A Stranger’s Party

Last month, I was invited to a party for a stranger. I was in the middle of doing something else, and the invitation surprised me. I accepted. I found myself sitting at a table, surrounded by people I didn’t know. We laughed. I was offered food, and I realized I was really hungry. I ate, and then they offered me cake, but not just cake: ice-cream cake. Yah. At this point, I started talking to God in my head, of course.

Okay, what are You up to? This is too crazy to be random.

I sat and learned a bit about each person, and we laughed, and it NEVER GOT WEIRD.  You’d think it would, being surrounded by strangers, that awkward lull that comes the second a string of conversation ends, but no! We flowed along like old friends do.

You see, it’s not very hard to celebrate someone. Maybe it’s hard to grieve, or forgive, or disagree with a stranger, but celebrating? Nah. It’s cake. It’s not very hard to receive, and to smile along. Maybe it’s hard to give, and to hold down that lump in your throat when you’re about to burst into tears but you don’t want to cry in front of strangers. That’s tough. Birthdays? Not that tough. The thing that threw me off was that many people passed by and were not invited. All I did was greet someone I recognized, and turns out that person had helped set up the whole thing, and instantly included me. How many times do I walk by cliques and overhear plans and never for a minute expect to be brought into that group? We assume we’re excluded.

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God showed me a little more of what it looks like to have access and acceptance, and through strangers nonetheless. I was a little stunned afterwards, and couldn’t help but smile and shake my head as I walked back to where I was originally going. All I could think of? Grace.

God reminded me that I am included. I am seen, and I am invited. I am part. I belong. It’s funny how cliché these things sound, until they really land in the heart. It’s easy and normal to feel like the outsider, but God says that’s not who I am, and that’s not who you are, either. I pray and hope you get something from this party, because I know it wasn’t just for me. It was like a picture-story-example-parable situation, for especially you. Yes, you. You, who have been feeling left out and lonely and unseen. You, who have been feeling like you don’t belong somehow. God sees you and He calls you seen and wanted. God loves you just as you are, and He is always inviting you, welcoming you, and ready to listen. I pray for that truth to sink into your heart like it did in mine in that moment.

Overflow and Fairytales

As a child, it was so easy to believe it all. I wanted to be everything when I grew up. Well, now it’s here. I’m grown up. This is the age when adults do adult things. I’m turning 29 in less than a month, and the people I babysat are grown up, too. As for me, I’ve been cleaning a lot, giving away some things, and making space for my reality.

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I backed off of the internet big time in the last few months, if you’ve noticed. I deleted the Facebook app and deleted a lot of people off of my “friends” list, and made my Instagram private. I almost stopped writing blogs altogether. Crazy, right? The truth is that Facebook isn’t ME. I’m a person, flesh and bone. I live in Atlanta. I have a phone, and an address. I drive a car, and I get coffee and meals with friends and my boyfriend. If you want to be my real friend, I’m available. I’ve been available since 1987, whereas I only got on Facebook in 2005. Back then it was just for college kids, and I wish it had stayed that way. It was much more useful to message someone in the same chem lab and get a study group together, instead of sifting through hoards of cat videos and awkward political posts that fill it up now. What’s the use? Pictures. Information. Announcements. Gender reveals. I would hope that my friends would tell me directly, right? When my best friend got engaged, I heard directly. When one of my best friend’s grandfather passed away, I heard directly. I don’t need the birthday reminders to tell me when my family has a birthday, or when one of my closest friends is turning a year older. It’s almost like we’ve settled into an audience seat instead of being IN other people’s daily lives.

I’m backing off of that so that I can make room for reality. And this is what I wanted to write about: reality.

This is my reality: I work over 40 hours pretty much every week between two jobs. That’s overtime. I get home and sometimes I’m wired, and sometimes I’m super tired. I have a few best friends, and I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend. I write a devotional on my spare time, because I think there are people who are willing but want direction. I secretly enjoy teaching, but openly enjoy writing. I think the Bible is inviting and approachable, and it makes me want to go there. Women’s ministry has blurred more into relational ministry than anything else. One friend is finally selling her wedding dress, and is praying that the buy is finalized soon. One friend is going through a tough divorce. One friend is looking at moving to a smaller place. One friend is celebrating that her child is finally cancer-free. You see? It started out as “ministry” but now it’s blurred into friendship. I’m working on boundaries and praying through what that looks like, but I’m beginning to understand that what started out as a “mission” and “calling” is slowly becoming my lifestyle and not something I switch on and off. This is me, and I have a heart for women and discipleship. I am also learning what parts of my life are reserved for only my closest people and mentors.

Now let me tell you about fairytales and overflow: they’re real. It’s a thing. Psalm 23 talks about God’s anointing and His perfect ability to shepherd us unto overflow. Overflow is a real place and a real concept for you and me. If you’ve been on the struggle bus like Job for years and years, don’t forget to read the last chapter. Don’t forget God’s punch line to that story of suffering: double restoration. That’s overflow. Jesus was crucified and buried, but He rose again. Overflow. Don’t get it twisted to call it a fairytale, and roll your eyes, and discredit it as naiveté. Don’t get embittered to the point where you despise the promise of God’s very real abundance. The only thing that could ever disqualify you from God’s abundance is your unwillingness to receive it. SO. I have three little words for you:

OPEN

YOUR

HEART.

You might need to tell your mind to shut up. You might need to tell your mouth to shut up. You might have to change everything you have, and start wearing bright colors again. Paint a wall sky blue. You might need to start hanging out with younger people who sing pop songs and eat lollipops, because you need hope. Roll down the windows of your soul and stick your head out. Play in the rain. Believe that it can happen again, that love can happen, and grace can happen, and that a new adventure can happen for you. You might need to get your passport and go somewhere insane, just so you can get over yourself. I challenge you to it. I challenge you to overflow, or rather to believe in it again. Believe in laughing til you cry. Believe in stomach butterflies. Believe in moments you can’t photograph, like a hot pink sky as the sun rises and little snowflakes fall down. An afternoon rain, falling on the greenest of grass. Counting shooting stars on a rooftop in the middle of the night. Digging your toes in the finest of sand, wondering just how the water could be so blue. Holding that person’s hand that feels so warm, knowing what an insane blessing it is to be in love and to be loved in this short life. Having a little child tell you that they love you, and giggle at you, and pull you to play. THAT. You can only have these things, truly, if your heart is open to appreciate them.

I thought my plant was about to bloom, but it took 22 days for it to actually bloom. Sometimes we think things are just around the corner, and we get disappointed in the waiting. Rest assured, that bloom was worth the wait. Whatever it is you’re desperately waiting for, expectantly, I pray you don’t lose heart. I pray you find your brave moments of joy while you wait. I pray you keep your heart open and stay willing to receive it from God in His perfectly unrushed timing. If it took 22 extra days for a tiny yellow flower, I believe the Lord is also working inwardly and purposefully on your promise’s reveal.

There’s a tragic thing that sometimes happens to people who have been through so much pain, and that is they forget what carefree and happy looks like. They’re traumatized and that trauma traps them like a bug under a jar. The good news is that we are made new in Christ. New means new. New means stop replaying it over and over in your head. New means stop dwelling there and move. New. New looks different and even acts different, and it’s not faking because it’s… new. You have permission to be new, you know. It’s not cheating on your past to be new, it’s giving your present a purpose and your future a chance. Jesus has the gift of “new” for you, and he wraps it with carefree paper and ties it with a ribbon of happy.

This life is only so long, and I pray you’re alive in yours, with the powerful ability to make an impact as an adult, yet the wonderful privilege of receiving overflow like a child.

Heart On Fire

Today I had a conversation that lit my heart on fire. It was about the things of God. It was about carrying the essence of home, namely heaven, here on earth. It was about being a servant, being honoring, and trusting in God. We sat there in that pinteresting coffee shop, buzzing about what God had done and what He would do. Hope was stirred up. I’m supposed to be sleeping right now, but I am WIRED. And I don’t think it’s the latte caffeine. It’s pure passion and hunger for God.

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My friend got a picture of me being in the eye of the storm, where it’s perfectly peaceful with everything swirling around me. Then as I saw this, I realized that the storm was happening but it couldn’t touch me, hence I was causing an “eye” in the storm, while walking forward through it. My season of “waiting” quickly changed in my perspective into a season of walking through the storm. I’m in motion, but I am in a process of overcoming. It’s not easy, but every day I’m closer. You cannot imagine how much it helps to think of it that way. I am covered by God’s goodness and mercy, and I’m pushing forward with my signet ring on. There is some major action happening and there will be a big result from this time of obedience. I can barely handle the excitement and the encouragement that my friend’s prophetic words stirred up in me. I feel victorious, which is a miracle. I was feeling rather victimized and powerless, but we know well that isn’t how I roll.

God made it a point to tell me that it’s time for me to begin to host people in my home, and also drive people to the airport. I am driving someone to the airport tomorrow morning, as she launches on a mission trip. It’s happening already!

I got a call from Adventures in Missions asking me if I’d like to lead a trip to Haiti. My heart skipped a beat, but I had to say no, as I’m already scheduled to work that week. But oh, the invitation was sweet. Just a 10-day trip, but OH MY GOSH. I long to step on new soil and make disciples. God willing, it’ll happen soon. It was a delight to be thought of, and to be offered the opportunity. What a sweet honor.

cdfwThe beat is turning around. I am skipping to it. I am confident that God is doing something crazy, and just in the last 3 days, I’ve felt extremely sought after. I don’t know if God is just sending out a “text and call Helena” beam to my people, but I’ve been overwhelmed by requests to hang out, calls, and texts. Coffee dates, worship nights, encouraging phone calls, and quality time. I feel like God is trying to make a point through this sudden outpouring of invitations, trying to wow me in a way. It’s working. I am blown away by God’s kindness and compassion, His concern for me, and the way He goes all out to show me I’m on His mind.

My love tank is full this Tuesday. My heart is on fire.

Contentment

Sometimes it feels like I’m chasing after something I may never fully grasp. Maybe it’s the planner in me, or the drive to grow and improve, right?

 My eyesight is pretty bad on both eyes, and it could very well be from squinting to the future so much with the eyes of my heart. Is it possible to be content and just stay there? Must I always strive so much? These are questions I ask the Lord and I feel His peace rest over me like a cloud. I am mostly cloudy with a chance of thunder.

The worst is when my striving breaks, and I sit with no drive. It’s the feeling of eating without tasting, when your nose is congested. Where did all that flavor go? Will I even want it when it happens to me? The passing of the test, the promotion, the loud home? It’s as if God flipped the switch of my dreams to OFF. I wrestle with apathy and doubt. I start sounding a lot like Bohemian Rhapsody with my anywhere the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me. And it isn’t true. It does matter. I know deep in my heart of the promises of God. I know. I know. I know. I realize. God put books and lessons and love in my heart, and it’s my joy to live to unveil them. There are faces I have never met which will absolutely melt me and propel me to heights of love I haven’t dared to imagine yet. Yet.

I’m learning to yield over and over to the higher ways of God. He knows better than I do. I’ve been warding off any bitterness, any hopelessness, and any fear. It’s been like killing mosquitoes in Tanzania. They’re practically robots, but I do have the shoe. Sometimes they get me, and it swells, and bothers me so. It’s just a reminder that I have something they want. If my dreams weren’t so precious, they wouldn’t be dreams at all. They’d be like a grocery list, attainable and predictable. I get to depend solely on the Lord. He is in full control, even when I dare to think others are. I will not barter with fear. I will not go down that narrow, dark alley of despair. My emotions get to take a knee to a Breathing, Undefeated King. It’s my turn to embrace complete humility, gentleness, and patience.

 

2015 Recap & Sweet ’16

I had no idea what was coming for me in 2015.

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For starters, I realized who my true friends are. They call, they care, and they answer. They ask the hard questions. They visit me, too! They choose me. They pray for and with me. They give me a ton of grace for those ‘in the middle’ situations, when neither of us truly knows what to do. Some are far away, and some new ones are near.

wpid-unnamed-1.jpg.jpegIn that, I realized some people lean on the side of convenience, and fade out into acquaintances. They only reach out when they need something. From being a missionary myself, I know the feeling of reaching out to someone with the sole purpose of asking for a donation, but I didn’t let that be the only time I talked to them. Now that I’m on the other side of that spectrum, it’s a little gut-wrenching to see it done differently. If you’re a missionary or fundraising in any way, take that into consideration. Don’t fake friendship for a donation, because that’s about as cheap as it gets. Hard truth to learn in 2015!

DogehospitalThis year I stepped back into the ‘working full-time’ American rat race. I paid down over half of my debt, by God’s grace. I got a great job, then I got a better job. I eased up on the first job when I took the second. I work 45-50 hours a week, which slides into overtime. I’ve been diligent, but I also feel like I said ‘yes’ when the Lord asked me to trust Him in giving outside of the norm, both financially and with the offering of time. By no means do I preach a prosperity gospel, but I know that God has consistently rewarded my life after times of testing, after times when I had to respond with a borderline illogical obedience. God has asked me to trust when I didn’t feel it was safe, and I did. Sometimes I did so begrudgingly, but I’m learning to trust cheerfully.

devo2It gets easier to trust when you understand what a failure is. I believe it is only possible to trust God with such great improbabilities when we realize the impossibility to fail within His hands. There is no room for regret when we hear His voice clearly. There is no room for fearful hysterics when I find myself hanging out inside His heart as if it were my living room. That’s what His presence is like. I learned much of this in 2015.

I cried a LOT in 2015. The best kind of tears and the worst. I had to learn how to discern whether to sit quietly and wait versus getting up, getting dressed, and taking a bulldozer to a wall.

I learned my safe places. I learned that I have a counselor who is beautifully available and powerfully wise. God put women into my life to mentor me and to listen. I have friends who can have a 2-hour conversation and empty out every loose thought from the attic of my mind, and vice-versa. We process verbally. And then there are those magical unicorn people, who take about 5 minutes to crawl into your heart and stay there until the next time you talk again for about 5 minutes 2 months later, and still manage to be in that top tier of best friendship, by God’s perfect grace. NO IDEA how that works, but it’s real.

10993419_10103282990183390_1811311628009497953_n-2In 2015, I met Buddy! It’s the coolest story, and this year I was given the gift of falling in love with him. God put us together and I have no doubts about that. He’s the INTJ to my ESFJ, and I can’t describe properly the spark we had when we met. God’s grace has brought us this far, learning to communicate and overcome fears. God’s gifts have the wrapping paper of courage, and the ribbon of God-dependency. They’re worth receiving, worth keeping, and they fully require God’s maintenance and alignment.

bookOh and in 2015, I wrote a book! You can get it at this link. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t realize it was happening this year. I had made it a goal, but it still felt lofty up until I got to it. It may be so with some of your dreams. They may seem ridiculously out there until you get up close to them and pin them down. God takes over and pushes you over the threshold when it’s His dream too.

alernterm1In 2015, I lived alone for the first time in 4 years? FOUR YEARS! If you didn’t know by now, I’m one of the most extroverted people alive in the sense that I function with people. I find that my habits and preferences like to submit to accountability. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound? If I’m living alone and I lay in bed all day and “sort of sleep, sort of watch movies all day” does it make an impact on my life? WELL. These are things that normally don’t happen at all when I’m in community. I wouldn’t pass up a kitchen conversation, or a Target outing, or a park jog if I have the people to join me. Without people, the silence at first felt really strange. I figured out that we’re constantly looking to be INFLUENCED. We can’t just sit still and stare at a wall. We want to watch a show to make us laugh, or we want to read a book to make us think. We want to have a conversation to stimulate us, or workout to engage our bodies. We rarely ever “do nothing” and that’s a relief and a little scary at the same time. What do you tend to do with your time when you have the choice and you are all alone? Is it constructive? Does it agree with your values, your goals, your character? I learned a lot of this in 2015. Living alone was really hard, and sometimes detrimental to what I know is best for me.

In 2015, I kick-started Phylla House online, and it’s a sweet little private group on facebook. God adds to our number ever so slowly. We have conversations on the phone and in person, too, but having that level of connectivity has been a huge blessing.

SO… for 2016… here are a few things I’m hoping for and praying for:

  1. Ministry to grow in unexpected ways, through God’s prompting, and for us to grow closer together as a community of women. That also entails me being more intentional about social media. Within that, the #ATLdevo is returning January 6th! Be sure to subscribe here.
  2. I want to be more involved with my church, and that means I just need to step forward and be willing.
  3. I want to be more intentional about my health, and that right now starts with sleep. I ordered a gorgeous new hammock, and will be sleeping on that again, instead of a bed! It’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been, especially working nights and sleeping during the day.
  4. Studying for my Specialist in Blood Bank exam. I want this added certification, and I want to take the test in 2016. Whether I pass or fail, the goal is to study and attempt it.
  5. Being debt free!!! I am so close I can taste it.
  6. Sweetness. God will surprise me this year with sweetness. Fulfilled promises and completion. I’m going to learn more about delighting in the Lord.

Okay, that’s a wrap.

Love yall.

Happy New Year!

DAILY DEVOS RETURN…

As you all know, the #ATLdevo began back in September of 2014, and ran until about August 2015. Every single day, I made it a discipline to write what I was learning with Jesus, and posted it ONLINE, and not only that, but delivered every morning to the inboxes of 80+ people. NO PRESSURE!

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The feedback was incredible. Just incredible. Let me quote some of the emails/texts/messages I’ve gotten throughout this year of writing…

“We, your devo followers, are so thankful you said yes. I know you’re growing from it and it’s a big encouragement.”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for your obedience in doing this devotional. This devotional continues to raise me out of so many heart-heavy situations.”

“I look forward to these devotions every day! Thank you for your heart! It is making a difference in my life! Thank you for your obedience!”

“Oh my goodness, you don’t know how your messages speak to me. The last couple of ones I find myself crying and asking God for more of Him!”

“Very thankful for your ministry here. It’s been too long since I journaled about the goodness of the Father and too long since I’ve been still and quiet early in the day. Love the prompts as well! Keep serving faithfully as you are!”

“Thank you for your inspiration and interaction with daily verses and uplifting words. Your obedience to God is one of the many gifts He’s given. You are a treasure to those of us receiving them.”

“Thank you for your daily devotionals. Really great stuff and God inspired.”

“I have been going back and reading the Phylla House devos: SO GOOD! I might use them next year for my class :D”

“Thank you Helena, for allowing God to use you in our lives! Today’s devo… it was exactly what I needed.”

“Your devos are amazing and I can hear your voice as I read them! So great! Thank you for blessing me and so many others with them already!!!”

These are quotes in reaction to the devos I wrote in 2014 to 2015. I picked 100 of those devotionals and published them in a book! You can buy that book here!

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Why am I charging for this book? Well… I have 80+ people who got it for free, one page at a time, via email and reading the Phylla House blog where the devos were originally hosted. The subscribers actually got more than that, because some of the devotionals didn’t make it into the book. After that, I prayed hard and pulled the devos from the blog, edited them fiercely, and published them in tangible form.

The cool announcement is that I’M DOING IT AGAIN!!! Fresh devos, page by page, delivered to your inbox, free as birds, imperfect  probably, full of late-night/early-morning Love.  You can subscribe to the Phylla House blog and see it unveil one page at a time, as God teaches me over the next year. How does that sound?

And then, God willing, at the end of 2016, I’ll revise the devos and publish them in book form once more, in time for you to gift them to your friends and family, having “already read it” if you know what I mean 😉

I hope you’ll come along with me.

The journey starts again on January 6th, 2016.

Much love,

Helena

Emotional Abuse and Neglect

November 13th. It would have been my 7 year wedding anniversary this week, ya know, had it not been for the divorce.

I chopped my hair off, my beautiful long, blond hair and I felt so free! Of course, I asked his opinion many times, and he approved. I wouldn’t have cut my hair had my husband not approved! I thought that the change would make me more noticeable, more attractive. I wanted to be attractive, so he would look at me. I just wanted him to really look at me, instead of the computer screen he was so drawn to. I remember meticulously curling my hair, and walking into the bedroom to show him. He was at his computer, and he turned for half a second and looked back at the screen before he mumbled “looks good” and kept clicking. I felt a wave of shame wash over me. My eyes teared up. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Nothing I did was good enough to beat the screen. All that clicking wasn’t just for the games, but also for pornography. I never knew what he was really looking at.

Attention and conversation. How demanding, right? I wanted to be in relationship with the person I had  married. I felt ignored and unseen. I felt helpless, angry. I didn’t know how to express it. I was 21, and I didn’t want to be a nag.

I had an alcoholic college boyfriend call me a “bitch” once. Yeah, I typed it. It hurt so much to hear that word that I told myself I would never nag again, and that I would especially never argue with a drunk man who wants the bathroom door CLOSED while he’s puking. I thought he needed some air. My bad. Don’t even get me started on alcoholism. I’ve dated 2 alcoholics and I’d like to say that’s 2 too many. Nothing like having to drive his truck home every single time we went out in public, because Chugga Chugga couldn’t stop, and then cleaning up his puke in the bathroom because Chugga Chugga couldn’t handle his liquor. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. You’d think those were easy breakups, but they weren’t. I loved their families, loved their mamas. Good hearted men who loved me dearly. They just loved drinking a little bit more.

I’m sure I didn’t look thrilled day-to-day. I’m sure my tears got super old. Ew. What a drag! I’m sure my attempts to talk through it all were just SO draining to him. SO draining that he would say it felt like “cutting his chest open with a knife” every time I brought THAT up. Super. Guilt. Bottle it up. Never bring it up again.

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I found out how crippling and painful it was to marry someone who was addicted. Someone who valued a “THING” over their spouse, and any THING over Jesus. It was painful to watch the person you love the most waste their life and hurt themselves. I didn’t want to have children, and yet I wanted them so I could have someone to look at me and see me. Wow, right?

This is how the divorce started. This.

I daresay many divorces start like this. One person feels unwanted, over and over. They go looking for attention, for affection. Rejection leads to adultery. The opposite of the gospel, really. The very thing two people swear to one another at the altar, to be there for each other. Broken vows left and right, man.

BUT GOD… has shown me fantastic, healthy marriages. Men who are powerful leaders, making Spirit-led decisions, praying over their families, and boasting on how hot their wives are. They are the flower-pickers, the ones who hold the woman when she cries instead of telling her to stop. Men who are not perfect, but their priorities are right. To honor and cherish their spouse, to be home for the family, and to be present, devoted. Oh and these men are praised, let me tell you. Their wives go on and on about how wonderful, handsome, godly they are. Incredible fathers. Fantastic lovers, when the ladies are giving TMI! Oh, what a gift. My favorite person. My great love.

I believe firmly that it takes a change of heart to cause a behavioral change. God has to move in the heart. God has to break the chains of addiction, of fear, of rejection. God has to be sufficient. Idols have to be laid down. And grace has to abound. The ones who love us the most will fail us miserably from time to time, and that’s no surprise. But the ones who truly love cannot, cannot, CANNOT think that emotional abuse and neglect are acceptable behaviors. Women have to stand up against it, as do men.

Ladies, don’t marry the little boy who ignores you.

Men, don’t marry the little girl who turns away your affection.

Wait for people who love you well. Commit, then. And if you’re in a marriage like this, frozen cold like Elsa’s castle, feeling all alone in your frosty attentionless and sexless wonderland, I’m so sorry. Get help. Talk to mentors. Talk to a counselor. Talk to JESUS. Talk. Talk before you cheat. Talk before you leave. People CAN change, but they have to want to. That’s where Holy Spirit can come in and do His job.

I pray a blessing over people who are dating, that they have the discernment to lay down communication and their emotional needs out on the table before marriage. That they understand mutually how important this is. I pray a blessing over marriages that are struggling, that God will open up eyes and ears and hearts to LOVE. That those addictions have to go, in Jesus’ name. That sufficiency will be found in Christ, so that we can love other people well. I pray for the divorces that are about to happen and I intercede, Jesus, for the ones who are hurting SO much. If emotional abuse bruised, they’d be purple and black. Jesus, have mercy on their broken hearts. Be near to them. Bring them renewed hope.