Monday, January 25, 2016

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

My heart is tender toward those who are grieving. Because my own story has been so marred by a profound season of grief. There's a special ache within me when I know that someone else is on that same journey. It's a road that changes you. Challenges you. Refines and defines you.

We are trucking along in life when we get hit square between the eyes. I know that shock. That disbelief. The numbness of the surreal that actually serves you well to get through the unthinkable tasks that loss includes. And then comes the heavy weight of coming to grips with the way your life has been shattered. 

Establishing the new norms. Walking through a day feeling okay, when a scent or a sight takes you immediately back to ground zero. And you feel ever on edge of tears. 

To be honest, part of the first aftermath I felt from grief was a deeply calloused heart. Like two little kids comparing scars, I felt sure that my war wound was deeper. Harder. Bigger. Swimming in a sea of martyrdom, I reacted to the stories of others with an internal dialog that said I had it worse. Things were harder for me.

So that fact that I am tender and achy for others who mourn actually is a testimony to the miracle of how God has reshaped me. 

It is no small thing. 

In case you are in the dark trenches of feeling like your grief and loss far outweigh what anyone else faces, let me assure you that God will continually write your story when you allow him. He will transform you in inconceivable ways as you grief forward. As you take baby steps through life. 

It's part of his great exchange. 

He promises us that He is the one who makes testimonies from our tests and triumphs from our trials. 

His word says so.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:1-3

For those who are poor and lacking and in need, he gives good news.

For those who are brokenhearted, he promises to bind up the wounds and offer you healing.

If you are captive to fear and sadness and bitterness, then he offers freedom instead.

For those who are imprisoned in darkness from the pain of losing a loved one, a marriage, a relationship, a job, a hope or a dream... he says he will give you release.

And for those who mourn, no matter the loss or reason, he promises comfort. 

For ALL who mourn, he gives his comfort.

If you are grieving, he will give you provision. For every step of your journey of grief, he says he will provide for ALL those who grieve.

When your life is in ashes from the fiery trials, he promises to give you a crown of beauty in exchange. 

If you are mourning, he offers instead his oil of gladness.

For those who are overcome with a spirit of despair, he says he will give you a garment of praise.

It's a great exchange.

We bring him our broken, jumbled, horrible messes. We lay them at his feet. We beat against his chest in anger from the losses we bear and cry out to him. And he responds in love as a Perfect Father. We can question him. And he will give answers. There's 66 books of answers and promises that we can use as a knot at the end of our ropes. We fall down before him, just as Mary did when her brother Lazarus was dead, and we mourn and cry and wail and express our sorrow.

And He is the One who cries with us.

Jesus wept. 

Not because he felt great despair and angst at the loss. No, he knew that it would in fact, "not end in death but for the glory of the Lord." 

He wept because he feels our sorrows with us.

If you are wiping tears from your eyes, then be assured that you have a Savior who cries with you. 

And just as death was not the end for Lazarus, it is not the end for us. God offers us a forever with him. He says that the sufferings of this world cannot compare to the glory to come.

When you are drowning in grief and loss and mourning and ashes and despair, captive and heartbroken by circumstances, God says give it to me. Hand it over. Trust me with it.

And be assured that in return, I will indeed offer this good news. I will bind up the broken heart. I will grant you freedom and release. I will pour out comfort and provision along the road of mourning. I will take the ashes and because of my sovereignty, I will bring beauty. I will ultimately right all that is wrong. Offer a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. 

Forever and ever and ever.

I share this today not as a cliche.

But as the truth I've discovered in my own life.

I'm living proof of these promises.

He took my calloused heart of stone from my own suffering and gave me instead a unique ability to ache for those who mourn. 

He is still redeeming my losses by using them for his glory. For his kingdom. And it's a gain I wouldn't have imagined. It's a gain I also wouldn't change.

He took my mess and gave me this message.

For every one of you who mourn today, I want to assure you. I want you to know that its the truest part of my own story.

God is the God of great exchanges.

In his providence and unending love, he took it all upon himself to make us his children. 

And he is Father who cries with us. 

He is also the Almighty God who says I will pour out my blessings on your broken paths.

Just read through Isaiah 61.

And stand firmly on the truth of it.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

To Moms Everywhere--Am I the Only One?

I went to grab some coffee when I noticed it.

Whoever used the Keurig last (a-hem, one of my offspring) left their K Cup in the machine AND they did not replace the mug they used on the coffee station tray next to the Keurig.

"GUYS! Am I the only one who knows how to put things back where they go?!" I grumbled to my family, sitting around the breakfast table.

A bit later, after the kids were off to school, I went into the kitchen and saw it. Their breakfast plates and cups, piled in the sink. Instead of in the dishwasher, as is our family rule.

"UGH. Am I the only one who knows how to put dishes in the dishwasher?" I muttered to myself.

I was completing my morning ritual of walking through the house, doing a quick tidy-up, when I saw yet another offense.

I give you Exhibit A.

To moms everywhere-- am I the only one? The only one who has somehow successfully raised their children to the preteen and teen years, to raise them to the point of even accomplishing such tasks as dressing themselves, preparing simple meals, and driving a car?

YET, has somehow unsuccessfully taught the basics of life like-- replacing the toilet paper onto the toilet paper holder?!

I ask you. 

Am I the only one?!

All too often, as I putter about, I ask myself-- am I the only one around here who knows how to do these things? Things such as rinsing plates, putting shoes away, bringing down laundry and hey-- how about this one-- flushing the potty. Truly, I find it frustrating that despite all my attempts, there are still a zillion things that feel as though it's fallen to me because I guess I am the only one.

Yet that's the absolute truth of it all.

I am the only one. 

I am the only one who carried these children within me, feeling their kicks and their hiccups and incessantly worrying about all sorts of things, with a passion only a mother can muster.

I am the only one who somehow felt both the eagerness to hurry up and deliver the baby while also fearing the very act of it. Stuck in the place of being ready to not be pregnant yet also feeling so far from being prepared for becoming a mom.

The truth of it is that I am the only one who simultaneously wanted to hug and snuggle their little toddler bodies while also wondering how far I might run from all the responsibility when it felt like too much. 

I am the only one who felt the rage of protection like a Mama Bear while also wanting to put them to bed for the day at 4:00 pm for self-preservation.

I am the only one whose heart melted because they stood at the top of the stairs and announced in their preschool sing-song voice that when they grew up, they wanted to marry me. 

I am the only one who felt the thrill of confidence the first time I discerned the baby's cry and thought, maybe, just maybe, I might eventually nail this Mommy thing.

I am the only one who could console them when they were really out of sorts. And it made me feel wanted and needed and capable, while it also made me feel exhausted. 

I am the only one who nursed their little baby selves and wondered all the live-long day if they were adequately being fed and nurtured.

I am the only one who feels the Mommy fears. You know--the far fetched fears like when they play alone on the playground in kindergarten and you just know they are doomed to a lifetime of being an outcast. When you finally voice all the varieties of those mommy fears, your own husband looks at you like you've grown a second head.

I am the only one who recognizes that I better enjoy being the number one girl to my boys because some day, their hearts will belong first to another girl. Just as it should be. And I must prepare myself to hand over the reigns of #1 and entrust their affection and devotion to the woman they choose.  

I am the only one whose heart breaks for them in a million tiny pieces when disappointment and heartache set in. Oh, sure, their dad feels for them, but a mother's empathy is unique. Just as is a mother's intuition. I am the only one who battles gut feelings--both good and bad--that constantly tug at me about each of my offspring. Feelings I must surrender in prayer and fight over in faith to ask the Lord to direct their paths and show them the way and help them to walk in Truth.

And I am the only one who shed a few tears last night as my head hit the pillow. Because a man-child had just come in to say goodnight. And as he kissed my forehead and said I love you, I felt the overwhelming surge of pride and sadness and delight and nostalgia. Because 17 years ago, I became a mom for the first time when that darling bundle was born. And these seventeen years have flown by. It's gone by all too quickly. 

I am the only one with my unique perspective and my irrational, all over the place emotions about this seventeenth birthday. The emotions of joy and bliss and gratitude for all the fun and memories and victories and accomplishments. The emotions of fear and angst about the next chapter that is descending upon us. The emotions of worry and wondering if I've done enough and said enough and trained enough and loved enough. The emotions of pride and wonder at the incredible way that tiny boy has become a young man. 

I am the only one.

Who feels it all in the way that I feel it. Moms are just like that. It's part of our role. Part of our calling. To feel all the feelings and worry all the worries and to ask all the questions and to nag all the children.

Moms are the only ones. Our role is different from dad's. Our influence is unique. Our perspective is one-of-a-kind.

We are the only ones who treasure up all these things in our hearts, just as Mary did about Jesus.

We are uniquely qualified and called in our jobs. To have the privilege of being called Mom. To fulfill roles that we alone can fill. 

For the good and the bad and the ugly of it all.

We moms are the only ones.

And yes, sometimes that means, we are the only ones in our household that seem to be ready to tackle the tasks. 

Oh, there is precious training going on here. As we try to raise the ones that God entrusted to us.

And what a privilege it is.

To be the only ones.

Friday, January 15, 2016

David Still Sings

The daily grind. Every day the same as the last. Awakened, long before he was ready or willing. To tackle the same mundane tasks. Lonely tasks. Smelly and hard and so far from the prestigious work he wished he had been granted. But as the youngest -- small and disregarded -- this work became his lot. 

And so, he arose from his bed, grabbing his cloaks to enter the crisp air and go about his tasks. Herding the sheep. Sheep, by the way, are not known for their intellect. They are smelly and loud and dumb. Day after day, he led the flocks out into the hillsides, under the bright blue skies that stretched out overhead, feeling the wind brush across his face. For hours a day, it was just him and the flocks of his family.

To pass the time, he sang. Sheep make poor company, and so he talked to his God. He made up songs and sang them for his captive audience of woolly animals and the God of his forefathers. Others might have thought him crazy. But to him, it had become the norm. And through his songs and talking and praying and hours of reflecting, he found a sacred place. A place of connection. A lowly shepherd boy. Somehow connecting with the Almighty Yahweh. It was remarkable, really. 

He sang his songs and felt the embrace of Heaven.

Although thousands of years ago, David still sings. Words that are as relevant to us today as they were to a shepherd boy who lived long ago. A boy who lived for quite a while in quiet anonymity, wondering if there would ever be more for him in life. Yet determined to seek God even if this was his lot for all of his days.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
The world never satisfies. It taunts us with wants and longings and the elusive pursuit of something better. 

God offers satisfaction. He quenches all longing, when we set our hearts to purse him before all else.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
The world tells us to be autonomous, to be our own captain. To run and go and do and hustle and stay busy. That we might find greener pastures.

The Lord offers to be our shepherd. To lead and guide and direct and protect and care for us. He invites us to find rest, not just for our bodies. But for our souls. He encourages us to lie down and sleep in peace because he cares for us (Psalm 4:8). And he offers us not greener pastures, but he beckons us to enjoy the green pastures right in front of us.

He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
 The world laughs at the idea of being led. Be the leader of your own destiny. Forge your own way. Full speed ahead, churning up wake in your frenzied pursuits. Always willing to tear down what's not working and just move on to something new.

 Our Father says follow. Let him pave the way and trust his leadership. Pause beside quiet waters. Forget the frenzy. Stop. And sit. And make time to quiet the world and the busy for the sake of Sabbath. Intentionally set a rhythm to tune out the noise and to listen. Hear his songs of restoration. When things come to ruin, don't fear or be discouraged. Because the Redeemer is in the business of rebuilding. He specializes in using the broken to create the masterpieces. To make beauty from ashes. To use the hard and torn and falling apart to make something far more glorious that will never end.

He guides me in paths of righteousness, for his name's sake.
 The world says there are many paths. Many ways to go, many directions to choose. Don't hesitate or slow down for anyone. Make your own way. Do what makes you happy. Don't be forced to follow. Make a name for yourself. Seek applause and notice and attention, to enjoy fame and glory and accolades.

The Holy One of Israel says that there is one path to him and his name is Jesus. He left the glorious Throne Room of a perfect heaven to come as a helpless baby. To feel life as we feel it. And to buy us back from the clutches of sin and legalism and rules and ritual. Grace made the way. Grace is the one path. And God calls to us to let him lead us. All for his name's sake. All to point to him and to magnify his fame and glory throughout the world. Because when the glory of the Lord shines around us, we are sorely afraid. We are in awe and we grasp at last the splendor that far exceeds any temporary fame we dare to steal from him.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
 The cynical world is tripped up constantly by the trials and suffering and diseases and disasters. By death and sickness that fuel anxiety and fear. We are blindsided constantly, feeling alone in the hopelessness of the dark shadows around every bend. Cancer. ISIS. Terrorism. Violence. Racism. Bullying. And the list goes on and on -- of all the dark shadows that ignite despair and a desperate, frenzied worry. 

God says I have a remedy. He assures us, over and over and over again, throughout the whole of Scripture, that he has a plan. That he makes a way. That he is the light of the world. That he is the Deliverer and the Rescuer. That he is the Refuge and Rock and Shield and Sustainer. That he breathes hope into our hopelessness. That he has a purpose and a plan, to use all the hard-- to use all the bad -- to buy back all the brokenness -- to transform the awful into the awesome. It is an eternal plan. Its majesty is everlasting and sometimes hard to see from our earthly vantage point. But he promises nothing is wasted. He is Salvation. He is Light. He is Life. He promises that he does not give a spirit of fear, for that is a tool of the enemy. He walks through every last lonely and gut wrenching place we walk through,  holding our hand. Carrying us. Redeeming it all for eternal good. He has the last word. Evil dies. The grave is not the end. He is the Victor.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
 The world despises the rod of authority. It morphs the idea of submission into a twisted, threatening abuse of power. Corrupt and cruel leaders mean that all leaders or authority are suspect. So, buck authority. Lead out. Don't follow. Refuse to yield. To others. To authority. To anyone. Look out for number one. Be your own boss.

Our Father says that like a tender shepherd, he uses a rod  and a staff to bring comfort and direction and protection from dangerous paths. He does not abuse or exploit his authority. He loves us with a sacrificial, never ending loving kindness. He is a gentle Father, who is all for us. He does not lord his power over us, but he ultimately chose to use it to buy us back from our own wretched state. When we can believe the truest things about him as our good, good Father, then we know that he is worthy of all trust and surrender and submission. Because he is not a cruel dictator. No, he longs to make us sons and daughters and to free us from all that binds us.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
The world perpetuates a fear and a wariness of all enemies, perceived or real. Watch your backs. Strike first, before they strike you. It's all up to you. It's a dog-eat-dog world. Intimidated by all potential threats, we are fed half-truths and absolute deceits and twisted versions of truth that belittle us, as the enemy brandishes his favorite weapon of fear to strike us down. Feelings of defeat run rampart as we scroll through social media, listen to commercials, watch television and read magazines. Filtered versions of reality tell us that we are not enough. Like bullies that use their foot to hold us down to the ground. We flail about, beaten down.

The Creator of the Universe says that he's got this. He is Sovereign. He is Omnipotent. The grave couldn't hold his Son and death will be defeated. The stories in the gospels tell us that demons bowed at the name and presence of Jesus, pleading and begging for mercy because defeat is ultimately their lot to claim -- not ours. For every battle we face, God says he will handle it. He promises that he will dry up oceans to give us a way. He will conquer giants. He will shut the mouths of lions and the taunting of the enemy. He will conquer a city of foes with the shouts of the faithful, and walls will crumble to dust. He will deal with every adversary and he will gather his children to his side, forever and ever and ever. He calls our names when we feel empty and cower under tables. He says dinner is ready. Come and eat and be filled and satisfied at my banquet table. I will fill you in the presence of your enemies. They will see my provision and my faithfulness because I set a place for you.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
The world says we are never enough. Our houses aren't big enough or pretty enough or magazine ready. Our lives aren't fun enough or inspiring enough. Our marriages aren't satisfying enough. Our bank account isn't big enough. Our jobs aren't good enough and glamorous enough. Our children aren't succeeding enough. Our bodies aren't thin enough and our wardrobes aren't trendy enough. Our name isn't famous enough. Our followers don't amount to enough, and our "likes" and "favorites" aren't numerous enough. It's just never enough. 

God says our cup overflows. Even as the youngest, nearly forgotten son, left to handle the tedious job of caring for the sheep, our cup overflows. Even alone on hillsides with nothing but smelly animals for company, our cup overflows. Because when we turn our eyes to the heavens and grasp that the One who made it all dares to commune with us, we are awed. When we realize that the One whose very word spoke the world into existence actually knows our name, we are humbled. When we consider that the One who placed each star in the sky actually knows the number of hairs on our heads, we are baffled. When we pause long enough to meditate on the fact that we have been covered by grace and made children of God, we know. We know in the deepest parts of our souls that we are so unworthy. To have been bought back. Forgiven. Loved. Shown mercy. And our cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The world calls us to purse fame and fortune, prestige and autonomy. Leisure and pleasure and fun and good times. Life is short so grab the gusto and enjoy the ride. Then, it's just over.

Our Heavenly Father says I offer goodness. And love. And mercy. In me, you will find the fulfillment of every longing in our life. I set eternity in your hearts. A God sized hole. And only I can fill it. Only I can satisfy it. And I will. With my goodness beyond measure. My love and my mercy and my kindness and every aspect of my character will be poured into you as you seek to know me. God says that even death, even what feels like the end or the worst possible thing, is not the end at all. But when we choose him -- when we say, I do believe and I'm going to follow you-- then we will live with him forever. Then, even when we ultimately close our eyes in this world, we open them in heaven. We see our Savior face-to-face and we dwell in his glorious presence forever.  He says that all our earthly days offer goodness in Him. Because He is good. And then, for all of eternity... we rest in the arms of One who created us in his very image.

Oh, yes. David sings. He sang this song thousands of years ago, and he still sings. 

May we sit and listen. Pause and ponder it all. May we strain our ears to hear the tune. And let the melody and the lyrics soak in to the very depths of our being. Because this Psalm offers us some of the truest things about God. 

And the truth will set us free.     

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Secret to a Long Lasting Marriage

The day was perfect. A crisp winter day in early January, with bright blue skies and not a cloud to be seen. Any angst about a freak weather event was quickly dispelled by the beauty of the day. Wearing my sister's gorgeous white satin gown with lace cut-outs, I looked down the aisle to see that handsome man in his dashing tuxedo, wiping tears from his eyes, and I never felt beautiful.

That day, 21 years ago today, was indeed perfect.

Except for one thing. 

Our long winded pastor. Who ignored all of our requests for a brief and lovely little ceremony. What can you do in a church full of people when the pastor is handed a microphone and takes full advantage of a captive audience?

Chris' godmother said it was the longest Protestant wedding she'd ever attended. No question about it.

Every year on our anniversary when we watch our wedding video, we get a good chuckle out of all the bloopers. All the phrases misspoken (such as the prayer at the end when the pastor said, "as they consumate their marriage here today" instead of consecrate). 

And we are still baffled by that stunned moment when he walked us through our vows and we said I Do. And then he asked us to repeat it. We both looked at him, confused. But then he prompted us again. So we said I Do twice.

So basically, we are doubly married.

But therein lies the secret to lifelong commitment to the marriage covenant. The secret to a long lasting marriage.

You have to keep saying I Do.

Every day, you have a choice to make. You wake up and go through your day, and you have to keep saying I Do. And on some days, the decision point seems to come nearly hourly. Or even more frequently.

Oh, sure, it's easy when you are floating along on the high of young love and the novelty of marriage. Wedding dreams come true and all those wedding gifts sparkling and new. Memories of the big day still fresh on your mind. 

It's easy to say I Do then.

But when the stress of high demand jobs leave you worn out, with an on-call schedule that means your time is never your own. Ever. Because when duty calls, you must respond. Leaving you with little energy to give to your spouse... you have to keep saying I Do.

When your cardinal rule of fighting fair is broken just months into marriage and one of you storms out in the middle of it, leaving the other perplexed and angry and alone... you have to keep saying I Do.

When your spouse walks back in the door -- because, after all, this is now home to both of you -- and you need to find a way to resolve the conflict and not break another cardinal rule that says don't go to bed angry... you have to keep saying I Do.

When both of your cars die in the same week, and you must suddenly jump from no car payments to two on your non-profit salaries, leaving your stressed out and frustrated... you have to keep saying I Do.

When you finally decide to start a family, and are relishing the secret of a pregnancy unannounced only to experience a painful miscarriage that leaves you hurting and withdrawn... you have to keep saying I Do.

When, at last, you hold that first born son in your arms and you can feel your entire world shift from being a young couple to a young family... you have to keep saying I Do.

As your family grows and your toddlers exhaust you and you can never finish a sentence with each other, although the vast majority of dialog exchanged involves the contents of your child's diaper or the severity of his routine reflux vomiting... you have to keep saying I Do.

When a season of post partum depression melds into a season of debilitating migraines and you are both at wits end... you have to keep saying I Do.

When a phone call comes with the news of a family loss that you cannot fathom, and you realize you are the ones who must travel and comfort and mop floors and help plan a funeral and console older siblings and explain it all to your own children... you have to keep saying I Do.

In seasons of joy you could never imagine, when your children smile at your for the first time, or your preschooler announces he wants to marry you when he grows up, and you have to explain your heart is already taken... you have to keep saying I Do. When you see your spouse in a new light, and marvel at how you are constantly discovering who they are and exploring new dreams together... you have to keep saying I Do.

In seasons of despair and frustration and anger and conflict and sadness -- all those times when you are inclined to push each other away... you have to keep saying I Do.

It's a constant choice. To look at the one you married and set your intentions to keep choosing that person, to keep choosing to fight for your marriage, to keep pursuing the Lord together, to keep praying through heartaches and praising God for good things... you have to keep saying I Do. 

There is a tricky caveat to this secret. The thing is that you BOTH have to keep saying I Do. You see, one spouse's loudest and most emphatic "I DO" cannot bear the weight of the marriage for both of you. And so, without an ongoing "I Do" from both parties, the marriage covenant becomes vulnerable.

I've found it helps to set your mind toward your covenant when you stop to remember all the reasons you fell in the love in the first place. To laugh together about your early days, when you were awkwardly pursuing one another. To look through old photos and giggle at your clueless younger selves. To watch your wedding video together and to relive that special day and all the feelings when you first said I Do.

Considering all the ways that God has proven faithful. Considering all the hard fought battles. All the joys and even the hard moments. To look back and to see God's hand in it all. And then to dream together about all the things God might bring in the future.

To remember that the One who made you each and knit your hearts together is the same One who will sustain and equip and guide you to make that choice, over and over and over again.

To keep saying I Do.

And then, to say it again.

Because its worth repeating.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Crash and Burn but Dreaming Forward

My day started well. All snug and cozy and deep in sleep. And then that darn alarm clock went off to remind me that today is the day.

The day the kids go back to school. The dreaded day of morning routines and not sleeping until lunch. Back packs and school lunches and binders and schedules.

Listen, for the record, we are not morning people. None of the five of us. Any of you who spring out of bed, ready to tackle the day -- we just don't get you. We can admire you and respect you. But we don't understand. A good day around here is when we choose to be very quiet in our grumpy morning state, avoiding words or interactions, lest they not go well.

Today was not a good day. I take the blame, really. My daughter couldn't find her tennis shoes for Pre-Athletics. And for the love of humanity, this little bump in our morning road caused me to crash and burn. True story. Climbing in the closet under the stairs when there isn't even a tornado warning, I dug through the mess of suitcases and a whole pile of pieces of gum, along with some school papers and our George Foreman griddle. 

And I didn't do it quietly. I roared about the frustration of missing tennis shoes as if it was the end of the world. 

Every mama knows that when we aren't happy, ain't nobody happy.

So a round of applause for the crazy lady fuming and tearing around the house in her Baylor pajamas about the horror of missing tennis shoes-- "Well, you'll just have to not dress out. Because I can't go buy tennis shoes at 7:30 am! Or where an old pair of shoes. Oh, you don't fit into your old pair? That option is out then. WHY didn't you pack your bag last night?"

Mom of the year basically.

Now the kiddos are off and at 'em, with the baby girl wearing the only pair of shoes she can fit into for working out--her older brother's pair. 

And I sit here reflecting about how I crashed and burned. I've texted an apology to my sons, who graciously offered forgiveness. Mending fences with my girl will have to wait until after school since she isn't allowed to carry her phone to school. 

My planned blog post all waxing poetic about my "word for the year" has thus become more real and authentic and more of a confession than a flowery post regaling my victories for all to read. 
Yes, I am one of those people who choose a word for the year. One word. No resolutions per se. Plenty of plotting and thinking, but focused on one word. I began to pray about my one word for 2016 back in November. Unlike other years, it was quickly revealed through various means.

My husband would like me to pause here and note that I don't actually have ONE word for 2016. Because it's "dream BIG." So, I suppose, I have one phrase for 2016. 

Whatever. You get the gist.

I began to choose a word several years ago, and it's been a significant discipline for me. It's something that I pray over because I want to know how the Father intends to focus my attention for the next 365 days. My word (or words, plural) has been a catalyst for revelation and growth. I have intentionally set my mind on Scripture or Bible studies to help me focus on that word. (By the way, "intentional" was the word for 2011). It's been interesting how year after year, the words seem to build on and interlink with each other. Embrace. Intentional. Grace. Gratitude. Love. Freedom.

And now, dream BIG.

I've already offered a written chronicle recounting how God worked to teach me about freedom in 2015.  A post about how I thought the journey would go compared with how it actually went.

And true to form, I have already missed the mark on "dream big." I was so excited initially, with visions of all my big ideas coming true. As if God is my magic genie and he basically just directed me to expect all my wishes to come to fruition in this next year.

Not so fast.

It wasn't long before my take on Ephesians 3:20-21 for a focus verse was brought to a clearer understanding.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

It's so easy for me to have the reflex of reading this verse and thinking of all the incredible visions I have of longings of mine being fulfilled in big, spectacular and surprising ways.

Dream BIG, after all.

Yet, as I began the new Bible reading plan through my church, my words for the year came into focus. The truth is that I've never tackled a reading plan like this. A plan that has you reading through the Bible, reading through various books at the same time. It's always felt like too much to me. I've preferred being spoon fed my Scripture reading, in little doses at a time. But this time, I decided to give it a go. And it has not disappointed.

The Bible has come to life to me in new ways as I've been reading through Isaiah, Psalm and a portion of the gospels or Paul's writings every day. I've seen the continuity of Scripture with new eyes. I've gained fresh revelation of who God is and his sovereign plan for all of man kind, for all of history and for eternity. I know I've admitted it before, but these last few years have been a startling deconstruction and rebuilding of my faith, realizing that I've never really known God for who he truly is because I've boxed him in through rote and ritual. I've lived my life in a faith walk that has never fully appreciated the miracle of the gospel. 

What a journey it has been.

What a journey it will continue to be.

Because as I've been going through the reading plan these last few weeks, my phrase for 2016 has come into proper focus.

God intends for me to dream big about who He is. He longs for me to dream big about his grace. And his love. And his purpose and his plans. He desires for me to be so clear on the truth of the gospel that it changes how I live, how I think, and how I act. His dreams for me go far beyond any earthly accolades or accomplishments. His heart for me is to dream BIGGER about the Father and how I might be about the Father's work.

Oh, yes, he wants me to stand on Ephesians 3:20-21. 

Not so that I can revel in the by-product and results of what an immeasurable God can do for me.

But so that I can be awed by how immeasurable He is and thus be willing to do whatever he asks of me because I trust his sovereign goodness and purposes and because I long for his glory far and above my own.

What if? What if I can really grasp how big He is? What if I can glimpse and be humbled by his glory and it could ignite a fire within me to go wherever he leads? What if I can wrap my brain around the gospel, preaching it to myself constantly, and then begin living it out? 

What if?

My pastor hit the nail on the head as he wrapped his sermon this past Sunday. It felt like a statement directed solely for me, by way of clarifying how I am to dream BIG in 2016.

"Could this be the year of unprecedented growth in your faith?"

Yes, I believe it can. I believe the work will continue that was begun in me all those years ago when I chose to follow Jesus as a child. I believe that God intends to blow my mind with fresh revelation of who he is. I know that His desires for my life go far beyond anything I can grasp or dream up for myself.

Because he is a good, good Father -- beyond my wildest dreams.

And for the record, can you share a chuckle with me that our pastor has just announced his next sermon series?

It's on Ephesians.

So, I do believe God intends for me to keep dreaming. To keep dreaming of mornings where I can extend grace and show self-control over lost tennis shoes.  Mornings where I can rise and remember the miracle of a new day. Mornings where I stop to consider how big God is and how I might better point my  non-morning people to him.

Perhaps quietly. Perhaps by silently praying for them, as words are hard for my people before 8 am.

Gracious words or careful silence. It's certainly better than the show I put on this morning.

I may have crashed and burned. But I'm dreaming forward.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Life as the Inflatable Punching Clown

If you read this blog regularly (or semi-regularly), then you may have noticed that I haven't posted much in the last few weeks. 

(Then again, it's the holidays and there are far more important things in life than reading my blog). 

The truth of it is that I have had no words. An inability to articulate. It's a rather frustrating place emotionally and spiritually for someone with the heart of a writer. For someone who cannot shake this feeling that when I write, I'm doing something that I was made to do. I play at being a word smith and being raw and honest and transparent for the sake of hopefully sparking encouragement in others to keep running this race, with our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

One day, a few weeks ago, I stood in front of my husband and finally found a way to describe the state I've been in lately. Okay. For the last few months. Alright. Basically, the last year or more.

Did you ever have one of those blow up toys that you punched and it would fall over and then pop right back up? 

When our daughter was a toddler, she stood on one side of this kind of toy with her cousin on the other side. We became the audience to this hysterical game of our girl punching this toy toward her slightly older cousin. It would hit him, he would stumble, and then the toy would bounce back up and he would hit it back at Caris. She, too, would stumble back and then reciprocate. I don't know why we thought it was so funny how these two were going toe to toe to prove who was boss.

But as 2015 comes to a close, I feel as though I am on the receiving end of those hits. Like I am the toy, working hard to just stay upright. Then something happens and I take a hit and fall over. And just about the time that I pop back up, another hit comes.

Truly, these hits are not anything of significance, really. It's not that this year has been marred by some major struggle or tragedy or trial. That, in fact, is part of my frustration. Why should I feel so battered when I really cannot identify any one thing that is horrible or awful? Certainly, nothing life threatening happening over here.

I'm wimpy that way, I guess. You see, my word for 2015 has been freedom. And I can see in hindsight that I had visions of being like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Blue painted face, fierce and determined, screaming FREEDOM at the top of my lungs and then reveling in the joys of victory! 

Except for one little thing. As I now recall, that movie scene involved a lot of battles. Fighting. Struggle. Effort. I honestly cannot even remember the outcome of that fight scene?

And while I entered this year with a gleeful anticipation of the spoils of freedom, I was completely ignoring the road that it usually involves to get there. I fancied myself along the "unforced rhythms of grace" and joyfully skipping through the fields of freedom, with bright sunshine beaming down upon me and a lightness in my heart with a spring in my step. No longer being weighed down and dictated by a pursuit to earn man's approval. No longer carrying the weight of worry and anxiety. Freed from the idols that distract me. Having thrown off the sin that entangles me and released of all that hinders me. 

Free. Freed. Freedom.

Um, yes. Except for a few minor details that I naively ignored going into this year.

First of all, this is not my home. And to me, a faith walk is far more a wrestling match than it is a walk or a run. I will always battle my flesh and my nature that seeks my own comfort and my own agenda, while I am convicted and struggling to seek His glory and His pleasure. That is the heart of the process of sanctification.

Second of all, to be freed from something, you have to battle against it. And that is where the repeated hits of this year come in. Financial hits. Which I wrote about here and here and here. Yes, I came clean with each of you about how we are Dave Ramsey flunkies. 

Who knew that this song would continue to play on loop for the remainder of the year? Sinks falling off walls. Broken A/C units. (Yes, plural-- both units, just days apart). Dead dryers. Busted water heaters. The sequel involved a freaky ear injury to my son, broken down mini-vans, bald tires, another car that wouldn't start, cavities, and so on and so forth.

First world problems, basically. Just in rapid fire succession.

So, I reacted in my typical weak faith way. Like Eeyore. All woe is me and throwing a big old pity party. Didn't you get your invitation? 

Blah, blah.

Other hits this year involved hard relationships, questions of my purpose and place in my church and the world in general, longings unfulfilled, seasons of waiting, and those nagging mothering concerns that tackle me like a quarterback sack.

BOOM. Hit square in the face. Fall to the side. Then bounce back up. Upright again. Only to face another direct hit.

Over and over.

Through the course of this year and our church's Bible reading plan, God has been dealing with me. Firmly. Gently. Tenderly. Unmistakably. To point out all the things that I allow to rob me of my freedom.

Late one restless night (it was November 7), I grabbed my phone and typed this note to try to release the burden of the thoughts that denied me sleep.

What freedoms have I denied myself because I have overcomplicated my faith? I've tried to live by restrictive rules? And exhausting religion? Chasing after an elusive calling and purpose and perceived road that God never intended for me? For any of us?

Here are the blows that eventually brought me to my knees.

I've wanted resolutions to my waiting more than I've wanted God.

I've sought assurance and peace by placing confidence in financial margins. 

I've made demands of God and plainly and boldly told him how things should turn out.

I've pursued and plotted how to use my gifts and my talents, with the hidden agenda of being noticed and gaining an audience and being applauded.

I've cared more about certain outcomes for my children than I've cared about their own wrestling matches to know God more. I've wanted the result more than the precious sanctification process. Not just for them. But also for me. (Yes, I like to be in control! And performance driven? Just a smidge).

And here's the doozy. Here's the kicker. 

I've spent my lifetime serving a God whose character and whose grace I've actually never really known or sought to grasp.
Reading through Isaiah and Psalm and Mark about three weeks ago, a huge hit between the eyes had the outcome I believe God has desired all along. All the lifelong year this year, as I've fancied myself hungry for freedom.

On the floor. On my face. Surrendered. Laying it all out and throwing it all at him to confess all of the above epiphanies. And to say instead--

"Lord, deliver me from any other desires besides you. Help me long for you more than my agenda. Help me place all my confidence and assurance in your provision-- feast or famine. Help me to quit telling you how I'd like things to turn out and start asking you how you'd like them to turn out and what your plans and purposes might be. Help me see and grasp your glory that I might hunger for nothing else, nothing less. Help me release my children and my family and my life and everything else to you. Remembering that you have authority and power over all. Help me to teach them that you care about what troubles them and you care more about their holiness and their hearts than you do about anything else. And help me to know you. Help me grasp you. Help me understand you. Help me rest in that glory of yours that makes everything else pale in comparison."

So bruised and tender and tired, I laid down on the mat and quit fighting. To let God be the winner of the wrestling match.

Or at least this latest round.

And I must say, that act of contrition and repentance and confession had me walking out of my War Room with a sense of satisfying freedom.

How like God's kindness that within a couple of hours, we received a very unexpected financial provision that released us from debt, yet again? He didn't have to do that. But he showed his faithfulness one more time even when I was faithless. To say that he hears. He sees. He has me. He is the power over all of my concerns. And I want that act of grace and loving kindness to be an encouragement to any of you who can relate to my struggles. I want you to see him in my story. I want you to know that when you hand it over to him, he has it well in hand.

So, as 2015 comes to a close, I've learned that the lightness of freedom does not come until the battles rage that reveal all the burdens and chains and strongholds and misconceptions and misunderstandings and deceits are fully revealed. Identified. Laid bare. And then laid to rest. Set aside.

It's a process I'm sure I'll repeat again on this side of heaven.

Yet somehow, I see that God did intend freedom for me in 2015. But not only the great feeling once it's realized, but more so-- the long battle to wrestle against that which hampers freedom. The long process to identify and realize and learn about the enemies of freedom. That the ongoing war against them might be more easily and readily fought in the future.

No matter how many hits that involves. 

That instead of wailing about the hits and the falling over, I might instead be thankful that God is the weight that grounds and steadies me. He is the one who holds my feet firmly on the foundation of the precious cornerstone. That I might learn to pop back up faster and to no longer fear the hits that will undoubtedly come.

Because He is for me. He has a purpose and a plan for every area of my life. For every member of my family. A purpose and a plan motivated by his great love for me. 

Freedom comes through the brutiful process of surrender and humbling myself before his mighty throne. Assured of his tender and faithful care and grace that is broad and deep and wide enough to catch me every time I fall.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

An Apology to My Son

I saw it. I saw the exasperated look on your face. I saw the eye rolling too, just before you turned to leave for school. I knew you were angry with me. I even knew exactly why and I knew when I spoke up that I might get that response.

Because when I asked my question, it sounded like I was questioning you. When I did my usual mom nagging, I knew it sounded like I was full of doubts.

Because I am.

And that offends you.

I know you feel as though I am doubting you. I know that what you heard was that I wasn't sure of your abilities.

I suppose I do have doubts, but it's not like you think. It's not that I doubt how grown up you are or how capable you are. Really. When I stop and consider who you truly are now, I could not be more proud of your sense of responsibility and your hard work ethic and your faith that is becoming your very own.

At the heart of it all, it's more that I doubt how in the world we got here so fast. It's that I doubt that childhood is really fading and adulthood is so very close for you. It's that I look at your face, with it's faintest shadow revealing the need of a shave, and I doubt what I'm seeing. It's that I literally have to repeat to myself that you have grown into a fine young man and you are no longer a boy.

How can this be?

When you pull me into a hug, and my head rests on your chest, I doubt that this can actually be true. 

Because I am the one who held you on my chest. All of you fit, so snugly there, napping without a care in the world. Your tiny baby fists and your silky baby hair. With your ten little toes all curled up under you. Your entire frame fit so perfectly in the crook of my arm. The whole of your being was rocked in my arms. And I swear it just happened. 

So forgive me when the doubts I have about how fast time has flown overshadow our conversation. When I look at you, preparing for midterms and thinking about college and talking about your future. And an incredulous look crosses my face. Because I doubt that we can really be at this point in life already. 

When I ask you the questions, like I did this morning, and you hear doubt in my voice, please forgive me. Because I don't mean for it sound like I doubt YOU. There are just these moments when I nag because where a young man stands, I still see my baby boy. When I talk with you and you share your own opinions and thoughts and ideas and incredible sense of humor, I wonder how the days of toy trains and legos have disappeared?

So, yes, I have doubts. I am so full of doubts, actually.

Truly, the real angst of my doubts is far more about me than it is about you. 

I doubt whether I've done enough. I know the time is winding down and I will blink and you will fly off to your future. And it can easily spark a panic. Really, it's not about you. It's about me.

Did I teach you all that you need to know?

Did I show enough love?

Did I show enough grace?

Have I prayed enough about all the things?  And how on earth can I surrender all the things? How do I release my greatest treasures to our Heavenly Father? Yet, how can I not?

Did I lose my temper too much?

Did I tell you everything? Did I prepare you well enough? Did I forget anything important?

As the hour glass seems to be emptying of sand, the doubts taunt me. The doubts of my own ability to take advantage of all the opportunities I've had to be the mom that you need me to be.

Buddy, you are right. I am full of doubts. And I know that must be so frustrating for you. But please know that my doubts are far more about whether I've done my job well than they are about your ability to do your job.

In these moments, it's like an out of body experience for me. I can see what I want to say and how it will be perceived, and I need to exercise far greater self-control so that I stop the doubts. So that I don't express them. So that I don't give life to them.

So that I shut them up for good with the truth.

That God is for us. That God has us. That God has you. That you have always been his before you were ever mine. That you actually aren't really mine at all. But you have been loaned to me, entrusted to me. And God knew what he was doing. He must have thought I wouldn't mess this job up too much.  When I do fall short and I pray hard that his grace will fill my gaps, that indeed, he will do so. 

That you are no longer a boy. That you are indeed a young man. That the years really have flown by us, and I must release the mentality that you are somehow not as grown up as you truly are. That God has a purpose and a plan for your life that I cannot fathom. That God goes with you to all the places this mama can't go. That I would release my desire to be in control. And remember I was never really in control anyway. 

That I would take a deep breath and still the deep waters within me. And instead of asking the question I want to ask you, in a nagging tone, I would pause and think through all these crazy thoughts. And breath a quick prayer, asking God to help my unbelief.

So then, I can look at your handsome grown up face and instead of questioning, I would say to you, "We serve a big God. And you are his. He will give you all you need. I believe in you!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When You Can't See in Front of You

There is no comfort and peace like climbing into your own bed after a few days away and a long day of traveling. And so, I fell into my cozy bed Saturday night, content to be home and grateful for memories of an unbelievable Thanksgiving trip to New York City. All was well in my world.

Until beeps suddenly sounded as our power went out. The house was suddenly eerily quiet and completely dark. So very dark. The pitch black that happens rarely in this electronic, digital age where devices glow all night long as they charge.

It was startling. And then scary. Our daughter woke up and was afraid. I could hear her, but it was so completely dark that I couldn't sense where she was. I cautioned her to stay away from where I stood near the top of our staircase. Or so I thought I was.

Our entire street was having a power outage. A fear gripped me suddenly, causing me to nearly panic. I do LEAN toward the dramatic, so my mind whirled to that doomsday television show where the power worldwide went out and anarchy reigned. Had I really just returned from flying under a worldwide travel alert, walking through a heavily guarded city with SWAT teams strategically placed, only to have something happen at home?

So basically, my heart rate went wild as I contemplated all sorts of terrorist attack theories and end of the world scenarios.

All because of the dark.

The black of dark with no sign of light. That hides any sign of life. And suffocates hope with a fear that grips you.

It's where so many are stuck today. In the terrifying pitch black. The dark days of the soul where life is turned upside down and nothing but fear and despair reside. 

The dark and bleak and horrific day of burying a treasured son, as a high school friend endured yesterday. The loss so overwhelming that your heart wanders if it will ever feel joy again. The blackness of grief enveloping you in its tight and gruesome hold.

The frustrations and agony of hard times and struggles and mental health battles. Chronic pain that plagues you day after day. Or deep wounds suffered at the hands of another calloused person. Wrestling matches for clarity when demons of mental illness taunt you relentlessly.  

We see the darkness. We see the dimness and dark circles around the eyes of those who struggle. The homeless on the street, holding a cardboard sign. The panicked eyes of the refugees, fleeing their war torn home, packed into rubber boats, with nothing but the clothes on their back. The cries and anguish of those who mourn the atrocities of hate filled extremists.

If we look closely enough, we will gain the discernment to note the oppressive darkness that those we know are battling, carefully hidden behind their plastic smiles. 

There is no hopelessness worse than the darkness that pervades struggling souls, crowding out any hope or joy or peace. It wreaks havoc, creating chaos and fear and an oppressive sadness.

And yet, there is good news. There is a tiny pinprick of light that will become a floodlight if we look for it, if we seek it, if we can keep crawling toward it. It is at the very forefront of what this season is all about.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Advent begins. When we celebrate the most glorious and miraculous act of God's faithfulness. When we eagerly anticipate the what might be, as we languish in the what is now.

For 400 years, God's chosen people lived in darkness. They lived with the certainly dwindling hope of the prophecies. As God was silent. The quiet shouting out louder than any spark of promise for something new and better that would change it all. 

We all live in these in-between places. Where we think we know what God might have for us. When we dare to entertain the possibilities. And we believe its on its way. 

But then.


And darkness. Not just places where we have to squint our eyes to discern shapes. But a black darkness that grants us no insight, not even a shadow of where we are or where we might go. Just the blackness engulfing us. Suffocating our dreams. And killing our anticipation for change.

Although we cannot see our hand in front of us in these dark times, in those dark days of in-between, hold steadfast to this truth.

God sees. And the darkness is not dark to him. It is bright as the sun. Because he sees. When we cannot see him through the black and the fog and the despair, he can certainly see us. Though we may stand in the questioning and the anguish of what feels like hundreds of years of waiting for the rescue, it is indeed on its way.

Just as Isaiah said it would be. 

That is what Advent is all about.

That God in his heaven dared to break through the filth and muck and fragility of mankind to send his son Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us. To change all that had been and all that happened and all that caused fear into a glorious hope everlasting.

A hope that endures. A hope that is an anchor to our soul.

That there is no place on earth, no pit too deep, no sorrow too overwhelming, no struggle too difficult, for God to enter in and be the light than chases away all darkness.

You may go about your business today, as the shepherds did back then. Tending to their flocks in the dark of the night. But then. It happened. And the wonder of this angel's announcement still throws out a life line to all those drowning in darkness.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!"
Luke 2:8-11
Although you may be going about your life, in the night and the dark and the desperation, there is a GLORY that breaks through and the fear it causes is a reverent, hope-filled fear. A glorious reckoning to see that we are but man and we have a God who still shows up in our dark nights.  

This is the good news of Advent.

There is a light. 

In every dark place. In every struggle. In every wound. In every fear. In every pain. In every circumstance.

Christmas tells us that he is the light to pierce through every darkness. He is the God who shines into our weariness and gives us reason to rejoice. Because God came near. To crush the head of the serpent who dared to strike his heel. 

A baby. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

With one mission. One purpose.

To save the souls of mankind. To pay the price. To cover the debt. To enter even the darkest place because the tomb of death couldn't hold him.

And the star at the top of the tree reminds us. 

That God pierces the long nights of our lives with the unbelievable hope of a Savior who promises that all that we endure in this life, we never do so alone. And no situation, no matter how bleak, can ever blot out the Light of the World.


When we can look back to a people who waited for 400 years for the promise to come true. Generation after generation. They clung to the hope of their God whose word is always true and whose promise is always sure.

It didn't look like they thought it would. In fact, many of them missed it. Because he was not a conquering warrior, but a humble baby born in the lowliest of places. 

And his death would turn the noonday sun to a darkness like the night.

But his resurrection broke through with a brilliance that lights the darkest corners of our lives, offering a glimpse of hope. A truth that the Light has come.

And in him, there is no darkness. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

In Her Words: Surviving Sexual Assault

I am so honored today to have this precious friend as a guest blogger on my blog, telling HER story in HER words. I want to let you know my perspective of her story. I've known this friend for years, and I've known her to be a loving, thoughtful, caring and kind friend, wife and mother. About eighteen months ago, she reached out and asked me to pray for her as she stood on a stage in front of thousands of college kids to tell her story. Before that, I had no idea of the pain she had endured. She has a powerful story of dark days, deep pain and God's healing. Now, she is in a season of redemption where she is using her story and telling it in order to speak into the lives of other victims. She is the real deal. These words of encouragement are not platitudes. They are truths hard fought to come to fruition in her life. We all have powerful stories. I'm privileged that my blog can be a platform to allow her to tell hers. My prayer is that it will bring light to a dark subject and bring healing to other victims and those who love them.

I should start this post off by telling you a little bit about me and my story so you’ll know where I’m coming from as I write this.  I am currently a 38 year old wife and mom.  When I am not doing all kinds of wifey and mommy things, I talk to groups about sexual assault—about prevention and recovery.  I do not have any kind of college degree that would qualify me to talk about this topic, but I lived through sexual assault as a 20 year old college junior.

I grew up in a very stable, very conservative Christian home, the oldest of 3 kids.  I usually describe my parents as Ward and June Cleaver (ya know, of Beaver fame).  I was a high achiever and very typical first child—perfectionist, type A, anal retentive, tightly wound.  Pick your adjective and I pretty much fit all of them heading into college.  I professed a belief in Jesus Christ from childhood, but my faith was pretty shallow and rules bound—I follow the rules and God will just bless my socks off, right?!  I chose to go to a Christian University in the south—in the same city where I grew up.

My freshman year, I joined a sorority.  They were known as fun girls but not nearly the worst on campus—about half rule breakers and half wholesome Christian types.  I was on a merit-based scholarship, so while I definitely joined in some of their fun, I pretty much still colored in the lines.  I was doing really well in school, appropriately balancing school and social life, and had just been voted Vice President of my sorority in January.  I had a long term on again, off again boyfriend who had taken off to Europe for a semester abroad, so I had more freedom that spring semester than I felt I had up until that point in college. 

On April 19, 1997, I joined a good friend and her parents at a local Mexican food restaurant to celebrate her 21st birthday.  I was still just 20 and while I had done my share of underage drinking, that night I was to be the designated driver so I didn’t have anything to drink prior to the one drink I would have at the party.  My roommate and I finished with the official activities and went to a party held at the house of some good friends.

At this point, I’m going to skip to the punch line because I realize that other victims of sexual assault might be reading this and there are all sorts of things that act as triggers to women who have lived through a sexual assault.  That night, I was raped by a male friend.  We had been friends since freshman year. We had both gone abroad through our university’s summer study program the previous summer, and we shared a major.  We were actually study partners that semester as we had a couple of the same classes. 

God is gracious in that I do not remember a lot of the details.  I ended up accepting a drink from him that night, and the police believe it was drugged with Rohypnol—the date rape drug.  Mercifully, whether as a side effect of the Rohypnol or as a result of Post Traumatic Stress, my memory of the actual assault is not very vivid.  I remember lots of detail leading up to the assault but almost nothing of the assault itself. 

SO, when Heather at Clinging To The Vine asked me to write this, she asked what I would say to other victims. But I’d also like to address people in general about how to help if you find yourself in a situation where this has happened to a friend.  If you have a friend that this happens to, then your job, whether you want it or not, is to immediately be the voice of logic.  My roommate handled the situation about as perfectly as someone could.  She did NOT insist I go to the hospital, though she did continue to suggest it throughout that day.  She filled in where my logic just was not functioning. My primary concern at the time was honestly making sure no one ever found out about this and wondering if he had some weird disease.  When you have been a victim of this kind of assault, there really is not much logic in play. 

I felt CRAZY guilt—I should never have been at a party with underage drinking. I should never have taken a drink. I should have listened to the stories I’d heard through the grapevine about how aggressive this male friend was.  What if I did or said something to him that indicated I was interested in that?  And probably the scariest thought—what if I’m pregnant or what if he had some kind of disease? That evening, my roommate’s logic finally prevailed and she drove me to the emergency room.

As a friend of the victim, your job longer term is to be present without being pushy.  The other great thing my roommate did was she let me proceed at my own pace in dealing with this.  She never pushed me to talk about it but she never avoided talking about it with me. 

Before my rape, I was very extroverted.   Now, I am very much an introvert.  Many times, when there is a death of someone, you might struggle with what to do or what to say to the loved ones.  I have heard those who have experienced a loss say that it is most important to acknowledge the death and to not pretend that life is the same as prior to the death.  I would say it is the exact same advice with someone who has experienced a sexual assault.  The victim is not and cannot be the same person they were before. But I have also learned that God can use even that awful event for good in their life and the lives of others.  It is important as friends and family members to be present and realistic about the event and the subsequent changes.  It is equally important for you to be a reminder—either by your presence or with your actual words—that there can be good and happy times in that person’s future. 

My main goal in writing this post is to talk directly to other victims of assault.  My story ended well.  The district attorney was not optimistic about our odds at trial.  The reality was, my delay in going to the hospital left very little physical or blood evidence.  The likelihood that my rapist had used a drug that induced at least partial amnesia meant that my memory would not be a powerful tool.  So, eventually, my father opted to call my assailant on the phone and threaten him.  He basically said the guy should steer clear of any contact with me or anyone else I was close to and if he did not, we would be pressing charges and he could expect to spend the rest of his life on a sex offender registry after he was assaulted himself in jail.  My rapist chose to leave school the next day and did not return to finish his degree until after I had graduated.  All that to say, I had the luxury of recovering without having to worry about seeing him around and I did not have to go through the trauma of a trial where the defense would likely have attacked my choices that night.

The first thing I would say to victims is, you need to get professional help dealing with this.  Whether your assault happened 2 weeks ago or 20+years ago, you need counseling if you have not had it.  I firmly believe the only reason I am a fully functioning adult in all areas of my life is because I had very supportive friends and family who all encouraged me to seek professional help.  The bottom line is there is not a person alive that you are friends with that can bear the weight of the sadness that has come to you in this circumstance—not a roommate, not a boyfriend or husband, or even a good female friend or sister—and you certainly cannot do it on your own.  They can help you shoulder the pain but ultimately you are going to have to seek outside help. 

I went into MAJOR denial after the rape.  I finished out the semester—taking my final exam sitting next to my rapist, before he had left our college.  I went on to a successful summer internship in Washington DC and then I started having panic attacks.  If you have been raped and you have not gotten professional help, you are NOT living the full life you could be living.  Your life may be pretty and decorated with all sorts of fancy distractions, but if you have not dealt with this professionally, then deep down something is missing and broken and demands attention to fix it.   I promise you are missing out on having your rape transition to become a mere footnote in your story instead of the main attraction.  If your assault is left unaddressed, you are probably completely unable to see the ways in which it has determined the course of your life.    

At the time of my assault and in the immediate aftermath, I honestly could not imagine a time when that one event did not shape everything about my life and who I am.  I am now a living testimony that this really does not have to be a big part of your story IF you deal with it now—through counseling and time.  I spent HOURS dealing with how bad it hurt and sitting with the discomfort of it all.  It was not easy or fun, but it was totally necessary.  I eliminated those people who were uncomfortable dealing with the reality of what happened to me.  I got angry with God—seriously angry.  I asked God the hard questions and then waited for those answers.  I said earlier that no human being can deal with your sadness and anger over your assault, but God actually can.  That is what I learned.

I serve a good God.  He was good before my rape; He was good during my rape; and He is good and faithful afterwards.  My heart was not the only one broken on the night of April 19, 1997—God’s broke too.  However, there is no heart-break that I suffer that God cannot redeem IF I ALLOW HIM TO! 

The story of Joseph in the Bible is one where a rather na├»ve young kid, Joseph, boasts and says all kinds of arrogant stuff to his brothers.  He is then sold into slavery where he follows all the rules, yet is still put in jail because someone lied about him.  So he goes from treasured son, to slave, to prisoner—and all the while, God is there, good, moving in the middle of all Joseph’s mess.  Eventually, Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s second in command and saves the entire nations of Egypt and Israel from starvation.  When Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who have come to beg for food, he says (in Genesis 50:20), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” 

Prior to my rape, I don’t think I had ever noticed that the translation of this story said, “He (God) brought me to this position.”  Here’s my takeaway—God put Joseph in that specific position, but God did not just whoosh him there—Joseph had a LONG and PAINFUL road to get to the position God ultimately intended him to have.  God did not want me to suffer, He did not want me to be raped, but He allowed it to bring me into a position where I could help others.  I am uniquely qualified to speak about this topic. 

Satan would like nothing more than to have your rape alter or distort your ability to commune with God.  He would like nothing more than to derail God’s good plan for your life through this one event.  If you will allow God, He can take an event that Satan meant to enslave you, and redeem it into a beautiful part of your story. 

I cannot tell you why God allowed this in your life, I can only answer that for myself.  My answer is in all honesty, at the time of my attack, I looked great on the outside, but my inner life was not great.  I was walking pretty far from the Faith I had been raised with.  My “serious” boyfriend was a jerk—someone who would not have been in it for the long haul.  God allowed this, and in my own life it resulted in the end of that unhealthy relationship and it led to better friendships with the girls that stuck with me through the messy aftermath. 

The outcome God intends from your story will be different than the outcome from my story.  Your confidence should rest in the fact that we do serve a faithful God.  We serve a God that can redeem this and one who can bring purpose from this pain and one who can buy back that destruction. 

In the book of Joel, God is talking to Israel about something bad that’s happened to them—an army of locusts has destroyed everything.  The Israelites are in a position where they are uncertain if there is any ability to have a decent future.  In modern day terms, their world had come crashing down—they have been laid bare.  God says to them in Joel 2:25—“The LORD says, ‘I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts.’”  He goes on to say in verse 26, “Once again you will have all the food you want and you will praise the LORD your God, who does these miracles for you.” 

If you are still reading this, chances are you know exactly how impossible it feels to believe that God can bring good out of even this.  I really do vividly remember how very dark that road feels.  I am here to tell you that God will give you the strength to get through your dark days.  You will know the sufficiency of God to daily endure this pain of your world crashing down.  Regardless of how lonely and dark it is right now, you are not alone—He is there in the middle of this circumstance, ready to deal with all this mess!  It wasn’t until years after I graduated and years in counseling that I can look back and see all the ways God provided for me during that time.  He can do the same for you.