Our church wraps up a sermon series on Heaven and Hell in these next few weeks. Referencing dozens of Scripture passages, our pastor unwrapped what we can know about eternity. He has also told us from time to time, “I don’t know.” I am proud of him for being real and human from the pulpit.
On more than one occasion during these Sundays, I have gotten goosebumps as he has described Heaven. I am brave enough to say Amen. I have reached a point where I can raise my hands in praise. But what I really want to do is stand up, shout hallelujah, and jump up and down.
Because Heaven sounds, well, awesome.
Uninhibited worship awaits me, I am certain. If not in these earthly days, then in Heaven someday, face to face with the Almighty God in all His majestic glory.
Until that day, we as believers settle for glimpses of His glory. And music, the real purpose for today’s post, often gives us these moments of beautiful insight.
In particular, certain artists offer us glimpses. They usher us into the presence of Jesus. Because when they sing, their audience narrows right down to One.
Artists like Kari Jobe. If you’re familiar with any of her songs, I know you’ll agree with me. Songs such as:
This fall, you and I have the opportunity to experience some glimpses of glory in several cities. Brought to us by the talented Kari Jobe on her “Majestic Tour,” showcasing songs from her latest album by the same name. Visit this link to see if she’ll be performing near you.
I’m going to Kari’s concert. Fully expecting to worship. I’ll say Amen. I’ll raise my hands in praise. And who knows, maybe I’ll be brave enough to stand up, shout hallelujah, and jump up and down.
I received a copy of Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World, written by Nish Weiseth, from netgalley.com for the purpose of generating a review. With the exception of the opening Zig Ziglar quote, italicized quotes are from the book. The opinions expressed here are my own.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” -Zig Ziglar
A friend gave me a card with that quote on it many years ago. I had been a good listener when she needed it. Something about a boy. Long ago and long gone now.
But the quote stuck in my memory. We can’t just go around spouting off dos and don’ts. Even a Bible verse, though it may be just what an individual needs, can be ill-received when shoved down someone’s throat.
People need to know we care. And the best way I have found to show this is through story. Sharing ours. Listening to theirs. Walking side by side.
Author Nish Weiseth has also found this to be true. In her first book, Speak: How Your Story Can Change The World, and on her blog, nishweiseth.com, and on the collaborative blog she created, deeperstory.com, she encourages people to tell their story.
“... I took a leap of faith and created an online space called ‘A Deeper Story,’ inviting some talented story tellers to join me. Our aim was simple: we would use the art of story and personal narrative to address some of the most troublesome topics found on the collision course between Christianity and culture.”
She does this in her new book too. Actually, after sharing parts of her story, she includes excerpts from A Deeper Story. Stories told by other authors. Also comments shared by readers. All of whom have a story.
“The power of story becomes evident when, as we share, another’s eyes light up and they say, ‘You too? Me too!’”
I read articles from A Deeper Story often. In fact, I felt compelled to comment on one twitter feed that I always get something from the stories they share.
On my own blog, the most popular post to date, by far, came from a guest writer. "When Divorce Changes Everything." How humbling. But I realize, while the article was well written, the reason for its popularity comes from more than that. The author shared her story. Raw. The good and bad. Her story of redemption. Readers respond to that.
“To my delight, readers are beginning to understand that we interact over issues best when there’s a human connection.”
In closing, I’d like to share just one story Nish wrote about in her book. At the time, she was a college sophomore. In a small class, philosophy or religion perhaps. They discussed violence and war that day. Gun control. Everyone had their opinion. Based on their belief system. Highly unlikely that a debate using facts or Scripture would change anyone’s mind.
Until Janelle shared her story. About a time an intruder came to her house. And her brother saved her life. Using a gun. In Janelle's words:
“I think we all agree we shouldn’t stand on the side of violence. We should stand for peace. But when it comes to guns and gun control, I feel a little conflicted. It’s hard for me to not be in support of our right to bear arms. My brother’s right to carry and use his weapon was, I believe, the reason I’m still alive today...
It’s never as black-and-white as we want it to be... Especially when someone’s story gets injected into the conversation. All of a sudden, it gets messy. But it’s better if it’s messy, I think.”
According to Nish:
“Janelle’s deeply personal story moved us from finger-pointing to problem solving.”
That’s what the power of a story can do.
A handful of times in my life I have been in the presence of a highly anointed person. By this I mean someone who started out as average. One of us. Yet, God puts His hand on this person and they make an impact sure to last for generations.
One such time, Billy Graham came to St. Louis. I lived there at the time and had the opportunity to help with the event as a local church member. We went through training to counsel those people who would come forward to receive Christ as their personal Savior and/or would need prayer. I also had the privelege of singing in the community choir under the direction of George Beverly Shea.
I couldn’t tell you what Mr. Graham spoke about that weekend. I remember it being very evangelical. He painstakingly presented the gospel message each evening.
Something I remember more than his words. His presence. This happened around the year 2000 so Mr. Graham would have been much younger. Still, his voice shook. He couldn’t stand for a long period of time.
As the evening drew to a close, the community choir started singing one final song. The invitation call. Thousands flooded to the altar. Just a makeshift row between the elevated stage and the front row of seats.
Someone put a stool up to the podium for Mr. Graham to sit down. He did. And he bowed his head.
I’ll never forget the reverence he displayed when he simply bowed his head. Every person in the arena knew he was praying for every person in the arena. That not one soul would remain lost.
It was one awesome moment.
On the back of his autobiography, “Just As I Am,” you find the following quote from Mr. Graham:
“I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, ‘Why me, Lord? Why did you choose a farm boy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?’ I have thought about that question a great deal, but I know also that only God knows the answer.”
An average man. A sinner like you and me. Used mightily by God around the world.
Another time I found myself in the presence of one highly anointed was just recently. A group of ladies from our church made a two-hour trek to see Beth Moore in a Living Proof Live event.
She taught us. Beth always teaches us. We studied Scripture from Acts 16. Lydia. The lady Paul met after heeding the Macedonian call. Also the widow who lost a coin in Luke 15. We read in verse nine, upon finding the coin, she called her girlfriends. Of course!
Beth also entertained us. Her personal stories are worth the price of admission. At one point, she read a portion of Scripture and then admitted she’d briefly forgotten how the verses tied in with the message. “Aren’t you glad you’re not me right now,” she said.
Average. Probably often wonders why God used a small town girl from Arkansas so mightily.
And in the years to come, I’ll probably forget the words Beth used to teach us. The notes I took will get lost in the shuffle of paperwork that accumulates in a household.
But I won’t forget her presence. God has brought her so far. She breathes redemption. My favorite part of the event was worshiping with this great teacher.
She stood among the Living Proof praise band, under the leadership of Travis Cottrell. I’ve heard her often say she offers up a joyful noise to the Lord. Perhaps not one anyone else would appreciate. But God does.
At this event, she sang her heart out. She danced about on stage, clapping her hands and raising them in the air. At times, the music brought her to her knees in prayer.
Living. Proof. Indeed.
It’s high time we remembered God uses average folk. We don’t always know how or when He uses us specifically. But we know it to be good. These two people live sold out to Christ. If you’ll do the same, He will use you. Let Him.
Beth Moore shared an Identity Declaration at this event. I found it powerful. Very good. Her praise band set it to music. Watch for this on youtube. A great way to memorize these truths. Here it is:
I remember sitting in high school English class my junior year. Discussing “To Kill A Mockingbird.” And the book mentioned canning.
Our teacher, a prim and proper lady, had grown up in town. I had not. And she said,
“You probably don’t realize this but generations before us used to can their food and store it up for eating in the winter.”
I quickly raised my hand.
“Um, my mom still does that. We have a whole shelf in our basement with canned items.”
And we did. Grape juice, green beans, pickles and tomatoes of many varieties. My mom had a vegetable garden and preserved the food she grew. Just like generations had before her.
Now, at the time, I paid little attention to the canning she was doing in the kitchen. I had books to read. Play dates to plan. Or I waited for her to give me a ride into town.
At the time, I hoped to be a lot more like my citified English teacher. I planned to grow up and leave the simple country ways behind. Not because I didn’t like it. Because I had bigger, better things to do.
Then life happened. I met my husband and we moved to our place in the middle of nowhere. I’m so at home here. The first summer we lived here, I planted a smallish garden. As if in some divine rite of passage, I had some fresh vegetables I needed to preserve.
I bought some books, cozied up with google and learned about canning. I read about the very real threat of botulism, which basically leaves you dead on contact. Also about how pressure cookers can explode and burn everything within shooting, boiling water distance.
Then I called my mom. I told her I was very disappointed in her parenting skills. How could she have all this knowledge I knew she had about gardening and canning and not share it with me?
But being the responsible adult I try to play in real life, I faced my fear. I followed the directions. I took notes based on what I learned from doing it. And I kept calling my mom with questions.
My canning efforts met with some success. This year, our garden grew abundantly. I have learned more ways to preserve a cucumber than I ever thought possible (one such way is to give them away to your friends at church so they can make some pickles too). I have tripled the amount of jars I have put up for winter. And I am already looking forward to the jars of home-grown food we’ll keep pulling out all winter long.
All of that to say, here are some lessons I have learned from the whole canning experience.
You can never have enough jars or a big enough kitchen.
I had some jars. Remember I had done a little bit of canning last year. A lady from church had a neighbor who retired from canning and gave away her jars and lids. There’s a special place in Heaven for women such as her. Because if you do any amount of canning, you soon realize there’s never enough jars. I have bought more jars from the store four times this season.
And when you lay out everything you need to do your hot water bath. Along with your ingredients. You quickly run out of space in any sized kitchen as well.
Gardening and canning connect you with old timers.
We have wonderful neighbors. A blessed bunch. I drove past their driveway once this summer and was flagged down by the patriarch of the family. Standing in their garden. I pulled over and rolled down my window. He held up a single okra and asked if it should be that size.
Oh, I knew this one. I had asked my girlfriend, a fellow gardener and canner. When you take up this hobby, you start asking all kinds of questions to anyone you know to be wiser than you.
I assured him that particular okra would be too tough for good eating. Okra, I told him, should be picked when it is the size of your thumb.
We’ve since also discussed the best ways to preserve squash, swapped pickle recipes and discussed the best vegetables to freeze. It’s true what my English teacher said all those years ago, the generations before us knew a thing or two about canning.
Food is the common denominator.
I know we don’t all have time for canning. I often don’t have time for it either. But it still brings us all together. Some of my best summer memories come from grabbing a jar of salsa or pickles and offering it to my friends.
“Here. I made this!”
We’re all the better for gathering around a table of fresh food. I enjoy this new challenge of making a meal with the vegetables I have to get used up before they spoil. Grilled vegetables anyone?
You can make friends.
Can I tell you a secret about gardening? Every year, you’re going to expand it. Whether it’s to accommodate more vegetables or to give a set number of vegetables more space. We expanded ours so much this year that we have more than enough. Even after canning and freezing. More than enough.
So, make new friends. Or bribe old friends. I gave vegetables away to the local food pantry. I took them to my daughter’s theater camp. Bible study. Church. On the street corners. If you grow a garden, you’re going to have extra food. Giving away food helps you make (and keep) friends.
Canning is a lonely business.
The friends don’t come around for the hard work though. If they wanted to do the hard work, they’d have their own garden and can their own food. I like the idea of canning with someone. But for me, this rarely happens. I crank up the music or turn on a sermon podcast and go at it alone. Canning a batch of something can take from two to eight hours so be prepared.
Reading canning recipes from loved ones is priceless.
My mom had passed on her canning recipe book to me. In it, I have bread & butter pickles from Mabel (they are the bomb). Also hamburger dill slices from Aunt Juanita. Frozen corn from my grandma. Grape juice from my mom. Following these recipes means a trip down memory lane for me.
My mother-in-law has a recipe collection of her own. Years worth of swapping recipes with family and friends. She rarely copies the recipes she’s given onto a new card. She can tell you, for example, that the zucchini bread from her old neighbor is written in blue ink on the back of a business-sized envelope. Having these recipes is priceless.
Vacationing in August thru Labor Day is questionable.
I have tried to honestly portray this canning business. As with most things, it has pros and cons. For us in Michigan, we plant the garden Memorial Day weekend. It requires some attention off and on all summer long.
At the end of July and all of August, you’re harvesting the largest part of your produce. We scheduled a week-long vacation at the end of July. I canned pickles right up to the day we left and also had some cucumbers fermenting in crocks while we traveled. Upon my return, I have canned the better part of August. I see a bit of a break coming up mid-September. Until the fall squash ripens for picking. If you have big plans to go cross-country the whole month of August, I’m not sure what your vegetable garden will think about that.
All food tastes better homegrown.
This is at the heart of canning. We’re still fine tuning the very best recipes, but I make a spaghetti sauce that might cause a civil war in Italy. I have requests for salsa when we entertain. I’m learning how to make my pickles crispier. When to use fresh herbs and when dried work just fine.
We can’t eat these foods fresh all year long. But I’m finding that eating them canned or frozen is the very next best thing.
Every time I do some canning, I think of my sweet Grandma Lucy. She canned out of necessity.Not for fun. But then, if I really think on it, the more I read about the chemicals they put in our food, I might be doing it more out of necessity as well.
I got this FB post from my daughter’s Sunday School teacher recently:
Sunday School today...Me: "So do you think God already knows your future? What you will do, where you will live, what you will look like?" Allie: "God told me already, He said when I grow up I will look just like Elsa!"
God most certainly does know what our future holds but in large part He’s not telling.
I wondered a similar question a while back as well. I put a post on FB asking these questions:
What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing that now?
Now, besides my post asking about young ladies wearing bikinis, these questions received the most responses of any I have posted. Here are some answers:
Nurse, teacher, archeologist, museum curator, actress, journalist. Just about everything except a mother and most certainly not to two scrappy little boys. Life and its plot twists.
Well, I wanted to have 10 kids, be divorced and live with my mom! Thank you Jesus for realizing my dreams were a bit off. I got my awesome life of three kids and married to my best friend for 29 years. And my mom lives in Florida.
When I was involved in a car accident at the age of 12 I had nurses who took wonderful care of me. From then on I wanted to be a nurse, which I did. I have never regretted that and love taking care of people to this day. Now I'm a case manager which let's me take care of them emotionally. Love my job!!
I wanted to be amazingly awesome....so you know...check that off the list... (never wanted to be humble though).
Kelly Mintner didn’t quite know what her future held either.
I received an uncorrected proof of Wherever The River Runs, written by Kelly Mintner, for the purpose of generating a review. The italicized quotes below are from the book. The opinions expressed here are my own.
Kelly thought she’d play college basketball until her scholarship fell through. She turned to music, moving to Nashville and releasing a CD. In the midst of chasing this dream, Kelly met a book publisher. Through this encounter, she eventually met up with folks at LifeWay and started writing Bible studies.
But God wasn’t done. He moved her beyond authoring studies for ladies like me and my Wednesday night crew. God introduced her to the folks at Justice and Mercy International (JMI). They took her on not just one, but several trips to the Amazon jungle.
That part of her journey brought us this book. A reminder that “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
Here are some exerpts from the book about her trip out of her comfort zone:
I bowed my head not realizing at the time that I’d never prayed for God to provide someone with a house before.
What part of the Bible would I turn to if one of the women told me her child was sick and she didn’t have money for a doctor? If she told me her husband was drinking and abusive? Would I begin my devotional by talking about my life?
Reading Scripture without layers of entertainment makes you listen harder to what’s actually on the page. And in the absence of a band blaring through a speaker, I could actually hear the children’s voices, out of tune and out of time, and it was glory.
That small ministry in Brazil whose mission had been projected onto a screen a world away was about to captivate me, blow the lid off my tightly sealed Western-theology pot, and forever shape the way I spend money, value prayer, consider the poor, view modern-day miracles, and feel about acai berries.
God still works in Kelly’s life. This Amazon jungle gig with JMI is far from over. He still works in your life too, you know. And mine. This book, treasure that it was, encourages us to live full on in the life Jesus has for us. Wherever that might take us.
You can’t always tell where you’re going, but eventually you find Him to be what He has been all along; faithful.
A friend of mine let it all go once. For a whole day, she didn’t do all the things she always does around the house while her husband works. When he got home, his jaw dropped and he just stared.
Working part-time, full-time or stay-at-home, moms do a lot around the house.
I think about it sometimes. If I made an exit for a day or two, my husband doesn’t even know some of my daily tasks.
Look at the lunch menu. Hot lunch or cold lunch.
Check the day of the week. If it’s a gym day, don’t let Allie wear a dress.
Put a daily snack in the backpack.
Is it Thursday? Trash Day.
Not to mention groceries, item returns, laundry, housecleaning.
Just a sampling, right friends?
Then we read these words...
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
The only one of the ten commandments, among the many shall nots, when all God asks of us is to “remember.” Such a nice word.
The only commandment which God Himself honored as an example.
“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:11)
The Sabbath is blessed. By God.
The only day God made holy and He expects us to keep it that way.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I’ve written about this before and we frequent the topic in our Wednesday night Bible study.
A group of ladies working hard for their families. Their jobs. Their church. The Kingdom. Busy.
But I’m convinced when God told us to remember the Sabbath, He meant it. Rest.
Ezekiel was written at a time when God’s people had made Him tired. And angry. And sad. He explained why He allowed the Babylonians to sweep in and haul them off into exile. Here’s one reason:
“Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that the Lord made them holy. Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees... and they utterly desecrated my sabbath.” (Ezekiel 20:12-13)
In the many conversations I’ve had about the Sabbath, it always seems to come down to one important factor:
Does your heart have a desire to seek a time with God in Sabbath rest? A heart issue.
Ask God what holy means.
Here’s the dictionary definition:
"Dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred."
Ask Him what a holy Sabbath means for your family. Your stage in life.
Pray about ways you can better make time for it. Dinner in a crockpot or a big pot of soup on Saturday to serve as leftovers on Sunday. A day when you ask the environment for forgiveness and you use paper plates and plastic silverware. Maybe you eat out. Or maybe He asks you not to eat out.
How can your Sabbath look different from every other day?
One friend of mine has three young children and she works full-time. They always attend church but it can be a little, ahem, hectic for them. These days a large part of her Sabbath is a 3-hour nap on Sunday afternoons. God bless her husband!
Another mom used to tag team with her husband as coach of their sons’ baseball team. When they would hit the road for games, it was a team rule that everyone had to attend church together when they were out of town on Sundays.
I saw yet another friend at Arby’s after church on a Sunday a few months back. They’d gone to one soccer game, attended church, and were grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading to the next soccer game. They made it a priority to attend the worship service. Sandwiched in between games.
For me, Sunday morning worship time can often feel like work even though I volunteer. I usually have several items to drop off or exchange with other folks. I do the announcements at our church so I am mentally keeping all of that straight. Some Sundays I (wo)man a table to promote our women’s ministry events. So my Sabbath often doesn’t seem to start until I get home. Or another day of the week.
These examples may not appear too holy to you. All are doing different things to remember the Sabbath. The time frame is different. The days might vary.
But make no mistake. They are sacred moments. And our kids need to see us remembering.
In our hearts, we proclaim to God:
Today, this is what I have. I want it to be about you.
I know I need to right my focus. I know I need corporate worship. I know I need time in Your Word. I know, by Your example, there are times we need to stop and rest.
I leave moments of Sabbath rest feeling better because I had some down time with my Savior. If you take the time and do the same, I know He will be pleased.
Apparently, authors are real people too. Pastors. Also real people. I mean, we know that. But a part of us always delights in discovering this truth firsthand.
I attended the Brad Gray book signing today. Hosted by our local Family Christian Bookstore. His first book, “Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong” just came out a few weeks ago.
During the short time I was there, Brad visited with and signed books for a variety of individuals.
A couple who traveled to Israel with him on one of his guided tours.
A mother and daughter who attend his church. The 12-year old girl has read a third of his book already.
A gentlemen who bought the book just today in the store and had it autographed by the author.
The author’s friend who stopped in with a previously purchased copy of the book tucked under his arm. Could you sign this please?
And me, a blogger who also happens to be a bookworm.
Further, these books the authors write. They have real stories behind them too.
Like when this teaching pastor studied the Biblical account of Samson. And that particular story wouldn’t let him go. There had to be more than what we’d learned in Sunday School.
This pastor happened to be speaking at another church when an executive in the publishing industry heard him and starting meeting with him over coffee on a regular basis. Wondering when he would write a book.
How the author pastored a church 175 strong when the book idea started taking shape.
Now, with a published book out there in circulation, the stories continue.
Because a teacher read it and liked it, a local high school might get a copy for every student, discussing each chapter’s contents during chapel service.
When the author did a book signing at his Michigan hometown, an area judge attended the event. She bought a copy of the book to show community support. But after finishing it, she decided every judge should have a personal copy. To read a compelling chapter on forgiveness.
Yes, authors are real people. Pastors. Also real people. I enjoyed meeting Brad Gray. And hearing just a bit of his story. Now, to read my autographed copy of the actual story....
They (whoever “they” are) say there are only six degrees of separation between an individual and any other person in the world. And when God gets involved, He pays no attention to that statistic. Or any other.
So, when I went shopping recently with a friend, we chatted about a variety of topics. Among other things, she told me about one of her church’s pastors, Brad Gray, who recently authored a book, “Make Your Mark: Getting Right What Samson Got Wrong.”
Not 30 minutes later, I had a Facebook notice asking for a local blogger to cover a book signing at Family Christian Bookstore. Who was the author, you ask? Or maybe you didn’t ask, you just chuckled. Brad Gray.
One degree of separation. My friend’s pastor.
This Saturday, I’ll be covering his book signing event on my blog. I hope you can stop by too!
Here are the details:
Meet: Brad Gray, Author & Teaching Pastor at Central Wesleyan Church in Holland
Date: Saturday, September 6th (11am-2pm)
Location: Family Christian Bookstore (3819 Rivertown Pkwy: Grandville, MI) 616.406.0356
I took a deep breath today. For the first time since June 10th. My world slowed down and I’m deciding the things this school year will include. For me.
Early this morning, our daughter got on the bus and rode off to first grade. And I sat down with a cup of coffee and Facebook.
The first picture I saw was the young girl who cared for our daughter in the nursery at church. That girl started her senior year today. And I took another deep breath.
I watched the likes and comments appear on Allie’s first day of school post. And my breath caught in my throat a little. This pretty, confident little girl.
We went to a bank the other day. She’d fallen asleep in the car and I picked her up out of her seat and started to carry her into the building. Like I’ve done a hundred times.
“Mom,” she exclaimed. “Put me down. You can’t carry me anymore.”
Or our movie nights these days. When she informs us she won’t sit on our laps but instead snuggles in right next to us. Close enough.
Six. Not sixteen.
I read other Facebook posts from friends. Their kids didn’t need hugs, kisses or chauffeurs into the classroom either. What a good job we’ve done raising such confident kids!
And yet. I know these days are precious. Tongue in cheek, I told you a few weeks ago I was done with this summer business.
We road tripped to St. Louis.
We camped up north with friends.
We ended our summer with a few days on Lake Michigan. Like every good Michigander should do.
And today we reflect. We pause, catching our collective breaths, as a new school year is upon us.
Routine. One. Two. Three. Breathe.
Today, meet Sara. She attended our Wednesday morning Bible study for a number of years. The Christian walk was new to her. And just as she was getting her feet steady on the solid ground, her life fell apart. Sara lived through an unwanted divorce. She graciously shares that experience with us today. God, and her Bible study gals, were by her side the whole time. Even when she didn't realize it. Thanks Sara for sharing your story.
If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm....
What do you do when everything you know, feel, love and have worked hard for changes?
When your whole world comes crashing down?
You are lost, hurt and confused.
Who do you turn to? Do you run to God or do you yell and blame God?
Let's start by introducing myself. I'm Sara, I am 27 and have two beautiful spunky daughters, ages six and three. I have been divorced from their biological dad for two years officially, separated for three. For those doing the math; yes, my youngest was just born when he left.
Also, I am about to walk down the aisle again (T-minus 42 days!) with an amazing, generous and, might I add, handsome man! A man who has stolen my heart, swept me off of my feet and taken on an incredible role.
But I will get to that in a bit.
I am going to backtrack for a bit here so bear with me. I was not raised in a home where going to church on Sunday, or any day really, happened.
We didn't pray before meals (unless my grandparents were around) or go to VBS or anything like that. My parents did teach us here and there that there was a God. It was when my Aunt passed away that my mom really started talking about God. I saw a need for prayer at that point and didn't really know "how" to pray but did.
My mom started talking a little more about God and she asked me if I was saved or if I even knew what that meant. I didn't know. She explained and we prayed I would accept Jesus into my heart. Sometimes I really wonder if he knew truly how much work I would be.
That was at 16. I was not really in the best spot in my life, Dating a boy no one approves of. Cut from our schools softball team (this was huge for me as softball remains a big passion of mine). I just didn't care anymore.
This was when I met a new boyfriend. He pulled me out of that bad place. Down the road a little, he proposed to me and we got married when I was 19 (he was 22 and I am pretty sure my dad hated that)! I was 21 when I our first child was born and I decided to be a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM).
This was also when God really laid it on my heart to seek Him. I started to desire a relationship with Him. I wondered how to find a church to call home. I needed to be fulfilled and I really wanted my kids to grow up with a church home.
So I prayed.
Through social media, I stumbled across a local group called Praise and Coffee, which introduced me to Jaime. Which in turn led us to visiting church. Really my first time. Jaime led a small group at the end of Praise and Coffee and she invited me to bring my family to visit her church.
She also asked if I wanted to join their women's Bible study. I was terrified. I didn’t know anything about the Bible, Scripture, nothing. Then add on I didn't really know anyone at the church. I didn't want to look stupid or out of place.
But there was something inside me that gave me the courage to take my family there. To go. Now I can say that was the Holy Spirit leading me, but then I was clueless!
Things moved quickly for me as I soon discovered I had two good friends already attending that church who were also a part of the women's Bible study!
We started attending regularly. I started volunteering in nursery and joined the bible study. I was learning so much about our awesome God and about myself! I was making some great new friendships and deepening some old ones! I was trying to better myself and set a good example for my daughter.
Fast forward a couple years and I have a new bundle of joy. However, joy was not something that came easy for this newborn. We discovered through some testing that she had Acid Reflux alongside colic. Combine those two and sleep rarely happens, although puking frequently does!
I had my hands full to say the least. An almost 3-year getting ready for preschool and a fussy newborn.
Unfortunately at this time, things quickly started turning for the worst in my marriage. My husband and I had one of many arguments, which led to him staying out all night.
When he returned, he uttered to me four words that made my stomach drop:
"I want a divorce."
Surely some of you have thrown that awful word around. If you have, I urge you NEVER to do that again!
“Come on, let’s talk. You don't want that.”
He's firm and now angry. He repeats that is what he wants.
The smart aleck in me replied,
"What's her name?"
You don't just walk away from a marriage of six years and two children without any desire to TRY to fix things.
“There is no one else. I just don't love you anymore.”
Now, if you have never experienced anything like this, imagine a dagger straight through your heart. Yup, that is exactly what I felt at that moment. I lost it. I was sobbing uncontrollably by this point, which did not help the situation.
I packed the girls up and head for my parent’s house. On the way, I called his sister and begged her to call him and talk some sense into him.
The next few weeks are a blur to me, even to this day. I cried, I yelled, I prayed and nothing I did changed his mind. All I felt was sorrow. So hurt and worthless. He refused any kind of counseling and hardly talked to me at all.
I tried everything you could imagine.
Then, I started getting messages on Facebook about a girl from his work. Rumor was they had been having an affair. It was about three weeks into all this when he finally admitted to "seeing" another woman.
I’ve never been so angry, hurt and confused in my life. Why me? I had been doing everything to try and live this better Christian life. Build up a great foundation for my kids and family.
I started thinking if I was only skinnier, prettier, smarter. The list went on. How awful that's where our minds go in these situations. I should have been a better wife.
I was so angry at everyone, especially God. I started questioning this faith that I had built up the last three years. I am far from a perfect Christian, wife or mother but I was trying.
How could God allow this?
I knew I was strong, but what about my kids? What did this mean for our daughters? Why did they have to suffer?
I wasn't working. I didn't have any money of my own. Or a home. This was all going through my mind.
Instead of seeing what I had, I was focusing on what I was losing.
What I did have though, was my family, friends and my Savior. I didn't realize the last three years God was preparing me for this. He was preparing my sisters in Christ for this!
At this point, my parents took the girls and me into their home. Never did I imagine I would move back in with my parents at 25 with two kids. I am pretty sure they didn't either!
I am beyond thankful we had that option and that they took care of us. Things were far from easy. I was working a lot now and trying to figure out where I was supposed to go from here.
Everything was changing. Work. Where we lived. My oldest was starting preschool and now she had bad separation anxiety. We stopped attending church because she refused to leave my side but wouldn't sit through the service.
That and I just couldn't face going back.
I knew divorce was a sin. What were they all going to think? I felt like everyone was looking at me. Staring and judging me. *Disclaimer - my church family never did this to me. I was extremely insecure and making this up in my head.
The next few months consisted of a lot of ups and downs. Mostly downs. I really didn't know what to do with myself.
The girls started going to their dad’s every other weekend, which left me feeling alone. I cried. A LOT. I was depressed and not taking care of myself. I didn't eat right, if I even ate at all. I started smoking again (had quit four years prior). I started drinking and going out at night.
I surrounded myself with people who gave me this fake attention. A false sense of feeling important. Not everyone I spent time with did this, but I picked up some new people and surroundings that were not good for me.
While all this is going on, these woman who I had built these friendships with in Bible study, they never left my side. They never stopped praying for me. Along with them, I had a couple of lifelong friends and my parents. All of whom literally held me together.
They took me in, fed me and the girls, made sure we felt loved. They held my hand. Listened to me cry, yell and anything else that came out.
I did a lot of things I am not proud of now. The devil was definitely starting to win here. I didn't trust anyone. I wanted to hide. I hated myself, and believed that I wasn't good enough.
People would tell me things like:
"You don't know how strong you are until strong is the only option."
"If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it."
“Everything happens for a reason."
I remember yelling and saying to God,
“Stop trusting me with so much! I can't take anymore.”
A few friends suggested I start going on dates here and there and meet new people. I learned quickly I am not cut out for dating. I was a hot mess and didn't know how to handle the emotions I was still having from the separation. Let alone new feelings and emotions.
How was I to know if I just want this person around because I like the attention, or if I really feel something? I didn't like the idea of being alone, so needless to say I made a lot of mistakes.
But there was something awesome going on this entire time and I was clueless!
I didn't realize it for some time but there was someone who loved me (besides my amazing family and friends). This someone had been carrying me through this entire journey. I am worth it to him. I am beautiful and smart. I am good enough.
You know why?
Because this Someone created me and made me in His image. He forgives me no for even my biggest sins. He listens no matter how ridiculous I sound.
I think you have probably figured out who I am talking about by now. Our awesome God!
That whole time I was blaming, sinning and just not following him, He still loved me. He was still there for me. Carrying me through, calming me and forgiving me.
“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand, it is I who help you." Isaiah 41:13
My God never left my side. And those moments when I felt my weakest were when I would receive messages and cards from my sisters in Christ.
They were still praying for me.
Our God is so great He laid on their hearts exactly when I needed prayer and they listened, responded and I FELT IT! If you have never felt and experienced the power of prayer, words cannot describe it. The calm that comes over you is simply amazing.
I slowly, and I mean slowly, started to try to heal. I realized I had two beautiful girls who needed me. Which meant taking care of myself and rebuilding my life. Figuring out where I was supposed to go from here. I started being able to laugh again. To have fun again.
In baby steps.
Those who read this and saw me through all of this, I thank you for your love, compassion, prayers and mostly for your honesty. Sometimes it hurts, but you have to hear it.
Get up, brush it off and keep moving.
I thank you for always being there and you will never know how truly grateful I am. God placed all you in my life strategically. It's amazing to me how we don't see that at the time.
Now fast forward again to when I met Ben! It was amidst my being a hot mess. Somewhere in the middle of starting to care, but still not quite on the right path.
There is much more to our story of meeting and getting to know one another but that is a whole ‘nother book in itself!
After a few months of spending some time together, simply as friends, I shared with him my situation. He never once judged me or made me feel like I was bad for being divorced.
A few months later we were playing Guitar Hero in his basement (ha ha), when he takes the controller from me, looks at me and says,
"I have to tell you something."
Now, in my mind this is never good!
I'm slightly nervous at this point and say,
He looks right at me and says,
“I am falling for you.”
Now I am pretty sure my face showed pure panic. My reply,
This poor man's heart was probably shattered at that moment. He apologized for saying anything.
Crap! Did I really just say that out loud? No, no no, I plead with him. I assured him it is OK and I am glad he told me.
I just have this gigantic wall up and I don't know how to break it down. No one is supposed to be ABLE to break down that wall. I have to be strong and not have feelings anymore.
I quickly recovered from the terror and embarrassment about my response. I suggested we go on a real "date."
Gulp, what did I just do?
So we go out, to the place where we first met, and have a great time. Not that I would have expected anything less.
We moved very slowly, for my kids sake and for mine! It was quite some time before those even closest to us even knew we were dating. I knew regardless of how long I waited, I would encounter those who thought it was too soon or wasn't right.
But I was always honest with Ben. He knew what I had been through and somehow knew what to expect. He realized I was still a mess and he didn't care.
Fast forward to present day. Now here we are, getting ready to walk down the aisle. He has not only stolen my heart, but two little girls’ hearts as well.
Photo credit: Kari Stull Photography
He has taken on so much responsibility by being with me. He has taught me how to trust again. Love again. Truly shown me more love and passion than I ever knew existed.
He stepped up and provides for our family. He has chosen to be a father to two children. He has been so patient with me as I have learned to break down walls and trust again. I’m still a work in progress but have learned a lot about myself and others in the last three years.
Ben had a church home when I met him and I started slowly attending with him. We introduced the girls after a while and we all attend regularly now. I’ve served on the praise team for about a year and help out in other areas when I can.
Our new church has been amazing. I have never felt judged there either and everyone welcomed the girls and me with open arms.
I still have daily struggles and constant reminders of the past. Sometimes those reminders are needed to keep me focused.
It's easy to blame. It's easy to be angry.To feel hurt.
What is hard is forgiving. Healing. Trusting.
We each must chose. Do we want to spend our lives being angry or do we want to find happiness?
Looking back, I did learn a few lessons. May I share them with you?
The biggest lesson I learned was you can't be happy with anyone if you are not happy with yourself.
You define your own happiness.
God is good, all the time!
Everything does happen for a reason, even if we never understand all the reasons.
If I can inspire even one person by this blog post, it makes everything worth it. I want to thank Traci for giving me the opportunity to share my story. I was, and am still, nervous to put this down for the world to see. It is all a part of my journey!
I'm going to leave you with a verse that I clung to through all of this.
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13