Saturday, January 28, 2012

Amazing Grace: Part Four

I don't know when I started to believe that God's love for me was conditional. Perhaps it stemmed from my need to be a people pleaser. Somewhere along my life, I got the whole "be a peace maker" confused with being a people pleaser. What does this have to do with my journey with God? Well, it's huge actually. Somehow, I had it in my brain that if I wasn't being perfect, I wasn't pleasing God. It was so out of control in my mind, that I would even make a mental checklist of what to ask for forgiveness for every night...because, I thought that would keep God from loving me. I even believed it would keep me from heaven (which, by the way, is NOT biblical!!!!).

This was the beginning for me. This realization that I really wasn't sure that I was loveable. Although my perfectionism has been a great asset in my career as a nurse, it was my downfall as a human being so to speak. It seems so depressing now that I write it out...but, it indeed was a depressing relationship I had myself in with God. It is hard to comprehend that someone could love you even when you push them away. It is hard to imagine that I was just as pleasing and just as loved when I was totally screwing up as when I was "being perfect".

So, it's January 2010. A new year. A new start. I wish I could say that this is where things turned around for me. That I had a renewed faith so to speak. I don't really remember a lot between the miscarriage in November of 2009 and getting pregnant with the twins at the end of February 2010. I do remember that Andrew and I had set sort of a "time limit" on trying for another baby. Not because we were putting a time limit on, no, no. Quite the opposite. We had decided for our own mental state, that we would only "try" for a certain amount of time and after that, we needed to just "live our lives" like Ella may be the only child we would have...and that we would praise God for that and be content.

But, we did indeed get pregnant. Not with just one...but, two babies. And we were so incredibly overjoyed. It was the perfect fairy tale ending for God, right? Girl has miscarriage...but, then she gets pregnant with twins! Oh yes, it was easy to sing God's praises in that glorious moment! In my mind, God had redeemed himself! (Yes, I just said God "redeemed" himself. This is how dysfunctional my relationship was with Him. Bad things=God doesn't love me, I'm not pleasing Him; Good things=Yay! God loves me again afterall!) You can laugh, but the sad thing is that more people have this relationship with Jesus than would admit or than you realize. We all to some degree have had trials. How often do we praise Him during the difficult? Rarely, I would guess. How often do we praise Him when things are going well? Oh, yes! Then we are lifting our hands at church singing at the top of our lungs that "God is so good!"

So, I was living the dream. Andrew had lost his job in 2009, but quickly found another that has been such a blessing. I had a miscarriage, but relatively soon after was pregnant with twins. Pretty good, right? Here I am pregnant with twins, working part time as a nurse (which I loved), yet still mostly at home with my beautiful little Ella. We lived in a nice home. I drove a Lexus. We were on a budget because of Andrew's change in pay, but hey, we were still making it all work.

On May 30th, 2010, Andrew threw me the most spectacular surprise 30th birthday party. I was completely shocked. I was about 15-16 weeks pregnant and growing and glowing. I will never forget the joy that day. I remember my friend saying "go look out back! There is a DJ and everything!" No way, I thought. I mean, we didn't even get to have a DJ at our wedding. (We had a good ole Southern Baptist Wedding. No dancing. No alcohol. It was beautiful...but, I LOVE to dance). So, we danced the night away and it was even more special than my wedding day. It was my last day of complete bliss for a very long time.

And then June came, and I knew something was not right with my body. I had had some mild bleeding, but nothing too concerning in the eyes of the professionals. I took it easy for a few weeks, but I knew I was having contractions. And I knew they were real.

So, I went to see the specialist. She confirmed, that yes, something was wrong. I'll never forget the feeling I had when she said "I don't know if this pregnancy is going to make it to viability and there is not much we can really do to keep this from happening."

My dream was quickly turning into a nightmare.

"But, you see this a lot, right? And those women end up having healthy babies, right", I asked with a desperate need to hear that all hope was not lost.

"I see miracles all the time in the world of medicine." she said.

I really don't remember anything else she said. I was too busy listening to this voice in the depths of my soul whisper over and over and over again in my head "Sarah, you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone."

I know I sobbed and grieved deeply for many days. I would ask God "why would you give me something so perfect, then take it all away. This does not feel like love!! Why don't you love me!!! Why would you tease me? What kind of God gives something so beautiful, only to take it away?"

You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone. It was the whisper in my heart, soul, and mind that I would hear over and over again.

(to be continued)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Amazing Grace: Part Three

I don't know where you are on your journey. Maybe you think the whole Jesus thing is ridiculous or a crutch for people. Maybe you think it "sounds nice, but it just doesn't all add up." I mean, let's face it. The Bible has some pretty outrageous claims...Jonah and the whale, Noah's ark, Jesus rising from the dead. You wouldn't believe how many times I've read these same stories and thought "really, people? We REALLY believe all this to be true?" I am not an expert theologian, but I have read and investigated. Some days I barely have any faith at all. And I don't want to sound preachy...but, it's worth investigating and figuring it out, right? Jesus is not about rules and regulations like you have probably been led to believe. (If you are not a believer, I highly recommend you read "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel. In fact, I will buy it for you if you are not a believer, but really want to know more! And no, I am not paid to say that. But after reading, you also have to read the Bible as well.)

There is this big misunderstanding amongst both believers and non believers. We get very focused on our fruits and seeing "less sin" when someone proclaims Christianity. We are so focused on the whole sin thing, that we forget that we are forgiven. I don't mean that as a reason to continue to sin...but, here is the thing. You cannot stop sinning. You will always sin. Hear my heart: accepting Jesus means you become right with Him. You do not right yourself and then Jesus takes you. If there is one word I desperately want the world to understand it is GRACE. and GRACE is free. You do nothing to deserve it. It is a gift.

So, in 2008, I was this new mommy. I had everything I ever wanted. I finally had a baby. I had an amazing husband (you would agree if you met him...he is one in a million), a nice home (hello 3500 square feet of barely used space!) and car (good grief, I drove a Lexus)...everything...I was living the dream you could say. I worked part time as a Pediatric Nurse and actually loved what I did...I worked with AWESOME people who treated me well. But, I still sort of felt there was something missing.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is something about becoming a mother that God uses to show you all your sins. You start to realize just how self absorbed, selfish, impatient, etc. you are. And I hated what I saw of myself. And even though I knew God was doing great things by letting me experience this brokenness, I felt like I was "too selfish, etc." to ever be fixed. If you met me in real life, you would probably not use those words to describe me. But, I hid well behind my mask. We all do! I just knew this woman that I was was not the woman I wanted my daughter to imitate. I needed to be a role model, and this was not the model I wanted. Oh sure, I could talk the big talk about all the wonderful things I was doing as Ella's mother...but deep down, my heart was not connecting with my actions. Yes, I was a good mother. But, it was always about "how do I look as the mother" instead of "am I allowing my child to see Jesus in me? Am I being a vessel for Him?

So, I prayed a lot to be free from these things. And I started to see a little transformation. Or at least, I knew that I was headed in the right direction. You know, I had these few certain woman who, in a sense, I idolized their walk with the Lord. I wanted to have that joy that they did. So, I would ask them about how and when they spend time with God. How does all that work? I'm sure you can see where I am going with this. Once again, I find myself working to feel close to God. I thought I had to work to have joy. I mean, these ladies did lots of volunteering and studying their bibles, surely if I did the same, I would find that love for Jesus I was searching for.

I turned God into a checklist. Read bible in morning for 15 minutes...check! pray for 5 minutes...check!! Thank god before every meal...check, check, check. Then at night, I'd pray until I fell asleep. Check, check...good day! No, not a good day. Nothing became of deepening my intimacy with Christ by setting a timer for each time I'd spend time with Him. Can you imagine if a friend sat down to have lunch with you and brought one of those kitchen timers with them and said "ok. we can talk, but the clock is ticking!"  This method may work for some, but it was doing nothing for my relationship with Christ. If anything it was making it worse because once again I am crying out to God "I did what you said. I feel nothing." Oh how we get so caught up in this whole "feeling" thing.

So, I continued this into 2009. We were desperate for another baby. And in the Fall of 2009, I became pregnant. And then I had a miscarriage. And I felt completely forsaken by God. Any miscarriage is hard on a woman, but it is especially hard when you are infertile and have a hard time conceiving to begin with. You can read that raw story by clicking here. So my heart was broken. "Jesus", I would say,  "I have been faithful to reading your word. I have worshiped like you ask. Why have you forsaken me?"

It was painful. Yet, I ran into His arms in a completely new way. The way a young girl would run into her papa's arms when she is heart broken and has no one else. I fell into his arms begging for an answer. And all I heard from Him was(and not in an audible a supernatural sort of way you could say...a feeling I supposed) "Why don't you believe that I LOVE you, Sarah? You still don't believe that I love you Sarah!"

(to be continued)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

In a moment

Hi sweet readers

I'm sorry if you are still waiting on me to continue on with my Amazing Grace series. I am still working on it. It isn't something I can just sit and write in a few minutes. I want to be sure to give a clear and accurate account of how I've overcome doubt, lack of faith, etc...yet, make sure you understand that God is still working on me. I am in need of a lot of repair. But the more I embrace grace, the more I am able to see Jesus for who He truly was.

The past week has been a little overwhelming for us, so I haven't been able to really devote my mind to write the words for the next post on the series. I am working on patient with me. My mother was in the hospital last week, but doing much better. We then had a very scary thing happen at our home on Sunday morning: Audrey fell down the stairs...from the very top to the bottom. And I was there, but I just couldn't stop it. And even when you are the most careful parent, accidents happen. Anyway, we spent Sunday in the Emergency Room. I am humbled at God's mercy as Audrey is without even a single bruise and no broken bones. No concussion...nothing. Completely fine. Will you thank God for that tonight?

And then, my dad left last night for his annual trip to Mali, Africa. I can't imagine a more loving and grace filled person than my dad teaching the people of Mali about Jesus. Please pray for his safety as well as the people's hearts to be receptive. (On a side not, my dad has diabetes, so we always have a little concern about him being able to manage it over there. ie-cool places to store his insulin as well as food that will be agreeable with his diet.)

So, I will be back in a moment or two with the continuation of my story. I will not leave you hanging. I think my story is like so many others, but we are all too afraid to say it! May these words bring you peace that you are not alone!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Amazing Grace: Part two

I feel the need to reiterate something. My "legalistic" views were something I put entirely upon myself. I would probably even go so far as to say that satan used my insecurities and fed off of them. I grew up with very loving parents and a loving church family that extended lots of grace. My views developed mostly because I was such a perfectionist...which in turn, led me to "perform" and constantly feel the need to polish my sinful nature up before God. And don't let me confuse you by thinking that it was simply part of the sanctification process. It was not. It was me, an insecure girl, who never felt secure in her salvation because she never fully understood grace.

I am going to back track a little. It is so hard for me to explain this whole process without sounding completely crazy. I was the girl who became a believer at the age of 8 or 9, yet anytime there would be a prayer to receive salvation, I would find myself saying "the prayer" again "just in case." Through my teen years, I felt insecure because I didn't understand why I still had desires to sin or for worldly behavior if I was saved. The truly odd thing was that I was not particularly judgemental of others...only of myself. I didn't look at my friends sinning and think "hey, you shouldn't be doing that if you are saved." Only me and only to myself. 

I lived in fear that if I died, I was going to go to hell because I still had "so much sin to get rid of". Gosh, I wish I could go back in time and give my teen (and adult) self a huge hug and say "you are God's beloved. He adores you." I can even remember in high school waking up some mornings and saying "ok. today I will go the whole day without sinning! I can do it!!" But, of course, I never could. I was so self righteous, but I never saw that. I was too busy trying to be perfect that I forgot all about the grace which I had been taught. I was so completely bound by perfectionism.

Of course, then you add on the fact that usually as a teen is when you start to become aware that people have many different beliefs. So, with that, I of course questioned Christianity altogether. And since I had doubts, I had even more questions about my salvation. Surely someone who was saved wouldn't have doubts? I needed to get more faith. I had to try and be "more perfect." I was always looking inward.

Fast forward a little and off to college I went. Luckily, this proved to be a huge turning point for me, yet I still had a hard time feeling like I was in the grip of grace. I became actively involved with a Christian Campus Ministry that introduced me to REAL people who really loved Jesus. They were very open about their sins, yet they shined and loved Jesus so much. I am so grateful for those college years.  Our campus minister used to have a saying of "I'm an SOB, but Jesus loves me." I always loved that because it is so true. I definitely started to get a taste of what grace was really all about. I had met these awesome Christian people and I wanted the joy that they had in Jesus. So, I put others on pedestals and kept working on myself once again. It's a vicious cycle. You see, I thought becoming holy meant becoming perfect. Surely I must have some underlying sin that is keeping me from finding joy in God?! That's it. I will figure out what this sin is that is keeping me from experiencing the joy in Jesus that others have.

And so that is what I did for the next 5 years. The details in this time aren't really worth sharing. I pretty much spent 5 more years flip flopping in and out of church. If I was in church, I must be right with God. When I wasn't at church, I must not really love God. Therefore, I might not really be saved. I did this to myself over and over and over again. I started to resent the fact that I felt like "I HAD TO BE in church" for God to be pleased with me. I never had assurance. I never had assurance because I had convinced myself if I was truly saved, I would desire God more, I would not have desires to sin, and that surely I would be "holier" by now. I mean, I had been a Christian for almost 20 years at this point and still couldn't for the life of me figure out why I still had so little faith. Why did I still have moments of doubts? Why was I some days praising His name and other days just really wanting to "do my own thing".

Alright, so back to where I left off with the last post:

 So, where was I? Oh yes, July 2007. For sure, a low point in my life. So, I desperately wanted a baby. I had already been married for 5 years. At this point, I had already been seeing a specialist for 6 months and still no baby. I hated myself, I hated who I thought God was ( a rule setter whom if you didn't have enough faith, you wouldn't receive His blessings).

Let me tell you something. Nothing will require you to surrender your controlling nature more than being infertile. Besides when you die, it is one of the few things you literally have no control over.

Even though my heart was full of anger, I never stopped praying and hoping. If you do the math, you will realize that it was the following month that I got pregnant with Ella.

But you want to hear the truly sad part? Although I praised God every second of the day for blessing me with this child, I convinced myself that I "had gone over God's head" by using fertility medicine. I believed the lies satan whispered in my ears that "this wasn't an act of God", but me being disobedient and not trusting God to fulfill this the au natural way.

Complete lies. I was still so, so, incredibly grateful, but I found myself questioning His sovereignty in it all.God had given one of the greatest blessings in the I had prayed for so long...and I still felt undeserving. I felt like I had not had enough faith.

In May 2008, I gave birth to the most perfect baby girl. And motherhood was really hard. Harder than I had ever imagined. And then I started to think "see, God never wanted you to have a baby because you can't hardly even handle it. You are so selfish." Let me tell you, nothing will show you all your sin like becoming a mother. And for someone who was still trying so hard to feel like God loved her, that exposing of sin sent me into another cycle of feeling like I would never be able to be enough for Jesus. I just had too much sin.

And, so I worked even harder. I was desperate to feel like Jesus loved me. I needed His approval. And if I worked hard,  Jesus would show me how much he loves me and fill me with complete joy once and for all!

(To be continued)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Amazing Grace: Part One

 editors note: This blog is my safe place (and a safe place for you as well!). It is a place where I share my heart, yet I am about to share with you things I've never told anyone but my own husband. I pray that you will read this series and understand my heart. You are always welcome to comment. Anything I write is always to God's Glory, but I do not claim to be an expert on theology. So, no arguing theology on here, ok?

I have had quite a journey with God. I've always known of His love. I was brought up in a good ole' Southern Baptist family. Grace was never a stranger in our home. When people ask about when I became a believer, I cannot really remember a time where I didn't not know about Jesus. But, let me be real and confess that there have been many bumps in my journey as a believer...even some times where I have slammed my Bible shut and said out loud "there is no way this is all true. How can anyone really know? It's just a bunch of crap."

And there were times where I worked for God's love...without even realizing that I was doing it. I was always a good girl. Besides my few random drunken nights in college, I was the epitome of a good Christian girl. Whatever that means.

You see, when you are a Type-A perfectionist like myself, sometimes you pull yourself into legalism without even realizing it. You realize you are performing for God, not out of love and obedience, but because you think you will win more favor with Him. Surely, He must love me LOTS for being SO GOOD.

It was exhausting. I have spent 31 years performing for Jesus. 31 years trying to polish myself up for Him.

Back in 2006 when we were struggling to get pregnant, you can imagine my anger towards God because I felt like HE owed me a baby for being "so pure" in my youth. Surely someone who never slept with a man before marriage would have bountiful blessings of babies later in know, as a "reward for being so good."

I was so naive. I so did not understand God.

So, when I couldn't get pregnant, I tried even HARDER to be good. Surely, God was trying to teach me something. Surely, I had not matured enough in my faith or wasn't loving Him enough. That had to be the reason. If I just kept working towards loving God more, He would give me a baby.

By summer 2007, at the age of 27, I was worn out from trying to win God's favor. I told God I hated Him and He was impossible to please. How could anyone live up to all those "rules" in the Bible? I couldn't sin any less.

"I HATE you!!!", I screamed that July of 2007. "It's all just a lie!! See, I've done everything you commanded and I have NOTHING to show for it. It's all just crap!!!"

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Daydreaming of Paris

The husband and I had an actual date on New Year's Day. That's exactly 365 since our last date. We joked that we needed to at least increase that number to two dates in 2012 since our TEN YEAR wedding anniversary is this June.

We were young spring chickens when we got married. I was barely 22. Him barely 25. I had just graduated college 2 weeks before. I is miraculous that we still love each other. Actually, we love each other WAY more now. We didn't have a clue about the world before we got married. In a sense, we did our "growing up" together. We dated for almost 4 years before getting married (remember, I was basically just out of diapers when we met), yet I believe it has truly taken the past 10 years to fall truly, madly, deeply in love with each other. To really understand each other. To be able to look at each other and say "yes, I could live without you. But, I would never want to live without you." It's a great feeling.  

So, back to our recent "date". When talking of our big ten year this upcoming June, we daydreamed about where/what we want to go/do. In a perfect world, we have always wanted to go back to Europe on our 10 year anniversary....specifically Paris. If you have known me for even a nano second, you know my loves go in this order: 1. God 2. Family 3. Paris. To say I love Paris is an understatement. I truly adore that city. I will never forget walking by the Eiffel Tower for the first time or seeing the Sacre-Coeur up on the hilltop. It is just really incredible. Of course, that was also the trip where after roaming about the Louve for only a short bit, I became violently ill...and remained ill the rest of the trip...including a train ride down to Nice...but, I mostly only remember the toilets from that point on.

I digress.


 (I would certainly dress the part like the girl above!)


However, there is this small little issue. Technically, three very small little issues. We still feel like our children are too little for us to leave for an entire week. I know we are probably alone in that feeling compared to most parents. If it was just Ella, it would be different. But, finding someone to watch our three precious little ones for an entire week would be a huge undertaking even for Super Nanny...especially if the parents were across the Atlantic.

Of course, there is also that little issue not having sold our house yet, but again, it doesn't really matter considering the above concern.

So, the mister asked me if it was ok if he gave me a 5 year rain check...meaning, within the next 5 years, we'd make that dream a reality. And that made me smile.

That is definitely a dream worth saving our pennies for.

But, the question remains: if we can only day dream about Paris for now, then what can we do this year for our ten year anniversary? A quick trip to New York City for 48 hours (another city I love)? Stay local here in Atlanta and go to a spa? Money is definitely of consideration, but we could still do something.

So, can you send me your creative ideas? What would you do to celebrate your first decade of marriage? Meanwhile, I am going to just keep day dreaming of that dreamy hotel I saw on The Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Paris, je t'aime

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Christmas is over blues

I have the "Christmas is over blues." I am usually ready to remove all the decorations, but this year I am shockingly still in the holiday spirit. Today, Ella said "Mommy. It's time to take down my tree. Christmas is over!!" So, I took hers down, but pleaded with Andrew for one more week with our family tree.

Pitiful, huh?

OK. Just one more viewing of "Elf" and "It's a Wonderful Life" and I'll move on.

But, before I say goodbye to December 2011, here are few pictures of Ella's first gingerbread house decorating experience. She had so much fun being creative. Just call her Degas or Monet. She is definitely Ivy League bound with these skills.

I helped a little with the icing, but most of this creative decorating was all her. It was fun to just allow her to dream up her own ideas

A little crazy with the "snow" on the rooftop

Proud artist

Such sweet memories. Raising little ones is the hardest job I've ever had, but these are the moments that make it worth it.

Hope you all made some sweet memories this past Christmas season.

And I promise to embrace 2012 in just a few more days. Just two more movies...I promise! Ok, maybe 3.