You are more than....

You are more than....
Who are you? Who am I? Seventy-plus year old Jean Fleming shares these insights: Photo via CC/Flickr User: Pedro Travassos "I am more than my parents' child, my husband's wife, my children's mother. My accomplishments don't define me: neither do my failures. I am more than my body and more than my intellect, my body type, my contribution. I am more than I know."        -Jean Fleming, Pursue the Intentional Life, 77 What struck me from Jean's words: "I am more than I know." Prayer by Jean Fleming: "Lord God, Tell me who I am. Then, once You've told me, please give me grace to take it in and live in that reality... You say that I am precious in Your sight (see Isaiah 43:4), that my old life is gone and that a new life has begun (see 2 Corinthians 5:17), that You chose me to belong to You before You created the world (see Ephesians 1:4). You love me and care for me as an individual, but You have also placed me into a family, a body, a kingdom. ... I am blessed in Christ to have both an individual identity and a corporate identity." - From Pursue the Intentional Life, 77 Soul Stops Moment: What part of Jean's prayer or quote spoke to you? May I invite you to focus on whatever spoke the most to you, this coming week... maybe write it on a note card and tape it where you can see it or set it up as a daily reminder on your phone or laptop. We become what we focus on. I am very grateful God chose me because of His love, and not because I deserve it. I could never earn God's love. So I'm learning to receive it, rest in it and allow God to shape my identity. Thanks for being here. I will be offline for several days. Look forward to reconnecting later. Linking with encouraging and gifted friends: Barbie of The Weekend Brew and Sandra of Still Saturday.

Visiting Alcatraz

Visiting Alcatraz
Here's the teaser for my monthly guest post at Tweetspeak Poetry. Tweetspeak’s virtual Literary Tours take us to destinations of all kinds, finding inspiration in places such as art museums, libraries, and natural settings. Today, we visit Alcatraz. ______________________ On an unusually sunny spring day in San Francisco, we ride a ferry to “The Rock,” the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. It closed in May 1963, so these days only tourists and locals visit the island. As we near, I’m struck by the number of buildings. I forgot prison staff, such as correctional officers and their families, also lived here. Children once played on one end of the island and rode a ferry to San Francisco to attend school. Once we land, we wind up a steep hill to reach the Cell House, where most of the prisoners lived. We pick up our audio tour equipment and stand outside cell numbers 404 and 403, where we learn how six convicts, led by Bernie Coy, held William Miller and five other officers as hostages for two days in an escape attempt known as The Battle of Alcatraz (1946). A large black-and-white photograph of slain officer William Miller in his cap and uniform in one of the cells commemorates his foresight and courage. The escape failed because Officer Miller hid the Rec Yard key in the cell’s toilet. Hope to see you at Tweetspeak Poetry. P.S. Thanks for reading at Tweetspeak Poetry. Featured image of photo of stairs by Nicolas Vollmer. Used with permission. Post by Dolly Lee.

My journey toward unconditional love

My journey toward unconditional love
My husband and I had been married less than a year. If someone had painted our emotional landscape as we stood face-to-face in the dining room, it would have been red like lava. I don't recall what triggered our disagreement - over 22 years ago.(*) But I do remember how I felt when he looked and spoke to me in a tone equivalent to eyes rolled back in irritation and judgment. (Thankfully, this was a rare event.) Photo via Creative Commons: David Cooper Maybe I was oversensitive, but I believe maintaining respect in a relationship is crucial for a marriage's long-term health. Disrespect in small ways eventually mushrooms into disrespect in large ways and erosion of a relationship. It is easier to pull out one weed than to let it sow seed and destroy a garden. Before I could silence myself, I told him, in a voice steadier than I felt: I didn't appreciate what he said and besides, I perform some tasks better than him but I don't speak to him that way. Surprise registered in his eyes and he quickly apologized. Now I was surprised. Love isn't too proud to say "I'm sorry." Our exchange taught me I could disagree, speak up for myself and he wouldn't become manic-defensive. He could handle my feelings when I calmly spoke truth. When we dated, we had disagreements, but this was the first time we disagreed in this way. (We're not the only ones who go through a, shall we say, transition, between dating and married life. Right?) He loved me enough to care how I felt. He didn't tell me I was too sensitive. And he didn't justify his behavior. Unconditional love accepts its beloved's feelings and tries to understand. My husband put skin on God's desire to know all of me - even the angry and petty parts. My husband's love enabled me to risk honesty with God and discover His unconditional love and acceptance in deepening ways. I can trust God's intentions toward me are good. So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?- Romans 8:31-32 (MSG) Likewise, I trust my husband's heart toward me is good because he has shown me again and again by his actions. Unconditional love wants what is best for its beloved. Unconditional love sacrifices. Over the years I have seen my husband sacrifice time and energy to listen to me process events. I am an external processor. He is a tunnel thinker so I wait for him to internally process before he replies. And I'm learning how loving my husband means loving him in his love language, even if isn't mine. I stretch to do what doesn't come naturally to me so my husband feels loved. And likewise he for me. (We don't have a perfect marriage. And we fail each other enough so we practice forgiveness and grace.) Unconditional love never stops studying one's beloved so one can become an expert on one's beloved. I'm still learning what unconditional love looks like. I tear down misconceptions as they become visible to me. Outside of God, my husband has shown me the closest thing to unconditional love by his faithful devotion to me through infertility, joblessness, postpartum depression, PTSD, bad hair days and morning dragon breath. And his unfettered delight whenever I succeed. Unconditional love weeps with you when you weep, and unconditional love rejoices with you when you rejoice. Twenty-two years later, we try to tend daily the flower of our marriage in love's garden. We pull weeds. We water. And we try to daily drink of the Living Water and root in the soil of God's love. Left to ourselves, our love will wilt. But when we connect with God, the source of unconditional love, we bloom. Soul Stops Moment: Who or what comes to mind when you hear "unconditional love"? How have you experienced God's unconditional love? The talented and kind Emily Wierenga wrote a beautiful memoir, Atlas Girl, about love, loss and learning that spans continents. All proceeds from the sale of her book will benefit the Ugandan women and children helped by The Lulu Tree. Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. They say the book is like “Girl Meets God” meets “Wild” meets “Eat, Pray, Love.” I say the book is inspiring. You can grab a copy here. P.S.  I am almost done reading Atlas Girl and I love it. * As a fact-check, I ran this post by my husband and he agreed. Subscribers, to watch a trailer for The Atlas Girl, link here.   Also linking with gracious Kelli of Unforced Rythms  

Five Minute Fridays: Release

Five Minute Fridays: Release
It's time for five minutes of unedited writing (although I correct typos) where we let our fingers fly over the keyboard with other writers. Photo via Creative Commons User: Robb North Start. Freedom calls me and I hear its song. Set me free from the chains that bind and keep me fettered to these lies. You hold the key to your release, because the truth shall set you free. Jesus said He was the Way, the Truth and the Life. Set me free from the chains of unbelief. Help me to see I can choose to believe and I can be free. Let me live like the free because I am free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1) and I am free from the power of sin and death. The truth is God lives within me, the hope of glory...such a big Truth...help me God to live it out in my daily life as I hug my daughter, as I greet a neighbor, when I give to help another... It is all a gift and I am free. I am released. No more chains. No more fear. Let me live in the light of your Love and in the light of Your Loving gaze toward me. Release. No more worrying because you say to release all my worries to you. To believe You are always with me and I don't ever have to face a problem alone in my limited strength. I am released from trying to be perfect and to have everything in control so no ball ever falls. I am free. Stop. Dear friend, I am praying today for a spirit of true release and freedom upon you and upon me. May we experience in ever greater measure the freedom that Christ died to give us. A freedom to be all He lovingly created us to be. A freedom to choose love and forgiveness - again and again. May you experience the joy of true freedom this weekend. Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other goodies. And thanks to everyone who took the time to share how my manifesto spoke to them. Please visit encouraging Lisa-Jo Baker, the creative mastermind behind 5 minutes of unedited writing based on a word prompt, which she picks weekly. You can link up and/or enjoy reading posts by the wonderful FMF community. 

To hear God's message of love (& why we need you)

To hear God's message of love (& why we need you)
Last Friday, I sat at my kitchen table as sunlight brightened the white pages of my journal. I walked to the rug next to our faded sofa and knelt by our ottoman's torn and ragged edges (thanks to Bailey's puppy teeth). I wrestled with God over how He created me. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons User: ybs Recently, a friend suggested I take a Clifton Strength Finder Assessment.* I wish I believed 100% I am wonderfully made as David says in Psalm 139:14. The truth is I do and I don't. I battle ingrained childhood messages about my unworthiness as I cling to God's words of love like a shield for my besieged heart. I'm a walking faith-in-process person. Just like I eat breakfast daily, I daily feed on the truth of God's Word. My soul withers when I don't eat and drink of God's promises and His presence. In faith, I thank God for how He designed me. I ask God for the grace to truly believe in my heart He didn't make a mistake when He designed me with my unique blend of strengths and struggles. And I choose to believe more and more the truth of Ps. 139:14 in the deepest part of me. But as I get older chronologically and in my faith walk, I also know: God can handle my doubt and my honest feelings. (Have you read David's lament psalms? And yet David was called a "man after God's heart," while he spilled forth raw emotions, such as anger and fear, in at least a third of all the biblical psalms.) If I believe in God's grace, then I must lean into His grace and expose my messy to God in honest dialogue. When I learned all five of my top strengths were "internal" versus "external," I had mixed feelings. It explained why I find social media challenging and why I love to learn. It reminded me how some of my key strengths were dismissed as not valuable when I was growing up. It showed me I may have unfinished grief work regarding past events (as much as I long for it to be done). Being reflective and a deep thinker is not something one can point to with an external marker. It is however, as my friend pointed out, a good fit for me as a writer. Thankfully, writing allows me to make external what I have been internally absorbing and processing. I asked God to forgive me for not being more thankful. I asked God to enable me to trust He delighted in how He made me even if certain loved ones probably never will. Then I sat quietly and asked God if He had anything to say to me. Expectant. The thought came like a whisper to my mind: "I love you, Dolly."  I thought maybe I misheard, so I asked again. It came again and my eyes welled up. God wasn't disappointed in how He made me and He had a plan for my life (Ephesians 2:10). God didn't berate me for my lack of faith. Instead He gently bolstered it. May I encourage you dear reader: whether your strengths are external, internal or a combination: God loves you! I need you with your unique strengths and you need me. We need each other. Photo via Flickr Creative Commons User: Joris Louwes When I talked to my friend again, she reminded me people with external strengths need someone like me to help them to be more thoughtful in their decision-making, just like I need them to help me to execute a goal. The apostle Paul compared Christians to a human body: all with different functions and each needed. If someone thinks s/he is unimportant and then doesn't contribute her/his gift, then the body of Christ suffers. You have a unique combination of gifts and life experiences no one else has, so your gifts are necessary. No one has the right to say your contribution is unimportant. For the body of Christ to function in a healthy way, we must each believe no one is more important than another, regardless of title or visibility. For a moment, I rested in God's unconditional, non-performance based love. I heard and received his love for me: imperfect internal-processing me. We are a team: one body with God as the head. Each member's different strengths esteemed. Each loved. Yes, you.  * If you are interested, the test costs $9.99 at https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Purchase/en-US/Product?Path=Clifton%20StrengthsFinder. You need to set aside uninterrupted time to answer the questions. Please let me know if you find it helpful. To further analyze your top five strengths, such as whether they are external or internal, you need to pay another fee. I'm working with my friend, Linda, who is a coach. She has been invaluable. Soul Stops Moment: What do you think are your top five strengths? Have you ever taken a test to help you discover what your top strengths are? How do you use your strengths to bless a person? your family? a community? Want to join me this week in thanking God each morning for how we are uniquely and lovingly created? Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for how You created me with my unique set of strengths so I can be a blessing. Help me to bless someone today. Give me the grace to hear only Your voice of love for me and for each person I meet today. Let me tune out all lies. In Jesus' name, Amen. Thanks for being here. Welcome, if this is your first time here, and you liked what you read, sign up for my e-mail list and receive my Soul Care Manifesto e-book, blog updates and other goodies. And thanks to everyone who took the time to share how my manifesto spoke to them. Also linking with gracious Kelli of Unforced Rythms   I'm linking with these encouraging friends: Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee,and Lyli Dunbar of Thought-Provoking Thursdays.