Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Elijah's Debut Story

As this was my first experience with homebirth, I wanted to make sure I documented this wonderful testimony of God’s faithfulness, love, and perfect timing. I know I will tell this story a hundred times and I’m not likely to forget it, but I still want it in writing, to share with others or to read over myself, and be reminded again and again of how God has blessed and cared for us. Now where do I begin? 

I found out this little bundle was arriving at the end of March. I somehow convinced myself I was further along than I was with Chloe, so when we settled on a due date of November 23rd, based on the EDD chart, I just told myself it would be sooner. We had also opted out of ultrasounds for this pregnancy, and so I never got that early “sneak peak”. But again, this didn’t matter to me because I was “sure” that this child was coming when I wanted him or her to come. Even though I have been pregnant before and know how unpredictable it can be, I still wanted to plan and be in control. And yet on the other hand, we made a very deliberate choice to be as natural as possible with this pregnancy and birth. We began seeing a wonderful midwife and planning a home water birth. We were thrilled to have an alternative to all of the invasiveness and “control” that the medical world offers. It has become so standard and normal, but we wanted to leave as much up to God as possible. It was a wonderful feeling. A very easy, laid back, and healthy pregnancy ensued. I really enjoy being pregnant and now I can say with confidence, after having two children, I would be overjoyed to do it all again! I also loved the anticipation and excitement that came along with not knowing the gender and now I know that from this point on, we will never “find out” before hand. It is just way too awesome of a feeling to experience right at the moment of birth, I never want to miss out on that again!

It only got tough towards the end, because as I said before, I did think my due date was a little off and that I would have this baby early. I am blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful group of women who have had lots of babies, most of which had come early, that I convinced myself I wanted to be part of the “early baby” club. I never really conversed with God about this but it was in my head and my heart, I would hit that lovely 37 week mark and then BOOM, the baby would appear and all would be right with the world! 

So God taught me a lesson, in both patience and trust. Each day that got closer to my due date, I started to feel like my body was less and less ready to give birth. The baby just seemed at home in there. I was still feeling great and active, so it wasn’t a huge deal. Then my due date came and went, and that’s when the agonizingly long days started. I began to realize that I had been right about my due date being a bit off, but just in the opposite direction. There had been signs, but I had ignored them because I had trusted in my own wisdom and understanding and “knew” how it would all play out. The “10 day overdue” mark arrived and on December 2nd, my midwife set up an ultrasound just to make sure all was well. I felt like each day was lasting a week and my mind was growing weary of all the questions (both from myself and others) and wondering. At this point, the ultrasound was the best thing that could have happened to me. Even though we wanted to avoid them, we know they can be very useful tools and this was one of those times where it was really helpful. So we took that LONG drive to Littleton (It felt very long, trust me), and I cried and prayed the whole way. I was convinced that this baby would never come out on its own. I was SURE that I’d end up having a hospital birth after all this time. Once again, I started telling God what was going to happen. I was terrified. And then the most beautiful thing happened…..that baby popped up on the screen in the ultrasound room and everything was….PERFECT. Not a single thing wrong. Absolutely normal. Not even showing signs of being “overdue”! That day, we left pretty convinced that the baby was right around 40 weeks. It was a moment of elation for me. I finally was able to let go of my fears and rest in the God who had created both me and the little wonder inside of me. He had orchestrated it all, and He would continue to do so. 

And, even after all that, there was still more waiting to do! But it didn’t seem quite so agonizing anymore. The ultrasound was on Monday, and after that I went about my week, stayed busy, and tried to keep up the routine as much as possible. Thankfully, I didn’t need to do this for long! On Wednesday I started feeling lousy and tired. Not labor yet, but just not myself. In the middle of the night (early Thursday morning), I started having regular contractions that lasted several hours...but they were only 10 minutes apart and not that strong, so when we got up that morning, we decided to do our regular thing. Derrick still went to work, and I still watched Evan (though I did send him home early so I could nap in the afternoon). I just didn’t want to get too excited if it was a false alarm. By the end of the school day, my contractions had slowed way down and weren’t very regular. Again, frustration set in. Would I really have to go through another day like this, waiting and wondering? Praise God for the answer to that question! My midwife came to check on me at 9 pm on Thursday and said I was 3 cm dilated, 100% effaced, and ready to go..just needed to dilate more. So she told me to try getting some sleep and see what happens. She left, and I did sleep for about an hour or so...until 11:30 pm and BAM! I woke straight up with a real contraction! I’ve never been so happy to feel pain in my life. 7 minutes later, another one! I got Derrick to wake up because I didn’t think it was fair for him to sleep if I couldn’t. :) This continued for a while, we even tried to sleep some more, but I would doze off between them and then wake up for every one. So eventually I gave up and tried to stay awake. At around 3:30, they were really in full gear, but STILL only 5-7 minutes apart! I thought it was going to be the longest labor of my life. So I asked Derrick to update my midwife and since we all thought there was still plenty of time, we didn’t ask her to rush out. She decided to come anyway and arrived by 5:00 am. I had just taken a shower (not easy with bad contractions, but it did feel great!) and was sitting on an exercise ball which is now my “favorite” laboring position, if there is such a thing! I was pretty comfortable and able to relax between contractions...but they were still like 5 minutes apart, and each one seemed to last such a long time. She checked on the baby and his heart rate was awesome. They set up all the birth things, got water boiling for sterilization, set up the tub for the water birth, and then were just going to lie down and rest a bit and wait for me to progress further. She offered to check me and I gladly accepted! I wanted to know how much longer this was going to take...I was really starting to hit that point of losing my resolve. And wow, was I surprised when she told me I had reached 8 centimeters! The end was in sight, and she wanted to get me in the tub. So they began filling it and getting it the right temperature while I sat back down on the ball to wait. Derrick even got the camera ready! :) Turns out, this little bundle, who had made me wait SO long for his arrival, decided to make a very sudden appearance! After about 2 more contractions, I realized that the sharp pain I was feeling was actually the baby’s head bearing down! So I decided to go with it instead of fighting it and, instantly, my water broke. At the time it was kind of shocking and startling to me and I said “Ow!” only because I had no other word to describe that feeling. So no one knew right away that was what happened, because I thought it was obvious and didn’t require an announcement. Derrick realized it quickly afterwards (because he was wet, haha) and then it became much more urgent to get me in the water. Praise God, it had just finished filling! I protested to moving, because I could feel the baby coming and didn’t think he’d stay in if I got up….so my midwife replied, “Well, then you’re going to birth this baby right here!” And instantly I remembered how MUCH I wanted a water birth and I gathered up the nerve to move (with lots of help, of course!). By the time I got comfortable, the next contraction hit and that was all it took. I don’t remember exactly how many pushes but, I can say with confidence that the entire delivery lasted 1-2 minutes. It was without a doubt, the most intense feeling I’ve ever experienced! I wouldn’t say it was agonizingly painful, but it was overwhelming, to the point where I am amazed I didn’t wake Chloe up with my wailing! And then there he was, in my arms, just as perfect as could be, all nice and cozy and warm in the water and both he and I were totally and instantly relaxed. It even took me a few seconds to ask his gender because, it truly wasn’t even my first thought when he arrived. All I could think of was how happy and overjoyed I was to be holding this amazing little person, who I had waited SOOO long to lay eyes on. I finally said, “Oh, what are you, I didn’t even look!” And of course, as most had suspected and guessed all along, he was a beautiful, strong, healthy, little boy. And I loved him instantly. 

So he arrived at 6:23 am. And even more great and wonderful things came afterwards. Like, only 10-15 minutes after he was born, I was walking to my couch, getting nice and comfortable and holding him. Soft worship music was coming from our tv, Derrick was right here with me, Chloe was still sleeping away upstairs, and the sun was just rising. What an incredible, glorious time to celebrate Elijah’s birth and God’s grace and mercy on us! I was just soaking in each and every wonderful minute as I began nursing him for the first time.. By around 8:30 am, Chloe was out of bed and sitting on the couch with me, watching while they did all the newborn checks, got him weighed and measured, put him in his first diaper (cloth of course!!), dressed him, swaddled him up and laid him back in my arms. And here we were, this new family of four, sitting together in our living room, just 2 hours after Elijah had come into the world! By that point, almost everything had been cleaned up, things looked pretty normal in our house, I was feeling amazing (definitely not like I had just given birth!) and by around 9:00-9:30, my midwife and her assistant left. We had the whole day to just quietly rest, enjoy new babyhood, and reflect on all that God had done. 

Turns out, Elijah probably was a few days “overdue”. We could tell by how super LONG his fingernails were and that most of the vernix babies are born with was already gone! But when we saw how healthy and strong he is, what a good eater and sleeper he is, we knew that God had once again proven Himself to be faithful and sovereign. And I had once again proven myself to be a worrier and untrusting. I have since repented of that and praise God for all that He has taught me through this wonderful experience. It’s still a battle for me to keep trusting Him daily, but I have to remember that He has carried me this far and will continue to do so throughout all of my days, and all of the days that I am caring for these beautiful children. There are probably a whole list of other reasons why Elijah’s birthday, December 6th, 2013, was the most perfect timing, but I won’t bore you with those details. In fact, I am sure I don’t even know all of the reasons why God chose that day, and I’m sure I never will! Elijah’s middle name is “Job”...I wanted this name because it is a reminder to me of all that Job went through and how when he questioned God, he was brought to his knees by the realization that God is completely sovereign, and does not owe any of us an explanation for anything He chooses to do. We can “wonder” all we want about His ways, but in the end, we have no right to question Him. He is our God, our Creator. We are His children, and we can rest in knowing that He will always do what is best. In every situation, no matter how we think things should go, He always knows infinitely more than we ever will. Someday, I will get to teach Elijah about how he got his middle name, and I pray that He will grow up trusting in His sovereign Father in heaven who loves him in a greater way than I could even fathom. Here is a passage in Psalms that brought me comfort as I anxiously awaited Elijah’s arrival, and I will always associate it with the lessons God taught me:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength[b] of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.
Psalm 73:23-28

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Things I have been challenged with lately!

Basic summary of the sermons/passages I've been challenged by this week: We are not saved from sin and hell so that we can then just keep on living for ourselves and what this world has to offer. That is not real salvation. It's not a prayer you pray or a "moment of decision" is a lifetime of being shaped and molded into more and more of who God wants us to be. It's being a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1-2). It means being willing to give up all the comforts of this world because we know they are just fleeting. It means letting go of that American "entitled" mindset and realizing that none of this STUFF matters in light of eternity. If we are not willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are not able to truly spread the gospel. The gospel being THIS: That we are completely and fully sinners, only capable of evil and selfishness....rescued and redeemed by a perfect Savior who loves us in spite of ourselves, and who in turn, gives us the opportunity and PRIVILEGE of living our lives truly dedicated to doing whatever it takes to share this message. Even LOSING our lives, if that's what it takes.
 How much time and energy do I devote to this? Am I considered extreme, radical, crazy, and foolish? I hope so....I pray so! Because Jesus said the world will hate true believers, and that this message will go so far as to divide even the closest of families. The truth of His Word is infinitely more important than any family relationship...or any relationship. Which am I choosing? Am I willing to lay it all down? We can't have it both ways. We can't deny ourselves AND get everything we want out of life. We can't follow Christ AND "follow our dreams"....we can't "serve two masters" (again, words spoken by Jesus!) I get so passionate about this because it has taken most of my life to realize these things, and I still struggle to overcome my desire to focus on what the world has to offer. These can be "good" things, too. But a good thing that is put before God is no longer a good thing. I praise God for the sermons He has directed me to this week and the reminder that the desires for comfort, ease, happiness, and entertainment come from a deeper desire in all of us for something greater than this world could ever offer. It's that relationship with Christ, it's the kingdom we look forward to, it's worshiping Him for eternity...THIS will be the fulfillment of those desires. One of the quotes I heard could be paraphrased that when we seek the pleasures of this world, it's not that we are overwhelmed with that desire, but that we don't desire it ENOUGH. Because the REAL blessing, joy, and satisfaction comes after this life, in the arms of Jesus, dancing for and praising the King for ever and ever. This is what we live for. This is what should get us excited every single day.....PLEASE dear brother and sister, do not let yourself be blinded by the here and now. It will not matter when we meet our Savior, so don't let it matter now!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why am I so weird?

Dear Fellow Believer (this applies to everyone who is a believer, not one in particular), my heart aches for you. I have known many people who use this title for themselves, and yet so many think we are completely extreme in the way we live. This should not be so. Nothing we are doing is that is just reading the Bible at face value and being open to let it change our hearts, rather than reading our own agenda into it based on what we've always "known" to be true. Shouldn't we all want that? Shouldn't we all want to approach His Word with fear and trembling and the desire to be changed by the Holy Spirit? Shouldn't we WANT to grow and be look in that mirror that James talks about and see what needs to be fixed? I know I am rambling and most of you think I'm just nuts and hormonal from being pregnant. I assure you that I am not....ok I am pregnant but it's beside the point. Hormones have nothing to do with it. In becoming a parent I have realized how short life is and the great responsibility I have to teach my children. Which brought me face to face with my own SELF and I did not like what i saw in that mirror. I am not perfect, I will never be. I just desperately want to conform more and more to His image. I can't explain it any other way. I did not have that hunger until about 3 years ago, and it grows deeper all the time. So yes, sometimes I go off on these tangents about convictions I have. Because they are BRAND NEW convictions. Like, first time in 30 years, smack you in the face, life altering stuff. And I guess I don't understand why you, fellow believer, wouldn't also be excited about these things. Because it's the Bible we're talking about! It's not like I made this up. It's clear as day, right there in those wonderful pages. Truth. Simple truth. Not tradition or moralism or legalism or liberalism or whatever you want to call it. Just God's Word to us. And I want to obey it. I want to cling to it. I want to be completely transformed by every single letter of every word. Do you have that desire too, my dear fellow believer? Does it overtake you, and overwhelm you, and almost frighten you that you didn't get it before? This happens to me daily. And I don't think I am better than you. Please, please don't think that! I am just completely transformed by the Holy Spirit. It's the only explanation. I am living proof that He exists, because this is all Him talking through me. Well, I pray that I'm not getting in the way, that is. Over the past few years, Derrick and I have chosen to give up so many things that we used to enjoy, maybe even idolize. Why? Because of legalism? Because we are self-righteous? Because we just really enjoy being weird? No's because of His influence. And reading God's Word. We don't do holidays anymore (well, I guess except Thanksgiving, but even that one is questionable to me sometimes), and we have just cut out many other things that the Bible teaches against, but most Christians are completely fine fact, many even think some of the things we stopped doing are "Christian" things. Again, no judgment or trying to be better than anyone else. But have you asked yourself WHY we do this? I'll tell you's because God spoke and we couldn't ignore it. It was this aching in our hearts to follow His Word the way He wants, not just following what we like and brushing off the rest as "not that big of a deal". It is a big deal. All of it. It isn't just a "matter of interpretation" or , "well you're entitled to your opinion". This is God's Word, TO US, and we try to change it to fit what we'd like it to be. It is a lot more black and white than we realize....but we are usually not receptive and open enough to notice. And I guess what is scary and sad to me is that most Christians think we are weird. Not unbelievers, I expect them to think we're loony. But brothers and sisters in Christ think we are downright nuts! I don't get that. It is heartbreaking, really. I wish it wasn't such a lonely road, sometimes. But I am thankful. Because God is using this to teach me SO MUCH that I would have never learned otherwise. OK I'm done. I don't care if you judge me, say bad things about me, or write me off as a lunatic. Just please, allow your heart to be opened by the Holy Spirit, and approach His Word without any preconceived ideas, and you will just be amazed at the transformation. I know I am.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Lot Can Happen in 5 Years....

I guess I am resurrecting this journal again, at least temporarily. My heart is overflowing with emotion and I just want to get some of that out in a place that I can be clear and concise...and that is in writing. I am terrible at verbalizing what I think and feel, but give me a pen to write with or a keyboard to type on and it just rolls out. I don't know why it's so different from speaking, but it is for me. Maybe I'm less afraid of how it sounds when I write it, i don't know. Anyway.

5 years. It can be a long time, or a very short time. I guess if you had to wait 5 years for something, it would seem like forever! But in hindsight, looking back on all that God has done, 5 years has been like the blink of an eye. My entire life has, more than that, it has begun. And what a beginning it has been!

5 years ago today, my husband's first wife passed away. She was a wonderful woman and one that I had the opportunity to get to know many years ago when we were suite mates in college. We were in different circles of friends and didn't spend tons of time together, but I do remember that she was a likeable person who I enjoyed chatting with--and that at the end of the year, I left for the summer wishing that I had gotten to know her better.

After learning the news of her death, my world began to crumble. At the time I was walking down a dangerous path that was far from God. It was completely self-serving and self-destructive, all wrapped up into one ugly mess. Here was someone who was younger than me, who was living for God and serving Him, who was just abruptly taken from this world....and I was smacked in the face with the realization that if that had been me, my life thus far would have been completely wasted on my own desires. I wanted desperately to change, and 5 years ago, the greatest loss Derrick has ever faced became the event that jump-started my journey back home to my Savior.

And fast-forward 5 years. I'm sitting here tonight reflecting on all that has happened. All that God has done. How He compelled Derrick and I to find each other--both completely broken before Him--and showed us beyond any doubt that He had a plan for us, and that included sharing life together. I remember praying again and again that if we could bring more glory to Him together than we could apart, that He would show us. And every time, He would clearly answer, "YES!" It was an amazing experience as I witnessed His incredible grace and perfect timing throughout our relationship. I still get weepy when I think about all He has done in us, through us, and for us. He is just a great and loving God. I no longer question why tragedy happens...I have watched first hand as God has taken something so painful and turned it into absolute beauty. I still fear loss, just as anyone does, but not without hope and confidence that He works out every circumstance for His good and His glory.

There is this urgency I have about life now that I never had before. It used to feel like I had all the time in the world, and now I am fully aware that this is just not true. We have this focus and drive to serve in any way we can to bring glory to the One who has loved us and saved us so perfectly and completely. I just love my Father in heaven so much....He laid down everything for me, for all of us, and all He wants is our hearts. It is such a small thing to give in comparison to the great and wondrous love He has shown us. People think it's so hard to give up everything and follow Him....but when we fully realize what He has done, and what we truly deserve, making our entire lives a sacrifice just doesn't seem like nearly enough. Because it isn't. That's the beauty of grace...we don't die to ourselves in order to earn His favor....we become living sacrifices because we are just falling over ourselves in gratitude to the One who loves us more than we will ever comprehend. What else matters in life but this? What possible reason could we have to be on this earth but to bring Him more and more glory? When you really start to see the big picture, it's just too incredible to ignore and go back to "regular" life. Comfort is not an option....and if we do choose it, it's only fleeting anyway.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately since a dear friend of mine lost her husband to cancer this summer. I am reminded of all that God has done in Derrick's life and all the growing that has taken place. He no longer sees life the same way...and that has motivated and compelled me to let go of this world and all of its temporary pleasure and cling to Christ. It is not easy. People don't always understand. A lot of times they think we're nuts, and sometimes they even say it to our faces. But it's ok. Because we know what He has brought us through, and we know that following Him is the only option worth having. Everything else leads to a dead end--but Jesus...well anywhere He's going, we want to go, too. He's the way, the truth, and the life. THE life. That settles it for me. The way I look at it, it would have been so easy and understandable to most people if Derrick had just said, "Forget this!" and walked away from following God. Most people would have thought it made perfect sense. After all, who wants to trust in a God who lets the love of your life die? But God led him to the book of Job....and he was reminded of His sovereignty and that it is impossible for a mere man to ever comprehend the vastness of God's "big picture" plan. He orchestrates every detail of our lives. And we can trust Him completely. Not too long ago, I was really struggling with anxiety and fear, and Derrick encouraged me to study Job with him. We did, and it changed my perspective in so many ways. I am willing to rest and trust in God's plan now. That is something I could not say 5 years ago. I'm not even sure I could say that 2 years ago! But I can say it right now. At this very moment, I know without a doubt that He can be trusted. He is good, He is so much greater than I could ever imagine, and I am resting in that.

I pray this is encouraging to someone who reads it. Maybe you are struggling with fear of the unknown and of what you cannot control. Look to Jesus, who loves you and will never leave you! Maybe you are choosing to walk down your own path, and it's leading nowhere but to your own destruction. Look to Jesus, who is a loving Father, waiting to welcome home His prodigal son. Maybe you are facing the greatest loss of your life, and the grief is so great that you feel you cannot go on. Look to Jesus, who knows your pain better than you do and cares more deeply about you than you can imagine.

"And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him,  who have been called according to His purpose." ~Romans 8:28

I have no idea what the next 5 years will bring, but I do know that HE is fully aware of every moment, and that is more than enough for me!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

How God Changed this Heart of Stone


How do I begin...where do I begin? It's so hard to know. I have been wanting for about a week now to sit down and share with you all my learning and growing process and where God has brought me at this season in my life. I want to be open so that He can work in and through me, and maybe encourage some of you where you are at right now. But openness is's easy to be misunderstood, especially in written word. It's also easy to be afraid of what people think, but that is becoming less of an issue for me these days. So I will start with a prayer in my heart that God will give me the words, and we'll go from there.

 I think it may appear to many that I seem a bit "extreme" when it comes to my walk with Christ. I assure you that over the course of my life, I have looked at people who were sold out for Him and thought the same thing. "Wow, they are really taking this a bit far." And, well, if you think that about me, you'd be right! I'm taking it as far as I possibly can...because my walk with God should encompass every part of my life, every nook and cranny, every single moment. 

The newsflash about this is......I didn't get it until about 3 or 4 years ago.

I don't know if I ever truly grasped what it meant to be a follower of Christ before this. And yes, I do wonder if I was one of the people Jesus was talking about in this passage:
"And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ "

Luke 13:23-25

So, how does this happen? How does a girl who has been raised in the church hearing the gospel message from the age of 4 grow up to be an adult who just plain doesn't get it? I have wondered this myself, more times than I can count. Whenever I saw someone who truly desired to walk with Christ, I just figured they must be faking it. I really did not understand what it meant. Now, after all this time, I finally realize that the answer is simple. I missed out on Christ being my LIFE because I was taught to obey a set of rules. Man made ones, yes, but also God's. Rules aren't bad at all, especially if they are from the Bible. But when we are taught the rules but never the reason; or the fact that it's about the heart, not about performance, we are dangerously wrong. Like pointing-people-straight-towards-hell wrong. We often go about our lives like there is no eternity. Like life does not carry on after these bodies expire. I assure you, it does carry on, and our bodies will expire. And where will that leave us? Will our education, career, good works, possessions, friends, or family matter in light of eternity? Once again, I assure you that it will not. None of it. When this life is gone, it's gone....and I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be serving the King of the kingdom that is to come. The one who sent His only Son to die to pay the ultimate price for my sin so that I could spend eternity with Him.

I was talking with a friend many years ago about this topic. We were both very young, and neither one of us were taught well enough, or our conversation would have had a different outcome. I told her that I often think about eternity and want to focus more of my time and energy on things in light of the fact that life is temporary. Her response was something along the lines of, "Well yeah, that's good, but don't let yourself get consumed by it." I had no idea how profoundly wrong she was, but I often remember that conversation and wonder what would have happened if she had said something more like, "Well, of course! Living for Christ is all that matters, we should be focusing on serving Him every day!" Anyway, I guess it doesn't accomplish anything to do hypotheticals like that, but I do wonder at times if life would be different.

Recently I rediscovered Psalm 119. Basically the writer is just writing this long poem devoted to how much he loves God's law. Here is a passage that stood out to me:

(Psalm 119:33-37)

"Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in your ways.

I think one of the reasons it stood out to me was how differently I was looking at it. As a young person I would look at stuff like this and wonder what was really so great about God's law? I get that I'm supposed to follow it, but why should I love and desire it? That just didn't make sense to me. Especially since I had always believed that following God's ways meant a life of blessing and protection. So of course, when I went through a really low and dark time in my life, I felt like God abandoned me. Like Job, I felt like I had been treated unfairly. When he lost his children and just about everything he owned, all he could do was go on about how righteous he had been and how he didn't deserve this. I felt similar feelings. "How could You do this to me, God?" I wanted to cry out. "I have tried so hard to follow You....You're supposed to keep me safe!" For a long time there just didn't seem to be answers. So I did what made the most sense to me. I just started giving up on doing things His way. It wasn't an obvious change, more slow and gradual, but my heart was hard. This went on for most of my adult life, up until a few years ago. I found myself broken before God, as I finally realized that doing things my way had done nothing but turn me into a depressed, anxious, angry, bitter, selfish mess. I remember literally crying out to God to do whatever it takes to bring me back to Him. I was done with my old self and my old life and wanted to be made new. And boy, did He answer! A month later, I heard this song for the first time:

Come Home Running

Oh heart of mine, why must you stray?
From one so fair you run away
And one more time you have to pay
The heaviness of needless shame

Oh heart of mine, come back home
You've been too long out on your own
And He's been there all along
Watching for you down the road

So come home running
His arms are open wide
His name is Jesus
He understands
He is the answer
You are looking for
So come home running
Just as you are

Oh child of God so dearly loved
And ransomed by the Savior's blood
And called by name, daughter and son
Wrapped in the robe of righteousness

Suddenly God wasn't this domineering tyrant watching over my shoulder and waiting for me to mess up anymore....(and yes, I laid awake at night many times as a child trying to remember everything I had done wrong so I could ask forgiveness and make sure I was truly "saved")....He was a loving Father, who had been there all along, watching and waiting for me to come home. And so I didn't just walk back into His arms.....I ran.

I think....well I know this is when the change began. But growing in Christ is a process, and I definitely didn't get it all right away...I still haven't gotten it all, and I'm sure I never will until I'm with Him. But it was the start. This morning I heard this passage and I just saw it in a completely new light. I realized that this was not just meant for the nation of Israel, but for all believers, and it just rings so true in my life, as I can now truly say that I love to obey Him and it is all because of His Spirit within me! 

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
(Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

See, I had it all backwards. I was trying to serve God on the outside, but on the inside I wanted to keep living for myself. But what I needed was a new heart, one that can only come from God, that would cause me to desire to obey! I can't do that myself, and that is why I always found the Christian life oppressive and frustrating. But now, as someone who has been changed from the inside out, I can truly say I LOVE to follow Christ, and His rules. In fact, just as the Psalmist said, I even delight in them! 

Let me just end for now by saying that this is not the end..... it' the beginning! The beginning of the rest of my walk with Christ on earth. I am excited to see what He will do in my heart and life, now that I am sold out for Him. And I have to say, because my citizenship is in Heaven, I am just not concerned with things on the earth. I pay attention to what is going on around me, I am aware of other people and their physical needs as well as spiritual. But I don't worry about the things I used to worry about. I don't stress out about who is in leadership positions in our government, or about laws being made. Why does it matter? Do these things change hearts? Of course not! Believer, we are too often consumed by these "issues" that just really aren't issues. Let's get to know people, and love them where they are at, just like Jesus, and let God do the work. I also no longer think about having enough money. God has always provided, and will always provide. In this country we are way too comfortable anyway, and even though Derrick and I choose to live a very simple lifestyle (some would even probably consider it extreme, which is just silly to me, when I think about how people in 3rd world countries are forced to live), we are learning all the time that we could be just fine with even less. Not to mention the fact that less is MORE, oh it's so much more!! Less "stuff" means less distractions....and more time to focus on what truly matters. More time to invest in people's lives; to learn, study and grow, and to enjoy each other's company. I'll take these things any day over all the material wealth the world can offer!!

I could go on, but I won't. I think I will write again later and give some details on how this is all playing out in a practical way. But I am too tired to keep writing, not to mention you are probably getting very tired of reading! :)

I'll leave you with another passage of Scripture. I pray that you all have been changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit and that you are standing firm in Him!

For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

(Philippians 3:18--4:1 ESV)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Less is More

 So it's been a while! But I'm ready to get back into this writing thing. I really want to share my thoughts with those who care to read, and maybe it will open up some discussion about some pretty cool things! I realized recently that I am being convicted about something. I guess it sort of crept up on me slowly, over time, as God changed me and showed me things...then one day I woke up and BAM, the world seemed different!

 We've been doing a lot of talking and making a lot of changes in our day to day life. We live off of a low income and need to make it work, so we made ourselves a strict budget and got a LOT simpler than we already were. Cut back on little extras, and the more we did, the more we found we could live without! Now we're in the process of weaning ourselves off of using our dishwasher, because let's face's a huge waste of water and electricity, even if it is "energy efficient". There's nothing more energy efficient than elbow grease, and it's definitely cheaper! haha. So we are going to close up the dishwasher for good pretty soon...or maybe just break it out for special occasions when we really feel lazy. OK, that's a tangent. I was basically using that as an example of what God's doing in our hearts right now. Not that I think He is necessarily convicting us about the dishwasher (though I do believe it's Biblical to live simply and work hard, and live within our means, all things that will be helped by cutting back on the use of appliances).....but I think it's just another manifestation of the simplicity in which I believe we should be worshiping and serving our Creator. Now here's the real story....

This has actually been something that's been going on in my heart for....years. And Derrick too, although I think he got it before I did. Well, I know he got it before I did. :) I've been convicted after reading in Acts about the beginning of the early church, that American Christianity is a far cry from what life looked like for a believer then. It's just so easy to be complacent here. We're comfortable, it's not dangerous (usually) to go to a place of worship, so it's easy to just go and not really care about worshiping God. In countries where there is real persecution going on, this is not the case. Believers don't beat around the bush, there's no option to be "luke warm", as Jesus says in the book of Revelation. Either you love Christ and you're willing to die for Him, or you don't. It's that simple. But here, you can go to "church", sit around and sing songs that make you feel all warm and fuzzy, or really excited and emotional, about Jesus. Then you can just sit there silently and listen to a sermon, and act like it means something to you. Then you can leave without talking to single person (especially in a big church), or you can chat about surface things that don't matter. But then what? You go back to your life. Because Sunday morning is separate, somehow. It's "God's time", but the other 6 and a half days of the week belong to you. I'm saying this because I've done it...all of it. Not only that, but I've avoided church all together, because I didn't want to talk to anyone about what was going on with me, or I just plain didn't feel like giving my time to God. Either way, it was complacency. I was acting like I had an option. I didn't. And neither do you, if you claim to follow Christ.

 Last year God convicted me even further that the way we do church gatherings needs to change. We sit passively and act like we're supposed to just be filled up by those leading the service, then we leave. Never once actively participating. Just sit facing forward, chat with people about stuff, then leave. It's good to worship God as a body, but are we really doing that if we aren't connected during the time? If we're not sharing Scripture and what God is teaching us, and praying together.....are we really truly gathering in the name of Christ, and seeking to learn and grow together? Or we just checking it off our list, doing it out of obligation, and leaving without really unifying as the body of believers that we are? Not to mention the pressure we put on the leadership to plan, study, organize....shouldn't we all be contributing and make this time more interactive? The concept is often referred to as "organic church". I like that concept, to me that means simple, unaffected, and in its purest form. Hmmmmm....

Fast forward to this week. I learned that the Passion conference in Atlanta was live streaming their sessions for free. I went on their website and saw Francis Chan and John Piper as two of the speakers. I thought, "Well, I agree with the way Francis Chan looks at things, and with Piper for the most part, so this should be good!" I turned on the live stream and within minutes I was sickened. There was so much flashiness and worldliness, I felt guilty just watching. I really felt like I was watching a bunch of people make fools of themselves, all in the name of "God". Famous Christian musicians, dancing all over the stage and rocking out, people in the audience cheering and clapping, all excited. What were they excited about? Was it worship? Were they in awe of their Creator? Or were they thrilled to be seeing one of their favorite musicians a few feet away, singing a catchy tune that they really like? Then I hear a "commercial" by the guy who I think runs the conference. He was talking about how they are raising money to fight human trafficking, which of course, is a cause that should be on all of our hearts. But then he proceeds to advertise the digital media that you can purchase so you can hear your favorite songs from the conference. I thought, why not give all the money to those who are truly in need? And what about all the show and fluff? How much did all those bands cost? And speakers? Do you really NEED all that? Anyway, long story short, I turned it off. Sickened, and really sad. Sad that God's name got dragged through the mud like that. Sad that Christians in America just don't get it. Sad that I'm lumped in with the rest of them most of the time, when I desperately want to disassociate myself with that kind of worldview. And just plain annoyed that so many people don't get it.

 Then today I wasn't feeling well so I had a sick day and was flipping through channels on Roku, just checking out different church services. I couldn't turn a single service on for more than a couple minutes without feeling guilty about watching it, it was that bad. A lot of them had that soft, "prayerful" music in the know, I actually got scolded once by a pastor, when I played the piano at a church in Lancaster, PA. I thought it was absolutely nuts even then, before I realized a lot of this stuff. I was part of the worship team and we had a song at the end so we were sitting on stage waiting to play after the pastor finished praying. When he was done, he came right over to me and whispered in my ear that I NEED to be playing the piano in the background when he prays, to set the "mood". He was dead serious, and kinda mad at me that his prayer was accompanied by silence. I remember I finished playing with the team and went and sat in the pew....all I could do was cry. I was brand new to the church, excited to get involved, and my enthusiasm had been squashed by a man who wanted to create the perfect atmosphere for his prayer. I don't think I ever went back after that. Around that time, I visited another church and was literally stalked by them when they found out I play the piano (they had no musician at that point)....I didn't want to attend there, because the message had lasted about 10 minutes, and it was literally about nothing, I don't even think the Bible was opened. Later on, I was employed by a church in York, PA. I attended there sometimes, but it was so surfacey and fluffy, I couldn't stomach it. Not only that, but it was just way too was run like an organization, not a body of believers. It had more staff than my current church has members. It was very political, and all about the numbers, getting people through the door. When my time at LBC was over, I knew that I would NEVER be employed by a church again, I just hated it. It felt so wrong to me. Little did I know that Derrick would come to the same conclusion a couple years ago (I was sad at first because I felt afraid about losing the income. Now, I am SO glad he is no longer employed by a church). It just shouldn't happen. The office of pastor has been misconstrued and shouldn't even exist the way it currently does. If men who follow Christ would step up and lead, there would be no need to hire one person to do all the work of leading the body. It would happen naturally.....organically (there's that word again)....and we all would be closer to God and each other as a result. And we wouldn't see one man (basically anyone who has been or is a pastor) slowly waste away with the burn out and exhaustion that they all experience....that is another topic for another blog post, it just devastates me to watch men of God lose their spark and enthusiasm little by little. There is a better way....if only we all could see it and work together to make it right!

 So what is that better way? I've said a lot about what I don't like....what is the "ideal"? Well honestly, I think starting a home church would be awesome. BUT, that's not possible since we're already a part of a church body that we really love serving and growing with. And we're not about to sacrifice that for a dream. So maybe someday, if we live somewhere else. But for now, I think I just need to keep sharing, keep speaking the truth, keep talking about what's in God's Word, and keep loving believers and unbelievers alike. And reminding those who follow Christ, that when we gather, all we really need is our Bibles, and each other. We could sit on the floor with bare walls and no musical instruments, and it would be just amazing, because God is there in the midst of those who gather in His name. I think people would be surprised to find that when all the distractions are stripped away, it is much easier to draw close to God and our body of believers as a unit, all with the single purpose of giving Him all the praise and glory He deserves!!

See....less really is more! Less of us, and more of HIM.