Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Maui On My Mind

It's 6:30 in the morning and I'm sitting outside on a lanai in Maui, watching the sun make it's way over the Maui mountains. I jumped out of bed, like a little kid on Christmas, and ran to see what gifts were waiting for me on the lanai.
Thankfully those gifts weren't reptiles or spiders.
Making the decision to return here was very difficult for me. I have four kids, this isn't something a mom of four kids spends money on. If it were a trip with Jason, it might have been an easier decision. I mean, it is easier to justify spending the money by investing in one on one time with my spouse. But this is a trip for just Mom, a trip difficult to justify as anything other than selfish.

The last few months God has really been causing growth in me. I know he has started some major changes in my life, including the publishing of my book. I have been on this answer seeking mission with him, "What's next? What am I supposed to be doing?" After asking that question for what seemed like years, I got an answer. It was an answer I misunderstood at first. It was simple, "Go back to where it all started."
Well, I started pouring through scripture, reading again and again those scriptures where it had all started. Nothing made sense. Then I understood. God wasn't being cryptic with me, he literally meant to "go back to where it all started." Maui. Go back to Maui, to the people I love, where God started this work in me.

As the plane was descending yesterday, I found myself being overwhelmed with emotions. Tears started squeezing out of my protesting eyes. Just seeing little pieces of it from the plane was more than I could handle.
As I drove around the edge of the island I got closer and closer to mile marker 14. That is one of the places where it all began. Just seeing the big, round monkey pod tree rising up out of the overgrowth started pushing a sob up my throat. I'm a little scared of what actually walking onto the property will cause.
So many unexpected emotions are welling up inside of me. I am so thankful to be here. I have had dreams about walking on the beach here.
I have no idea what God is planning for me here. I am a little nervous about that, I mean, looking at the things he's already done to me here makes me shake a little inside. I do not know what his plans are, I'm just going to let myself feel all of this, all of these emotions. I'm just going to wait, wait and see what he shows me or tells me next. I'm going to hug these people I love and tell them what they've meant to me.
I am hopeful, I am expecting.

I am thankful.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dark, Dirty, Glorious Love

I know my husband is the one God made for me. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I've shared so many other pieces of my life here, I am going to share this one too.
Jason walked into my life in 1994. I was 17 years old, a freshman in college. It was a small Christian college in Iowa. My first memory of Jason is from before I had met him, before I had ever laid eyes on him or heard his name. It started my first week of school. There was a small local newspaper in my room. When I saw it, the front page caught my eye. There was a story about a young girl who had just been killed in a car/train accident. When I read it I felt so filled with sorrow for her family. That night I prayed for them.

The first day of classes there were announcements, I believe they were read over some sort of speaker system. One of the announcements was for a prayer request for a freshman student whose girlfriend had just been killed in a car accident. I immediately put it together that she must have been the girl I had seen in the paper. I felt so bad for whoever that guy was.

That night when I was back in my dorm I sat down with my journal, which was and still is the way I pray. I prayed for that guy. It was such a young and immature prayer, but it must have been exactly what I was supposed to pray. I prayed that he would be OK. I prayed that he would heal and that God would bring someone else in his life to love. It was the silly and romantic prayer of a kid. I had no idea how much that prayer would shape the rest of my life.

A few weeks later I was sitting with my sister outside the cafeteria waiting for some friends. While we were waiting, this big, tall and sweaty guy walked past us to get his lunch.(Sweaty because he had just finished track practice) As soon as he was past I looked at my sister. I'm pretty sure there was drool running down my chin as I said "I am SO gonna marry him! He is SO hot!" (Sorry, I had a little "Valley Girl" accent going on back then.) My sister can back me up on this story. She thought I was crazy. She rolled her eyes at me and I believe her exact words were "YUCK!" (Her vision has always been a little off, probably all that eye rolling.)

After this chance encounter with prince charming, I spent all of my free time trying to figure out who this dashing guy was. There was some light stalking involved, I'm not too proud of that. I finally casually made my way into his circle of friends. I worked up the courage and decided to seek advice from his roommate. I can still vividly pull that conversation up in my head. I told him I liked Jason. I asked him if Jason was seeing anyone or if he thought I could ask him out. His reaction was immediate. He told me that was a very bad idea. He then told me the story of how Jason's girlfriend had just died. As he was telling me this, I could feel my heart just sink.

Somehow, this sad story didn't really stop me. It did slow me down and make me much more cautious, however. I spent months just hanging out with Jason. He never invited me anywhere alone with him, he'd always ask my roommate and I if we wanted to do something, I'd quickly say yes and she'd say no, then add "but you guys go ahead without me."
I spent many hours holding various wires for him while he was installing his stereo system or helping him sand the outside of his car. (I was clearly in love, because you couldn't pay me to do that stuff now!) After a few months we started dating.

It was a crazy mess, we didn't do any of it right. Jason broke up with me twice over the next year, his reason was always the same. He didn't love me as much as he loved his girlfriend who died. It broke my heart. I had no idea how to respond to that. He was breaking up with me for someone who had died. I spent days just sobbing from the pain and the confusion of the whole situation.

Looking back, I know what a mess that all was. I know he was still in so much pain from losing her, he needed more time. Despite the pain of his rejection, I went back. I loved him. I knew he loved me. I knew he needed me to be OK with him still loving her. I don't know how or where I learned that level of maturity at 17, God just gave me what I needed to get through it.

We were so young. So many things would've been so much easier if we had gone slower or waited longer. My parents thought we were too young and going too fast. Jason's parents weren't thrilled and thought it was way too soon for him. God knew what he was doing.

God brought us together at that time to protect us, to protect us from ourselves. Jason had lost a ton of weight, he wasn't sleeping or eating. He had seriously contemplated suicide. He was spiraling quickly out of control.

I was in a very bad place too. I was running around, partying all the time. I was so desperately alone I would follow anyone who paid me attention.

I smile now, thinking about the beginning of our relationship. I wanted that affection so badly. I can see exactly how God orchestrated my life so that my only choice was to fall onto him. He created this magnetic attraction to Jason in me, knowing that Jason was completely unable to meet it, even just a little bit. God knew that would create my need to fall straight into his arms, it would draw me to him.

God knew that by putting me in Jason's life it would give him hope. He knew that when Jason heard how I'd prayed for him before I ever knew him, he would hear how much God loved him. He knew that Jason needed someone to chatter his ear off, to drag him out of the black hole he was sitting in.

It was young love. It was crazy, broken and dysfunctional love. Being able to look back and see how clearly God's hand was involved is the glue that holds it all together. There have been times I've wanted to walk away from it. Honestly, there have been many times.

I am thankful I have documented so much of our lives. When things get tough, I have proof of who put us together. No matter what kind of division has been planted in between us, I know, beyond doubt, this love was created by God, not me. It had nothing to do with Jason or I, God planned us. He made each part of us to be the exact thing the other would need. 

It can be ugly and painful, but honestly, nothing beautiful comes without pain. Every battle we face draws us closer to each other. When he hurts me and breaks my heart, it pushes me to my knees. It gives me no choice but to cry out to my Daddy. God then heals me and gives me the strength and grace to be able to continue.

Thank you, Lord for the ugly and broken but beautiful life you've given me!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fully Exposed

I grew up in a small town, I mean a really small town with a population of around 500 people. If ever there was a town called a Christian town, Prinsburg would be it. Our town had one gas station, one service station, two Christian Reformed churches and a Christian school. Everyone in the town belonged to one of those churches with the exception of a few families that belonged to the Assemblies of God church in the next big town over. Once in awhile outsiders would move in and you would hear some people refer to them as "the heathens down the street" until they either assimilated into one of the churches or left. All the kids in the town also went to the Christian school, there was no public school unless you were bused 10 miles to another small town, but that rarely happened.

Appearances were very important. If we didn't make it to church on a Sunday morning or evening we hid in the house. After church got out, we would wait a respectable amount of time before we set foot out the door so that no one would know we had not been there.
From a very young age I went to Sunday school. I learned all of the Bible stories and memorized all of the important verses. In school this continued. I learned all about God's world, how he made it and how he still interacts in it today.

At home and at school I was taught right from wrong. I learned respect and all about treating other people how Jesus would. As a teenager I learned all of the church doctrine and understood all of the ways a church worked. I attended youth group and learned the importance of prayer and giving to others.

I was raised from birth in a completely Christian environment, surrounded by people holding me accountable and loving me, yet I was completely empty.
I want to say that I know this was not the intentions of my parents, the school or my church. Their intentions were good.

I learned all the technical pieces of being a Christian. I knew what it was supposed to look like, what it was supposed to sound like and how I was supposed to act. Even with all of this knowledge I was frustrated, I was angry and I was alone. I was filled with shame because I knew that inside I was completely incapable of being that person. I was acting. No matter how hard I tried I was never going to be that good Christian girl.
I struggled with loneliness and depression. I started cutting my arms and hiding it under long sleeves. The pain of sticking whatever sharp object I used in my arm felt better than the pain of knowing how much I was hated. I had a very embarrassing suicide attempt at 15. I was embarrassed because I failed.

At 15 I started dating a guy from another town. I was convinced I was in love with him and he was the one who would make me whole. This turned into a long ugly and mess with me trying to get pregnant by him because then no one could ever separate us. Thankfully that didn't happen and my parents were able to create enough separation by sending me to Maui to a Teen Challenge program.

I spent a year and a half there and graduated high school. I learned so many things there that I had somehow missed at home and God did some awesome things in my life. I started to learn about that mysterious thing called "a personal relationship" with Jesus. They put down a strong foundation for me to carry forward.

Learning to have that real relationship with God was difficult for me because I had been given such a thorough Christian education already. I already knew all the answers. Well, I thought I did, it was just hard to break past that huge "religious" hurdle in the way. I struggled even more than some of the other people there who had been drug addicts off the streets with absolutely no knowledge of God.
It took me years to finally understand what faith in Jesus was all about. When I finally "got" it, I was so angry. I was so angry at how satan had so twisted those good intentions.

Now I am looking into the eyes of my four precious kids and I've realized I am doing the exact thing to them that I fought so hard to overcome.
This is the decision I've come to. My number one priority is to teach my kids to pray.

I'm going to teach them different ways that God speaks to us. I want them to know that prayer isn't some carefully assembled compilation of thee's, thou's and amen's. They need to know that prayer is an actual conversation with God and that God really is wanting to talk back to them.

I want them to know how much he really wants to just be with them, to share his love for them and take the bite out of this life for them. He wants to hear from them if they're screaming, crying and confused or having a good day.
I want them to know that he wants to hear their silly knock-knock jokes and wants to watch cartoons and play dolls with them. I'm going to teach them that he speaks in that still small voice and how to hear it and have confidence in it. They need to know he talks to us in the scripture that they just happened to turn to and that song that played at just the right moment.

If my kids don't learn how to talk to and hear from God, then all the other work I have put into them is worth nothing. Everything I can give them will leave them empty.

God is the only one who can change their hearts. He's the only one who can make them whole and fill their lives with joy.

Following all the "rules" of religion won't change our struggles or help us overcome them. Drawing into Jesus, developing intimacy with him is what changes us. That happens from seeking him, not from anything we try to do to better ourselves. We need to focus all of our energy into finding out how to talk to him and hear from him, finding all the different ways he speaks. We need to discover the joy and peace we can have just being with him.

Once we learn to communicate with him he gives us the desire to want to change and the skills we need to actually succeed. That relationship we find is what turns being a Christian from a repressive prison into something fulfilling and joyful.

My uncle has built several small airplanes over the years. He understands how all the parts work and what each piece is for. He knows that the propeller provides the thrust to move it and the wings
give it the lift. He knows all the other pieces that give the plane stability in flight so it doesn't tip or lose control. Knowing all of those things, however, didn't make him a pilot. I'm sure that no one would have questioned him being a pilot if he took them out to his plane and showed them all the parts, explained how each piece works and the importance of those parts. He would be a pretty convincing and knowledgeable looking pilot. But why just pretend to fly when you can soar? Why pretend when we can learn how to feel the wind lift those wings and the freedom and joy of no longer being restricted to the ground? Having that airplane would become a big disappointment and a chore to maintain if all he could ever do is pretend to fly.

I know my experience was not unique. I have no idea where it started but somehow we have been deceived and tricked into missing the most important part of our salvation. Our perception of "flying" became understanding how it works and sitting back in the seat making "buzzing" noises with a fan blowing our hair. Well, if that's all we're planning on doing what's the point of the plane? That is why so many people walk away from their faith. I can be a good and moral person lots of places. What's the point of the church or being a Christian? That real supernatural relationship with God is the point, that's what gives us the ability to succeed at truly becoming more like him. 

Let's fly!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Cause Ya Gotta Have Faith

Today is Jocelyn's third birthday. I thank God that he put Jocelyn in my life, that he chose me to be her mother. Now that I have three years distance from her arrival, I want to share the story of how Jocelyn came into my life. This story is why Jocelyn's middle name is Faith.
The summer of 2010 was great! I was in the best shape I'd been in since I was a teen, I was enjoying all kinds of activities with my kids and just loving life!  I decided to start cleaning my house of all the baby gear, since my youngest child was almost two. I had pretty much decided we were done having kids and had been on birth control until I decided how to make that permanent. I had a huge garage sale with a friend and sold all that baby stuff. It was liberating. That night I had a strange thought creep into my head, "You're pregnant!" At first I tried to just blow that thought off, I mean, how could I be pregnant? I was on the pill and it had been very difficult for us to have our other kids...it was just a stupid thought. I couldn't sleep, so I finally got up and ran to the drug store and bought a test. I remember kicking myself for wasting the money because I was being paranoid. I went home and took the test. I set it on the counter to wait, but immediately I could see 2 lines. Shit!  What!! I couldn't stop swearing. After a few minutes I ran upstairs and woke Jason up. I was hysterical. I was crying and shouting. I handed the test to him, he looked down at it and just started smiling. I could've killed him. I was so angry.

This is pretty much how the first few months of my pregnancy went. I was so angry! I didn't want this baby. I hated the fact that I was having another baby. Deep inside I hated myself for feeling that way. I knew I would love this child but I just couldn't move past the anger. Then the anger turned into a deep depression with frequent shifts between anger and guilt for not wanting this baby.

About four months into the pregnancy I went to the doctor for a regular visit and they drew blood for some tests for genetic problems with the baby. A week or so later I got a call from the doctor saying I needed to come back in. When I got there she told me the tests had not gone well. I needed to go see a specialist.
When I arrived at the specialist they had already run more tests and they decided to do an ultrasound, my baby was another little girl. After the test 2 doctors came back in the room. I felt my blood go cold. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep it together.
The doctors said that they thought the baby had a genetic problem that would possibly kill her. They said it could be Downs Syndrome or possibly Trisomy 18, which would be a death sentence for her. They also said it looked like her heart had a major defect. After giving me all that news I was numb.
 The doctors started talking about what to do next. The very first suggestion was that I was at a good place to terminate the pregnancy, it would still be simple. I needed to decide quickly, though because in a few weeks it would be a lot more complicated. I couldn't believe what they were saying to me. I had never imagined I could be in a situation like this. I did know exactly how I felt about it. I was almost mad that they would suggest killing her. I told them that even if I knew that she was definitely going to die, I would never abort her. It was not an option even if it would kill me. Thankfully no one ever mentioned it to me again.

The next option was for more tests. These tests would be more invasive and could threaten the pregnancy. I decided not to have them. I didn't want to do anything that could possibly put her in a worse situation than she was already in.

As my pregnancy progressed they did frequent ultrasounds and tests. It seemed like every month the prognosis wasn't quite as bad.
They ran more tests on her heart with a special ultrasound type test. During that test they couldn't find any problems. The doctor couldn't understand the changes from the original ultrasounds, there were clear problems on those but somehow they seemed to go away.
During all this time I was seriously depressed. I was depressed almost to the point of being suicidal. I couldn't stop thinking that if I only had wanted her she would be healthy. Because I had hated her, God was going to take her from me. I was having 2 ultrasounds per week making sure she was OK. It was so draining. I was exhausted.
The last few weeks of the pregnancy is when it got really bad. I couldn't stop thinking about just stabbing myself. I wanted her out so badly. I would pace around the house late at night when everyone else was asleep thinking about stabbing right in my belly.
I finally told Jason and he brought me in to the OB right away the next morning. She wanted to put me in the hospital. I just cried. I begged Jason not to let them put me there. An agreement with the doctor was made, Jason would take leave from work and stay with me.
The next couple weeks went much better and then Jocelyn was ready to come meet us. I was so scared of what we were going to find when she came out. Would she be OK? Would her heart be pumping correctly? Would she have Downs Syndrome or anything else? There were so many things that could go wrong. But then she arrived.
She was breathing.
She looked normal.
She sounded normal.
All those apgar tests were good. Her heart sounded perfect. I remember them handing me that baby. I just felt this sense of peace wash over me. She was OK. We had made it. Jocelyn and I had just been through a battle and we had won.
                   She was absolutely perfect. She was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.
                                     As she has grown she just gets more and more beautiful!
                       This was my "Lion King" moment...holding my little "Simba" up.
                                               I can't imagine not having her in my life.

During my pregnancy and even the first year or two of her life I hadn't fully reflected on how very differently this could have ended.
God chose me to be Jocelyn Mom for so many reasons. He knew the outlook for Joci was going to look bleak. He gave her to me because he knew I would not ever consider giving up on her. He knew that I had the faith that I would trust him even if I was angry and depressed, even when I really didn't want to. God also knew how he was going to step in and redeem this situation. He knew that even though all the tests were bad, he was going to make her whole and healthy! In this situation I gave birth to a lot more than a healthy baby girl. My faith and trust in God grew so much. He is so very faithful, no matter what the situation.
So many babies are killed every year based on those early pregnancy screenings. It really breaks my heart. I am so thankful that this one was mine. Even if things had gone exactly as the doctors had said, I know that God would have just brought a different way to redeem the situation. In Jocelyn's life I want to just glorify God. He gave me every bit of hope I had in those dark days, he's the one who had built the faith and trust in me to be able to walk through it. I am so excited to see the plans he has for this awesome little girl. He has done so many things to pave the way for her to be where she is right now, I know he has awesome things for her! Happy Birthday little Jocelyn Faith!