Saturday, May 23, 2015

Restoring what was lost...

Cocoa Beach, Florida~ where we have been lucky enough to enjoy our dream vacation!

We are halfway through a fabulous family vacation in Florida. This is honestly the best time we have ever had in our lives. We have been spending our days with no work or agendas but instead swimming in the ocean, walking along the beach and picking up seashells with my son, lounging by the pool, and taking in the amazing sights of God's unique creatures (the peacocks running around our subdivision, the crabs on the beach, and the geckos on the porch) while staying in a beautiful condo. I honestly could not ask for a better vacation. And this vacation is so meaningful to me, because it's one I was supposed to take years ago that was stolen from me. It's one I never thought I'd have the chance to take again.

In 2008, I was scheduled to go to Orlando with my sons and parents. My very generous uncle had offered to pay for the entire trip- a week at Disney world, the hotel rooms, food, and airplane tickets. I was so elated to have the chance to go, because it's something I could have never afforded to do on my own. Something I would never be able to offer my children. Something that my parents were never able to offer me. This was my one and only shoot to go on a real vacation- the kind you hear "normal" people talk about.

God knows I needed normalcy very badly at that point in my life. I was at the lowest point of my addiction, and under the influence of SOMETHING 24 hours a day. I was close to death, and needed something to make my life worth living. This trip to Florida was able to excite me enough to want to be alive to see it.

The plane tickets to Florida were bought, and we were all set to go. Then, on THIS EXACT DAY seven years ago- May 23RD 2008, right before I was set to leave for Florida, I woke up to find my fiance dead. Not just dead, but dead in the most horrific way possible. I woke up and he wasn't in bed with me, so I walked around the house trying to find him. I noticed a sliver of light coming from the basement- a place we never went. I walked down stairs towards the light, and saw a sight my brain really couldn't comprehend.

It looked like he was standing on his tippytoes. I called to him and asked what he was doing and told him he was late for work. I walked closer to him, talking to him the entire time. He looked odd, and wasn't moving. As I got closer, I realized that his tounge was hanging out the side of his mouth. That was odd... I walked closer and closer, talking to him the entire way, until I was standing right next to him. I reached my hand out and touched his face- which was ice cold and rock hard. He was dead. Very dead. He had hung himself from the rafters in the middle of the night- a tortured soul who could see no way out of the hell of addiction that we were both trapped in.

That was a turning point in my life. I was so heartbroken, so traumatized, and so hopeless, that I plunged even deeper into my addiction. I became suicidal myself, to the point that I had to check into a psychiatric ward. The one person who had ever truly loved me was gone, and to make it worse, he CHOSE to leave. Ultimately though, his leaving up opened up the door for me to find God. I was in so much emotional pain that the drugs and alcohol couldn't numb it anymore. I would later end up so desperate that I would decide to try the God thing. But it was a long, painful journey.

So, as I sat in the psych ward mourning the loss of my fiance and struggling to fight he images of his dead body in my head, my family left and went to Florida. My sister took my place, and they all went to Disneyworld. I obviously wasn't in any kind of shape to go on vacation, but I can remember being so heartbroken and feeling so forgotten. I felt like I had been robbed of so much by his suicide and our addictions. I wondered how my family could enjoy being at the happiest place on earth while I sat in a psych ward wanting to end my life. I realized that while my life had ended, everyone else's carried on. I had nobody. And certainly I would never have anyone who cared again, because I was beyond damaged. I was damaged before his death, but this took it to a whole new level.

Obviously I didn't want my kids to miss going to Disneyworld. But I can very vividly remember wondering why God hated me so much. Why did this have to happen now? Why didn't I deserve anything good in my life, ever? My one shot of having a decent vacation was ripped away from me, just like my future with the man I loved. I didn't get it. Why couldn't I get a break?

 When I was released from the psych ward, I was greeted by no one. The loneliness was deafening. I plunged straight back into my addiction full force. Eventually, I ended up at Milwaukee victory church where God changed my life. But it was hard. That was without a doubt the most devestating time in my life. But God had a plan, and little did I know then that he would work everything I was going through for my good.

I know now that it wasn't God who was withholding things from me. My addiction stole every good thing in my life.  Satan came to kill, steal, and destroy, and he was doing that all through the access he had to my life through my addiction.  Not only did he want me miserable, enslaved, and hopeless, but he wanted me dead. Just like my fiance.

I write this now, seven years to the day that my life changed forever, as I am in our car traveling to Orlando with my beautiful family. My husband- the man God knew I needed- and our beautiful new son. A son who wouldn't be here right now if my fiance from 2008 didn't kill himself, and if I wouldn't have taken my broken heart and given it to God. We are traveling to the exact spot of the vacation I was supposed to go on years ago that was stolen from me. A vacation I thought was irreplaceable and lost forever.

God is in the restoration and redemption business. The bible says that he will restore everything that was lost, and redeem the years the locust have eaten. And I am seeing that truth lived out. That's not to say that we should expect God to necessarily give us monetary things, though he may, he is much more interested on redeeming our hearts and letting us know how precious we are to him. God knew that my heart had never fully healed from that lost vacation and the circumstances that surrounded it. Though I no longer think about it much, it was still a sore spot in my heart, one that God wanted to heal and make right.

He used this vacation- a vacation I never expected to be on- to remind me that he is the God who sees, the God who knows, and the God who cares. Every hurt, and every detail of my life matters to him. When I start to doubt that, he shows me in the most unexpected ways just how much he loves me. And he reminds me that no matter how much the devil has stolen, he has the power to restore it all. No one has ever made too many mistakes or wandered too far for God to give you a glorious future right where you are if you give your life to him.

So for me, this is so much more than a vacation. This is testament to how good God is, and how he can take trials and turn him into triumphs and messes into messages for his glory. I am deserving of none of it, and I am grateful that he loves me immensely despite all of my imperfections. It brings to remembrance just how far he's brought me, and that he was there right by my side through it all. He loved me at my darkest. And he has given me new memories to associate with May 23 RD. Instead of it being a day of Sadness, it will now be remembered as a day of redemption. A date of pain is now a date of awe. That I am the daughter of a God who wants to heal my hurts- even if it takes a Florida vacation to do it.

No matter what is going on in your life, remember that God is good. Even In the horrible moments, there is a plan, and he is there. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find Mickey mouse =)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Resurrected Dreams

This past Friday, I graduated with honors from the University Of Wisconsin with my AAS associates degree. While graduating from college and the attainment of education and knowledge through hard  is always something to be celebrated, for me it held an even deeper meaning.

For me, graduating college was a dream that died long ago. I had always been incredibly smart, and was placed in gifted classes starting in third grade. My family- as well as myself- knew that I possessed the brains to make something of myself, but my addiction had other ideas. What could have been a bright future was instead marred by years of alcohol and drug addiction.

I tried- and failed to go to college four times before this. I would make it about a week, and then I would drive drunk and crash my car, or get arrested for assaulting someone, or doing something else that would sabotage my attempt at college. Ultimately, each time I had to drop out- because my addiction was so strong that I could not put it on pause while I sought a degree. It got to the point that I gave up trying to go to school, and came to terms with the fact that I would never be a college graduate. I wasn't meant to be a professional, all I would ever be was an alcoholic and an addict. And I was ok with that. After so many failed attempts to control my addiction, I decided that I would stop trying to not be an addict, and instead be the best drug addict I could be, and go at it with full force.

I was perfectly ok not only with the idea of never going to college, but of never having anything that resembled a life. I stopped getting my hopes up that I would ever break free because I had tried so many times before and failed. Drugs were my life. Being an addict was what I was good at. I was convinced that it was how I would live the rest of my life- and end it.

My graduation this past week is so much more than a piece of paper, but a statement. It is a testament to how far Almighty God has brought me. From the person shaking on the couch who was unable to walk or speak without having a drink first, to someone who now speaks loud and proud to  help people who are in the same position. From someone who was in and out of jail to someone who tells others about the freedom found in Jesus Christ so that they can be liberated from their chains. From someone who chose drugs over her children, to someone whose life revolves around her sons.  From someone who knew nothing but the hopelessness and despair that comes with drug addiction, to someone who has a hope and a future in Jesus Christ.

I can only hope that my story can be a testimony to others and give them hope that no matter where they are, or how lost or hopeless they may feel, God can turn it all around. He cares about every aspect of your life, and if you give your life to him, he will turn it into something marvelous. There is still hope, and it's never too late.

My graduation this week was my first tie ever in a cap and gown. I graduated high school on time and with my class, however I didn't go to the reception because I was 8 months pregnant with my oldest son. It had always bothered me that I missed my chance to be in a cap and gown. The smart kid, the gifted honor student- the one everyone expected to be in a cap and gown, was one of the only ones who wasn't. It was something that honestly embarrassed and haunted me my entire life. God knew it, and he made it right this past week. Not only did I get to wear a cap and gown, but I graduated with honors- while running a full time ministry, taking care of a two year old, and juggling my husband's hectic schedule. I truly believe God let me get to where I am so that I wouldn't be embarrassed anymore. He wanted to restore my past, and give me beauty for ashes, and he did.

I have learned a lot through this graduation process. Not only have I learned that I am stronger and more capable than I ever believed, but I have seen just how proud my husband is of me and how much he loves me. He threw me a surprise graduation with many of the people that I love mot in attendance. It is the second surprise party I have ever had in my life- the first one being the birthday party my husband threw me two weeks ago =) He went out of his way to make me feel special, loved, and honored in a way that no one ever has before. I am truly blessed to have him as my partner in life. His efforts to go above and beyond to show me that I am loved and cherished means more than he will ever know.

I have also learned that sometimes, people that you may expect to be happy for you may not be. Sometimes people will root for you to fail instead of push you to succeed, and sometimes no matter how far you go in life or how much you change, there will always be someone with something negative to say, or someone who refuses to see you as anything other than an addict. Sometimes people aren't happy for your successes, because it takes away their excuse for why they can't accomplish the same in their lives. The trick is to not let the negativity affect you. Surround yourself with the people who DO love you, and love the others from afar.

I have been told multiple times this week that I am an inspiration. The truth is, I am nothing. It's all God. He's the one who took this hopeless, lost, pitiful life and turned it into something beautiful. He is the God of redemption, the God of restoration, and the God on second, third, and 100th chances. And he can do it for anybody. Anyone can have the same ending as I do. No matter how bad the beginning is, there is always hope for it to turn around if you are breathing. How you finish is what matters. And with God on your side, I promise that your ending will be better than you ever imagined. Despite your mistakes, your bad choices, and your wrong turns- God has a plan for your life. Your dead dreams can be resurrected by God's power.


 My uncle read the following at my after-graduation celebration dinner. It is a speech by Nelson Mandela. I thought it was a very fitting choice for the occasion:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.