Monday, February 23, 2015

How 2 years can change your life...

Justin on his Harley big wheel-his favorite gift out of all of his birthday presents.

 This weekend, my husband and I- along with some close friends and family members) gathered to celebrate our son's 2nd birthday.  In the midst of an insanely busy schedule,  trips, and meetings,  we made sure to set aside time to celebrate the little person who has turned out to be the greatest blessing in our lives. If there was ever someone who deserved to be celebrated, it's him. Not only is he a trooper- he gets dragged all over by my husband and I on our ministry ventures, has a crazy schedule and no set routine most of the time, is always sharing his house (and parents) with strangers, and has been on more roadtrips in his short 24 months than most adults have been on
in their lifetime- but he has given his father and I a renewed purpose in life- a purpose that both of us had long ago forgotten about.

Justin celebrating his birthday with his daddy and some of his cousins.

Ben and I call Justin our "atonement baby." We truly believe that he was a gift given to us by God as a second chance to be parents, and to experience the wonderful joys that come with it. He was sent to make up for all we had lost out on, had stolen from us and given up on with our other kids while we were in our addiction.  Ben and I have very similar testimonies, and we both have much older children from previous relationships (long before we knew each other). We were horrible parents to say the least- caught in a cycle of drug addiction that made our children nothing more than an afterthought. We weren't there the way we should have been, and we put our kids through things no child should have to go through. We wasted precious years of our children's lives in a haze of substances, and by the God saved us out of our drug addiction, the relationships with our kids had been severely damaged and time had been lost that we could never get back. When Ben and I met, even though we were both in good places in our lives- being parents was the last thought to enter our minds. We both knew we had blew our chance at parenthood, and we had come to terms with the fact that it was something we were never going to be privileged enough to experience. We messed up, and sometimes there is no way to undo things that are done. Sometimes apologizes aren't accepted, people don't truly believe that God can change people (or at least not people as horrible as us), and second (or in our case 100th) chances aren't given.

February 21st, 2013- the day my life changed forever.

But GOD is the God of second chances..  I always had an ache in my heart for failing my kids and not being with them. However, despite how it may have looked to others- I was doing what was best for my kids. So was Ben. We thought staying away would give them the best shot at having a good life. We just messed things up. So we stayed away- even though it was heart breaking. I did what I knew to be best at the time, regardless if it hurt me. It wasn't about me. From the outside it probably looked like I was a lowlife junkie abandoning my kids, but I was trying to protect them- from me. They were safer, and saner, with me not around. It was the only unselfish act I performed in my addiction- doing what was best for my kids even though it killed me inside, and I was ridiculed for walking away. People didn't understand, but it didn't matter. I knew it was best for them. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my future husband that I had yet to meet had made the same exact choices regarding his kids years earlier.

I accepted that ache and loneliness as punishment- my lot in life for being a horrible mother. But that didn't make it hurt any less- it just helped me make sense in my mind why God had allowed my life to turn out the way it had, and why he didn't give me my kids back. I was saved, drug free, and accepted the consequences of not having my kids because of my bad decisions. So did Ben. We both had people in our life who were constantly reminding us what failures we had been, and we agreed with them. We had been horrible failures. But God had changed us. We made the best of our situations and decided to make the best out of the rest of our lives. We accepted that we couldn't change the past, but we're going to do our best to have a good future living for God- without children.

                                  Justin the day we brought him home from the hospital.

But God is the God of second chances. You can imagine our surprise, then, when we found out we were expecting. My entire infancy, I thought it was too good to be true. How could God be blessing us with a baby after how badly we had messed up with our other kids? How could he entrust this little soul to us? I remember being so fearful that something was going to go wrong. This couldn't be right. We didn't deserve this. Even though we had changed our lives and were living for God, we didn't deserve this second chance at parenthood. Isn't parenthood a one shot deal? Apparently, God didn't think so.

Thank God that he doesn't give us what we deserve. God blessed us with the most amazing gift we could have ever imagined when he gave us Justin. We finally understood what other parents meant when they talked about love at first sight, and knowing that you would kill to protect the little person in your arms. How you would give your last dollar, your last ounce of energy, your last breath for your baby. All of the feelings that the drugs wouldn't allow us to feel with our first kids came flooding in full force with Justin. We felt them so strongly, because we truly appreciated what we had in this baby- that he really was a gift. We had taken it for granted with our other kids, so we savor every moment of parenthood now with our second chance baby- our atonement baby. We realize just how precious each of these moments are, because we have grieved the lost moments we never got to spend with our other kids. It's like being given a second chance at life- a chance to do it right. Parenting truly is a gift- one that God gave to us even though we didn't deserve it. I look at my precious little boy's face, and see the love of God. A God who loves us so much that he longs to bless us, forgive us, have compassion on us, and give us another chance. When people ask me how I know God gives second chances, I point to my little boy.  He can have mercy and grace on you in ways you would never imagine. I am so amazed that God used this little boy to restore both mine and Ben's pasts in one shot. God can redeem even the most lost, worthless life if you give it to him. He did mine- beyond my wildest dreams.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning- great is thy faithfulness.
                       Lamentations 3:22-23

So I will restore to you the years that the locust have eaten... 
                           Joel 2:25

Monday, February 16, 2015

CROSSroads update 02-15-15

Every couple of months, our pastor has CROSSroads give an update of our ministry to the congregation. My husband gave an update yesterday, and he did an awesome job! God is really working through this ministry!

 Video of my husband giving an update on our CROSSroads ministry and the need for restoration homes to the congregation of faith fellowship.

I am so in love with this man, and so excited about what God is doing through his life! The best is yet to come!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The best Valentine's day.

I had the greatest Valentine's day today. We celebrated a day early because our dear friend Marcy and her kids are coming up to visit us for the weekend on the actual Valentine's day date, so we did our date night one night early. I got to spend the entire day with my wonderful husband- kid free- which is quite the feat considering how crazy our schedules are! He took me on a day of shopping, out to lunch, and then out to dinner at an AMAZING supper club for a delicious dinner of New York strip steak with sautéed mushrooms and onions, giant scallops, soup, salad, baked potato, rolls, and strawberry and chocolate cake. Then he had the waitress surprise me with a gorgeous bouquet of roses and a gorgeous, heart felt card that he had written in which brought tears to my eyes. He really went out of his way to make me feel special!

Afterwards, we attended a Journey tribute concert done by a band called Separate Ways.  My husband was like a kid in a candy store! He is an 80's music buff, and this was heaven to him! It was a lot of fun, and the band sounded phenomenal! I love going to concerts with him, he is so full of energy! We have seen numerous bands at Summerfest in Milwaukee together (Tim McGraw was the best!), and Ben is always a blast to be with. I couldn't imagine going with anyone else, nor would I want to!

To top it off, we got an amazing mutual Valentine's gift. I am not going to go into it again here since I already posted the pictures to my facebook profile, but I will just say that it is AMAZING, luxurious, and something that we never dreamed we would be able to afford to own! God has been so good to us, that I am truly humbled by it. We came to Marshfield 3 years ago with NOTHING but our bibles and our clothes, and he has provided beyond our wildest dreams- in ways too numerous to list here! We are both not materialistic whatsoever, and we ask God for very little. But he always, ALWAYS shows up and provides in ways far and above what we ask for. Sometimes I feel as if he is making up for all of those years that we were doing drugs, and providing us with things that he always wanted to give to us back then, but we weren't in a place where we could have been entrusted to be good stewards with them back then. He always wanted to bless us, we just needed to get to a place where we would allow him too.

While dinners and roses and shiny gifts are all wonderful things, they are not the BEST thing. They cannot compare to the blessings that I have in my life that money can't buy. The area that God has blessed me the most in, and that means the most to me- is my family. My husband is my greatest valentine's gift. He is truly a wonderful, God fearing man who has been to hell and back in his life and still has the heart to love people. He loves me unconditionally- even when I don't deserve it,- he is my biggest supporter, my best friend, and the leader of our family. I know without a doubt that he will never leave my side, and I am so honored to be his wife and the mother of his child- a child that he shows the same outpouring of love and support to that he does to me. Not only that, but he is my ministry partner- the one side by side with me in the trenches of spiritual warfare, as we try to show the light of Jesus to drug addicts. I see so many people who go through ministry alone, without their spouse, and I feel sorry for them. I could never dream of it. You HAVE to be a team, especially in something that is this intense. You need someone to back you up- and he always has my back! He is the one I want by my side during the most important work of our lifetimes.  I am a very lucky gal, and I thank God for the blessing he has given me in my husband.

I also thank God that he has protected our hearts from becoming hard, bitter, and unforgiving, and has enabled us to love each other in ways that we never could if we had held onto the hurt that we have endured in our lives. My husband and I have both been through thousands of terrible events in our lives that we could have used as an excuse to become bitter. But if we were bitter, we would not be able to fully love each other. Hatred and love can't live in the same heart. I am just so thankful that God saved us from that, and that he loved us enough to not let the hardness in our lives make our hearts hard. I am privileged to say that I get to love my husband and he gets to love me- fully. Without walls up, without pretending to be someone that we're not, without judging each other by our pasts. We forgive and forget because that is what a marriage takes. All of the gifts in the world cannot compare to a man who's heart is totally committed to yours, for life. THAT is the best Valentine's day gift! I love you, Benjamin Nicolas Hardy!

Monday, February 9, 2015

It all works for the good....

My husband and I had an amazing time this weekend with some old ministry partners from Milwaukee. A weekend full of dinners, meetings, fellowship, and reminiscing. Pastor Clay and his wife Felicia trudged along with Ben and I for years through the spiritual boot camp of Milwaukee Victory Church, and they continue to share the same passion for ministry and helping drug addicts that Ben and I have- even after all these years. Pastor Clay has been in ministry since 1991, and is still going strong. Ministry can be hard and it's easy to burn out, but his passion has withstood the test of time, and God has used him in great ways.

It was amazing to bring our past ministry and our current ministry together. They are both colliding and merging to bring together an amazing future ministry- one that includes Christian recovery homes for addicts needing restoration, led by grateful believers who have experienced that same restoration, deliverance, and freedom in their own lives. The visit was very beneficial for everyone- our CROSSroads team gained insight on where Ben and I came from and how the homes were run, and Pastor Clay and Felicia got a glimpse of the NEW thing that God is doing with the same foundation of the past. Between Ben, myself, Clay and his wife, we have over 50 years of addiction ministry experience, pastoring, and running restoration homes and churches- and we have learned a lot. God has used the good things in past ministries to show us what to do, and the not so good aspects as a warning as to what not to do- but it has all been a learning experience.

Reminiscing about where we came from and where we are at now left me astounded this weekend. I started thinking about our ministry team and all of the things that had to happen in everyone's lives to get us all together. How every life experience of each person- good and bad- shaped them into the people they are now with the exact giftings and personality traits that God wanted them to be equipped with for this ministry. How he moved people from different cities and states, to bring them together in Marshfield Wisconsin of all places. How he took all of our brokenness to use it to relate to the broken. How all along, our entire lives, God was planning this very thing. How God truly ordained everyone's steps, and how mesmerizing it is to see his plan coming together. Ask anyone on our leadership team if they would have ever dreamed of having the life they have now, and they will tell you no. It wasn't their plan, but it was God's. None of us could see the plan, we couldn't see what was being set up, but God knew exactly what he was doing, and was in control the entire time.

When I think about this- and how God truly does work everything together for good for those who love him- I feel so stupid for the lack of faith that can creep into my everyday life. God has the entire universe under control- and always has- so why do I worry about things? The God who was in every circumstance of my past, who took into account every bad decision, every setback, every comeback, every mistake, every struggle- is still in every circumstance of my present. That is a hard thing to remember sometimes when I am undergoing spiritual warfare and being attacked, when the bills are piling up, when I am exhausted, and when things look out of control. Sometimes we can only see God's reason for it in retrospect, after we've made it out.

Sometimes in the midst of God's plan, things can look really crazy. You could have never convinced me 7 years ago that God would take my horrible, devastating mess of a life and clean it up the way he has. Never would I have dreamed that I would be sober, a Christian (let alone living my life sacrificially for others), living in central Wisconsin, married to a wonderful man whose life has been redeemed by God in the same way- and that God would take those two former horribly broken people and create the greatest blessing in our lives- our son Justin. If it wouldn't have been for both of us being addicts and winding up at Milwaukee Victory Church, we would never had met and would not have this gorgeous little boy that neither one of us can imagine our lives without. Ben never imagined 25 years ago when his wife left him and took their kids that the decades of drug addiction that followed as a result would eventually lead him to his true calling in life. He is at a pastor's conference today with all of the pastors from our assemblies of churches, talking about CROSSroads and the need for homes for addicts. None of this would be happening today if it weren't for his past, and for God's mercy, grace, forgiveness, redemption, and plan. As a police officer told Ben this week- "your struggles in the past are what make you the upstanding guy and the success in the community that you are today."  Even when the circumstances looked horrible (and they did for a LONG time), God was working with the end result in mind.

I think that's why God ordained this weekend to happen the way that it did. Sometimes we need to be reminded that everything truly is working out for the good, even when it may not seem like it. When we look back in retrospect, when can see that God's hand was in all of it all along. Every person that comes against us, every bill that needs to be paid, every day of exhaustion, every time that things feel out of control- I need to recall what God has  already done. To recall how things have looked bleak- sometimes even devastating- in the natural realm before, and how God worked it all out for good in the end. No matter what happens, it is in God's control, and he wouldn't allow it to touch our lives if he wasn't going to use it for something down the road. Every moment that we go through in our lives is preparing us for a moment yet to come. We may not be able to figure out why God is allowing us to go through things, or see exactly how they are working into his plan- but we do know that God is good, and he is in control. The same God who ordained the footsteps of all the CROSSroads leaders for decades to bring us to the place we are now, will continue to ordain our steps for his purposes, no matter what the circumstances might try to convince us of otherwise.

So when I say that I feel stupid for getting worried, I mean it. I know better. I know God better. I have seen him do miraculous things throughout my lifetime, and I know that no attack, no setback, no disappointment, no mistake- will change His plan for my life.  I know that He truly does use everything for my good if I leave it in His hands, even when I don't understand what the end result is going to be. Sometimes I just need to be reminded. This weekend did just that, and I am grateful.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Raising voices.

The past few weeks have been exciting for CROSSroads To Recovery. I sit amazed as I watch God putting the pieces together to create this ministry- his ministry- for his glory. What started as a discussion and a dream less than a year ago has been manifested into a tangible, real life ministry that is changing real lives. I remember when my husband and I set out to start a recovery program in Marshfield last year, and I had so many questions as to the who, what, where, when and how. Most importantly was, how were we going to find the addicts to begin with? Neither I nor my husband am from the area, so we didn't personally know any of the drug users or where the drug spots were- we just knew that there was a problem and that these people desperately needed help, and that God was calling us to do it. We stepped out on faith, were willing to be available and obedient, and trusted God to do the rest. If he really wanted this ministry to happen, he was going to have to do it, because there was no way that we could do it on our own.

 We knew that we needed to do a street level outreach, instead of a "class" in a church- because the people that we wanted to reach were the unchurched- the addicts who were hardcore, still using, and not about to walk into a building with a bunch of "church people" who they couldn't relate to and felt judged by. We sympathized with their sentiment because at one point in time we had been them, and had the same exact thoughts. We wanted an outreach- to go outside of the church walls, and help bring the gospel to people who had no idea who Jesus was, that he loved them, and that they were not too far for him to take them back and forgive them of everything they had done in their addiction- no matter how bad.

As soon as we stepped out in faith, God brought the people to us. Wonderful, beautiful, glorious souls that I can't picture my life without now- people who have become some of my closest friends.  Not only did he bring us the hurting addicts who he wanted to heal and free, but he brought help in the form of wonderful leaders and mentors who help to guide my husband and I, amazing ministry partners who help us carry the load, and support from our wonderful church and the community as they stand behind our vision of Christian recovery homes for the addicts in Marshfield- the same type of homes that my husband went through and ran in Milwaukee; the ones that saved our lives and will save countless lives up here.

The recovery community in Marshfield is growing, and I am so proud of our area recovery community for stepping up to bring awareness to the issues of drug addiction in our community. We need to take the stigma out of addiction, and the way to do that is to break the silence. If you get a chance, watch the documentary THE ANONYMOUS PEOPLE. It is available on Netflix, and it talks about how silence in the recovery community kills people. We need to reach out so that people can support us and stand behind us, not hide the problem. Awareness is power. People need to stop seeing addiction as a moral deficiency and see it for what it really is- a spiritual stronghold and a sickness that affects real people with real families that care about them. The photo at the top of this entry is from a newscast on a presentation that part of the CROSSroads ministry team attended this week at the city high school that was put on by  a group called RISE TOGETHER. They are two young men who are recovered addicts that go around to schools all over the state speaking about heroin addiction, telling there stories, and give a face to it. That face helps give people hope that they are not alone and that they too can recover- and that is what our local recovery community and our ministry is seeking to do as well. We did an interview with the local newspaper here. We want to get the word out that there is freedom from addiction, and God is making that happen.

I am so excited to see what happens next, and what kind of pieces of the puzzle are going to come together next. God is doing amazing things in this community, and I am so grateful and honored to be a part of it!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spirtual giftings...

I have taken multiple spiritual gift tests over the years, and my gifts seem to change based on where I am in my walk with God and what type of ministry I am active in. When I was running the women's home in Milwaukee, my top spiritual gifts were teaching, suffering (which is no longer a gift on the newer test), mercy, prophecy, and missionary. Those gifts fit in perfectly with what I was doing at the time and the demographic of people that I was working with. I retook the test tonight, and these were my results:

-Tied for first place was EXHORTATION. The gift of exhortation- sometimes called the gift of counseling- is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to minister words of comfort, consolation, encouragement and counsel to other members of the body in such a way that they feel helped and healed (Acts 14:22, Romans 12:8, 1 Timothy 4:13, Hebrews 10:25)

-Tied for first place was DISCERNING OF SPIRITS. The gift of discerning of spirits is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to know with assurance whether certain behavior purported to be of God is in reality divine, human, or satanic. (Matthew 16:21-23, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 16:16-18, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 John 4:1-6).

- Tied for second place was PASTORING. The gift of pastor is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to assume a long term personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of believers (John 10:1-18, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-3).

-Tied for second place was PROPHECY. The gift of prophecy is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to receive and communicate an immediate message of God to his people through a divinely anointed utterance (Luke 7:26, Acts 15:32, Acts 21:9-11, Romans 12:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, Ephesians 4:11-13).

- My third highest scoring spiritual gifting was LEADERSHIP. The gift of leadership is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God's purpose for the future and to communicate these goals to others in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish those goals for the glory of God (Luke 9:51, Acts 7:10, Acts 15:7-11, Romans 12:8, 1 Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:17).

I am amazed at how my giftings have changed, and how well they fit into where we are right now with the CROSSroads ministry. I am thankful that God has equipped me for what he has called me to do, and I am curious to see how (or if) they will change over the next coming years yet again.