I’m Not Your Average Every Day Conqueror

I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever get past my insecurities. Next month I’ll be 56 years old. You’d think at this age I would finally have it all together. You’d think that as I’ve grown in the knowledge of who God is and what He can do through me, I’d finally be able to believe truth over a lie. You’d think I’d finally be able to fight my personal demons by standing on the promises of who I am as God’s child. You’d think I’d finally learned to think less of myself and think more of God. HA! The one truth I find comfort in today is this: When I don’t have it all together, thank heavens I know WHO holds me together.

My husband is the co-manager of a Piggly Wiggly in a small town here in North Carolina. His manager asked us to accompany him and his wife to a Chamber of Commerce function last night sponsored by a local car dealership. As my husband’s loving, devoted spouse, he wanted me to be by his side. Only I didn’t want to go. I made myself sick to my stomach. I let anxiety rule over me. I let misery keep me company all day long. Not only was I miserable, but I did everything I could to make my husband miserable, too. I’m ashamed to admit I don’t always act very loving and devoted…

Do you want to know why?

Because going to that function last night would take me completely out of my comfort zone. It would mean putting myself in a strange place, surrounded by people I didn’t know, forcing me to confront my disabilities with grief and frustration. Why would anybody want to set herself up for that kind of discomfort, I ask you?

I’ve spent my entire life living with this insecurity: because my hearing disability hinders my ability to converse with others in populated places, I feel left out. I may be present in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense I feel far away. As if I’m on the outside, looking in. That’s the simple truth. And I hate feeling left out.

The bottom line is that I get very little out of these kinds of functions. I don’t hear what the speakers are saying so I just tune out. I find myself day dreaming which isn’t always a bad thing. It keeps me company, but then I find myself laughing out loud at my thoughts when the speaker is serious and frowning when the speaker is telling jokes. I wonder what people are thinking of me because I didn’t smile or laugh at the appropriate times. Seriously, could I possibly be any more vain than that?

I can’t contribute to table conversation unless someone talks to me one-on-one because I’m a lip reader. I have to focus so hard in noisy places on the one speaking to me that I exhaust myself mentally and emotionally. Sometimes I misunderstand what has been said and my response is met with quizzical looks that lets me know what I said didn’t have anything to do with the topic of conversation at all. Oops. So I clam up. Then I wonder if people think I’m a snob or some disinterested person who should have stayed home. Seriously, could I be any more pretentious than that?

So much for dignity.

But….I have some good news to share. I’ve learned over the years that to put myself in situations that take me completely out of my comfort zone are great opportunities for God to keep me from becoming so introverted that I close myself off and hide myself away. God doesn’t want me to become a recluse because of my disabilities. My human self may fight tooth and nail to retreat, but in the end my spiritual self will stand up and step out. Bless my dear, sweet husband, though. I don’t think he had any idea what life with me would be like when he married me 34 years ago. Sometimes I wonder why he puts up with me, but I’m so thankful he does. When the worst of me shows up, he just waits patiently for the best of me to take control again. I know it’s not easy on him living with a woman so full of a sorry attitude. And I’m usually always sorry for making him miserable. Actually, ‘I’m sorry’ has become one of my mantras. Someone said to me once, “Why are you always sorry? I’m gonna start calling you ‘Sorry Nina.’ ” I think that was a joke.

Sigh.

So last night wasn’t really all that bad considering the agony I’d brought on myself throughout the day. My husband’s manager, Troy, has this truly amazing wife named Susie. While Wayne and Troy talked shop and networked with other business owners, Susie was putting me at ease. She’s down-to-earth and completely unpretentious. Two things I wish I were. While I was so preoccupied with what others were thinking of me, she was occupied with making sure I didn’t feel left out. Self-less. That’s Susie. God love her.

In all honesty, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll probably always fight my insecurities on this earth. But, don’t worry, I don’t plan on letting them win. Yes, the battle gets pretty thick at times. So thick that I think I’m gonna lose it, but there’s this wonderful truth I love about being God’s child:

“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…If God is for us, who can be against us?…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:28,31,37-39

I am MORE than a conqueror. More means “greater in number; size, amount, extent or degree,” so I guess you could say I’m not your average every day conqueror. (That’s definitely a wow-thing ’cause I need all the help I can get!)

God comes alongside me to give me everything I need–in excess! (the state of exceeding what is normal or sufficient)–to rise above the challenges of day-to-day living, to rise above my insecurities. To give me a purpose and a calling. To slay my personal demons. To hold me together. To keep me from feeling left out.

So, when my insecurities want to make me sick to my stomach, when anxiety threatens to dethrone my peace, when misery wants to keep company with me I can be almost certain that God is shaking me up a bit and I can expect Him to take me out of my comfort zone. Maybe I won’t like it. Maybe I will.

But I can guarantee this: most likely I’ll survive with my dignity intact.

The Gate Called Beautiful

Gosh, I have so many stories to tell. I love that my life is an open book. No longer are the pages written and kept tucked away from prying eyes. No longer do I wrap a string around the cover of my heart and tie it tightly in a knot so no one else can see what’s written there. I’ve learned that the best stories I have to tell are the ones when I let the finger of God hold the pen and write the words. It becomes His book and He can do what He wants with it. I’ve found myself over the last couple of decades with my heart laid bare, out in the open for all the world to see. A friend told me once that I’m easy to read. I consider that a compliment considering how far I’ve come. If God says He wants others to read what’s written in my life’s story then who am I to say “No” to the Author of Life?

I have a story to tell that’s inspired by another story, one written centuries ago. A story that has stood the passage of time. A story preserved for all mankind. A story straight from God’s heart to mine and hopefully yours.

Several years ago, God gave me a message to speak to a small group of women at my church. I had been reading from the book of Acts, chapter 3. My heart skipped a few beats when I read the passage of the crippled man who begged at the gate called Beautiful. Why would God want us to know this man begged at the Beautiful Gate? What was so special about this particular gate? Since I have an active imagination I like to wonder sometimes why God is so purposeful in the way He speaks to my heart, why He stirs it to stop and ponder certain passages. There were two words that made my heart jump, “beg” and “Beautiful.”

“One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer–at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.” Acts 3:1-2

Some people might say that I’m spiritualizing this passage, but that’s okay. God speaks to each of us in a way that we can relate to Him. Somehow I knew I identified with  this beggar. I was deeply affected by the picture in my mind of this man, unable to walk, unable to support himself, unable to protect himself and provide for himself. Every day he was carried and placed beside a gate known for its physical beauty. And there he begged. I couldn’t ignore the contrast because my life at one time had been a picture just like this one.

The beggar doesn’t always know what she needs (or he), but there’s an instinct within her that automatically reaches out. As a young girl, I reached out to my family. As a teenager, I reached out to my friends. As a young woman, I reached out to my husband. Some beggars sit in church hoping to find healing, but they don’t find the Healer. Some sit by the roadside, but they don’t find the Helper. Some sit by gateways where people come and go, holding out their hands, reaching out for someone or something to lift them up, to fill them up.

And all the time the Beautiful Gate is right there.

Therefore, Jesus said again, ‘I tell you the truth, I AM the Gate for the sheep….I AM the Gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10: 7, 9

I believe with all my heart I was born again at the age of eight. I didn’t always live like it. I didn’t always act like it, but in my heart I believed God gave me salvation through Jesus Christ and freed me from sin. I just didn’t understand that He also wanted to save me from “Me.” I’m my own worst enemy. I didn’t protect myself from me very well. I couldn’t provide my own healing. I looked to others to make me strong while the Beautiful Gate watched over me in all His healing, all His grace, all His sufficiency, all His splendor just waiting for me to let Him give me what I truly needed. How it must have broken His heart to see me turn to everyone but Him.

I was a beggar who settled for less than God’s best for me. I asked for handouts. I asked for other people’s leftovers. Not intentionally, not literally, but emotionally and mentally. I didn’t think I was good enough for God’s best. I didn’t think I was deserving enough, worthy enough, important enough. I was weak in my physical limitations, but more toxic to me and to those closest to me was the crippling of my heart.

“Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention expecting to get something from them.’ Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ “

Like the crippled beggar, there came a time when I was tired of dragging myself to the same place every single day with a longing that never seemed to be satisfied. I was so weary of begging that I sat at the Gate one last time. I looked up, gave Jesus my full attention and cried out in expectation: I want to be healed, I beg You! For the first time I wanted something only Jesus could give me and that’s when He set me on my feet to walk with strength and courage of heart.

There’s only one way to true delight. Only one way to know the desire of your heart.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

When I made God my heart’s delight I didn’t even want physical healing anymore. God took that desire away from me. Instead, He has used my physical limitations in a far greater way than He would have if He had given me physical restoration.

Every day, people sit at the Beautiful Gate and beg, not realizing that it’s Jesus standing right there beside them. Watching over them. Waiting patiently for them to get sick and tired of begging. Until we learn to stop begging for what we want and start asking for what He wants we’ll always be beggars. We’ll always be cripple. We won’t ever know true delight, an expression of pure and perfect enjoyment in being God’s child.

Begging isn’t such a bad thing when we know what to beg for. I find myself begging these days for different things than I used to…to search God’s heart, to hear His voice, to know His will. I don’t want to just sit at the Beautiful Gate, though. I want to walk through open doors on this earth with confidence because I know one day I’ll walk through gates of splendor and take my Savior’s hand for all eternity. I can picture those pearly gates of heaven in my mind, even though I know not even my active imagination can capture the true glory and beauty of all that heaven contains. What a beautiful, glorious day that will be, but for now, I’ll keep giving Jesus my full attention because I am but a sheep and I long to hear my Shepherd’s voice.

And this is the story of how I found myself at the Beautiful Gate. This is the story of a beggar made beautiful. This is the story of a cripple made complete. This is Jesus’ purpose and mission…to reach out His hand to all who look up…to save those who are crushed in spirit…to bring hope and healing to those who plead.

“When all the people saw him (the crippled beggar) walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him.” 

And I just want you to know…on the day this beggar let Jesus take her hand and lift her up, she has never been the same.

Sweet Child Of Mine

Moms have these defining moments when memories of their children are forever engraved on their hearts. Memories that carry us through a lifetime. Memories we replay over and over again. We  can recall with great clarity a child’s facial expressions, mannerisms, words of profound wisdom or deeds of great significance by tapping into our memory bank at any given time. My first born son was married this past Saturday. The past few days I’ve relived some precious memories, from his birth to this very present moment in time. Jason may be a man now, but I’ve not forgotten the joys of raising him and watching him grow in grace. I’m so glad my memory bank has been filled to overflowing.

I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect bride for Jason. Laura is amazing. She has a heart of gold, a spirit of compassion and a soul that radiates with love for my son. What more could a mother hope for her son? My heart is thrilled for them both.

Jason asked me a few weeks ago what song I wanted to dance to at the wedding. The mother-son dance, I mean. Our dance. The one that would melt my heart and open a floodgate of tears. It took me all of ten minutes to choose Carole King’s, Sweet Child Of Mine. I want to tell you why I knew this song was perfect for us. I want to tell you of a memory that is very dear to my heart….a memory that defines what kind of man Jason has become. A memory that defines the kind of husband he will be.

Seven years ago I had to have a new prosthetic eye made. It had been a long time since I had a new one. It’s not something I like having done, but I was fighting frequent infections and irritations. On the advice of my ophthalmologist I just couldn’t put it off any longer. Some people hate going to the dentist, but that doesn’t bother me one single bit. I’d rather have work done on my teeth than go through the process of having a new eye made. It’s not that it’s painful physically. It’s just emotionally draining. Ocularists aren’t found on every street corner. They’re not even found in every city. The closest one to my home was almost two hours away.

At the age of forty-eight, I felt pretty confident in the fact that I had dealt with my “stuff.” I felt for sure I had gotten past the need to have someone hold my hand during the process of having a new eye made. It’s actually a pretty fascinating process, but I’d never really learned to appreciate it before. There’s the mold that has to be made, the shaping, the firing, the buffing, the painting, more firing, more buffing. It takes several trips and I wanted to be a “big girl.” I wanted to do this all by myself. My husband was skeptical. He wanted to be with me, but I assured him I needed to do this one on my own.

I was so proud of how well I had held up until the final fitting. With the new eye completed,  I looked at myself in the mirror and was caught completely off guard. To me, the color was wrong and it wasn’t a good match, but what did I know? Talk about a hundred foot drop…that’s what I felt my heart did. It crashed. I practically ran to the car, pulled the visor down so I could get a good look in the mirror and I burst into tears. I was back in my young-girl-skin at the community swimming pool and I saw a freak. I called my husband on my cell phone and cried. I called my Dad and cried. As much as they loved me, though, they couldn’t get to me in a parking garage an hour and a half away. That was one long drive back home.

When I walked in the door, my husband put his arms around me and spoke words of comfort. Shortly afterwards, my parents came to the house and I cried some more. Later that evening Jason just happened to drop by, totally unexpected and completely unprepared for what he would see…his Mom at the dining room table, her eyes red, her cheeks wet, her countenance fallen. Gosh, how could I have been so pitiful? I didn’t even know what was really wrong with me, why I was so upset, but somehow my son did.

After my father explained to Jason what had brought on the flood of tears, he bent down, put his arm around my shoulder, looked me right in my eyes and said what no one else had, “Mom, you are still beautiful.”

With that, I put my face on his shoulder and sobbed. How could he have possibly known there was a fear deep inside of me that threatened to take me back to a place I didn’t want to go? A place where I didn’t see myself as pretty to look upon. How did he know? Because he is a child of mine…

“Although you see the world different than me/Sometimes I can touch upon the wonders that you see; All the new colors and pictures you’ve designed…Oh yes, sweet darling, so glad you are a child of mine. Child of mine, child of mine…Oh yes, sweet darling, so glad you are a child of mine.”

The next day, I went to work. Yes, I did. I was never one to hide. Jason came to see me at work that day. He said, “Mom, I’ve been thinking about you all morning. I wanted to do something for you so I went shopping and I found this.” He gave me a figurine of Jesus holding a little girl in His arms.

“Mom, that’s you,” he said. I replied, “Yes, in the arms of Jesus.” How could he have possibly known what I needed most? To be reminded that true beauty is in the eye of the Beholder and He would always hold me close when I was insecure and unsure of myself. How did he know? Because he is a child of mine…

“You don’t need direction, you know which way to go/And I don’t want to hold you back, I just want to watch you grow; You’re the one who taught me you don’t have to look behind…Oh yes, sweet darling, so glad you are a child of mine. Child of mine, child of mine…Oh yes, sweet darling, so glad you are a child of mine.”

So, on Saturday I watched as my father married my son and his beautiful bride…the woman of his dreams, the one he would love and cherish always. Surrounded by our family and his friends I watched and pondered, digging into my memory bank wondering how in the world I was ever going to find the room for more memories because I know there are still plenty to come.

Before the evening was over, Jason would take my hand and the DJ would play our song.

“Let it all out, Mom. It’s OK,” he said.

And I did. I cried, but who cared? It was a wedding and they were happy tears.

“Nobody’s gonna kill your dreams/Or tell you how to live your life; There’ll always be people to make it hard for a while, But you’ll change their hearts when they see you smile. The times you were born in may not have been the best/But you can make the times to come better than the rest; I know you will be honest if you can’t always be kind….Oh yes, sweet darling, So glad you are a child of mine.”

And another memory has been engraved on my heart….forever. Thank you, sweet child of mine. I love you.

(P.S. My father went with me back to the ocularist and he made some adjustments on my eye. All is good, but so is God. Always.)

Grace For The Clueless: Part 3

Since I’m new to the blogging world I’ve just wanted to give you an idea of who I am and a glimpse into what my life is like living with moderate disabilities. I hope I haven’t given the impression that my life is harder or more stressful than anyone else’s. We all deal with “stuff.” I’m just sharing mine. I like to hope, though, that my “stuff” has helped shape my character in a way that makes God happy because when He’s happy with me life is just better.

I admit, letting God mold me and shape me on the potter’s wheel is probably a whole lot harder than living with hearing and visual disabilities. I’m not always easy in God’s hands. Sometimes He’s gotta carry me kickin’ and screamin’. I think it’s a whole lot easier to sit in sack cloth and ashes and wear a banner over my head that says, “Woe is me!” But that’s not really me. It’s hard to let the Potter have His way in me. The times when I want to have a pity-party are the times God has to remind me that His banner over me is, “Love.” Always. On the days when I feel insignificant or unimportant I can’t tell you how glad I am to feel the power of God’s mighty love washing over me.

A few years ago a young man berated me in Sheetz. Seriously, he gave me a verbal beating. A tongue lashing. A stoning. I’ll never forget it. Just when I think I’ve finally gotten past my insecurities I encounter someone who makes me feel small once again in the eyes of the world.

I love me some frou-frou coffee. That’s what I call a fancy cup of espresso with lots of caramel and white chocolate syrup. I eliminate the whip cream and opt for soy milk to make it a little bit healthier, but I know it’s still loaded with calories I don’t need. My husband says I don’t want a cup of coffee, I want a melted candy bar. LOL. Anyway, he spoils me rotten and we never pass by a Sheetz without stopping.

On this particular day, my husband waited in the car while I went in to get my sugar fix. I ordered my usual from the kiosk, swiped my ticket from the machine, and got in line behind a man waiting for the next available cashier. When he moved up to the counter I stepped forward and within seconds, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to face a 20-something young man who asked, “Are you with that man?”

“No,” I replied. “Why?”

That’s when he lit in on me like a firecracker. “I was standing right here. You cut right in front of me. I was next. I thought you were with that man so I didn’t say anything, but you need to wait your turn.” And on and on and on…

I was so humiliated all I could do was apologize all over myself. I thought about groveling, even getting on my knees, but what I really wanted to do was cry. I was so upset I couldn’t form the words to tell him I was hearing impaired and blind in one eye. He had been on my left side so I didn’t see him in my peripheral vision and I didn’t hear him. I guess he was camouflaged by the coffee bar so he could’ve been a gigantic vanilla latte for all I knew. For pity’s sake, whatever happened to respect?!

When I got back to the car I couldn’t even tell my husband what had happened. Those old feelings of shame and guilt washed over me and threatened to steal the breath right out of me. I beat myself up all day long. Why didn’t I stick up for myself? Why didn’t I have the courage to speak up about my disabilities? It wasn’t until the end of the day that God opened the eyes of my heart to see it wouldn’t have made any difference to this young man whether I was partially blind or severely hearing impaired. This young man was clueless in the strongest sense of the word.

“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2:23 & 24

Trying to explain myself to this young man would have been foolish. I would have felt even worse if I had tried to make him understand and he still didn’t get it. To be rejected and ridiculed for being physically impaired is cruel. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it. I have tears pooling in my eyes as I write because there are people like this in the world. I may experience a small taste of it from time to time, but I know there are others who face this kind of ridicule every day of their lives. And I weep for them, too.

I take great comfort in the fact that when others don’t “get it,” God does. He is Jehovah-Nissi: The Lord My Banner. On the days when I feel defeated, discouraged or doubtful I remind myself that God goes before me with His banner of love waving high over me. When I face the uncaring, fight the unfeeling or fault the unloving I can raise my hands to the sky, lift my face to the heavens and bask in the power of His mighty love. There are just some battles I don’t have to fight because God fights for me. He says, “I’ve got this one, Nina. You need only be still.”

So, I’ve come to accept that I’m going to encounter people on this earth who just don’t have what it takes to see with kingdom eyes and feel with the heart of Christ. That’s all there is to it.  I’m not responsible for them. I’m responsible for me.  And the beautiful thing about grace is that there’s so much of it to go around. Grace isn’t something that we keep to ourselves. It’s meant to be shared.

This earthen vessel has been cracked time and time again, yet the Master Potter knows just how to repair all those cracks. To think, He still sees something in me worth repairing. Something worth rescuing. To think, He fills this vessel so full that when He tips me over I’ve got more than enough to pour out.

And that means I have enough grace for the clueless in this world.

That’s a grace-bit, if I ever heard one!

                 

“Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness….” John 1:16