Have something on your mind? Need to just "sit a spell" and chat? There's nothing like a "heart to heart" to make sense of life's complexities. We can laugh a little, cry when needed, think awhile about things, or simply refrain from thinking at all as we stop and smell the "magnolias!" Yes, that's this southern girl's favorite flower! So please share your thoughts and questions about life big or small!
Nov 21, 2017

Sheep Territory


Those that follow me, know that even though you may not read it every day in my writings, the foundation of my life and the motivation in my words is in what and WHO my center is. That core, is faith in an awesome God that I can't see with my eyes, but Whose fingerprints are on every inch of my life. Today, I was having my quiet time, meditating and reading scripture. I had some special people on my mind and heart when I came to one of the most familiar verses of scripture known - Psalm 23. I can quote this ancient Biblical "song," but I wanted to take the time to read every single word carefully and squeeze out all the wisdom, hope, comfort, encouragement and promise possible.

I confess, slowing down to read today was a chore because of the holiday "to do" list running through my head. This is my favorite season. From Thanksgiving through New Year's I find myself in my "element," and even though the activities and preparation are exhausting, I find a strength bigger than me from the joy that the season brings. I love baking, helping family, decorating and reflecting on all that truly matters in my life.


With that said though, I know for many the holidays are less than joyous. Some are dealing with chronic illness which tends to be like a lead balloon attached to your hot air basket holding you down. Others are dealing with loss of a job, and the pressure of gift-giving or even gathering supplies for baking is an added stress to your already daunting situation. Maybe there is a loss of a relationship that you thought would last forever, and twinkling lights on a tree or the smell of cookies in the kitchen are a painful reminder that you are no longer sharing these moments that once delighted you. Perhaps the most challenging of all, is for those facing the holidays without one who has been there for the bulk of your life but has passed away and you feel an immense void that is unspeakable.


I am among those in the illness and financial category, but today as I think of my special friends who are dealing with the loss of their sweet Papa and the first Thanksgiving with his seat at the table empty, my challenges seem quite small. Still, I know that the "Shepherd of my Heart" sees each of our struggles equally and guides us through the tough terrain of our lives. This is what I read about in my devotional today - Psalm 23. As I perused this ancient psalm, I found myself in "sheep territory." I identify with sheep. Sometimes I feel rather clueless and naive navigating life's path. I don't think it is a matter of being as "dumb" as sheep, but rather as trusting sometimes! I am most grateful for my patient Shepherd. So where does the God of All lead me and how does He help me (and you)?


Because I am his, "I have all I need."


"He leads me" in lovely green meadows of provision and beside peaceful streams that both quench my thirst, nourish me and bring me moments of stillness and rest. I have seen this characteristic of His care in my life just this week with unexpected provision and opportunity.


"He renews my strength." When mine is gone, when my heart is broken, my body is weak, my mind is tired, He picks me up from that stony path that is hard to walk on, and not only gives me strength but becomes my strength. I know of this firsthand too - dealing with illness, the struggles of being a single parent in the midst of that illness, and loss of a job forced me to look beyond my own strength for help and care.


"He guides me" to the right paths in my life which give Him honor because it is His doing and certainly not mine when I don't even has a clue! When I thought abuse, abandonment, divorce, illness and lack was a dead end, it became a detour to a new path in life I would've never dreamed or chosen but am most grateful for.


When the path I am on takes me away from those green meadows and peaceful streams to a frightening dark valley, as I walk through that valley "I am NOT afraid!" Why? Because He is "close beside me." I am never alone no matter what I face. I know of this too. When I sat alone in a hospital waiting room for new parents, wondering if my preemie baby would live or die, an invisible set of arms wrapped me up tightly and reminded that He was there.


My Shepherd "carries a big stick" as they say. His "rod and staff" both "protect and comfort me." He fights off the enemies of my soul both seen and unseen, and I know I am safe. I know I am loved because He has gone before me to prepare the way and has already experienced what I am now facing. This is something I know of also. Those who've tried to harm me, hinder me, stop me or silence me were beat back with God's care for me. Those who dug a pit to bury me, fell in themselves! When I veered to close to the edge of the pit of demise myself, my Shepherd patiently grabbed me with the hook of His staff and rescued me!


"He prepares a feast for me" - not just in safe places or good times, but "in the presence of my enemies!" When I can't quite bring it all together myself - either from exhaustion within, enemies without, critics around, and painful memories behind me, He lays out His blessing on the most abundant table of Thanksgiving possible! It is at that moment that He "honors me" by "anointing my head with oil." I sense His ointment of healing and comfort pouring over me through those friends and family around me, and feel honored and blessed even in my darkest hour. It is then - in moments of thanksgiving for His presence and support of those around me, that I realize "my cup overflows with blessings."


Finally, no matter what I face, I come to understand that both His "goodness and unfailing love pursue me" - even when I don't deserve it! HE LOVES ME. I find comfort, joy, gratitude, hope, strength and motivation not just today but every day because of His love for me that chases after me "all the days of my life." He is there on easy days and on the most difficult of days. One day, I will actually see Him face to face and be "in the house of the Lord forever." Guess who else will be there with us? Those who are no longer with us here.


I don't know who will read this - whether you are a person of faith, or not... whether you believe there is Someone bigger than you walking through life with us. If you do, then you understand the "whispers of my heart" today. If you don't, and question why those of us who do believe in God still face difficulty, loss, pain, loneliness, illness, grief etc. - my answer is this. We are frail human beings living in an imperfect world filled with good and evil, happiness and sadness. We all have a journey mixed with joy and pain. Knowing and loving God, for me, means that I don't walk alone through anything I face.


I challenge you. Reach out to Him and see if you find Him near to you during your dark valley or through the "sheep territory." He is there waiting and ready and loves you. You might be surprised where you find Him this holiday season - in the embrace of a child, the smile of a stranger, the hand of a friend, the chatter of your family around the table or the comfort of sitting close to a person you love without saying a word as they choose to simply "be there." You might find Him in a meal prepared by a local church or community center, through the care of a nurse on duty at the hospital, in the warmth of glowing lights lining your neighborhood, or the melody of a song that plays at just the right moment as you listen to music on your morning commute. Somehow love, comfort and peace finds you and you realize once again...YOU ARE NOT ALONE...




New Posts
  • starlarich
    Jan 31, 2018

    Many years ago a pop song was recorded by R&B icon Aretha Franklin. It became an anthem of women everywhere. It's message was "a declaration from a strong, confident woman, who knows that she has everything her man wants. She never does him wrong, and demands his 'respect.' " When reading the definition of the song's meaning today, one word leaped out at me - "demands." Truthfully, none of us can demand respect. Respect is something that must be earned in our behavior and attitude and then fostered in the heart of the recipient of our actions. The truth is, RESPECT truly is "love in action." When we treat another person with devotion, love, loyalty, courtesy, kindness etc. we are showing them respect and hopefully fostering the same in them towards us. While there is no guarantee that others will respect us, we alone can control if we choose to show them the same respect that we desire to receive. Respect, like love though, is something that we cannot fully give or receive until we have it for ourselves. Speaking from personal experiences of the past, I admit my struggles with both love and with respect. Through difficult times in my life, my self-esteem became whittled away and I lost the confidence in who I was, lost love and self-care as a result and lost respect for myself as a feeling of "unworthiness" caused me to settle for less than I should have in many areas of my life. I allowed others to mistreat me, I did not pursue paths that would be most beneficial for me in areas of career, finances, health, relationships etc. because I was approaching everything from an "empty love tank." My choices were out of need and sometimes even desperation. I was at such a low point that I did not put rational thought into my choices, into my decision-making or even into my strategies and plans. I was staying "one step behind" trying to fill voids that only became deeper with time. It wasn't until I became seriously ill that I began to take a transparent look at the place I had fallen to in my life and heart. I wanted so desperately to be needed and loved, to feel beautiful and desired. I wanted affirmation for the many things I was doing on my job, at my church, with my family and for companions and friends. No matter how much I "performed," how much I gave, how much I tried to love "unconditionally" those around me even when they did not treat me as I desired to be treated, nothing would fill that void inside of me. It only became deeper and deeper. I felt I had been catapulted into a black hole at warp speed. Here's the bottom line. A love tank cannot be filled by others if we are emptying everything out to them and not pouring anything into ourselves. Even the golden rule and ancient scriptures tell us to do to others as we want them to do to us and to "love your neighbor as yourself." During that time of illness, I was no longer able to do the things I had always done - at work, at church, at home and for the people in my life. I will never forget one evening in a time of meditation and prayer. I was too weak to even get out of bed or off the sofa for more than an hour at a time. I felt worthless, useless. Tears found their way down my cheeks as they had so many times before. I sensed I was fading away - physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was then I tried to pray. Though my words would not come, I heard words being spoken deep in my heart. "I don't need your 'stuff' or what you can do for Me or others. I want you. I want to love you and you love Me." God was near to me like He had been so many times. I was loved "for me" - period. It was a lesson in acceptance beyond anything I could describe. I wish I could say I have fully exhibited complete self-love and care since that time, but I haven't. Building one's self-esteem and worth takes time if it has been diminished over many years. I have made more poor decisions, let others take me for granted, stayed too long, put up with too much, neglected to care for my health, failed to fight for what I wanted and needed. But I am growing, learning and challenging myself to be better today and even better tomorrow. Why? Because I am worth it! So are you!!! Respect begins deep in your own heart and is a manifestation of love. So I choose love - for myself until it is overflowing in my love tank out to others. And I will show others ultimate respect by how I treat myself. I'm stepping up to a higher place that only those who love and respect me will take the time to step up with me. Much love and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.!
  • starlarich
    Nov 11, 2017

    Every day there is another voice speaking out. Hearts that have carried hurt, pain and shame in silence from sexual assault, abuse, harassment and even rape. I know those hearts - I'm one of them. For years, I too, carried unspeakable pain in my own heart. There are many reasons why our stories stay hidden. Sometimes it is fear - plain and simple. Fear of the perpetrator, fear of blame being diverted back to the victim instead of the accuser and fear that speaking of it once more will bring back the nightmare, while the truth is, the nightmare doesn't go away in silence - not in our minds and not in the minds of the perpetrator. Our silence doesn't buy them, nor does it give us peace. At other times, people hesitate in telling their story because it is like a sore that is scabbed over. They do not want to bump it or pick at it to cause it to rip open again and produce fresh pain and extend the time for healing. The irony of that it is, the sore isn't healing at all in our silence - it is festering and infecting our spirit and soul. Another common reason that some victims of sexual assault remain silent is because they are closely connected to the perpetrator. It could be a boss, co-worker, neighbor, relative, even boyfriend or spouse. The woman either wants to protect that person or feels that no one would believe her - especially if the person has a perceived "good" reputation in the community or society at large. Abusers are masters of deception and manipulation. For me personally, my experiences were with my spouse many years ago and then with an old high school friend many years afterwards. In the first instance, it was a dysfunctional love that wanted to hide and protect my husband - coupled with fear of his irrational behavior. In the second instance with the high school acquaintance, it was crippling fear due to the threats he made to silence me. In both instances, the men were well-known in the community, had reputable jobs and careers. One was a minister, the other former military officer and government employee. I was just so afraid no one would believe me. The revelations coming out on so many now, prove just how rampant this evil is in our society. People are asking why many of these women are finally speaking out after all this time. I think the answer is in the fact that their is "strength in numbers." Victims no longer feel they are alone in their suffering and feel free to reveal the secrets they've hidden for many years. I have thought much about the feelings of validation that come with standing with other women who have suffered. When we wrap each other up in affirmation and validation, it is like finding safety inside a cocoon while we are developing and growing into all that we are made to be. The fact is, each woman (or man, boy or girl) who has suffered sexual misconduct of some sort forget who they are, lose their sense of worth and value and fail to see their own beauty because of the dirty feelings of shame that result of these horrible acts. Resting in that cocoon of safety with others produces growth and metamorphosis until that beauty breaks through and is revealed again in its full splendor! Whatever the reason for staying silent, there are many more reasons to make a choice to be heard. Just look at the results coming forth everywhere now! Victims are becoming victors, perpetrators are finally facing the consequences of their behavior and society is being forced to take a long look at the "open" secrets that they have tried to sweep under the rug or hide in the closet for many years. I finally shared my story and made my voice heard publicly about three years ago because of the love and support of my family and my son, as well as a man who took the time to understand my pain, hurt and shame. He did not question me or judge me. He did not doubt me. In fact he stood by me ready to fight my perpetrator. He wrapped me in a cocoon of love and acceptance and helped me to find my true beauty again. He saw beauty in me when I no longer saw it in myself. Where would we all be without our cocoons? Do you have those who wrap you in love and safety? Have you found the courage to let your voice be heard? If not, please know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE and YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!!
  • starlarich
    Oct 23, 2017

    It is quite the phenomenon to see shadows while completely in the dark, but that is what happened to me the other night. Okay I confess... I didn't "see" them with my eyes but they were nonetheless all too real. As I settled in trying to sleep while looking forward to the next day of Sunday services with my family, memories of the past found their way to my thoughts and dreams. The timing was the worst as it always is, when painful memories of the past cast a shadow over the beauty of life in the present. Those shadows have a way of looming over us when we least expect it and when we think they are gone forever. The first sign of those shadows began to hover while I was still awake. Someone who had hurt me deeply crept into my thoughts as I was winding down for the evening. At first, those thoughts were just reminders of freedom from a time when I was in bondage to cruelty by someone whom I had chosen to trust with complete abandon. After entertaining those thoughts for a bit, I dismissed them and thanked God that I was free from that relationship. It had now been seven years since I broke away from that entanglement. As I recalled those painful moments, I embraced an even more fierce determination to be a voice of triumph for those who have suffered hurt and abuse of any kind by these predators of the heart, soul, mind and body. I closed my eyes and fitfully drifted off to sleep. It was then, in the darkness of slumber, that those shadows appeared again. I understand that shadows can only be seen in the light, so it must be puzzling how they revealed themselves in my sleep. You see, I had exposed them for what they were during my last waking moments. I turned my thoughts from what they looked like to what they truly were - just memories of a time gone by - a time I had survived! Funny how shadows take full advantage of the light though. If the light is low, the shadows grow. If the light is high in the sky, the shadows diminish in size. Also, if you walk towards the light, the shadows stay behind you. If the light moves, so do the shadows. The light that had revealed them for what they were, continued to shine in my dreams. It was there, they decided to do their "dance" when I was not awake to control which way I was headed. I re-lived belittling words, veiled threats and even physical altercations. I experienced loss of things precious all over again. I woke with my heart pounding and my mind and emotions exhausted. It was only a few hours before I had to get up and get dressed to meet my family at our morning church service. I was beyond ready for the full light of day. Do the shadows of your memories ever haunt your thoughts and rob your peace? I know that it is said that "time heals all wounds" but the truth is, wounds become scars that are visible reminders of the pain. What I love about scars though is they no longer hurt! They may be a bit unsightly, but they do not hurt! It is the same way with shadows. They may show up as we walk in the light, but they cannot hurt us! They are simply a distorted image of who we are and where we where as we continue on to where we are headed. I don't want to in any way diminish what we all feel when those shadows of the past creep into the rooms of our thoughts and emotions of the heart. They can produce a perceived moment of fear, but the key words is "perceived." They only cause us pain when we embrace them - kind of like scars can only hurt if we rip them open again to create fresh wounds. Keep walking in the light! Even more, keep walking towards the light. As Walt Whitman famously stated, "Keep your face always towards the sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you." The only way for them to appear larger and closer is if we turn from the light or diminish the light. For me, the light has been a family who patiently stood by me during the worst times of my life - even putting themselves in danger to defend me. Shadows have been dispelled when my own son's light (no pun intended) of love showed honor and respect for me even when fear caused me to behave in ways I would've never behaved. The light of an unexpected "hero" shined deep in my heart to show beauty where the ugly shadows of abuse had clouded my vision of who I truly was. This man - my best friend, my "smile-maker" saw beauty in me when I could not see it in myself. He stepped in at the most crucial time of my life when I was needing the courage to fully break free from the bondage of abuse and fear. Sometimes those lights of my life allowed me to be a reflection of light and love - much like the moon is of the sun diminishing the shadows of the past. I suppose our lives are never free from shadows no matter what, but we can be free from the fear they bring. When the shadows of the night try to overtake you, turn on the light - say a prayer for peace, comfort and healing. Offer praise and gratitude for the freedom you now experience apart from the chains that once held you in those hurtful relationships. Reach out to those whose love illuminates the dark corners of your heart. Tell them you love them, tell them how grateful you are for them and allow your light to grow and warm their hearts during their moments of hurt, pain and fear. If, by chance, your shadows are reminders of separation from someone you love rather than freedom from a time of hurt and pain, you can still dissipate the cloud such shadows wrap you in. Allow the light of your loved one's memory recount the joys you experienced, the laughter, the extraordinarily every day moments and remember then with gratitude for the time shared. Together we can dispel the darkness and drive out the shadows of the past.