On Being a Woman; How My Body Failed Me

I have two children.  I have an incredibly smart and curious five year old boy and an energetic three year old boy who also happens to be the most naturally empathetic human being I’ve ever known.  The joy, laughter and love that I have experienced since becoming a mother have been healing and are beyond explanation.  Yes, there are hard times.  Yes, I have a ton of anxiety about their futures and what I am doing to impact their futures.  Yes, there are days when I am so tired of their fighting/whining/talking back/… that I have literally contemplated locking myself in the closet and not coming out for more than 24 hours.  But, all of that is by far outweighed by the overwhelming love I feel for them and the joy I get from being a mother.

I got pregnant with M when we weren’t exactly trying nor were we preventing.  We had tried for a couple of months about a year before but did not have any success.  Then my husband lost his job and although I didn’t go back on birth control, we tried to be good about using protection but really were not.  Condoms were used very rarely but it had been so long without getting pregnant that it didn’t really seem like something we needed to worry about preventing.  I was thrilled when I found out that I was pregnant and knew right away that I wanted to have a medication-free labor and delivery experience.  636036017435376255458382499_freewomanThere has always just been something about giving birth without pain medications that shouts WOMAN to me.  It is so admirable.  So honorable.  So barbaric and yet so beautiful.  So what I wanted.

It never occurred to me that I would be unable to have a medication-free, vaginal birth.  Not only did I need medications when having M but I ended up having to have a c section because “he was just too big for [my] body.”  I was devastated.  I felt like such a failure.  I had failed at bringing M into the world in the way that I had planned and more importantly I had failed at being a woman.  I discussed these feelings with my doctor at my six week check-up.  She told me that the feelings would pass, I should focus on the happy/healthy baby and that having a c section doesn’t make you not a woman.  I left feeling discouraged, unheard and guilty that I was dwelling on this when I did have a happy and healthy baby.

I got pregnant with N literally on the first try.  I never went back on birth control between the boys, but we religiously used condoms until we realized that we had a month window to get pregnant or we would have to wait another year because of graduate school and starting a new job.  We agreed to try and 12 days later, I saw a very faint pink line.  I was so excited and for the first time in my motherhood journey, I felt like a WOMAN.  The female body is designed to make and have babies.  My body made a baby on the first try.  It didn’t take special planning or calculations.  All it took was a getting frisky one time without a condom.  WOMAN.

This time around, 1ce8d90b7dd8b795e694cce65adb612bI decided to forego traditional medicine and got connected with a birthing center where I was assigned two midwives and a doula.  How WOMAN of me.  There are no pain medications at the birth center.  No MD who is tired and wants to go to sleep.  No rushing of the birthing process.  Surely, I would be having a natural birth and walk out of the birthing center feeling even more like a WOMAN than ever before.

Not so.

After over 48 hours of intense labor, midwives tapping out, the head midwife of the birthing center stimulating my private areas and no sleep, I agreed to transfer to the hospital for an epidural.  My midwife encouraged me that I would still be able to have a vaginal birth but that my body was over tired and getting an epidural would allow me to sleep and then get back to the whole labor thing.  I arrived at the hospital and my midwife checked me in and requested that the Nurse Midwife (NM) be my attending provider.

The NM came in, examined me and said, “you aren’t having this baby vaginally.”  I assured her that I was and got my epidural.  The monitors alarmed frequently and the nurses kept making comments about the baby’s heartbeat.  I ignored them and focused on the task at hand.  I felt the urge to push and the nurse told me not to.  I ignored her.  The NM came in and examined me said that the baby seemed to be in distress so we would need to do a c section.  I refused, explaining that I was feeling the urge to push and begged that she let me try it.

She did.

Twice.

And then I was rolled into the operating room while still pushing despite everyone telling me not to.  I remember being so angry with the NM, my midwife and myself in the OR that I refused to open my eyes and look at N when they held him over the curtain.  My husband was getting mad at me, so I opened my eyes, took a peak, and then closed my eyes again.  This was not my plan.  This was not the experience I wanted.  My body had failed me again and I certainly was no WOMAN.

I had another perfectly happy and healthy baby boy.  There ended up being no known reason for N’s wonky heart rates when I was trying to push, which infuriated me.  At least if he had come out with the cord wrapped around his neck, I would have felt better about not being a WOMAN.  I would have been able to say, “no I had to sacrifice my wants for the safety of my sweet baby.”  Instead, I had another c section under my belt, everyone around me telling me “you just are too small to push out a baby” and an MD I certainly wasn’t going to talk to about my feelings of disappointment and failure.  In fact, that same MD actually said “I told you so” when I told her about the c section.  All I heard was, you are NOT a WOMAN.

When we started trying for our third baby a little over eighteen months ago, I had had never heard of secondary infertility.  I didn’t know that seemingly healthy women who have produced children before and are still in the child bearing age bracket could be diagnosed with infertility.  I spent the first nine months or so haphazardly trying to conceive without success.  Then I started to do some research and invested in ovulation test strips, a basal body thermometer and eventually a ferning microscope.  I was told by several of my close confidants that I was probably not getting pregnant because I was trying too hard and stressing too much about it.  When I finally got my doctor to take me seriously about my concerns, I was diagnosed with secondary infertility, likely associated with poly cystic ovary syndrome.

I have spent the last five months mourning the loss of something I never even had.  It is still possible that I will have babies again, but with each passing day, I feel the loss even more.  infertilityHow not WOMAN of me.  Not only was I physically unable to bring a baby into the world the way my body was designed to do so, but now I can’t even get pregnant.  I don’t talk about this loss or my infertility with a lot of people.  It feels shameful and like it is something that I am supposed to carry on my own.  There are a few close friends who I can talk to but more often than not if I get over feeling ashamed long enough to confide in somebody new, I receive a response along the lines of, “why do you want THREE kids?” or “you need to just focus on the two kids that you do have.”  Thank you, dear impolite “friend” who has taken my feelings of shame and added to it guilt for wanting more kids and not appreciating the kids I do have.

Conception, pregnancy, labor, delivery, infertility… these topics all seem so taboo, yet they are a part of my every day thought process.  I worry that not only am I not a WOMAN but that I’m also not good enough because of my inabilities.  I silently cry for the missed experiences of childbirth (both past and hopefully future) and for the babies that I have not conceived.  I am terrified to even speak the word infertility out loud when discussing my experience for fear of offending someone who has not had the privilege of having children due to primary infertility.  I am certain that other women have similar experiences, feelings and fears, but my experiences with insensitive (well-meaning, I’m sure) comments and my personal shame of not being WOMAN enough keep me emotionally isolated outside of the infertility community that only serves as a reminder of how I am NOT a WOMAN and that my body has failed me.

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Josh and Ashley

Allow me to paint a picture for you.

There she is.  A woman, at her most vulnerable, sitting at the feet of Jesus.  There is a large crowd and the people just keep coming.  They are in the temple courts and the crowd is larger than normal.  She won’t look up at Him or make eye contact with anyone in the crowd.  Her family stands in the background, she cannot see them but she knows they are there.  The commotion is hard to overlook.  A woman, naked, in front of the savior of the world.  But this woman did not willingly take a seat at Jesus’ feet.  No, this woman, let’s call her Ashley Madison… this woman was dragged, against her will to the feet of Jesus. 

Minutes prior to this scene, Ashley was in bed.  Was it her bed?  We don’t know, but what we do know is that she was in a bed with a man who was not her husband.  She and this man were involved in something so intimate that God designed it to be shared between only a husband and a wife.  They were involved in something that has the power to heal and the power to destroy lives.  They were having sex.  The man, maybe his name was Joshua, and Ashley were not married to one another but were engaged in sexual intimacy and they’d been caught.  More notably, she’d been caught. 

So many theories as to how and why exactly Ashley got caught, but we know that she found herself at the feet of Jesus, naked, ashamed and prepared to be judged and condemned.  There was no turning back or denying her sin.

The only reason that makes sense in my mind is that God cared so much for Ashley’s heart that he had to sacrifice her reputation and comfort.  He could not allow her to continue walking in sin and away from Him.  He had been calling her name for quite some time.  It started off as just a soft voice, a small twinge of guilt in the quiet. She knew it was there though. She knew and she chose to ignore it.  Then the guilt started to weigh heavily, but Ashley did not listen.  God started calling her name louder.  Maybe there were some close calls prior to really getting caught.  Maybe Joshua wasn’t the only man and the indiscretions with the other man/men had already been made known to a small few.  It isn’t really clear the progression of her sin, but what I do know is that when we are choosing to walk in sin, God is not silent.  He calls out our name day in and day out.  He gives us so many opportunities to turn away from our flesh and walk back into his loving arms.  It is impossible to look back and not see the opportunities.  Ashley likely had been given those opportunities.  Joshua had been given those opportunities.  God was saying, I want you to repent and I want to be able to save you from the destruction that is coming.  I want to give YOU the opportunity to make this right before you are forced into it, because it will be made right.  Ashley didn’t listen.  She didn’t take her chance and that is why she was there in front of the crowd, naked and at the feet of Jesus.

She no longer had a choice in the matter.  Her sin was made public.  She could no longer go to her husband and tell him of her indiscretions and deal with the consequences privately.  It was unfair and the people who brought her in front of Jesus did not have her best interest in mind, but God did.  He allowed Ashley to be used by those men to teach them a lesson and to remind her of His love and grace.  God needed Ashley to understand that his desire is for a relationship with her.  He needed her to know his love and she was not going to be able to fully do that while she continued to sleep with men who were not her husband.  He was willing to sacrifice her reputation, her marriage, her everything in order to get the attention of her heart.
I can only imagine the shame Ashley would have felt while on the ground in front of Jesus.  On display and without any hope of recovering.  The men, attempting to catch Jesus, suggested the punishment Ashley was sure to have known was coming.  Death.  She would have known the consequences for being an adulteress.  She would have been anticipating it from the time the door to the tent flew open and she was caught.

The amazing thing, though, is that Jesus did not condemn her.  Jesus requested that the person in the crowd who had never sinned throw the first stone and not surprisingly, no one was able to throw a stone.  In the end, Ashley stood there alone.  Just her and Jesus and Jesus let her go free.  He rescued her from the punishment that she had surely earned.

That wasn’t the end of the story, either.  Yes, Ashley’s sin was made public and her life was spared, but Jesus sent her away with a command.  He added responsibility to the grace that she had received.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  His concern was not for her comfort, her peace of mind or anything else.  He was solely focused on her heart.  To leave a life of sin is not to live a perfect life.  It is to live a life focused on loving Jesus.  A life that reflects God’s love.  A life that has experienced and knows grace abundantly.  It is to know that there is responsibility with grace.  That we are not saved simply so that we can continue to sin but so that we can have eternal life, a relationship with Christ and point others to Him.

My heart aches at the news of Josh Dugger and his unfaithfulness to his wife Anna.  Based on what we have learned about Josh in the last couple of months, it is clear to me that he fell into sexual sin at a very young age and never fully dealt with it.  I’m not him, but I am willing to guess at what his life has been like, because I have lived it.  I still live it.  The guilt is overwhelming.  The safeguards work but are not foolproof.  Purity of heart and body is something that is easy to champion because it is something you want so badly for yourself, even in the midst of your own failure.  I can almost guarantee that he had chance after chance to repent and make things right.  He could have told Anna every single day and I doubt there was a day that went by that he was not prompted to do so.  There were probably days where the prompting was so strong that his body was physically rejecting the idea of coming clean.  I remember the last time I had to admit to one of my BIG lies.  For weeks, I was sick to my stomach.  My skin crawled.  I broke out into sweats.  I knew what I had to do, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I would bet money that Josh experienced these things too.  That he had set his mind to confessing several times, that he heard the cry of the Lord in his heart and then eventually backed down before actually telling his secrets.  The opportunities were there.  He didn’t take them.  And now, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus in the temple courts, naked and ashamed.  His wife and family are in the background, heartbroken, stunned and wondering how they could have been so blind.  Josh, like Ashley, knows what he deserves.  Also like Ashley, though, Jesus has offered him grace and the responsibility of “go now and leave your life of sin.”

So here is to you, my friends who are naked and ashamed.  My friends whose sin has been made public and you are terrified of what will happen next. Know that Jesus offers you the same grace he offered the adulteress woman, the same grace he has offered me and has offered Josh Dugger.  My friends who have been caught, know that it is not too late to go and leave your life of sin.  And to you, my friends who are ignoring the whisperings, or maybe the shouts, of the holy spirit, please follow His prompting before you end up naked in front of the crowd.  It will happen.  He loves you too much to let you settle in where you are.  You will not be able to keep up the charade.  Find someone you trust and begin the process of coming clean because that sweet, unending grace is for you too.  As someone who daily struggles with these exact things but has been redeemed and saved, my heart longs for the same for you.  Every day, I am critically aware of the fact that I am just one bad decision away from my own scandal. My friends, His grace is enough! 

Call me His

When I was in my early teens, I was certain that God had made a mistake when creating me.  I grew up in the church, so I had been told many times that God does not make mistakes, but I was sure that I was the exception to that rule.

My shoulders were broad, my legs were muscular, my hands were short and fat, my arms never fit in the armholes of girls shirts and to top it all off, I had the sex drive of a teenage BOY.  I swore up and down that I was a boy, stuck in a girls body.  I always felt like the odd girl out, despite having a lot of girlfriends and being one of the “popular girls”.  I also had a lot of relationships, several of them lasted over a year (which is practically a lifetime in early adolescence) and was baffled by the fact that boys were attracted to me, even prior to understanding the perks of my teenage boy sex drive.  To me, I looked and felt like a boy and that was proof enough that God had made a mistake.

I don’t remember when I first heard the term transgender, but I know it was not until my late teens, maybe even early twenties.  It was likely in one of my early social work classes in my undergraduate program, but even at that point, I did not understand what transgender was.  When I was in my early teens, no one was talking about anything other than heterosexual relationships and norms.  It was before the time where LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) was discussed, accepted and advocated for.  Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that if I wanted to, I could take the feeling of “God made a mistake” and transform myself into what I felt inside.

If I had been born about 15 years after I was, I likely would have considered myself transgender at some point.  It was lonely to feel that way.  I did not feel safe to talk about my feelings with anyone.  I believed that there was something terribly wrong with me.  I discussed it in passing with a few people, but more in terms of the typical body shaming that teenage girls do while standing in the mirror together.  I never came out and said, “I think God meant to make me a boy.”  identity

I am so glad that I struggled with my identity then and not in our current world.  I am grateful that when I was struggling the most, I did not know about being transgender, because I am fairly certain I would have made some decisions that I would come to regret and that would not have allowed me to find my true identity in Christ.  I know that I would have been loved by the God who created me, but I also know that changing my gender, would not have given me the peace and happiness I longed for.

There is nothing more liberating than finally understanding and being who you were created to be.  I don’t think anyone would argue that point with me.  There is something so freeing about finally getting to be who you are, without any guilt and shame.  It is empowering to finally begin to do the things that you were created to do, knowing that you are free to do them.  Coming to an understanding that God did not make a mistake with me was one of the most pivotal points of my life.  Finding my identity in Him changed who I was.

“For you created my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).  Before I was even born, the God who loves me more than anything else, knit me together.  He gave me my broad shoulders and muscular legs.  He weaved together my personality, sex drive, hopes, dreams and fears.  He knew who I was and who I would be.  He knew that I would wonder if he had made a mistake and knew that he would redeem those lonely feelings in a way that would glorify Him.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5a).

During college I learned so much about the God of my childhood.  He went from a loving God who made a mistake to a God who loves and cherishes me and has a purpose for EVERYTHING about me.  I experienced a heartbreak that to this day sometimes creeps up on me and aches.  I had a relationship with Christ prior to this point in my life, but I did not understand the depths of it until then.  It was during this time that God healed my heart and solidified that I am His and that He does not make mistakes.  He reminded me of His unending love and showed me some of what he had planned for my life.  He laid out a path of vulnerability, openness and gifting that I am still on today.  He spoke to my heart through scripture, music and women who love the Lord.  He revealed Himself to me in ways so much bigger than I could have ever imagined and reminded me of who He is.

Who-You-Are-In-Christ  This blog has been stirring in me for quite a while now and has seemed to be overflowing from my heart since Bruce Jenner introduced himself as Caitlyn Jenner a couple of weeks ago.  It has been difficult for me to write.  I don’t always like the vulnerability that God calls me to, but I trust that if He calls me to it, He will use it.  Recently, I was teaching a lesson on having faith that God will use what we offer him, regardless of how big or small, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the timing of that lesson and this stirring in my heart.  I have to have faith that God will use my vulnerability to bring hope and healing to others who are struggling or have struggled in the same way that I did.

Because our world is so accustomed to it now, I have been able to learn a lot about the those who are transgender.  I have read or heard some of them discuss finally feeling free to be who they always knew they were.  They have said that they hated having to hide who they were and the pain of feeling like they were in the wrong body.  They have expressed a feeling of shame that no longer exists now.

I know those feelings.  I know that pain.  I know that shame. 

I also know the freedom of being who I know I was created to be.  I know what it is like to be released from the shame of hiding.  I know who I am because my identity is firmly in the God who created me, loves me and has a plan for me!

So here’s to you, sweet sister who is weeping over your lack of identity.  And here’s to you, dear brother who is trying to find your way.  My prayer for you is that you come to know the God who created you and has a purpose for you.  May you seek His love and His unending desire for you to find your identity in Him.  Rest in the peace that comes from knowing and loving your creator.  This journey you are on is a difficult one; figuring out who you are is never an easy task, but I assure you that the creator of all things knows who you are and is just waiting to reveal it to you.

You do not have to change your outward appearance, your name or your body to find your identity in Christ.  He will make you whole.  There is grace abounding in a relationship with Christ, regardless of where you are in your journey to finding who you are.  

You are loved.  

You are cherished.  

You are valuable.  

He has a plan and a purpose for your life, wherever you are right now!  I love you.  He loves you.  

You are His.

On Being a Mother

No one ever told me how emotionally taxing and exhausting being a mother would be.  Sure, people talked about the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, the “I know everything” teenagers and the process of letting a child grow into adulthood, but no one ever talked to me about the fear, the doubt and/or the gut-wrenching, cut to the bone, overwhelming sense of responsibility that consumes you the second you enter motherhood.

Motherhood is hard.  I’ve been a mom for 2 1/2 years and although my boys bring me more joy than I ever could have imagined, I am consistently overwhelmed by being a mom.

I 100% believe that my feelings of fear, doubt and responsibility are intensified greatly because of the fact that I have spent the better part of my 2 1/2 years as a mother studying and practicing clinical social work, causing me to learn and experience first hand the devastating impact of poor parenting, however I do not believe that I am alone in my feelings.  Every mother I have ever shared my heart with has echoed my fears, doubts and sense of responsibility in some way or another.

So, in the spirit of honesty and sharing my heart in an attempt to normalize motherhood, here are the things that make me feel fearful, doubtful and overwhelmed with responsibility:

  • I fear that my children will get hurt.
  • I fear that I won’t be able to comfort them when they do get hurt.
  • I fear that I won’t be a good mother.
  • I doubt that I have it in me to be the “good enough” mother that is required for a child to adapt.
  • I fear that my children won’t grow up to know, love and follow hard after Jesus.
  • I doubt that I have the ability to be a Godly example of a woman who knows, loves and follows hard after Jesus.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising children to know, love and follow hard after Jesus.
  • I fear that I have misused, will misuse and constantly underestimate the period of time in which children learn and form appropriate attachment styles.
  • I doubt that I have done or will do everything I need to do in order to ensure the mental health and proper attachment styles of my children.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of ensuring proper and “good” mental health for my children.
  • I fear that I won’t want to hang out with my kids when they are teenagers.
  • I doubt my children will want to hang out with me when they are teenagers, which breaks my heart, because I know a family in which this isn’t the case and I want it so badly.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising Godly, productive, strong, genuine, patient, kind and selfless members of society.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of teaching my children that they are unique and special but that those qualities do not entitle them to anything and that selfishness, entitlement and greed are ugly, ugly characteristics to display.
  • I fear that I will not know how to let go and allow my children to become independent adults and therefore I will not be able to have healthy, lasting, adult relationships with my children.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising children to value and cherish purity of heart, mind and body, especially knowing how little I have cherished these things throughout my life.
  • I fear that I will be a judgmental, outspoken, mean-spirited, meddlesome mother-in-law (because I am all of those things as a person, wife, mother and friend) and that my relationships with my children-in-laws will be tense and stricken with mistrust and obligations.
  • I fear being the mother of a girl.
  • I doubt I know how to mother a girl.
  • I fear I won’t be able to parent differently in the areas I want to change and parent the same in the uncountable ways in which my parents did a phenomenal job.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of “breaking the cycle” regarding so many personal and family unhealthy habits.
  • I doubt I know how to raise physically healthy, active and confident children.
  • I fear that my baggage will become my children’s baggage.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the first representation of Christ’s love to my children.

Truthfully, I could keep listing my fears, doubts and overwhelming feelings of responsibility but for my own mental health, I have to stop.  Because, you know what?  These are tools of the enemy.  Feeling these things is natural.  Using them as motivation to draw nearer to my Maker and to being the mom that He created me to be (flaws and all) is helpful.  But dwelling on them and allowing them to consume and paralyze me (as I often do) is exactly what the enemy wants.  He comes to “steal, kill and destroy” and every second I dwell on these fears, doubts and overwhelming feelings of responsibility, he is destroying me as a woman, wife, mother and most importantly, child of God.  I refuse to allow the enemy to steal the joy that comes from being mother, to kill my ability to mother with love, patience and confidence or to destroy my relationships with my children because of it!  When I dwell on these things, I allow the enemy to win and do not allow myself the grace required to be the best mother that I can be.

I tried to write this blog about 4 1/2 months ago, right after Noah was born.  I was experiencing postpartum depression and the enemy was winning.  I had no perspective and couldn’t get through the first paragraph without becoming paralyzed by my fear, sobbing and doubt.  I decided to wait until I wasn’t so hormonal, sad and tired.  Sometimes, that is how motherhood goes.

So here’s to you mommy friends who feel intense fear, agonizing doubt and an overwhelming sense of responsibility.  You are not alone!  There is hope and it is found in the peace of Christ.  It is found in His love, strength, grace, forgiveness and gentle embrace.  It is found in the mother He created and equips you to be.

And take heart, mommy friends who are paralyzed.  Know that the enemy has been overcome by one who is greater and can be overcome in you.  Get out of bed every morning prepared for battle.  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Guard your heart and do not allow yourself to compare.  Pray endlessly and rest in His assurance that even if/when you do fail, His grace has covered you.

This motherhood thing is a wild ride; harder and more emotionally exhausting that words can say, but you are not alone.  I am not alone.  You, my friend, just like me, must trust in the mother God has created you to be!

The Struggle

“Worn”– Tenth Avenue North

I’m tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

To caution all drivers on the road in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, if this song comes on when I am driving I simply cannot control my reaction, which I am sure causes me to be one of the most unsafe drivers on the north coast.  I can do nothing but cry, lift my hands in surrender and thank Jesus that someone else gets it; that someone put words to the state of my heart and therefore I can express my heart through my favorite art form.  I didn’t have the words before hearing this song to express the tiredness of my heart.  I bought the lie again that I was alone and that no one could possibly understand what is like to walk around feeling like the life has been sucked right out of you and feeling like you should be able to fix it.

Anyone who has ever dealt with addictive sin knows what I am talking about.  You know that feeling of hopelessness.  That feeling that you are the one to blame and that if only you were better at controlling yourself, life would be perfect.  You know how the cycle goes.  Things are great for a while; you are succeeding in your battle and life feels good.  Things begin to fall into place and you start to believe that maybe this is the time that you will completely overcome.  Then life happens.  You get arrogant or stressed or whatever is your trigger and you say, “just this once” except just this once turns into one more time and one more time and before you know it, you are completely out of control and right back where you said you would never be again.  For some people their addiction is obvious to those around them and the impact of the sin is not at all subtle.  For others like myself, addiction is easily hidden and the impact, while present and painful, isn’t quite as obvious.  It takes months and months for me to begin to connect the dots between just how out of control my sin is with my tired heart, tired relationships and general dissatisfaction with life.  Im-So-Tired

You would think that connecting the dots would be enough to stop, but it isn’t.  Justification, by this point is so deep in my veins that my heart is hardened to the idea of stopping.  I begin to ask God why He doesn’t just take it from me.  He knows how hard I’ve tried in the past.  He knows how tired I am.  He knows how much I desire to be used by Him but feel held back by my inability to stop.  One of my dreams is to speak on the Women of Faith stage someday, but I can’t even begin to fathom working toward that when I feel like a hypocrite and don’t have anything redeeming to share.  I hear the stories of other survivors, of people who have overcome their battle and they get to stand there and talk about the goodness of God and how there is this HUGE change in their life because of Jesus’ saving grace… that isn’t my life.  It is exhausting.  It hurts and is devastating to try and understand how God could put this desire in my heart and not free me from my addiction.  I want to know that what has died in me, because of my own choices, can be revived.  I want so desperately to be who God created me to be, yet I know that I’m holding myself back.  I don’t understand how the passions, gifts and dreams God has given me can be fulfilled when I keep giving into sin.  I want to see redemption win and I want others to see it in me, but it hasn’t happened and it doesn’t feel like it ever will.

This is typically when I begin to doubt my own salvation.  My heart is burdened with the idea of not being good enough, of not really repenting.  True repentance is followed by change.  That is what I’ve always known and believed.  I’ve heard it in a thousand sermons… in fact, I just heard it again a couple of weeks ago.  Godly sorrow doesn’t leave you in mourning but spurs you toward change.  If these things are true, then clearly I haven’t repented.  Clearly I’m not sorry and I probably never will be.  These are the lies that invade my heart and build even more walls between myself and my God.  I stop talking to Him at all because I am so ashamed, so frustrated and frankly, mad.  I’ve said I was sorry so many times and failed to change.  I’ve asked for help and begged Him to free me from it.  I’ve asked why and I’ve, at times, asked for help from other people.  It never works and it hurts.  I feel abandoned by a God that I profess to love and follow and at the same time, I desperately worry that I’ve allowed my heart to harden so far that even if He was trying to help, I’d wouldn’t know it.  Someone once told me that the fact that I question these things and fret about them are proof that my heart isn’t as hardened as I assume, but even this doesn’t take away my doubt.

There is another song on the radio right now that completely makes my heart ache.  If I didn’t already hate myself for not being able to overcome, even with the help of a God who, deep down, I know loves me, the first two lines just pour on the guilt even more.  The song says, “Who can stand apart from your presence? Once we have tasted, the goodness of Your love.”  My sin, my decision to partake in sin requires that I stand apart from the presence of God.  The more I give in, the further I get from Him.  According to this song, I wouldn’t be able to make that decision if I had truthfully tasted the goodness of God.  I HAVE tasted to goodness of His love.  I have experienced His love and lived sweetly in it.  But I’m still human and this thorn in my flesh has not come out despite my best efforts.  photolibrary_rf_photo_of_exhausted_man

I heard, on the radio, the lead singer from Tenth Avenue North explaining why he wrote this song and while his feelings of being worn are so far from my feelings of being worn, he said something that really resonated with me.  He said that “sometimes God redeems us from the struggle and sometimes God redeems us through the struggle.”  I’ve heard something like this before.  Someone I know who struggles with addiction as well once told a sanctuary full of people that once while she was begging God to take her struggle from her, He asked if she believed He could.  She said yes and His response was, “would you still trust me knowing I could take it, even if I didn’t take it from you?’  She had to really wrestle with this idea that maybe God’s plan for her life was for her to struggle and that he might not ever fully redeem her FROM the struggle.  As someone who is tired and worn, these are not encouraging words to me.  I want to be redeemed FROM the struggle.  I want to be able to share my redemption story and have it be meaningful and encouraging.  I am TIRED of being redeemed through the struggle; it doesn’t feel redeeming.

Accepting that God may redeem me THROUGH the struggle seems like a risky decision.  It feels like an open door to give up… to stop trying… to simply give into to every whim and desire associated with sex and justify it to myself.  If God is redeeming me through the struggle, do I really have a responsibility to fight against the addiction?  Does it matter whether or not I try to rid my life of this destructive and painful sin if I know I’m never going to overcome it?  Of course it matters; I know this (Romans 6:1).  However, my fear is that accepting that I, like Paul, must maintain the thorn in my flesh for a lifetime, feels like an easy justification when I am tired of the fight.  I don’t even want to begin to imagine what my life will be like if I stop fighting to get better… fighting to recover.

If you’ve read any of my other  blogs, you know that one of my favorite artists is JJ Heller.  Her music resonates with my heart in deep, powerful ways that I cannot put words to.  Her newest single, Who You Are, is no exception.  In this song, JJ sings about dreams not met.  She sings of a woman who has begged for a child of her own but has not been given a child.  She sings of a father who loses a child unexpectedly.  She sings of hurt and pain and unmet expectations.  JJ also sings of the Father’s love, though.  She sings of His love that is found in these unmet expectations.  She says, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know who you are.”  I actually was typing those words right as I was listening to them be sung and it brought tears to my eyes.  What an amazingly bold statement of faith.

I have spoken in the past about learning to be okay with living in the tension.  The idea of living in the tension deals with accepting the mystery of God as something that is beautiful and romantic, not something that turns us away from Him.  I think this is exactly what JJ’s new song is saying; just because I don’t know everything that is happening, everything about You, the one I love and follow, doesn’t mean that I don’t KNOW you or KNOW your character and what you have promised me.

I have absolutely NO idea what God is doing in my life when it comes to this struggle.  I don’t know how it will be used or if my dreams will ever be fulfilled.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to say “I used to struggle” instead of “I do struggle.”  I don’t know if a song will rise out of these ashes or if my tired heart will be restored.  What I do know is that my God loves me.  I know that He is love.  I know that there is purpose.  I know that He will not give me anything I cannot handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).  I know that redemption has ultimately won and that one day, this too shall pass.  I know that my God hears and cares for my aching heart and that He has not left my side.  I know WHO my God is and just because I don’t know what He is doing doesn’t make Him any less loving, compassionate or tender.  Because I know who my God is, I have hope.

Grey? What is Grey?

In the middle of a conversation the other day, I made fun of myself.  I’m only able to do this because of years and years of becoming aware of myself, my thoughts and my behaviors.

Me: “What?  Why didn’t I get invited?  I would have wanted to go.  I didn’t see it in the bulletin or anything and no one mentioned it to me.  No one wanted me to go, huh?”

Gavin: “Babe, I don’t know.  Maybe they already had sign ups and everything before we even got here, so it wasn’t an option for you to go.”

Me: “No, it doesn’t matter.” Here is where I began to realize that I was saying and decided to make fun of myself. “No one likes me.  That is why I didn’t get invited.  Well you know what, I don’t like any of them!  I’m not their friend anymore.  Everything I said about being excited to get to know these people… not anymore.  They are dead to me.”

The sad truth about what I said is that I have actually said these things in seriousness before.  I am a pretty black and white kind of person.  There is no in between for me.  This is true for friendships, feelings, productivity… basically everything in my life. I really struggle with accepting things that are in the grey area and I really struggle to relate to people who live their lives in the grey area.

Fortunately, I’ve been really hurt by living this way and have learned quite a bit from it.  I’m not saying that I am cured, but I am very much aware of this default in me and I try very hard to make sure that it does not impair my life and my relationships like it has done so easily in the past.

Unfortunately, I still really struggle with this when it comes to people being wrong.  My sense of right and wrong is still stuck in the it’s either right or it’s wrong type of thinking that I have lost out on more relationships than I can count.  This, coupled with my sense of justice (I’m working on writing something about this very issue… but it is too big for my mind and heart right now), makes it very difficult for me to not be very upset and hurt when someone does something that they know is wrong or that is CLEARLY wrong whether they know it or not.  My expectations that the person will right their wrong and that others will join me in making sure that it happens often leads to disappointment and bitterness on my end.

I see this bitterness take root in my heart most frequently when it comes to ministry.  In the six years that Gavin and I have been together, we have done ministry together at five different churches, including the one where are currently are.  Of the four churches that we have left, we only left one of them on super good terms and based on our own decision.  The other three churches have acted unjustly.  There isn’t a fiber of my being that does not take responsibility for our part in the separations, please do not misunderstand me.  All I am saying here, is that I have felt slighted by people I thought we could trust and that should have acted justly and should been held accountable to a higher standard.

I like to tell myself that I have forgiven these people and that the only reason I don’t have them in my life right now is because I have created these amazingly awesome and beautiful boundaries (as any good therapist in waiting should), but if I’m honest, this really isn’t the case with most people.  I have never done my part in these relationships.  I have never gone to them and told them that I felt wronged and I have never apologized for wronging them.  I have just held onto this pain and bitterness that has led me to have to FIGHT to trust people in church leadership wherever I go.

You see, that is the terrible thing about holding onto all of this pain.  Not only do I have pain that I refuse to deal with (some of it, I truly believe is too raw right now… but others, I am 100% responsible for not handling it by now), but that pain interferes with my ability to trust others and move into new place and new relationships with an open heart and a willingness to be vulnerable.  I question everything that is said to me and I allow anxiety over something that isn’t mine to deal with consume me.  I find myself living out the motto of Danielle from Big Brother; “fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me… fool me three times, I’m [stupid].”

Losin’- Tenth Avenue North

I can’t believe what she said
I can’t believe what he did
Oh, don’t they know it’s wrong?
Don’t they know it’s wrong?

Well maybe there’s something I missed
But how could they treat me like this?
It’s wearing out my heart
The way they disregard

This is love. This is hate.
We all have a choice to make

Oh, Father won’t You forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’ (oh no)
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’

It’s only the dead that can live
But still I wrestle with this
To lose the pain that’s mine
Seventy times seven times

Lord it doesn’t feel right
For me to turn a blind eye
But I guess it’s not that much
When I think of what You’ve done.
This is love. This is hate.
We’ve got a choice to make

Oh, Father, won’t You forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’ (oh no)

Why do we think that hate’s gonna change their heart?
We’re up in arms over wars that don’t need to be fought
But pride won’t let us lay our weapons on the ground
We build our bridges up, but just to burn them down
We think pain is owed apologies and them it’ll stop
But truth be told it doesn’t matter if they’re sorry or not
Freedom comes when we surrender to the sound
Of Mercy and Your Grace, Father, send Your angels down (singin’)

Oh, Father, won’t you forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doing (oh, no)
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losing
I feel like I’ve been losing

Oh Father won’t you forgive them
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’
Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’
I feel like I’ve been losing

Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’

I couldn’t even listen to this song all the way through when it first came out.  It was too convicting.  I hadn’t even considered the fact that hearing those that have wronged me take responsibility wouldn’t make things better for me.  There is a large possibility that even if every single person came to me and said, “you know what, I’m sorry.  I was wrong.” I would still be dealing with my own pain.  I hate the idea of turning a blind eye, like the song says, because that isn’t just and my heart aches for justice.  But then again, if my heart truly ached for justice, I’d want to be held just as accountable as I hold all of those people.  And, like the song says, how can I even begin to think of holding someone else accountable for their sin when, because of Christ, I’m free from the death that should come from my own sin.

This, I believe is harder to overcome for someone like me.  When you live your life in the black and white only, pain inflicted by someone else as well as the solution to the problem is clear.  Also, outright wrongdoings and lowered standards feel completely unacceptable and unjustifiable; so much so that they can consume my thoughts and discussions.  Living in the black and white, though isn’t beneficial and it isn’t an excuse to hold onto pain and to hold others accountable in my heart.  That isn’t God’s design for me as a person… or anyone for that matter.  There is nothing about any of the situations that I have described that bring glory and honor to God, yet that is my greatest desire for my life.

Sometimes I find myself frustrated with God.  I mean, after all, HE created me this way, didn’t He?  So, why do I have to suffer because of His creation.  Then I am reminded that there are good things about living in the black and white.  I love hard.  I give with every ounce of my being.  I pursue my God-given passion for people and their health with all that I have.  There are so many good things about living in the black and white.  It is because I live in a fallen world that living in the black and white is also a stronghold for the one who seeps life out of me.

I speak frequently on my blog about freedom that comes from living in Christ.  I discuss openly that what a lot of people view as rules and regulations are in fact God’s love in action for us.  When we aren’t in communion with Him and when we are not being accountable for the responsibility we have in our relationship with him, we are unable to view God’s guidelines for our lives as His love in action.  We aren’t able to see the freedom that comes from following those guidelines.

I bring this up because I find it ironic.  Freedom in Christ is something I preach.  It is something about which I am passionate and want everyone to understand, but in reality, I’m not fully living it.  I don’t feel restrained by my relationship with Christ, but I do feel restrained by my inability to trust that God will handle this and that I don’t need to find justice in order to let it go.  God calls us to forgiveness and He calls us to let it go.  He tells us to trust Him when He says that He will handle it.  Those actions lead to freedom.  The actions of living in the black and white when it comes to forgiveness aren’t leading me to freedom.  I am completely chained down and cannot live life abundantly as promised.

I rarely leave my blogs open-ended like this.  I like to end them with some kind of conclusion… something to encourage you.  Unfortunately, today, that is not the case.  I have nothing for you.  My “here’s to you my friends…” is a little different today.  My “here’s to you my friend…” goes something like this.  Here’s to you my friends who are in the same boat.  Let’s fight this together.  Let’s get out of the black and white and trust God to allow us to live in the grey (what I like to refer to as living in the tension).  Let’s forgive and uproot any bitterness that is or has been growing in our hearts.  Let’s live and love fully.  Let’s fight this together.

Who am I to Judge?

I have to admit that I am one of the most judgmental people in the world.  I tend to keep my judgments to myself, but they are there.  They seep into my thought life before I even have a chance to realize they are there.  I hate it and when I realize what has happened, I try to make it right, but the judgment is endless it seems. 

I also have to admit that I’m a slow learner.  I cannot count how many times I have had the following thoughts and subsequent conversation with God.

Me- Hands raised high, eyes closed, singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty”  Eyes open, look around, feeling a bit self conscious.  “Did anybody hear my singing?”  “Was I on key?”  “Do my armpits smell?”  “Maybe I should keep my hands down today.”  “Should I sign?”  “I know the signs for this song.”  “Oh my gosh.  Look at the way that person is raising their hands during worship (or dancing or clapping or anything else that isn’t exactly what I think they should be doing).”  “I wonder if they do that just for an audience or if that is really how they think they should worship.”

God- How dare you!  That person is intimately involved with me right now and you could be too, but you’re too busy judging their relationship with me.

Me- Head hung low.  You’re right.  I’m sorry.  I want to worship with reckless abandon.  I’m so sorry.

These kinds of conversations are a direct result of my judgmental attitude and happen frequently.  They don’t just occur within the walls of the church for me, either.  I distinctly remember a dinner with my youth pastor at Home Town Buffet (it was the best Yuma had to offer at the time) and in the middle of our conversation, he asked me, “Why do you judge every girl that walks by?  Does it make you feel better?”  I was shocked.  I was even slightly defensive because I was truly unaware that I was doing anything.  Jeff pointed out that every time a female walked past our table, I looked her up and down several times.  After he mentioned it, I realized that what I was doing was judging each and every one of them.  I was looking them up and down, looking for faults.  Without even realizing it, I was trying to find fault in every person around me, based on nothing but how they looked/dressed.
I was on the other end of that judgment this weekend.  I LOVE my church.  I love the people and the leaders and just the way it has become home so quickly in my heart.  I tell everyone I can about my church and want everyone to experience it at least once in their lives.  It’s funny though, because if I were to write everything down on paper of what I thought I was looking for in a church, my church would have very few of those items.  Typically, I feel safe and at home in larger churches with very rehearsed and planned out worship and preaching.  I like mega churches and I like churches that have full time worship pastors who wear skinny jeans and believe that the lighting in the room is just as important as the acoustics.  I like churches that have fancy posters for the sermon series and who have a pastor on staff for everything from preaching to cleaning the toilets.  You get the point. The church I just described is not my church.  My church is modest in size, sometimes we don’t have a drummer, 90% of the songs we sing are from the 90’s or earlier, there isn’t ANYONE on staff who wears skinny jeans and the lighting is the same as in my home, overhead lights that only turn on or off.  BUT, my church is my home.  The people there are amazing.  They make you feel welcome and safe and every week, I leave feeling challenged and encouraged in my walk with God.  I wouldn’t trade my church for anything and I’m proud to call it home!

There was a young couple (my age, I suppose) who came into service a bit late on Sunday.  They came in and quickly found their seats and as I watched the young woman, I felt such conviction.  She looked around at everyone in the room, listened to the music and everything else with a little smirk on her face.  You could tell this was not her cup of tea (I’m trying not to sound judgmental).  I was hurt, though.  I want every person who comes through the doors to love Warrenton Christian as much as I do.  I was frustrated and had to work hard not to be offended by her blatant judgment.  It was while I was working through those emotions that I realized I had been her in so many churches and I had probably offended people along the way.

Judgment is a nasty little pill.  I have wrongly judged people and had to bite my tongue later.  I have wrongly judged situations and suffered because of it.  In judgment is not how we have been called to live.  We have been called to live in love and how can we love if judgment has blurred our vision?  Through my judgment do people see Jesus or do they see another Christian who claims to love but is really just another judgmental hypocrite?  When I judge whether out loud or internally (which I am painfully aware of the fact that I do not hide well), do people want to know Jesus?  Do they respond to His unending love or do they respond to what they see as intolerance and ignorance?  Check out this really good research articles on how the unchurched view Christianity.  Is this mainly because of judgment?

I want my life to reflect Christ into the lives of other people I meet.  I want to be transparent enough and honest enough that there is not any doubt that Jesus is love.  I want others to know that it is only because of His grace that I am who I am and I want that to be viewed as a positive thing.  My quick and endless judgements can easily leave a bad taste in others’ mouths and when I talk about Jesus, all those judgments do is misrepresent His love and His grace.  His love, His true and perfect love, is about sacrifice and I want people to know that when they meet me.

I have to admit something here.  I began writing this blog this morning  and then took a break when Micah woke up from his nap.  We Skyped with my mom, ate lunch and then went to run errands and our last stop was the park.  When we got there, there were a couple of middle school aged kids and Micah and I, but about five minutes into our play time, a truck pulled up and out jumped a little boy who could not have been older than four years old.  His mother stayed in the truck and was doing something on her phone.  No big deal, until the kid started going down the slide while Micah was still on it, jumping in front of the camera as I was trying to take pictures of Micah and demanding that I push him in the swing.  Judgment flooded my mind.  I was so frustrated with that mother who was sitting in the truck and allowing her child to ruin MY time with Micah at the park.  As I was leaving (because the other little boy had knocked Micah down one too many times), my heart began to soften.  I realized how judgmental I had been and laughed at the fact that I was just writing about this issue a couple of hours earlier.  As a Christian, my response to this woman should have been compassion.  Who knows what is going on in her life.  Maybe someone is in the hospital and allowing her son to play at the park while she received updates on her phone in the car was the best option for her and her family today.  Or maybe she was just lazy and was on facebook and just didn’t feel like mothering her son today.  Either way, she did NOT deserve my judgment, but rather deserved my love and compassion.  I should have asked her how I could serve her today.

So, here is my challenge today (for me, first and foremost).  Stop judging.  Make yourself aware of just how many times each day you judge other people and begin to fight against it.  Fight against it with love and compassion.  Stop yourself and ask how you can better represent Christ to that person… how you can serve them and love them sacrificially.

The Proof of Your Love- For King and Country

If I sing but don’t have love
I waste my breathe with every song
I bring, an empty voice
A hollow noise

If I speak with a silver tongue
Convince a crowd but don’t have love
I leave a bitter taste
With every word I say

Chorus
So let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You
And what You’re made of
How you lived, how You died
Love is sacrifice
So let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love

If I give to a needy soul
But don’t have love then who is poor
It seems all the poverty
Is found in me

Chorus

Ooh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
When it’s all said and done
Ooh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
When we sing our final song

Only love remains
Only love remains

Chorus