New Year. Not New You?


“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)

It’s that time of year. You know . . . the time of year that causes you to think about all you didn’t do the past eleven months. You may contemplating the new you, for the New Year, right this very minute.

A Washington Post, article from January 1st 2018, stated that 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. But how many more of us don’t formalize resolutions but make inner promises to be better, to do better, or to try harder?

This is the year I’ll go back to church. This is the year I’ll finish my degree. I’m going to work out and lose weight. I’m going to drink less and eat better.

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolutions.

I think the number who don’t finalize resolutions, but still long for change, is quite high. There are many of us out there who silently long to change those things about our character, appearance, or circumstances that we wish were different.

But when the newness of the year wears off, where do we stand with all of those things we wanted to change about our lives? If you’re anything like I used to be, I found myself defeated, frustrated, and overwhelmed when I couldn’t keep up with my own demands {on myself!}.

How exactly does one go about making changes that are lasting and significant?

The article mentioned above has a couple of good tips – like “piggybacking” your goals or resolutions to something you really love. The example was to tie going to the gym to your Game of Thrones binge watching {i.e., only watch Game of Thrones while working out}. There’s some validity there.

Perhaps that might make those new goals stick around longer – if you had a tangible way to tie the “exercise” of working on your new goal, to something you already love.

Be stubborn about your goals, but flexible about your methods.

But, I found another way quite a few years ago now. When I really examined what my year had been like and where I had “failed” to meet my own standard, there was a common thread woven throughout my failures. There was also something in common with my successes.

Nine times out of ten – it was ONE single thing that kept me going to find success. And still other times, it was ONE single thing that kept me from meeting my goals.

Which brings me to how I started transforming my life, my goals, and chasing dreams. One word. That’s it. Not a list of resolutions that I’d never keep – a word.

It came about in a weird set of circumstances – this one word thing. All at once I felt this discomfort with my resolutions and thought I need to focus in. I heard about people using a word to live by in the new year. I liked the idea! Shortly thereafter, I heard from an online writer friend that used one word, too. The rest is history – it has been at least 10 years that this one word thing has touched my life in a profound way.

Friends – these words over the years have absolutely been right on. I may sketch out things I’d like to see happen in my life in the coming year. But what remains the theme throughout is always, always, always tied to this word. It’s in the living out and practicing of the word, I find myself meeting some of those standards I’d sketched out at the beginning of the year.

I find ways to act – ensuring my word is a verb. Other times, I find myself forced to live out the word because of circumstances beyond my control. Still other times, God shows me, much to my chagrin, when I’m not meeting the intent of the word.

This year, my word was fearless. In 2017 it was hope. There were never two more perfect words for the last couple of years. I have the evidence to prove it. This year, I did live fearlessly in all the ways it counts. I was fearful – but I pressed forward. And that’s what this is all about.

Resolutions stifle me. They hold me back and hold me down because I can’t meet the list of standards. But one word? It has changed me – every year, for the better. Even the year that I failed at being intentional – until December – when I learned a hard lesson through my lack of intention. But dude . . . did that word ever change me!

Guess what? I’m more intentional about everything now – including my one word for each year.

So here I am . . . in the final day of 2018 with a new word already being tested. My word is rest. I fail at rest. I fail at it in the deepest sense of the word.

OneWord365, OneWord, Rest, Abide, Faith, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos, Chasing Dreams

Even now, I feel the pressure, strain, and tension beating at the door. But it is clear that rest is the word for 2019. Choosing a word over a list of resolutions isn’t easier. But it is easier to manage bite-size pieces of life – particularly when it’s areas of your life you want to change.

Rest. This might be my hardest word, yet.

So how about you, friends? Are you a resolution person? Or are you open to trying one word? I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you want to try the one word experience, check out, this website where you can register your word and find others with the same one.

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



Foster Care Adventures – Part Two

c413e1ed3eb0e2db774e644eb76983f0

October 2015, a little guy hung around at work, for a week or so. On Wednesday of that week, he “helped” me work. He sat on my lap, we hung out with friends, and then he played with my calculator & drew with my pens. He feel asleep there at my desk, in my arms, and I worked around him {not so successfully}. I lost my heart. I think about him all the time. Mostly because he was part of the journey {part one anyway} that I finished tonight as my foster parent training classes came to a close.

He was a reminder of everything I’ve always known about who I am and what I was put on this earth to do. He was the happiest boy. I saw him the following week and he “talked” all about the book he had with him. I will never forget this sweet boy. And I’m grateful for how God used him to remind me of what I’ve always known.

1ca66c876ef716c7054bfc7321be22fa
Throughout the last 11 weeks or so, I’ve grown more confident that though there is more work to be done, there isn’t anything I’d rather do more than provide a loving home for kids.

So with part one complete, I’m on to the next part of this crazy adventure. I don’t know who my first placement will be. I don’t know his or her age, name, or background. But God does and He’s already put me on this path to cross his or her path.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27.

Home

86d5eb1d9e83f06dee75794aeb5623e5

Foster care and adopting a child {or children} from foster care, will not be easy. I’ve never done things the easy way. Not ever.  So I’m game.

There will be moments that are harder than anything I’ve seen before — and I’ve seen some ugly shit. But underneath all the uncertainty and yes, even fear, runs a swiftly moving current of hope.

For the first time in ages, I’ve allowed myself to dream a little of what might be ahead. I’ll get to that later. But today, filling my thoughts have been the stressful moments of where will we go next and can’t I just stay in one place for once?!

When I rented this house, it had two “empty” rooms. But it was still a very small house. When my mom moved to NC, it became clear that this house was not gonna work. As the days have passed without finding a larger house, that fits all of the “wants” and “needs,” I’ve grown frustrated. The list doesn’t fit the “vision” in my head of what home should (don’t should on yourself, as they say) be.

However, comma sometimes we have to let go of the image. What I want is a home. Not a house. I want a safe-haven that is peace-filled in all ways we can control, joy-filled as much as possible, and a place where you are loved unconditionally. Those goals require nothing physical in the structures and furnishings.

These are the intangibles that can be found on the inside of a two-bedroom apartment, a sprawling house in the country, or in a house that sits snug between neighbors on all sides in the city. These are the intangibles that I once thought I could find in a sort of temporary structure in a faraway land. Or in the inner city where I was willing to live in a one-room apartment, the sounds and sights of Skid Row on the streets below.

I have a dream of what this home looks like. There is no doubt about it. But focusing on the people that will fill that home should be foremost in my thoughts over what the structure looks like.

Someday, when I look back at this time, I will see the dream taking shape, not the structure.

Even This?

Jim Elliot, Joshua Tree, JTNP,

I had the privilege growing up of going to a church that had some pretty great youth leaders. In junior high we were challenged with a question. Will you follow Him no matter what it takes?

I said yes. Not a doubt in my mind. I was willing to die if that’s what it took.

My heroes of the faith were Amy Carmichael – a mama to countless children in India, Gladys Aylward – who saved Chinese children during WWII at great risk and peril, Hudson Taylor, Elisabeth & Jim Elliot {Elliot famously said, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ He was killed by the people he had gone to serve.}, and many others who followed a path I thought I would.

At Forest Home, before I started seventh grade, I listened to a few people {college age and a little older} talk about their lives and the ways they had chosen to follow Him. One of these people became a mentor because she also happened to be part of my home church. She had spent time as a missionary in a place that seemed so exotic and unusual at the time.

Between her impact on me, and that of our youth leaders, I said I’d go anywhere and do anything for Him.

I don’t always think the decisions you make at twelve will stay with you. Sometimes they do. And sometimes? You probably wish they didn’t. I said, “Here I am, send me.” I said I’d follow “no matter what it takes.” The question today, in the midst of pain is, “even this?”

Even this?

Even this?

This?

His reply is twofold:

  • Do you trust me enough to pray wild, impossible prayers and to have scandalous, wild faith? Will you dream the big dreams and trust me with them?
  • And then . . . will you follow me no matter my answer? Will you follow me even if I say no? Will you follow me if the family you have wanted is not my plan?

Even this?

Yes. Even this.

Turns out He may not have expected me to spend my life on the mission field. Or die for my faith. But maybe He’s asked me to lay something down that I cling to even more. Like Abraham who finally had a son to take his name and birthright, is He asking me to lay down the one thing I want more than anything? Yes. Even that. He wanted Abraham, the Father of many nations, to be willing to lay his Isaac down. He asked Abraham, in different words but with the same weight, “Even this?”

Abraham, this great hero of the faith for so many said, “Yes. Even this.”

So here I am, declaring my public, “Even this.”

Even this.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Messy hair. Thirsty heart.


I drove my messy hair and thirsty heart here a short time ago. There are times when the pain is too much, and the ache too deep. Today? It’s one of those days. Oh is it one of those days.

Mother’s Day brings it out in me. At least in recent years. I try hard to let it slip by, but in the south, where politeness is a way of life, the constant refrain of “Happy Mother’s Day,” to every adult female, is too much.

I lost a baby. She would be close to 10. And now, at 40, I’m childless. The one title I’ve wanted for as long as I remember, I don’t have. I made it past my 40th birthday without facing this.

But I couldn’t escape it any longer. A few weeks back, I faced a disappointing moment in my career. I longed for a change because it was the only way I could fathom becoming a single mother through foster care & adoption. My schedule now, in my current job, is too erratic. It’s not that other people don’t do it – they do. But for me? I’m not sure I could choose to do it alone. I was raised by a single mother. I don’t have any lofty ideas about what it is and isn’t. But that’s the one reason why I needed and longed for this career change.

People I know from work were happy about this {they told me so} because it meant I would stay with them. But it broke my heart. They didn’t mean to hurt me, but the hurt piled up. What does one do when the only way you can imagine getting to the dream, goes up in smoke? Especially at a time that seems so ripe with meaning for women {turning 40}. Single women in particular.

Everywhere I turn today, however, are words and songs of encouragement. Last night, Ann Voskamp posted on her Facebook page about being brave. You can see it here. I saw it today however. I needed it. Right in that moment. Not last night when she wrote it. I have cried buckets today. And when feeling frustrated with my messy heart and tears, I read a quote that showed up “randomly” in my Facebook feed, about tears. It spoke comfort to my tired heart.

I could go on. There are other examples. I still don’t know if the pain will ever go away. I still don’t know why God answers some prayers and remains silent other times. I don’t know why some people are blessed with children and other dreams of their hearts, while others long. I don’t know why He hasn’t taken this desire from me if this isn’t to be my life.

But I know He is a good, good Father. Somewhere, beyond my vision, there’s peace – though I don’t feel it now. The things I’ve read & the songs I’ve heard remind me of this. I don’t know if there’s a reason, but I know there’s peace.

From the time I was a kid, the ocean brought peace into my life. My grandparents lived at the beach most of the summer and we stayed with them when it was possible.
We would nap with the fresh ocean air blowing past us and we would walk on the beach for hours. My Grandma Avalos was a woman with messy hair and a wild, artist’s heart. Our countless hours with her, when my brother and I were kids, taught me to dream big and wide. And as wild as my heart could take.

I’m sure she didn’t set out to do that. But messy haired women with wild, thirsty hearts will do that for you if you pay attention. Today, my messy hair & thirsty heart needed to sit by the sea to be reminded how to dream big and wide and as wild as my heart can take.

Because the God that made the ocean that gives me so much peace? He’s bigger still. And as wild and deep and wide as my dreams are, His for me are deeper still.