For you, daddy.

I’m not ready to write this, but then again I don’t think I will ever be. This past week was one of the hardest things I have ever experienced, and yesterday I spent Father’s Day in a funeral home making arrangements to bury my daddy. It is only by the grace of God that I am still standing on two feet today; but here I am.

Grief is an odd thing. It comes in waves that drown you, then recedes back down into your soul, leaving behind this hazy fog that makes you question whether what you are experiencing is just a dream. But tomorrow, I know that fog will part and I, alongside my family, will have to face the truth; he’s gone. And while my heart is shattered, I can’t help but praise God for the nightmare that we experienced last week. Because in the midst of that darkness, I found the strength to do something I never thought I could do; say goodbye to my daddy.

My prayer from the beginning of this journey has been for God’s will to be done. As hard as it was to not beg and plead for him to just get better, I spent many nights lying in bed just praying that God would allow his good and perfect will to be. And that it was. He needed Daddy in heaven more than we needed him here and he prepared me for what was coming by allowing me to be with my dad the final days of his life, surrounded by the people I love most. We sat by his side, we talked even when we wasn’t sure if he could listen, and we let our hearts be known to God in the most vulnerable way. And in return he gave us the most precious moments we could have had together and the strength to say “You can let go now, daddy.”

There is nothing that can take this pain away and life will never be the same without him, but I smile a little every time I remember that my father and my Heavenly Father are now together watching over me. With that kind of love watching over me, what could I ever fear?

The darkest days are yet to come as we face life without him. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we will get through this, and we will see him again one day. Until then, I will treasure every  memory I have of him and every glimpse of him I see in my own face. One of my favorite song lyrics of all time is from a country song and says “When somebody says I hope I get to meet your dad, I just smile and say you already have.” We shared a special bond because of the part of himself he bestowed to me. I loved how we could communicate without talking, and that understanding could be left unsaid because we knew it hung there in the space between us. And sometimes that space was bigger than I wanted it to be, as miles separated us. But I always knew he was only a phone call away. I have always valued every piece of me that came from my dad, and today I hold those pieces even closer than before. My only hope is that I can be half the person he was, because he was one of the best people I have ever known.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lordand on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

I may be a day late, but that would not surprise him. After all,  I am always late, for everything. But yesterday I just couldn’t find the strength to post this. But today, I woke up and put two feet on the floor. The pain that had pooled in my veins while I slept rushed through every inch of my body, and my heart broke all over again. But I got up, I thanked God for another day and I let him carry me, because that’s what he does when we can’t walk on our own. And today, he gave me the strength to say, Happy Father’s Day daddy, this is for you.

 

Tony Alan Cruse – June 22, 1957 – June 17, 2017

Daddy was a man of few words, but those that he spoke left imprints on the world because they were full of knowledge, justice, and love. He was strong, on the inside and out, and served as the fortress of our family. There is not a moment of my life, looking back, that I don’t remember leaning on him. He loved his family deeply, and he was loyal to those who he cared for most and kind to those he didn’t even know. He was intimidating at first, but once you knew him, you knew a soul that loved deeper than most people I’ve have ever met.

His work ethic was unmatched, and he worked hard for everything he had. He had a knack for taking a stone and building a rock, and fixing a splinter into a bridge. His hands and boots were worn, but that’s how he liked them because familiar was his safe place and labor was his tonic. To some, land is simply an existence of nature, but to him it was a haven. Farming was leisure and though his land was not vast, what he had was his heritage and it stood for all he had done. 

He was the husband that women pray for each and every day. He put his family first, and treated his wife as the queen of his heart. He did for her all he could, and loved her to his death. He put her before himself, and saw in her what God had created for him from the start. He was the father that God called him to be, caring for his children as if his own livelihood hinged on their happiness. He taught them to trust, to love, and to labor. He showed them how to live, how to have courage, and how to be proud of who they are.

He was inquisitive, and always wants to know how things worked. He would take things apart just to put them back together. And just as he could assess the most minute problem on one of his flea market treasures, he could detect a restless heart with just a glance. He always knew when someone needed him, and he was always there when they did. He took broken things, tractors, machines and other toys, that most had written off and brought new life to them. His knowledge was not just great in value, it was tremendous in expanse, for he knew something about almost everything. Although many knew little about him. 

But what everyone who knew him could attest to was his integrity and the truth that clothed his being. He was honest, fair, and wore the full armor of God every single day. He was who he was, and to him that was enough. Those who knew him were blessed to do so, and those who loved him are better because of it. 

I love you daddy, and I will miss you everyday.

 

*Lyric from “Song for Dad”, Written by Keith Lionel Urban • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Living Life with No Filter.

As humans, it is our nature to hide our flaws and cover ourselves to prevent our vulnerability. And as we live in a world of technology, we now have the guise of a computer to hide behind as we project the image of ourselves we want others to see through social media. But what if you stepped away from the computer, striped yourself of the coverings, and stood in the presence of others as you are, with no filters…what would they see?

While the revolution that is technology has reached a climax in our current day and age that has produced incredible advancements in fields such as medicine, it has also brought with it the likes of social media. There are refreshing aspects to our time online, like keeping up with friends and sharing our lives with those who may be far away from us, but it also brings with it a devastating mindfulness of our flaws. By having the ability to broadcast every second of our lives to those whose opinion we value, we enable ourselves to find a filter to put on our life that projects perhaps a happier picture of ourselves, a healthier picture, or a more acceptable picture. It allows us to pick and choose who we are to others.

This can be absolutely devastating to our spiritual lives as that mindset tells us, I can hide the things I don’t want others to see. I can cover up the bruises and imperfections and no one will know what I hide. But the truth is, your Heavenly Father knows your heart, your mind and every hair on your head. There is nothing you can hide from him.

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:1-5

I am currently diving into a study by one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas-Pharr, entitled “Redeemed.” In one of her sessions, she was talking about selfies and social media and she said something that struck a chord with me, “living life without a filter.” As I worked through the rest of the lesson, I circled back to that phrase and sat on it for a bit. What did that mean to me? As a professional in the world of marketing and public relations, social media is a part of what I do. I am continuously learning and soaking up any knowledge I can about a piece of technology that is ever-changing. I am always strategizing, calculating each move I make on Facebook, Twitter and the likes as to how it will represent the brands I am a part of. And then I looked at how much time is spent by myself and others each day, creating just the right post to capture the attention of the people we follow. How much time is spent picking out just the right photo filter on Instagram to mask imperfections in our photos, from our photography to the glimmer of chaos that is caught in the frame. But what would happen if those filters suddenly disappeared, and we were left with just the raw film of what is taking place in front of us. Would our world look differently to those who see it through social media?

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in building this brand for ourselves online, that we forget who we are on the inside. That we allow our desire to please mankind to separate us from our Heavenly Father. In truth, the opinion of man will give us nothing but a belief in God, and striving for his kind of perfection will give us eternal life.

As humans, vulnerability is naturally a scary thing. We are inclined to protect ourselves and hide our hearts from the rejection or distaste of those here on Earth, a desire that came to us from our ancestors of the Garden of Eden. If you visit Genesis 3 in your Bible, you will read the account of Adam and Eve and how their disobedience to God led them to the knowledge that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves and their shame, and even hid from God. Our sinful nature is reflected in that of the first man and first woman put on Earth. God being a gracious ruler gave us free will, he gave us the power to choose to love him or choose to sin against him. That is why Adam and Eve were able to disobey him and because of it, were forced out of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. And today, we still struggle with the same temptations that they did. We are surrounded by influences that force us to judge our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and others. We are constantly gaging how we measure up to others and completely ignoring the glaring reminder that God gives us that we were made in his image. Rest on that a moment.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The Lord of Lords, the God of ALL creation took his time and made you specifically in the image of himself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God created any other living, breathing thing in his image. Only male and female.

How special are you that the Creator of Earth wanted you to be like him, the very definition of perfection?

And yet we struggle to accept ourselves, to accept others. We spend time staging just the right look, just the right pose, in just the right setting to fit the brand we want for ourselves that we think is pleasing to our fellow man. But what happens if you strip away those filters, and you are left with the raw film of your life. What does it look like? Are you happy with the stripped down version of yourself?

If you were forced to take a candid picture with no filters, and write a true, honest caption that represented your life, what would it say?

Maybe you are reading this today and you say, you know what? I am happy with my life. I have a great family, I have wonderful blessings in my job and home. I am happy right where I am and would show anyone that life in a moment’s notice. My question to you then would be, what if Jesus was at your door? In the midst of the chaos you don’t post on line, when you have had it with the day before you, you feel defeated and are at your absolute worst, the Lord and Savior shows up at your door. What would he find? Would you find a servant living their life as best they can for him? A Christian praying for peace and guidance in an upside down world? Or would he find a human that has strayed from their Heavenly Father, just trying to make sense of things and keep up a façade that makes everyone believe you’re ok, because you’re supposed to be ok?

Or maybe you are reading this today and tears are streaming down your face. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I’m lost.” You recognize that you have strayed away from your Heavenly Father and have been working for men, not for him. That the happiness you just can’t seem to find is because you’ve been chasing the wrong joy. You’ve been looking for fulfillment in the things this Earth tells you should make you happy instead of filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with prayer and his word.

Whichever category you fall into, it is ok. God loves you regardless and he wants to help you. He doesn’t care about that blemish on your face, or the extra pounds you have gained. He doesn’t care that there is a scar on your body from where you took out your frustration on yourself. He doesn’t care that there are bruises, physical and emotional, on your body and in your heart because of the evil of another person. All he cares is that you love him and you want him to be in your heart.

Now I am going to ask you to do the one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do. Take just a moment of your today and peel back all those layers. Delete those filters from your life. Scrub away every mask you have painted on in the name of survival. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Is that person who you want to be?

I will tell you exactly who you are, you are a child of the Creator of everything. You are loved by God, who is the Alpha and the Omega and he is yearning for you to rest in his love. He is craving your desire to follow him and he is standing right there beside you, just waiting for you to give in to his glory. Let him take you, and make you new. Let him erase the past, and provide you with a future that is brighter than you can ever imagine. I can promise you that when you have a relationship with the Lord and Savior, no human attention or approval will match the tremendous joy that fills your heart, mind and soul. You are perfect in his eyes, let him love you.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Love Without Abandon.

I’m a dog person, it’s no secret. If we are friends on Facebook, fellow Tweeters on Twitter or connected on Instagram, you know that my feeds are full of pictures of my fur children. I have two dogs, one little and one big. They have their own unique personalities but the one thing they have in common is that they love their momma. As I type this blog, my Doddle is literally resting his head on my shoulder.

Being a dog mom has taught me a lot, it’s given me patience and showed me that if I can make it through the puppy years, I can raise a child one day. But the most important thing that my sweet boys have taught me is how to love. It may seem strange to think of an animal that doesn’t speak our language or share our belief system as the perfect symbol of how we should love, but I truly believe that the love a dog shows is the purest love and the closest we will ever get here on Earth to knowing the true immensity of God’s love.

Let me explain.

My pups meet me at the door every time I come home, and their excitement is uncontainable. They are wagging their tails, licking my toes, and doing their very best to get my attention and let me know that they are so happy to see me. Our doodle is one-year old, and Andy my shih-tzu mix is only three. I remember their younger year very vividly. I got frustrated a lot and let’s face it, I still lose my temper with them now and again. But you know what? No matter how loud I yell at them, or how many times I get angry with them, they are always right back at my feet, begging to be loved.

As sad as it is, we see it all the time in the news. Every time a new animal neglect case comes up or animal cruelty pictures surface, those gruesome photos depict the face of a poor dog who loved its owner despite their cruelty and shortcomings. We see a heartbroken, defeated animal learn to trust a human again in such a short time. We see a puppy who gets a second chance with a new family and falls in love with them all over again. It seems that no matter what this world does to these defenseless babies, they bounce right back and learn to love in spite of it all. We could learn something from our furry friends.

But what may be the most rewarding thing ever about being a dog owner is their ability to love endlessly without expecting anything in return. Sure they like to be loved on, they are hearty eaters and enjoy the occasional stroll through the park with you. But they demand none of it. They would love you the same if you both sat day in and day out in one spot and never ate again.

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31

The greatest commandment that God ever gave us in the Bible was to love; to love Him with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And yet as humans, this is often one of the most difficult task for us. We are quick to judge others, we are afraid to expose our hearts and we hide behind walls that prevent us from loving unconditionally. And we are skeptical. We are threatened by anything that presents itself as pure love. We are quick to discount it, and toss it out of our way because it scares us.

Whether it is in a relationship with a significant other, a second chance connection with someone who hurt us or basking in the light of a potential love, we often run and guard ourselves from hurt. I sometimes wonder if it is that exact reason that often times people stray from the church and God’s love because they just don’t quite get how someone as awesome and powerful as God could love them, and forgive them and keep on loving them through all of the bad and the good. But the truth is, he does. Our God is an amazing God that loves us no matter what we do.

Do your reservations about love hold you back in life? Is it holding you back from the relationship with your Lord and Savior that you crave?

The Bible itself tells us to guard our hearts, they truly are important. But for us that typically means hiding our hearts, and containing them from the cruelties of this world. But I encourage you to not let the state of our world, or the hurt you’ve experienced keep you from a true relationship with God. Open your heart to him, only there will you find the peace and comfort you crave. The truth is, each and every one of us have a God-shaped hole in our heart that is yearning to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And if you have been holding God at an arms length, scared of what that love may feel like, you my friend are missing out on one of the greatest things we will ever experience. God’s love can change not only your life, but your eternity.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35

And perhaps what is often times even harder than the immensity of love, is giving something so dear to you to someone who has done you wrong. But even so, God calls us to not only love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors, he calls us to love our enemies. If we are so guarded against love from those we care about, it may seem impossible to love someone we despise.

As Christians we have something that no one else has; the perfect role model. God is the very definition of perfection and his love is the purest and most real love you will ever experience in your life. He loved us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus, to be crucified on a cross, ridiculed and beaten, just so that we could have the choice to live free of sin. God himself said it in John 15 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is exactly what Jesus did for us. I encourage you as Christians to look to the example of your Heavenly Father to love one another.

How are you holding back from giving your love away to those in your life?

Have you had bad experiences with love in the past? Were you done wrong by someone when you had just opened your heart to vulnerability of truly falling in love? Or maybe you had your love taken advantage of by a family member or friend and you were left feeling scorned and exposed. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you today to not let that experience keep you from experiencing one of the greatest gifts God has ever given to us. There is a hole in our hearts that is perfectly carved out to hold the love that we will carry with us through our lives here on Earth. God intends for us to find fellowship and companionship with our brothers and sisters on Earth through friendship, a church family, a husband or wife or even the joy of a pet. What he didn’t intend for us to do was take a gift so great as love and find a hole in the ground and bury it so we never have to be hurt by it.

So if you are on teetering on the ledge of falling in love, jump in with both feet.

If you are cultivating a new friendship, open your heart and soul to that person.

If you are married to the love of your life, cherish them and tell them how you feel every day.

If you have children, encourage them to love without abandon.

If you have a furry little head resting on your shoulder, give that sweet puppy kisses every day.

But don’t stop there, share your love with others by doing things out of love. Don’t do things because you feel obligated, or because you have to. Do things because in your heart you feel that small tug that says “this is right.” Look for ways to do small acts of kindness for others. And when you experience one yourself, find a way to pay it forward. If there is anything that we can do as Christians in a world so full of hate, it is love. You have no idea the amount of power you have sitting right there in your chest. If we open our hearts and let the love that our Heavenly Father gave us poor out into our everyday life, we can change the world.

I pray that every day you would pick up your Bible and read this verse. Memorize it, put it on a post it in every room of your house and carry it in your hearts. Live this verse, practice this verse and share this verse with the world because nowhere will you find a more perfect definition of how we are called to love one another…except maybe through the eyes of a man’s best friend.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor 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. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8