Grace So Glorious

You ever think it will happen to you. Tragedy. But then, yet again, it appears to snatch the breath from your lungs. I have seen my fair share-some would say, more than my fair share-of pain and tragedy and loss. It still didn’t prepare me for this.

It started out as any other Friday morning. We were all up at 6am, got the boys on the bus for 6:30 and it was just us girls for a few hours. Emily played around the house and came for a few snuggles here and there as we watched her stand-by, nursery rhymes and learning songs. I sleeplessly sprawled on the sofa, hoping to catch a few winks in between the excited squeals and shout-singing. Sometime around 8:30, she was ready to put on her brother’s swim trunks and her swimsuit top and go play outside. She and Caleb had been playing in the bathing suits for a few days now-anxiously awaiting the day when it would be warm enough to go swim at Pawpaw’s. I smiled at her excitement to get outside, as I opened the door for her to play in our fenced back yard. Safety and security are illusions we lean on so hard they crack in an instant. God will take us home to Him the moment He has intended, no matter the “securities” we have put in place. Rarely does He provide an explanation, He just says, “Trust me, my child.”

After about twenty minutes of mindless facebook scrolling, I decided we should probably go grab some breakfast. Knowing she would be excited to go for a ride, I smiled as I looked out the window, expecting to see her on the swing, as usual. She wasn’t there. I scanned the yard, growing more and more anxious, as my phone began to ring. Mark was calling. I noticed the gate was unlatched when I opened the door and simultaneously answered the phone. I slipped my shoes on quickly as I explained that Emily had gotten out of the yard, yet again, and I was headed next door to see if she had made her way to the pool-as she had taken to doing. We had always beaten her to the water. Every time she had gotten over to the fenced-in pool, we had gotten to her before she had gotten into the pool. As I crossed the yard, the phone call lost reception, so Mark didn’t hear me say, “Oh my God, no.” as I reached the sightline of the pool. Almost in one motion, I set the phone down and jumped the securely-locked gate around the pool, dropping into the fridgid water and scooping her face-down body out of the water. Her lifeless eyes told me she was gone, but hoping against hope I began CPR. Kathy came out of the house and trembling and crying I yelled for her to call 911. The minutes passed like days on end and in milliseconds all at the same time as the first, first responder arrived and took over CPR. As the fire department, more first responders and the ambulance arrived, they asked questions I couldn’t answer. And as I answered those I could, I felt more and more unsure of myself. I sat down in the grass, unable to bring myself to see how things were going in the ambulance. I called my mom; I would need her to get the boys-but she and dad met us at the hospital first. As I cried, struggling to get the words out, I could hear the panic and shock overcome her. “We’re coming!” she said. I had texted some of my mom friends to ask them to pray. Responses began pouring in and I just sat there, soaked and alone, waiting for them to tell us where they were going to take her.

Then the people came. Our neighbors down the road, Todd and Tammy, arrived first. They came and hugged and prayed over me, as Mark arrived. They drove us to the hospital and there, our pastors were waiting with my parents and a few others from our church. As the minutes passed, more and more people showed up to pray and wait with us. The doctor came to us twice to give an update, each time the news was more grim. It was over an hour after I had first begun CPR on her, that he came for a third time and asked us to come see her. Mark and I looked at each other and, hand in hand, walked back to the ER where half a dozen people surrounded her little body, working to bring her back to us. But she was gone. We both knew it. Mark sobbed as we walked out with one of the nurses. We looked at each other again and told her that they needed to stop. She was gone and it was ok. For the moment we just held each other and wept. My parents came to join us by the doors and we hugged and cried together. My mom thanked us for giving her life, and sharing her with them for the short time we had. As we waited for the staff to prepare her to be seen, I heard one of my sweet sisters sob. Emily had touched so many with her brilliance in her short four years.

Seeing her so still was hard. She was never still, even when sleeping. We spent time just talking to her and saying goodbye for now. Then we went to see the crowd of brothers and sisters that had come to be with us in the waiting room. Each pair of eyes were red with sorrow. Each hug came with a whisper of love and grief and an offer of “anything I can do.” Then, before we all left, Josh, our pastor, gathered everyone around us and prayed over us all.

God, our Father, always has a plan. I have been through enough in my short 34 years to know that this is undoubtedly true. I do not need to know His plan, I just need to trust His sovereignty. It doesn’t mean that things are easy and pleasurable and carefree. Quite the opposite. He, in fact, promised us it would be difficult. We were not made to be broken; He did not create this world to be broken. But it is, and we must walk through it, broken and scarred from the beginning. His grace is sufficient to carry us through.

Emily was the most joyful person I had ever known, and I know she is even more joyful in the presence of her Jesus. I know she is the freest she’s ever been and rejoicing with the angels. He has given me peace and comfort beyond human ability and through all of the love and care of my family, friends and our amazing faith family.

Each of us has a purpose in this life. If we still have breath in our lungs, we have a purpose for today. Emily’s was to touch deeply and strongly each person she met in her four amazing years on this earth. I pray that you seek out your purpose for each day, big or small, and walk in it wholeheartedly.

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Feeling

Lately, when I have the time to write, I choose distraction instead. There is a fear, i think, that in typing something out, I am giving it acknowledgment, therefore it is real. Tangible. Expressed. And I am afraid of the consequesces of feeling. I am afraid of understanding what I have held back from my heart for so long.

So I choose to go to the fantasy worlds of my games or books. Or I simply pace the floor, finding each creaking board and the exact dimentions of the weakness. Or scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll the hours away, until I have emptied the time allowed in to yet another mindless occupation.

What am I avoiding? What have I been trying not to say? I couldn’t tell you. I think many times my mind decides it has had enough exploration and just wants to sit and stare for a while.

PTSD, Trust, and the Importance of Being Honest

I realize it has been a while since I have written anything, and there is truly no other reason except I just haven’t. I haven’t written because I haven’t been trying to take care of myself. I haven’t been trying to take care of myself because when I get overwhelmed with everyone else’s life stuff, my life stuff gets put on the back burner. instead of working harder to make sure I don’t shut down, I preemptively shut down all things “me”. I begin to fall farther and farther into my fantasy land of gaming and movies, pulling any plugs from their outlets of healing and light and attempt to rest in the darkness and ignore the ache.

I have not done a good job of speaking up for myself. I have not been good at it, but neither have I practiced it. When your spouse tells you over and over to be honest about how you feel-“even if it is going to hurt me”-and you still find yourself holding back, you are only hurting yourself. I have no one to blame but myself for where I am.

So, where am I? I had a very severe panic attack this week. One of those that attacks like a vicious wolf- bringing along spasms and flashbacks and darkness. There were many moments, when I was brought back to those woods again, that I wanted to scream out-but I was mute, as usual. Only able to utter small groans and sighs.

I learned something about myself this week: I am still angry. I am not entirely thrilled to be on this journey-to be who I am; who God is shaping me to be. I am not saying I am angry with Him, but I am angry that things are not how I expected them to be. It is hard to look in the mirror and still be able to see the scars in the back of my mind. I know how deeply I have been wounded, but I long to be scarless and have all things forgotten. I know this will never be so, as how can the pain and scarring be used for His glory if they are not visible? This is where the trust comes into play. I know He has allowed the pain for my good and His glory. I know that my story is not for me alone, and I have already seen Him use it to encourage others. I am blessed to be a part of His kingdom building. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have rough days, or weeks, or months. But I must always remember to trust my heavenly Father to carry me through it all.

I am incredibly thankful for the brothers and sisters I have walking alongside me on this journey. They have been there to, quite literally, lift me up when I could walk no further. They remind me that I am not alone and urge me forward instead of letting me fall by the wayside. The body of Christ at work is amazing to watch. I am so blessed to be a small part of it.

The hard part about living with PTSD, for me, is being fully honest. With myself, with my husband, and with those who I am accountable to. I have always, always been one who downplays my struggles and tries to focus on other’s needs before my own. But as the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Self-care is vital. Paying attention to my emotional and mental health is vital. I have to be honest with myself and those around me if I need help-when I need help dealing with things. Life isn’t going to be easy. We have to work hard at being better, doing better, and living better.

Still Learning

Communication
It’s more than the words on your tongue
Or the ones on the page
It’s the look in your eyes and the shoulder sighs
It’s the face you make when you have to speak
Or the mixed up words when you get excited
You’ve been so silent
The words hang in the air
You expect me to know what you’re saying
But you don’t understand me
I try and I try
I groan and I sigh
But it all feels of a lie
Why can’t we be more open
When will you see me
What will it take for us to know what is going on
You hold words so high
They can crush you in a second
Or bring you back to life
But the things you say feel so flippant
Like you only want to make me happy
But never have to follow through
It cuts the deepest when you never do

Where is the Love?

Christians, as a mass of people, have forgotten how to love. We have become Pharisees. We judge, everyone, by how they look, act or make us feel when we see them. We do not approach the needy or the downtrodden. We do not help the widow or the orphan, and oh my!, not the prostitute or the drunkard. Why do people look elsewhere for help? Because the church has decided to implement an entrance exam; if you have any “undesirable traits”, you are automatically disqualified from entry. Oh you may get to sit and listen, but on the back row, in the shadows, hidden and easily dismissed. So the dismissed go back to their drugs, sex, alcohol and self-hate, trying to find some kind of peace, some kind of healing in all of the things that have made them broken in the first place. The problem is that they are finding more acceptance, more love and caring from the community of destitutes around them than from those that darken the doors of the church down the street each week.

Christ’s message has always been simple: Love God and love everyone else. But somehow we have gotten so hung up on the darkness in each soul that we have forgotten that we were called to bring them the light. It’s almost as if we are afraid that the darkness of another will cause our light to go out! Or perhaps we are reminded of our own sin and failures and would rather not go there.

The example of the American church has become so devoid of Christ that no one can see Him in us anymore. The American gospel says that if you go to church on Sunday, and, most importantly, look really good and speak really good and act really good while there, you will leave believing you are good. You will hear the gospel of self-help, self-prospering, God-loves-you-and-wants-you-to-be-happy; sing songs of self-worship and a human-centered God; then go about your week, never even opening your Bible or considering the Truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Because we have allowed the Truth of Christ’s gospel to fall to the wayside, the lie of “self-savior” has permeated the world. The broken and wounded world no longer looks to us to see what Truth and Love are because we look no different than they do. The lie of bigotry, hatred, self-reliance and self-love; the “we are better than you” mentality that has consumed every racial, political, religious, and dare I say, human group has poisoned us against each other. We no longer view someone of a different mindset or belief as another person. A living, breathing, image-bearer of God. Whether they even believe in God or not-each person on this earth is an image-bearer of the Creator of the universe! And we stand by while evil men treat children like property.

I am thankful that there are hundreds of individual churches across the US that do not hold to the American Dream of Christianity. I am thankful that there are still men of God who hold their Bibles in their hands as they preach from it and make the Gospel of Christ a priority. And in that priority, they challenge themselves, their families and their flock to be disciples and disciple-makers. I am thankful that they are striving to be always obedient, in the small things and in the big ones; and that their congregations follow their lead with gracious and loving hearts.

If we want to call ourselves Christians- literally “followers of Christ”-we need to take a hard look at the Christ we are claiming to follow.

My Story: Part 3

Almost fifteen months after the second assault, I met Mark online on a dating website. Now, this was before dating sites were everyone’s go-to, so it was a little taboo still. I had gone out with a couple of guys over the months, but nothing really came of it-except I got a stalker for a few weeks (a story for another time). I kind of felt my options were pretty limited considering I rarely went anywhere other than work and church. So, I decided to try out a dating website. After a few exchanges, I decided to send him my number. He was going to be attending the same community college I was and I figured, why not?

We spent over two hours on the phone. I fell in love with his voice almost instantly (I still love to hear his voice), and he was funny. Like, super funny. My brother later said he hadn’t heard me laugh like that in a really long time. I couldn’t wait to meet him the next day.

It was a hot, August day in south Louisiana and I was sitting on a bench outside the restaurant where we were meeting for lunch. I was wearing blue jeans, a baseball tee and chuck taylors, smoking a third cigarette, waiting for him to text that he had arrived. (I only know these details because he remembers them so clearly.) When he did arrive, we greeted each other with a sheepish hug and went inside. I honestly don’t remember much about the date itself, but I know we had a very good time. It was the first time I had gone out with a guy and he didn’t kiss me goodbye. We held hands at his car and neither of us wanted to leave, but he made no moves for that first kiss. That confirmed for me what I had been thinking the entire time. This guy is different, but special. He would later tell me that he felt God telling him to “stay with this one”.

Over the next several months, as I began to open up to him about my past, mainly my journey to heal from my assaults, we grew closer and he was determined to help me work through my healing. We knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But I was having some hang ups. Namely, I couldn’t heal from sexual scars and be sexualy involved with my boyfriend. I loved him and I knew he loved me, but the fact that we were sleeping together threw my entire mental state into a tail spin. So, I broke up with him. I don’t remember the reasons and excuses I gave him, though I do know I was not gentle or even nice to him, to be honest. I know I never expected to ever see him again.

I moved on and tried to continue to work on my healing process over the next eight months. My struggle with same sex attraction remained an internal one as I still felt very strongly that God had allowed me to be assaulted to “wake me up” and felt too guilty to even mention the desire remained. I threw myself into the college ministry and working, changing jobs so I could afford to move closer to campus and have more free time in the evenings and weekends. I admit I had low points, but as the new year drew closer, I felt I was doing well: emotionally, spiritually and mentally.

January 1, 2007. My roommate and I were running errands together and she needed to get a money order. So we stopped at the grocery store Mark worked at. I didn’t see his car, so I figured he wasn’t working and it would be ok for me to go in with her. As we walked to the front counter, there he was, running one of the registers. I decided to go ahead and go talk to him, so once he had finished with his customer, I walked over to say hi. I had actually been wondering how he had been, if he was doing well. He had been a good friend and I honestly missed him. He was surprised to see me and even more surprised that I talked to him-though he wouldn’t show it in our brief conversation. I intended to wait and see if he would try to reach out to me, but I was reminded that I had told him when I broke up with him “don’t call me, I’ll call you”, so it was up to me to reestablish a relationship. I didn’t have his number anymore, so I checked to see if he was on Facebook. I found him and sent him a friend request. He texted me almost immediately, “Are you trying to be my friend on Facebook?”

The text conversation led to a phone call in which I apologized for hurting him and begged his forgiveness. I was leaving for a week-long mission trip to Mexico in two days, and there was no time for us to get together and talk before I left. I saw it as an opportunity for us to take some time to pray over our relationship and let him figure out if he felt we should get back together. He agreed. When I got back from my trip, I texted him to see how he felt about things. He asked if we could meet for dinner. As soon as I saw him, I knew what his decision was. We both couldn’t stop smiling and giggling at each other over dinner. We talked about how we were doing and what we wanted to do differently in our relationship. We were both very excited.

Fast forward a few months. I began having severe flashbacks and panic attacks. Nightmares were once again part of my nightly routine-if I allowed myself to sleep. One night, we were at the college service at our church, and I began having a panic attack. A couple of our friends helped Mark help me to a back room where it was quieter and I could ground myself more easily. But instead of working out of the panic, something triggered a flashback. So, I began this cycle of being in the midst of the panic attack to my body being frozen in a flashback. When the flashbacks would hit, I could still hear everyone around me, but everywhere I looked, I was on the ground, in the woods. Sometimes a dark figure would be there and sometimes I was alone. This would last for hours at a time. This first instance, I don’t remember getting home. I don’t remember when Mark left. He couldn’t be around me. Not because he didn’t want to, but because my mind and body would react to him being around me. I hated that he felt pushed away by me, but I could do nothing about it. He told me later that he wasn’t sure he could handle this part of me. But he remembered the voice he had heard when we first met, and knew God would help him to work through all of my pain. And help us work through all of his.

We got married on September 19th, 2008. That first year was tough. Shortly after we returned from our honeymoon, he lost his job and had to go back to his grocery store job. A few months later, I lost my job and our first child within weeks of each other and just before our first anniversary. But God held us close and had much bigger plans for us than we did. We spent our second Thanksgiving moving to a new city across the state for the job Mark still loves. We were excited for the new adventure, and nearly eight years later, we are still just enjoying the ride.

God knew what He was doing when He placed Mark in my path. It’s not just that he makes me laugh, or that we are total opposites and can still enjoy lots of silly things together. It’s not just that we balance each other and help each other cope with just our day-to-day tasks. He truly is my best friend. God knew exactly the kind of man I would need to help me deal with life, and He made sure Mark fit the bill. And He is still molding him to fit. God doesn’t finish working on you for your spouse once you are married. Just like He contimues to mold us into Christ’s image lon after we have surrnederd our life to him, he contimues to work on us and mold us into the spouse we are meant to be for our mate. He contimues to work on each of us as our lives shift and change, from newlyweds to parents to one, two, then three children. To parents to one, then two on the Autisim spectrum. He continues to shape our hearts for each other long after we have gotten comfortable with each other.

The nature of abuse means that the healing process is long. And sometimes we never fully allow the wound to close. Or we just can’t resist scratching at the itching scab until it is reopened and bleeding anew. Overcoming patterns of self-sabotage and replacing the lies we were force fed with the Truth of grace is an almost never ending battle. But when we surround ourselves with grace-filled, gospel-filled people, we can find ourselves winning the battle more and more and having to fight it less and less.

I am tremendously thankful for the many, many people God has placed in my path along the way. There have been so many influences, mentors and friends, who have come in and out of my life and impacted it deeply. I am most thankful for Christ. What He has done for me, I can never repay. I am thankful that He chooses to display His wondrous Glory through me and my life.

Darthface

He’ll always be my favorite Sith.

Let’s Talk About This

When people talk about sins, there’s always varying degrees of the severity of the sin. Like murder or theft are worse than lying or disobeying your parents. Anything to do with sex is automatically terrible and taboo and we don’t talk about it. The world is too broken, so confused about what is up and down, right and wrong. We, as the church, have the instruction manual on how to navigate the craziness and we refuse to have real conversations about life and death and what God has for His children. We feel so backward and scared about what people will do or say or think that we don’t even bother to care what God thinks. We don’t even consider that His cost is higher than anything the world would ask of us, and His cost is so much more worth it! His burden is so easy and His yoke is so light. But we forget our responsibility to His kingdom, the call on our lives, the demand the cross makes of us. We forget the cost He paid to get us back, to bring us out of the pit.

And so we walk around with our label makers, slapping every single person in our path with what we can see on the outside, what we esteem them as, while we sit on our high pedestal of “better than you’s” and “at least I’m not like her” self sufficiency. We cannot even fathom how much we have destroyed our own trustworthiness and validity by attempting to decide who is “worthy” of Christ. No one is!! Who the hell are we to think that we get to decide who can fall at the feet of the Savior?

I used to think I was somehow the worst Christian ever because I was still attracted to women. I couldn’t help it. I tried not to be, I am married to a man I adore and even have children with him. But I still had the desires and attraction to other women. Then one day my pastor shared a video of a pastor, a pastor, sharing his same struggle. He explained that, same-sex attraction was just like any other sinful desire. We cannot control the desires but we can fight them. We can choose not to partake. We can overcome. That was the moment that I knew I needed to admit my struggle and begin to fight against it. And I also began to realize that I had a unique opportunity to help other people who struggle with the same desires, to fight against them. I have a powerful story, but only because Christ has made it so.

The Church is full of redeemed sinners, just people, all with struggles and hangups, striving to honor Christ. At least that is what it is supposed to be. There are many churches that are anything but. They don’t talk about the sin, the struggles, they just talk about the love of God, the great plans He has to prosper you and make life happy. But Christ, Himself, told us we would have struggles, and being imperfect people, we are gonna screw things up at least a couple of times a minute. The awesome thing about admitting that you have struggles is that you are free from judgment. Not judgement from other people, necessarily, but freedom from casting judgement on others. You are free to look at another person with love and compassion in your heart because, you know, they are just as broken as you are. That is the power of Christ’s grace and forgiveness. When we can accept it for ourselves, we can’t help but share it with others.

I don’t know where you are as you read this. You may have deep hurts that you aren’t ready to let go of. You may have been struggling with your particular struggle for so long, you can’t possibly imagine being free from it. Maybe you know you are living in a manner opposite of what God has called you to, but you just don’t know how to get out of it, and worse, you don’t know how to own up to it without fear of rejection and ridicule.

The Bible gives us an account in John, chapter 8 verses 1 through 11, of a woman. We don’t know much about her, other than that she was caught in the act of adultery. She was brought to the temple courts where Jesus was teaching, by Pharisees, who wished to test Jesus. We don’t know if this was something she did often or if it was a one time occurrence. I think it must have been a recurring sin for her, how else did the Pharisees catch her in the act? There is no indication that she wished for forgiveness. I am sure she fully expected to be stoned to death, as the law required. But Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees, and He passed judgement like only He could.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

The Bible says they left, one by one, the older ones leaving first, until they were all gone and it was just her and Jesus. He asked her where her accusers had gone, if anyone had condemned her. She answered that there was no one.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Any one of us could stand in her place. Each and every sin is worthy of death and each and every one of us has sinned. But our story doesn’t end with accusation and condemnation, it ends with forgiveness and a command. We don’t know what happened to the woman, if she did indeed leave her life of sin. But we do know what our lives look like. We know our deepest struggle and we try to put on our best face, even though it hurts like hell. We also have a choice. We can choose to keep walking in the direction we are, and keep falling into the sinkholes along the way. Or we can choose to turn around and walk with Jesus. Walk with those who know our struggles and still love us because they know the love of Jesus and have to share it.

I invite you to walk with me. Let’s have a conversation, and keep having it. Let’s talk about the things we struggle with that no one wants to talk about, without fear. You are loved and welcome. And you don’t have to walk alone.