Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Christmas.... From the police?

We got a knock on our door at 9 PM tonight, after just getting back from (even more) Christmas shopping. I opened the door, and there was a Marshfield police officer standing there. At first I figured he was there about one of the addicts we work with ~ I thought maybe something had happened. He started talking to me and asked me if I remembered him ~ he took the report when our camping equipment was stolen this past summer. I invited him in, and figured they had found our camping equipment from this summer and were  returning it. Ben came out of the bedroom and the officer began talking to both of us. 

What happened next is honestly something I have never experienced in my life. He told us that they hadn't found the camping equipment, but he was there to wish us a marry Christmas, and apologized for coming so late. He started telling us that every year, the police department gives a card to people who are making a big impact on the community. He thanked us for everthing we do in the community  (which is ironic coming from an officer and all HE does ~ I felt like I should be telling him that), and said the police department wanted to let us know that our efforts and work are appreciated and much needed, then he handed us a Christmas card from the police department and wished us a merry Christmas. He stayed for about ten minutes chatting, and kept thanking us over and over again for what we do.

We were, to put it lightly ~ speechless. Just when we were going through  a time when we weren't sure if we were making enough of a difference, God sent a message to let us know that we are. We are so humbled and thankful ~ and it is an honor to be able to do what we do in the community for drug addicts, because God has put it on our hearts. The fact that God uses us to reach people despite how messed up are is something that we are thankful for every day, and that's why we give back. To be recognized for it is not expected, but it is very appreciated  and gives us the stamina to keep going even when things get hard. Knowing that other people see what we sometimes can't keeps us focused on God's calling and the path we need to stay on. .

God is good, and he knows just when to send a pick me up to the weary. He knows how to encourage us in ways that no human could ever know. By  the way, God sure has a sense of humor. Ten years ago, if the police were knocking on my door at 9pm (or at all for that matter), it would have been to arrest me. In fact, I probably would have ran as soon as I opened the door. To have a uniformed officer hand deliver a Christmas card and thank us for our work in the community is a hilarious display of just how much God can change your circumstances. He is good ~ he is SO good! Trust me when I say that he can change your life in an instant beyond your wildest dreams! From being a drug addicted criminal to working alongside the police force and getting Christmas cards hand delivered by them ~ God can do far beyond what we could ever ask or think!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The last time....

I am one of those mothers who stills sees my 3 year old son as "my baby". To me, he is still little. I am one of those mothers who did "attachment parenting"- breastfeeding, holding and comforting him when he cries instead of trying to "toughen him up", I am almost NEVER away from him (in fact, he is going with me and my husband on a marriage retreat next month even though it was recommended that we get a sitter because I just can't bear the thought of parting from him that long), and he slept in our bed with us for his first year, and still does sometimes now. I carried him everywhere when he was an infant, and refused to let him "cry it out". People would tell me to let him grow up, but I cherished those baby moments. Due to the fact that there is a ten year age gap between him and my next youngest child, I am very aware that the baby stage passes all too quickly, and I wanted to hang onto every moment that I could. And I still do.

This past weekend, he went with his dad to an indoor water park for the day. He was fearless, going down huge water slides by himself, jumping into the pool with no hesitation. My husband talked about how big he seemed at the waterpark, but I had stayed home to do homework for school. I blew it off- surely he couldn't have grown THAT much since the last time we had him at the pool a few weeks ago. I know he's getting bigger, but he is still a baby. He is fighting for independence, yet he is still dependent on his mommy and daddy. He still wants good night kisses, he still wants to be held and cuddled, he still wants to mommy to kiss his boo-boos. He's not past the baby phase- I was sure of it. My husband sees him as a little boy because he is raising him to be a man. But he will always be a baby to his mommy.

Then I took him to the pool yesterday. He normally jumps off of the edge of the pool into my arms in the water. But yesterday, he didn't. In fact, when I put my arms out to catch him, he walked away from me and cannonballed in by himself. It was such a bittersweet moment. I was so proud of my son and the little boy he is becoming, yet I was mourning the loss of my baby. What is an exciting new stage for him, is a stage of letting go for me. My mind raced with thoughts- the last time he jumped into my arms in the pool, I took it for granted. I didn't realize it was the last time. I was sure there would be more times, that he would stay in that phase of needing me to calm his fears awhile longer. He would need me to catch I'm a little longer. If I had known that it would have been the last time, I would have cherished it more.

I thought of all of the "last times" I have already gone through with him. The last time he breastfed. The last time he crawled. The last time I had him strapped into a baby carrier on my body. The last time he had is amazingly striking troll hair that stuck straight up for his head from the time he was born until he was about 7 months old. The last time I carried him in a baby carrier car seat. The last time I gave him a bottle. The last time he innocently looked up at me and gave me a baby coo. So many last times, so many cherished memories. I didn't realize those were a last time either, until they were gone. I am so glad that we took the advice of so many who told us to take tons of pictures while he was a baby. We have close to 20,000 pictures of him in his first three years. We have a way to remember some of the last times- or at least some of the stages. But you never really realize it's the last time until it's too late. Until there's a new "first time."

 I realize that there will be more "last times", and now I am more prepared. I am cherishing every moment with my little boy. God has blessed us so tremendously with the ability to be parents the right way a second time, after failing our first set of kids. We have been given a tremendous gift to experience all of these first and last times with our little boy.  I realize that each one of these days, each one of these last times, is a gift. A gift that you can't get back once it's gone. My husband and I were talking the other day about how he is 1/6 the way to being an adult already. 1/6 of his life has passed, and eventually he will be 18 and out of our home, and I will miss all of the noise, all of the chaos, all of the toys on the floor, all of the hanging on my legs and not being able to go to the bathroom by myself without him following me in there. And once that happens, I will miss it. As hard as it can be to be a parent from day to day, once that time with your child is gone, it is forever mourned.  I remember when the infant stage felt like it would never end. The nights of no sleep, constant breastfeeding, and dealing with crying seemed endless. Yet now that they are gone, I miss them so much. I vow to start taking life slower to enjoy these times with my little guy, before they are gone for good. Cleaning the house and getting straight A's on every paper can wait. This time is precious like no other, and there is no "redo" button. I vow to cherish each stage that he is in, regardless of the trials and struggles- because one day it will be over, and I will miss it. I vow to thank God for this little man in every moment, even when he is testing my patients and I feel like I no longer have an identity as an individual person- but only as Justin's mommy.

Because "Justin's mommy" is absolutely the greatest title I could ever have. Lest I forget it when I lose my patients, I will think about all of his "last times," and how this stage that seems like it will never end one day will, and I will miss it. I vow that I will be more prepared for the next "last time"- as much as a parent can possibly be prepared for it- and I vow to be thankful for all of the "first times."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Silence that's deafening.

My husband and son during a hospital visit.

This week has been one where silence has spoken extremely loudly. You never really know just how loud silence actually is until you are unwillingly stuck in it. The sound of grief, of fear, of the unknown, can truly speak louder than words ever could. You can feel silence, while words are fleeting.

This week I went the funeral of a gorgeous, perfect 2 month old baby. Her parents led our small group for years, and they are truly good people. As I sat in the church during the service, looking at her perfect little body in the casket, the weight of silence- of stillness- became very apparent. My heart broke for her family. What they would give to have noise instead of silence- baby coos, laughter, and crying- instead of the overwhelming weight of quietness. There are no words that anyone could ever say that will speak louder than the void of not having their baby girl there.

It was an emotional day for me, not only because I was at the funeral of an infant- which is emotionally draining on anyone- but because I don't do well with funerals to begin with. I've been to too many. Too many of people that I was extremely close with- who meant the world to me. Every time I find myself in another funeral, I start envisioning the next one- worrying when I am going to be sitting in those chairs again. Terrified of whose body is going to be in the casket next time. Sometimes death comes with no warning- no clue that anything is wrong, no reason to think that the person that died would have ever been in a casket before you are- like this precious baby girl. But sometimes death comes more slowly. People struggle with long term illnesses and health problems where you can start to prepare yourself for their end. I have grieved both kinds of deaths, and honestly I'm not sure which is worse.

I found myself starting to worry about my husband during this funeral. My husband has chronic health issues, and the thought of him dying before me is almost too much to bear. But, in all reality, that is probably the way it is going to happen. I started hyperventilating and crying over my husband's future death. I started to feel the weight of grief that I have felt so many times before- the same grief this baby girl's parents were feeling at that very moment. I fear death- not for myself- but for the people I love. I don't want to be left to live without them. I've done it too many times before. When you have had so many people that you love dearly die on you, you can't help but worry about who the next one is going to be. I don't know if it's a defense mechanism to prepare myself for it, or a way to try and brace myself so I don't feel it quite as hard- but dwelling on thoughts like that are not a good way to live. It robs you of the joy in the present when you are constantly worried about the future.

I had to force myself to snap out of it. I had to remind myself that God is in control of ALL things- from the time we are born until the time we take our last breath. I kept repeating Romans 8:28 to myself: ALL things work together for the good of those who love God. When my husband's time does come, it will be in God's control, and He will continue to take care of me the same way he has done my entire life. He will be there for me in the valley of the shadow of death the same way He has been in the past. God is faithful, and I had to cast down the thoughts that were coming into my mind from satan- telling me I would be abandoned, not cared for, that my life would be ruined, that God wouldn't see me through it. That's not the truth. Fear is not from God, and I have known God long enough to know that he has a reason for everything that happens, and that He WILL work it out for my good. Like when my fiancé committed suicide. I remember very vividly staring at his casket during his wake, thinking how things were really messed up now. My life was over. There was no fixing this. Yet, years later, it turned out that his death was the very thing that pushed me to the point that I was desperate enough to surrender to God, and he saved me. It's what allowed God to break me out of my addiction. It's what allowed me to share hope with other people who are going through the same thing. It's what ultimately saved my life- though you would have never been able to convince me that any good would come out of it at that moment I was staring at the man I was supposed to marry in a casket.

I brushed my fear of my husband dying off. It's part of the PTSD that still pops its head up every once in awhile from Dave dying. We have too much work to do- too many lives to touch- for God to take him now. I know that. But then, the day after the baby's funeral, we were having dinner with friends at our home, and my husband started having chest pains. I had him chew an aspirin, and he waited another 15 minutes, but the pain got worse. Our friend Chris drove him to the emergency room, while I stayed here with my sleeping baby. A million thoughts started rushing through my head. Was yesterday at the funeral a warning? Was God trying to prepare me for something? Was he warning me? I started to truly panic. The thought of my husband dying- of my son growing up without a father- became much too real. The day before I convinced myself that it was me getting myself worked up, my PTSD resurfacing, my mind playing tricks on me, satan putting thoughts in my head to get me to fear. But this, this was real.

Three days and batteries of tests later, there was still no concrete answer about what was wrong with my husband. Silence. Deafening silence. Silence so loud, that all I could hear were my fears. As I sat in my quiet home at night while the baby was sleeping, the void of my husband not being here became overwhelming. No late night conversations, no dinners together, no watching our favorite tv series together to wind down at the end of the day. The house was void of the sound of him snoring, the sound of him laughing, the sound of him singing his praise songs to God. Just the sound of..... nothingness. A void where my husband used to be. It started to drive me crazy.

But then, I had to re-center myself. I had to remember that I know who God is, and that no matter what happens, God is in control. I recalled the words of a very wise woman- my Pastora from Milwaukee- when her husband Pastor Cano died. I remember telling her that I was so sorry this had happened, and that I didn't know why it had to happen. She looked me straight in the eye and said "Oh no, I don't question God. God is still good, and He knows why." What a woman of strength! I found myself taking solace in those words. God forbid, if my husband were to die- I have to always remember that God is God, and I am not. That He is good, even when the circumstances are bad. I have to rest in the fact that no matter what happens in my life- good or bad- I am God's child, and he will take care of me. I have to remember that my trust is not in men- not even my husband- but God alone. He is the God who gives and takes away, and he sees things that we can't. Satan wants me to fear the unknown. I am determined to not allow him that control over me. Sometimes you just need to step back from your emotions, and step into God's truth. To remember that God has been faithful in the past, and will continue to be. To remember that God knows our every sorrow, our grief, our fear, our hurt, our loneliness- and He is there with us in it.

God is faithful. My husband is coming home today. I am going to pick him up in half an hour.  He has to have a procedure done next month to fix some stuff going on in his heart- and I am trusting God with that. I am trusting God that my husband will be alive until the exact second that God's infinite wisdom says otherwise. My prayers were answered, but that's not always the case. There will come a day when my husband does die, and I will need to cling to God all the more. But for now, the silence in my home is about to be lifted, and I will have the laughter and snoring of my husband back. Glorious sounds. Sounds that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Sounds I much prefer over silence.

Not that silence is a bad thing. Sometimes, when things are the quietest, God will speak to you the loudest. When things are falling apart around you, you can trust that God is there speaking to you, telling you not to fear. The most spiritual growing times in my life have been in devastating times of silence. God will use EVERYTHING- even the heartbreaking, silent times- for good. I am not knocking the silence. But for now, I am SO grateful for the noise, and appreciating it in all its glory.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Anointed to preach liberty to the captives....

LUKE 4:18-19

Our prison ministry crew at Jackson Correctional Institution.

This past weekend, my husband and I had the privilege to give our testimonies to inmates in Jackson Correctional Institution with a local group that does prison ministry. The trip was truly God ordained, and the spiritual impact on both the inmates and ourselves was something that we weren't prepared for. I left in total awe of God, and with a renewed fire in my spirit, and the inmates there had more or an impact on me than they will ever know.

People have asked us before if we had ever considered doing prison ministry, and it was something that we were very interested in, but quite honestly weren't sure if we were going to be able to do. With both my husband and I being former addicts, we were positive that we would never be given clearance to go into prisons. On top of that, we have so much going on as it is, we were questioning if we had the ability to take on another aspect of ministry. However, our hearts were strong for people in prison- those who are isolated, alone, and hopeless- much like drug addicts are during their addictions. In fact, up to 85% of the prison population in fact have addiction and mental health issues.

The tug on our hearts for those and prison kept getting stronger and stronger, and then we were approached and  asked if we would go along with a group from another church in town to give our testimonies. The leaders of the group know our stories, and thought we could really give hope to the inmates. So we agreed to try. We filled out the paperwork to get cleared to go in, and waited for what we knew would be a rejection letter saying that we were a security risk. Because of our addiction backgrounds, we both have criminal histories, and my husband was actually IN the prison 16 years ago that we were going to visit. Surely that HAD to be a security issue. We waited,  and were given the word that we were CLEARED by the department of corrections to come in for prison ministry. I was floored. God was opening doors that logically shouldn't have been open. We took that as a very clear sign that God wanted us to go and share our stories of hope and freedom through Jesus to a group of men who have lived lives very similar to ours.

It was obvious that God wanted us to go. But, as anyone in ministry knows, the devil was not going to let it go out without a hitch. First, our applications got lost, and we had to send them in two more times. Then, we weren't able to find a babysitter for our son, so we had to drive 3 1/2 hours one way to drop him off with family for the weekend. On top of that, it was made VERY CLEAR that we HAD to have a valid state issued I.D. during check in at the prison, or we would not be allowed in. The day before, I made sure that my I.D. was in my purse so that we would be all set to leave at 5:30 A.M.  In the morning, as we were getting ready to leave to grab some quick breakfast before the trip, I double checked my purse, and low and behold, my I.D. was gone. My husband and I ripped the house apart looking for it. Two minutes before we had to meet with the ministry team to leave, we still hadn't found it. I started crying and told my husband to go alone, because there was no way they were going to let me in. He responded that he wasn't going to leave me, because we are a team. He grabbed my birth certificate, social security card and marriage certificate as well as my college I.D. in a desperate hope that they would let me in with that, and said that we would have to trust God to get me in.

We met up with the ministry team, who was taking everyone on their ministry bus up there. We followed in our car, in case I couldn't get in and we had to leave early, or so that I would have somewhere to sit outside of the prison while the rest of the team was ministering. Once we were about a block away from the prison (after an hour and a half), Ben noticed that there was a purse in our back seat. It belonged to an addict that we had taken somewhere the day before, and had been over at our house. He told me that maybe I should check her purse, just in case she had taken the I.D., in one last ditch attempt to try and get in. I opened her purse, and I didn't find my I.D., but I DID find a baggie with white residue on it. I smelled it, and realized it was heroin. I said "Ben, look at this!", and he started freaking out. He said "Oh no, you have to go past the drug dogs in prison and now you have heroin residue on your hands! They are going to hit on you and think you are trying to smuggle stuff in!" JUST GREAT. Now there was ABSOLUTELY no way I was getting in. We pulled over, I threw the baggie away, and I scrubbed my hands in the bathroom, desperately praying that all of the smell came off (WOW- is the devil SCANDELOUS or what? He will do ANYTHING to try and stop God!)

We finally got to the prison, and the crew got checked in and went through the metal detector. My husband went up, he showed them his driver's license, and then he gave them my papers and went into the story about how I had lost my I.D. that morning. The very unfriendly looking guard glanced at the papers skeptically, looked at my husband, and then said "are you SERIOUS?" My heart sank. No way was this going to work. The fact that they had even let us in there with our backgrounds was pushing it, but now I was trying to come in with no identification? Oh well, at least we tried. But then, he looked at me and said "do you REALLY think that I am going to check you that hard when you are coming in here to do ministry? We did an extensive background check. You're good."

I couldn't believe it. God had literally opened the prison doors for us to be able to go in.

That's when the true excitement started. We were really here- and it was obvious that God wanted us here. I knew that something amazing was going to happen in that prison that day. Little did I know just how amazing it would be. We met with the Chaplin, and he gave us a rundown on how things were going to go, what we could and couldn't do, safety protocols and so on. There were three inmates there when we got there. I thought "well, at least there's three! These are the three that are supposed to be here!" Slowly, though, they started filtering in, and we ended up with at LEAST 80 men in there.

We started with prayer followed by praise and worship. The worship left me absolutely astounded. These men in prison- a dark, hopeless place that some of them were never going to come out of- these men who had absolutely nothing, had lost their freedom, their families, all of their material possessions- were praising God with a fire and passion that I have NEVER seen from a congregation during a Sunday morning church service on the outside. Shouting, raising their hands, jumping up and down- their voices booming, arms raised, with no fear of what anyone thought of them. They were worshipping God with their entire hearts and complete abandon. These men who had NOTHING but Jesus were satisfied with it- while those of us that have everything we need and then some sit in pews on Sunday and can't be bothered to raise our hands and worship God. It made me ashamed of Christians on the outside that are SO blessed in many ways, yet are no where near as in love with God as these men that are alone behind prison walls. We complain so much when we are so blessed, while these men are ecstatically grateful just because God gave them breath and broke their chains- even though they're in prison. They were free from any spirit of religion. They were worshipping God for who he is, not because they needed to make sure that people saw them in church.

After that, we had a morning of teaching and testimonies by the ministry crew. My husband and I were giving our testimonies after lunch, so we really got to enjoy the morning and bask in the light of God that was shining in that place. During the break, there were multiple men that came up to my husband that knew him from when he had been in prison 16 years ago, and they were so grateful that he was there. Most people who leave prison don't come back. He, however, knew that the impact of his story- that he had been in the EXACT seats that they were sitting in, could resonate with them in a way that other people's stories couldn't. The look of hope on their faces were soul melting. That my husband not only came back to minister to them- but was coming back a Godly, married man who God had redeemed by totally turning his life around, giving him a second chance at being a father, and using his past for GOOD for others who are going through the same thing was something that they absolutely needed to hear. He was there to tell them that their stories aren't over. In fact, it was just the beginning. Just like it was for him. To hear someone give a testimony is one thing, but to have KNOWN someone and then see the changes in them speaks louder than words.

During lunch, we ate the prison food and ate WITH the trustee prisoners. They all shared their stories about how they got to prison, and how they had come to find God. These men were nothing short of AMAZING. You could see that God was using them as a light in the prison for those who were still lost. They had so much hope. Such a stark comparison to Christians on the outside- Christians whose hope in God gets dashed when a prayer isn't answered the way they want it to be. Christians who go through the motions of being a Christian but won't be bothered to live it out outside of church.  Christians who seem like the walking dead compared to the fire that is within these men. It was truly a humbling experience. I can honestly say, some of the greatest Christians that I have ever met are currently incarcerated. The ones that society labels as "bad", have a leg up on Christians on the outside.

My testimony was the second to last session of the day. As I got up and walked to the podium, I scanned the room. I looked- REALLY looked- into the faces of all the men staring back at me. I have given my hour long (condensed version!) testimony dozens of times in front of people, but I really wanted to connect with these guys. Men are hard to read as it is, but men in prison- where emotions are even LESS acceptable than for men in society- are really hard to read. I honestly wasn't sure if my testimony was going to have an impact on them. I knew they would be able to relate- but I wasn't sure if it would actually emotionally get to them. I needed to connect with them emotionally so that they knew just how lost I was before I found Jesus. How much of a hard case. How desperate. How out of options. I needed them to know so that they could see themselves in my story, and see themselves in the hope in my story that I found in Jesus. Sometimes, people can get so used to pastors and ministers and teachers giving bible studies and sermons that they can tune them out. Especially if they feel like they haven't been through the same amount of junk. I remember before I was saved, thinking "yeah, of course God saved you, Mr. Preacher man. What, did you say a cuss word once when you were 16? That's easy to forgive. But when you do the sort of things I have done- the things drug addicts do- that's a different story. It's hard to believe that God wants anything to do with that." I needed to let these guys know that I had been exactly where they had been, and that God did in fact want something to do with THAT. That he wanted something to do with them. If I could be saved and forgiven, anyone could.
When I started speaking, I am positive that they thought I was a "church person." A good person who had grown up in the church and was just coming to share the love of Jesus with them. I started off telling them how I just graduated college, have a family, do outreach ministry, and have a pretty good life now. But, I told them, it wasn't always like that. I was in the hell of drug addiction for years before Jesus saved me from it. I then went into my hour long testimony about where I came from, what my life was like before God, how desperate and broken and lost I was. I talked about all of the things I had done, all of the people I had hurt, all of the crimes I had committed. I talked about all my failures, all of the people who gave up on me, and how hopeless I was. I laid my soul bare, with no pretense, no hiding any part of me, no covering things up to look like a good Christian. For me, the power of my testimony is in the gory details. It's in the story of just how awful I was, so that the contrast can be seen to what Jesus has made me. It's letting people know that I was the worst of the worst, and that there is hope for them. It's showing people that you are never too far gone or have messed things up to the point where God can turn your life into what he wants it to become. That is my husband and I's calling, and why we are able to tell people about all of the junk in our pasts- because that is where God's glory is seen. The darker it is, the brighter the light shines. We tell people about our darkness so that they can see how different things are in the light.
I scanned the audience again as I finished my testimony, and saw at least ten men crying. When it ended, I was given a standing ovation by all of the prisoners. I was surprised, to say the least. Afterwards, I had many of the men come up to me and shake my hand and talk to me and thank me for coming, talk about how it related to their lives, how it gave them hope, and about how their situations were similar to mine. A HUGE (6;5!)guy came up to me, thanked me, and told me that I had both of the guys next to him crying, and that it was quite a feat since they were "hard dudes" (his words, not mine!). The Chaplin came up to me and asked if I would ever be willing to come back and speak with an AODA group, because my testimony had cracked them. It had gotten through the walls that they have spent so much of their lives building. God used my story to show them that there is hope for the hopeless. There is freedom for prisoners. To show that God loves drug addicts and criminals just as much as the person who has been good all of their lives or the pastor that preaches every Sunday morning. He redeems and forgives and restores and empowers no matter what you have done. It is never too late.
The ministry team walked out of the prison doors that day, and we went back to our normal lives- but I have not been able to stop thinking about those men. About how they touched me, and about how God had used me to touch them- and what a humbling experience it was to be able to be used to spread hope. I broke down into tears of joy and gratitude when I started thinking about when all of the horrible, painful, loneliness of my past was happening- I didn't understand it and thought that God didn't care. But walking into that prison and seeing God use that same painful past to help someone else reminded me that He was there with me all along, even when I didn't know it. Knowing that I didn't go through it for no reason- but to help others- reminds me of how good God is and how blessed I am to be loved by Him. Knowing that I once lived in the darkness, but now I help bring God's light to the darkness, just floors me. God is good, He is faithful, and He is there through it all. I am humbled, and I am in awe of His goodness and His ways- and I can't wait to see where He will have me going next. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

My Ugly heart and marriage as a mirror.

I have to be honest. Having a broken foot the past three weeks has been a nightmare. Not so much for me, but for my husband. I am not the easiest person to live with normally anyway- but add in some broken limbs, an inability to do much for myself, and the frustration of not being able to accomplish what I want, and I can truly be a lot to handle.
The truth is, I still have a perfectionist spirit that likes to rear it's ugly head. I have worked hard over the years to give it over to God, but it is very much a stronghold in my life. I will do okay for awhile, and then something will happen where I feel the need to take control back. For whatever reason, it always seems to happen at the worst possible times. The biggest struggle with my foot being broken is that I can't clean the way I'm used to. I can only stand for so long, and there are only certain things that I can do when I CAN stand. I feel frustrated and overwhelmed and like a failure when I try to keep things in perfect order. What a joke that is with a broken foot, and a VERY energetic two year old. My husband has been amazing during the whole thing. He has picked up the slack. He has managed to keep the house clean and in order, and Justin alive. He has driven me everywhere I need to go, helped me in and out of the bathtub, and makes sure that we are all fed, and it has not been easy on him. He has numerous health issues, and my foot being broken is making it harder on him health-wise. He has put his life on hold and pushed his commitments aside to help take care of me.
Surely ANY wife would be grateful. But not me. God has really convicted me that I have not been very nice to my husband through this whole process. It could be a combination of the pain, the frustration, and the perfectionism. But more than that, it's because I have issues. Spiritual issues.  I am not as grateful as I should be, not as nice as I should be, not as thankful as I should be. I have a lot going on spiritually right now, and my husband is the one who gets the brunt of it. He is the one in the line of fire when I lash out. He is the one who gets the worst of me, while everyone else gets my best, and that's not fair to him.
I think God uses marriage as a mirror, so that we can truly see ourselves. People that we work with, ,do ministry with, or go to church with usually only see our good sides. The sides we want to show them. We can hide all of the ugly parts- all of the things within us that are not so pretty, not so nice, not so presentable. Our spouses get all of our baggage, our character defects, our bad habits, our struggles, our fears, our doubts, our frustrations. We are so close to them that we can't hide or deny these things- and I think that's why God designed marriage the way He did. He uses our spouse to be a mirror to things in our life that God wants us to fix. Things that God sees, even if no one else does. It's hard to think that you're doing well when you just screamed at your poor husband that spent all afternoon doing the laundry because you tripped over a shoe in the floor that he didn't pick up. Your own shoe at that. When things like that happen, my need for God is glaringly obvious.
That's what God wants. He wants me to see where I am weak spiritually, so that I can go to Him and have him heal it. As long as we deny that there is a problem, we can't fix it. My poor attitude towards my husband reminds me that I desperately need the only one who can fix me. My husband can't fulfill me, as much as he tries. Only God can do that. When I start expecting my husband to live up to ridiculously high, God like standards, I have a problem. I need to be going to God with my frustrations and hurts, not trying to deal with them on my own in my flesh and wounding my poor innocent husband in the process.
God has brought me a long way from where I was, but I am still messed up. We all are, aren't we? Sometimes I just feel like I am extra messed up because of how TOTALLY messed up I was when God found me. He has done miraculous changes in my life, but I still have a long way to go. Just ask my husband. When he said his vows, he took them seriously. More seriously than I could ever really expect anyone to. Deal with me until you die? Now THAT'S commitment!

The thing is, he knew what he was getting into. He knew I was messed up. He knew I had issues and flaws, and he made a commitment to love me until death anyway. He vowed to stand by me in sickness and health, for better or for worse, til death do us part- and he has paid his dues. Marriage is hard. Infatuation is easy. My husband's true love sees the ugly, broken, insecure pieces of me, and loves me anyway. I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to pretend to have it all together. He loves me with a love that lets me know that I am safe. I can freak out over tripping over my own shoe and blaming him for it, and he won't leave. No amount of craziness can drive him away. It can be dangerous to be vulnerable and let your flaws be known to people, for there is always the chance that they will use them against you. Marriage, however, requires vulnerability. It requires trust on such a deep level to know the ugly parts of yourself won't be used against you, and that you can truly be yourself- the good, the bad, and the ugly- and your spouse will love ALL of you. The worst parts of my heart are safe with him. He knows the true me- all of me. Not just the sides I want to show. He knows me as a whole, and yet he still loves me for it. The craziness of all that is me is still worth it to him in the end.
Just like God. God sees the deepest, darkest areas of my heart, and he loves me anyway. Nothing I can do or say will ever be able to drive Him away, or get Him to stop loving me. My heart- all of it- is safe with Him. He saw me at my darkest, much darker than even my husband has seen. Yet Holy God wanted my ugly heart. He wants me to understand the broken parts of my heart that are there, so I can give them to Him to mend. He vowed to never leave or forsake me, no matter what.  Much like my husband.
My husband truly is one of the greatest things that have ever happened to me. He has loved me in a way that no one else in my life ever has. Even when I don't deserve it. Thank God for mirrors. Now if you'd excuse me, I have some apologizing to do.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How painful will God's best be?

I ran across this C.S. Lewis quote yesterday, and it spoke profoundly to me. We have had a very hard past couple of days as a family. Some major decisions have had to be made. All of our plans have begun to go awry. I have questioned my calling to ministry, I've been wondering if it's worth it. All of the sacrifices and loneliness, the effects that have begun to rear their ugly head with my family. The cost, it seems, is almost too much. I'm tired of doing things alone with out a support system. Sometimes it seems as if my husband and I are the only ones who think this thing is worth fighting for. Others think it's a good cause, and worth  it when it's convenient for them. But they don't let it consume their lives. At the end of the day, if it's too hard, they can quit. When it starts affecting their children, they can quit. When they aren't getting support from anyone else and things are too hard to bear alone, they can quit. I was at the point of quitting yesterday. If they can, I can too. My calling is painful, and I've had enough pain in my life. It doesn't seem fair sometimes. Honestly, the thought of having continue to do this for what could end up being years started to make me nauseous. I'm not sure how much more I can take. This week has left me feeling like a huge failure in more areas than I'd like to admit.

The isolation is deafening. Having problems that you can't speak about to anyone is a hard burden to carry. We had to make some major decisions and sacrifices regarding our son. Things that we need to grieve over, things we need to adjust in our lives for his benefit. My son will always come first, and every sacrifice for him is worth it, but the pain of my husband and I bearing these decisions alone is hard. My husband went to talk to our pastor about what was going on. He said he needed to talk to somebody. Somebody who wouldn't judge, someone we don't have to be an example for. Someone who he doesn't have to worry about using his flaws and shortcomings and failures against him. Someone who understands ministry.Then he looked at me somberly, and said this : ".... And I feel bad because you don't have anyone like that to talk to." And I started crying. Because he's right.

I spent most of yesterday in pity party, feeling sorry for myself and for my wayward plans. Things are not turning out how they were supposed to. I was feeling sorry for my loneliness. I was comparing how all of the other women ministry leaders and pastor's wives have people rallying around to help them, wanting to be their friend, to help with their kids, to help them carry the load. I was sure that when God told us to start CROSSROADS,  he would send in people to help. So why am I going  through ministry alone, without even a friend I can truly talk to about everything~ besides my husband, who already has enough to deal with? Surely God would want that for me!

Sitting in pity can get comfortable. It's so easy to look at all the bad and justify feeling sorry for yourself.  That can be incredibly dangerous for me, because it leads me down the road to depression. That's not road I can go down again, because it could cost me my life. Luckily I recognized it creeping in. I knew nothing else to do but to pray. Ask God why. Why is everything going haywire, why do I feel so isolated, why is there no one to help, why aren't things going right for my son, why do I feel so alone? WHERE ARE YOU GOD?. TAKE THE PAIN AWAY!

Then, quietly, I realized that pain is part of the process. It always has been. The most painful times in my life are when God worked the most. My fiance committing suicide got me to a point where I surrendered to God out of desperation, seeking for something to make the pain go away. My years of drug addiction broke me down to the point that I have compassion and empathy for people in the same situation because I remember that torturous  pain so vividly. My years of being thrust into ministry leadership in the women's home in Milwaukee were years of being being attacked, and knowing the pain of not having a person to lean on. But I learned how to fight, and I learned to lean on God.

My greatest spiritual lessons and growth have been born from pain. In  retrospect, it's easy to look back and see how God worked it all out for good. But boy, is it hard to realize it when you're going through it. My husband's favorite saying is  "no matter what, it's going to be okay." And I know that. I know that God truly does work it all out for our good. But I also know that he uses painful circumstances to bring about that good. That's the part I don't like. That's the scary part. Knowing that God's best could mean I have to go through another death, another loss, another humbling experience, another stretch of loneliness to make me utterly dependent on Him and Him alone is what I have a hard time dealing with. I know it will be used for good, but I don't want to go through it. I wish there was an easier, softer way. A way for God to bring about his will softly and gently.

For some people, that IS how he works. But I'm hard headed. Pain gets my attention. When things are going good and I'm happy, it's easy to push God to the side. When I need to focus on him, pain does the trick. When I start veering off course, he has to smack me upside the head sometimes to straighten out my vision. And that's what I'm holding onto. God loves us too much to leave us the way we are. And if pain is what he needs to use to change me, so be it. I just need to remind myself, that He has never failed me, and he won't stop now. Nothing we go through is wasted, nothing is unnecessary. It may be painful- but it will be used for my good, and one day I will be able to look back on this time in my life and see how God was there all along, and was working His plan out through it all.

It's just up to me to keep walking through the valley. Psalms 23 says though I WALK through the valley of the shadow of death. It doesn't say anything about sitting laying down and sitting in the valley. I have to get up. I have to keep going. I can't let the pain stop me, or let the devil convince me that it's not worth it. I know what God has told me, and I hang onto it for dear life when I reach my breaking point.  I have to know that God is going to bring me through the other side, and that one day this pain will be a memory, a testimony, one more thing to build my faith, one more testament to God's faithfulness.

But boy, does it hurt.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What I lose sleep over...

God grants his beloved sleep. I know it's true because it says so in the bible. I'd like to think of myself as God’s beloved. Scratch that. I KNOW I'm God’s beloved. So why am I wide awake at  2 am, even though I've had an exhausting day? Even though I've had an exhausting month? I come home every day with the anticipation of going to bed early. I truly have good intentions. Yet, here I sit. Awake. Again.

I could blame it on the five cups of coffee drank today. Or the shiny new phone I got this afternoon that has over stimulated my brain with the unnatural light. Or the horrible, throbbing  pain in my broken foot. But the reality is that the reason I'm awake is much more than that. And this is not an isolated incident. Most nights I struggle to sleep, wake up exhausted the next day, and then do it all over again.

If I'm honest, the reason I can't sleep is because of my brain. I sit up at night over analyzing the events of the day, the events of the past, the unknown events of the future. I plan and I regret and I worry. I take on things that were never intended for me to take on. I take on things that only God can handle. I try to figure out a way to control things outside of him. And it robs me of my peace. It robs  me of my sleep. It robs  me of my intimacy  with God ~ who wants nothing more than for me to give all of my cares  and worries to him, trust him with them, and leave them there.

The thing is, I know God is faithful. I know he always comes through. He's done it my entire life, and will continue to until the day I die. Yet sometimes, the cares of this world consume me. If I focus on life and all of its issues instead of focusing on God and his faithfulness, it becomes very easy to think I need to come up with a solution myself. What you focus on really does consume you. The busyness of my life sometimes leaves little room for God, and it messes up my focus. When Peter walked  out of the boat and onto the water, he was stable as long as he fixed his gaze on Jesus. As  soon as he started looking at the wind and waves and the circumstances around him, he fell. He focused on the elements instead of the one that controlled them, and it cost him.

Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He wants us to be at peace, to rest, and to abide in him alone. But it's up to us to trade our burdens for his. To give him out troubled thoughts and anxieties. Sometimes it feels good to keep them ourselves, to not bother God with the trivial aspects of our life. The creator of the universe has important things to do.

It's important to remember that to him, WE are the important things. He cares about every detail of our lives. He wants us to give him all of the pieces and trust that he'll put them all together the way they need to be. It really is to much for us to bear. We were never intended to do God's job ~ and if we try, we will end up losing sleep.

Admitting it is the first step. Now, I'm off to read my Bible, pray, and rest in the fact that  HE WANT TO GIVE ME REST. Hopefully that happens before  3 am. But if not, there's always tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CROSSroads' Recovery Breakfast

Here are just a few photos of the AWESOME recovery breakfast that was hosted at Faith Fellowship Church by CROSSroads. Four local churches each took a Saturday to host a recovery breakfast to bring an awareness about the drug addiction in town to their congregation and lay people, and this week was our turn. It was a gathering of the recovery community, area churches, law enforcement, concerned parents, and members of the community that want to know how they can help the addiction problem in Marshfield. There was worship, delicious food, testimonies, teaching, and preaching~ all courtesy of many guest speakers of the recovery community (including alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, celebrate recovery, and the drug court program)and fellow churches. There was also  resource sharing,  lots of prayer and connections made thanks to of all of the amazing people in the community who voulenteered their time to make it possible . We specifically highlighted the need for restoration homes where addicts could live free of charge for 9-12 months as they learn about God and how to live drug free. Thank you to everyone who came out, and for everyone that was involved! It was truly a joy to listen to the speakers, fellowship, and eat delicious food! You all made it possible- through planning, cooking, coordinating, inviting people, and teaching. All my husband and I did was supply the venue, introduce the great speakers, enjoy and  eat  ;) It was such a wonderful time of fellowship!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Yes, my husband really is that great!

 The past few days have been hard. I broke my ankle (again!) in a freak accident Monday night. This is the second time in less than a year and a half! Having a broken ankle means that I can't do what I normally do, and that I have to depend on my husband much more than usual. Which is really hard for someone who is self sufficient and likes to be in control of their environment!
 Bless my husband's heart, not only has he put up with my mood swings that come and go with the pain, but today he came home with a dozen roses, a bouquet of wildflowers, a box of chocolates, and a Starbucks gift card- then helped me hobble out to the car where he took me out to our local Thai restaurant for lunch! He really knows how to lift a girl's spirits!
I am so appreciative that God has blessed me with such a caring man who is by my side through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. I really don't know what I would do without him. I'm so thankful that I can take the time to rest and heal that I need to, because he is there picking up the slack and doing all he can to raise my spirits!

Now, if I could just get out of this darned boot and off of these crutches! Four to six weeks to go!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Another CROSSroads gathering down on the farm

Fellowship gatherings at the farm are becoming a regular occurrence for CROSSroads. Between food, good company, four wheelers, and SOBER fun, people are seeing that there is so much more to life than drinking and getting high! Here are some photos from our most recent gathering.