Just a little pruning, boys.

It’s finally warm enough in Houston to prune my climbing roses. I have three climbers, and they are a mess. Luckily, my boys are grounded from the Xbox, so they are officially enlisted to assist me with the big chop.
img_4003Some roses grow year round in Houston, though most still need an annual pruning to put on a good show in spring. Mine are in desperate need of attention. There is dead wood mixed in with new growth which prohibits airflow and can, and has, cause disease.

My roses have been through a lot this year. After all, they survived the pounding rain, forceful winds, and floods of hurricane Harvey. They also survived surprisingly below freezing temperatures seldom seen in this part of the country. They survived my boys nearly running them over with the mower and the trimmer. They survived our pug dog’s horrible choice of where to potty. And here, you see, they are still blooming. Somehow through all those tests and storms, I was able to cut a couple sad-looking blooms and place them in a vase.

These roses are a testimony to what is possible within our lives. Life brings heavy storms. And if we all knew what was coming, we would swear that we wouldn’t make it through. Yet, somehow we do. We pull through…just like my roses.

But…

If I leave these roses alone after this last year of trials, they may survive, but it won’t be pretty.

The harshest test of all for my roses will be my attempt to prune them. I’ll cut them back to nearly nothing. I may damage some good vines in the process. I will definitely cut off all the winter growth, and they won’t look like much after I put away my garden shears. To quote my youngest, “you always cut them down to nothing!”

God does this to me sometimes. He allows life to cut me to the quick. I don’t believe He wishes to bring me harm. I do believe he disciplines me so I know where to grow next.

God’s plan for our lives is to cut away whatever is no longer growing or serving His purpose. He knows that if we keep the old dead diseased aspects of our life, we won’t bloom into what He desires.

Pruning is one of most difficult lessons for a Christian to learn. Sometimes the direction we want to grown is not in our best interest nor does it fit into the Great Gardener’s plan. We must submit to the Gardener, though it hurts. We must submit to the Gardener’s plan even if our plan seems easier and painless.

If life has brought you pain this year, try to see it as pruning. If a prayer was answered with a ‘no’ from the Great Gardener, press on and pray that He leads you to where you can best grow.

Spring is coming and with the Great Gardener’s help, your new life lessons will make you unstoppable, healthy, and beautiful. After all, this life we live is His garden, not ours.

He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. -John 15:2

Mediocrity and the Bearing of Souls

pexels-photo-265702.jpegCall it a mid-life crisis. I’m not coveting fast cars or plastic surgery. I haven’t bought anything expensive or colored my hair, nor do I really want to. Instead, I woke up one morning with this unwavering realization that my life has excelled in one thing and that is mediocrity.

I’ve lived a conservative life. After college graduation, I stepped right into the role of suburban mom of three. I never knew I wanted to be a stay-home mom until I tried to leave two big blue eyes at home with a sitter. Now I’ve been home with my kids for the majority of their lives. I went to work outside the home three years ago and quickly learned that for a youth ministering lifestyle, both parents absent through the summer isn’t easy.  When one of my children began to struggle with depression and anxiety, I quickly walked away from a steady paycheck, a good job, and good people. I don’t regret it though my wallet does at times.

I recognize now as I’ve fallen even further behind the mass of Generation X moms who work, that I most assuredly will never professionally recover from a life spent momming. My ego flares up regularly in conversations as I posture to boast about my education, as if who I am without my education is not enough for the world. See how I even worked it into a blog. Geez. Who am I trying to impress exactly?

So, I’m a 41 year old mom. I haven’t done much to brag about. No one really knows my name. I wear leggings, and I load the dishwasher every day. I drive people places and fight teenagers regularly. My name isn’t in lights or on the cover of a book. I haven’t held together companies, and truthfully, I’m not sure that staying home will be worth it long term. I can’t afford college for my kids. They wear hand-me-downs regularly. I wish I could tell you that I have this mom thing down and that I’ve raised stellar children. But most days my singular agenda is to keep them all out of an institution. I have lofty goals for my kids: 1. Love Jesus. 2. Don’t kill each other.

I’ve watched other moms. I’ve coveted their perfect hair and nails. I’ve been amazed at their important jobs and shiny cars. I’ve glamorized the working mom. All the while, I’m just hoping my middle child doesn’t play another round of “is it flammable?” in the house. This is my life: leggings and hiding matches.

Twenty-five years ago I thought this life thing would feel more exciting. I had big dreams and thought a lot more of myself. In the throws of adolescence, I thought people were watching me and sincerely cared what I wore every day. None of that was completely true then and it is definitely not true now. Frankly, I don’t like people who care what I wear. Those people are horrible people. Avoid them.

Some of this life I intentionally chose. Some of this life was handed to me. And though days come when I feel less significant than others, those feelings all come from a place of narcissism and malcontent not from God. Life and growing up is mostly about accepting what is and doing your best with what you have to give. So, I mom. I mom like crazy. I mom to the best of my ability… and write a little when I have the time.

What I’ve learned is this: womankind looks at the outside. Women examine hair and nails. We study each other’s exterior and compare it to our own when we walk by mirrors. We wish for each other’s bodies and jobs and noses. We comment on crazy makeup trends with a quick follow up of “bless her heart” just in case someone accuses us of snobbery. We wish for different life circumstances and bigger paychecks. We are rarely content with what we have. And when we are content with who we are, then we pick on our spouses or kids or friends and make them projects rather than relationships.

Most women I know are fixers. Most of us read loads of books on the topic of fixing ourselves or fixing our kids or fixing our marriages. We spend a lot of time trying to fix things. Keeping up the appearance of having it all fixed becomes a full-time profession for some of us. And somehow during all this fixing, we forget that we are all doing this same thing…trying to appear significant and trying to be more than mediocre and trying to hide where we are all completely messed up.

But, if I’m mediocre and so is everyone else, then I’m not alone in that. We are all normal together. I only feel insignificant because I look into someone else’s life and covet it. I wear mediocrity like a badge of shame rather than living a life of gratitude and joy. I can’t change all the circumstances of my life, but my attitude is my choice.

Through it all I have great peace that while I may live out this life only being famous to my three precious kids and while their inheritance exists solely in the form of my sense of humor or their dad’s passion for the church, to my Creator I am someone quite unique and special. Every hair on my head was created with purpose. Every word I write was planned. Every moment and breath I take on this earth has great significance to Him.  If that is mediocrity, then that is enough.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. -Psalm 139:13-16

 

 

 

Just a little yeast…

I heard from God today.  I’m often so entrenched in my own selfish bubble that I miss some really sweet messages of comfort. Today I got it. I hear you, Lord. Thank you. And, man, did I need it! Right on time, as usual.

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It goes without saying that raising children in the faith today feels impossible. From every direction my kids’ heads are turned away from the path of the cross. For the most part, Hollywood mocks morality as well as the authority of parenthood. Unfortunately, my kids witness Hollywood on every screen in their life from their pockets to the theater. Politicians cheapen Jesus using him a vote manipulator. Churches struggle with entertaining or emoting my kids into belief. Our school teachers, while I know they believe, are limited in everything they say and do. My children’s best friends in school are not believers. From every angle, a walk in faith for my children is often lonely and confusing.

I am burdened by this. My heart aches thinking about it, primarily because I know that the two people at the helm of this family ship are so very faulty. Dave and I try hard to be good examples for the kids, but we fail. Daily, we fail.

My kids sit in a front row seat at my sin showcase.

Time is so precious, and I have so little of it. Getting in bedtime prayers and attempting spiritual conversations at our twice a week family dinner are generally our biggest opportunities for spiritual connection with the kids. The older they get the more difficult it is to find the time to ask them probing questions and get into faith discussions. And every year that has gone by has stolen one more family meal time. Instead, we shuttle people to rehearsals, practices, lessons, and meetings and talk in the car.  The car is a great chance to try to get into their heads, but it too, is so minimal. Time never stops, but we refuse to let time steal every opportunity from us.

God knows that my heart is heavy with the burden of sharing my faith with my children and today I saw this…

“He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a little leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” ~Matthew 13:33

I have three children.  I recognize that biblical translations of this particular verse vary in the interpretation of the “three measures of flour”. And I’m not going to attempt a huge theological exposition on this tiny parable. Nevertheless, for me and my heart, what I read in these few words was the encouragement that my best efforts to work the word of Christ into the hearts of my three children won’t be all in vain. Small dividends will pay off. What God spoke to my heart today is that regardless of limited time and my giant glaring inadequacies, Christ uses my efforts to reveal Himself to my children. My limited and fallible attempts at sharing Jesus will result in growth. Thanks be to God!
Be comforted, parents. There is hope in Christ.  Our attempts to share Jesus with our kids can pay off big, not because of us; rather, in spite of us.

And He Hears.

And I cry.

and try to convince myself that I am not alone.
Yet, I listen to the voice pull me further from my home.

I see my reflection and wish a shattered mirror.
I listen to my failures and focus on my error.

I try to hear Him in the wind and the rain;
turn my aching ear to hear His voice again.

I sing the songs, and I know the steps.
I’ve heard the sermons, my boxes are all checked.

But I’m empty and I hear no calming voice
I cover my ears to shut out my noise.

And He hears.

I heard your prayers. I see your tears.
You’ve never once danced alone.
I walked those paths, felt the rocky soil
of that place that you call home.

I’ve been alone, without a friend,
not one to heal my wounds.
I felt the sting of goodbye, the ache of hate,
the glares from across the room.

But, the only difference between you and I,
that piece that blinds your scope,
is the empty tomb I left behind;
the assurance of your eternal hope.

I hold those hands you lift in prayer
while I hold the sky above.
I’m in the wind and storms you feel.
I’m the ever present love.

You’ll never fit within that space.
That world is not your home.
My gift for you is on the path of grace
My Spirit won’t leave you alone.

I ache to show you your home above,
a home meant just for you.
I left this place of perfect love
to offer everyone another view.

I took on pain and guilt,
and carried all the shame.
My heart breaks alongside yours
as I think of every name.

But, I know it hurts.
and I know you’re tired.
I see you try and try.
I won’t walk away, won’t give up, won’t ever say goodbye.

So, lift your head to see the end.
Find your joy along the path.
Pain will come along your way,
but there’s purpose in each task.

I’m with you on your journey.
I’m with you on this road.
I’m in the dance you dance each day,
and I lighten every load.

Your journey doesn’t end there.
Focus on what’s to come.
Your journey ends right here with me,
where the sun never met a horizon.

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I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.  ~2 Kings 20:5

 

the Choice.

it’s your choice.

the path, you complain, is hard
too rocky, steep to climb

the path, you see, is winding
yet, you miss all the signs

you’re lost inside your whining
lost within your head

you only see the struggle
the sick, the mess, the dead

you miss the joy around you
you miss the laughter shared

you miss the hope above you
trapped within your snare

the choice to see the blessing
the choice to see the good

is lost within complaining
is lost within what “could”

but life is never easy
it’s a matter of our view

life will bring the darkness
light comes from within you

it’s your choice.pexels-photo-66100.jpeg

The Dual Nature of You

I’m just like Elizabeth Bennett…according to Facebook. I love a good personality inventory. I’ll click on a Facebook personality test regardless of the topic. At this point, I know which ‘Friends’ character I’m most like, which Disney princess I think like, as well as, which junk food I most resemble. I love the Meyers-Briggs Assessment the most and regularly try to guess the personalities of people I meet. I usually get pretty close. The stronger the personality, the easier to spot whether someone is an Introvert/Extrovert or Perceiver/Judger etc. Within relationships, understanding one another’s personalities is crucial to resolving interpersonal conflict.

I recently went through a book for the third time with my kids called Nurture by Nature. This book uses the Meyers-Briggs Assessment to pinpoint your child’s personality. Then chapter by chapter it unloads hints and advice on how to parent each specific child.

Our kids are a pretty good blend of their parents. The fascinating observation regarding my kids’ personalities is that they each have a dual nature about them. The hardcore leadership of my firstborn backfires at times. She has a great sense of right and wrong and expects everyone to fall in line. She gets angry when she sees injustices and irritated when others sit on the sidelines without sharing her passion to seek beneficial change. She questions authority and abandons respect for anyone in authority as soon as she witnesses any inconsistencies. She questions the status quo daily. She seeks improvement in everything and everyone. She is hard on herself and others, an amazing future leader tempted to isolate herself.

The compassion of my middle child comes with heightened sensitivity and loads of guilt. He offers mercy for everyone in the world except himself. My middle kiddo is the most loving of the family. We all recognize this. He has more compassion in his pinky toe than the lot of us. With this compassion comes great emotional turmoil because life simply does not deliver peace, love, and joy to all the hurting. He can hardly discuss our adopted child through Compassion International without distress. He gets depressed when the rest of us forget to include her in prayer, a future humanitarian daily discouraged by humanity.

I believe God made each of us with a purpose and plan. I do not believe God’s intention was for us to dismiss our personalities or try to become carbon copies of each other. Rather, He created us to be just as we are –to use the best of our personalities to challenge others, to love the unlovable, to cry with the hurting, or to give without question. Whatever gift God gave us, we should use it to the fullest.

However, there are two sides to every human story, and there are two sides of each of of our personalities. Neither may be particularly harmful or sinful, but a strength or tendency may hint at a potential weakness. Our individual personalities are multi-faceted and fascinating.

One challenge in a blossoming self-awareness is to recognize that there are usually two sides to who you are. If you are merciful without question, are you also a doormat who regularly tolerates poor behavior? If you are an extrovert and love being with people all the time, do you ever struggle to set boundaries in relationships or neglect moments of solitude for personal prayer? Are you an excellent judge of character but also experience the temptation to be judgmental of others?

When I teach peace-building classes, I usually ask for two volunteers to help. I hold up a book between them and ask them to describe what they see. Simply, they each see a book, but as they describe it, they discover that the cover on one side doesn’t match the cover on the other side at all. They each see part of what is before them, but can’t describe the other side without hearing from the other volunteer. The same is true in relationships. We only see our side of the story. Relationships grow when we try to see the other side through others’ eyes accepting our own limitations.

Try to pinpoint the potential struggles within your unique personality that can lead you to step outside of God’s will for your life or that can cause personal, or even interpersonal difficulties. Be completely honest with yourself. And if you are particularly brave today, ask a close friend what they see as your strengths and potential pitfalls.

Within relationships, be wary of self-righteous by assuming everyone sees the world just like you do. Don’t expect others to observe the world in the same way. We each have unique strengths. We each have unique temptations. We can only see the world through our own eyes.

Without consistently seeking understanding as we relate to others, we may never clearly see the other side of the story. Further, individual perception often becomes an individual’s “truth” until both parties attempt to clearly understand where the other is coming from and how they view the world.

I am sure that God, who began a good work in you, will continue His work until it is finished on the day Jesus returns. ~Philippians 1:6

the last run.

Caryn Blanchard Blog

e41a152e18df4fdea70ade3b8b78e9b7When I close my eyes
after all final goodbyes
i’ll eagerly expect my new view.

I’ll open my eyes
and quickly arise
dismiss all that’s behind and run to you.

You’ll open your arms
erase all that brought harm
then greet me in a land of clear skies.

I’ll at last see your face
as we celebrate grace
and recall all adventures gone by

You’ll introduce me to friends
the day will ne’er end
as eternity bursts forth from short life.

I’ll rejoice in a reward
that i never earned
and clutch hands with a friend who knew strife.

For all that was toil
the heartbreaks of poor soil
matters never again when i run to you.

When all wrong in me is gone.
and we sing a new song
As my final run embraces your truth.

-CB

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Attitude of Gratitude

Throughout 2017 our family kept a gratitude jar. I set out paper and markers and during the year each of us wrote down blessings big and small, folded the paper, and dropped them in an old Ball canning jar. The jar filled and quickly became smashed down, overflowing. I’m thankful for that.

This morning we read through all the colorful papers listing our blessings in 2017.

We even found some notes that sweet friends snuck in at some point while in our home this year.

Heartbreaks abound here on earth, but if you seek good, you will find good mixed into your struggles. Noticing even the smallest blessing counts and can lead you toward recognizing the bigger blessings you may miss otherwise. Seek good. Hunt it. List blessings aloud, on paper, on your mirrors, on your refrigerators. Soak in the blessings that life brings to keep you from drowning in the sorrows.

Hurt happens. Find the good anyhow and pop that memory in your gratitude jar whether literal or not.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

~John 6:38

Dying to Live

This year I’m walking away from some old practices leaving room for God to begin something new in my life.

My son and I are already planning our vegetable garden this year. I’ve even started a compost bin to improve the soil. Funny thing about composting, it’s basically a bin of death and rot that provides essential nutrients in soil for new growth. To have the most productive garden, it must be surrounded by death. Much like my compost bin, I want to put to death all the pieces of old me so a new, more God-pleasing, me will grow. I want to put to death jealousy, self-doubt, people pleasing, materialism, worry, busi-ness, and fear. We will see what grows in my life once I’ve buried a few of those old things and let them die.

May God richly bless your new year and may we all endeavor to seek Him, speak truth to ourselves and others, and be bold for the sake of the cause. Happy New Year!

An Ecclesiastes Kind of Day

image_367465da-304c-4628-9f86-1ee7bcf26131_1024x1024The last two days have been a struggle for me. I hate that those days come when my faith is weak and the future of humanity appears so grim and life so overwhelming that living it is pointless. I hate those days. But those days do come; thankfully, not too often. If any of you struggle with depression and anxiety, you understand.
The fact is my hope often renews (slow as a snail on gravel) because those days force me to settle into what I know is truth and to seek out comfort from the invisible Creator God of whom I believe. Even if those days include me reminding myself of what I do believe every two minutes, reminding me that I made a decision to believe. I made a commitment to Him and not to self. When you try to emote faith on days like this, sometimes the most comforting way back is to remind yourself of your commitments to follow truth and not your wayward emotions.
This morning as I struggled to understand how the Spirit of the Almighty would lead a person such as me, a doubter, a sinner, a self-loather, I skeptically flipped open my bible. I admit it was an aimless opening. I had no verse in mind and no direction. (Maybe I was testing the Spirit’s presence in my life.) But where the pages fell open was surprising. Ecclesiastes. If you’ve read Ecclesiastes, you’ll wonder how in the world I could gain encouragement from such a book. And yet, there they were, the words I needed to pull me out of this gross emotional self-seeking lie of doubt.
“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
This tiny truth woven into my heart is where my pain comes from. It’s like an aching homesickness that never goes away. It’s an ache for justice- for resolution- for a fairness that is clearly missing in the church and in the community around me. I ache for home, for heaven. I ache to see all children loved, to see all church members appreciated, to see all Christians wage a war against evil and not each other, to see God glorified and the bible held as our connection to our God and Savior.
My heart longs for a place that is truly beautiful. My heart knows that it exists and my discomfort here, as painful as it can be at times, is further proof that this earth isn’t home. My attempts to camp here and make it feel comfortable will always be vain attempts to create a home that truly awaits for me…somewhere else.
No church. No friend. No marriage. No child can fill the hole in your heart than only heaven can fill. As beautiful as this earth can be, we haven’t seen the truly beautiful resolution for our lives that He has in store for us. We can’t even see the plan He has nor understand the intricate blueprint he has designed for our paths. Maybe we should stop trying to understand and simply trust in the promise that we indeed have a tomorrow with Him.
Today, I rest in this hope of a future of peace, a beautiful view where all that I see around me finally makes sense and my inadequate attempts to make this earth feel like heaven will vanish in the blink of an eye when I finally see the real deal.
Peace,
me