Friday, November 29, 2013

Giving Thanks

**Ok before I start, I said I would give an update on how I am doing.  Sorry kids, I wish I had better news for you.  Please don't feel bad- it is what it is.  We are doing the best we can and to be honest we really have almost come to a place of acceptance.  I am not as well I would like to be.  The pain has increased, my body just doesn't not seem to want to function very well most days, my movements are weak and jerky, and I get nervous with some of the symptoms I am displaying.  My neurologist and my primary doctor are working aggressively together and have decided to do every single test under the sun.  They do not want to miss a single thing that could possibly be going on.  I am having cat scans, MRIs, constant blood work ups, and things I cannot even pronounce.  I go in every couple of weeks just to monitor my symptoms.  I am having a very painful test next week in which a bunch of my nerves must first be shocked and then have needles stuck in them...I can't remember what this will reveal, but if it shows anything, I will then have a nerve biopsy done.  My neurologist is a very dedicated doctor who is the kind of man who wants to find the answer to the problem- so much so that he had poor bedside manner at first because he is only focused on the issue not the patient.  But he has gotten to know me over the past couple of months and he genuinely likes me now- which has only made things harder.  The look of sadness in my doctors' eyes makes me sad- they truly feel sorry that they have not been able to help me.  I try and hug them when I leave and tell them it's ok- that no matter what happens I will be ok.  And it's true- I have Jesus.  I really am ok.

So we are going through all of these tests, and if NOTHING shows up on any of them, the final conclusion they are coming to is that this is some form of progressive small fiber polyneuropothy that was caused by the Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.  Thats fancy talk for the SJS causing my nervous system to self destruct lol.  It is highly unpredictable as to what it will do, how it will progress and no, they cannot fix it- their main goal is to assist me in dealing with it's effects on my body- the spams, the weakness, the pain, the eventual loss of motor skills, etc.  The pain has become too much for the medication to handle, and I have been moved up to a medication called Fentanyl- it's a patch I wear on my body and it releases a very strong medication right through my skin and lasts for 3 days.  It's much stronger than the pills but better than taking pills every few hours.  Now I just use pills for breakthrough pain.  I am still on another type of medication to help with some of my nerve issues, but I am hoping if we find the right dose of this pain medication maybe it will end up helping at least with the pain side of things.  It is slightly embarrassing because it leaves marks all over my body when I have to switch locations...but really its a small price to pay in light of everything lol.**

I have become very active in documenting my illness in photographs.  On the left you can actually see the translucent medication patch on my arm.  On my chest and my shoulder blade you can see the marks (sorry for the bad lighting) that the patch leaves behind when I have to take it off to put a new one on.  

So thats the update!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving.  I do not have any family near me, so it is just me, Jeff and the kids.   We don't do anything during the day because every year our church does a big outreach where we cook a million Thanksgiving meals and deliver them all over the city to those who do not have any meals for Thanksgiving.  So this year Jeff took our oldest son and they were out until 2pm giving out meals while I was home hanging out with the little ones.  Then we just chilled out together the rest of the day and ate a nice traditional Thanksgiving meal for dinner that was so graciously given to us form the leftovers from the outreach by the church because I was unable to cook one myself.  It was a lovely, peaceful day with my family- a mix of giving and of receiving.

But later that night I was given the opportunity of which I am so grateful for.  Earlier in the week I was contacted by an old friend of mine who is a youth pastor of a church in Canada.  Tricia wrote to me and asked me if I was willing to appear live via FaceTime to her youth group and be interviewed.  She said they had recently been going through a series on the topic of Divine healing and that some of them had been struggling with what happens when God doesn't heal someone.  She asked me to talk about that side of the issue- about living life as someone who serves Jesus yet is very, very ill.

I cannot think of anything better for me to talk about.

If there is one thing I know, this is it.  I do not struggle with that question and I jumped at the chance to bring clarity to anyone who does.  Maybe that is not worded right- I cannot bring any clarity to the issue, because I am no theologian.  I know God, but I do not understand His ways.  But I can attest to His character- and all I wanted was the chance to do that.

So I decided to share the interview with you all this week.  Below are the questions that were asked of me via FaceTime and the responses that I gave.  I cannot thank Tricia enough for the chance to tell my story and for giving me a platform to share the faithfulness of Jesus with others.  Here is the actual interview along with my answers:

1. (Im skipping this question because it's about how i got my illness which I have talked about extensively in this blog)

2. What struggles has this brought to your life? (physically, emotionally, daily life issues, etc.)
Prepping for interview!!
We had to stop homeschooling the boys and put them in full day Christian school.  My husband had to quit his job to stay home and care for me and the kids bc I am no longer able to be out of bed for an entire day anymore.  The pain is too much for me to bear and just dealing with the pain often consumes my entire thoughts and I have to go lay down and deal with the pain.  I am also very weak and cannot walk unassisted at times.  I cannot take care of the kids or myself for a whole day alone.  I cannot go run errands and do normal chores.  This really messes with my emotions- I used to do EVERYTHING in my home.  I homeschooled my kids.  I cooked, cleaned, ran the errands, did the food shopping, took care of Jeff.  I was SO ACTIVE- even physically.  Every hear of the exercise program P90X? I completed that program.  I lifted weights.  I did it all…and now I do nothing. Everything in our lives has to be run through the lens of my illness.  If we have plans for the day or the week, we have to spread it out over the course of several days and then make sure there is plenty of rest time in between.  For example, if we have several errands to run, we cannot just do it all in one day- we have to do it over the course of a week making sure I am able to lay down in between and then know that I will need to crash by the end of the week.   If my friends want to go out to dinner and hang out one evening I usually will have to say no, because I have to be in bed no later than 7- any later than that and it takes quite a bit of medication to keep me functioning and to keep the pain tolerable.  I wanted to do my hair and make up for this interview, but because Jeff had to work for a few hours and I was home with the kids most of the day, I just was not able to move my body and have the strength to do my hair.  Then their are days where I can do everything right- I can rest, take my medication- and I will still be in pain and very weak.  My body is failing and there is little I can do about it.  I have also lost a lot of brain function from the medication I have to take to keep me functioning physically.  I had to write down all my answers to these questions because I am unable to recall basic thoughts mentally.  I cannot hold simple thoughts in my head any more.  I cannot remember the most basic things- I frequently drive by my own house when I am driving home.  I repeat questions multiple times not remembering I just asked them seconds before. I just never feel like myself anymore.  My husband has to explain the simplest phrases to me because I just don't understand basic things anymore…yet if I stop taking this medication my nerves will begin firing off and the body spasms will return and the pain will increase to more than what medicine can subdue…it's a rock and a hard place and there are choices I have to make daily and all the options are horrible.  It really is so hard emotionally to reconcile who I used to be versus who I am now.  I used to sing on the worship team, teach sunday school, homeschooled my kids, hung out with my friends- by nature I am someone who loves to be active.  That I used to be able to lift weights and now I need my husband to help me walk up the stairs.  That I used to cook a full healthy dinner from scratch and now I need help opening cans of processed junk to serve my family dinner.  I have to constantly guard my mind from thoughts of feeling like a complete failure as a wife, mother, and human being.  I have cried many, many nights over who I have become and feeling like a complete burden to Jeff.  Over the fact that my kids don't even need me anymore because now Jeff is their main caretaker.  It hurts very very much.

3. Has being sick changed your view on who God is?
My view of God totally changed when I got sick.  The amount of awe I have for God cannot be described.  I have an intimacy with God that I didn't have before- but I also have a respect and a deep sense of just awe that wasn't there before.  I knew God was worthy of worship…but now I feel it.

4. Have you doubted God's existence or God's ability?
Never.  How can you doubt the existence of a God whose presence you feel so strongly all the time?  I do not believe anybody when they say they don't believe in God- I think what they really mean is that they are angry with Him or that they have unanswered questions from Him, or have an issue with Him.  But no- I have never doubted His existence- He has been more real to me this past year than ever before.  As far as His ability, I don't even think that's the ever question.  I think many people believe God is able to heal- as do I.  I think the real question is have I ever doubted whether or not God ever WILL heal me.  Sure, God CAN heal me if He wants do- but does He want to?  Is He ever planning on actually doing it?  Those are the questions that people are really asking.  And I really don't know.  I am no theologian and the truth is I DONT CARE.  Maybe He will, maybe He won't  It doesn't effect a single thing about my life or about how I will continue to walk with Him.  If He doesn't heal me will that change anything?  No.  I don't serve Him because I believe one day He will heal me…I serve Him because he is My Lord and I love Him.  I don't wake up every day with that being the firth thing on my mind- yes, I wake up with pain being the first thing on my mind- but that draw me to prayer.  Not that I would be healed but that I would simply draw closer to needing Jesus.  That I would be graceful in how I handle my day, that I would still look for ways to serve Him, that I would still honor Him with my life.  It really does keep me needing the Lord every waking moment.

5. How should we pray for ourselves or other's who need a healing?
About to go live via FaceTime!
Try to picture how hard it must be for me to be at a church service when the topic of healing comes up- how every eye looks at me when the preacher makes the altar call for healing.  How every hand comes to pray for me every single time.  How to YOU it must be so awful and you imagine I must want healing every moment of every day.  Consider all I have said- yes, I want to be healed sometimes.  And if He wants to heal me He can at any moment do so.  But I live my every moment for Him and I do not walk around in a cloud obsessing over healing- I live my life.  So can you imagine how awkward it makes me feel when YOU obsess over my healing.  If you come up to someone with authority you better have a divine word from the Lord and the better get healed or you don't know the damage you may be doing to them emotionally and mentally.  A nice sincere prayer is fine- but to make is the constant focus is a tragedy.  Our pastor finally came to our house one day when things were really bad with my health and he asked me what I wanted to tell the congregation- and thank God he did that because while I was SO GRATEFUL for everything, I felt that the congregation was mourning for me and was unable to move forward because  was not being healed.  And so I told them- it's ok to praise the Lord and to keep moving on even though I continue to be sick.  It's ok to dance and laugh and pray and love even though I miss church and lot and am very ill.  We are ALL here- including me- to serve Jesus.  In health or in sickness our purpose does not change until we all meet in heaven we have this one goal.  So please do not get sidetracked with this issue of sickness and healing.  We no not know His ways.  We never will fully know all there is to understand about the Lord- that what makes us man, and him God.   Focus on the things that REALLY MATTER.

6. How do you pray for yourself?
My prayers have changed very little since getting sick.  Well, that's not true- it has given me more to pray about because I have more pitfalls to watch out for.  As someone who is in a lot of pain every day I have more things I need to guard against as far as someone who wants to live like Jesus.  I pray very much that I would not be a complainer.  That I would be a woman of character and integrity in all that I do.  That if I see someone in need I would not be so wrapped up in my own problems that I would not be able to extend my hand and heart to help them.  My prayers for the kind of person that I want to be have NOT changed since I got sick.  Once and a while I pray for my healing…but I confess it is simply not my main prayer.  I DO pray for it and I KNOW God can do it.  So I ask for it and then I move on.  My physical body only has an effects this earth- my character has the ability to effect eternity.  So I spend a lot more time praying for who I am as a person than I do about my body.

7. What has God taught you through this?
Oh, what a question to ask.  God has not taught me a single thing.  But I have learned many, many things.  God is who He is.  He never changes- His character, His faithfulness, who He is never changes...but what we discover about Him and what we uncover about Him is what we are constantly learning through our experiences.  What you choose to see and learn about that is up to you.  God is not sadistic- He is not up there playing games with us.  He does not move pieces around for His own pleasure.  This world is a fallen place full of sin and sickness and evil things because MAN IS FALLEN AND MAN CHOOSES THINGS APART FROM GOD.  We live in a world that suffers the many consequences of lives lived apart from God.  People get sick.  I got sick.  Jesus was Jesus all the years I was healthy and He is still Jesus all the years I have been sick.  Plain and simple.  But what I have learned over and over and over again is that He Is Faithful.  He is so incredibly faithful.  You have two choices when you go through something hard and traumatic- and the choice is solely yours- you can run to God, or you can run from God.  One of those choices brings you down a path of excuses, and blame, and bitterness.  The other brings you down a path of depth, and discovery, and the truest, deepest walk with the Lord that you will ever know.  I am blown away with how intimately I know my God.  People will say to me "I could not handle this the way you do it if happened to me."  Well, if you were to get as sick as me, you would have to make a choice- and if you chose Jesus then you too would have abundant grace upon you.  Because I am nothing special- NOTHING special.  I am as average as they get…but I love Jesus.  And when I chose to cling to Him in my hardest of hours, He met me.

Thank you Tricia.  Thank you for giving me a chance to tell your students how wonderful and how faithful God is ESPECIALLY in the midst of hard times.

Be blessed this week, and I look forward to seeing you all next Friday.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Wellspring

Wanna change it up a little this week?

We've had a heavy few weeks together, so I figure we could shake it up just a bit.  I had another topic in mind actually, but after a series of conversations this week (one with my 7 year old) this post just kind of developed and I had a little fun with it.  You all know a lot about my life right now- that I have a lot of kids, my passions, my illness, that I was homeschooling, that I love Jesus, how my husband and I are in ministry...but it occurred to me that I do not share a whole lot about any of my past life experiences with you.  I- like many of you- learned and grew from the things I went through and experienced in my life.  Some things are very personal and may never appear here.  But other things are meant to be shared and can be just as valuable being shared as they were having been lived through.

My dating history...that was the topic that came up!  My son Anthony asked me how I knew that Jeff was the one that God wanted me to marry.  He said if there were other men that had jobs, loved Jesus, and treated me like a lady then why didn't marry them instead?  (By the way, this was the basic criteria I gave him for how he is to know when he is ready to be a good husband.)  So this led to a conversation in which I told him my very basic dating history and how I knew that his daddy was the one for me.

Ever since I was little I loved boys.  I even had a crush on my uncle when I was growing up.  I just loved everything about them- their look, their confidence, the way they made me feel protected and safe.  I love the way men think, and respond, and react, and converse.  The way they always seem so sure and focused and the way they make women feel special and feminine.  It's the way God made it- men and women are complete opposites and were designed to bring out things in each other that otherwise would lay dormant.  Some women are more alive to their feminine side then others and I happened to be one of those.  I enjoyed the presence of men because it made me feel safe and feminine.  I think this is coming off creepy, but I assure you I was going for poetic.

I just was always very comfortable with who I was and I always knew myself and what I was and wasn't willing to do.  If there was ever any pressure to conform it never made it my way- conforming has never been my style.  I have no hesitation sharing with you that I waited until my wedding night to have sex.  I kissed one other boy before Jeff.  I did struggle in my teenage years with being too flirtatious- I am naturally a very touchy-feely person and sometimes I would cross the line.  I spent many nights crying and praying and repenting, vowing never to speak to a boy again or making rules about how I would only shake a boy's hand or whatever.  But eventually I learned balance both in my life and in my heart.

In fact I am still like that to this day, only I've figured out how it looks as a mature, married woman.  I find great joy in an embrace or in a smile.  I love being in mixed company and enjoying the dynamic that men and women bring to the table together.  I appreciate a when a gentleman opens a door for me or offers his arm when I am having trouble walking and Jeff is not around.  I appreciate when men instinctively get protective of us women.  After all these years, and after ten years of being married I still have so much appreciation for God's creation called "man."

I dated two men before Jeff, one was very casual and one was more serious.  I will not reveal names out of respect to these gentlemen.  Both of these relationships were wonderful experiences in that they were pure and they were with respectable men.  The first one was casual and I was 15 or 16- it lasted about a year and I was very, very clueless and he was a bit older then me.  At the time I loved him, but it was not a real relationship- I did not know how to properly communicate nor did I know how to expect proper communication in return.  I was not happy with how it ended, as it was one of those "just kind of fizzled out on his part" endings, which is a real killer for emotionally invested people like me.  But over time, it was an easy wound to heal because it was not as deep as I thought and after a while I was able to see him many times and genuinely give a smile and have a real conversation.

As for the serious one, that was also with a godly man who was a bit older than me.  I was 17 and we dated about a year and a half.  That was more complicated as it was my first and only other real relationship.  He was a very respectable man who loved the Lord, and by all accounts it seemed as if we were a good match.  However, some things you can just work so hard at and they still can just not work out.  I worked very, very hard in that relationship.  I gave it all that I had.  There comes a point where you just have to make a decision.  I could have married this man- there was nothing stopping me as far as big lightening bolts from God.  But there was just nothing on the other side either, and I wanted more.  I just began to feel that it was too much work and if it was that much work in the dating stage, then how much more would it be later on?  I know love is more then just romance and feelings- but I did want that to be a part of it.  And if, after everything I did to try and make it work I still cold not be who he wanted, then it was time to make the decision.  I concluded that I simply was not the woman he was looking for.  That as great as we each were individually, we just were not great as a couple- and as scary as it was to change the way I thought my future was supposed to look, I said goodbye to the man I thought I would marry.

I will admit to having a slight rebound stage.  I thought I was ok after it ended, but I did struggle with some anger in the following few months.  I was angry that I stayed in the relationship for so long knowing deep in my gut that I was not what he wanted.  I was angry at myself for allowing somebody to subtly change me and for allowing myself to feel not good enough.  I was angry that I started to actually believe I was not good enough.  So I decided to ride that anger out for a few weeks and did some questionable things (no, nothing major lol).  I rode a few roller coasters (which I am deathly afraid of), slacked on my school work (of which I am not proud of), and after a month or two the anger subsided and I realized that maybe I made a mistake or two along the way but I really had very few regrets.

Because when you live for the Lord even when things don't go as planned your heart has a way of being ok.  My heart was safe because I only gave a small, guarded portion of it away.  As for my body, I gave none of that away.  We shared conversation and prayer, times of laughter and times of working through disagreements.  And when it ended, yes I had to work through anger and disappointment, but those things were quick to heal because the wounds were only allowed to go as deep as I would allow myself to be put out there.  There is an epidemic in our culture and people are literally bleeding to death- if you give the entirety of yourself to someone who has not vowed to honor and protect you, then there is a good chance they will hurt you- very, very deeply.  And it will cut you to the depths of which you allowed yourself to be given to them.

After those two experiences I started dating Jeff and I was very much whole.  Everything was different about my relationship with him, and that is what I was explaining to my son.  The Lord showed me and guided me to the person with whom I was supposed to be with.  Because I had ears to hear and a heart that was trained over many years to listen to the leading of the spirit, I knew when He was speaking.  I had a lot to give to Jeff because I did not give myself away to many others.

It is a hard thing to try and explain to my son...not because it's complicated but because it is so simple.  And I know once he gets out there the world will do it's best to complicate things.  Sex.  Lust.  In love.  Passion.  Follow your heart.  Try it before you buy it.  Hollywood.

But my son has a heritage now.  I have placed the first stone on which he can build on.  I will tell him my story over and over until he hears and believes and knows that YES it is possible to live purely and to have relationships in which there is mutual respect and God honoring principles.  And I was not perfect- I hope my children do better than me.  But it's a's a great start.

So now you know a little about me and my dating history and just how important I believe it is to hold on to and protect your purity and your heart.  That is not just for single people.  As a married woman I open myself up to people on a daily basis- I believe there is nothing greater than loving someone.  To open your world and your life to a person and show kindness, laughter and love.  But even though I am not in the dating scenario it is still vital that I remember to keep my heart protected and fixed on the Lord.  To not let my own emotions cloud His perfect wisdom.  Getting swept up emotionally does not just apply to dating- it applies to all areas of life.  We lead our hearts, we do not follow them.  And we need to take great care to lead our hears in all purity, making sure that our decisions are being made based on true, pure, Christ-like love rather than selfish love that has our own motives at heart.

Life is full of situations that are neither here nor there- and you don't have to fear them.  It's ok to experience life.  You don't have to be afraid of heartbreak if you learn the valuable lesson of guarding your heart the right way.  Not in the bitter, closed off way- but walking in the way of wisdom.  I love.  I truly love people  and experiences and I am open to everything God wants to bring into my life...but my God has also taught me to be wise.  That I do not have to sacrifice my beautiful vulnerability out of fear of getting hurt.  Simply walk in wisdom, make God honoring choices, and then you can be free to open yourself up to life and love knowing that whatever experience comes from it, will be one you can learn and grow from.

This is a really unique post for me but every once and a while I just need to mix it up...and I did enjoy this  I get tired of being me, you probably need a break from me anyway and it's just all around necessary to shift gears.  Next week I will be giving you some medical updates, as I know I am due to tell you what's been going on and where I am at right now.  So we shall chat a bit about that and see where the keystrokes take us, yes?

Enjoy your week, take the time to see the beauty of the life that is around you- you may be surprised at all the love there is to find if you are open to seeing it.  Just use wisdom and remember to "...guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's How You Live

I owe you an apology- I think sometimes I assume that between Facebook and life just happening that you are aware of changes in my life.  There have been two major changes that have happened and I should have talked to you more in depth about one of them.  It really just happened very fast, and kind of got lost in the shuffle.  The first change is kind of fun and was one of my own choosing:

Yes, I took the plunge and for the first time in my life, decided to give blonde hair a try!  So far I'm feeling much more bold and much more sassy. Love it. :)

As for the other major change, this one was not of my choosing.  When I started this blog I was the stay at home mom of 6 kids that homeschooled and that was a big part of what I talked about.  But my health really has taken a sharp decline- I am much weaker then I used to be.  I use my cane when I am going to be out for an extended period of time, but the truth is I am almost never out for an extended period of time any more.  I spend most of my time sitting,  laying down or resting.  The pain I am in is constant and to the point that relief is almost non-existent and we are looking into other options to find some level of pain management.  I simply was physically unable to continue homeschooling.  We very quickly found a small private Christian school and because Jeff is a pastor and because of my health issues, they gave us an enormous discount on tuition and we were able to send both boys there and will probably also be sending the other kids there next year as well.   

Huge change.  Huge adjustment.  It all happened within a few days time and I had little to no time to adjust.  I went from having my kids home with me every day since they were born to having them take a little private bus and leave me all day.  Heart wrenching?  Doesn't even come close to describing it for me.  But I did what I had to do.  I got alone, I reached out to people I am close to, and I got through it.  

I have been asked how I have such a good attitude through all this. I don't think I am anything special..honestly the same character trait that makes me bored in church is the same one that gets me through hard stuff in my life.  I just get bored.  I do not do well harping on things.  I see no value or amusement in sitting in my tears watching the world go by me.  I cried- oh yes, I cried.  My heart got and still does get ripped out occasionally.  But I move on.  I just cannot sit in my misery- it's not me.  I will keep going because it is not in my nature to mull around.  One of my kids said to me the other day "Well mom you lay in bed a lot and are sick most of the time so you are not really a parent anymore, dad is the parent now."  Talk about pain.  My heart got torn in that moment- but I didn't stay in that moment.  Why?  Because I got bored.  Same reason I get bored sitting for more than an hour during a sermon or while I read the bible.  It's also the same reason I blast music in my car and lip sing to it or throw candy on the floor and watch my kids scramble for it- because I want to smile more then I want to cry.  Because sitting in my pain not only hurts but it looses it's luster after a while.
And I was built to laugh.

Within each of us lies a choice.  The choice to cry or the choice to laugh.  The choice to fight or the choice to walk away.  The choice to fall or the choice to stand.  But make no mistake they are choices.  You know some of my story- the story I have made public, but you do not know the entirety of my life.  There are many statistics out there about the different hardships and scenarios a person or woman might go through in their life- I have lived almost all of them.  So excuse me when I speak firmly when it comes to making these types of choices.  See me as you will, but I do not speak from ignorance.  When I say you can choose to fight I say it from the battlefield, not from behind a computer screen.  Know that.

I just choose life.  I live in the same world you do.  I see what happens when other choices are made.  I choose to stay feminine and whole.  I choose to say open and give and receive love.  I do not want to become a closed-off, hard, bitter version of myself.  I do not want to be a shade darker- a worldly, broken version of all that I once used to believe I could be. Because that is a choice. A choice to believe that things must always stay the way they are.  That the pain I have been caused will always be caused to me again and again- and I do not believe that.  I will choose love and hope over and over again no matter how many times I get broken and crushed…and the result of that choice is that I will never remain broken or crushed.  

That is why I still smile.  

It's my choice.  It's your choice.  I cannot choose what happens to me out of the gate.  I did not choose to lose #1, but whether or not I lose #2, #3, #4…..#9, #10.  That's ALL ME.  And I will not lose things I do not have to lose simply because I am angry or upset over the turn my life has taken.  

It's funny, I actually wrote this blog last Friday, immediately after I published my other one.  I have had these thoughts in my head for months, and I realized I needed to update you all anyway so my fingers just started flying as my heart poured out.  Since I wrote this blog I have had four separate conversations with four different people throughout the week on this very topic.  I guess it's just the right time to talk about choosing.  

I was at my friends Bill and Erica's house the other night- he is the Youth Pastor at the church my husband works at, and she is the worship leader there.  We all have been in ministry together a long time, even going back to the days we ministered in Albany together.  We are all very close friends and I went over to their house to borrow a movie and we just got to talking about life and ministry, and then he asked me how I was doing mentally with all that has been going on with me.  I answered very candidly, that while it does threaten to overtake me at times, my head is still above water- I choose to laugh, cry and move on.  Then he said something to me that was right to the point, which I will leave you with today:  He said "Every day you should both laugh and cry."

Absolutely.  Every day.  Sometimes I forget to cry, but I never forget to laugh.  So go ahead, it's ok to cry at what you have lost and it's ok to do it daily.  Just remember to laugh daily as well.  And then remember to keep. on. moving. forward.  There is so much more yet to be lived.  And unless you are dead, YOU'RE STILL LIVING.  So live.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Falling In the Deep

Prayer is a topic I typically avoid for many reasons.  Whenever it comes up in any way shape or form I tend to do an internal eye roll- I just can't help myself.  I don't mean any disrespect to God, it really is all me.  First of all I find prayer to fall into the same category as reading the Bible: things I know I need to do but that I find kind of boring/hard to focus on.  And second, sometimes I see prayer as a small thing.

Let me break this down before you go accusing me of being perhaps the worst Christian in the world.  I love Jesus, I really do.  And I do pray and read my Bible, although I could do way better.  I am a very fidgety person and I get bored easily.  So the idea of sitting or kneeling and talking to someone who, let's be honest, is not literally talking back is kind of a hard task in and of itself.  Add in an extremely distractible person and it just is not an easy thing to do.

As far as it being a small thing- what can I say, it's been quite a week.  A hard, painful week.  And it has nothing to do with me.  Quite frankly I am just tired of this world sometimes. Tired of seeing people I love in pain and suffering.  Tired of being helpless in the face of so many injustices and so much sadness.  Tired of my endless tears not being enough.  And it is in my nature to act and to do whatever my hands can find to do.  If I see pain or sadness I want to do whatever I can to help.  I see prayer as something so small and quite frankly not enough.  I don't want to get down on my knees- I want to get in my car and rush to help.  I want to get on the phone.  I want to put my hands in someone else's hands and make it all better.

But I couldn't do it.  My hands are not enough and my words and actions all put together are just never enough to take it all away.  So I prayed.  I didn't want to- I wanted to do MORE.  I did not feel like prayer was enough to help all the hurt.  I just felt so weak sitting there talking to God.  Could this really be all that I can be doing to help this world?  There just has to be more.

But the more I wrestle in prayer and the more I wrestle in reality the more glaring the differences between the two become.  When I put my hands on things, even with the best of intentions, the more chance there is for my own self to get in the way.  My own feelings, emotions, selfishness, confusion, mistakes- all of it.  And suddenly I just seem to get smaller.  I mean well, and sure there are things I can do to empathize and help others when they need me, but the truth is that when I pray several things happen.  The main thing that happens is that I go away.  All of my selfishness goes away and it becomes solely about the people I am praying for.  And second, when I pray- God get's involved.

I realize some- if not all of you- are probably rolling your eyes at me right now because this is kind of obvious but for me, I needed to be reminded.  I was so overwhelmed and overcome with the need to DO something that I jumped in and put my hands where they just could not be.  I saw prayer as a second rate choice to my own abilities to take action and only when I nearly drove myself crazy with grief did I finally take it to God.

And then I realized just how small I am.  And just how big prayer really is.

I disappeared in prayer.  And God appeared.  And He heard my pleas and my cries.  He corrected my thinking, reset my thoughts, and reminded me that He loves even more than I do.  So all the grief that I carry and all the pain that I feel and this burning desire that I feel to FIX all the hurts in this world- He feels it so much more than I do.  He LOVES so much more than I do.  He was willing to DO so much more than I ever was willing to do.

And to think I ever see prayer as a small, second rate choice.

I needed to talk about my week today.  It was that hard.  But more than anything my week was about prayer because I lost sight of it's importance.  I let my head get confused and cluttered because I did not go to God.  So I could talk about prayer and how important it is and how you should do it every day.  I could use my fancy Bible Degree and teach on what the Bible says about prayer and when the best time to pray is.  But that was not what I learned this week.  What I learned is what prayer IS.

Prayer brings down the heavens and opens the floodgates in ways we can never see or comprehend on this side of life.  It touches man to God Himself and has the capacity to altar the very plans of God if you press in hard enough.  It gives man access to the ear of the Almighty and grants him the privilege of asking anything of Him.  It is not for the faint of heart but for those who have the courage to stand before the sacrificial Lamb and plead on behalf of another.  For those who would take on the burdens of someone they love and bring them to God and beg for His mercy and grace upon their lives.  For those who would risk bearing their hearts before their Maker and dare to believe that if they ask in faith then they will see it happen.

The truth is I fear prayer more than anything else.  I know the difference between a getting on my knees and giving a half-hearted, ease my conscience prayer and a getting on my face and letting God in my soul prayer.  And that last one scares me.  I know what it means.  It means trusting Him with the things and the people that are most precious to me.

But what better hands to place my heart in then those bloody, nail scarred hands.  I think prayer is like falling into the very depths of God- and there is NO safer place to be.  No place more trustworthy, more productive than that.

I will do what I can- but in all other matters and in all other things I must learn the most valuable lesson of taking it to God in prayer.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What Are You Waiting For?

Very excited to write this week.  As you know Jeff had to leave his full time job at the warehouse to stay home and take care of me and the kids, but he still works part time as an assistant pastor at the church- he cleans the church, does some counseling, preaches occasionally, teaches Bible study- a little bit of everything.  He came home the other day really excited and he couldn't wait to tell me why.

Jeff was in the middle of cleaning the sanctuary when two women came waking in right from the streets of Amsterdam, the town our church is located in.  They told him right off the bat that they were lesbians and that they wanted to know how they can get baptized.  Jeff spent the next hour and a half talking with these women.  They talked about everything from why Jesus died to what does God do up in heaven all day.  Jeff did not get to finish cleaning the church.

And he could think of no better way to have spent his day.

I was excited just seeing him excited.  I was excited because I remember that feeling- what it's like to meet real people.  People who do not attend church every Sunday.  People who speak very bluntly and want real answers to real questions and are not afraid to ask.  It's what I miss the most.

When I went away to Bible College after high school I had no intention of going into ministry like most of the other people there- in all fairness, it was a school of ministry.  But I was going there because I wanted to really know the Bible inside and out so that when I went out into the world I would be better equipped to help people.  The only thing I ever wanted to do was get a normal job and meet people and show them God's love.  That's it really, I had no high hopes or anything.  In fact, Jeff and I were such an odd pair because he knew he was going to be a pastor and I warned him that I was not exactly pastor's wife material- more often than not I find church to be boring and I am the one eating candy during the service and playing with random items in my pocketbook.  But we make a great team, balancing each other out.  And since we ended up having a bazillion kids, my plans changed anyway.  But before marriage and family even happened, I worked several jobs in high school and college.  I worked as a nanny, a day care worker, bank teller, Starbucks barista, etc.   I never liked playing with kids, so I didn't like those jobs, and I didn't enjoy being robbed so the bank was not my fav...but Starbucks.  THAT was the best job I ever had.

In fact, they didn't actually even want to give me the job- I had to beg for it.  I wanted that job so bad that after I applied for it I called "just to check and see if they got my application." You see, I knew that job would be a good fit for me.  I love people and I love socializing and making friends and making people feel welcome.  I loved the idea of giving free cups of coffee away- whether it be to a regular customer, or a police or military man, or just someone who look like they needed it- I knew I could make people smile and that would make me a better worker and the store a better store.  So when I called they told me they just didn't have an I asked if any other Starbucks on Long Island had an opening.  The manager said maybe another one did but he wasn't sure.  So I called again.  And again.  And then I showed up at the store in person.  Then I showed up again to which he finally said he called another manager and set up an interview with him (just to get me to stop calling and showing up I presume).  So I had the interview with this other manager who also said he had no opening but that he was told I was pretty persistent.  I then proceeded to tell him that he would not regret hiring me.

I got the job.  I wasted no time in proving him wrong.  Several weeks into my time there I had a costumer at my register.  He ordered coffee and as usual I made small talk with him, offering him something to eat and telling him what would go best with the kind of coffee he ordered (like I was trained to do).  He asked me how long I had been working there and if I liked it.  I went on and on about how wonderful it was (which it was, no lie there).  I didn't think twice about that incident because those occurrences were normal- it was everything I thought it would be.  Well a few days later my boss pulls me aside and asked if I remember that particular gentleman- turns out that man was the Starbucks regional manager and he returned specifically to commend my manager on the job I did waiting on him.  My manager said he was glad he hired me.

It was the best two years I spent.  I met so many people and was able to just love and show love.  From the moment I gave my heart to Jesus my life literally became about two things: one- loving Him and trying to become more like Him, and two: trying to love others and show them God's love.  That's it.  Period.

I dont live for anything else.  Sure, I have other things in my life that I enjoy- I like to eat candy and I love to watch movies and read books..but even when I pursue too much of other things I can feel myself being pulled away from God and I feel lost.  Everybody lives for something- and yet most people are lost.  I only feel lost when I veer away from God.  I never went searching in the world for things to fill my soul.  I suppose I am speaking out of ignorance, but if I found the answer why must I go out and prove all the wrong ones to be wrong?  It's a very common story that many of you have lived- you search the world, looking for that something to fill that void- that ache- deep within you.  Nothing quite fills it and you seem to be left with more hurts and scars and less answers.  I found Jesus at a young age.  I have never felt a void- just a full, complete peace.  And I know what my goals are- and they are very simple.

What is the point of my husband cleaning the church?  What is the point of my going out and working at Starbucks?  I guess in one sense you could say the answer is "to pay the bills."  But that's not really the answer...the reason he cleans the church is so that those women can come walking in.  The reason I served coffee was so that I could get to know people by name and bring a smile to their faces.  The Bible words it like this "I urge you, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice..." (Romans 12:1)  Living sacrifice.  Most sacrifices are killed, but we who serve God are being told to be living ones- as in, keep living but use your very life and give it up for others.  Thats our job.  I do not take it lightly.

I realize that my readership is varied.  Some of you who are reading this are Christians, some are not.  This puts me in a strange position- not because I have any plans to change the way I write, but because I am talking both to you and about you.  To the Christians, I am telling you to remember why you are here.  You are here to serve.  To love.  To live sacrificially to those around you so that maybe, just maybe they will see God through you.  To the non Christians I would say this- please do not judge God based on us.  We make mistakes, but we are trying.  I want to love you and I want you to know that God loves you but sometimes I am just having a really crappy day and I take it out on you...I am not God.

So what now?  We are gonna go live our lives, that's what.  Some of you are gonna serve coffee, others clean churches.  Just remember what you are doing if for.  It's not to pay the bills- it's to have a purpose.  It's to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and He fills the void in your soul so that you may go and give that hope and love to others.

Now go.  Christianity is not an exclusive club.  You exist for the soul purpose of expanding.  There is no point in decorating the church, or practicing the music, or finishing your week at work if you are not willing to extend an open embrace to the outcast.  If you are too comfortable with your life to let someone in or if you are too busy to explain the gospel message to someone who is searching then it's all in vain and perhaps you have lost your way a little bit as well.  It is very easy to grab hold of things that feel secure only to find they have little meaning.

"Greater love has no man than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13  It's what Jesus did for you and me.  It's what it means to live sacrificially for others.  Maybe you will never actually die for someone- but sometimes that is easier to do than to actually spare 15 minutes of your life to talk to someone who is hurting.

I guess what I am saying is this: make no mistake about what this life is really all about.  I am quoting my dear friend Jennifer Niles when I say this: "If you have nothing to hold on to, then where are you?"

What are you holding on to?  Find out.

Then make it count.