Unexpected

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nicole reyes

 

Unexpected.  Ben getting down on one knee, pulling out the perfect diamond ring and popping the question in his kitchen on a Sunday afternoon was unexpected.  But then again, so was Ben.

 

engagement ring

 

When I met Ben, he had just spoken at Visionaries, our church’s business community gathering.  I was taken back by how articulate and charming he was as he taught a captivated room on his expertise- digital marketing strategies.  Words like “digital” and “marketing” didn’t sound all that fun to me, but Ben made the content accessible and exciting.  When I introduced myself to him at the end of the night to congratulate him on a job well done, I expected a short and unmemorable exchange.

 

I certainly didn’t expect to go on a pseudo-date with him a couple weeks later.  You know, the ones where a guy is asking you to “hang out” or “grab coffee” or “get together”?  The word “date” was never used, but I found Ben interesting enough to wear a dress, put on lipstick and show up after work for.  And I’m glad I did.

 

It was about 3 months later when we went out again, but even with our crazy travel schedules we made a second date finally happen.  I didn’t expect it.  I had quite frankly given up on the idea of any type of romantic future with Ben.  A lot of life happens in three months’ time, and I had quickly moved on to other interests and projects and opportunities.

                                                  

That second date was easily the best date I had ever been on.  Conversation came easy, and we laughed a ton.  Plus, he took me to a Mexican restaurant!  I mean, that immediately makes the date worth my time.  But there was more.  It’s hard to put into words, but there was this sense that we got each other.  We barely knew each other, but we were familiar friends, and kindred souls.  Ben likes to say that “our crazies are compatible.”  I got the glimpse that we would be compatible with each other, but also champions for each other.  Already, there was a mutual love and respect developing between us.

 

Someone recently asked me when I knew Ben was the one.  For me, it wasn’t one moment but a series of moments, all special for me in different ways.  And new moments continue to reveal themselves every day.  But the first moment was when I mistakenly mixed my words in a simple statement I was making.  As soon as I had misspoken, we looked at each other and immediately began belly laughing.  And I thought to myself, “I could spend the rest of my life laughing with this man.”  It was an unexpected moment, and an unexpected thought, one that caught my heart by surprise.

 

It’s been over nine months, with many unexpected moments along the way.  When Ben first told me that he loved me it was unexpected, not because I didn’t feel the same exact way, but because he declared his love with such boldness, sincerity, and vulnerability.  I was taken back by it.  We live in a world where either the word “love” gets thrown around impulsively and with an attached set of conditions or the word “love” becomes a weapon of mass heartbreak to be feared.  But Ben owned the word.  He didn’t avoid it.  And he didn’t say it as a reaction to an emotional high.  He didn’t fall into it like someone falls into a trap or falls into anything, really.  He chose love and he chose the commitment that love demands.  He chose love and he chose me.

 

When Ben held me while letting me ugly cry all over his nice shirt after my family moved across country, and I didn’t know if I could bear the thousands of miles between me and my sister, it was unexpected.  Not that he wouldn’t listen to me and comfort me.  I had come to expect that kind of compassion and strength from him.  But the fact that I let myself so openly cry in front of him was a surprise.  For various reasons, I grew up in a home with not a lot of room for my tears. Tears were a sign of weakness.  Tears and the vulnerability that go with it was a dangerous game to play where you could be hurt or rejected.  But Ben had become someone safe.  His character and conviction had unexpectedly eroded my walls and defenses, and by the grace of God, I discovered a freedom to be me- even if that meant balling my eyes out till my mascara was everywhere but where it was supposed to be.

 

Fights are also unexpected.  And there have been a few of those too.  But there have always been unexpected treasures of truth and grace excavated as we have disagreed and conflicted and resolved.  We continue to learn more about each other, about Jesus, about life in the most unexpected ways.  Ben has taught me to lean into those lessons each time we butt heads, and that conflict is not something to run from but to embrace with godly maturity in the effort to become more Christ-like along the way.

 

One of my favorite things to do with Ben is to dream.  Ben is a unique blend of dreamer and achiever.  Some people talk a lot of talk.  But Ben gets stuff done.  He is both an idealist and a realist, if that is possible.  He counts the cost, but is rarely motivated by fear.  He is a man of great faith.  And his hustle matches his faith.  I’ve come to expect that from Ben.  It’s just who he is.  But what I didn’t see coming was just how much faith he has for my dreams.  He’s never once been intimidated by me or in competition with me.  There has always been enough room between us for all our hopes and dreams.  He believes in me to such a degree that it has forced me to face my own fears and go after the things Jesus has called me to.  Ben is not just a constant verbal support, but he is willing to lend practical skill and time to see the things in my heart come to pass.

 

The last nine months have been unexpected to say the least.  And there will be plenty more in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.  And in case, you were wondering, that Sunday afternoon a couple weeks back, I said, “yes.”  And then started screaming.  And jumping up and down.  And then screaming some more.

 

ben and nicole engaged

 

In four months, the real adventure begins.  Marriage.  After 34 years of being single, I will change my name and my address and my relationship status and begin a new chapter with a man I didn’t see coming.  He was unexpected because, well, he has exceeded my prayers and hopes in every possible way.

 

Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of unexpected thrown my way over the last couple of years.  And some of it not only caught me off guard, but brought with it discouragement and pain.  I can’t tell you that I understood it all when it was happening because that would be a lie.  I can’t tell you that I navigated all the changes and transitions with grace.  Half the time, I embraced them publicly while kicking and screaming and crying and mourning privately.  But what I’ve come to learn on the other side of the unexpected is that God works wonders through the deviations from our plans.  And some of the best of our Heavenly Father’s gifts come by surprise.  They often appear to the naked eye as disruptions or challenges or disappointments.  Or they may be disguised as small and insignificant moments.  Word to the wise: don’t discount them and certainly don’t despise them.  Be open.  Be alert.  Be present.  Be hopeful.  Be ready to be surprised in the most miraculously of ways.  Expect the unexpected, yes.  But do more.  Gratefully and hopefully embrace it.  Some of Heaven’s sweetest rewards are the ones we didn’t see coming.

 

 

Can I Do It All?

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Nicole working

 

Can I do it all?

 

The answer is sadly, no.”  No, I can’t do it all.  Even with a good night’s sleep, multiple shots of espresso and a carefully mapped out schedule and to-do list, the answer is still sadly, “NO.”

 

Last week, I dropped a ball, and a rather large one at that.  I had met with the right people, had the right conversations, took the right notes, and then completely forgot about it.  And when the deadline approached (because unfortunately those pesky creatures have a way of finding us) I was underprepared.  Thankfully, I am a part of a gracious team, and they rallied to get accomplished what I could not.

 

I couldn’t stop thinking about this work fumble of mine for the entire weekend.  It just kept getting under my skin.  I don’t do this sort of thing.  I don’t just forget things like this.  I’m a very responsible human being.  How did this happen?

 

But underneath the surface of my self-irritation lay hidden a truth I had been avoiding for quite some time.  I like to imagine myself as some sort of real-life Wonder Woman; when in fact, I’m just a woman- a woman with no superhuman strength, no superhuman speed, and no super cool lasso.  I am capable of great things: of solving problems yet to be solved, influencing culture for the better, bringing out the best in those around me, daring to pioneer progress and blaze trails.  BUT I’m also a woman who needs a decent night’s sleep and time to laugh with her girlfriends and time to read a good book and time to be still in the presence of God.

 

I am woman; hear me roar… sure.  Absolutely.  But also, I am woman who every now and again just needs to snore.

 

It’s humbling to admit, especially in the day and age we live in.  We are immersed in a culture that prides itself in busyness.  We are told that if we aren’t stressed then we must be missing something; if our schedules aren’t jammed-packed then we must be boring; if we aren’t constantly on our phones then we must be out of touch.  If we want our life to have meaning, then we must keep checking emails and posting new social media highlight reels and saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes our way and continually consuming more and more and more.

 

But, “Why?”  I mean, “says who?”  Just because this is the world we live in doesn’t mean it’s the world as it should be.  Maybe we are missing something.  Maybe we need a different approach if we are going to live life to the full and not life dangerously close to empty.

 

Jesus offers us “life and life to the full” (John 10:10).  But He offers it on His terms.  Jesus worked hard.  Just read the Gospels and you’ll discover that in 3 years of ministry Jesus knew how to get the job done!  And if you think about it, His mission was the greatest anyone could ever have.  Saving the world is a pretty ambitious assignment.  If anyone would have permission to live exhausted and stressed and overwhelmed by the weight of responsibility, it would have been Jesus.

 

And yet, not only did Jesus fulfill His assignment, but He did is with complete peace.  And that same peace in which He fulfilled the will of our Heavenly Father is available to each of us.

 

No striving. 

 

No losing it.

 

No stress-related illnesses.

 

No loss of sleep.

 

No ongoing exhaustion.

 

No burning out.

 

Peace.

 

I want peace.  I want peace in the emails and in the meetings and in the responsibilities and in the errands and in the everyday moments that can easily give room for anxiety and frustration.

 

I want what Jesus has… which means I must seek to live like Jesus lived.

 

Have you ever noticed how fully present Jesus was for those around Him? He wasn’t busy multitasking when speaking to the multitudes or wondering about the next day’s work while in the middle of healing the sick.  He was present for the people around Him.  He saw people.  He listened to them.  He shared meals with them and conversed with them and stayed in their homes and took time to explain deep spiritual truths in a way that people could understand and apply.  He was present.  He was present for people, fully invested in the moment He was living.

 

What would it look like to simply choose to be present?  What if we put the phone down at the dinner table?  What if we abandoned the unsuccessful practice of multi-tasking to fully engage in the moment at hand?  What if we observed environments instead of racing through them?  What if we intentionally gave our undivided attention to the person speaking to us, with a deep desire to learn and connect and grow? 

 

Peace is reserved for those willing to be fully engaged in the moment.  When we quit rehashing yesterday’s shortcomings and worrying about tomorrow’s possible mishaps, we regain the emotional and mental capacity to be present to both the people around us and the Holy Spirit at work within us.  And present people are peaceful people.

 

Jesus was relentlessly driven while peacefully present.  That sounds so strange, doesn’t it?    How can one be both driven and peaceful?  Those attributes don’t exactly go hand-in-hand.  And yet Jesus embodied both these qualities perfectly.  He lived each moment knowing what He was on earth to do, and He never once deterred from that mission.  He walked with clarity so absolute that it compelled others to follow.  He knew His assignment. He wasn’t endlessly busy hoping it would lead to success.  Instead, He was intentionally about His Father’s business.  Jesus didn’t do everything; instead, He did the right things.

 

Do we know what the right things are that we can be doing?  Do we know what our divine assignment is?  Are we living with a sense of purpose or a sense of passivity? And are we willing to eliminate the things that are getting in the way of us doing the right things?

 

I can’t do it all.  And neither can you.  But we don’t have to.  Instead we can learn from Jesus how to live life fully present and fully on purpose.  That’s my personal resolve, and that’s my prayer for you too, friend.  A life of peace is closer than you think.  It begins with simply following in the footsteps of the Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

All The Feels

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Nicole Reyes sitting

 

Today, I had two stressful flight delays and am currently on a plane praying that I make my connecting flight to get to a speaking engagement in time to preach.  Yesterday, I joined hundreds from my church in NYC to worship Jesus and pray for one another; and in this gathering I witnessed miracles of healing, freedom and deliverance that left me in absolute awe of the Presence of God.  The day before that I shed many tears while saying goodbye to my sister, my brother-in-law and my nephew as they embarked on a new chapter and a new move to Seattle.  The day before that I sat with a member of my church to provide him coaching on leadership and public communication, and I watched with complete joy as he gained Holy Spirit-inspired confidence to develop his talent and invest in his calling.

 

Life is full-on.  It doesn’t relent and it doesn’t ease up.  Instead, it continually exposes us to moments and events that trigger within us a full range of emotions.  We can be elated one moment and devastated the next.  We can be laughing uncontrollably one day and the very next sobbing in secret.   We can instantly find ourselves burning with anger at those we love and a mere few hours later enjoying a moment of peace amongst those very same culprits who triggered our previous rage.  Within a single week we can find ourselves wallowing in frustration, rejoicing in gratitude, staggering under the strain of stress, overjoyed in the name of love, retreating in timidity, and momentarily paying a visit to serenity.

 

Our emotions are ever-changing, which makes managing them rather troublesome.  How do we control and contain something that is continually morphing into something else, constantly taking on new shapes and forms?

 

It would be almost impossible to master one emotion at a time considering the rate at which it changes. But the truth is, we don’t ever manage one emotion at a time. Often, we are both happy and sad, disappointed while hopeful, excited yet nervous, perplexed while remaining confident.

 

We aren’t ever dealing with just one single emotion; we are dealing with a whole sea of emotions.  Sometimes the waters are quite calm and pleasant, making for safe passage.  Other times, the waters are rocky and volatile, making the journey bumpy if not perilous.

 

I’ve struggled to make sense of this daunting reality most of my life.  I don’t always talk about this, and rarely write about this, but I grew up in a home plagued with addiction.  My father was an alcoholic for the first 10 years of my life.  He has since had a radical encounter with Jesus, and has been sober for around 25 years.  I am so grateful for the miracle work Jesus has done in my immediate family, each of us walking billboards of God’s grace and mercy.

 

But it doesn’t change the environment in which I first formed my views about God, about myself, about the world around me.  In a home where my father was often moody and angry and where my mother was often lonely and depressed, I was left with more questions than answers when it came to the management of emotions.  When my father drank, I saw the dark side of emotions: feelings that were not only unrestrained, but were destructive to those in their path.  And with others’ emotions running rampant in the home, there wasn’t much space for me to cry when I was sad, or to grieve when I had experienced loss, or to experiment with righteous anger or to steady my heart in peace or find contentment in the steadfastness of relationships and a safe environment.  There were no words given to my emotions, and no training provided for such complex characters as anger, depression, happiness and fear.

 

It’s not that I didn’t feel.  (I am pretty sure that is humanly impossible.)  It’s that I had no idea what to do with my many feels.  And not only did I quickly grow to see emotions as foreigners that I could not effectively communicate or connect with, but they were hostile foreigners that could not be trusted.

 

This was, of course, problematic for a few reasons.  First, I am an extreme personality by nature.  I feel things deeply, and I am rarely able to keep my reactions quiet and contained.  Even with years and years under my belt of trying to subdue my natural passionate responses in the name of warding off unwanted emotions, I found myself with very little visible progress.  Secondly, God made me with a capability to feel and a need to feel, so a life of avoiding my feelings was only leaving me with a dissatisfied and frustrated soul.  And finally, with this cynical view of my emotions, I found that anything that prompted strong feelings within me was somehow wrong for doing so.  A relationship that made me feel happy was too good to be true. A subject that prompted anger within me was something that should be avoided.  A memory associated with deep sadness should be suppressed at all costs.

 

Emotions were the enemy and in the process of trying to battle them at every front, I found myself more times than not, exhausted and defeated, not to mention alienated from others and God Himself.

 

I knew I could not stop myself from feeling, so I tried a different approach taught to me in my home at a very young age.  I escaped the need to face my emotions by wholeheartedly embracing an addiction.  I did not choose the bottle like my father had.  Instead, I chose another addiction much more widely accepted and even applauded and rewarded.  With no one warning me of its dangers, but rather cheering on its deepening grip on me, I quickly became a full-blown workaholic.   

 

Performance was my drug, and I quickly discovered that if I kept myself busy enough with very important to-do items that I would successfully build a fortress of productivity around me- a wall of meetings and projects and events and programs and leading responsibilities and workplace opportunities.  These would keep hidden from my eyesight the gaping wounds and suffocating sin in my heart that each emotion was demanding I address.

 

Not only did I find safety in my work, but I quickly discovered my significance in it.  Every time a boss recognized me or applauded me, every time I received a promotion or more responsibility, every time I was the youngest to achieve something or the first to solve a problem, every time people publicly recognized my “get it done” attitude or strong work ethic or determination to master the gifts and talents I had… well, I felt a feeling that was for me the exception to the rule.  This feeling I allowed myself to feel.  I felt happy.

 

But happiness built on one’s own performance is a double-edged sword.  Of course, with every success you welcome in a new surge of excitement and glee.  It’s an adrenaline rush that fuels you to work harder and do better.  But when you don’t succeed, when the boss doesn’t acknowledge your work, when you get outperformed by someone else, when a weakness is publicly exposed or uncontrollable events remind you that you are not actually in as much control as you think, you feel powerless against the bombardment of unwanted guests storming your fortress- such tyrants as rage, anger, impatience, frustration, fear, anxiety, and depression, to name a few.  And when they successfully invade, you find your happiness has been hijacked and you are now at the whim of their every fickle move.

 

You quickly start doing odd things you would never set out to do.  You begin to envy and compete with others you were meant to support and love.  You second guess yourself and even when others affirm you, you internally tear yourself down.  You find subtle ways to persuade others to like you and manipulate situations to increase your amount of control.  You do whatever it takes to convince the world around you that you have it altogether, while secretly you are falling apart.    

 

There is no escaping our emotions.  When we try to, we end up driven by emotions we were determined would not master us.  We succumb to behaviors that sabotage our relationships, our calling, our identity, our sense of security, and our ability to be present and grateful.

 

A few years ago, I began to reach my end.  The work that had once been my escape had now become my master.  It was a vicious slave-driver always demanding more than I could give.

 

And it was during a difficult season of personal heartbreak and challenging circumstances that I found myself no longer able to hide behind work.  And in my wearied state, I wasn’t sure I wanted to try to anymore.

 

I’ll never forget the morning I sat on my bedroom floor, leaning up against my bed with a coffee in one hand and worship music playing faintly from my iPhone a few feet away.  I began to shake as I sensed the Holy Spirit fill the space of my room.  I closed my eyes and in a vision, I saw Jesus come and sit next to me. His shoulder against mine, tenderly nudging me, He simple said, “It’s okay. We can face this together. It’s okay, My love. I am with you. Let me teach you not to be afraid.”. I suddenly felt the warmth of the embrace of the Heavenly Father.  I simply said, “Okay. I trust You. And I need You.  Oh, Jesus, I need You.”  I began to cry, and I cried for quite a long time.  But for the first time, I wasn’t afraid of the tears or the overwhelming emotions they represented.  I wasn’t afraid because the entire time I sensed Jesus with me, holding me.  As weak as I felt by the rushing emotions now being given the floor; I also felt a peace that I had not felt before.  I may have been weak, but He was strong.  Jesus was strong and His strength became my own.

For the first time in my life, I was not afraid of my own emotions. I didn’t need to escape them and I didn’t need to ignore them and I didn’t need to dismiss them and I didn’t need to be driven by them.

 

I could face them without being mastered by them because I was not facing them alone; I was facing them with my Lord and Master Jesus.  He would teach me how to lean in and listen to them, how to discern them, how to discover my emotions are not meant to control me but to inform me.  Behind every emotion was an opportunity to pray, to ask the Holy Spirit to shed lights on the places of my heart that need healing and the thoughts of my mind that need renewing.

 

From that day on, I saw my emotions differently.  It forever changed how I work and why I work.  It has opened my life to rich relationships, new adventures, deeper compassion for others and a closeness to the heart of God that I hadn’t known before.

 

Emotions, come to find out, are not the enemy to be guarded from or the oppressors to be enslaved by.  When Jesus is leading our lives, our emotions become allies, showing us the condition of our hearts.  And when we know the true condition of our hearts, we discover how much we truly need Jesus.  Suddenly we become desperate for His leading and His love, and that my friends, is the first step to living an extraordinary life marked by God’s grace and goodness.

 

So, feel away my friend.  Feel all the feels.  But don’t feel them alone.  Feel them with Jesus.  Let Him teach you how to not be afraid. 

 

 

 

 

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