Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year Baby

On January 1, 2015, my only biological son will be nine years old.
Nine years.
And I'm staring at the ever-nearing reality that most parents express: oh-so-constant Time has done it again.  It has passed, and we didn't even stop as many times as we meant to so that we could revel in the rare moments of our child's childhood.

I remember intimately every layer of my feelings for this being forming in my womb.  I remember staring at my belly after I had found out, thinking, How is it even possible?  A soul is in there?  Who am I to be entrusted to such importance?  And yet I felt it and I knew it like I had never known anything.  There was life in me, and God trusted me enough to let me be called mommy.

My pregnancy was one of much complication and confusion: I was unwed, and I was recovering from anorexia.  Every time I tried to justify not eating, I thought of this innocent spirit tucked warmly in my womb.  I couldn't abandon him or make him not trust me (and I actually knew it was a "him" before the ultrasound revealed the fact).  I could not kill the only thing that made me certain of my own willingness to live.

Nine years ago today, my family was leaving on a trip to South Dakota, and I agreed to stay at their house and help with chores and taking care of the many animals.  My son was due in one month - a day before my late grandfather's birthday.

The New Year's Eve festivities left me tired, and my back was aching from my stretching belly.  I wanted to go home, and so my son's father drove the 30 minutes back to my parents' house.  My back ached the whole night, and so I watched the digital clock change minutes for a few hours.

By the time sunlight caressed the walls and floors with gentle heat, my aching had a pattern.  Deep down I knew my son was going to arrive early, but nurses on the phone reassured me if I took a Tylenol and a bath, I would feel better from these common pains in the last month of pregnancy; I was not in labor, they said, but I could call back if I needed more advice.

I was folding laundry, and every three minutes, I had to lay down and squeeze a piece of warm laundry close to my body.  "Let's go in, just in case," I told my son's father.  And he drove me to the hospital 30 minutes away.

It was a whirl of quick pain, water breakage, and brief pushing once I got there.  I remember falling slightly asleep between pushes, and feeling the embarrassment of people looking at life appear from me while my son emerged.  I had not a drop of pain-killers in me.  No IV's, no chance for an epidural.  I expected more pain, but I suppose he was small because of his early arrival, and therefore I was spared some pain.

And when I saw him out of my body, his face looked exactly as I had imagined him.  I had seen this little person before; whether in heaven, or in my dreams, I did not know or care.  He was mine.

They put him on my chest and his father and I both wept with joy.  He is here.  He is real.  He is beautiful.

But he couldn't breathe well, and his cries starting to sound like tiny barks at the end, and so they took him away from me before I could give him a name.  They cleaned me up, but I was drowning in my own worries already.
All I wanted was my baby boy.  When can I see him?  What's wrong?  Where is he?

There was nothing I could do but wait.  They tried making me eat.  Where is my baby?  I don't want food, I want my baby!

The nurses assured me that a strong mama was what my boy needed, and so I nourished myself before being taken to the NICU. There, I saw my innocent boy all hooked up to machines so he could breathe.
But I felt like I couldn't breathe.

What did I do wrong to make this happen?  Why can't he breathe right?  How serious is this?  He doesn't even have a name yet.

After the gracious nurses explained the different tubes and machines, I was able to touch my baby boy and really look at him.  His father and I couldn't believe it -- the little, active being that created oceanic waves inside my belly was here!  He was so little, and as every parent thinks of their child, SO CUTE!  ;)

We had a few names in mind, but when we looked at him, we both agreed: He is Julien.  Because we stared into the faces of our own youth, the "youthful" meaning within that name was so accurate.  Handsome and young -- and now my heart had a home within this premature baby boy.

Soon, Julien was released from the tubes and machines, and I could begin motherhood.

And oh, sweet motherhood, it is God's highest calling.  To watch your heart walk around outside of yourself and become its own - greater in passion, more immense than the universe - it requires patience and courage and selfless devotion.

I decided to give every bit of strength that the Lord would give me in order to be a good mama for this little Julien.

To say it is my life calling is the truest thing I can imagine.

My dear Julien is nine(!!!) in a matter of minutes, and as I reflect on this, I am astounded.  I am overwhelmed.  I am so grateful.

Julien, I hope you read this someday and read between the lines that you are the love story woven into my life by Almighty God.  He chose you, sweet boy.  You are a warrior for Him, and I've known it ever since the day I found out you were going to come into the world.

Nine years have never seen more adventures and love than your nine years.  And I pray at least 99 more years of adventure and love for you.  I pray you win battles in the name of Jesus.  I pray that you see healing at the call of His Name.  I pray that you always know my love for you...but way more importantly, that you always know God's Love for you.  Let it be your lifesong.  Let it be your heart's joy.

I wouldn't choose anyone but you, Julien.  You are such a gift.  My nine year old boy.  My sweet blessing straight from heaven.  The first love I was ever certain about (through which God showed me His love).  There is no one else that holds the place in my life that you hold, precious son of mine.

Happy birthday, Julien!!!  I love you with the immensity of heaven, earth, and the universe.  I love you with the Love of God.  I love you with every ounce of my mama self.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Silent Things That Some Can('t) Hear

I curl into myself again, done with the facade.  Done with traversing the rough terrain of my emotions, emotions that other people think I can control, but sometimes I just can't.

I feel too deep.
I think too hard.
A curse (or blessing?) since birth.

And these are the things that have chased people away, have angered loved ones, have put them to their knees begging God to whisper an answer about my poor, ragged soul.  Because people who see me happy love that light, and they want to make it shine again.

What they don't understand is that the dark places they don't want to hear about, because of the overwhelming effect, are the places that light is made.  There are silent things whispered here, and some can't bear to listen because we are all made from different fabrics.  Flammable or inflammable.  Cotton or wool or blended.  Different fabrics have different needs for cleansing, and my fabric needs the deep.

Before God motioned for light to enter, "darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:2)

In these dark places that fold me into myself, God is hovering near.  He is always with me, silently waiting until I look up into His face, where the light shines onto me.  I become a reflection of Him.  But I have always been a stubborn one, finding what God created in the depths before coming up for air.

The best part is: since God created it all, He is with me there.  When He says, "Let there be light," it's not just to produce joy.  It shows me more clearly the things I have found in the deep.

Photo retrieved: johnnylipp.deviantart.com (chiaroscuro)

I'm not sure why I insist on taking things further than most people.  It frustrates others, puzzles them, makes them furious.  I understand the inconvenience of it because I live it.  But I am lured again and again to the place of brokenness, of desperation -- ridding myself of myself.  Because then my Lord intimately picks up the pieces of me, setting my bones, stitching my wounds.  I have to unravel my pain until the yarn is all stretched out for miles, both ends and the middle exposed.  When I am fully vulnerable, I allow Jesus into every piece of my past, present, and future.  We will never be perfect this side of heaven, and I feel no reason in pretending.  When I am weak, He is strong.

Some people are like this with pain, and we must be careful to validate it instead of minimize it, or worse, patronize the person.  For some people to heal from past and present wounds, they have to feel every bit of pain and healing.  We are blessed in this: we recognize that it is a process, and therefore we empathize with others more easily.

The pain isn't so much about us as it is about finding The Solution: Jesus.

If you are someone who feels on a deeper level, someone who dwells in the depths from time to time, I implore you to call on Jesus when it gets to be too much.  Allow Him to shine His light on you.  Allow the Father to show you grace in your pain.

It's okay to feel.  It's okay to be weak.  It's even okay to have a dark mood once in awhile.  Because the best contrast to that darkness is His light.

May there be light in your life, sweet friend.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hannah

True Beauty


Hannah: grace; favor (Hebrew).

The first time I met her, I was running late to meet with my friends.  As a single, working mama in college, I felt like I was always running late, and thus a burden to those kept waiting.  This night was all of that frenzy and worry, and then some.
I had been given an address by my good friend Nathan - Hannah's address.  I hadn't yet met this new lady in my friend's life, but I had heard enough to believe that she is perhaps heaven incarnate.  I nervously parked by this huge house (Hannah had an apartment within), and walked as briskly as possible toward my friends who were meeting me out front.
Always frantic, I was running toward them at this point, and a pin flew off my purse.  My cheeks burned with embarrassment - oh great, Cherie, you're such a mess.
"Wait!  This could be important, a first impression!" Hannah said with a smile, and she picked up my pin, a feminist pin that had an old-fashioned lady on the front and read Don't assume I cook!

"Oh, I like you already!" and she hugged me.

Hannah has love that unfolds itself from the bends of her arms.  When she embraces you, it feels like you're the only person she will ever hug.  And you wouldn't mind if that were true because when you're wrapped in that love, heaven kisses earth all around you.

Hannah is one reason I know that Jesus is real.

I have struggled with self-loathing, self-doubt, and performance-based acceptance my entire life.  During my college years, I rode many tidal waves, teetering too close to the edge most of the time.  I always cried out to my heavenly Father for some reprieve, some help, some way to believe in His grace.  It was a concept I knew in my head, but often could not accept in my soul.  I knew He forgave me and I knew He called me beautiful, but head knowledge does little for someone who relies so much on her fragile, heavy-beating heart.

So He sent Hannah.

Hannah's long, dark curls, cute dimples, laughing eyes, perfect and strong body, and natural ease of life would usually bring me to a place of envy.  But she invites you in.  She takes your hand and leads you in her dance of life, and all you know is that everything is more vibrant when Hannah is in your world.  That's why everyone loves Hannah: there is not even a trace of conceit, just an invitation to dance with her.  And what I've needed for most of most of my years is to realize that life is a dance, and not a competition.

On summer days, Hannah would invite us to swim with her.  She loves my son Julien like she loves everyone else - with every piece of her.  So she always made sure he would have all he needed when we visited.  Because of this, I could relax, too.  A rare occasion tucked in the middle of many busy days.
Many times, just sitting beside the water with Julien splashing in the background, we would talk about the secret things of life.  We would walk a few steps to the herb garden, and squeeze leaves of lemon basil between our fingers, wondering aloud of there is any better scent in the world than this!  And she would look at me and say something that bent the bars of my prison.
"Look at you!  You're so beautiful."
Could she be talking to me???  What does this perfect friend see in the mess of who I am?
I knew she wasn't just talking about physical beauty - neither of us is that vain or shallow.  She was talking about the beauty within me.  I couldn't even believe in that, but she did.  And when Hannah believes, you want to believe, too.  Don't miss out on her dance.

One winter, Julien and I spent a few nights at Hannah's.  I would read and savor the little sticky notes she posted everywhere, to know the names of objects in her ancestors' Ojibwe language. Around every corner of her apartment, one could find a reason to smile.
Sitting at her small kitchen table, we sipped coffee and I looked at her with awe because her spirit shined so brightly.  And she would say something about how I had such a good heart, or that I was such a hard worker, that she was so impressed with my life.  I would blush and look away and utter some sort of denial.  But I believed she meant it, and I would learn that God saw me this way, too - a treasure, not trash.
One day, she turned on the fireplace, made drinks and snacks for the three of us, and we cuddled up and watched old musicals.  The cold wind and snow outside had no bearing on us, for the life within that day warmed the whole town and painted it all the colors of summer.

Hannah and Nathan were always gracious about keeping their lonely friend from being lonely.  On weekends that Julien was with his dad, they would leave me a message about their plans to see if I would like to join them.  What great love!
On a winter hike one day, we approached a large, flat hilltop that was covered in snow, with red and white birches as a border.  The sun was shining just perfectly, sprinkling glitter across the entire surface of the field.  Unable to contain ourselves, we hopped and ran through the dazzling snow.  20 degrees was perfect, absolutely perfect.

Running in the snowy field

A song in my head: "I'll follow you 'round this playground, and burn your troubles in the sun..."  Hannah and Nathan's adoration for one another is something of magic, undoubtedly heaven-sent.  As they carefully and methodically plodded footprints in the snow, I watched them build a life together before my eyes.  Though the snow-traced floor plans for their house was merely play, I knew their forever plan would include each other, no matter where it was.  With my life full of uncertainty, this certainty filled my heart with a warm joy.  I smiled for them that whole day.  Because love rejoices.

"I would like a kitchen with a window over the sink that faces that way, so I can always have sunlight coming in," Hannah pointed and smiled.  I saw Nathan smile back, and I knew he would give her anything.  Because. Love. Rejoices.

Hannah's name means "grace" and "favor."  Her mama and daddy gave her a very prophetic name because that is exactly who Hannah is.  She gives grace and favor to others, and others see how she is favored and full of grace.  She is a vessel that carries the Spirit, spilling over onto thirsty people.

It's easy to feel like a friendship with Hannah is all the benefit to you, and nothing for her.  Not because she says so, but because you receive so much from being near her, and you wonder what she could possibly receive from you.  I feel so helpless about this that all I can do is pray.  I pray for her, her sweet family, Nathan...I pray that God would rain blessings on her and give her the fullness of His love, and that her joy would be never-ending.  A girl like her deserves everything because joy multiplies when she is near, because she lives life in full gusto and gives love from the abundant and eternal sources of God.

No matter the days between my now-infrequent visits with Hannah, I feel her heartbeat in synch with mine.  She taught me life when I had given up on it.  She is God's messenger.  She is my sister.  She is my forever friend.

I love you, Hannah Rose Bigjohn.  :)

How many ways can you love a person? Infinitely.

P.S.
This is the short version.  When I write a book, you all will really get to know Hannah.  <3  You will notice that many times I use the words "heart" and "love" and "joy."  I was going to go back and edit, to vary my word choice.  However, these things are the theme of my friendship with Hannah.  And I wouldn't change a thing about that.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Prayer Request: "Lower Still"

Photo from : videohive.net

I want to be a real writer.

I want creaky wood floors.

I want forests and fields wrapped around me like a many-patterned quilt.

I want to sip mornings slowly, consuming every hue of the sunrise like it will nourish my body forever.

I want to run on back roads, breathing all the clouds, swallowing all the sunshine.

I want to braid a little girl's hair and sweetly savor each weaving of strands, just as the blossoms are quenched by rain.

And it's funny that, through the battle I've fought with eating disorders, all I want to do is TASTE life.  I guess I'm sick of denying myself that, too.

I accept my lot and I often love it (especially anything with my husband and sons!). I try to do well at EVERYTHING I do, like the wise King Solomon advises in Ecclesiastes.

I don't want to be dissatisfied with anything God gave me.  But I find myself wanting to most effectively use the gifts He thoughtfully and creatively poured into me while I was being knit together in my mother's womb.

​However, in the Spirit-filled words of my Sister, Heidi Baker, I must go lower still, so that I may have truly surrendered to Christ all that I am.

Will you pray for me, that I may go lower still, that I may surrender all of my "wants" so that what comes out of my life are only what God wants?​  I pray this for you, as well, Friends.  Because God is good, and He knows what's best.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Authentic Living

We all want to live authentic lives.  We want to believe that the blood coursing through our veins is more than just blood.  Our stories are more than stories.  Our laughter is more than noise.  It is our soul cry to do more than just live and die.

Shared photos (upon photos and more photos) tell stories every day of people living.  We try to share the emotions of our moments with each other through photographs and words, status updates and tweets...because we want others to believe we're authentic, too.

In the tenacity of our living, we forget that it's not the pre-planned vacations or the moonlit hikes that make us authentic.  It's our love.

"If I speak in tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing."
~1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I have these friends that wake up in the newborn hours of the day.  We meet up so we can hear the rhythm of each other's feet against the lake path as we run.  We can feel each other's hearts pour out as we share our lives.   My friends bring much brightness to the now-getting-darker mornings. Each of these women possesses the talents and abilities to do anything they want.  But the most outstanding possession each has is a heart bursting with love and empathy.  These women are walking (er, running) proof of the power of love.

When I was new to this town, they embraced me.  I was welcomed into their laughter, to add my tone to the various pitches of their morning chatter.  Like a sister who had been here all their days, I fell headlong into their welcoming gestures.  I would not be the woman I am today without this.

You see, their great love brings more light than their talents alone.  Because they love deeply, my life is changed, and I know others' lives are, too.


Photo from: photography.2eyepickle.com


Regardless of talents, jobs, or spiritual gifts, it's the love that brings it all to life.  Otherwise, we're just noise.

I used to believe that once I had everything perfect, that maybe then my life and love would be worth something.  But the beauty of love is that it's something you can give in any phase of life.  When I focused on the world and my culture, I felt worthless.  When I began to look to Jesus, I saw him writing a love story in my life.  There isn't one thing that I've done successfully that didn't have love.  I have done some things well, but none of them mattered if my heart wasn't involved.

I do not want to be a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  I don't want to leave this world having gained nothing.  I want my Father in heaven to be proud, and to have access to my whole life with His love.

Think: what would motherhood be without love?  Nothing.  What would teaching be without compassion?  Miserable.  What would marriage be without the sacrifice (which comes from love, and nothing else)?  Empty.  What would friendship be without caring about one another?  Meaningless.

Who would you be without ever experiencing some kind of love?

Please be encouraged, sweet Reader, that it doesn't matter what you do...it's how you love.  You can show love in anything, even if it's folding laundry or grading papers or writing lesson plans (ha, maybe that's just me!).

They will know you by your love.  They will remember you for it.  It's how you can change the world.  One little word: LOVE.  That is how you know if your life is authentic.

What are you waiting for?  Get out there, and show them the best love you have.  You are the difference the world has been longing for.



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*Author's Note: I would not be able to finish this post without giving credit to my dear husband, who is love manifest in my life.  Ben, you are a picture of love...and not just romantic love, but the kind of love that makes this post even possible for me to write.  You are the sweetest person, and everyone who has ever talked to me about you adores you.  This is because of your love, the sincere and deep compassion with which you walk out your life.  I pray a blessing upon you right now, and each and every day, that Christ's light and His undying love would keep shining through you and into the lives of those around you.  They will continue to know you by your love.  Thank you for being an inspiration to me, the woman who is privileged enough to be your wife.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Baby Carrots

My mom hated baby carrots.

I would stay after school, running the hallways until my head felt numb and the walls looked fuzzy.  I would hold conversations with people, focusing on lips or eyes as they spoke, wishing they would keep their voices down because everything was just. so. loud.  I would do sit-ups and more and more, imagining the folds on my stomach disappearing, not realizing they already had.

vinnylanni.wordpress.com

I would ride the late bus home in the winter dark.  After dodging kitties and dogs in the driveway, I would walk into the house and get swallowed by the smells of dinner cooking in our country home.  I would walk blankly through so I could ignore my body's desire for the richness of feeling full.  When I felt an overwhelming weakness in mind and body, the sensation of fainting quickly upon me, I would grab a handful of baby carrots from the fridge and call it dinner.

"Cherie, you have to eat more than that."

My mom's helpless pleading.

"This is enough, Mom.  I'm good."

And I hated all the smells that reminded me of food in my belly, the nostalgia of growing up.  I hated the voices of love surrounding me, begging for my life.

But I was a pawn.  It would take all of my remaining young years to get out of the game.

Eating disorders may not have you, but maybe something else does.  Maybe you, like me, have known the gut feeling that what you are doing and saying is wrong.  You are trying to convince yourself, and you are pretty good at it.  Your gentle lies blossom into a flower - cunningly poisonous, dangerously deceiving.

We hold on to these things because we have pride.  We hold on to these things because Satan is the accuser, the king of lies...and yet he is a handsome prince.  We are attracted to sin, especially when we are not carefully shielding ourselves against it and wielding the power of the sword, which is the Word of God.

All the world told me that thin is beautiful, and success is measured only by how quickly and effectively we reach our goals.  A perfectionist from birth, I lusted after success.  I was seduced by worldly standards.  Were it not for my Savior and Lord, I would have become pregnant with death, birthing it into the world to further steal lives.

But the Lord is steadfast, and He is good.  He fed and nurtured me.  He nourished me back to health.  I am back to life!  He is risen so that I am victorious over all darkness.  He is risen that I may be His daughter forever.
abundantlifeuae.com
Sister in Christ, give over the fleshly sins of pride and lust.  Give yourself over to God that He may make you new.  He makes beautiful things out of the dust.  He makes all things new.  He will rejoice over you with singing...because you are His.  He wants to give you life.  He offers it to us every day.  Take His hand, just like I have to do every time the "beautiful" liar tells me I should go back to eating only baby carrots.

"The thief comes only to kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10

Please watch this four minute video.  It is wonderful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGlx11BxF24

Monday, September 15, 2014

Messy, Beautiful Love - Marriage Thoughts and Book Review

I don't blame the current generation for not wanting to get married.  Our culture has made it a most frightening venture -- with an over 50% fail rate, who would want to try?  Who would believe in the validity and sanctity of something that fails more times than succeeds, especially when there is so much at stake?  Especially when Christians are pushing for it so much, and then failing just as often as the secular population ... We are fallen, and we speak to others in only the way that ancient ruins do: marriage is something that was once great, but it was defeated by an enemy, or time, or both.

I don't blame this generation, but I do lament for them.  While seeking other grand adventures, they are rejecting the deepest, most exhilarating, most-worthy-to-write-about adventure that ever was and ever will be: marriage. 

This morning my husband e-mailed me this:
I woke up this morning with such great love for you.  I am so overjoyed that you are my wife.  I really do cherish you and want to be the husband that God desires for you.  You are HIS daughter and I am getting a sense right now of HOW MUCH HE LOVES YOU!!!

There is no mountain-top view, no surfing lesson, no sound of the Great Lakes that can compare with the ecstatic bliss I experience from an e-mail like that.  And don't get me wrong: I LOVE traveling the world, seeing sights, and listening to God's almighty power displayed in creation.  But the adventures of my heart are unquenched without this precious kind of love. 

Tomorrow, a book comes out that I had the pleasure to read beforehand in order to promote.  It is called Messy, Beautiful Love by Darlene Schacht.  This wonderful, vulnerable gift of a woman writes about her many adventures of marriage -- the good, the unexpected, the challenges, and the soul-searching. 

With this book, Darlene gives wives a weapon against the enemy who tries to destroy marriages.  She shares her life, and challenges wives to be wise and virtuous, to be an honorable spouse, and to pray every day.  She speaks truth and love into our woman hearts, and gives us practical tips for loving our husbands even on the most difficult of days.

I have seen too many people who are miserable in their marriages, and are unwilling to change their hearts or minds toward their spouse.  This is not what Jesus commanded of us.  He served us; He, the King of all days, served us -- even though we sinned, He died for us that we might respond to His mercy and love.  Marriage is a picture of that kind of love, displayed for all the world to see.  In her book, Darlene gives us blessed reminders about our high calling as wives.

An image that I love from that book is that a wife is a crown to her husband.  This is based off of Proverbs 12:4 - "A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband."  I want others to see my husband and call him blessed because he has a wife who seeks the Lord, honors her husband, and loves with her whole, uncompromised heart.  In the way that I serve God and my family, I am the crown.  I want to glisten in the light of the Son, letting everyone know that my husband has a virtuous wife...and not for my glory or for my husband's, but for God's glory.

Many married people are in the stage where they are irritated with their spouse, and just ready to give up.  They just want to make it through each day, willing only to put up with each other.  Affection is dwindling or lost, and instead of focusing on each other, they focus on work, their kids, their pets, and/or anything else but their spouse.  These marriages are buds that never open.  Sometimes we give up too soon.
Love is a Beautiful Thing



Darlene provides a challenge at the end of each chapter.  I believe that if each and every reader actually does these challenges with an open mind and vulnerable heart, they will see radical changes in their marriages.  The power of God mixed with a willing heart will change any circumstance.

Finally, I will say that it is a blessing from God to gain such wisdom from Darlene's book.  I am in the beginning of my marriage (almost two years!), and I am now equipped more than I ever thought possible.  I will be revisiting this book, especially as challenges arise.

Each day I am excited for this adventure of marriage -- with all of the messy, beautiful love.

Thank you, Darlene.

If you are a Christian wife, you should absolutely read this book.  It is real, it is engaging, it is practical, and it is heart-felt.  Don't wait.  Let God into your marriage right now.  You will be blessed.

Order here:
http://messybeautifullove.com/

**Updated** Enter to win a free copy!
To enter, comment below with one word or phrase that describes your ideal marriage (whether you're already married or not).  Thank you, dear Readers!



A Best Friend is a God Thing
I love this image!!  So true!









Monday, August 11, 2014

Steadfast Love

Ok, everyone.  Yesterday was a difficult day with body image and eating disorder temptations.  In fact, it was probably the most difficult day in over five years for me.

I had an incredibly challenging morning with anxiety and self-esteem.  Only one who battles such things knows the effort it takes to swing a sword against it all.  I told my husband the anxiety I felt made me want to die.  And not die because it would "end it all," but die because then my spirit could reach heaven.  I would never be forced to endure another thought about my inadequacies.  I would never have to feel STUCK in my body, wanting to get out of it.  I would be united with my Lord and Savior.

Fast forward to the evening.  My husband and I sat at a restaurant overlooking the sleepy Mississippi River.  We got into a slight argument over something.  The rational Cherie would have thought it's not a big deal, we love each other, it's FINE.  But having stood in battle against attacks at my self-esteem all day, I was weary and broken.  I sat in silence with my husband - he, not understanding (he is blessed with level-headedness) - and I was wishing I could weave together fallen logs and float down the Mississippi until I forgot who I was.

Our food came, and I was flooded with thoughts that I hadn't had in so long that I almost didn't recognize their evil.  "You don't deserve that food, Cherie.  Just don't eat it.  You will feel better if you deny this food.  You know that you don't deserve it.  You don't even earn enough money to eat at a restaurant.  You weren't very nice to Ben today.  You are unworthy of this meal.  Plus, you've gained some weight this summer.  Get a handle on yourself.  Don't.  Eat.  It.!"

My eyes blurred with tears as I looked out at the river.  "Take me away, Lord.  Take me. I'm done here.  I can't do this."  But the food stared at me, and I at it.  And I was given a new resolve: I will NOT give satan victory.  I have one Lord, and it is not satan and it is not eating disorders.  My Lord hung on a cross to free me from my shame.  He took it all so that I could stand blameless against the accuser.  I am not unworthy.  I am covered by grace.

And I ate that meal.



The Lord's steadfast love and intimate involvement with the details of my life came in shape of an e-mail today, a blog written by one of my favorites.  Please read this whole thing.  Even if you don't struggle with eating disorders, read it.

http://www.emilywierenga.com/

May you be richly blessed, knowing that the Creator of the universe sees your struggle and hears your prayers.  He is looking out for you -- look back.  See what He is doing to let you know that He is for you.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Scantily Clad

Photo from: understandingrelationships.com




"Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."
~1 Corinthians 8:13

"Jesus said to his disciples, 'Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves.'" ~Luke 17:1-3(a)


I feel his eyes on me as I thoughtfully scan the produce aisle, contemplating which fruits my four boys will most likely eat.  I glance up at him because I can feel that my body has become a feast, my face a pure afterthought to him.  His stare lingers just a daring second longer before he continues on his merry way.  I'm not sure if he has a wife or a girlfriend, and because I can imagine the pain involved for the girl involved in that relationship, I hope to Jesus that he is single, sparing pain for any of my Sisters.

Something of my subconscious becomes strikingly aware, and I chastise myself because a Daughter of God should not have the thought I just had: I was flattered and glad that this unknown man just looked at me with desire, weaving me into his fantasies.  A part of me was proud.  And that, my friends, is an ugly thing.

1 Corinthians 8:13 is a verse that I love because I'm a vegetarian.  Just kidding (sort of).  The verse actually refers to how certain things are a sin for some people, and we must not engage in things that tempt ourselves or our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  For example, I might be able to have a drink or two and stop there.  I'm not drunk and I'm not sinning.  However, if I ask a family member who struggles with drunkenness or alcoholism to meet me at a bar, I am causing him to stumble.

Jesus says woe to anyone that causes a Brother or Sister to stumble.  In fact, he goes so far as to say it would be better to tie a millstone around their neck and throw them into the sea!  Safe to assume that Jesus is serious about this, yes?

Sisters, I'm about to touch on something that is quite controversial, but it is something that I implore you to consider.  Guys, keep reading, because I want your input, too...

Is the way that I am dressing causing others to stumble?  

Yesterday, I watched a video about women who are victims of street assault.  There were heartbreaking horrors told in first person, and I'm sad that so many women are afraid to even walk down the block.  But one woman admitted that she purposely dresses provocatively, but she does not believe this means a man should be able to whistle at her as she walks by on the street.  I paused at that for a moment because I don't believe that anyone is "asking for it" when assaulted or raped, but I also think this woman just admitted that she was asking for attention.

This issue needs some untangling, and I'm going to try to briefly do my best.

In the age of feminism, we believe we should be able to say, do, and wear whatever we please.  I am not going to disagree with the fact that women should be treated fairly in society.  I'm a woman, and I love my freedom in my time and my culture.  My heart cries for women who are oppressed worldwide, and I pray that things like childhood marriage and "legal" rape (and re-rape) of women would end right now.

That's not what we are going through as American women, though.  Most of us are enjoying vast freedom that the women before us fought so hard to attain.  This includes what's acceptable to wear.  We are no longer forced to hide our ankles, arms, legs, or really anything!  Hallelujah, right?

But just like any freedom, I am realizing there is responsibility attached to it, especially because I serve Christ and I seek to glorify God and not myself.

I am a wife and a mother.  I have one son and three stepsons.  Being around boys so often has taught me this: males are extremely visual.  Whether or not this is "nature vs. nurture" or even if it's our fault (it isn't), I don't care.  That's irrelevant.  Arguing about it won't change the fact that boys and men are stimulated visually.  And whether or not we're okay with that, Christian girls and women have a biblical duty and responsibility to help our Brothers by not tempting them.  

Porn addiction is stealing our husbands, boyfriends, and even our sons away from healthy relationships, especially sexually.  Satan knows that our Brothers are tempted visually, and boy! has he figured out how to get them hooked!  On top of that, we have the current women's fashion of high-waisted, butt cheek showing shorts with a crop top.  So, if a guy is away from his computer, he's still able to feast upon young bodies that don't leave much to the imagination.

My heart aches for my boys.  I often pray that God is hand-picking their future spouses right now, preparing these girls' hearts for a Spirit-filled and healthy marriage.  I pray that my boys save their purity for marriage, and that any sexual experience will be first and only with the woman God has for them.  But I would be lying if I say that I don't worry.

I worry because I was once that girl who dressed to get attention from young men.  I didn't even give a second thought to their purity, whether or not they had a girlfriend or wife, or if I was tempting them to sin.  I have since asked for forgiveness for this, and yet I still struggle to remember to think about what I'm wearing when I walk out the door.

How would I feel if it was my husband looking at another woman with desire?  How would you feel if it was your husband, your boyfriend, or even your son?

We are first spirits, and then we are bodies.  Therefore, we are not objects.  We are created for God, and by tempting others, we are tainting our image.  Though I've often heard that men objectify women, I've never heard it said that women objectify themselves.  Do we take no responsibility?  I, for one, will admit that I have made myself an object so that some man might then be attracted to my spirit.  This was wrong.  We should hope for others to be attracted to my spirit first and foremost, for that is who I am.  Not my clothes, not my body; I am my spirit, given by God.

Sisters, I pray that before we leave the house scantily clad, that we would consider another's stumbling block.  This will not be easy.  I have a bikini that I swim in, I wear shorts that are not "school appropriate," and my favorite running shorts are spandex!  I tell you this because I am struggling to find the line of appropriateness, but I think we are dishonoring God if we do not consider this issue and prayerfully seek God's heart in it.

P.S.
Men, control yourselves.  You are by no means excused from your behavior!  If looking at someone or something causes you to sin, then the Bible says gauge your eyes out!  Ha!  But seriously...look away, and in doing so you will not only honor God, but also the woman whom you love.  Remember: we are not objects.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Mama's Father

"Daddy!  Daddy!  Come look!  Do you see me, Daddy?  Don't I look pretty?"



The silence said it all.  She wasn't good enough.  Or if she was, she would never know.  Her daddy didn't kneel down, smile, take her small hand and say, "Yes.  You are so pretty, the most beautiful."

So year after year, she tried performing to her best - her most vibrant liveliness, and when that didn't work, her most quiet politeness; her best grades; her tenderest heart; her most giving self; her perfect attendance at school (even after cleaning up her own vomit in the bathroom because of the stomach flu); her relentless affection for him, Daddy.  He never returned any of it, but if he had, it would have been her most tremendous treasure.  And it's a treasure she sought long after he died.

I will be blunt, but do not confuse this with disrespect.
I never loved my grandfather.  I knew that I should have, but I didn't.

The exact opposite of my always-loving, positive and warm grandmother, my mother's father was cold and distant.  I made peace with him before he died when I was 12, in a dream that I believe God wove together just for me...and a part of me hopes that my grandfather saw it, too.  Even though I don't love him, I want to love him because of how my mother and aunt and grandma loved him despite all that he withheld from them.

My mama has many times recounted stories of her father, and her heartbreak appeared right in front of me each time.  I held her crumbling heart in my hands, trying to find words to put it back together.

She talked about always wanting to please him, just seeking his LOVE...and I would later find out that he never gave her the love she deserved.  But with sincere adoration for her father, she still pictures herself a fractured young girl, waiting in dark living room silence for her daddy to drop his eyes to her and smile.

She wanted him to choose her.  But he didn't.  He was so persistent in not choosing her, that rejection outlined each of her mornings and each of her bedtimes, and it tightened around her like a noose.  But she. still. loves. him.

When I think about the word "daddy," the whole globe bubbles up with importance.  A daddy fortifies life; he reinforces the meaning of beauty in how he cherishes it in his daughter, he teaches his daughter to love herself because he loves her in every word he speaks, he creates safety and security in her very being.

I wish my mom and my tante (aunt) had this in an earthly father.  I wish I could go back in time and beg God to send a message to my grandfather about his high calling, a father to two eternally gorgeous and stunningly talented girls.

But what they have - what we all have - is greater.  Our heavenly Father loves us affectionately.  For many, this is difficult to receive because some of you have had fathers that were abusive, absent, or neglectful.  Thank God, I never endured that.  But many have.

Here's what we all need to know and remind ourselves:

Our Abba is Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5).
Every good and perfect gift is from Him (James 1:17).
He is the God of all comfort,Who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Corinth. 1).
He calls us altogether beautiful (Songs 4:7).

Finally, Jesus tells us that we have one true father, and He is in heaven.

As a little girl, I related with my mom, and pictured her as a little girl trying to make her daddy love her.
As a teenager, I got fiercely upset with my mom for still caring about her foolish dad, and for still longing for his obviously-absent affection.
As a woman, part of me wishes I could pick up my mom's little girl heart and mend it.
But with God's wisdom I know what Mama now knows -- she has a true Daddy Who has loved her with an everlasting Love since she was knit together in my grandmother's womb.


  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Only A Mama Knows

On the crisp white edges of an extremely rare mid-day nap, I fell out of Sleepy and Restful Dreamland and was made aware of a reality that frightens me: my son is growing up fast.

My suddenly-wakeful mind watched slow motion picture reels of eight years of mommy bliss and mommy prayers and mommy worries and mommy cuddles.  Who knows why this moment chose me, but it did, and I watched the pictures float up and by.

Eight years old.  My son is eight?  When did this happen?  How did I so quickly go from holding sweet coos close to my ear to encouraging flips off a diving board?  Because time passes ... and it passes quickly, not waiting for you to take notice; it is impartial to what you do with it.

Photo found: http://www.gannett-cdn.com/

There are some things that only a mama knows.

Only a mama knows the exact shape and feeling of her unborn child, warm and utterly safe in her womb.  Only she knows the comfort it brings her to hold such a high calling, and to nurture a sweet miracle, the miracle of all miracles.  Only a mama knows that feeling of looking at her just-born baby and knowing that Love has materialized.  And she knows that feeling twelve hours later of wishing her baby was back in the safe womb, where she knew he was okay, where the world couldn't hurt him.

Only a mama knows those early morning eyes that stare right out of the crib looking for you.  She can tell just how long they have been awake by her baby's movements and breathing.  Only a mama knows that late-night rocking, even if it's on her cheap twin mattress bed because there simply wasn't room in her tiny apartment for a rocking chair.  She knows the feeling of her hair being twined between baby's fingers as he watches you sing tired lullabies.  She burns slowly-blinking eyelashes into her memory - the sweet half-moon eyelids of a tired baby finally giving in to sleep.

A mama can feel each time she has folded him into her arms to hug, to read a book while stroking his hair, to soothe an ailment.  She knows the head against her chest, her child's body all bones and muscle and perfect flesh.  It's a replay button that she would push every day for the rest of her life, if only life granted that luxury.

Only a mama knows the unique fatigue that accompanies her child's toddlerhood, the twitching muscles that are afraid to sit still (heaven knows he will be running off on another adventure soon!), the heart that looks long at her child's face as it grows and changes ever-so-quickly.  She knows just how his hair looks when it's a bit long and flips up slightly over his ears.  She watches the sunlight glint in his eyes at the park, and gazes straight through to his heart - heart of her hearts.  Only a mama knows.

Only a mama knows knobby knees that run, twirl, play, fall, get up, bend down to inspect God's tiniest creatures.  A mama loves those knobby knees like she has never loved her own body.  She knows the soft, angelic skin because her fingertips have traced and retraced arms and cheeks, legs and toes.  She remembers what her child's hand has always felt like in hers ... even when holding hands meant a tiny grasp around her pointer finger.  Every time she crossed a parking lot, walked into daycare, strolled about on a sunny day, she grabbed that little hand.  And she still tries, even though he won't grab back anymore, and his hand is now almost the size of hers (much to her disbelief).

Only a mama knows the prayers she has prayed, asking God if He even knew what He was doing when he entrusted this beautiful little life to her.  She knows the moments of weakness, the deep sighs of her bones wanting to give up because she. can't. go. on.  And she knows how a good night's sleep takes away all of her fears and worries, and God calms her heart when she looks upon her child in the fresh morning minutes.

Only a mama knows that her child's pain is also her pain.  And in spite of this, she must teach him how to handle his own pain with dignity, respect for others, and with God's guidance.  Only a mama knows the tears that seem to carve her child's cheeks like a river; his tears are her tears, and his sadness, hers.  And only a mama knows that she must shake off this sadness to show him strength, to be an example.  A mama knows those lonely moments in bed when she finally lets her walls down to be weak before God (because when we are weak, we are strong...through Him).

Only a mama knows that grin her child gets just before revealing his latest trick or talent, the grin that tells her to put down whatever she is doing and watch.  Only a mama knows what it means to be cheerleader, coach, nourisher, confidant, disciplinarian, laundry lady, and blanket-tucker all in one.  She knows what it is to pray with him each night, kissing his cheek as she tiptoes out of his room.  She knows that her child still needs her help, even when he doesn't want to admit it, and she knows when to back off and let him fail in order to learn.  She knows because of the depths of her love, the love that God was teaching her while that little one was growing slowly in her womb.

Only a mama knows that watching her baby grow up means that she must also begin to let him go.  She knows the anguish of an empty hand while walking side-by-side with her baby, but she also knows the deep joy of watching him grow in health, wisdom, and Love.


I know this: God gifted me with motherhood.  He gave me all of these moments with my son.  It is Love at its highest and most difficult calling.  And I get to live it.  Though I cry and cry because so many sweet and tender moments have passed, I am looking forward to the new depths of Love that are sure to follow.

I love you, Julien.  


Monday, June 23, 2014

Thank You

"Dear Friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." -1 John 4:11

Summer marks the peak of energetic activities in my personal life.  With so many hours of sunlight, and the warm breezes beckoning me, I am outside as much as possible.  Thank God I am a teacher and can follow these whims!!!  I think I would go crazy otherwise!  (Disclaimer: I've heard it said that teachers do one year's work in 9-10 months, and I will back that notion with all of my being.  Teachers, can I get an amen?!)

My son Julien and I spend our slow morning moments pondering what we would like to do for the day.  Screens are forbidden from 10am-6pm or later, so sitting inside would be awfully and horribly BORING.  Of course, I ALWAYS include a run (my fave), during which Julien will (sometimes) bike alongside me.  But what else?  Hiking?  Swimming?  Gardening?  Kayaking?  Going for a walk?  Playing at the park?  BEACH?!  All of the above???  To many this might seem neurotic, but I am a proud consumer of life and its experiences.  I do not like sitting still, and so I spend my free summer days dreaming up adventures for my son and myself.  The majority of these adventures are entirely free, but add much richness to our spirits.

Yesterday, my husband and I went to church, ate lunch, went for a run, and then went kayaking on the big lake in Winona.  I tilted my had back and looked up at the big summer sky with gray western clouds.  I took a joyful breath, and let my heart rejoice.  I have been reflecting on my health these last few days -- but not just my physical health, my mental health, as well.  I used to NEVER be able to enjoy more than one activity without obsessing about food: how to be near it, but deny it; how to take a nibble and then discretely throw the rest away; how to tell when others were hungry or full (I had forgotten how eating "worked"); how to burn off any calories I had eaten; how to stop thinking about it... But NOW -- now I am experiencing Freedom.  Capital F because it could never be anything less than a proper noun!!  Freedom that the Lord handed to me when I sought Him, and no one else.




I have said this before, but I can't stress it enough.  God used people in my life to speak to me about my value in His eyes.  I would seek His word and His face, and He would calm my nerves and bring me Hope.  Oftentimes, this Hope was packaged in a person.  And always the perfect kind of person for my specific need at a specific time.  Low and behold, I would somehow be able to speak in a person's life simultaneously.  You see, the Lord knows everything.  He answers prayers in so many different ways, and I was just blessed that many a time, He chose to put people in my life.  These people added true, meaningful depth to my life.  I hope and pray that I might have done the same for them.

The first thing I want to say before I go on any further is THANK YOU to my parents who met me each morning with undying love and the belief that I would get better.  It wasn't always pretty, but if not for their watchful care, my problem might have never been identified.  My eating disorder would have become me.  God is THE Father, and through a parent's love (if it's exercised correctly, the way God made it), we can know a portion of His love.  I have been told by my parents that they often prayed for me, seeking God's counsel on how to care for their broken daughter.  Thank you, Dad, Mom, and Craig for bringing me to and paying for my treatments, and for being patient enough to let the Lord do His work, even when I had to learn the hard way.

The first day I had to go to treatment for anorexia, I was arm-crossedly defiant and spitting venom at my mom with words and eyes.  "This is stupid."  I walked into the office of my dietitian and found a slender woman with big, warm eyes.  She said she had to take my weight, and I winced at the thought.  We then sat down for our first session on what I would call "food training."  As a girl with anorexia, I had forgotten how to properly eat, and so I must be taught about proper nutrition.
Each time I walked into that office, I felt loved and accepted.  Everywhere else I went, I felt isolated, mocked, and questioned.  But that woman with the warm eyes was my ally.  She did not see the sick person in me, she saw the beautiful woman emerging -- the one that was strong and would crush the eating disorder.  She knew she must love me unconditionally and teach me about my weapons for battle, which would be facts about all the good things about food, and the value of eating whole, real foods.  To say that God used her to change my life is an understatement.  God used her to save my life.

I could tell so many stories about people who taught me true beauty and value and worth and fun and who-cares-about-calories and music and art and love and earth and heaven and God and self-care and belly laughter and warm hugs and bird listening and tree posing and secret places and starry nights and young motherhood and see-through water and JUST RELAX and steep hillsides and letting go and hardwood floor dancing and pool splashing and smiling til my face hurts and real life.  I was a hungry (pun intended) scholar in the world once I realized the prison which was Eating Disorders.  My friends and family taught me all of these things and more.  And God directed it all.  I know this because when I look back, I see His design.  His love is at work in our lives.

To anyone who I've called family or friend in the past 10 years, I thank you for all that you taught me.  I needed an awakening.  I needed true love.  And you may not have even realized that you were providing it, but you were.  You were an instrument to my healing, and you continue to be.  I have thanked God so many times for sending all of you my way.  I encourage each of you to treat others with God's love, to see each person's beauty through their struggles, and to let God's hope shine through you.  This is what you did for me.

We've heard the story of the "good Samaritan" many times.  But today I looked at it differently when I was thinking about each of you.  I was the person who had been beaten up by "robbers."  Satan had stolen much from me, and left me bruised and bloody on the roadside of life.  Some people passed me by, sneering and mocking (though it wasn't their fault; they didn't understand!).  But YOU, dear friends - you stopped and tended to my wounds and cleaned me up and cared for me.  This is how God commanded us.

Luke 10:25-37
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c]and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”




Friday, May 9, 2014

Pondering Adventure

The Tenth Commandment is a difficult one for me lately.  "Thou shalt not covet."  We are commanded not to covet anything belonging to our neighbor.  Does this include their experiences?  Their adventures?  Of course it does!  Gulp.

Every time I log onto Facebook or Instagram, my really cool, wanderlust (like me), totally adventurous friends have posted breathtaking photos that I simply can't help but drool over or daydream about, photos which make me get lost in my own desire for similar experiences.  Wide-eyed and wild since childhood, I firmly believe in the notion that we should make each and every second count.  When I am forced to sit still, I often daydream about a place in the world I want to see, a hand I want to hold while praying, a story that I will tell when I return ...

But when my head returns from the fancy forms of clouds, I realize that I am a mom, a wife, a woman with a career, and therefore, a person who cannot live by the whimsical principle, "The mountains are calling and I must go." (John Muir)  As much as I'm tempted to think that I should live that way, I have a blessed duty right where I am, and the only person who can hinder my adventures is me.  Likewise, I would never want an adventure that God did not put in front of me, blessing my will to go.  When He calls me, I will go, representing Him wherever those travels take me.  For now, my adventures are in and around my ever-loving heart as I learn to be more like Jesus.


My adventures may not currently include transcontinental bike rides (Go, Alyssa and Pat!!!) or exotic travel to various locations (Elicia and Tom, you rock!  I love your inspiring blog!) or mountain views all around (Adam, your life is beautiful.), but the adventures I do get to have all include great love.  I am convinced that love is the greatest adventure of all, and it doesn't matter where you are or where you go while you're discovering it.  That's the beautiful thing: love is the one true adventure that never ceases.  Even better, it never leaves you dissatisfied, and it invites more ambition.

Mother Teresa had a profound thought, which is now a famous quote: "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."  The world will tell me that what I'm doing isn't grand; it wouldn't make the cut for any verbose magazine with pretty pictures, isn't necessarily interesting enough for thousands of blog followers, and I definitely don't travel the world and encounter new cultures on a regular basis.  By looking around, I might feel that each of my days is humdrum, another drop in the bucket, a meaningless series of mindless tasks.  The world might even tell me that I am being brainwashed by it (the world),  and the only cure is to expand my mind by expanding my experiences.  The world might whisper to me that I'm not doing enough, not thinking deeply enough, not being intriguing enough...

However, the adventures of my heart are as abundant and stalwart as my very heartbeats.  I have a plethora of moments to choose from each day in which I can take bold steps, and the opportunity to learn selfless acts is one that never wanes.  Being a wife, a mom, and a teacher are all grand callings that I could never trade in, even for the most awe-inspiring view this earth has to offer.  Instead of coveting others' adventures, I must remember that God has different adventures planned for each of us. I trust in Him for all things.

I look out my bedroom window and I see woods, I hear birds, and I look at my little garden.  I wake my son each morning and see his sweet little eyes focus in on me when I say, "Good morning."  I hear the many movements of my husband and stepsons as they enjoy their various activities.  I have the attention of 7th grade students for my entire work day.  I get to run and talk about important things with youth of various ages for two seasons of the year.  I get to discuss the Bible with teen girls on Fridays, and will soon be starting a faith-based youth gathering.  Do I lack adventure?  No.  My life breathes it.  To God be the glory.


Friday, April 18, 2014

I've gained so much ______________ !

Freedom from eating disorders is nothing short of gaining the ability to fly.

The haunting thing about eating disorder recovery is that, for so long, my identity was wrapped up in the eating disorder, and so I lost sight of who I was without it.  I thought that controlling my eating was a sign of my strength, the perfect way I can do anything I put my mind to.  And so, during and after recovery, I was frightened by my "loss of control."  I was haunted with the thoughts, "You no longer do this well."  The enemy tricked me by telling me what a failure I was for giving up E.D.  Demons constantly swirled around me, asking me who I would be with that part of my identity gone.  I was also constantly reminded of my physical weight gain.

But, when I prayed, when I fellowshipped, when I felt unchained while playing with my sweet son, I knew what I truly gained.  I just had to hold onto it.

Dear friends, I have a confession: There are some of you whom I've been avoiding because I didn't want you to see me now.  It's true -- I've gained probably 30+ pounds since some of you have seen me last.  And I've been afraid that that's all you would see, and perhaps it would be something you would talk about later.  I wanted to spare myself the shame.  Looking at me physically, that might be all you see, besides my much more genuine smile (eating disorders stole my laughter!).  Some of you didn't know I was struggling with eating when we were friends, and so I have always been ashamed that one might assume I just "put on weight" and that's all.

But you know what?  I'm so sick of being afraid.  Yes, I've gained weight.  But if everyone only knew what else I have gained!

I'm here to proudly proclaim that I have gained SO MUCH!  All that I have gained is from my Savior.  Everything I have gained, the enemy tried to keep from me.  But praise be to God for showing me a life that I didn't know I could ever have ... to Him be all glory and all honor.

Through my freedom of eating disorders, I have gained:

- Wisdom and insight (the Holy Spirit is alive and awesome!)
- Marriage (!)
- Moments with my son that eating disorders wouldn't allow
- True, unabated laughter
- The ability to empathize with the pain of others
- A deeper relationship with my entire family
- A sphere of influence through teaching and coaching
- The ability to share my testimony
- Anxiety-free meals
- More love than my heart can often contain
- Ambition to selflessly help others
- A song in my heart that never stops
- Conversations with other Daughters that changed my life
- Friendships that are deeper, stronger, and eternal
- A longer life
- An appreciation for God's creation in nature
- Strong MUSCLES!  ;)
- Thoughts and pondering that have nothing to do with food (thank you, Jesus!)
- Most importantly, an understanding of how great our God is, and how He loves us and never gives up on helping His children.  He sends signs and wonders, songs and stars, all for us.

So there you have it... I have gained more than weight.  Hallelujah!

What will you gain when you let God take over your area of struggle?  The scariest thing is that until you let go, you have NO IDEA what God will do with your life.  I promise you, it is greater than anything you can hope for.  Even the scariest part of giving up control becomes nothing when you see how the Lord starts using your struggle in a mighty way, to free you and to reveal His glory.

I pray for freedom in your area of struggle today.  Do not be afraid.  He will make your life more wonderful than you ever imagined.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Sick Woman

I have been a sick woman ... but as I type this, I feel the Lord healing me from my sickness.  I've wept this morning as I've reached to heaven with humility asking, "Jesus, please help me!"

Many Christians do not like to be vulnerable with one another.  We are afraid of judgment, disapproval, or careless whispers behind our backs.  We are afraid that we will disqualify ourselves of our "Christian walk" in others' eyes.  We might even be afraid that someone will condescendingly say, "I will pray for you" with empty intentions.

I know.  I've been there.  I still feel this way sometimes.  But you know what's beautiful?  You!  Know what else is beautiful?  There are many Christians who are encouraged so much by vulnerability that their relationship with Jesus is strengthened because they can see the work He does as we open up and talk about our struggles and our triumphs.  We are brothers and sisters, living in the same fallen world, fighting against the same darkness.  We should not be ashamed to confess that we battle against the powers of evil.  Battles are bloody, and battles leave you fatigued... we should not expect anything else (except victory - Jesus already won the war for us).

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
James 5:16

It goes without saying that we will need to ask the Lord for help; we will need the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the power of God.

I want to share a story with you from the book of Mark about a sick woman's encounter with Jesus.  Please do not brush over this, or skim briefly with your eyes.  Read this with your heart.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him [Jesus].  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all that she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."  Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.  He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"
"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'"
But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.  Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.  He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

Mark 5:24b-34




Oh, to be that woman!  To see the face of Jesus and feel His healing from a long-suffered condition!  Can you imagine how humbling, how tear-evoking lovely, how heaven-touching-earth marvelous this must have been?!  I feel her heart thumping wildly inside my own chest, tears streaming down my own face, awe stirring my own spirit.  She was certainly blessed for her faith that day.

But wait ----- we, too, are that woman.  We are daughters and sons of the Living God, and when we put our faith in Him, His power will heal anything that ails us.

This woman bled ... but let me ask you, How are you bleeding?  What is it that ails you today, sweet child of God?  

I will confess that I struggle with anxiety.  I get tight-chested, short-breathed, heart arrhythmia anxiety sometimes because I worry too much!  This certainly took over when I had eating disorders, but general anxiety lingers.  Sometimes I fail to function normally and energetically.  I have known to mercilessly "beat" myself up for small things: forgetting to take the garbage out, not getting laundry done, messing up a lesson plan, not writing in my blog for too long... (!)  It's time to be done.  That's enough.  I want to let Jesus have the power, not the enemy.  In fact, Jesus even tells us not to worry: "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Luke 12:25)

I've learned that anxiety can be genetic.  I have a line of anxiety on my dad's side of the family that undoubtedly crept its way into my DNA.  However, Jesus trumps even DNA.  I must trust in Him.

Be like the woman who put her full, heart-felt faith in Jesus' healing power.  You can be healed.  Do you believe that?  Whatever it is that you struggle with, He hears your cries every. single. time.  Stop trying to take the power in your own hands, stop letting satan take the power, and allow the One with all the power to show you His mighty ways.  

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time  Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7 





Friday, March 7, 2014

Transform

All in one swift, heart-pounding millisecond, my life was transformed.  I had glanced at the results of my test.  The fear that ensued was suffocating, the dreams I once had haunted every waking second, the questions battered the inside of my skull abusively.  Pregnant.  18 years old and pregnant.  A self-proclaimed Christian girl, unwed and pregnant.  I was showered in shame, clothed in consternation, and subjected to highest level of self-doubt I had ever experienced.

Pregnant.  What now?  God, what do I do now?  Am I even worthy of talking to You?  I have disobeyed you, and now look at me.  My family will be so disappointed.  My church ... how can I go there?  I can't even face myself.  Are you upset with me, Lord?  Can I call on You to help me, even after all that I've done?

Finding out I was pregnant less than a month after graduating high school was one of the most devastating moments for me (at the time).  I was bound for my freshman year at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I had high hopes and dreams for myself, and for all the hopes I had for my life, my parents had even more.  How could I tell them I was pregnant?  How could I make it more real by telling people out loud?

Fast forward a couple of months, after all the agony and surprise of telling people the news, and I began to realize something grand was happening in my heart.  My thoughts stopped focusing so much on myself, and I started to pray more, giving my situation over to Jesus.  I started loving this little being that was developing inside of my young womb instead of fearing him or resenting him.  Love took on a new meaning.  It was everything I could have never imagined at 18 years old; it was selfless and pure and something that I can only explain as God's Love.  For the first time, I fantasized about cuddling a sweet little person that I would love with abandon.  During my sleepless nights in the dorm at UW-Madison, I started writing this baby notes in my journal, notes about the kind of mommy I promised to be and the kind of relationship I wanted him to have with Jesus.  I transformed dramatically, even before I met my sweet son.

Once my son was born, nothing was ever the same again.  My soul grew wiser, truer, and deeper.  All I needed was one glance at him, and my purpose was redefined.  I no longer cared about all of my old dreams; Julien was my new dream, all wrapped up and tiny in my arms.  And I knew that I would never walk a day without Jesus again, because it was only with Him that I could do anything right in this fragile situation.

Julien is now eight years old, and I look back over those eight years with hot, gushing, joyful tears.  I think of all the times he has called me "Mom." There is no greater joy in my heart than what is packed behind that word: Mom.  I love saying prayers with him each night at bedtime.  Once he's asleep, I sneak watchful minutes that are billowy with love; I trace the curve of his eyelids once more, pondering the miracle of his eyelashes that have joined hands while he slumbers. And after these moments, while I drift off to my own dreamland each night, I often see his green eyes glinting in the sunlight and mischievous grin as he takes off on his bike with his blond hair peeking from beneath his helmet.  I hear his giggle, and the charismatic way he tells his stories, leaving out not-a-single-detail!  I pray for his life, that it will be long and full of many more great stories to tell.  Most importantly, I pray that my son will be a Warrior for God's kingdom.

I can't believe the thought of my son used to evoke fear and anxiety because of the change that motherhood would bring.  What I know now is that the greatest blessing has come from something unexpected, something that would require more than what I had within myself.  This blessing resulted in a grand transformation.

Faith transforms us, just like parenthood transforms us.  If we are living "faith" correctly, just like if we are being good parents, we are allowing ourselves to be transformed so that we carry out the greatest Love to those around us.

We must daily ask ourselves: Is my faith in Jesus transforming my life?  

If it isn't, we must reevaluate everything.  Everything.

People love the side of Jesus that commands humility, love, and acceptance.  Even my non-Christian friends will say they love Jesus' principles.  But Jesus wasn't about principles; he was about radical change.  Radical.  Change.  If we aren't living differently from the world, loving our enemies (I know this one is difficult...oh-so-difficult), praying in earnest each day for more revelation, helping those less fortunate, and overall treating every deed as if it is for Jesus, then...well...we're missing out, and we are not being disciples.  Jesus didn't die for me so that I could freely forsake everything He taught.  Heaven reached earth when Jesus walked here, and I believe that when that crazy-awesome miracle happened, we should pay attention not only to believe, but to follow.

Believing in Jesus is easy; the Bible tells us that even the demons believe (and they shudder).  My pastor often says, "Jesus didn't go up to the disciples and say, 'Believe in me.'  He said, 'Follow me.'"  We all know what following means, so I will skip the vain illustration of follow-the-leader or fashion trends in pop culture.  Following involves action, and to do it well, it requires heart and deliberate concentration.

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Him.  The very first part of this - denying ourselves - is so counterculture and counterintuitive that we may just have to check and re-check our pride at the door on a minute-to-minute basis!  Jesus said we will be blessed for our humility (Matthew 5:5), and I trust in His word that we will be someday.

But it's not just denying ourselves, it's about our willingness to suffer and endure trials and hardships.  It's about laying down our lives so not to forfeit our souls (Matthew 16:25).  It's about saying "no" to the world, and delighting in our service to the King.  It's about treating others with Great Love, whether or not you think they deserve it.

A good measure of your transformational faith is how you treat other people, both to their faces and behind their backs.  I see too many Christians (and I have been "that" Christian myself) who say they love Jesus, and then they treat others with grave disrespect, either to their faces or behind their backs.  They take joy and pride in the slander of their co-workers, friends, or acquaintances.  No matter how difficult it is, we must love one another.  We must love one another enough to stay out of the gossip, believe in their beauty (even if it's latent), forgive them in our hearts when we're wronged, and treat them with respect.  James points out this hypocrisy: "With the  tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  Brothers and sisters, this should not be."

Jesus also says, "...love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you..."  So, yes, we have to love our enemies, too.

Trust me.  We will need to ask the Holy Spirit for help in this.  It's okay to humble yourself and ask for help.  Love is His deal.  It's what God does.  We love because He first loved us.  :)

Jesus is a rebel of sorts; He takes everything the world says we should do and tells us to do the opposite.  He loves whom the world deems unlovable, shushes the self-righteous, and breaks all of the "rules" of our day and age.  When the world tells us, "Every man for himself," Jesus tells us to "love your neighbor as yourself."  When the world tells us we are allowed to hold grudges, Jesus tells us to be merciful.  When television, radio, advertisements, and movies tell us to use our bodies for pleasure, to gossip about our neighbor, to gain the most wealth and things we can, Jesus tells us to be pure in heart.  He tells us these things out of wisdom and out of love.

I challenge you to open up to the New Testament and read the words of Jesus.  Hang on His every word, for He imparts only heavenly wisdom.  Think about these things every day.  "Write them on the tablet of your heart."

Just like I want to be a better mommy every single second of every single day, I also want to become a true FOLLOWER of Jesus.  I don't want to live this life only believing; being lukewarm is not an option.  I want to live this life following Him and transforming.  I want to be passionate and on fire with Love for others.  I want to see God's miracles worked out in front of me, and through me, as I walk out my faith in obedience.  I want the Lord to look at my life and see a willing heart, a person who carries her cross daily, a person who does not forfeit her soul.  And on the day I cross over from earth to heaven, I want to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Will you join me?  He's calling us.  Be transformed.