Life Lessons From Sparring

I suited up as I do semi-frequently on Tuesday nights. I put on my chest guard, boots, gloves, mouth piece and helmet. I got out on the the floor and warmed up with one of the 2nd degree black belts.

It was sparring night. But this night left me with a picture that I can’t seem to get out of my head.  

After warming up with this particular black belt, I started sparring with her. I kept getting nailed in the head. I would try to block the hits, but after the first punches, I’d find myself a little discombobulated. I was having a hard time adjusting myself to get on top.

After this fight, my instructor said I should spar another 2nd degree black belt. I really didn’t want to because I find him intimidating.

The sparring began and sure enough I kept getting hit in the head- one hit, another, then another. I’d get to the point where I’d turn my head because I didn’t know what else to do. And, I was getting weary of getting hit. This 2nd degree said, “stop looking away, you’ll end up hurt”

I looked back to see everyone in my class watching this fight. My instructor spoke up and said, “Christi, when you keep getting hit, you have to lean in and grab your opponent”

It’s against natural instincts to lean into someone whose throwing punches. Our first reaction is to turn or to run away. However, since my instruction is a 5th degree black belt, I did what he said.

The sparring resumed and the punches started coming. Before I got discombobulated, I leaned in, rested my head on my opponents shoulder and held on. By doing that, I could no longer get hit. The punches seized. But it was as though we were wrestling. This 2nd degree black belt didn’t want to be held down and I didn’t want anymore shots to the head. We were fighting for our own wills.

I felt like that has been a picture of the past few years. It has felt like one punch after the next. I want to flee , but I know I can’t, and yet, I don’t know how to respond.

If I’m being honest, my first reaction, to the loss of my Dad, wasn’t to lean into the punches. I believe everything that happens in life goes through the hands of a sovereign God. So the punches that have taken place went through His hands before they hit me.

The first reaction I had was shock. I was (and am) discombobulated by this punch. But before and after my Dad there have been more punches. But this picture of that night in sparring keeps coming back to me…

I need to lean in. I’ve needed to wrestle with questions. Why? What’s the purpose for all this pain? Why so much heartache? Why so many closed doors? Why the standstill? Whose benefiting from all this grief?

I feel as though I’ve been holding on trying to shake God for some kind of sense for the loss of my Dad. I haven’t been able to say much, and when you’re grabbing your opponent, you don’t speak. You’re just trying to regain your composure from the blows you’ve taken. You’re trying to survive. It’s your strength against your opponents.

This past week I also remembered the fight doesn’t end by hanging on. You cannot win a fight by clinging on to your opponent. You’ll get called out. You have to let go and get back into the fight.

But, hanging on and leaning in is still apart of the fight. Every relationship will go through ups and downs. The same is true for our relationship with God. Tough things happen and we need to wrestle through them. I would be lying if I said, I haven’t been struggling. I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t doubted that any good would come from this. I would be lying if I told you I haven’t felt like giving up. I would be lying if I told you I haven’t had some days when I don’t want to get out of bed.

As I write this I’m reminded of Peter in Matthew 26:35. “But Peter declared, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And all the other disciples said the same.” The next day, Peter denied Jesus.

Death and suffering changes people. Peter thought he could be a disciple of Jesus on his own. I think, subconsciously or even consciously, I did too.

Things started changing in my heart about a week ago when I realized I didn’t have enough to get me through. I was keeping God at a distance. Attempting to hold Him like I had in sparring. I don’t want anymore hits. I can’t take another blow. I was falling into a deeper and darker hole. Until the thought popped into my head, “You don’t have enough faith”.
And it is true…

1st Timothy 2:13
if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. 
I can do nothing on my own, I cannot handle this loss alone. I cannot handle closed doors alone, but God never asked me to. He said to come to Him. Lay it down. Cry it out and walk with Him. So, I started waking up and asking for help. After that, I read one verse. My mind can’t process a whole chapter at the moment, bug I can hold on to a verse.

I also think it’s okay to wrestle with God and wrestle with the questions. Life is hard and this side of eternity some thing will not make sense to us. In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestled with God. In verse 28 it says, “Then the man said,’Your name will not longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome’”

  • I looked up the word overcome and it means: “to prevail, endure, have power, be able” 
  • I also looked up Israel and it means, “God Prevails” 

At the end of the day, I am human. I’ve struggled with being on this road that God has allowed me to be on. But struggling and giving up are two different things. Because God has not given up on me and gives me everything I need when I ask, I can keep putting one foot in front of the other.


“When God calls us to wrestle with him, there’s always more going on than we first understand and God always uses it to transform us for good.” -Jon Bloom

The truth of the matter is, I am in a battle and it’s not against God. Yet, sometimes I wrestle with God’s will because, if I’m being honest, right now, I don’t really like it. But the more I try and fight for my will the more miserable I become.

As hard as it has been I do pray that just like in Jacob’s case, God prevails in my life. He knows what He’s doing and knows the plans and I do not. For now, I will keep waking up and asking for help because I cannot do it on my own.
Song of the week: You Pursue, by Out of the Dust

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Fighting Fear: Through Surrender

INTRODUCTION:
As I began thinking of this topic, I knew I had to ask Linda. To me, she is a quiet warrior. She loves her husband and family well. There are things she faces that often times, heaven is the only one to hear of it. One Sunday, I was able to sit next to her during worship, and I opened my eyes, I can’t remember why, but I’m glad I did. I saw Linda with her hands raised. She was worshipping with her whole heart. She probably hates that I’m writing this, but time and time again, I have been challenged by her faith. I have also been lifted back up through her encouragement. This post was a challenge for her. After reading it, I know you will understand why. However, I could not hold back the tears after I read it. We serve an amazing God, and He truly is worthy of every breath we are given. Thank you, Linda, for being an amazing sister, friend, and encourager.

______________________________________________________________

 

I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to look back. It still hurts, the tears might come back.

 

I remember that night. Everything was quiet and dark: a few footsteps in the hall and sleep nowhere to be found. I had asked the nurse earlier what all the numbers meant. I needed to know which ones were important and which ones were not. 93. Her coloring was good. She finally calmed down. 92. She looks so peaceful. When is that tech coming back? 91. Has it been 4 hours yet? Wonder what they can give her next. 90. That nurse told me she would check on her. Where is she? 89. Do I dare leave and get the nurse? What if she needs me?

I left and got the nurse. They came and gave my baby some oxygen to get her levels back up to a safe range. They never reached 100 but at least she was getting what she needed.

 

The next 2 years were spent with daily breathing treatments, ER visits, and weekly doctors’ appointments. Some days I lived in 4-hour windows. Treatment to treatment, praying she would make it and not need to go to the ER. I blamed myself. Maybe I ate wrong, maybe my house was too dirty, maybe there was more I could do. I feared losing her. I feared that it would be my fault.

 

During those times, I cried out to God. My hands were in fists, ready to fight the next asthma attack. But over time, I learned you can’t get oxygen into your lungs when you panic and hyperventilate. I also learned you can’t accept God’s gifts with clenched hands. I learned to let go. I let my heart tearfully worship that we had another round of medicine available to us even when healing didn’t come. I learned to enjoy THIS one and only day because tomorrow was never promised.

 

When the dark nights came and my daughter would be fearful, we memorized “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power (Make a muscle), love (cross your arms over your chest) and a sound mind (point to your head)” 2 Timothy 1:7 I had to take this to heart as well because so many days I was crumbling inside. My faith in God grew stronger in this season. I came to realize God loves my little girl so much more than I can fathom. He has numbered her days. My job is to care for her until His plans take her elsewhere. Peace came in trusting Him.

 

Amazingly, 2 years after she was diagnosed, we go the OK to take her off all medicines. I was excited but nervous. We had a family trip planned to out of the country. 2 weeks would be fine, I thought, but packed all her medicines and machine just in case. A few days into our trip and I knew she was struggling. I pulled out everything and got her set up. I flipped the switch on and the machine started smoking and quit working. The adapter we brought failed. In a moment where time freezes, I just prayed. “Lord where in the world do we find a doctor to order a machine in this country we don’t belong to without insurance? And in enough time before she is in a full blown attack?”

 

I got my husband and he headed off to find a pharmacy. I did something I had never done before. I crawled into bed with my daughter and opened my Bible. The only thing I could remember was Psalm 139. Instead of reading it normally, I added my daughter’s name. I told her these were written for her.

“Oh Lord, you have searched Abi and know Abi. You know when she is sitting and rising up.(1)… You formed Abi’s inward parts: you covered her in Mommy’s womb. I will praise you, for Abi is fearfully and wonderfully made (13)…” We read it all. I held on to those words like I never had before. They were words of life, truth, and hope. We had just finished the passage when my husband walked in. He was back so soon, I thought it was bad news. Instead, he held out his hands, and in them was a brand new machine! Unlike the USA, with insurance, regulations, prescriptions, in this country, you could walk to the pharmacy and buy a new machine no questions asked! God’s provision blew me away.

 

My fear of losing her and “what if?” still pops up. But over and above those fears are the stories of God’s faithfulness. I would have never experienced His love and compassion and purpose if we hadn’t walked through the trials. I struggled to walk back to this season. I didn’t want to bring up those old fears but it reminded me of His steady hand through all of it and His eyes who see what lies ahead.

Song of the Week: Spirit of the Living God, by Vertical Church Band
Listen Here

 

A Single Challenge

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“It’s wicked to throw away all your other gifts because you can’t have one”- Little Women

On long road trips, I like to listen to audiobooks. It has become a tradition that I listen to Little Women at least once. I grew up watching the movie dozens of times. Since I have four sisters, it was like watching us (a century behind and one less sister).

As I was driving from Virginia to Florida, I heard this quote by Amy: It’s wicked to throw away all your other gifts because you can’t have one. It hit me so hard that I rewound that section of audio and listened again. Conviction set it.

How many times have I done this? As a single person, there is a tendency to throw away our other talents and gifts because we can’t have “the one”. We sit around doodling while waiting for “the one”. I am talking to myself here. I have been there and done that.

At one point in my life, all I did was work and waited for someone to come along. Call me crazy, but I thought it would only be a matter of time until he came around. Well, after about 3-4 years of “waiting”, there was no one even “on the horizon”, as my dad says.

I took a leap of faith and decided to do something else, besides work and wait. When I took that step, it was a whirlwind of an adventure. I was using gifts that I didn’t know I had. I was learning new things left and right. I was going places I never dreamed were possible. It was an exciting time and challenging time.

That time created a hunger to learn more. Life can be extremely challenging, but it also can be absolutely amazing! God is greater, kinder, more beautiful than we can imagine.

Just last week I was listening to the audio book by Steven Curtis Chapman, Between Heaven and the Real World .  After the death of his daughter, Maria, his wife asked them to remodel the house. It was too hard to live in after Maria’s passing. Steven struggled with the idea of how much money it was going to cost, and if it was a waste of money because their house was fine.

He prayed about it and felt like they should move ahead with the idea. The day came and the demolition crew started their work. Steven looked over at his wife, Mary-Beth, and saw tears running down her face. He walked over and asked her if she was okay. “I needed to see this”,  she said. “This is what happened to our family the day Maria died”. Their family took a devastating blow. Yet, through the tearing down and building back up, Steven saw God’s love. He felt the Lord told Him that sometimes His love appears extravagant and wasteful.

Isn’t that true? I was pining away for a marriage when God wanted to show me more. He literally allowed me to travel around the globe. It was extravagant and sometimes it seemed wasteful. Because I had the budget information, I would often say, I can stay here. However, God allowed me to go on one trip after another. I learned so much not just on the trips but over that span of 3 years, I saw God in ways I never knew I could.

My encouragement to you who are single comes from a 10th-degree black belt: Act on life. Don’t let life act on you. You are not a victim to life or anyone.

Use your gifts. Use your time wisely. Live well. Love fervently. Give fearlessly. Life is short and we only have one life to live.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Don’t let the enemy steal any more years. Don’t let him steal your joy, your affection, your devotion, your desire to grow and learn.

There is a 2nd-degree black belt I work out with in a group, who told me, “I’m trying to help you be the best you”. Sometimes it feels like he is trying to kill me, but he is pushing me to be better. Isn’t that what God does for us? He allows challenging things because He is strengthening us. Elisabeth Elliot once said, “God will not protect you from anything that makes you more like Jesus”

Life is meant to be lived, not just survived. Sometimes surviving is the only thing we can do. Other times, surviving has become our comfort zone. Living on purpose often takes us out of our comfort zones. But today, remember to thank God for all that He has already given you. Thank Him for the friends you have, the job you have, and the opportunities He has opened up for you. Instead of focusing on the one thing or person you don’t have.

Sometimes, when I wish I had someone, I remind myself that I do have someone. He is my closest friend. He says that He is my husband. So, instead of wasting time wishing I had someone else, I try to look for ways to love Him. I do not do this as much as I would like.

We are God’s children. He knows we are incapable. He wants to make us laugh, and wants to spend time with us. He wants to be close, but often times, we are so preoccupied with other things or wishing for the one thing we don’t have.

Think a friendship that may be morphing into something else. Think of the little glances shared back and both. Think of the sweet gestures: a hand to the side as he walks behind you, a gentle touch to the elbow, a goodbye hug, exchanging eye contact and a laugh over an inside joke.

I know for me, I think about each thing over and over again. I think of what they said or re-read a sweet message they sent. Imagine if I thought of God that way.

Imagine if I mulled over in my mind the MANY things He has done: The opportunity to travel, learn all kinds of new skills, learn martial arts, write, be near family, and have amazing friends. I should be on cloud nine all the time.

So, I am challenging myself to think on Him this week. To think of the ways He has blessed me. He is too good and has done too much for me to waste more time.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

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Song of the week: King of my heart, by John Mark McMillan & Sarah McMillan 

Listen Here

You Are Not Enough…


About a week ago, I got in my car and headed to the bank. On my way there, I was having a conversation in my head, half praying, half talking. “God, If you just open this door, I’ll be happy. That’s all I want”

Before I go on, I am ashamed to admit this, but I felt like I should. It’s not about perfection. It’s about being honest about imperfections, in order for God to shine. To see His beauty and patience in my ugly day to day mess.

So after submitting my grand idea to God to open a door, a thought popped into my head. “No, we’d still be having this conversation; you’d just want something else”. I sat there thinking for a moment. It was true.

Have you ever prayed and asked God for something? After waiting and praying and praying some more, you still don’t see it. I have been praying. I have been asking. I have been knocking. I’ve been doing the next thing.

But, without even realizing what I had actually done, I was telling God that He wasn’t enough, at least for me. It’s not that I don’t believe God can answer. I have seen Him answer prayers for my friends and family. I have seen Him be enough for others, but for me, lately, He has not been enough. Why? Because I was not giving Him enough time to be enough for me. I’ve allowed distractions and ambitions to cloud my thinking and occupy the time that God used to have.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”… I shall not want.

Yet, I found myself wanting. I found myself trying to get God to solve my problem through other means, instead of through Himself.

The question, for me, was not if God is enough. The question is, is God enough for me?

For you, it could be: I know God can heal, but can He heal me? Or, I know He can provide, but can He provide for me? Or, I know He can do exceedingly abundantly beyond what I can ask or think, but can He do that for me?

Our relationship with God is partially about what He can do for others. But, it’s mostly, about knowing what He has done and can do for us.

At the end of my life, I am responsible for how I lived. I want to live satisfied in God alone. I know other things won’t satisfy. I could land the dream job, get a spouse, start the family, start a business, and still be empty. I know this. And it’s not like I wasn’t content before. Last year, around this time, I was losing everything, except God, and He was enough. Yet, a year later, I find myself floundering, treading water, wondering when I’m going to feel a rock for me to stand on.

I’m also learning that life is a journey. I don’t need to beat myself up for having to relearn a lesson. The Christian life is not about learning it once and moving on. Some things we have to learn and relearn.

This week, I became a Green Belt in Karate. I started the first phase of material this week as well. There are things in this phase of green belt that I learned when I was working towards my yellow belt. I am relearning the techniques from the material I learned a few months ago.

I think God allows us to relearn lessons because we never “arrive”. We are always learning. Some things are new, and some things we relearn.

So in this season of waiting, knocking and praying, I am asking God to teach me that He is enough for me.

Because God knows me better than I know myself, He hasn’t allowed what I want, to show me what I need. He knows that I need this lesson. He wants to be the one I take refuge in. He is the only Rock that will not crumble. He is the only one who will not disappoint, and He is the only one who will ever be enough for me.

So, I want to encourage you today, because this is what I am called to do, encourage (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If you feel you have drifted, as we all have from time to time; take a moment to come back. God is gracious. He LONGS to show compassion (Isaiah 30:18). Come to Him. He is waiting. He wants to help. He is the Lifter of our heads. He is the strength we need. He is the wisdom we need. He is the Healer we need. He is the love we are looking for. He is the filler He is waiting. Don’t run away, run back to Him. He does not condemn you. He loves us even more than we can ever even fathom.

Song of the week: Even If, by Mercy Me  (Listen Here)

 “I know You’re able and I know You can  Save through the fire with Your mighty hand  But even if You don’t  My hope is You alone  I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt  Would all go away if You’d just say the word  But even if You don’t  My hope is You alone”

Demolishing & Rebuilding Our Comfort Zones

I was comfortable behind the computer responding to messages from people who wrote in. That was what I was hired to do until the opportunity to go to Africa came into the picture.

I thought for sure the rest of the team would go, and I would remain back to “hold down the fort”.

Nope! I was not only expected to go, but also to plan it. Oh, and instead of our team of just four people, it would be a team of nine!

Another time, I had the opportunity to go to Turkey, where I would be giving a short presentation. Two weeks before my departure date, the Turkish military shot down a Russian Jet. Oh, and when I arrived in Amsterdam, CNN news was reporting that the American Consulate in Istanbul shut down because of unrest.

I could go on and on about stories of how my comfort zone is continually wrecked. Lately, things have not been that extreme, but there are still things that abrupt my comfort zone (Definition: 1. The temperature range within which one is comfortable, 2. The level at which one functions with ease and familiarity)

Just last week something happened that made me feel less than someone else. Have you ever experienced that? It could be a number of things:

  • A corporation didn’t see you as a good fit
  • A person of the opposite sex decided not to pursue you, or they did and then stopped.
  • A friend gets noticed by others while you’re standing beside them
  • Someone else got the promotion you were working towards
  • Another mom’s kids received something you hoped your kid would get noticed for

The list could go on and on. Last week, I experienced that feeling. Thank God that I was at church and worship started. The band started playing one of my new favorite songs: Worthy of Your Name by Passion (Listen Here).

As I began singing, that feeling faded. Instead of feeling less, I felt accepted. I realized right then, that God allows us to have our comfort zone demolished because He wants our comfort zone to be in Him.

He knows the dangers we face when we find comfort in our jobs, friends, family, or ourselves. Those things cannot sustain us because they are temporary and they change. He is eternal and unchanging.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
Psalm 46:1-5

So, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, there is a reason for it. God loves you enough to demolish your comfort zone in the temporary in order for you to rebuild it in Him, the eternal.

So whatever you’re facing, remember that God is all we need. He is a good Father, a faithful Friend, a kind Pursuer, a patient King. He is a persistent Redeemer, a courageous Lion, a defender of the weak, the peace and comfort for the weary.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I am learning to be thankful for my “uncomfortable” moments because He is retraining me to seek Him. Hang in there Friends and stay hopeful and fearless <3!

Song of the week:

When I’m With You by Ben Rector

Verse1: I go a little crazy sometimes
Can you believe it?
Yeah, I swear I’m fine, that I’m alright
When I’m barely breathing
Thought I could find my way back home
But I get lost alone

Chorus: But when I’m with you
I’m no longer wandering
And when I’m with you,
I swear I can breathe
When I’m with you,
I know who I am and who I want to be

Verse 2: I’m not trying to be dramatic, no
Most times I’m pretty normal
Oh, but let’s be clear and honest here
And do away with anything formal
I can fake it on my own,
but I am lost alone

Chorus: But when I’m with you
I’m no longer wandering
And when I’m with you,
I swear I can breathe
When I’m with you,
I know who I am and who I want to be

Bridge: I am wide-eyed
With a penchant for running
But how many times does it take ’till I find that I’m lost when I’m alone
And that’s not where I belong

… ‘Cause when I’m with you I’m no longer wondering…