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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Ask if I’m Okay

For all my friends and loved ones out there who have dealt with depression or who are still dealing with it, I wrote this for you. I’m here for you if you need to talk, or even if you can’t talk, but just need someone to know that you’re struggling. You are NOT alone.

 

Dear Friend,

I know you’re there. You’ve always been. I know that if I have a baby you’ll bring me a meal. I know that if I’m faced with a loved ones death, you’ll hold me when I cry. I know that you’ll smile and congratulate me about any new and exciting event in my life. I know that you’ll do that. It’s what friends do.

I know that you’ll listen with excitement as I tell you all about my vacation and if I tell you about my problems, you’ll give your best advice. I know that you’ll laugh at my jokes even if they’re lame, or tell me a story about your rough day to make my day feel better. And if one day I’ve just HAD ENOUGH, and my washing machine has broken down while my kids have the flu, I know that if I call you…you’ll be there. You’ve always been. It’s what friends do.

But there’s one thing you never do, and it’s ok because until now I’ve never done it for you… It’s never probably crossed your mind, because it never crossed mine either.

Please, dear friend, just once in a while: ask if I’m ok.

And most likely you’ll hear me say: “Yeah, I’m good! Why? What’s up?”

And you can say, “Oh nothing, I’m just checking because I want to know if you’re not”…because a lot of the time I am okay.

But once in a while I’m not.

And then on those days, when I feel so alone, like nobody cares,  I can think back to the time you asked me if I was okay and remember that if I’m not okay, you’d want to hear about it.

And I’m sorry. Sorry for not doing that for you, because I understand now that some pain is just too hard to bring up on it’s own. Some pains are so deep that they need a friend to come and say, “Are you okay? I want to know if you’re not, because I care.”

I understand now that it’s awkward to bring up some types of pain, because you don’t know what to say…often you don’t even know what’s really wrong…but the pain is very real and it is crushing you. I understand that now. I understand why you pulled back and withdrew, why you avoided family and friends, not because you didn’t want to talk…but because you didn’t know how to. I now understand why you seemed to want to be alone, not because you didn’t want me around…but because you didn’t think I would be able to process feelings that even you couldn’t seem to work through.

And I want to tell you today that it’s ok. It’s ok to call me to cry, even if you don’t have the words to speak to me. It’s ok to tell me that you’re not ok and it’s ok if you don’t explain any further. It’s ok if you let me know those ugly feelings and thoughts, those ones that you want to run from. It’s also ok if you don’t. I just want to let you know that I’m here. It’s what friends do.

It’s also ok if you have nothing to offer me other than your tears. So if you ever feel completely alone, or that no one actually wants to hear the true response when they ask you a casual, “How are you?” Please know that you can be honest with me. I’m not afraid of your feelings, even your darkest ones. I want to know that you’re okay. You don’t need to feel like you owe me anything for listening. I’m not a therapist. I’m just a friend who may have little to offer you other than a shoulder to cry on and my prayers. I probably won’t have the answers to your problems. But you don’t have to apologize for the way you feel, or for “being a downer”, because I want to be able to walk this road with you. I want to be there! My dear friend, you are not alone! You are loved. You are deeply cared for!

Are you okay?

I’m here to listen. It’s what friends do.

Finding Joy in Hardships

Joy is easy…when times are good. But what about during those darkest of times, when everything you dreamed of comes crashing in?

Joy is easy…when times are good. But what about those darkest of times… those days, weeks, months or  even years where you find that everything you dreamed of comes crashing in?

These past few years have been the hardest years of my life.

Now if you know my story, that’s probably a bit hard to believe. But what about your teenage pregnancy?? What about the loneliness of losing all of your high school friends as they went on with their lives without you? What about the months you watched your son suffering in the hospital, wondering if he was going to live to see his first birthday? What about the time where your spouse lost his job and you had no idea how you were going to feed the three young babies depending on you? Harder than those days? Yes. A hundred times…yes.

It hasn’t been the outward kind of hard, where everyone can see what’s going on and rushes in to help. Our health is great, our finances have been good, our marriage is doing well. These are things we so often take for granted until they’re gone. Losing a loved one, failing health, money struggles, or a rough marriage bring very dark times as well. But these aren’t the type of hardships I’ve faced this past year.

I was quite suddenly faced with a totally unexpected confrontation, during a very difficult season of my life. This brought about a dark feeling of rejection that I can’t, try as I may, find the words to explain. Maybe it’s hard to explain because I’m not free to tell the whole story… just vague little pieces to protect those involved. I think only those who have felt so hurtfully accused, deeply rejected and so utterly confused as to WHY, could fully understand what I’m talking about. But the hardest thing wasn’t that it happened…it’s that was happening for over a year. For months, I went to bed almost every night with my pillow soaked in tears, wondering if I would ever again lie down with peace in my heart. And for the most part, I carried these burdens alone – desperate to talk to someone, anyone who would listen…but my heart was torn because it involved those I loved SO dearly, so I kept silent.

My life, to the very core, was being shaken. At one point I truly believed that I had lost the favour of God on my life. I began to do everything I thought I could do to win his favour back. I tried so hard to admit all my faults, to confess and confess and confess, to not be defensive, to take the blame, to restore the peace…and through it all, I began to let go of something very important; my joy.

My joy was gone. Somewhere along the way, my eyes had turned from looking at Jesus and I began to focus on the problem. Like Peter among the waves, I had stepped out of the boat in full confidence; only to lose sight of the fact that I was never meant to walk on water…I was simply supposed to look at Jesus. When I realized this, healing could begin.

Here I was faced with one of the most difficult questions to ask during a trial: How can something like joy be found again…even if your circumstances haven’t changed?

The first step was to recognize the devil’s lies. I realized that I can’t do works to earn God’s favour. Period. God’s children receive his favour as they look to him. And when we have our eyes on him, he loves to pour out his favour.

I also had to let go of the way I wanted things to turn out. I felt that if I just did my very best, if I prayed hard enough…then God would make things better. As it turns out, God never promises to make the road easy or better. He does promise to work everything for the good of those who love him. And I needed to trust this promise. As soon as I was free from focusing on my problem, I could fully turn my attention to pleasing God.  Then and only then, could I follow the steps HE wanted me to take.

The final piece in my journey to rediscovering joy was found in the book of Philippians. If you haven’t read it before, or even if it’s been a while, read it. It’s a true gem. Here is a book written by a man almost 2000 years ago, who had been through so many trials. At the time he wrote it, Paul was in prison, facing a very lonely future, a trial which could’ve led to his death, and hearing of people against him actually preaching – all while he sits under house arrest. Despite all this, the letter is one of the most joyful and thankful books of the bible. Instead of complaining about the negatives events that surround his current circumstances he chooses to see the positive side of things. He also shares two secrets about finding joy and peace that I began to cling to:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace…” Philippians 4:6-7

Pray. That much I had done. Telling God what I need. Check! Thank him. Thank him! Thankfulness is part of the secret to having the peace of God in your heart. And I began to thank God, even in my pain. Declaring his goodness out loud is SO POWERFUL! As I began to thank God, day after day, I slowly started to see some good things that had come out of my situation. And then, the final secret to joy:

“…I have learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

I can have joy because he gives me strength.  

This realization, that God wasn’t just watching me suffer from the sidelines – but actively walking through the fire with me and holding me up, brought me great joy! Every painful moment, he was there. Every night I cried, he was holding me. And in my weakness he is beside me, giving me strength. I am not alone. Now that is a reason to have great joy!

“In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11