pain, I’m pretty sure this is it. 

On the flip side, fear voiced itself with a general kind of paranoia (“Chase, stop slouching! It’s bad for your back!” “John, Don’t bend over while holding the microwave! You’re going to tweak something!”), as well as specific moments of panic that maybe I screwed something up again and will have to start the whole wretched process over (like the day I suffered dearly for pruning the garden).

But if I step back from the immature responses of panic and denial, I see that this has been a gift; an opportunity to humble myself before the Lord and others by admitting my weakness, my fear and my need for help. I received a diagnosis and care from a trusted doctor who was, unlike the medical team of myself and Google, actually qualified to treat me and impart necessary guidance. I received prayer from trusted friends that led me back into a place of rest and hope, and even chased away the pain, enabling me to see the beauty of asking for help and to experience God’s love in a powerful new way. And though I have only experienced a drop in comparison, I gained needed compassion for the people around me who are suffering.

These are things I want to hold onto; to continue to build on and be transformed by, rather than just breathing a sigh of relief and moving on. But I also want to do my best to keep myself from future moments of crisis by addressing this known area of weakness today… and next week… and next year. Not out of fear, but out of wisdom, so that I don’t get stuck in a constant cycle of pain and reaction. But following through on things like strengthening exercises, no matter how beneficial, is not a given, since self-discipline is a whole other kind of weakness for me. It will take more humility, help and prayer. But wouldn’t that be just like the Lord to use this thing the enemy meant for evil to grow me in an area where I’ve been longing for ages to see change?

There are so many parallels I would love to draw. Maybe I will in future posts. But for now, I would like to ask: Are you experiencing a struggle that God might want to use for your good? Are there ways you could humble yourself – maybe with a whole new level of honesty with yourself or others, or by asking for prayer or help? Is there an area of weakness that, with the help of the Lord and some trustworthy people, you could be working to strengthen so you don’t find yourself in a crisis spin cycle? Wherever you are in your life and whatever you are experiencing – even if you are in the 117th episode of the same crisis, I want to make sure you know that there is no shame and no condemnation. Just opportunity. And mountains of grace to step into it.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19

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