Happy Wife, Happy Life

I stepped up onto the limo’s floor for a better view of everyone gathered to wish us farewell. Waving and blowing tearful kisses, I expressed my gratitude for their presence and love.

“Happy life!” Someone called as I ducked inside. André joined me, the heavy door closing behind him, leaving us cocooned in dark and quiet.

“Happy life.” I whispered the words as a prayer for each loved one on the other side of those tinted windows .We rolled out of the church parking lot in our ostentatious ride, feeling utterly overwhelmed with emotion.

“How’s my wife?” André asked, taking my hand…

The above words were spoken exactly six years ago today. They introduced the first serious conversation between my husband and me after we became “man and wife.” You can read the rest of the story in my memoir Same Dress, Different Day. What I want to focus on for the purpose of this piece is the question my husband asked me: “How’s my wife?”

To a woman whose primary love language is words of affirmation, these kinds of conversations have literally fed my soul for the past six years. For my husband to take the time to touch me and ask how I am on a daily basis over the course of our marriage has healed many wounds from a painful past, where I often felt invisible and ignored. Chemical dependency will do that to a relationship. So will any other addiction that damages the frontal lobe or turns a perfectly normal human being into a narcissist.

The need to be seen and truly heard is at the heart of every attention-seeking behavior known to mankind. We often blame those behaviors on the teenagers, and yes, teens are definitely good at seeking attention. But what about the rest of us? Do we ever laugh a little too loud at a joke we’ve heard before. Do we go ahead and buy that flashy ________ (whatever it is), even though we know our money could be better spent? What about those of us who fill Facebook with the facade of our perfect lives and measure our worth by how many “likes” we get on a post? Do we talk more than anyone else in our small group, dominating the discussion time? Or do we brag about our kids’ accomplishments to the point of nauseating those in our workplace? And how often do we just not LISTEN to other people because we’re too busy talk talk talking?

I‘ve been guilty of most of the above. Why? Because I just wanted to not be invisible. My love tank was empty. That emptiness got me into a lot of trouble over the course of my life. It started as a dad-shaped void when my family split when I was four. It deepened as rejection after rejection from boys and men widened the chasm that was my self-worth. I longed to be cherished. But before I could be cherished, I had to be noticed. And sometimes the way I got noticed lead to more rejection rather than adoration.

What about you? I’d dare say we all long to know that someone truly knows us. But, not only that: we long for someone to hear us, and to see our hearts and love us anyway. 

Yes, yes… All of us who grew up in church have heard over and over that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” We believe it in theory. We know God’s Word to be true. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).  “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1). Somehow, though, we go through life feeling unloved and unheard.

Know what I think? I think people rarely listen to one another anymore. I think we all buzz around looking for something to “post” or “tweet” or spout and we forget to look one another in the eyes and listen with our hearts. I think we need to be God with skin on to one another. Then maybe we will begin to believe that Jesus loves me, this I know and He hears me when I pray and He longs for me to be with Him throughout eternity, face to face and heart to heart.

Conversation is a two-way street. It involves speaking and actively listening. It means putting down our devices and turning off the media and going eye-to-eye with the person we care about. It means being willing to be vulnerable enough to spill our guts and share our secrets. And it means asking the right questions when our loved one is sharing their heart with us.

In my 12-Step recovery group, each week we take time to share our stories with one another. For some, this may be the only time someone takes the time to be still, look them in the face, and listen with their whole heart. The profound effect this active listening has on individuals is beautiful to observe. As the weeks, months and years go by, change happens. Rather than a tidal wave of information and emotion spewing from a person at an alarming rate, calm and thoughtful words are confidently woven together as someone shares their experience, strength and hope with the group. There is mutual respect and affirmation as each individual shares without interruption or the burden of another person’s opinion.

In closing, I just want to honor my husband and our six years of marriage with a prayer of gratitude to the God who does hear my prayers and has truly given me the desires of my heart. I have spend the past six years feeling “loved, honored, and cherished.” And to whomever it was who shouted, “Happy life!” on our wedding day ~ Thank you. It truly is!

Loving heavenly Father, I know You hear us when we pray. I know You care for every desire of our hearts. And I know You love us just as much as You love Your son, Jesus. Your Word promises all of these things.

But, God… Some of us are broken. We come from painful backgrounds. We don’t feel heard. We don’t feel loved. We don’t feel cherished. Please help us to believe that no matter how we FEEL, we ARE.

Thank You for giving me a husband who is willing to engage in meaningful conversation and active listening. Thank You for redeeming my broken heart.

Please help me to model Your unconditional love to others by actively listening to them when they speak. Forgive me for being impatient with attention-seeking behaviors. Help me to survive the next nine days with my little students and to model Your love for them.

Bless my readers, Lord. Especially help those who are single, or who feel alone in their marriages. Help them to find safe, healing places where they can share their stories and receive the honor of being heard and understood by human ears and hearts so they can KNOW that every word they speak and every thought they think finds its way to Your ears and heart.

Amen

*Huge thanks to SKA Media Productions for all header and wedding images.

Love & Self-Protection & Goodbye

Today a boy turned down a hug (and a kiss, “Ughhhh!”) from this wanna-be momma whose nest has been empty forever. He wants to be cool in front of his friends. Keep his facade. Feel no emotion. Tries hard to avoid the inevitable final goodbye.

Yesterday, Honey hugged our boys goodbye in the van as we left for Atlanta. He couldn’t come. He had to work. I captured the moment with my phone.

A small herd of Ukranian orphans marches toward the security gate after two hours of agonizing waiting with host families whose hearts are heavy with the unexpected feeling that one of our own is walking away and there is nothing we can do about it. The boy brushes past me, heading for the front of the pack. “Goodbye,” he whispers casually in passing, as if we’d just met. As if our hearts are in no way entangled.

Walking away

“I’m not letting you off that easy.” I toss the words to the back of his head as he blends into a group of teenage boys wearing pristine Christmas-Nikes and warm winter coats; coats that will wrap down-filled arms around them on freezing Ukraine mornings when no moms or dads are there to hug them off to school. He does not respond.

I wait at the back of the group, my other boy at my elbow where he’s hovered for most of the day. He’s quiet. More so than usual. This morning at our hotel he sneaked up behind me, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist as I scraped stuff off the nightstand into my overnight bag. He wanted my phone, to message his girlfriend on VK. Perhaps he also wanted to hug me when no one else was looking.

We had our moment, my boys and I. I know it was God’s gift to me this morning as I sat propped against pillows in a king-size bed with my Bible and journal open. The boy who now wants nothing to do with me came in first. Flopping face down in front of my crisscrossed legs, he unashamedly demanded, “Scratch my back.” I could not refuse. Soon the other one entered the room wearing a “What are you doing?” expression. He flopped down, also. Not too close. No bare skin. Face turned away. I reached for his arm. Tugged him closer. Scratched his bony back through a thin, grey shirt.

“Keep them in Your palm, Lord God,” I prayed as morning sunlight filtered through the drapes, warming the backs of their heads. I placed my hands there, in the sun’s warmth, ruffling the coarse waves of the dark-haired one and smoothing the fine, straight strands of the other. “You promise, right here in your Word. Isaiah 43 verses 1 and 2, that they are YOURS. That You have redeemed them. That You call them by name. That you will be with them through the ‘waters’ and through the ‘fire.’ God, I do not know exactly what ‘water’ and ‘fire’ is ahead for these guys. I am afraid of the unknown. I know nothing of the life they live when they are not living life with Honey and me. They grew up too much between our summer hosting and December. Experienced too much. Hurt too much. I don’t want them to go back to that unknown. I want them to stay right here. It’s hard to let them go.”

I know about letting go. I’ve done it before. I’ve loved and lost a child I thought was mine. Watched her grow up from afar. Wished I could hold her and love her and be in her world. I know this path of choosing to release them to Jesus. I believe He honors His promises to praying mothers, and surrogate mothers, godmothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers and grandmothers. When we pray God’s Word back to Him, claiming those promises for our kiddos, those words are not empty or useless. Our prayers for our loved ones are never unheard or unattended to. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “So will My word be which goes out of My mouth; It will not return to Me void (useless, without result), Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

I held that promise in my heart as I held my boys for the last time in I-don’t-know-how-long.

Thank you, God, for this moment,” I prayed as love flowed from my fingertips. “Help them to be able to receive and believe Your love for them. Help Honey and me to be able to show what that looks like when they come home for good. I’m holding You to Your promise in Isaiah 43:5 and 6. That You WILL bring them home for good.”

“Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—“ (NKJV)

“Let’s pray,” I said, bringing an end to our moment as time became our enemy. They offered their hands. To me. To one another. We formed our usual circle of prayer. They prayed in Ukrainian. I prayed in English. God understood every word.

~~~~~~~~~

 At the airport, the chaperone is speaking. “You have two minutes to say your final goodbyes before we go,” she announces in both languages. Families embrace their hosted kiddos; some for the final time, some “until next time.” Tears are shed. Promises made.

I rush to the front of the group to touch the arm of the boy who walked away without a hug. I turn him toward me as love wells up, spilling onto my cheeks. That same sweet boy who demanded affection only hours earlier becomes rigid with resistance as I reach for him. It is awkward. Embarrassing. Painful.

Returning to the back of the line, I find the other one with his game face on. “Goodbye,” he says, eyes pleading for me not to make a scene. We halfway hug. “I love you,” I state, (even though he already knows). He nods, then melts into a sea of boys with backpacks.Airport SecurityI stand with the other families who wave and smile through their tears. Two young girls jump up and down from the other side of the barrier. They are waving, smiling ­­- encouraging their “mom” not to cry. I do not wave. My boys do not turn around. I stay here until the backs of their familiar heads disappear through the checkpoint. Another host mom stands next to me. She places her arms around me and gives me the hug I long for. Our tears flow. We are not ashamed. We understand the Father’s lavish love. Through Him we will show our orphaned kids how to give and receive unconditional love. There’s no shame in that.

 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NIV)

~~~~~~~~

Want to partner with us to bring our boys home forever?  Donate here

Are you or someone you know interested in forever changing a child’s life through summer or winter hosting? Check this out: Host Ukraine

In This Family We…

“In this family we talk about things that bother us. We resolve conflicts from the day before we go to bed.”

I speak into my phone as the Google Translate App turns my words into Russian and spits them back at me in an Eastern European accent.

“Does anyone in this family need to apologize to anyone?”

“Yes. I’m sorry for bed. And for kitchen,” says the boy whose bottom bunk looks like two warthogs wrestled there before breakfast; the same boy who ignored his kitchen duties, choosing instead to watch TV.

“Thank you. I forgive you. Will you please make better choices tomorrow?”

My eyes scan the faces around our dinner table as my thick-accented Google twin barks from inside my iPhone. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“André, I’m sorry bike,” offers the boy who stormed out of the house, disappearing on his bike for twenty minutes after Honey declined the boy’s umpteenth request for a device on which to access VK (Facebook’s European equivalent).

“I forgive you. I apologize for speaking abruptly to you,” says my Honey to the boy whose head is now resting on the dining room table.

“It’s okay,” the fifteen-year-old speaks softly without looking up.

I wait. Silence.

Where’s my apology? I’m sure I deserve one for the attitude I dealt with when I insisted the rap music disappear from the radio. And for the refusal to acknowledge my presence when I knocked on the closed bedroom door. And for the cold shoulder I keep getting from the teen with his head down.

“What, Lord, can I say to clear the air between us? My heart beats heavy with the weight of the unnamed wall separating that boy and me. Please help me.”

I cry out to God as I silently stare at my bedroom ceiling, wondering why the boy avoided my usual bedtime hug for the second night in a row. I never “parented” teens before two Ukranian orphans showed up in our lives just seven weeks ago. As a friend said, “You had no onramp. You just hit the highway at 70 miles per hour.”

I recall the baby steps Bike Boy has taken toward trust as he’s allowed his guarded heart to open in my direction. A recent RipStik (think skateboard minus two wheels) accident forced us into the Emergency Room, both of us white with nausea as he clung to me while the doctor sutured his elbow.

The following day, during a car ride through the Tennessee mountains, he lay his head on my shoulder in a rare gesture of affection.

Even Monday, when we waited in Urgent Care to have his stitches removed, and I asked, “Do you want me to sit beside you?” he responded with an affirmative nod and allowed me to perch next to him on the paper covered exam bed. I put my arm around him as he winced while the physician’s assistant “softened up the scab” so she could “find the stitches.”Stitches B&W

I think about his aloof behavior today, the way he wore his sunglasses, even indoors, in order to avoid eye contact. How he flopped onto the sofa before evening worship with body language that needed no Google App to convey the message he was sending.

I’m stumped, Lord. I don’t know why he’s behaving this way and I cannot make him talk. Is it guilt that drives this boy-turned-armored-car? Shame? Fear? You know I tried to be as kind as possible when I had to confront him about that poor choice he made. I told him about grace and forgiveness. I demonstrated unconditional love toward him, even as You taught me that Your work in me is still unfinished.”

I remember my own relapse into codependent denial as the product of Bike Boy’s deception accidentally dropped onto the living room floor for a millisecond before he scooped it into the pile of stuff he carried from our vacation-laden minivan.

That can’t be what I think it is. Well-worn denial pathways in my brain instantly re-opened as I searched for a reason to explain away the evidence of deceit. Our eyes met for a moment as he fluidly gathered the contraband and disappeared into his bedroom.

My broken brain automatically dismissed the facts my eyes had witnessed – just like it had over the course of my twelve previously married years to a chemically dependent spouse. I defaulted into denial and continued to unpack as if nothing out of the ordinary happened. I allowed the child to believe he had gotten away with his sin.

“God, I thought You had healed me of those wounds,” I prayed from my pillow the following morning when He woke me early to “discuss” the incident. “Why would I ignore an elephant in the room? Again! After all we’ve been through together? Haven’t I achieved enough healing in my recovery to confront that deception in the moment? What damage have I done in pretending I didn’t see what we both know I saw? I don’t understand!”

That brief interaction threw me emotionally backward into a life I thought I was healed from. A life of covering for a chemically dependent narcissist who could convince me that my own senses were wrong and he was telling the truth about everything from where he’d been all weekend to what happened to his paycheck. A life I spent three years writing about in my recently published book Same Dress, Different Day. A life I no longer want to control me.

“Help me, God. I cannot allow this child to be a victim of my past. I must speak the truth to him in love. I will confront him about what I saw.”

With a tremble in my voice, I speak into my phone. “I need to talk with you about something important. And I need for you to be perfectly honestly with me. Okay?”

I watch his eyes as my Russian counterpart repeats my plea. They meet mine for a second. “Okay,” he responds in English.

“Please tell me about…”

This time, as Google Translate replays my words, I can almost see the veil fall over his face. It hides his eyes. Guards his expression. Builds a fortress between us.

I persevere. “Don’t be afraid. We all make poor choices sometimes. But we all must also face the consequences of those choices. Let’s just talk about it so we can make it right and put it behind us.”

Silence.

It took the help of another, more human translator to get to the bottom of the issue. But we did it. And I stood on the sidelines witnessing genuine remorse and relief as the wrong was made right again.

Somehow, though, I continue to be walled out. The food I offer is refused. The affection denied. The interaction limited. It’s hard not to take it personally. It hurts.

I’m reminded of my Heavenly Father. Of how I respond to His unconditional love with similar disdain. Of how guilt destroys our intimacy and how my own brokenness prevents me from allowing full access to His heart. This one experience with a broken child reveals to me a glimpse of My Father’s love. Despite my sin, He loves. Despite my rejection, he loves. Despite my fear, he loves. Despite my relapse into self-protective behaviors, HE LOVES.

“God, help me to love like You today. Help me to trust that You work ALL things together for the good of those who Love you and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to trust that You will break the ice with this child and restore our relationship before he gets on that airplane back to Ukraine. Amen.”

If you are interested in orphan hosting, please consider Project 143.

If you have hosted, fostered, or adopted a child you may be interested in the following links on Reactive Attachment Disorder:

http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/08/21/the-truth-about-adoption-one-year-later

http://www.reactiveattachment-disorder.com/2009/07/parenting-children-with-reactive.html?m=1

http://www.theadoptioncounselor.com/pdf/Attachment%20pamphlet.pdf

Choosing Trust

I’d like to welcome my friend Bridget back to the author’s chair. It’s been a while. As you will see in her piece, she’s been slogging through some valleys since her last post. God is walking alongside her in her pain. Her writing comes from a raw place. Her trust is shaky. She is vulnerable as she shares her heart with us here.

I don’t mind vulnerable. This blog is not for perfect people to tell others how to get it right. This little community is for struggling people to share their “experience, strength and hope,” as Alcoholics Anonymous so perfectly puts it. If you connect with Bridget’s pain, please give her some feedback in the comments section. Perhaps you can be the one to share hope with her as she chooses trust over doubt and faith over fear.

Choosing Trust

 “Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation]

under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you,

 Casting the whole of your care

[all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all]

on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.”

1 Peter 5:6-7 (AMP)

Church Pane edit

No more, Lord.

Tired, no – exhausted and emotionally drained, I throw myself onto my bed. Tears stream down my face as I beg for the day to end.

I awake the next morning, my eyes heavy, my body exhausted, my mind scrambling­­—trying to distinguish dream from reality. I start searching around, only to discover that my fear is reality. My friend, my buddy, is really gone. My losses are all true. This one is just the most recent, a fresh wound.

As tears well up in my eyes, my heart begins to ache. I can’t breathe. My eyes search the room in the hope of finding him. Instead, my gaze is captured by a picture on the wall—a picture of Jesus carrying a black sheep on His shoulders. I cry out to the Lord, “No more Lord, no more! Am I the black sheep of your family, Lord?

Blinded by pain, I can’t see God. The heartbreak of the past few months is suffocating me. I feel my physical strength declining, and I’m not sure how I can endure the emotional and mental anguish any longer. I feel lost. Abandoned.

The famous phrase, “The Lord will not give us more than we can bear” rings loud in my ears. For many years I’ve believed this saying to be true, but as I write this today, I’m not so sure I believe the truth. It’s obvious to me, because of the pain He has allowed to pass through in my life, that God sees me as stronger than I see myself. My heart is so heavy from the weight of my burdens. My struggles crush me. I can feel God’s Spirit slipping away…

Where is God? Does He see me? Does He know my pain?

Matthew 11:28 (MSG) comes to mind; “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”

Rest? That sounds wonderful. I’d love to have rest. I would love to have peace of mind. I want this rest, but it seems out of reach. I desire it. I long for it. I seek after it, but every time I get close I am faced with another trial. Rest disappears—like a figment of my imagination. Once again, hope is lost and oceans of pain come flooding back in. Despair becomes my reality.

In the mist of the chaos of my mind, I hear a still small voice saying, “Come to me. Just come. I’m here.” It dawns on me that I desire rest, but I do not desire surrender. Then truth hits me. “Rest” is given when surrender is received. God will give me rest when I come to Him and surrender myself, my burdens, and my pain.

I have to Trust God’s promises—even when there’s no evidence or proof of truth in them. It’s not God who walked away, it was me who turned from Him. It was not God’s Spirit slipping away, it was me turning away from His Spirit. I now know that God does give us more than we can handle so that we will give Him the handle to steer our lives! He allows for burdens to be placed on our shoulders temporarily, hoping that we will turn around and give them to Him to carry. It is through our unwillingness to surrender, to “come” and release our struggles to Him, that we continue to carry our burdens and suffer underneath the weight of them. By not surrendering, we prevent ourselves from experiencing the rest He promised us.

So… Am I ready to turn my burdens over to God in full surrender? Truthfully, I am not sure. I am crippled by fear and pain, but what I do know is that He’s waiting for me (and you) to cast my (our) cares upon Him, for God cares for me. He cares for you, too. Will you let Him?

Bridget b&w

 

Bridget writes from Orange Park, Florida where she serves her community as an educator, her church as an elder, and her family as wife, mother, and “grammy.”

Taking Step 4 – Fear or Faith?

Yellow orange light crept across the sky just as I finished typing. From my seat in our loft, I saw the sun rising red through the round window overlooking our scrubby three acres. I had been up all night, pouring my heart into letters that made words and paragraphs and pages of explanations and apologies and pleas for mercy. In a desperate attempt to appeal to the head director of the adoption placement agency, I had written our entire story, including the part about how we loved this child as if she were our own flesh and blood, promising that we would never do anything to intentionally cause her pain.

Our meeting with the director was scheduled for nine o’clock that morning. Please Lord God, I prayed as the printer spit out page after page, Please let him have compassion on us.

That’s how Chapter Eight begins – with me in a position of begging: begging God for mercy after I had compromised the truth by turning a blind eye to dishonesty. Begging the director for a second chance. Begging my spouse to stay present through the pain, rather than turning to the numbing comfort of his addiction. The begging did no good. I was broken.

Recently I read the story of King David, after he was approached by the prophet Nathan and forced to face his sin concerning beautiful Bathsheba (See 2 Samuel 12). It’s a heart-wrenching tale of a man who allowed his own desires to supercede his good sense, his calling, and his conscience. He got rebuked by the prophet and suffered some painful consequences, one being the death of his firstborn with Bathsheba. In verses 16-18, we find King David in the posture of pleading. He refused to eat for seven days, choosing instead to lie on the ground and allow himself to weep.

I understand his anguish. His guilt. His shame. King David’s moral failure resulted in devastating loss. So did mine.

The first time I walked through the dreaded Fourth Step in a recovery group, I was struck by the words “searching” and “fearless.” If you are unfamiliar with Step 4, it says, “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”Step 4 Meme

I was terrified. I was also determined that there would be no skeletons in my closet and that I would ask the Holy Spirit to reveal anything I needed to add to my list. Although I had long ago repented of the sin of being dishonest on our adoption paperwork by neglecting to admit my knowledge of my spouse’s chemical dependency history, I had not allowed God to search the recesses of my heart for the motive behind my dishonesty.

During the process of making my fearless and searching moral inventory, I asked God to reveal the motives of my heart that had led to past moral failures. When He did, I was surprised to learn that FEAR was at the root of my failure to report the truth on our paperwork. That dishonesty was a fruit that could be traced down to a root of fear in my life and a distrust of God’s ability to handle a situation without me manipulating it.

When the Holy Spirit revealed that truth to me, I realized that FEAR also operated in other areas of my life, manifesting itself in unhealthy ways. Working Step 4 allowed me to take a deeper look at what seemed like a one-time incident. It allowed me to see patterns of thinking and behaving that could be traced back to FEAR. It allowed me to come face to face with myself and face to face with my faith.

Can FEAR and FAITH operate simultaneously in our lives?

We are each invited to do a thorough self-examination. Lamentations 3:40 (NKJV) says, “Let us search out and examine our ways.” But, it doesn’t stop there. After we examine our ways, God invites us to turn our backs on the past and turn back to Him. Here’s verse 41: “And turn back to the Lord; Let us lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven.”

David is a good example of someone who does this well. After being confronted by the prophet, here’s what happens next: “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die’” (2 Samuel 12:13). Isn’t God gracious? After all that David had done to lust, commit adultery, impregnate another man’s wife, and have him murdered! Still, The Lord “put away his sin!”

After David pled with God for days, begging in vain to be that sinfully-conceived child’s father, he accepted his harsh reality. The baby would not live. Did not live. When he realized this truth, the Bible says, “David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20).

That’s a hard pill to swallow. But he took it like a man who trusted the heart of his heavenly Father. I cannot say that I completely understand this passage, nor can I fathom the reasons that an innocent child could not live. Even so, I choose to trust the heart of The Father.

I choose to trust Him now, and I chose the same, all those years ago when I was not allowed to raise the child I loved more than anything. Did I always choose worship as the avenue for healing? No. But sometimes I did. And when I did, those were the moments that gave me the courage to take one more step out of the valley of the shadow of death – the death of my dreams, the death of my marriage, the death of my life as I knew it.

Whatever your circumstance, whatever giants you face today, will you choose to fight your FEAR with FAITH? As you make your own “fearless and searching moral inventory,” will you simply ask God to show you the root of your sin and trust Him to love you anyway and restore you to wholeness? Will you choose to trust your Father’s heart with your Step 4?

P.S. If this post ministers to you, please FOLLOW & SHARE. I’d love to grow our readership! Thank you!

Sweet Faith & Grapefruit

I’m so excited about the guest blog posts I’ll be sharing for the next few weeks as I complete my manuscript! This one is from my friend, Melissa Merritt. I’ve had the privilege of photographing her sweet miracle for the first year of life, anGrapefruitd have been so BLESSED to witness Melissa’s faith in action. After reading this, I know I will never eat a grapefruit without thinking of FAITH, maybe you won’t either. (Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your heart with us.) Enjoy! Juliet

 

It’s one of those “Christian” words that we throw around quite a bit. I was raised in the church, so the terms “Praise God,” “Hallelujah,” “Grace,” “Faith,” they just roll off my tongue naturally. And there is a familiar rhythm to hearing them used by others. One would assume, that a 25 year-old raised in the church would have a strong understanding of all of these terms, that she would be able to define in English, Hebrew, and Greek, a concept as fundamental as Faith.

In the spirit of recent posts on vulnerability, I am going to share a little of my journey with you. It is truly a humble journey. The truth is, my whole life, faith was something I dwelt on, but was too scared to truly reflect upon.

Here’s a little background on my “walk” with faith: When I a kid, there were adults in my home church who spoke about “faith” quite strongly, they prayed with expectation of God handing them exactly what they wanted because, “they had faith.” This was intriguing to my 9-year-old mind, because my parents taught me that we are subject to the divine will of God and that we should request and submit to His will in our lives.  I was taught that our Father God was not a Santa Claus. I was taught that however disappointing, I should actually give thanks for unanswered prayers. I am grateful that my parents taught me this, because, around that time, one of my relatives died. I prayed for her. My parents had prayed for her. But under the theory of the people in the church – her death could have been prevented if we had a little more faith. “Have faith” became a phrase I always cringed at a little for most of my life, because I was afraid of the great disappointment that follows the, “All you need is Faith” bandwagon.

Another area of discomfort for me was reading a particular verse in Matthew 17:20, where Jesus tells the disciples, “for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move and nothing will be impossible for you.” Don’t get me wrong, it was encouraging to me that God only required me to have small faith. In 26 years of church every weekend, community service, and mission trips, I felt comfortable that I had earned my mustard seed of faith. But doesn’t it sound like Jesus is telling the disciples to have some faith (even a little) and then anything you ask for you shall receive?

Then there are the miracles Jesus performed on earth – the centurion at whose faith Jesus “marveled.” In Matthew 8: 5, a Centurion comes to Jesus, and tells him of his servant paralyzed at home and Jesus offers to come heal him but the centurion refuses saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soliders under me. And I say go he goes and come or do this and they do it.” This was truly remarkable because the centurion was a Roman, a secular, not Jewish – not awaiting a Savior. Yet, he understood the dominion of God better than even the 12 disciples did! Jesus said, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” and He healed the servant.

He told the bleeding woman “by your faith you are healed.”

I read these words in the Bible, and they troubled me… were those “expectant Christians” from my childhood right? Was I praying all wrong?

It wasn’t until a recent season of my life, that I truly spent time reflecting on faith. As it turns out, this growth, came during a season of pain and tribulation. Which, for many of us “Christians,” (you know, the ones who make good decisions and are free from many of the “consequences of sin” that “worldly” people engage in) these seasons are supposed to be nonexistent. We save our money so we can buy nice homes, and drive nice cars. We spend our early adult years praying for Godly spouses we can marry so we can raise happy, Godly families. We eat healthy food so we can live long, healthy lives, and look back on our faithful, happy life and thank God for the counsel of His word. If we are truly honest with ourselves, the only part of the Word that bothers us are the prophecies that the end is coming – the world is ending, and we might not be able to live out our dream lives! We might actually have to go to the real heaven. In my walk, I have found that I have, in essence, traded in the promise of our heavenly mansion for perfecting my earthly home!

I was 25 years old, when my season of tribulation came. At that time, I had been gratefully reaping the benefits of good decisions sown. I had a great career (because I listened to my parents and went to school). I had a healthy marriage (because we abided by God’s design for marriage). And, before long, God was blessing us with a baby. I had no fear that anything bad would happen, because I was healthy and happy. I didn’t eat “unclean meat,” I didn’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. Oh, and of course, I had faith.

So, I had my baby. She was a gift from God. But, things were far from perfect. The sunshine-y bubble surrounding my life up until that time had popped.

She was sick, she needed healing. This season in my life was not a short one, there were weeks of mostly bad news. As with most times of trouble, there are some blessings. For me, I was blessed to have so many people petitioning God on our behalves. And there truly is power in prayer. I could literally feel the love and support of those praying for us. I’m so grateful for every prayer and every person who lifted us up at that time, but in the trenches of it all, there were times I could not help but slide into this idea that my lack of faith was failing my daughter.

Right in the midst of the painful confusion about our little girl’s future, people with very good hearts and kind intentions encouraged us not to worry but to “have faith.” In the craziness, I just started grabbing for faith like some sort of good luck charm – I claimed faith – I prayed for faith. If I could eat faith, I would have, and I repeatedly asked my husband if this was all somehow my fault.

He wisely directed me to what is now what I consider one of the dearest passages in the Bible. John 9 begins with a story of Jesus passing by a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus responds (and this is my favorite part), “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

See! I was completely seeing my situation with worldly eyes: do good things to get good things. This is not how God works! In fact, the disciple James wrote the exact opposite, he said, falling into various trials should be all joy! In fact, the testing of our faith produces patience!

News flash: We are not in heaven!

 Bad things are going to happen to us, we are subject to the harsh conditions of this sin-full world. But, as God strengthens us through trials we grow in faith – and according to James, we can ask in faith, for wisdom!

After my baby came home from the hospital, every morning I would eat a grapefruit. I developed a ritual, I would slice the fruit in half, carve around the fruit, then force myself to swallow some of the bitter juice. I would then generously cover the whole face of the fruit with a heaping tablespoon full of sugar! I loved watching the sugar form a sweet syrupy substance right there on the face of the grapefruit! Grapefruits are gorgeous; they look like giant oranges with the added bonus of being pink! But, it never ceases to amaze me how sour they are! But… if you sprinkle that sugar on, it’s not only edible, it’s tasty!Grapefruit2

As I sat at the table one morning, reflecting on the storm that had rocked my whole world, I just stared at the grapefruit covered in sugar, and said to myself, “That’s faith!

It’s like sugar on grapefruit!”

 Sugar does not change the grapefruit to an apple – it just makes it more bearable!

It’s scary to imagine the bad things all the bad things that could happen to us. It’s scary not knowing the trials and tribulations that may test us – the seasons of grapefruits in life we will have to endure. But, if every Christian had perfect lives free from any problems, would we really need faith?

God doesn’t want us to live in fear of harm, He wants us to live by faith. What does that look like? Hebrews 11 gives us the definition of faith: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.”

For me, faith is realizing that we don’t understand and can’t see everything – it means accepting that there is a divine design, that God has ultimate authority over everything. If we truly had a mustard seed of this type of faith we wouldn’t really go around re-choreographing the geography of earth by relocating mountains, but we would be about His work – and not even a mountain could stand in our way. We would live like the Bible heroes listed in Hebrews 11 who endured trials and tribulations not with the promises of earthly prosperity, but with the promise of a homeland, a God, and a heavenly city.

So, let us not be fair-weather Christians. Let us not turn to the magic faith umbrella, the one you want to pull out at the first sign of trouble. Let us be men and women of faith who praise Him, even in the midst of hurricanes which threaten everything we hold dear. Because, our faith, our promise in things unseen, our promise of a true and perfect heaven, makes even the bitterest trials bearable.

*Grapefruit images: Ami Novak, http://twenty20.com/winter_can_wait

Melissa Merrit ImageMelissa Merritt was a litigator with a heart for being at home.  The Lord granted her the desires of her heart, and today, she shares her heart and her home with her husband (a mighty man of God), her miracle baby, and a Golden Retriever.  Relying fully on God, Melissa was able to earn a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Florida, the same weekend she married her best friend.  Holding her husband’s hand, morning cuddles with her baby, and coming home from a great trip to a clean house are a few of her favorite things!