Authenticity · Faith

The Art of Being Real

Just kidding.

There’s no art.

There’s no secrets.

It comes with realizing that people will pretty much think what they will of you and what you pretend to be (or not be) with have little effect on their opinions of you. Whether you’re honest or not, people will think what they’re inclined to think.

In fact, I would go as far to say that what people say about others, reflects their own heart more than anything else.

I’m not saying that everyone should be a total jerk and it doesn’t matter. Don’t be ridiculous. Be nice. Be kind. Chose to sometimes just close your mouth if you have nothing nice to say.

But, for heavens sake, be honest.

For if someone speaks really well of you, they are most certainly a person who tries to see the best in others because, let’s face it, most things people do are really not that outstanding.

And if people speak negatively about you, then they are most likely an insecure person who feeds on negativity. They like putting others down because it makes them feel better about their own lives.

When you stop to see people, I mean – really see them – you begin to realize that there’s not really that many terrible people out there.

There are just people.

Having good days. Having bad days. Trying to do their best with the cards they’ve been dealt.

And sometimes they’re pretty awful cards. These people are trying to swim while they’re drowning and all the while keeping up with the Joneses, who are also keeping the Joneses beside them…

And being real, is a simple step of saying, “Hey, you and I are really just not cut out to live the lifestyle of Mr & Mrs Jones…and that’s Ok. I’m fine with just being me. And you’re pretty great too.

I’ll stick to being me.

In my beautiful country house.

On my not so beautiful country yard.

In my mom body (when did that start to be an insult?)

In my broken, but determined faith.

Eating my bacon cheese burgers and poutine.

Writing a blog to no one in particular about life in my large, crazy, beautiful family.

Because this is real.

And I really, really like it. Perhaps, others will like it too. And together we can be enjoy how beautiful differences really are.

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Faith · Forgiveness

Two Authors, Two stories, Two Perspectives

I often read books on difficult topics like the holocaust, residential schools, slavery, war and about the horrors of living under communism. Some might think that I favor books like these because I’m a person drawn to drama – focussing on the negative events in world history…or that I’m a Debbie downer, one of those extremists who always seem to have their undies in a bunch about something.

In reality, I hate drama, especially in my own life and I’m incredibly sensitive when I read about it. I have to be careful how much I allow myself to dwell on these things, because I know that it affects my mood and my day-to-day life.

What was interesting is that in the past week I read two books: one written about slavery and the other about the horrors of residential schools in Canada. Both addressed the horrendous acts of those who felt that they had “God’s right” to behave the way they did. Both books shed light on some of the most shameful behaviour done by those claiming to follow God. Both highlighted racism, extremism and abuse. And of course, my heart broke for both of the authors and the torment that they had to experience in their lives.

But that’s where my comparisons end because each book was so starkly different from the other. They were obviously written for different purposes: One was written as a path to healing and the other tried to become the victim all over again, ever trying to draw sympathy out of the reader. It got me thinking about the real difference between the two books, and not just these books, but the differences between each of the books I have read about suffering.

I realized that the majority of stories on suffering can be lumped into two categories:

1) A message of forgiveness and redemption

2) A theme of bitterness and regret

The first category is refreshing and hopeful. The writing is hard, but uplifting. The experiences dark, but the message is light.

The second category is equally dark and hard, but comes about it with a feeling of hopeless. And honestly I feel gross after reading such books.

The one book, which I will not name in respect for the author and her experiences, ended her story with these words: “Some people say I need to let go of the past and learn to forgive… I say bullshit.”

This, my friends, is the saddest, most hopeless end to a trial I can think of.

In the well written words of author Lynn Austin:

Bitterness is one of the deadliest emotions we ever feel. You can’t look forward when you’re bitter, only backwards. Thinking about what you’ve lost, stuck in the past. In the end it devours all hope.

Bitterness is a subject that I don’t like to talk about much, particularly because it is one of those “acceptable” sins where we justify our legitimacy to feel the way we do. It’s also an awkward thing to address in others as one cannot simply listen to someone sharing about a difficult experience and then joyfully say, “just forgive and forget!” That would be cruel and cold hearted! Only a person with zero empathy could respond in such a flippant way towards suffering.

But one only needs to spend a few minutes with a soul who is deeply bitter, to realize that it is the most draining, depressing and deadly things to be.

I’ve shared before about a past church and the painful rejection my family experienced there with a leadership couple, but what I didn’t share much about was that at beginning it started with the confrontation: You are bitter.

To this day, this remains one of the most painful things that has been said to me. Not because it was said of course, but because of the timing and manner in which it was said. I was going through depression, health issues, loneliness, and a lot of changes in my life at the time. We had just moved homes, churches and jobs, and we had a baby that cried constantly. I was just beginning to open up about my struggles with it all for the first time and this well-meaning confrontation caused such a devastating break of trust in my life. Because of this painful experience, I avoided even using the word “bitterness” for a long time. But the truth is, no matter how hard it is for me to talk about, it needs to be addressed!

Bitterness.

Is it a lack of forgiveness? Is it a negative outlook on life? Is it resentment towards your position in life?

I think to some degree, we all experience bitterness in different areas of our lives. Some experience it to a much larger degree than others. And some people are more easily offended than others! Whether it’s towards coworkers, or spouses, extended family or friends…

OR maybe It’s not towards people, but towards the suffering in your life, towards your situation that seems helpess…maybe even to God for putting you there!

I know I most definitely have felt bitterness. I’ve seen it too.

During the most difficult time of this conflict in the church, I met another couple who were going through a church split. I was having a hard time forgiving and processing our own experience so I felt some comfort in being able to share my struggles with this woman. However, when she began sharing her experiences and I heard the hateful words come out of her mouth: “I just wish they were dead!” I realized that forgiveness wasn’t just a good option, it was the ONLY option.

Bitterness unchecked is ugly. And it kills.

Offences committed against us and the pain that follows MUST be dealt with in a compassionate way, with much grace. The more painful the wound, the more time it needs to heal. One cannot expect to be fatally injured one day and then skip about smiling joyfully the next…such an expectation is unreasonable and unhealthy.

Forgiveness is much like taking a difficult course. At first, you may sit down and have no clue what the professor is talking about. The books don’t make sense, the assignments are daunting… but as the course goes on (provided you’ve decided to continue), you begin understanding more and more about the subject. The longer you take to study and absorb the material, the more your experience and capacity is expanded. Only after long months of lectures, homework and studies, are you ready to write the exam.

However, just stepping into the room and writing the exam on the first day would’ve never worked out! It couldn’t of been expected of you, you wouldn’t have passed! You needed time, growth, knowledge and experience.

You can pass the exam, but you need to first decide to say in the class and keep working at it!

The first step to forgiveness is simply deciding to walk that path.

At first it’s so confusing and difficult you may even doubt you’re on the right path. But as you begin learning and seeing the situation in the right perspective, the path suddenly doesn’t seem so impossible.

Yet there are always difficult days! Dark thoughts and painful feelings will come out of nowhere. This is expected. Don’t get down on yourself.

Keep walking forward, don’t look back. The secret to forgiveness and redemption is this: Don’t give up.

The moment you give up trying to forgive, is the moment you let go of the lifeline that is saving you from the deep pit of bitterness and offence.

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Cut Down the Tree

There once stood, in Kentucky, an old magnificent tree. The tree was beautiful and lush, the pride of its owner. It stood tall in front of her house, a welcoming  piece of nature, a beautiful finishing touch to her homestead.

Much to the woman’s dismay, the strong tree was destroyed in Union artillery fire. After the war it still stood upright, but it’s limbs were bare, dark and twisted. It’s charred trunk was only a painful and sad reminder of the past. The woman who owned the place, would stare at the tree and weep for the injustice of all that had happened. When General Robert E. Lee visited the woman, she pointed out the tree to him, expecting sympathy and at the very least for him to condemn those responsible for what had happened. The wise general took one look at the tree and softly said, “Cut it down, dear madam and forget it.”

Lee knew something that few people come to grasp in life: The tree that once stood there would never be the same again and all the tears and bitterness in the world would not change that fact.

All the tree now held was a constant reminder of the injustice the woman had felt and until she would let it go, she would forever feel victimized.

This story, originally told in Charles Bracelen Flood’s book, “Lee: The Last Years”, gives me much to ponder today. For it is a true story, and a wise decision. And it has been proven very true in my own life. My own “trees” sometimes look quite different, maybe it’s a broken treasure, reminding me of the person who shattered it. Maybe it’s a hurtful email held onto for the very same reason as the woman held on to the tree: to point out the wrong that was done. Those texts held onto, serving as a reminder of what happened, as a means of pointing out the injustice. And ridding ourselves of these tokens of injustice that prove our unfair case is painful because it makes a bold statement: I’m not fighting anymore. But oh, the peace that statement brings!

Although the situation feels quite different when the reminders of the pain are not things, but people, doesn’t it? And exactly how does one move ahead when people can’t just be thrown away? It’s one thing to walk out of prison doors and never see your tormentors again, but it’s quite another to live among them. Is it right to flee when they enter the room? Is it good to ignore their presence, as if they don’t exist? Is it helpful to try to force their hand in making things right?

In reality, “Cutting down the tree” when pertaining to close relationships sometimes feels like a physical cutting off, but what it really is, is a recognition that all my human efforts have failed. And rather than continuing on a dangerous path of tearing each other down, there comes a resolve to live moving forward, instead of trying to regain something from the past.

This is the struggle I have been going through, learning to let those you love make painful and heart wrenching decisions and learning to not fight those decisions. Giving space out of safety and respect. Giving a gentle smile out of love. An encouraging word when appropriate. And always praying and staying soft.

Above all, learning that our hope is in God alone. Our hope is NOT in the actions or responses of others. He alone brings healing where it seems impossible. He alone can make the wrong things right. And in His timing all will be restored.

That burnt, ruined tree, will never be the same. It’s true! However I’ve discovered, that when a dead tree is cut down, often a new shoot springs out of that dead stump. Yes, it takes time to grow and no, it doesn’t look the same as the tree that was lost. But it’s ALIVE, it’s fresh, and it’s healing.

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The REAL Me

Have you ever felt a need to just stay hidden for a while? To wake up and just dawn the old sweatpants and cozy sweater? To not worry about the messy, unwashed hair and makeup free face? To just hide out in your home being YOU?

It’s pretty funny actually, when I think about it. Because around my family, I can do this with no second thought. I can be me. They see the uncovered zits and yesterdays smeared make-up remains. They see the bed head (and let me tell you, my bed head beats ANYONE’S!!) They smell my morning breath in all it’s glory and I don’t care one little bit.

Think about it: here I am, among the most important people who mean more to me than any king, president or celebrity on earth, yet I don’t care AT ALL about trying to put on a show, or to act a certain way.

Because they know me. And they still love me.

Yet the amazon delivery truck pulls up and I FREAK OUT.

Really I do, it’s hilarious.

I run frantically upstairs put some real clothes on, brush my teeth, wash the remains of breakfast of my face and I still feel self conscious answering the door. Why is this?!? Because I can honestly tell you that in reality, I don’t deeply care for the delivery man or woman. I don’t have a special connection with the person who delivers my homeschool books. I don’t know anything about them. They’re not the paparazzi coming to plaster my face over the front of tabloids across the world. They aren’t famous reporters that will humiliate me in their next piece in the New York Times.

They’re strangers, just doing their jobs… but for some odd reason I have just tried to impress them.

I see a unexpected vehicle pulling up in the driveway, and what do I do? I grab six pairs of dirty socks thrown about the living room and put them in the laundry bin. I dash to grab a wet rag to wipe the dirty counters. I quickly try to shove dishes in the dishwasher, hoping that somehow, in someway, I may look more put together, more presentable than I really actually am.

And on social media, I tell the stories that make me and my kids look just so perfect, so put together. Our selfies hash-tagged  #happy and #perfect, really are shot at just the right angle, with just the right filter on the one day a month that our skin has that natural clear glow and the flaws are minimal. And no wonder our friendships online are as deep as a kiddie pool… yet we spend more time in a day pouring into them than we do in an entire week with a friend face to face. And we ask ourselves, with heavy hearts, why we feel so disconnected with the world. Why so out of touch? Why do we feel alone in our struggles, when a quick post on Facebook will get me dozens of “likes”?

You want to know why?

Because when you turn off the Facebook account, and only about a dozen of the five hundred friends still care to talk to you, you realize that “community” on Facebook isn’t community at all. Ninety five percent of those friends don’t notice your absence, because the space that once had your witty posts, will now be filled with another’s cute new baby pictures.

Online presence isn’t real presence.

Our “likes” don’t actually matter. Our posts are forgotten in the time it takes for a person to scroll down the page.

And there’s something chillingly cold about liking a post about a the need to end world hunger and then two seconds later, laughing at a meme about a cute puppy.

The contrasts of serious and comedy put together on one page should completely shake us to the core, but we think nothing of it and barely bat an eye – unknowingly hardening our hearts to the news in the world that should be breaking them.

What generation before us has become so self absorbed? Which people group has become so uncaring and lazy that we can end a friendship or relationship over a two sentence text and think that’s acceptable or even normal? Who has lived before us who would tear down a friend in a single social media post and get hundreds of “amens” in the comments.

Sometimes it takes a break from the fiction in life, to grasp reality. And the reality is, that the people I should be doing my best for are right here in front of me. My house should be clean, for them. My face should be prettied up, for him. Not because I need to be someone else for the people I love, but because I want to be my best for them.

So, assuming you noticed that I left Facebook and Instagram, this is why. I’m choosing to pour into real friendships. I’m spending my time with people in person. Maybe it’s a temporary thing. Maybe lifelong. But one thing I know is that I don’t want to live for the “likes” of strangers, I want to live to love true friends. Friends who care to know the real me, the messy me: The one who makes dumb mistakes and has the most awkward and embarrassing moments. The one who hates wiping counters, and folding laundry, but who loves hosting and baking for guests. The one who sincerely cares about those around her and would give anything to someone in need, but who often forgets to look for them. The one who loves Jesus and imperfectly follows him with all the zeal her selfish heart can conjure up.

That’s the real Heather. And Facebook knows nothing about her.

 

Poetry

Broken

How long will this heartache last?

Will I be broken in two forever?

I feel forgotten and worthless.

Yet here I stand.

Cold. Dark. Alone.

In vain some try to comfort me, to make me forget.

But can’t forget, I just mourn.

I mourn their loss forever.

Did no one value my friendship?

Did no one mourn the loss of me?

Life goes on as though I never existed.

They carry on without a glance in my direction.

What is love if it does not last?

What is friendship if it fades away?

Where is loyalty, can it still be found?

For though I reach out again and again,

None take my hand.

Though I call out in love,

There is no reply.

Just a cold, dark, silence,

Which speaks louder than words.

 

Poetry

The Strong Ones

There’s a sadness I feel today.

It’s the feeling that I get when I know people aren’t being honest with me and when I wonder what they’re really thinking or feeling. When the voices in the other room just make me feel more lonely, like a bruised up apple underneath a tree. Figures, they’d take my best and turn it into the worst. Like when I smiled and they thought I was fake. Or when I forgave and they thought it was the easy road.

There’s nothing strong or noble in holding a grudge. Whispers all around me, but don’t you dare speak the truth out loud, otherwise people might talk. They’re already taking, you know, if I share then at least they’ll be repeating the truth.

It’s a pity you didn’t come over. I wandered awkwardly around all week, trying to keep busy, trying to fill the void of emptiness you left, trying to pretend I was strong. But I’m not. I’m weak and hurt and broken, just like you. I wished with all my heart I could just give up. Yet these little hearts, they need me. Compassion makes me try to be strong, for them.

Am I doing anything right? Sometimes it feels like I just hurt everyone more by doing my best. Can’t they see my heart in all this? I’d like to think that they’re cheering for me, like I am for them. Like their on my side, as I’m on theirs. But honestly, I sometimes think they all just want to see me fail. Like, at least if they’d see me fail, they would be able to feel better about themselves. Little do they know how much I fail, how often.

I miss my best friend from grade ten, she understood my ramblings and rambled right back. We ran on the bails together and I tripped, and we laughed so hard we cried. If only we’d still be friends. Just like every other friend I’ve lost since her. I wish one of them would stick around.

Keep getting back up, I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep being the friend I wish someone would be to me. I’ll keep giving and pouring out for them all, because they need me to be strong. Yet sometimes when I’m by myself, I still break down and cry.

Because really, I’m not all that strong.

 

 

 

 

 

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When Love is Letting Go

I don’t let go easily.

If something is important to me, I hold on to it for dear life. Close friendships are one of these things. They are priceless, difficult to find, time-consuming to build and they take a lot of effort to keep strong. They are more valuable than diamonds, worth more than money can buy.

That’s also why I value relationships and people in my life far too much to just walk away when I’m hurt or to shut them out of my life. When a conflict arises, as they sometimes do, I will try again and again and again to work things out. I will work to the point of insanity to keep the peace. When I am in the wrong, I am usually the first person to go apologize and make things right. When I don’t think I’m in the wrong, I’m still search for something I did that I can apologize for, because I am a firm believer that there are NO situations where I act perfectly. Even if I physically did nothing wrong, in my heart there could be jealousy, or pride, or self-pity, bitterness, anger or frustration. And I can apologize for that because maybe the other person was sensing something in my attitude toward them that I wasn’t even aware of!

And most of the time it has been well worth it. Many friendships have been saved and many wrongs have been forgiven because of my tenacity. It’s hard work to hold on to friends!

” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Love ALWAYS hopes, love ALWAYS perseveres, love NEVER fails…therefore I came to the conclusion early on in life that “letting go” was the opposite of love.

That is, until this year.

I desperately tried to find some way to mend a relationship I valued, but each attempt seemed to harden the person towards me more and more and more. Each attempt brought with it sleepless nights, days of working through hurtful words said to me and much heartache in forgiving them over and over again. And it was so tough! But I kept telling myself, “It’ll be worth it! Once they see my heart of love for them it will be worth every tear!” So I forgave and kept holding on.

I prayed for them, oh I prayed! I sent little gifts to show my love. I emailed encouraging words. I defended them when others spoke against them. Still, the person wouldn’t even respond to me. Finally one day I asked God what I could possibly do more for them to show my love…and very softly I heard the words: Let them go.

You know what’s harder than forgiving someone who’s hurt you? Letting them go.

You know what’s more difficult than working through the same issues over and over again with someone who has little regard for your feelings? Letting them go.

You know what’s more challenging than speaking kindly of someone who speaks harshly to you? Letting them go.

You know what’s more loving then holding on to someone who has set their heart against you? Letting them go. Because it feels like giving up. And love doesn’t give up! Ever! But letting go is not the same as giving up.

Giving up is hardening yourself to the situation…letting go is staying soft.

Giving up says, “I don’t care what they think!”….letting go says, “I care too deeply to let this go on.”

Giving up is making an enemy, letting go is preventing one.

Giving up says, “I will never let you hurt me again!” Letting go says, “When you’re ready, I’ll be waiting.”

Giving up is losing hope, letting go is hoping in God’s timing.

Why does life have to be so hard sometimes? Why can’t everything just fall into place if we try hard enough? Why?

I don’t have the answers.

I wish I had the ability to see into the future, and to see all the good that will come out of this. Oh, I wish I did! But I don’t…all I know is it’s time to let go. And it’s hard as hell.

But I can do it, because of one special promise written down just for me, just for a time like this…

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

In all things.

Ok God, I trust you. I’m letting go.