Hurricane Florence Through My Eyes

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On Tuesday, September 11th, I evacuated with my mom, dog, and kiddo after a mandatory evacuation order was released, for my county. We spent just over a week away from home, due to the dangerous road conditions and flooding.

We have had quite the eleven days. My beautiful eastern/coastal NC has been deeply marred by this hurricane and the flooding that followed. I know people who have lost everything – some homes, some businesses. I have neighbors, who have an entire floor of their home they’ve lost due to the intensity of rain (30 inches in my city).

It wasn’t just the event itself but the evacuation. My (foster) son had a hard time – any kid would. But his was a little more intense as his fear of losing our home and me was very real after what he’s gone through the last couple of years. I feared what would happen if we lost our home.

I’ve returned home now to the potential that there’s unseen water damage in my home as the smell of mold has intensified in the last couple of days.

Today and tomorrow, I’ll be volunteering at my church. The needs of others are so great. We have poor families, migrant workers, and so many elderly folks that have nothing to help them and nowhere to go. But Florence didn’t discriminate. And it doesn’t matter what your situation, when you lose everything.

The needs are great. And there is a great deal I want to say about this entire experience. There were funny things about our “Evacuation Vacation” as we’ve all been calling them. I want to share some of the experiences we’ve had along the way. So I plan to write a few posts to cover what this experience has been like. I just need a little time to figure out what’s happening with my house.

This isn’t my first hurricane. But it is my first evacuation – mandatory at that. And obviously the first time I’ve had to decide what to do in a storm – with a child. This has been an emotional and exhausting experience all around.

I hope I’ll feel up to sharing more, soon. In the meantime, prayers for my beautiful Eastern Carolina would be appreciated.

Sifting Through the Rubble

elaina avalos, chasing dreams, chasing hope,

One day I woke up and knew I loved him. It was a shock. And yet, not.

We are nothing alike. And yet he was home. We are nothing alike – and yet, somehow still, so very similar.

One August day, sitting next to him, as he handed me something to clean off my sunglasses, without me asking, I knew.

I knew then that I’d waited a lifetime to love a man like him.

I knew then that my life had changed.

I will spend a lifetime trying to understand God’s purpose in this confusion and heartbreak. After everything I’ve seen and experienced, I’m not sure I will ever open my heart again.

After so many months, after so much time to process what was, what was not, and what will not ever be, I thought it would make sense by now. Or, that I’d come to a place of numbness – that I’d move on.

I haven’t. I’m not sure I ever will.

August has brought something of him to me in new ways, as long as I’ve known him. The first August, it was the knowledge that I loved him. The second August brought a crazy, faith-rooted belief that he was the man I’d waited for, for so long. That conversation, a little over a year after I knew I loved him, he told me something that rocked my world.

It sounded an awful lot like answers to a lifetime of prayers. No man has ever come close – didn’t hold a candle – to who he is and the ways in which I believed God answered a lifetime of prayers in this man I never dreamed I’d like, let alone love.

Here we are, at another August – and I miss him in increasing measure. I never knew it was possible to miss someone this much. I thought time would make it easier. It has not. Today hurts in a way I would not have imagined.

I expected by now, with distance and time, that I’d have a better understanding or find some meaning behind it all. There is no understanding. And the pain is somehow worse.

One day, I knew I loved him. And that’s about all I understand.

Tell the Story

elaina avalos, chasing hope by elaina avalos, maya angelou, writer

Tell the story.

Tell your story.

For far too long I’ve known it was time to tell my story.

There’s a story to share, because by God’s grace, I am not where I was. There’s a story to tell because He has redeemed and restored me.

I need to share my story. But beyond that, I’m called to do so. I’ve resisted for one reason or another. But most of the reasons ultimately come back to living my life for the betterment of an organization, versus my larger purpose on this earth.

In recent months, the why I’m here on this earth has crystallized and yet even still, I’m working my way through the details. But I do know that I need to tell my story.

Years ago I heard Anne Marie Miller (aka Anne Jackson) speak at a church. She talked about how there may be times in our lives where we’re called to give the gift of going first.

What does that mean? It means that we might need to tell our own story so others know there is hope, healing, freedom, etc. We may need to go first so they feel free to seek help, healing, and take a chance on hope.

I knew before that evening in Corona, California, that I needed to go first. Listening to Anne confirmed it.

And then life happened. I made choice after choice after choice that put me at odds with that calling. I put everything in front of my faith and the calling on my life.

The organization that deposits a paycheck in my checking account every two weeks, won. What I was being called to do by the God that chases me down, did not.

But in recent times, I’ve grown more and more certain that God is asking me to leave this old way of life, behind.

I’ve become more certain that telling my story is what He’s asking of me.

And yet, I’ve still held back.

After some of the hardest weeks and months of my life in 2016-2017, in which I lived in fear, some of the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced, and my heart was broken (so very badly), I knew something had to change. And I knew I had to tell my story.

But I’ve still held back, ya’ll. I have such a hard head. Tell me I’m not the only one…

Fast forward to tonight. Our worship team at church somehow picked the exact songs I needed tonight. The words, as I sang them, were prayers, commitments, and reminders of the God that chases me down and is owed all of my life – every part of it – to include my story.

I didn’t notice our worship pastor’s shirt until the service was almost over and we were singing the last song (Do It Again).

It has been a favorite worship song for a while. But as the song started, I saw George’s shirt. White letters on black, “Tell the story” it said.

I smiled big.

You may think it’s a coincidence. You may not think it’s a sign. You may deny that there’s a message there for me or anyone else. But I know, like I know today is Saturday, that God could (and did) use a black t-shirt to slap me upside the face.

Do you know how many times this week I’ve begun this post? Not about a song or t-shirt but about “telling the story?” I’ve started this countless times but stopped myself every time.

So no. It’s not a coincidence.

Tell the story.

In my heart of hearts, I think we all know what our calling in life is. I think you know, yours. I know mine. I may not always know what that looks like or how the pieces will come together, but I know, that I know, that I know.

My friends – I’ve got some writing to do. Non-fiction…a devotional, a book about how the trauma of my childhood has impacted my entire life (but isn’t the end of the story because of God’s grace). I may have some other stuff to write, too.

Tell the story.

I’m going to tell the story.

 

Babies & White Picket Fences

 

One day you wake up and you’re no longer young. I mean young, young. As a woman, you near a certain point where you begin to be more and more certain that you will not give birth to a child.

Some women go through adulthood with that desire a distant thought or a “Eh. I don’t think I want kids.” The thing a woman like me is often annoyed to hear from her fertile friends with white picket fences, “I never wanted to have kids. I don’t even really like kids. But here we are.”

I am not that woman. I have wanted kids as long as I could daydream about it. But I wanted the whole picture – the husband, the family, the dog, the picket fence, and a rolling hillside.

The truth is, recent months have shown a light on this truth for me – I am not happy. I am happy. But I’m not really happy. There’s an ache and a hurt in my heart that my life looks nothing like I planned.

The healing is not close. It seems far off in the distance. And in the rush of needing to fill this quiet space, I threw some lipstick on that pig and tried to parade it around like I had it all figured out and wasn’t brokenhearted.

I don’t have it figured out. And I am brokenhearted.

The truth is, I am angry at God that countless people have child after child they can’t and don’t care for and I am alone. I am angry that my prayers have gone unanswered for so long.

I’m angry that barren women have miscarriage after miscarriage and woman have 5, 6, or more children and leave them to raise themselves – abandoning them to raise another generation of lost children, themselves.

The truth is, I want to be pregnant. I wanted to. The truth is, I want to give birth, or pick up my newborn from the hospital – as an adoptive mom. I want to raise this tiny one, from day one.

I want to share parenthood with the love of my life – my truest companion. But, as time ticks on, I stand here with 42 a little over a month away, and the sadness floods me. This was not the life I dreamed of.

But it’s not just the dream. It’s actually what I saw as my calling. I saw my family as part of the ministry God was calling me to. So how do I understand all of this now?

I probably can’t understand it. But I can pray for healing. And trust my gut and God’s timing. I make my greatest mistakes when I rush through, without prayer, and try to fix my own heart.

I can’t fix my own heart. Only He can.

So . . . if you’re anything like me . . . and you tend to run off, headlong, at full speed ahead and try to fill the pain and emptiness in your heart, with ideas, theories, or frankly, anything other than Jesus, you’re probably gonna end up like me.

Sitting in some of the deepest pain I’ve ever known, I regret how easily I run ahead of Him. It’s not so much what I got into – it’s the timing of it all.

I can’t fix my own heart. Only He can.

I can’t make happen, in my own way and timing, what He ordains for my days. And so I seek His face for healing, forgiveness, grace, and wisdom. And I pray for strength for the days ahead.

I used to listen to Fernando Ortega’s “Hymn & Meditations” album over and over again, years ago. It has been a quiet comfort in some stormy moments in the last week and a half. The hymn above fits my heart tonight, as it has so many other times in the past.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

“Bind my wandering heart to Thee…”

My wandering heart, prone to leave, is going to take a step back, admit my folly, and wait for His answer.

Desperate for Grace,

Elaina



Run & Never Tire

This time I'm speeding with no direction.Without a reason. (1)

Dear Future Husband,

There’s a prayer I’m praying right now. It’s really the same thing over and over. I am praying for you. I’m praying we can somehow get past this wall that appears to be in front of us now.

I pray nothing will stand in our way.

I pray you’ll find me, see me, run and never tire. Desire is one of my favorite Ryan Adams songs. It has been for a handful of years. But somehow it’s a good one for right now.

Two hearts fading, like a flower.
And all this waiting, for the power.
For some answer, to this fire.
Sinking slowly.
The water as higher.
Desire

I am 100% convinced that amazing things are ahead for us and for our patchwork family. But floating around the edges of those days when my faith is strong, are so many moments when the fear is greater.

This weekend, as I miss you and worry I’ll keep right on missing you, the fear and faith have mixed. Equal amounts of both. One minute I’m certain. The next, I’m dreading a life without you in it.

I’m working on a novel. It’s a love story. It’s our love story. The one that hasn’t happened yet. This too, like my prayers for you – and for us, takes more faith than I have some moments.

But the man I know you are (and are becoming) makes the risk worth every moment of fear in the midst of all this waiting.

I’m going to keep praying big prayers, Baby.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20

Fearless

Fearless, OneWord365, Faith, Elaina Avalos,

As 2017 comes to a close, I started thinking about my word for 2018. Every year for quite some time, I have had a word for my year versus a list of resolutions (my resolutions were always quickly forgotten).

Somehow, the word always fits. There have been times I don’t know why that particular word finds me. Sometimes, it almost feels ironic. My word for 2017 was hope. This year brought a lot of dark times for me – sometimes feeling quite the opposite of hopeful.

But as happens every year, I see the ways in which these words are woven into my life and impact my spiritual growth and focus. Sometimes it’s in failure that I grow. A few years ago, my word was “intentional.” I was absolutely not intentional. About anything. I sucked at being intentional. But in failing at it, I learned a great deal about myself.

The year has been hard, but woven throughout has been hope. As I’ve chased dreams and worked harder at being intentional (a path I started down after failing at it a few years ago), hope found me.

Throughout this year, and in particular the last month, I’ve realized that much of this year was spent in fear. Fear of  standing up for myself. Fear of what others would think of me or did think of me. Fear of the future. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being able to handle being a single mom. Fear I will always be single. Fear my health would keep me back from following my dreams.

I could go on and on. You can’t live a life of fear if you’re going to live a life of faith. So…this year, I’m bringing back a word. Fearless. After my Pastor’s sermon a couple of weeks back, I was pretty sure that was the word I needed front and center in my life in 2018.

I spent some time this week reading Bible verses about fear. I have a whole page in my journal of these verses. My hope is to memorize one a week for a while.

I’m sure I won’t always be fearless. I’m sure there are going to be some scary moments this coming year as I embark on a journey to being a foster mom. But I know that choosing to respond in faith is the better way.

When you want to react in fear, respond in faith. – Jason Brinker

If the idea of choosing one word for your year interests you, check out this website. There’s an entire community of people who do this every year. You can find others who have the same word as you or join the Facebook group for support.

What do you want your 2018 to look like? Do you have resolutions or goals you would like to accomplish?

Fear & Faith

faith, fear, anxiety, christmas story, virgin mary

I didn’t want to go to church last night. But I went. It’s a good thing I did. The last year has been incredibly challenging. I’m tired and worn. A few weeks back, leading up to last week, a series of events happened that have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

The events that started a few weeks back opened the door to a type of fear and anxiety I haven’t experienced in many years. I certainly experience stress. But fear and anxiety have not had a grip on me for a very long time.

But oh how bad the last few weeks have been. The story that has played out in front of me is not what I expected. As a result, I let fear overtake me. I have not understood what God is doing or the story He is writing.

When you want to react in fear, respond in faith. – Jason Brinker

My pastor last night talked about Mary’s story and the “plot twists” that surely must have left her confused, filled with fear, and anxiety about what God was doing in her life and family.

This Christmas season we celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have grown {maybe too} accustomed to His story, as my pastor pointed out. I think that’s certainly true for me. I know that in last night’s sermon, I looked at this story from a new direction. And one that fits my life so perfectly now.

An angel visited Mary and shared the “good news” that she would give birth to a child who would be called “the Son of God.” Yikes. Mary, a virgin, and betrothed to Joseph, was undoubtedly confused and fearful. Besides the obvious issue this raised in her relationship with Joseph, the culture she lived in wouldn’t exactly look kindly on news of a pregnant, unwed young woman.

This was not the story she would have imagined as a little girl. I can relate. She didn’t see her life taking shape in such a way. And yet, this was the story God was writing for her. He was writing her into His story of redemption and grace.

Below are the ESV and NIV versions of Luke 1:36-38 – which are the key verses for me, in this story.

NIV – “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

ESV – And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The news delivered to Mary was what I sometimes like to call “backwards bizarro world” {everything is flipped on its head, nothing makes sense, nonsense becomes logic, etc.}. That’s what the plot twists I’ve experienced have been like. If it had been me in Mary’s shoes, my response probably would have been something like, “SAY WHAT, BRO?”

That’s what my reactions have been like lately, as I walked into backwards bizarro world. But beyond that, I’ve also reacted in fear and anxiety. But instead of reacting in fear, Mary responds in faith.

She responds by saying, “May it be done to me according to your word.” So what’s the antidote to fear? It’s certainly not focusing on the issue that’s causing the fear in the first place. Choosing faith over fear is just that – it’s a choice. But it’s not just based in my own ability to pull myself up by my bootstraps to get through.

It’s based on who I am in Him and what He says about who I am. It’s based on His unchanging Word. Replacing fear with faith requires that I actively take my thoughts captive and focus on what is true and right and lovely.

I don’t understand what God is doing. But in the last few weeks, instead of reacting with faith, I have been consumed with fear and hurt.

When you don’t understand what God is doing, remember what God has spoken.         – Jason Brinker

Besides being incredibly thankful for my pastor’s teaching, I’m also thankful for grace. God is incredibly kind to me that He allows me to change the track I’m on. I share this with you today in case you too are facing circumstances that have left you feeling fearful or confused about the story God is writing.

Do you sense that God is asking you to respond in faith, though you’re tempted to react in fear? I will challenge myself to respond in faith, if you do!

 

 

Say it. Write it. Do it.

 

Paulo Coelho, Life is short, Elaina Avalos, Chasing Dreams

Life is short. There is no better time to say what needs to be said. There is no better time to chase after those dreams.

I’ve stayed quiet when I wanted to speak. I’ve not written words that needed to be written. And I’ve put off what is most on my heart.

Why? Fear of what others would think is a good place to start, though there are other reasons, too. This is no way to live.

I’ve been half-regretting the post I wrote last week. But I think my calling is to write truth whether it’s about my life or not. I also think it’s important to go first – giving others the gift of going second.

There are people out there, struggling. They don’t know where to turn or what to do. And they feel alone in their struggle. No one should. So . . . part of my calling is to be open in that struggle because I have a Hope in me that can’t be denied, no matter what happens around me.

For me, since my faith defines my life, the safest place I can be is when I’m living out my calling – in spite of what others might think of me.

Is it time for you to do a little saying, writing, or doing? Go for it, my friend!

Say it. Write it. Do it.

Waiting & God’s Will

Waiting, God's Will, Worship While Waiting

When I was young, I read a bunch of books by Emilie Barnes. Between her books, my desire to be a mom & adopt, my long standing love of all things homemaking, and entertaining, I was convinced I would be the best wife & mom . . . ever.

In one of Emilie’s books, The Spirit of Loveliness, she writes about how her home often became the center of action for her high-school age kids and their friends. Her son played football and her daughter was a cheerleader. She mentions preparing food with her kids and then feeding 50 football players and cheerleaders.

Her home became a gathering place because of the love, hospitality, openness, and joy her, her husband, and kids exhibited. I thought then {and prayed too} that this is what my house would become someday – full of love, noise, hospitality, and a bit of a revolving door as people came & went.

Waiting, God's Will, Waiting and God's Will

Fast forward to 2017. At 41, my life doesn’t look like that. I get to hang out with some young people. And sometimes I feed them. But, I don’t have kids or a family.  There is still so much of what I’ve prayed for, for so many decades, that remains a distant dream.

Whatever the circumstances might be, waiting when you don’t truly know what’s on the other end, isn’t easy. I wish I could say it was. There’s a tendency in the delays to despair. Or to believe that perhaps it’s just not meant to be.

Maybe it’s not. Maybe the life I always saw for myself won’t ever happen. But in all of the years of praying, I have continued to ask, and the desire is still there. I guess that means I’ll have to trust His timing.

There is purpose in your season of waiting. – Megan Smalley

Since I can’t see the future {that would be a useful skill, no?} and I don’t believe in psychics {eventually they’re gonna guess right}, trust is my only option. I’m not saying I’ve been getting it right all this time.

In fact, even this very week, I’ve struggled. But sometimes the struggle leads to our greatest lessons. And sometimes it means growing to trust God even more. The truth is, I want what is best for me and I want it His way.

So while I wait, I’ll keep looking forward to that vision of what I always wanted my life and family to look like.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing, trusting, and praying for the hearts of the ones he’s drawing me toward.

Who loved me through my rebel way
Who chose to carry all my shame
Who breaths in me with endless life
The king of glory Jesus Christ

I will stay should the world by me fold
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls
I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on Yours

Stay & Wait By Joel Houston