Filling Her Shoes

I was raised in a 2-parent household.  But not in the traditional sense.  Instead of a mom and dad I had a mom and grandmother, whom I fondly referred to as “gramma”.

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When I think back on my childhood, it consisted of these two women.  We moved away from extended family when I was young so they were all I had.

Things weren’t easy, but I never went without.  Birthdays and Christmas were always a big deal.  I woke up early, excited to open the things I had written down on my Christmas list.  And things that I hadn’t.  Meals were always provided for, even if I qualified for “free lunch” at school because of our income.  Good night’s sleep were had, even if my mom and I shared a bunk bed and a room.  They made sure to keep me out of inner city schools even if I had to catch a few city buses to get to the suburban school, or lie about my address.  We did what we had to do.

My mom and I had our ups and downs and my grandmother prayed vehemently for us to stay in the ups.  Sometime around her own passing, I can see, God started answering her prayers.  He filled the gaps.  He started a plan of restoration and healing and love.  There was always love there but sometimes it was hard for me to see it in the midst of the brokenness.

My most fondest memories are towards the end.  The three months He gave us when the brokenness was healed.  The humility and redemption and love.  Now I could see the love from her shining so brightly.  Every time I came home and she greeted me at the door, wanting to hear about my day.  The grief she held when I was being persecuted by my employer.  It was like they were persecuting her too.  Her presence at the hospital when I had surgery, never leaving my side.  The safety I felt, sitting next to her in Bible study, learning the Word together, sharing the gospel.  Sitting between her legs as she braided my hair, like she did when I was a kid.  Playing pool together and her rooting for me to win.

Her, always rooting for me to win.

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Those are the things I didn’t know I would miss.  I only thought about the things I wouldn’t.  You can never anticipate the loss.

My one friend asked, “How can anyone fill her shoes?  How can anyone, when she was your biggest supporter?  Your most faithful ride or die?”  I understood what she was saying, but I thought about it and knew the answer.  “You are right, there is no one person who can fill them.  But that is why the Father gave me so many people to fill them.  He gave me one to sew my clothes like she did because I can’t sew for the life of me (and have no desire to learn).  He gave me another whom I have viewed as a mother figure for the last 12 years.  He gave me sisters while my own refused to speak to me.  And of course He became Father, when my own abandoned me at 2 years old.

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But the truth is her shoes have been so great to fill and I have battled this last year with that fact.  I didn’t know how her passing would affect me.  I thought I could bounce back or be strong or pull myself up by the bootstraps like I had so many times before with different hard things.

Instead I have ran from the pain.  I have self medicated.  I have retreated in isolation instead of choosing to trust the One who has never let me down. 

I have felt let down.

Anger has been a constant companion, but I know that is only a mask for the pain.

There have been so many days I have felt alone.  Not just because I am single with no immediate family, but because His presence has been so far away.

I remember standing at the grave site, before they buried her.  I stood at my grandmother’s grave for the first time since her passing.  I never had a desire to go because I knew her spirit wasn’t there, but now, there is where I needed to remember.  I stood there and wept and so many women stood over me.  They held me and wept too.  My loss was there loss.  This was how He was now manifesting His presence.  Through them.

It is now one year later and I didn’t grieve the way I would have liked to.  I wanted to check off my checklist with my healing process. But some things are too great to be neatly categorized onto a list.

Today I will meet with the women who have been family to me.  Being with them is life and love and comfort.  We will have French-pressed coffee and share our hearts.  I will have my first counseling appointment for the first time this year and I will take a road trip with a woman who has been relentlessly by my side these past 18 months.

We will meet other women, one blood related, one not, but both who love me dearly.

As difficult as this last season has been, I am grateful for the people.  They avail themselves and restructure their lives just to be what I need.

They are love with skin on.

And even though the nature of our relationship has changed, E is there too.  Being what I need him to be in this season.  Rooting me on to heal.

I have to remind myself my mother chose to leave.  She was sick and she didn’t want to put me through the experience of longsuffering as a caregiver that she went through.  She also knew the people that I had in my life.  That I would be ok because of them.

There are times that I am alone and that is apart of my story.  But there are so many times where I don’t have to be.  For that I am grateful.

And I know, that even though I can’t sense Him, feel Him, the way I used to, He is there.

Always there.

Rooting me on.

And so is she.

 

SHALOM

 

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Chess Moves

I’ve been playing chess off and on for 15 years now. I remember in high school a coworker at an after school job taught me the game. He was 30+ my senior. I won after the first game. I started playing online at college and my then boyfriend and I enjoyed playing with his glass-piece set. Those were good times.

The cool thing about chess is that the harder your opponent, the greater the opportunity you have to improve.

I played with a friend one summer and every time I beat him. Every time. It may seem odd but I realized then that it wasn’t fun winning all the time. I realized it was because I wasn’t being challenged. Not everyone enjoys a challenge but I definitely do.

Now I play with Emmanuel and have finally met my match. He wins most of the time. And while there’s a part of me that hates to lose, there’s a greater part that strives to win. I have become a better chess player playing with him. I’ve started learning how he thinks. One sure way to beat your opponent is to out think them.

Yesterday at fellowship I was thinking about chess. And I was thinking about how we are all like different pieces on the chess board. Each piece has its own way of moving and not every piece can do what the other pieces do. For instance, a knight can only move in an “L” shape while a rook can only move horizontal and vertical. I was thinking how I felt limited in my movements in life. There are certain boundaries the Father has placed and I have struggled against them. I have looked around and compared and have been frustrated, feeling confined while others appear free.

Within moments of me having these thoughts the prophetic came. I was told that I am a jewel to the Father and that I cannot do what others do. I have questioned Him on this and He is saying they are the boundaries placed because I am the standard. All of this was confirmed in my heart, but still I have been frustrated. The call has seemed too great. The standard too high. How can I be the standard in my place of weakness?

But even now I am reminded that when we are weak, He is strong.

I shared these things with Emmanuel. I told him about the chess pieces and feeling like a knight, limited in my movements. He looked at me lovingly and with care. “You are right that there are only certain moves you can make, even the Queen cannot do what a knight can do. But really you are not a knight, but a queen”.

I was blessed by his affirmation though I fought to deny it. Sometimes it’s easier to minimize our role when the road gets so tough. But I remember the Father giving me the same word 2 years ago when I needed it so I knew it rang true.

And really we are all Kings and Queens in His kingdom.

SHALOM

The Royal Treatment

Have you ever liked someone so much that you bent over backwards for them?  You stretched and stretched yourself, trying to prove your worth and value.  Trying to get them to see how amazingly, awesome and perfect you are?  And how you can fulfill every idea of a partner they could possibly have?

Been there, done that.

And I know I’m not the only one.  I’ve talked to other women who have been dangled on a string of hopes and dreams never to come to fruition, while the one doing the dangling watched with amusement as you danced and twisted yourself into idealized versions of femininity.

To be fair, we have a choice in these types of relationships (or situationships).  We choose to be treated a certain way.  Even when its less than what we deserve.  But still, we make that choice.  And why do we make that choice?  I think the underlying truth is, we don’t think we can do better.

I remember walking in the movie theater coming from the bathroom, fighting back tears.  I was with my mom and I had learned some news about the guy I was seeing.  I had learned he was out with someone else.  That fact probably wouldn’t have hurt as much if he had not been resistant to taking me out.

Why am I not good enough to be taken on a date? I wondered.  I eyed myself in the bathroom mirror, studying my reflection.  Was I not pretty enough?  Did I not dress well enough?  Was I not fun enough?

Why was I not enough?

These are the insecurities I am coming to realize so many women share.  We compare ourselves with each other and with society’s standard of beauty.  We think we are “too this” and “not enough that”.  And then we get involved with others who send us the same message more than likely because of their own insecurities.  At least in my situation that was the case.

Thank God I made it out of that situation.  It took me a while, but I did.  And I was so scared to let it go because I did not think I could do better.  In fact, I prepared myself to be alone.  I knew how to be alone and that was my comfort zone.  Not necessarily my preference but at least it was familiar. 

But I didn’t have to be alone.  Because as soon as I closed one door (very shortly after) another one opened.  And then I learned that there are men who are secure enough in themselves to value a woman.  There are men who are mature enough to treat a woman according to her worth.  And there are men available who will set the standard for what a real gentleman is.

After having this experience with a real man I know that I will never settle again.

I know that I am worth being treated well.

I know that I am worth the royal treatment.

And so are you.

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful…”

SHALOM

 

High-Highs, Low-Lows

It’s the New Year.  And normally I would do a summary of the old year.  I would reflect on all He had done and how He had moved and how far I had come.  But I won’t do that this year.  Not because He hadn’t moved and He hadn’t done and I hadn’t come.  But because it still hurts.

When I think about this season I realize it is the pattern He has always used with me.  A series of high-highs and low-lows.  Except the lows were exceptionally low this time.  And maybe, in some sense, the highs were exceptionally high.  I guess it is a result of the advancement in the journey.  The “greater levels” Church culture speaks of.

I ended 2018 on a “high” note.  I spent 2 weeks in the Caribbean with a dear sister and friend.  A woman who has been by my side for over 20 years.  We are amazed at that fact by the way!  She is the only one who “knew me then”, and I her.  She was the one who stayed the longest when my mom moved on to glory and she was the one my mom loved the most.  Growing up she didn’t have a close family and unbeknownst to me, mine became hers.  My grandmother and mother invested in her immensely and I don’t doubt that the fruit of her accomplishments and successes will be distributed to their heavenly accounts.

As we traveled to Mexico and then Honduras and then Belize, I thought about these great women who came before us.  They were the reason we could lay on white sandy beaches, swim in clear blue waters, ride on beautiful stallions and visit the Mayan Ruins.  They were the reason we could live life so abundantly.

So often I think back on my childhood.  I realize there is no one on this planet who will appreciate it as much as those two women.  Who will “oooh” and “awww” over my baby pictures.  Who will be more excited then me for my next birthday.

These are the lows.

I realize I must process it all in order to move forward.  Healing can only come through truth.  And the truth is, life is both.  It is high and low.  It is dark and light.  And I don’t know if we really appreciate the light unless there is darkness.

After my cruise I met with a different sort of companion.  We exchanged late Christmas gifts and made up for our time apart.  We watched movies and had dates and went ice skating.  It was clear the Father was giving me what I longed for, for so long.  And on New Years Eve, I got my New Years’ kiss.  Something I had never before experienced.  Another high.

 

 

I was asked what I wanted in 2019.  What was my goal?  What did I want to accomplish?  “Healing”, I said.  Knowing it was not necessarily what I wanted, but what I needed.

“Healing and restoration”.

I have always been someone very sensitive to times and seasons.  I was excited to see how the Father was working in my life in the earth.  I enjoy seeing the purpose of numbers and calendars (both Hebraic and Gregorian), but time seemed to have stopped this past year.  And maybe if it didn’t necessarily stop, it didn’t seem to matter as much.

Going into this new season I look forward to building my business.  I have already received my first paycheck which overwhelms me with encouragement.  I look forward to enjoying my loved ones and being grateful for those who are here to offer comfort and support in this journey.  I truly don’t deserve the love they have demonstrated.

 

And I look forward to the moments I have with him.  The man who treats me better than any man has ever treated me before.

The Father is full of surprises.  He knows those hard things and though He doesn’t exempt us from them He offers support and strength as we walk through them.  Through it all I know one thing is certain, He is there.  And He cares.

SHALOM.

 

 

 

Kingdom Business

I’ve always known I would one day start my own business.  I just didn’t know when or even what it would be but it was something that stayed in the back of my mind as a “one day” thing.  Then “one day came”.  After my fourth season of unemployment and about 9 months of waiting, it came.

I’d like to say I “waited well” but the truth is I dragged my feet.  I kicked and screamed.  During the course of applying and interviewing and resume-updating, I resisted His nudging to move forward in creating an LLC. Until finally all of my options were none and I could no longer resist His nudge.

I took the steps but still in my heart wondered if He could really be leading me to do this thing full time?  Certainly not!  Everyone knows entrepreneurship takes a while to reap a profit when getting started!  Clearly God knows this as well! So of course I need to be trying to find something to supplement this vision?  But circumstances said otherwise…

During the time of my unemployment (before I got my first client) a dear friend of mine lost her mother.  I was the only friend who could be there for her physically because a work schedule was not an issue.  It was of course significant for me to be the one walking with her through a difficult time because I myself am still in recovery of my own difficult time.  I was with her when I found out my client had hired me.  We stood in the middle of the craft store and I cried tears of joy as she embraced me in her arms.  It wasn’t until I received that offer did other offers from other companies come through.  They came flooding in.

For several months the doors were closed.  Now they were swinging open.

Initially I took an offer but realized it would take away from building my own business.  I would actually be getting paid more working for myself and logically it made no sense to reduce the hours for my client.  By faith, I declined it.  And by faith I started building for my client a system that I hoped would meet her needs.

The beauty in not only seeing the fruit from this step of faith to be a small business owner is that my first client came through a woman who has had so much purpose in my life.  First a blog follower, then a roommate, then a friend, and now a sister.  Working side by side with her shows me the Father’s love and care.

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His provision is consistent in every area.

I have struggled so much in my career and yet never have I went without.  Often I have felt the “downtimes” were too long.  The seasons of unemployment.  The constant feelings of rejection when hearing “no” and facing closed doors.  Even when knowing it is for the best, it still hurts.  Now I can look back and see HIs perfect timing.  9 months living with my friend/now sister.  9 months living with the woman who loved me more than life itself.  And 9 months of “rest” and recovery before my business began.

He cares.

And I’m honored to be continuing the legacy of the women who made me who I am today in a field that was once my weakness and is now His strength.

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I am grateful for ABN Bookkeeping LLC.

SHALOM

Panera

I stood in one of my favorite places.  Panera.  Not sure why but I’ve always found comfort in its wooden booths, warm fire place, and doughy aromas.  At least, I have since grad school.  This particular location was truly a reminder of my time in school because it was the very one I often visited near the campus.

I stood there and had flashbacks of working diligently, pouring over debits and credits for hours on end, and drinking lattes to stay energized.  So many hours and months and years, working towards a goal I would eventually achieve: my MBA in Accounting.  But while I was driven and excited and encouraged at this endeavor, I still felt the longing of a single soul awaiting companionship. 

The longing burned within me.

No matter what I did to ignore it, it lingered.  I thought about this and how many years have passed.  On that day at Panera I didn’t feel the intense, burning, longing that I felt in my 20s, and even in my early 30s, but I still felt…alone.

I liken my desire for a romantic relationship to fasting.  When first starting a fast the hunger of food feels overwhelming and the task nearly impossible.  Yet as time goes on the desire simmers.  It’s still there, but it feels “dulled”.

With fasting, you learn how to be full off less.

The stomach shrinks and with it so does your mindset.  As a friend once told me when not having enough for a meal, “Well, there’s always water.” She said this because she has experienced several 21-day “liquid only” fasts.

Water becomes enough.

Memory after memory visited me as I waited for my order.  The painful ones.  The hard ones.  I thought about how time had moved but my circumstances had not.  I also thought about the guy I had met recently.  We were in the early stages of getting to know each other and I had not yet received a phone call.  I started debating on initiating the call but decided against it.  That just wasn’t me.  Within moments I felt my phone vibrate.  It was him.

We talked that night for the first time.  I sat and ate my food while looking out the window and being very much aware of the Father’s provision.  I had reached a place of understanding that we do not always get what we desire in this life.  We are not promised that.  I understood self denial and waiting and humbling one’s self for the sake of the kingdom.  In fact, I am still learning those lessons.  However I think there are new lessons He is teaching me, hence He is moving in a new way.  Because in that moment, while sitting in Panera, looking out the window and having the first of many to come conversations with a man who has great purpose in my life, I knew the Lord was saying, “See Nicole, your circumstances are changing.”

And more importantly, “Nicole, you are not alone”.

To prove it He brought me, Emmanuel…

SHALOM

Nothing Like Job’s Friends

Job 8

Then Bildad the Shuhite replied:

“How long will you say such things?
    Your words are a blustering wind.
Does God pervert justice?
    Does the Almighty pervert what is right?
When your children sinned against him,
    he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
But if you will seek God earnestly
    and plead with the Almighty,
if you are pure and upright,
    even now he will rouse himself on your behalf
    and restore you to your prosperous state.
Your beginnings will seem humble,
    so prosperous will your future be

In the above passage Job’s friend Bildad is responding to Job’s suffering in the only way he knows how.  He is seeing through his lense.  He is pulling on the information that he has thus far acquired in his life journey and offering that as a resolution.  The only problem, is he is wrong.

Bildad had never been through anything Job was going through at the time, thus he was not qualified to offer advise or counsel or insight.  Unfortunately he was not wise enough not to know this.  And so he spoke out of his ignorance.  He put the blame on Job.  He made it seem like it was something Job had done to experience all of this loss.  That is the deception in religion.  It puts the burden on the person, instead of giving it back to Christ to carry for us…(Matthew 11:30).

In this difficult season I have been navigating I’m so grateful to have people around me, friends around me, who are nothing like Job’s friends.  They do not speak on areas they are not familiar with.  We have all had our difficulties, but none of us are the same.  I have never been through a divorce or faced a physical life threatening illness or lost a child.  And so it would be inappropriate for me to speak on these things.  And even if I had gone through these things I would have had my own experience with them, so what may have helped me through those hardships may not help another person.  My counselor told me something similar recently: we are all different and no two people respond the same to similar circumstances.

I remember the morning of her funeral, 5 women were in my home, waiting.  They were silent.  They were silent because they were sensitive to my needs.  And really, what could be said?  They sat in silence as we road in the limo.  And I felt very much like none of this was happening.  Like I was watching everything happen around me but I wasn’t really apart of it.

Job’s friends were silent initially.  They were silent for 7 days and then they opened their mouths and spoke about things they knew nothing about.  I’m glad that was not my experience.  How painful is it to endure such difficult circumstances and then on top of that to feel condemned and accused and persecuted from your loved ones?

I have had some experiences where selfishness and judgement have been tossed my way and it has been hurtful.  But even those experiences have been few and far between and never from my core circle.  For that I am grateful.

I also know there have been times I have been the judge.  I have been the one condemning and pointing the finger and saying the wrong thing.  I’m grateful for a repentant heart and an increase in self awareness.  I’m grateful for growth.

Pain is a delicate thing.  And when faced with it hearts are tender and should be handled carefully.

I was told last night from a new friend that I am a safe place for him.  He has been through lots of pain and I am honored to be a safe place for someone who has experienced that much pain.

But I know to be safe has to be learned.  I learned it from the women around me and from Holy Spirit using them.

They are nothing like Job’s friends…

SHALOM