Open Letter To The Fatherless

I have had 5 step-dads in my life.

Five.

Only 1 of them has stuck around, and that’s a weird, undefined relationship.

I didn’t know my biological father until I was 29 years old (that’s a miraculous story that I will share a different day).

Father’s Day used to be such a painful holiday for me; a reminder to me that I was fatherless. I recall skipping church at least once in my adult life on Father’s Day just to avoid it altogether. And the Father-Daughter dance at my friends’ weddings…forget it. I cried every time, and usually not tears of joy.

I never was “daddy’s girl,” and there was always a painful whisper in my heart telling me that I never would be. I wasn’t worth sticking around for; I was abandoned…over, and over again.

My heart was broken.

When I chose to follow Jesus, I started studying the Bible to find answers to this question: who is this God? I have spent 13 years chasing after answers, and somewhere along the way  the truth has healed my heart.

Oh, friend. Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you don’t know your father, or maybe you’ve lost your father, or maybe you’ve had an abusive father. I don’t know your story, but you do. I want to tell you that God calls you “daughter.” He calls you His.

I know that can feel so unbelievable. The cynical side of your broken heart might be saying, “Yeah, whatever.” But beautiful one, you are treasured beyond compare…if only you knew.

Over and over again God has revealed Himself to us as “Father to the Fatherless, defender of the weak.” God cares about the role of dads, and He weeps with us when that relationship is broken.

One of the most healing verses of scripture that God has spoken over my heart is Psalm 68:6

God makes a home for the lonely. 

Nothing can replace the role of a father in a daughter’s life. But for those of us whose dads are absent for whatever reason, God loves us and makes homes for us.

There are men worth admiring. There are men worth learning from, and allowing them in enough to show you the type of love that God has for you as a daughter.

We have to receive that. We have to be willing to let that kind of love in, and to look for the hidden treasure found in men that might not be our real dads, but who are worthy of paternal affection.

We must learn to recognize what a godly older man is, and celebrate that. No, they aren’t our real dads, but God shows us His love—what it looks likethrough the lives of such men.

We should celebrate men who are dads by choice. And we should embrace that some of them want to love us as daughters. It is good to allow Godly men to love us like fathers—to offer wisdom, insight, and speak truth, value, and dignity to our hearts. It is good for us to admire, respect, trust, and love godly men like these.

There are these types of men in my own life; godly older men that have forever changed my life, and have been a part of God healing my fatherless heart. Men that didn’t have to be paternal figures, but chose to be anyway. Today, I want to celebrate them:

  • My grandfather. My hero. He is the only man who has remained constant in his role in my life from the day I was born. He walked me down the aisle on my wedding day, and I love him as though he were really my dad.
  • My uncle who adopted me when I was 10 years old. His own children were already grown, and yet he said “yes” to being a dad again.
  • My father-in-laws (Adam’s dad and step dad) have taken me in as their own daughter, have prayed with me, cried with me, counseled me, and so much more.
  • So many other men who love Jesus, and out of that love people. Men like my high school band director, former bosses, pastors, and others who have shown me through their lives what it means to love younger women as daughters, to protect them, give them dignity, give them value.

Sweet sister, God calls you His daughter.

I want to see your happily ever after; that you know in your heart that you matter; that you are royalty. 

You. Are. A. Daughter. Of. A. King.

And one day the tears will be wiped away, and your heart will embrace fully the truth of that statement. Until then, let’s celebrate those men who show us the love of the God who made us—the God who says we belong. The God who calls us to life, to freedom, and to stand with heads held high.

May that God–my God, and yours–sing this song over your heart today:

 

 

Now listen, daughter, don’t miss a word:
    forget your country, put your home behind you.
Be here—the king is wild for you.
    Since he’s your Lord, adore him.

-Psalm 45:10-

Run Hard. Love Strong.

Haley

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About that whole “church” thing…

This weekend my house has been filled with people. People I love. People I want to know more. People that challenge me, inspire me, and that are a part of my life in a way I never could have imagined.

Friday night, my husband and I shared a meal with another couple that we have come to know, love, admire, respect, and hope to emulate in our own lives. We spent hours sharing food, coffee, stories, and real life. When they left, I was sleepy, but exhilarated and full from being in their presence.

Saturday I had several of the women Life Group (small group/community group) leaders from my church over during an open house gathering. Those women are brave, compassionate leaders. Week after week they show up to connect with other women—to teach, disciple, listen, and “do life” with them–through the real, raw parts of life that hurt beyond words, and through the mountain tops of joyful celebration. The women I spent time with on Saturday lead well because they are willing to get in the trenches with the women they serve. That’s courageous. And beautiful. And I love them all.

Sunday night, Adam and I had our own Life Group over. Man, those people have changed our lives. We have been meeting with our group for about two years, but we have grown. We started off with three couples, and now seven couples come together week after week to live alongside of each other. I cannot tell you how much I love those people; when the bottom has fallen out of life, they have been there cheering us on, supporting us, praying for us, fighting with and for us. We hope that we have done the same for them.Church is the people not the building April 26 post

It was a busy weekend; busier than usual. But I am so full. To everyone that stepped foot through our front door, thank you. Thank you for being you, and for being willing to live in community. Thank you for sharing that with our family.

That is what the local church is: Christ-followers living life among one another, challenging, teaching, encouraging, and meeting needs—tangible and intangible. To my family and I, the local church has become our lifeline.

That hasn’t always the case. Maybe you can relate.

I was adopted by my aunt when I was 10 years old, and her rule was that unless I was contagious or had a fever, I was up and at ’em Sunday mornings to attend church. Church was always my routine, but it was never something I loved or was passionate about. Until I gave my life to Jesus at the age of 17, church was the obligatory place I went every Sunday to appease my parents.

When I became a Christian, I did view the church differently. I appreciated going more, and my doodles turned into copious amounts of notes that I have in journals in my basement to this day. My youth pastor taught me how to pray and study God’s word. Church became a great resource for life, but still not anything I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t live without Jesus; attending church, however, was healthy, but not critical.

That all changed when I was in college. I attended Liberty University in Central Virginia. That place is a breeding ground for graduates that go out and change the world, equipped with the fire of the Gospel, and world-class degrees in a crazy amount of professional fields.  I love Liberty. Go Flames!

I got excited about Campus Church each Sunday morning. I loved being taught by Johnnie Moore and others (more volumes of copious notes), but after a few years, I found myself hungry to plant roots somewhere. I started itching to not only gain but also to give. I started longing to know other people, and to be known by them. So I started attending Brentwood Church, a local church in Lynchburg.

And that is when the game changed. God used what I learned at Brentwood to revolutionize my view of church. Apart from my initial decision to follow Christ, there are only a few things that have completely wrecked shop on my worldview, passions, and hunger for the Truth. Attending Brentwood Church during my time in Lynchburg is one of them.

Every week, I would walk through doors manned by smiling faces, authentically happy I was there. Without fail, every week I walked away knowing the values of Brentwood: invest in community by joining a Community Group (small group), serve and be served on Sundays by volunteering during one service and worshipping in the other, and change the world by taking everything we received each week and committing to being and making disciples locally and globally. Brentwood produced (and to my knowledge is still producing) disciples that grow deeper in faith, community, service, and impact all around the world.

That. Is. Awesome. And supernatural. And it’s something I didn’t know I needed, but now I can’t live without.

Turns out, everything I had ever thought I had known about church was wrong. Brentwood taught me that “Church” isn’t a place, it’s a group of people. And turns out I’m one of them. And if you are a Christ-follower, you are one of them. And we are invited into something sacred, beautiful, and powerful. When we realize that the church is the people and not the building, we cannot escape the weight of both the privilege and the responsibility it is to commit to its well-being.

Brentwood Church was a catalyst for me to begin understanding that if I love Jesus the way I say that I do, then I am to be connected to His church. It’s not an invitation with an optional RSVP; I am expected and called to be an active participant in the Body of Christ by offering myself—my story, my time, my talent, and my treasure—to its well-being.

God cares for the orphans and widows. He cares for the marginalized and oppressed. He also cares for lonely believers. And His solution for meeting needs in all of them is His Church.  If we really believe that the Spirit of God indwells believers, then we experience the presence of God not just through the Spirit that indwells us individually, but through other believers. We were made to live and thrive in community with each other, and to look out for each other. We are invited to give and to gain by actively engaging in a local body of believers.

So, for the next few weeks, we are going to dive into what that means. Does a church have to look a certain way to be right? Does it need to be a certain size? Offer a certain type of teaching and/or music? What is a small group, and why does it matter if I’m in one or not? What about serving? Is that required or optional?

I am convinced that our hearts are only healed through the redemption offered by God through His son, Jesus. I am equally convinced that God is passionate about His Church, and that we should be too. Stick around, and let’s keep talking about it.

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~

Not For A Moment

This week has left me speechless. Our world–near and far– is so horribly broken. Sickness, death, war, and trauma abound.  None of us can say we have never hurt deeply. We are all very, very broken, and we all need a Savior. 

As a mother, I adore my son. He is precious to me, and I enjoy him simply because he is mine. Like most children, he has days that make me want to pull my hair out. Some days I fight him tooth-and-nail to listen and obey, and to understand that I love him and want good things for him.. Some days I just want to cry from sheer frustration when his strong will and my own collide.

But no matter the day we had, if my son wakes up in the middle of the night crying because he is scared, I go to him.  It doesn’t matter how frustrated I may have felt during the day. I love him fiercely, and I don’t want him to be scared. I want him to trust that I will be there when he needs me. I want him to know he is safe, loved, and that I am with him. I can’t make the sun come up, but I can be with him in the darkness. 

 I have to believe that God feels even stronger about us. We are pitiful, sinful beings that often quotescover-JPG-30distrust the God that loves us and wants good things for us. And yet He loves us with an everlasting love. In spite of our sin, our shame, and our guilt, He has has come to us in the middle of our nightmare and rescued us.

We are not alone in the darkness; our God is with us. He doesn’t always immediately take away the pain, but the morning will come. Until then, we are not alone.

About ten years ago, I was in the middle of one of the most difficult seasons of my life thus far. I was struggling with how a good God would allow me to suffer seemingly alone. Why would I want to follow a God that left me in the darkness? But my world was radically changed when God showed me what He has to say about:

14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness
 and speak tenderly to her.15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
 There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
 as in the day she came up out of Egypt. 16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
“You will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ (Hosea 2:14-16)

The Lord allows us to experience difficult, trying times not to show himself as a God that will beat us  into submission, but rather to show the intimate nature of His love and compassion towards us in spite of ourselves.

It is easy in the darkest times to believe the lie that God no longer cares, that He has forsaken us, that He doesn’t love us. It is easy to believe that we are being punished. In that hard season of my life, I believed I would never be better, and I would be left to rot in the wilderness. But that season is now one of the fondest of my spiritual life because I look back and see God’s goodness, tenderness, and kindness to me in the midst of my doubts, fears, and brokenness.

God loves us fiercely. He is with us in the desert to show us His heart; to show us that when all is lost, He is constant.

Maybe you are suffering tremendously. Look to Him. He has come for us like a good father goes to his child. He loves us with a radical love that changes us. He is able to take the Valley of Achor (the valley of trouble) and make it a doorway of hope.

How have you seen God move through tragedy and pain in your own life?

If you are like me, you enjoy a good song that speaks into the heart of an issue. Here are a few I encourage you to check out:

“The Cure for Pain” by Jon Foreman

“After All (Not for a Moment)” by Meredith Andrews

“Crushed and Created” by Caitlyn Smith

“If You Want Me To” by Ginny Owens

The Truth About My Struggle With Anxiety

I have a confession to make (I can’t believe I’m telling you this). For the last year or so, my guilty pleasure has been watching One Tree Hill on Netflix. There are lots of themes that I appreciate about the show: redemption, reconciliation, and great music to name a few (I am actually listening to a radio station that is based on music from the show right now. “Run” by Snow Patrol is currently playing).

As I was planning this series, I knew that there would come a point when I would have to really expose myself and be very vulnerable in order to be effective. That day has come. Before I go further, check out this short clip from the final season of One Tree Hill to set the stage for the next part of our journey to becoming healthier, happier people:

Clay had experienced an incredibly traumatic event when his wife passed away. Years later, the effects were still haunting him (although he couldn’t see that). To him, he just had a sleeping problem that a few pills would solve. Something in him was either too afraid to acknowledge that he needed more help than he could give himself, or too afraid to uncover what the real issues were for fear of what he might discover. Later in the season, his counselor tells him that he “has to go back in order to leave it behind.”

In order to grow healthier and stronger, there are times when we must acknowledge that we need professional help. If our bodies are sick, we do not hesitate to call a doctor, but for some reason if our minds are sick, we ignore it and try to tuck it away. Maybe we are afraid of what others will think. Maybe we are afraid that if the people that love us really knew what was underneath the “I’m trying to keep it all together” smile, they would leave. The truth is that if we don’t own up to real issues, and seek the proper help for them, we are perpetuating the damage, and we are in fact hurting the people that we are so afraid will leave. If we are not healthy, we cannot offer our loved ones ourselves.

I believe that the best art comes out of an artist’s personal story: their joys, their pains, and all that has made them who they are (cue Brandi Carlile’s incredibly powerful song, “The Story”). So, dear friend, I want be raw and honest with you. Today’s topic comes out of tremendous healing that I have personally experienced in my life, and that I so deeply desire for others to experience as well.

A few years ago, my husband and I put our son to bed and then sat down on the couch to watch a tv sci-fi/mystery/crime show that we had recently gotten into. The show had never bothered me, but something in the plot line that night hit a trigger button that I had ignored for months. Suddenly my heart started pounding, I started sweating, shaking, and crying.

I had a full-on panic attack, and was suddenly thrown into a journey that was dark, ugly, and very long.  But it was absolutely necessary. There was so much baggage hiding in my closet that I had continued to pack down for years. The warning signs were there: I had become increasingly afraid of the world that we live in, irritable, distant in relationships, guarded, and more. But it took having a major panic attack, weeks of being unable to sleep, nightmares, and obscene levels of irrational fear for me to be willing to seek help through professional counseling.

I believe that there is a place for needing medication to assist with some mental well-being situations. In my particular situation, however, I wanted to combat my sickness without any medication unless a doctor found it absolutely necessary. I committed to attending my counseling sessions as scheduled, and doing my part outside of appointments to get out of the pit I had found myself in.

I want to emphasize something here that is absolutely essential: mental and emotional healing require being brave enough to look at the real issues in the face and fight back. We must be willing to face the fear, feel the fear, and move forward anyway. Baggage has to be unpacked that is dirty, filthy, scary, and even debilitating. The journey of mental and emotional well-being can (and most likely will) get messier before it gets better.

I had to reach a place where the pain of healing was less than the pain of staying the same. I was already living in what felt like my worst nightmare, so I was finally willing to unpack the “junk” in my heart that I was so afraid to face. It took me two years of intentional, intensive counseling to finally see the sun again in my spirit. With the help of a skilled counselor, and pressing hard into the Lord–our Creator and Healer–I was able to walk away with an entire toolbox to fight back against the fear, against the anxiety, against the panic.

And today, I am still living free.

As the video I shared above shows, there is a huge stigma about professional counseling. Most of us would prefer to be physically sick, with tangible reasons why we are broken than to acknowledge that there are some illnesses that are not fixed with physical means. I’m here to say that there is no shame in asking for help. Athletes don’t apologize for needing a coach to help them. Physically ill people don’t feel shame for needing a doctor. There is no shame in accepting help when some issues are too big to deal with alone.

If the weight of your world is unbearably heavy, and you feel yourself sinking, please don’t ignore the warning signs. Seek out a licensed counselor that shares your values and faith, that you feel comfortable talking to, and that has a track record of effective treatment.

 

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~

5 Ways To Fight Loneliness

Tuesday was one of those days. Like, one of those “ugly cry” kind of days. My husband called me on his way home from work, and I fell apart. Maybe it’s lonelypregnancy hormones (have I mentioned that I’m expecting baby #2? Well…I am, and I’m excited, but I’m also a hormonal mess some days…). I just felt so…alone. This is a blog about becoming authentically happy, healthy people. Is it okay for me to admit that yesterday I didn’t feel happy? Pull up a chair and a cinnamon spice latte and let’s chat.

Do you remember in my last entry when I said that we were going to talk more about intentionally investing in community with other people? It is a critical branch to the proverbial “tree of happiness” that we are aiming to become. Our security and the root of authentic happiness, joy, and contentment is rooted in the unchanging God that made us and loves us. But soon after God created man, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone (see Genesis chapter 2 for the whole scoop).

In college it was so easy to be in community with people. I lived in an all-girl dorm, and so more often than not there was some kind of social event happening, some group of people to be with, etc. My roommate, Rachel, and I got along really well and built a great friendship and still keep in touch. But I wasn’t prepared for post-college, adult, real-world friendships.

Maybe adults in my life at the time warned me, but I wasn’t prepared for friendship to become hard.  Real life hit, and suddenly it became much more challenging to have time for friends. Work, family, chores, errands…sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, let alone have meaningful time with other grown ups! Can I get a witness? But it’s important. Hear me: in order to be truly healthy people, we need to be intentionally invested in developing relationships with other people.We all need a safety net when “life happens.” We need people to celebrate our greatest joys with us, and to surround us in our deepest hurts.

So back to Tuesday. I was a hot mess. But it was Tuesday, which meant that in the evening I would get to be surrounding by some of the most accepting, loFriendship handsving, compassionate, gracious, hilarious people that I know; Tuesday night is Life Group night. It was such a relief to be surrounded by people that I have grown to trust with the most hurt, most raw parts of my heart and to look them in the eyes and say, “Man, today was rough.” Without blinking, those people just loved me, prayed for me, and said, “We’re with you.”

We live in a world full of people, and most of them feel alone. I’ve personally felt so alone at times that it drove me to really dark places that I never want to go back to. Most of us fear being rejected, fear being abandoned, fear being manipulated, or abused, or worse. But in order to truly break free, we have to fight the battle of loneliness, and “go all in” for the rewards of living in community with other people.

What are some ways that busy, tired adults can move beyond superficial relationships, and move into meaningful, supportive, safe friendships? Feel free to comment and share your own experiences and suggestions for other readers, and let’s have a conversation! Here a few suggestions that have helped me tremendously over the last few years to cultivate authentic, trusting relationships:

1. Commit to being the type of friend that you want to have.

A few years ago, Tim McGraw released his ballad “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it, a dying man says that if he could do his life all over again, he would be the type of friend that a friend would like to have. Whatever you think of Tim McGraw’s music, the man has a great point! Are we sitting around expecting from other people what we aren’t willing to give of ourselves?

2. Make the time. 

Like most things in adulthood, we will never have enough time; we have to make the time. Invite someone over for dinner (I’m a firm believer that food is one of the best ways to build relationships. Break the ice while breaking the bread!). Once a week use your lunch break to make a phone call. Creativity might be needed, but the sacrifice produces incredible dividends!

3. Be available.

We live very scheduled, hyper-structured lives. Coming up in this series we are going to discuss building margin into our days in order to allow for the unexpected (I’m really excited about that conversation, by the way). If you really want meaningful relationships, you have to be open to the reality that some of the most important events in people’s lives are unscripted, unscheduled, and unexpected. Plan to be inconvenienced, but it is worth it.

4. Learn to be a great listener. 

We have all had those friends who tap on the table, anxiously waiting to tell us all about their most recent events, while we are sharing the joys and hurts of our own lives. It’s irritating, isn’t it? Let’s break that cycle and cultivate listening ears and hearts. Are we really interested in our friends enough to lay aside our personal agendas in order to hear them, support them, and let them know that they are not alone? Trust me. This is one attribute that you want in a friend, so for the love of friendships everywhere, be willing to develop this in yourself too.

5. The little things matter. 

Simple, thoughtful gestures can be the difference between a Facebook friend, and a meaningful friend that really “does life” alongside of you. A quick text or email offering sincere encouragement, remembering a birthday or major milestone, really being happy for their successes, or taking a cup of coffee to their office on a rough day…those kinds of things add up!

What about you? What means the most to you in a friendship? How do you battle loneliness in your own life? Let’s talk!