Wednesday, July 21, 2021

2021: Crabby with God


2021 has been an eventful year and I admit that the year has made me crabby and at times very angry at God. My mom’s cancer diagnosis felt like icing on the cake. In full transparency I am aware that all the other things that have happened pale in comparison to my mom fighting for her life. The crescendo to all of this is material and things are just things and we have some beautiful stories as a result of issues this year but mom having cancer was a different story.

Although I’ve been crabby and upset (yes, I know that God loves me and pursues me in my suffering), the hardest part of all of this is how humbling it has been. I have had friends speak to how much they see God moving in my life this year, and the ways in which he must be “preparing me” for something and I don’t see it. It is all I can do to see one day in front of me at a time and be grateful that my kids are healthy and God has given us food on our table, vehicles that run (most of the time), and a roof over our head, and sunshine filled summer days.  Truly, the day to day is beautiful but the big picture feels a bit daunting at times so I stay focused on the now.  

I am not out there “doing anything” to glorify God or highlight how “good” He has been in my life lately. I feel like my attitude this year would have actually had the opposite effect on people's opinion of His role in my life. Nonetheless, God is still using us in this season and isn’t that the irony? I have never felt so humbled by the fact that God still chooses to use someone like me right now. When I say someone like me, I mean, someone who has been crabby and fussy and whining and complaining and hard-hearted for a lot of this year. I told a friend that one of the hardest things about my mom’s diagnosis is that life was normal and then suddenly it wasn’t.  

In my attempt to stay grounded in the day-to-day, I still sit with Jesus, however, before I began reading, I said, “Lord, my focus is limited, I haven’t been getting a lot out of my time with you lately, and truthfully, I am not super into doing this right now.” (Aren’t I just precious? Heck, I’m surprised the Lord didn’t just say, “Ok, I’ll just leave you alone.”) Instead God loves me, and he said, “Ok, just read. I want to show you something.” As I was reading in the new testament, I came to the story of the demoniac. Some people know this as the story of “legion” or the “mob” of demons that possessed one man and then Jesus sent them into a large group of pigs, and they ran off a cliff to their death. 

These were my three observations after reading TWO paragraphs (He didn't mess around and listened when I said I had limited focus):

First, the demons asked God not to send them back to the pit of despair. (Luke 8:31) Woah, even demons don't want to go back to hell. Must be pretty bad. 

Second, after Jesus performed the miracle, the crowds were temporarily in awe but then “Later, a great many people from Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leavetoo much change, too fast, and they were scared.” (Luke 8:37, emphasis mine)

-->I’m sorry, what was I saying about life being normal and then suddenly it was different? God couldn’t possibly be wanting me to see those exact words in the Bible right at this moment, could he? Yeah right, truth is, He's got my number. <--

Lastly, the man who EXPERIENCED healing, the man who experienced the power of Jesus asked Jesus if he could go WITH him. (Luke 8:38) He knew what power and change Jesus could produce and he did not want to let it go.  He had no idea what going with Jesus would entail but he still wanted to be with Him.  

So what? Why do these insights matter? 

Here we are and as much as has happened this year in our lives, even before this year, at the end of the day I have EXPERIENCED the reality of Jesus too much in my life to ask Him to walk away or leave me alone. Despite my emotions and hard heart, despite my discomfort and whining, He continues to pursue me, sit with me, allow me to wrestle and continues to show me that He ultimately is taking care of us. I once again realize that God doesn’t need my production, perfect mood, or any personal effort to be glorified. He deserves all those things from me and more, but He still chooses to use the fussy and barely put together girl to show the rest of you that He is real.  

I’ve decided to begin to write more because it always helps me keep things in perspective and cultivates more gratitude in my heart. As such, please consider this my public service announcement that even though I have been crabby and visibly wrestling with God lately, He isn’t fazed. He isn’t deterred, and He still recklessly pursues my heart and proves He is good, even when I seem (cough cough) ungrateful. 

That’s truly how much He desires to show all of us how loved we are. Amid bad attitudes and temper tantrums, He lovingly remains. Ultimately, I’d rather be WITH Jesus and experience him within difficulty than walk away from Him and fool myself into thinking life is easier without Him.  

Thanks for coming along with me as I try to keep it as real as possible while also letting God do his thing in the midst of life.  I intend to be authentic in this season and I don't believe I do God any favors if I try to hide or mask my true emotions. Writing is therapy for me as well as an opportunity for me to journal God's faithfulness in my life.  I look forward to seeing how God shows up for all of us, in the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Our Budget Journey

Budgeting. It stinks.  It brings you down from the clouds and into reality.  It gives you a realistic picture of some of your worst and least controlled habits and makes you stare your money behaviors in the face.  It’s not fun and most people hate it.  I, however, am a rare bird and really enjoy making a budget.  This post is about finding yourself, whether by choice or otherwise, in a position of financial uncertainty and discusses a starting point. 

Almost 4 years ago, I made the decision to leave my corporate America job and my corporate America salary and our household income was reduced by 60% in a matter of two weeks.  I did not have another job lined up and we had two months’ worth of savings in the bank.  Granted, this was our decision.  We knew it was time for a change in our home although we didn’t know what was ahead.  In hindsight, I can sit here and tell you that what was ahead was three years of intense financial stewardship, some financial hardship, and lots of provision from God (major understatement), and major personal and spiritual pruning.  And while our financial journey was by choice, I realize some of you are not choosing this season and I am sorry for what you are experiencing.  I hope that sharing parts of our journey proves helpful. 

At the very beginning, we had nearly $35,000 worth of debt to our name, which meant 3 or 4 monthly payments that we could no longer afford ranging from car payments to credit cards to medical bills.  We seemed like the average American household.  At the time we needed to get these bills paid and we needed to do it as soon as possible.  So, in full disclosure, we refinanced our house.  How we came up with the idea, I won’t ever know outside of seeing it as a means to an end at the time and as a result of intense prayer asking for wisdom.  In doing so, we essentially rolled multiple debt payments into one affordable monthly mortgage payment.  When we did so, we paid off our credit card, paid off our vehicle and paid off my hospital bill from delivering our second son.  While I realize some people may see this as cheating, we did what we had to at the time to get our living expenses to a place where we could afford them on a monthly basis.  Please note, I am not telling you to refinance your home, but it was a step in the process for us that I don’t want to leave out because it helped us, and I want to be honest.  I also imagine that any avid FPU follower would probably tell me this was the wrong move.  To each their own and for us, it proved to be the very right move at the time. I should also note, this wasn't the end of our debt over this 3 year time period.  It was just the largest portion at the time.

What if you’re not going to refinance your home and use the equity to consolidate debt?  That’s ok, and probably an excellent decision.  Let’s start with the rest of the basics. 

Your first step is learning that NO has now suddenly become your best friend.  No, you can’t buy name brand food.  No, you can’t go out to eat.  No, you can’t run to the grocery store just to pick up a few ingredients you’re missing for that recipe you want to try.  No, you can’t continue that convenient subscription to Honest brand diapers and cleaning supplies (guilty!), or any other product subscription service you are receiving.  No, you can’t keep your cable subscription.  No, you can’t afford that vacation.  No, you don’t need the Netflix subscription even though you’re spending more time at home, still no.   No, you can’t buy your kid another cute holiday outfit or spend tons of money on a themed birthday party.  Just, no. 

Next, look at your monthly spending.  Literally write down every single thing that you spent money on last month, including but not limited to utilities, mortgage, groceries, clothing, restaurants, etc.  Categorize it and then total it.  How much of that was spent from your hard-earned money and how much was bankrolled by a company named Visa, Mastercard, AMEX or Discover?  How much was spent on wants vs needs?  Trust me, you know the definition, but you will fight it with everything inside of you.  Sit with it for a bit.  Highlight all of the money spent on wants and total it. 

Now that you’ve looked at what you spent money on last month, total up the amount of money you actually brought in through income last month.  Are they equal?  Ideally, the money going out ends up being less than the money being brought in, but is that how it worked out?  If you are suddenly without one income you need to base this off of what you are actually currently bringing in or will be bringing in once that job change takes effect (i.e. unemployment, one income, etc.)

For anything that you spent money on in the want category, whether it is one-time shopping or a recurring subscription, can it be stopped or cancelled?  Good, then cancel it.  One day, when you are not up to your eyeballs in debt or your money brought in category is larger than your money going out category you can decide whether you still want to spend money on that item. 

Ok, so how much do you owe other people?  Other people includes banks, credit card companies, friends, family, hospitals…anyone or any entity that you owe money.  This is where it gets real.  This is what you have to focus on stopping.  You can’t keep spending out of someone else’s pocketbook. 

This is where the rubber met the road for us.  We realized what bills we had to pay off on time, all the time and who would send us to collections if we didn’t.  This was car payments, credit cards, and other things like that.  Over the last three years we had some family loans and we had to ask, or we were given permission, to stop payment on those loans until we were caught up with the credit card companies or needed to make ends meet that month, which brings me to my next point.

Humbly accept the help.  In the beginning of this post I wrote about all of the provision from God and I am not kidding.  We were open about where we were, and our friends and family knew how hard we were working to live within our means, and everyone was incredibly supportive.  I can’t even tell you how many gift cards we were sent in the mail or how many times a check or bonus would come through when we were least expecting it.  If those extra funds didn’t go to absolute essential needs, they went straight to paying a bill.  That was it for us, there was not much in between. 

Additionally, we were gifted a lot as a result of the generosity of others.  Two years ago, when it was my birthday, we decided to splurge and go out to eat with a big group of friends.  We knew it was going to be a stretch on our budget, but we went anyways.  After dinner was finished, our friends let us know that they all split the bill for Jake and me.  To this day it was one of the kindest and most meaningful birthday gifts I’ve ever received and brings tears to my eyes.  That isn’t even the only time something like happened but was just one to highlight.  The same goes for family vacations.  Many of our trips were either completely paid for or highly subsidized by family members that cared more about us being there than our ability to afford the trip and as a result we have precious family memories.  And hear me when I say, it took us a long time to be ok with accepting their generosity for the gift that it was and is to this day.

Get creative with gift giving.  This was very hard.  In order to live within our means and save money we had to tailor our spending on gifts for friends, family and even our own children.  I was not able to buy that item that would be perfect for my friend, or sister, or mom, on a whim.  For our nieces and nephews, we did coupon books.  For my sister and brother-in-law, we offered childcare.  Things that provided quality time but did not cost us money.  For others we simply agreed that both of us would not spend the money because we couldn’t and shouldn’t.  For our own kids, Jake and I saved our own personal gift cards and used them on our kids when the holidays came around.  If you are a gift giver – this is a challenge.  This is also hard when you are on the receiving end of a lot of generosity.  Trust me, it is refining and gives you a good glimpse into personal pride. 

Humbly ask for help. The first year that we were in this we learned we would have to sign up for health insurance on the public marketplace, so I went ahead and filled out the application and then realized we needed to pay the $600 monthly payment up front.  It crushed me.  There was no way we could afford it but there was no way we could go without having insurance.  We were already in the red, so I had to ask someone for help.  In tears, I dialed my sister (since we already owed my parents money) and asked her if she and her husband would be able to loan us the money.  I promised time after time on the phone call that I would pay her back in a reasonable amount of time and I even created a payment spreadsheet for them to see so we could be held accountable. (Note: if you absolutely must borrow money – please hold yourself accountable.  It is not worth losing a relationship over money.) She was willing and we eventually paid them back, but it was at a rate of $20/month until we had a windfall and could pay it off entirely.  I can’t tell you the amount of times both sets of our parents helped us and carried us by grace and generosity.  Paying off our personal loans to them at the end of all of this was the most incredible feeling. 

Take the side jobs.  Both Jake and I worked multiple jobs in the last three years.  While I can say that Jake is one of the most talented workers I’ve ever known, and lots of people are seeking his skillset, somehow there was a need for my skills as well.  Be open to opportunities when they present themselves.  This doesn’t mean you have to sign up for something you don’t want to do but trust that when the right things comes along, you will be able to make it work.  With both of us working two jobs, life proved chaotic, but we had more joy and time together in ways that only God could have planned.  If the job costed us more money or peace than it brought in – we chose not to do it.   God really helped us keep our priorities in the right order during this time.   

Ok Dana, fine, what about emergencies?  I tried my very hardest to maintain a $1000 emergency fund throughout this time.  There were many months we had to dip into it and there were a few months where we didn’t have one at all.  We experienced a miscarriage during this time period and ended up having $15,000 in medical bills that we didn’t anticipate, and it is now all paid off.  It was a major setback, spiritually, financially and emotionally.  So, life does happen, and you have to trust your pace. 

Bills and tithes first. Always. Each year we did this we had nearly $15,000 of various debt that came up and we had to pay off.  To this day it boggles my mind to think about it.  The only thing I can say is that EVERY SINGLE time we had any extra income come into our bank accounts it went to tithes, monthly bills, current expenses, or debt.  This included money from tax refunds.  We didn’t splurge on this item or that item.  We paid bills, always. 

Cut down the grocery trips.  We didn’t go grocery shopping more than once or twice a month and “ate the cabinets” when the grocery budget was down to $0.  My kids love bananas and when the budget was tight, I had to personally forgo the bananas so there would be more for them.  We bought the less expensive canned good instead of fresh produce when the price was right.  We price checked every single item we bought.  I chose not to eat bread rather than spend $5 on a loaf of gluten free bread to save money.  You see what I mean?  Make the sacrifice and eat the cabinets or forgo the favorite food item.  Some people are doing well at this right now just because they want to avoid the grocery store – that’s essentially what you do.  You avoid the grocery store and eat out of your cabinets until your grocery budget is replenished.  Also, make your coffee at home – don’t buy the latte!

Downsize.  We sold cars and bought less expensive cars.  We bought cars that were easier to work on than others.  Jake learned how to do everything himself via YouTube and proved to me that I am married to the most resourceful and skilled man on the planet (I admit, I am biased ;))

Savings is on hold.  For three years Jake and I have not been able to put anything into savings other than maintain our emergency fund.  So when one month was tight - it was tight.  We didn't have fall back.  We are just going to be able to start saving money for our kids but honestly, when it came down to it - it was more important to have food on our table and keep our lights on than it was to have money set away in savings for their college funds and you can't tell me otherwise.

Ask for the extension.  For the first time in my life, this last July, I had to ask Ameren for a bill payment extension.  I knew we weren't going to make it so I used their one time per year extension option and paid my bill as soon as our next paycheck came in.  Did I ever anticipate being "that person"?  Absolutely not.  But did I learn that anyone can be "that person"?  You bet I did.   Let go of your assumptions and stereotypes friends, its time.   

Pray first, pray during, pray after.  We sought God’s will every step of the way.  We prayed about every decision, from jobs, to cars, to giving, to starting to finishing.  We prayed always.  We prayed when we were within the budget that month, we prayed when we weren’t going to make it that month.  We prayed in plenty, we prayed in little.  The point is that God was with us every step of the way.  Please don’t take this as a pass to just pray and be irresponsible but be sure to do what you can and be responsible in being a good steward of what you do have in this season. 

Be a team. Be accountable. For those of you that are married, you and your spouse need to be on the same page and be willing to be held accountable to the budget.  This is teamwork at its finest.  For anyone doing this on your own, hold yourself accountable to your budget.  Check your numbers and be honest. 

After all of this work and effort, God has restored our finances in a way that I can’t even put down on paper.  He has given us back time on our mortgage that I thought was lost forever (which proves that praying through each step is KEY) and has positioned us to live within our means and cover all of our essential expenses.  We are more aware than ever what it takes to cover our family’s needs and we don’t exchange peace of mind for lifestyle changes that the world tries to tell us we should have.  The hard work is worth it.  We have money in savings and were able to pay cash for our "new to us" vehicle last week.  We will continue to work to stay out of the debt cycle as best as we can.  

Even when it seems impossible there can be a way if you are committed to doing the work to get through it.   If anyone wants someone to walk them through creating a budget, I’m a total nerd and would love to help you.  I also have an excel spreadsheet that I use for our household and I would be willing to share the template with anyone who wants to get started on this road. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Moments vs. Movements

As I was speaking with someone close to me recently, I was reflecting on what the last two years have looked like in our lives.  Yesterday was my two-year anniversary of leaving corporate America and it is hard to believe it has already been that long.  It feels like the last two years have happened in the blink of an eye and yet there has been so much life and change during that time. 

When the Lord placed me in my job at an up and coming (now successful and established), amazing non-profit right out of the gates of corporate America I thought I had found my place.  I was convinced that it was where I was meant to be for the long haul.  After all, God organized the whole thing (still such a crazy cool story). During the time that I worked there, my local church offered me a contracted admin position in an effort to re-evaluate what the needs of the church were in an administrative capacity.  We had just walked through some changes and it was the perfect time for me to step in, be an extra set of hands, and it was God’s miraculous provision in meeting our needs financially. 

I worked there for 9 months when the Lord called me to step away and commit all of my time to the non-profit.  I had anticipated that the Lord would open the floodgates of provision and make a way through that job but that wasn’t quite His plan.  Nonetheless, we remained obedient.  As a result, we walked through some tight financial months as well as major heartaches in our personal life after the miscarriage.  In every tight month though, the Lord provided our daily bread, emotionally, financially, and so forth.   It wasn’t until months after walking away from working at the church that I realized how at-home I felt being there.  Surprised?  I was!

At the beginning of the summer the Lord began to stir even more strongly in my heart and call me back to our local church but I was unsure of what that would look like.  Long story short, after months and months of seeking Him and His will (and admittedly resisting), I finally realized, in yet another abrupt way that the time to act was now!  There were only a few people that I confided in during this seeking time because I was so uncertain as to what it even meant and I wanted to see the Lord prepare the way.  Sure enough, he did.  After three months of personal and private seeking and ultimately saying yes to the leading the Lord placed on my heart, it didn’t take more than three weeks for everything to fall into place.  Every single prayer that I prayed during that 3 month time period, every argument I made as to why this wouldn’t work and every resistant movement I attempted was addressed and then some! 

Over the last couple of years there have been a series of moments that God has walked me through but now I’m able to see that as God was walking me through moments, he was preparing me for a movement; a movement in my heart, a movement in my expectations, a movement in my plans. 

More recently, He has put me in positions and places in which he exposes me to things I never expected.  I am slowly learning that before I react to these things, it is necessary for me to ask, “Lord, was this just a moment or is this the beginning of a movement?”  Trust me when I say that he is faithful to answer that question in bold and powerful ways. 

Depending on his answer, I can tailor my prayers accordingly.  When I know that it was a moment then I can pray for release, willingness and obedience, or forgiveness.  When He shows me that it is a movement then I begin to seek Him in the process and ask for wisdom as far as my involvement and role. 

Listen friends, I know the Lord can take us in unexpected and uncomfortable directions but we need to trust that our presence there is not a coincidence.  It is up to us to be responsible with that placement.  Anyone close to us knows that there has not been a lot of comfort in our lives over the last two years financially or materially but I can sit and tell story after story after story of the bold movement we have participated in.  And this life of obedience is absolutely a life worth living. 

So here I sit, working in a place I never anticipated, doing things that only the Lord can qualify me for and trusting God in the moments and during the movement. 

I challenge you today, if there is something taking place that has rocked you or made you uncomfortable, ponder whether it is simply a moment you need to pass through or it is a movement you need to participate in.  Believe me, God will give you the answer and He will be faithful in the process.  

Moment or movement aside, remember Proverbs 19:21 “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hole-Hearted yet Wholehearted

Am I willing to be wholehearted even when I feel hole-hearted?  That is what Jesus is asking me this month.    

Throughout this last year we have walked through scenarios, circumstances and loss that has left me feeling as though my heart has been pierced and left with holes in it, some gaping, some like a sliver, others as small as a pin-needle but nonetheless there.  I am in my early thirties and I can say that there have been a number of times where I have said, “Lord, this is not what I pictured my life looking like.”  Or I’ve uttered the words, “Jake, I just didn’t expect to be here.  I thought this would be different…”  Enter in any scenario you are currently going through.   Maybe you are in the middle of a break up and you thought this person was “the one.”  Been there.  Maybe you are trying to have a baby and God’s timing isn’t quite fitting into your timeline.  Been there.  Maybe you are grieving the loss of someone, a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a child.  Been there.  Maybe you are waiting for direction in your career and that raise, or promotion, or other job opportunity isn’t appearing.  Been there.  Maybe, just maybe, God’s placed a calling on your heart and all you can think is, “Lord, you must have this wrong.  Do you know who you are talking to?”  Been there.     

Whether the holes in your heart are there because there is a missing person or the holes in your heart are there because it feels like there is a missing piece – its ok.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be wholehearted. 

I was recently telling a friend that this year feels like it has been overshadowed with disappointment and honestly, not just for me, for a lot of people close to me.  Our God sized dreams are changing or our real-life experiences just aren’t what we expected them to be.  Life is hard.  Loss is hard.  Marriage is hard.  Again-it’s ok.  It’s real. 

While in one conversation I told someone the year felt overshadowed by disappointment, in another, just today, I told someone that the last two years have been the most exciting chapters of my faith journey because I’ve felt God the closest.  Want to know why?  Because it’s been all I could do – seek him.  I might not have the energy to work out, I might not have the motivation to eat healthy, but I have my Jesus.  I might not be the best version of myself in relationships but Jesus still gives me his best.  Jesus doesn’t care if I’m not in peak physical condition right now or the epidemy of health, or very engaged - he just wants my heart - holes and all. 

To shed light on another perspective, I realize that there are things taking space in my heart that I have clung to white-knuckled because I believe they are supposed to be part of the intricately woven tapestry of my life and without it my heart may fall apart.  This can come in the form of unrealized dreams or unmet expectations.  Has someone let you down?  Have you lost relationship with someone you thought would be there for the long haul?  Have circumstances changed, whether financially, relationally, otherwise?  I am slowly coming to realize that it is when I have come to the point of full surrender, in relationship, in dreams, in finances, in expectations, that is when God far exceeds my imagination. 

I have had to give God access to those holes in my heart in order to become whole-hearted for Him again.  I have had to release unmet expectations, realized losses, and grieve and process through relationship changes I never saw coming.  And yet, here I sit – wholehearted. 

I wholeheartedly love Jesus and trust in His good for my life and my family.  I wholeheartedly believe that He loves each and every person on this earth and He has created him or her for a purpose that far surpasses his or her wildest dreams.  I wholeheartedly know what Jesus is calling me to and I know without a shadow of a doubt it will exceed my wildest expectations.  You see, I wholeheartedly realize that this life is not about me but about what God can do through me. 

In a year that my heart has felt heavy with disappointment and I’ve felt distance in relationships and levels of loneliness that I haven’t known in a long time – I can still say that I trust that God’s path is for my good. 

Tonight I just want to encourage anyone that feels hole-hearted and remind you that this is not the end of your story.  Yes, it may be the end of a chapter, the end of a dream or the smack dab middle of a struggle, but God is still good and he is still there.  He sees your heart, holes and all and wants to fill them in with more love than you will ever know.  He believes in you – even when you can’t, don’t or just won’t right now.  He still sees those God sized dreams and guess what the key to unlocking them is – every single hole in that heart of yours.  It is still possible to live wholehearted even when you feel hole-hearted.  Trust that in the midst of that emptiness – God sees you, the real you, and still pursues you and loves you.  

Psalm 147:3
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Come Sit at the Table

Its July 30, 2018.  Today is the day that I thought I would be done.  I thought I would be done having kids, done being pregnant and done with the childbearing stage of my life.  Yet here I am and I have no idea if our family is complete as it is right now, Jake, our two sons, and me, or if there is more in store for us.  I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to get pregnant again, whether through IVF as with our first son, or naturally, as we did with our second (and third). 

There is a trickiness to being a c-section mama.  You see, I know without a shadow of a doubt that this would have been the day we would have met our third child.  I could tell you what time we would have woken up to go the hospital, the exact time pre-op would have started and the approximate time that the baby would have arrived.  As a result, there were certain times of the day today that stung more than others.  4 a.m. when the alarm would have gone off, 6 a.m. when we would have been expected to arrive at the hospital, and 7 a.m. when pre-op would have begun.  If all had gone well, the baby would have been here around 8:30 and by this time we would have hoped the boys would be arriving to meet their new sibling.  But here I am, sitting at home, writing while my sons nap and tears welling in my eyes. 

There is a release for me today.  A release of the expectation for things to work out on the timeline that I expect.  A release of what the redemption of this hurt should look like on this side of heaven.  And as a result of this loss, a release of my expectations of how God heals me and changes my heart.

There were a couple of months that I expected God to grant us another pregnancy because, well, that might ease the pain or distract me from this loss.  I’m not trying to sound insensitive or diminish the impact of the miscarriage; I’m just being honest.  There were other months that I thought God would work things out in a different area that would be to our family’s advantage in continuing to pursue His will for us.  Yet, none of those things have come to pass.  I am not pregnant.  We are still very actively working through some things for our household and our budget and I know that I need to stop putting God in a box outlined by human outcomes. 

I’ve tried to negotiate my way out of this pain in so many different ways in my walk with the Lord.  I’ve tried to negate the pain or distract myself from my hurt but that is when God has drawn closest.  I now realize that it is in fact during our times of greatest weakness that the Lord can press in and fill in spaces of our heart that we thought were unfixable. 

I now know that in this rawness and vulnerable heart space that the Lord has such immense love and longing for each of His children.  I consider it my greatest purpose to simply show people how much he loves them - just as they are.  Not because of anything they have or haven’t done.  Not because of a specific level of strength or weakness.  Not because they know the Bible by heart or sing well during worship.  Just because.  Love has been my most powerful lesson because that is exactly how He has healed me. 

There have been moments in the last six months that I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t pretend to be ok.  I couldn’t pretend to feel fulfilled or know how to move forward.  I couldn’t sing or worship and I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t upset with God that things worked out the way they did.  Don’t get me wrong, I know where fault lies in all of this – this isn’t a debate on theology and spiritual warfare.  Its an honest portrayal of walking through and battling for faith after loss in my life.  Its coming to the jarring realization that no matter how you’ve served or what your faith walk looks like – bad things still happen to you, bad things happen to anyone.  And yet, here I sit – knowing I am deeply and passionately loved by Jesus.  I know just how true it is that he will leave the 99 and pursue me.  I know that I will not be abandoned by Him. 

Grief can make even the most connected person feel lonely and isolated by humans but with Jesus, healing is possible.  I miss this baby with everything in me and unlike anyone else ever will but I can’t neglect to highlight exactly how far Jesus has gone to pursue my heart over and over and over again in the last six months.  He has shown me and unearthed a level of compassion and love for others during this time that I would have never known without being broken apart and slowly put back together again. 

It is so very hard to walk through difficult times and it is even harder to press into faith and Jesus during those moments but when you do – there is a level of love and surrender unlike anything you’ll ever know. 

My heart is broken but it has finally been broken by Jesus.  I can confidently say that I know the Lord is going to use this broken heart for bonding with others through brokenness and building stronger faith.  Our table has seen and felt heartache this year that we never knew before but because of it our table has new seats of understanding and compassion.  With each new journey, God expands my empathy and it will be used for His glory.  So please, don’t ever feel alone - come to the table – I pray we never tire of serving His grace, love and forgiveness through the sharing of heartache, brokenness, joy and laughter.   

Monday, July 9, 2018

Humanity in Emotion

Throughout the last few months I’ve wrestled with an expectation of myself in that I assume that when I grieve I lose joy.  Slowly but surely I am realizing that is an absolute lie.  Just as healing can only come from Jesus, the same is true about joy.  Joy is considered a fruit of the spirit and its something gained when you are in right relationship with God regardless of the earthly circumstances you are walking in.  It is not something that is of our own strength.  It can also be present during the most unusual and difficult times.  The presence of grief does not mean the absence of joy.  In fact, I would even argue that grief opens up a new level of joy that wasn’t realized before because of the gratitude that comes during the grieving process.

Think about the times that you have truly grieved something in your life.  It can be a season that you grieved such as ending college or changing careers.  It can be a person that has passed away or a relationship that ended.  In each of these circumstances, the grief over what has ended or been lost does not negate the joy that existed or exists as a result of that season, person or experience.

I feel that this is often a misconception about faith and relationship with Jesus as well.  Just because someone is in relationship with Jesus does not mean that they have all the answers, nor the ability to be carefree.  The presence of faith does not mean the absence of doubt.  The presence of faith does not mean the absence of human emotion or even sin for that matter.  It does, however, mean that there is a direct line of information, spiritual gifts and forgiveness available to you through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit that will bring healing and wholeness through Jesus.   

I think that often we set ourselves up for failure in thinking that we can only experience one emotion at a time, which is absurd.  It also frustrates me that when a person is open and honest about the tough emotions (anger, sadness, grief, jealousy) society assumes that those are the only emotions that person is capable of feeling and sometimes they become ostracized.  The fact of the matter is that when someone is open about the tough stuff it simply makes other people uncomfortable and that’s on them not the person trying to be honest in processing their emotions. 

Jesus did this so well.  He walked this earth and challenged the common way of thinking and he made people uncomfortable for all of the right reasons.   There will be times in our own lives that if we are really allowing God’s light to shine through us – others will be uncomfortable.  At the end of the day, that is on them – not us.  If something you are walking through or experiencing in your life or your faith walk makes another person uncomfortable it means that they have some digging, processing and healing to do on their own time.  It does not mean that we need to coddle their discomfort, mask our emotions, and/or play a part of some kind in order to fit in. 

We have all been created to experience the full range of emotions differently and to do so in community and in love.  As I continue to read the book of Job, I see that Job’s emotions and wrestling with God made his friends uncomfortable but why?  It is because they had their own preconceptions and ideologies of what being in relationship or in favor with God meant.  Even Job had to wrestle through and question what he defined as God’s favor. 

Ever since the loss of my own naiveté of what it feels like to live without suffering, I have come to realize that the depth and breadth of my own personal emotional understanding and relationship with Jesus has vastly been changed.  I now have such an appreciation for what it meant for Jesus to walk the earth, deeply engage in relationship, experience loss as well as opposition and continue to treat everyone with grace and love.  And while I am not called to sacrifice myself for any of you, I am willing to sacrifice myself for Him in an effort to show just how deeply loved you are.  Plus, the simple fact that he himself experienced all of the hard emotions that we walk through here on earth deepens my love and appreciation for him and the effort He put in to saving me. 

I’ll end with this.  Today when I felt myself beginning to feel sadness and grieve our angel baby I simply allowed the spirit to pray for me and in that moment I was overwhelmed.  The Lord spoke to me and said; “you know the tears you’ve shed over your lost child and the joy you have in your other children – imagine the tears I shed over all of my lost children and the joy I have in those that are found?”  I wept.  I simply wept.  If the world only knew how much God loves us!  If you only knew how cherished you are – goodness, would your life change.  I realize a lot of my Jesus talk and God moment stories and Holy Spirit references make people uncomfortable, but if even just one person can sense, feel and turn to the grace and open arms God has for them, this is all worth it.  Today I pray that you know God’s heart for you, I pray that you realize that He knows EXACTLY how you are feeling and He loves you just as you are.  Don’t be ashamed to feel – God created you for just that and when you feel that its time to know Jesus – don’t be afraid of that either.  He is waiting for you. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Lessons in Grieving

As we enter into what would have been the birth month of our third baby, due date July 30, there have been a few things laid on my heart to share regarding living with grief.

The best way for me to describe grief would be in terms of a fog.  Fog can be debilitating and cause you to stop in your tracks, it can be distracting or disorienting in the sense that you no longer see the lines that typically guide your path, and it can be dense enough to block out everything around you so all you can do is just focus on where you are at right in that moment and take one step at a time to proceed to your destination.

Grief works the same way.  Throughout the last few months I have experienced all of the above and the key has been to simply keep taking the next step.  The tricky part about grief is that it sneaks up on you in the most unexpected moments.

Please hear me when I say that grief and joy are not directly correlated.  It is possible to still be joyful and yet have grief be a very real and present emotion in your life.  Proverbs 14:13 says that "Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains."  Additionally, grief and gratitude are also not directly correlated.  In what I consider to be one of the most powerful chapters of the Bible, Job, Job 1:20 states "Job stood up and tore his robe in grief.  Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship."  This imagery hits directly into my soul.  The most powerful thing I've been able to do during this process is worship despite my grief because that is where the Lord meets me and brings me joy. 

For anyone who has lost someone, the fact that they are grieving does not negate their gratitude and appreciation for the loved ones that remain here.  While there is comfort drawn from those loved ones - it does not take away the pain of the loss they have experienced.  I write that because there have been many moments when friends or family note how blessed I am to still have my sons and yes - I am extremely blessed to have them, however, it doesn't mean I didn't still love and long for that third child.  As Jeremiah 10:19 states, "My wound is severe, and my grief is great.  My sickness is incurable, but I must bear it."  Grief is not curable, however, it does change, it does become more manageable but its not going to be according to any personal timeline.  It just takes time.

While my loss appears differently than the loss of others, these are lessons within the grieving process that I feel are applicable and unless spoken they will not be understood or recognized by those who have never been in the trenches of grief.

Finally, I know that it is uncomfortable to ask people about their loss because you are afraid of stirring up some negative emotions or sadness but can I ask you to do something?  Don't be so afraid of someone's tears that you aren't willing to see their heart.  Yes, it can be uncomfortable to see people cry but when people who have lost someone don't feel that they have the ability to be vulnerable or honest about their emotions, it can be an incredibly lonely feeling.  While I appreciate the fact that you care enough not to hurt them - can you care enough to be willing to help them bear their hurt?  For many people, being able to talk about the one they lost brings healing.  It may not be in a way that you understand but sometimes the most meaningful thing you can do is to willingly bring it up, talk about it, and ask questions.  If they don't want to talk about it I can bet they will tell you that and ask for grace in giving them their space.  I know that even if I am not in a place to talk, I do appreciate the effort made.  While no one else on this side of heaven got to know my baby the way I did - it doesn't mean that it didn't effect me. 

God has been faithful to redeem the heartache of my loss one step at a time and I can genuinely say that I am in a good place with a peace that surpasses my understanding.  I know Jesus in ways that I never knew him before and I am continually learning the strength that is found in weakness, loss, and vulnerability.  Today I challenge you - have the tough conversation and ask the hard questions, your temporary discomfort is nothing compared to the lifetime of grief that person will experience.  Move forward with a Holy Confidence that there is healing in the hard and wisdom drawn from hurt.

Thanks for your time.