Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Consider Your Ways

Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.” Haggai 1:5-6

Sound familiar? Do you feel like you are wasting your days working with very little to show for it? Do you feel like you are giving it your all, and for some reason, the rules of reaping and sowing just don’t seem to be working in your favor? Are you sowing endless hours at work, trying to do what seems like the right thing to provide for yourself and your family, and yet, you still find yourself in need? No, this isn’t an infomercial… this is real life. My family has been there for years. My husband has worked tirelessly for three years now, some days getting as little as two to three hours of sleep a day before heading off to his next job. And, what do we have to show for it? We live with my in-laws (again), so you do the math. We have spent years frustrated in our circumstances, wondering why we can’t seem to get ahead, or at the very least, even catch up. Does God not see our efforts? Does He not hear our prayers? These are some of the thoughts we’ve had as we have struggled in recent years. However, only in recent days have we truly given an ear to hear what the Lord may have to say about it. 

Two nights ago, my husband sat across from me on the couch in his parent’s living room. It was the early morning hours. The sun had not yet risen, and the room was only lit by the dim glow of the still present Christmas tree. It was assessment time, and you could “cut the tension with a  knife”, as my late Daddy used to say. He had been growing ever passive in the past month, and I had been growing more aggressive. We both were operating on very short fuses, and we were both feeling very defeated and discouraged. 

“What is happening?” he asked, “Why are we in such a funk that we can’t seem to get out of?”

I responded frankly, as I often do, but probably often shouldn’t, “I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely done with everything life has to offer right now. I feel stuck, like this will always be our life… working endlessly for nothing, always depending on other people, never being able to provide for ourselves. It feels hopeless, like I just want to quit. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

I waited as my husband sat staring, gathering his thoughts, until he finally cleared his throat, and deepened his voice as he replied, “We need to make some changes. We’ve figured out that we haven’t been putting God first, and so we keep talking about doing that. We’ve started doing some things differently, and that’s good, but we keep trying to put Him first in a way that still leaves us trying to fix ourselves.”

He then opened his Bible app and read aloud Matthew 6:25-34… You know, the ‘be anxious for nothing’ verses… the ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’ verses.

Can we all agree what a blessed thing it is to have a spouse devoted to honoring God even when we aren’t feeling so up to par? I am so thankful that his response rebuked me rather than affirmed my misguided emotions. But, at the time he read those words to me, it was irritating to hear. I literally groaned inside. I may or may not have even rolled my eyes and thought, “Can’t you just be normal and come to the pity party with me?”

But, my husband knew better. He knew better than to take the apple of bitterness that his wife was offering him at the time. And, thank God, because that night we challenged each other in a way that God’s word calls us to do, but we’re often scared to do. We confessed and sought forgiveness, he for his passivity, and me for my hostility (what a pair we make, right?), and he challenged me to start focusing on reading God’s Word more than what I had been. It was no coincidence that the next morning I come across an article in my newsfeed saying that so often people ignore the solution to transforming their minds, and it simply is to read God’s Word. The article’s urging was simple… Choose one book of the bible. Read it all the way through. Choose another book of the bible. Read it all the way through. Repeat these steps until you have read through every book of the bible. 

Can we all just pause for a “DUH - why didn’t I think of that” moment? 

Just like most things in life, we muddle up God’s simple solutions to life’s problems with our own overthinking and overreaching into dilemmas that we were never meant to solve by way of our own puny logic. If we would just stay in God’s Word, the living and breathing Word of God, our path would not be darkened. If God’s word is a light unto my path, and God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but we somehow keep ending up on a foggy road with very little direction, then who keeps turning the light off?


Open your bible.

Read your bible. 


In the twenty-four hours that I’ve spent diligently reading my bible, God has answered my whining as clearly as my husband who sat across from me did. I made a list of the shortest books of the bible to the longest, hoping that it would be more motivating if I was able to get a running start, and it has been. Since yesterday, I’ve read through 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John, Philemon, Jude, Obadiah, Titus, Haggai, and I’m currently in Nahum. These nine books have worked together to bop me over the head with God’s wisdom in a way that I could not have anticipated. I had actually been concerned that reading the bible so randomly might prove ineffective. But, is God’s word ever ineffective? I opened this blog entry with a verse from Haggai, and then I shared a bit about our recent circumstances, and now I will bring the two together.

Reading further along in Haggai chapter one, we realize why these people have toiled with little gain. Verses 7 and 9-10 states the following: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways… You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins while each of you busies himself with his own house.

Wow. God just said, “when you brought it home, I blew it away.” We must not forget His sovereignty. Don’t let your toils be in vain. The book of Haggai goes on to tell an incredibly beautiful story of how God changed the hearts of the people of Judah to lose their self-centered busyness and give themselves to the work of the Lord in bringing His temple to its former glory. He goes on to bless a people who were once too busy to serve Him faithfully. And, He can do the same for you and I. But, how? His instructions were clear to the people of Judah through Haggai the prophet… But, we don’t have a temple to renovate. Enter 1, 2, and 3 John, Philemon, Jude, and Titus. These books may be small in word count, but they are HUGE in the richness of what it means to be a Christian and put God first. Where is the temple of the New Testament? It is here, among the believers… It is the body of Christ. It is your Christian brother or sister, your Christian co-worker and fellow church members. It’s the stranger in the grocery store that you look at and somehow just “know” that they are also a believer because you can almost taste the familiarity of the Holy Spirit dripping off of their every word. 

Are you investing in God’s temple? Have you given your life over in service to those who are running this race along side you? Read those short books of the bible, and you will come away with a list of ways to put God first by serving the body of believers. Serving our fellow Christians is one of many ways that we can put God first in our lives, but don’t underestimate the effect that supporting one another can have on the big picture of The Great Commission outlined in Matthew 28:16-20. Some of the practical things I’ve gleaned from these books:

Stay in the Word. 
Love one another.
Pray for each other.
Rebuke when needed.
Test the spirits, and recognize false prophets.
Walk in truth and love.
Submit to, and honor, authority.
Imitate good, and not evil. 
Have mercy on those who doubt.
Speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling.
Be gentle and show perfect courtesy.
Know your role, and adhere to it.

The list goes on. I challenge you to read those same short books of the bible, and then keep going! Don’t stop. Read the whole bible, and then read it again… it never runs out of new things to teach you, because it is the living and breathing Word of God. It is the means by which we hear from the Creator Himself. Don’t cut off His line of communication by closing your bibles and letting them collect dust on the shelf. Open it, and keep it open.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

When I was a little girl, I used to imagine growing up and moving away to a faraway land. My plan was to save all of the orphaned babies. I remember seeing an infomercial once about the turmoil going on in Sudan, and so I set my sights on the poor, helpless children there. I would spend hours with my head buried in a notebook using my crayons to draw up blue prints of what type of house I would need to build in order to contain the many children I would save. I was sure that I could fit them all in my one little house if I used my space efficiently. I never understood why some people would look at me wild eyed when they would ask my plans for the future, and I would quite simply state that I planned to move to Sudan and save the orphans. In my young mind, it was as simple as “going” and “doing”.

As I grew older, however, I still valued the notion of some radical move to a foreign country to do good and witness to others, but as the distractions came pouring in – friends, fashion, boys – the thought of doing anything for anyone crept further and further into the back of my mind. As a young teen, I went to church often, gave a few good attempts at doing some local and foreign missions work, and even spent countless years agonizing over what my “calling” might be. But, ultimately, selfishness won, and my life’s choices became largely based on what made me happy. Fail proof, right? I tried for a little while to hold onto bits of morality here and there, trying to “be good” for Jesus, but that simply led to making sure my behavior “looked good” to those who didn’t know any better. Never mind the fact that behind the scenes I was sowing a path of self-worship that would reap struggles with thrill-seeking rebellion, eating disorders, promiscuity and sex addiction, drug use, and a small town criminal conviction. Not even the people closest to me knew my struggles, and as long as they thought I was still “good”, that’s all that mattered. I know, for some, my “good” bubble was burst when I showed up pregnant at the age of 19, but they still didn’t know the half of it. Denial and damage control was the name of the game.

 I had very little concept of God’s grace at the time, and though I believed in God, and even believed all that the Bible taught about Jesus, I didn’t understand it completely. I still felt that it was my job to “clean up” before I could follow Christ. I didn’t realize, however, that all of my attempts to fix things only led me further and further into despair. It wasn’t until my sister started to teach me of his grace at the age of 22 that I was even able to submit my life to Christ. The years to follow would prove to be some of the hardest, and unhappiest. I would still go on trying to rely on my pride and control what I could in my neurotic type-A way. I would continue to suffer from depression and anxiety, and even have times when I was sure I had to earn my way to Jesus’ love rather than just repent and move on. But, a midst all of that, there would be an undeniable sense of hope that through all of this refinement, I was not lost. I was no longer drowning in the muck of my own choices. I still battled the consequences of my sin, but I no longer feared them. At times, I was still tripping over my own baby Christian feet trying to “do enough” for God, but his discipline and grace was evident. I no longer went to bed at night feeling shrouded in darkness. I could still go two weeks at a time feeling utterly depressed and unmotivated to even get out of bed, but I never felt as if there wasn’t life left to live.

People so often have the misconception that once Jesus saves you, all of that goes away. We don’t know what to do when we “try” religion and it doesn’t fix everything. But, as long as we’re simply looking for a bandage to put over our wounds and make our lives a little easier, Christianity is not the religion to look to. Christ’s primary purpose is to bridge the gap between helpless sinners and a holy God. But, until you’ve come to the end of yourself and recognized your need for a Savior, you will reap very little benefit from simply going to church and being Christian-like.  I’d like to say that I don’t know where so many people get the notion that Jesus turns us into happy, sin-repellant perfection, but I can’t say that, because I know exactly where people get that notion. They get it from us – Christians and church goers. They get that impression because of the fact that we put a veil over our imperfections and we think that the presence of sin in our lives will discredit our validity as a Christian. They get that impression because there are still so many born-again Christians out there who get saved and then simply stew in spiritual infancy because growth hurts too much. And, so unbelievers are left with very little by way of understanding the true nature of the gospel, and never knowing that what the bible truly teaches is that with our confession of faith will come many trials and persecution. It’s no wonder the world can’t look at people like Joel Osteen and see him for the false prophet that he is, because darn it, “if you’re not smiling, you’re not saved”! The rest just assume that we’re all hypocrites because we can’t even regurgitate enough scripture to explain that we’re saved, yes, but sinners, also.

Please, for all that is good and holy, learn to embrace suffering. Know that God disciplines those He loves. Try to understand that if “happiness” is your ultimate goal in life, then you’ll probably come out “happy” at best – and that’s not saying a lot when you consider the eternal joy to be found in Christ, and the damnation to be had apart from Him. When a person is saved, Christ becomes our veil so that when the righteous and holy God above looks down on us as Creator and Judge, He sees Christ’s sacrifice instead of our sin. But, Christ does not become our veil from this world. On the contrary, we are often times pushed out of the nest, free falling into the world and gasping for air, with more than a few bumps along the way, as we learn to trust in His power to do the things that, apart from Him, we cannot do.

 As Christ continues to work in my life, I often times wonder if He will revive my childhood desire of moving off to a faraway land and spreading His gospel. But, it’s dawning on me lately, that whether He does that in the future or not, He has put a new burden on my heart. This new burden is much closer to home. It is this self-absorbed, sex-crazed, money-worshipping country that I call home. It is the thousands of Americans that go to church on Sundays and pray before their meals that still have somehow “missed it” and don’t truly know Christ, but rather, live double lives of whom they really are, and who they present themselves to be – or, worse yet, claim to know Christ while boldly living in a way that contradicts scripture. It’s the ones who fail to understand that Christ’s love reaches down to us, right where we are, in the filth, the sin, the mire, and there is nothing apart from putting our faith in Him that can draw us any closer to God.

My burden now is for the ones who call themselves…  “good”.

“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Curse of Generational Disrespect and Miscommunication... But, Mostly Just Hurt Feelings and Misunderstandings


I think that it would be safe to say that most people I know have been lumped in, at one point or another, with the rest of their peers and deemed to be "The Worst Generation To Have Ever Walked the Earth". They say that we're the rudest, loudest, meanest, most selfish, disrespectful, careless, sexualized, demon-possessed, God-hating, immoral... well, you get the picture... apparently, we're just awful.

The irony is, that as a mere 25 year old, I have lived long enough to see an even newer generation grow into adolescents who are also deemed as "the worst". But, wait a second... I thought that MY generation was about as low as they come. Oh, but wait... I can remember hearing about how my parents generation was also deemed the scum of the earth... bunch o' dope heads and hippies. And, if I'm not mistaken, my grandparents generation was responsible for producing feminism and Elvis, who was the King of Rock & Roll and ultimately the gateway to Hell, so surely THEY are responsible for society's failures. Oh... what's that you say? In the years leading up to and after 100 B.C., the Romans used to feed live people to live animals at The Colosseum as their most popular form of spectator sport entertainment? Hmm...

Never you mind those Romans. This new generation takes the cake. They don't say "sir" or "ma'am", they're all on welfare, chivalry is dead, and they just all around suck.

I could honestly sit here all day and think of reasons why the general public is suffering thanks to today's generation, or yesterday's generation, or really, just whomever I cared to cast the bulk of the blame on, I'm sure I could muster up a big enough list to convince at least one or two like-minded people as to why we should be disgusted with them and why all of OUR problems are THEIR fault, and why I am completely justified by being offended by everything they do or say. But, I don't want to do that. I want to bring it down to scale. Let's forget about this and that generation, and let's just talk about the two factors in any social setting that we can do something about... those factors are YOU and ME.

As a child, my parents did share with me a general set of rules and expectations that were meant to be upheld in social settings and when amongst my elders, and in most cases, I did adhere to those general values because I knew to not do so would result in grim consequences. It was never my desire to feel the sting of those consequences, also called a belt, on my rear end. Did the fear of those consequences convince me that my elders actually deserved respect? Not at all. But, it did teach me that if a pony takes orders, all goes well, and if they disobey, here come's the whip. So, for the most part, as most children do, I ponied up and did my duty. My parents were generally satisfied with my manners, and my elders were generally impressed that I was outwardly respectful and compliant. All of those rules and consequences, however, did not change the fact that by nature, humans are "monkey-see, monkey-do", and I was raised by two very imperfect people, just as all of you were. The mantra "Do as I say, not as I do" is a hopeless saying that only works in theory, which ultimately means, it doesn't work. If a parent explains to their child the importance of showing respect for their elders, but that same parent only shows hostility and rebellion toward authority, then despite the fact that the child has been told the importance of respect, they have been taught something very different. That is where the confusion seems to occur, and the poop hits the fan. People assume that to tell someone something is to teach them. But, while a child may obey a parent's rules, there are many cases where they do so simply because "this is what children should do". That mindset is often the result of parents who don't practice what they preach. They say no cookies before dinner, but they are regularly caught snacking between meals, and then scolding a child for asking for a snack, saying, "Don't you know that will spoil your dinner?" Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. "Now, go play and stop whining about being hungry. I'll call you when dinner is ready." Chomp. Chomp. Chomp.

What, then, does a child truly grasp from such a confusing situation? They see the adult doing what they are telling the child not to do, and then naturally assume that these rules only apply to children. The child doesn't quite understand why, but they know that parents have many silly rules for them that they themselves don't abide by. The only conclusion for most children is that "I am a child, and I must follow the rules. I cannot wait to be a grown-up so that I don't have to follow the rules anymore."

Let me say that again.

"I am a child, and I must follow the rules. I cannot wait to be a grown-up so that I don't have to follow the rules anymore."

This leads to a very "good" child growing up to be a very less than satisfactory adult. Their parents and grandparents will shake their heads while saying, "I don't know what happened, she was always such a good child. I never would have imagined she would turn out like this. The world must have gotten to her, because we raised her better than that. Society has ruined our children."

The harsh reality? Your words gave them rules that children must obey, while your actions showed them the way that adults are allowed to behave. So, all of those rules, the endless punishments and groundings for breaking them, in your child's mind, all of that nonsense had an expiration date. They were simply arbitrary rules with no bearings that children must follow or else be punished. The moment that the child is grown and knows that they are no longer under your authority or in fear of punishment, they will be much more bold in being who they have always been now that they are out of the dog and pony show that was their childhood. If there is no longer anyone to whip them, why then, should they still perform? We are all rowing the same boat here, the boat in which each one of us thinks, "There are too many chiefs, and not enough Indians. But, if everyone would just listen to me, we would all be better off." We measure and judge each other according to the rules that our parents told us, while living our own lives the way that our parents taught us.

Parents, if you are not a living model of who you want your children to be, then any rule you give them will be taken by them as arbitrary and temporary. Don't worry, I'm speaking to myself here as much as I am speaking to you. I, too, have little ones watching my every move and learning to navigate this life by mimicking what their parents do. My hope, is that while they see my many imperfections, they also see me running to the cross and laying them down at my Savior's feet. We can never underestimate what God did when He sent His Son to live here among us. Not only, was Christ able to live a perfect life and die as a perfect and holy sacrifice in my place so that I might live in God's grace without fear of failure, but He also gave us the bare necessity of a living model to imitate. Likewise, that is what we are to be to our children. We may never live a perfect life as Christ did, but His grace is sufficient for thee! Everything that He EVER did will ALWAYS be enough to make up for everything that we will NEVER be able to do... including, being the perfect parent.

How does all of this rambling fit into the You and I equation that I referenced earlier? Simply this: As a parent with grown children, you have to be willing to take some responsibility for who your children are, good or bad. In taking responsibility for that, it should be easier for you to look around at their generation as a whole and understand that not only are they no worse than your generation, but they are equally as sinful as any living being ever was, and they are just as much in need of a Savior as you are. As a grown child, I must recognize that even if my parents didn't truly teach me better, despite what they told me, that as an adult, I am responsible for my own actions, regardless of how I was brought up. As a Christian, there is never an excuse to behave like an idiot because "It's just the way I was raised", when there is an entire book called "The Bible" that tells me of God's grace and His life changing salvation.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are always other factors in the equation that we may have no control over. All of this is not to say that if you are indeed the perfect parent, then your children will grown up to be spic and span model citizens, never to disappoint a soul. This is simply to say, stop pointing the finger. Be honest with yourself that if you are offended by someone doing something that is simply utterly offensive and disrespectful according to your standards of decency, then you can always take the advice that I give my four and five year old... Ignore them. Turn the other cheek. Yes, you can choose to wallow in the offense, or you can take the high road. They are just as human as you, and just as imperfect. Do what you can actually do something about... YOU. Doing something about YOU typically doesn't require arguing with others and placing blame, or gossiping to others about how awful the offender is, but rather looking inside of your own heart and humbling yourself before God through repentance and receiving His grace to make it through what may seem like a terrible offense at the time. Likewise, I am not saying that all rules are useless and arbitrary. But, just like Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, so are we as parents if we are shelling out rules that we aren't willing to follow ourselves. We are literally feeding them a venom that sets them up for failure if we are talking the talk without walking the walk.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To convict one would be to convict us all.

      I had a mother.  She left when I was twelve.  She wasn’t there when I needed her the most.  She had a mother, who worked full time, and spent most of her childhood living with people who weren’t even her own blood.  She wasn’t there when she needed her the most.   My grandmother had a mother.  She died when she was nine.  She wasn’t there when she needed her the most.
       I had a father.  He held his pride closer than he held his children.  He wasn’t there when I needed him the most.  He had a father, who died when he was ten.  He wasn’t there when he needed him the most.  He was raised by a mother, who worked and went to school full time to care for her five children.  She wasn’t there when he needed her the most.  She was the daughter of a criminal.  He spent his time in jail and making a shameful living.  He wasn’t there when she needed him the most.
       My children have a mother.  She spent her time chasing men to fill a void.  She wasn’t there when they needed her the most.
      I am the daughter of a mother who didn’t have a mother, who didn’t have a mother.  I am the daughter of a father who didn’t have a father, and was raised by a mother, who didn’t have a father.  I have born children who don’t have a father, and for many years, I wasn’t there when they needed me the most.
       What are we to do when we are the products of so many generations lacking in parents?  For many years, my heart stewed in anger so great towards my parents and the raw deal that I felt I got as a child.  I was so very bitter not having the affection and attention that I spent so many years craving in silence.  As a child, I was taken over by insecurity and fear.  As a teen, that shyness morphed into a boisterous and bitter hatred for anyone and everyone.  As a young lady, I sought out any man with open arms to find comfort through the night, and I kept them around for as long as I could, but it never lasted, and it never healed.  I have lived a reckless life, void of moral high ground, and full of self-destruction. 
       Now, at twenty-five years old, who do I blame… myself?  My parents?  God himself?
       Now, at twenty-five years old, I can look back at all my years growing up and look beyond myself to see the parents who raised me.  My parents became parents while they were yet children themselves - not only children, but broken children at best.  They were raised by broken-hearted parents, and not a single one had the knowledge or the resources to raise any child in an ideal manner, myself included.  We are all one in the same, my parents and I, and my grandparents alike.  Will I hang them at the gallows for the rest of their lives for not knowing any better?  At one time, I can say in all transparency, I would have liked to.  But, now, in due time, and as perspective continues to grow, I would have to hang myself as well, for I am as guilty and as innocent as they.
       I was a child born into an unfortunate life, as were they.  Who is there to blame if one was never taught any better, and when taught, couldn’t comprehend?  Only by the grace of God do we all live, and only by the grace of God will our eyes be opened to a better way of life.
 “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. ” (Matthew 18:21-22, ESV)

Friday, March 15, 2013

In writing a book...

           I think I’ve always felt a certain amount of fear at the thought of writing it all out – my life, that is – a fear of exposing the ones I love, a fear of hurting them, or shaming them, a fear of shaming myself.  I have always wondered of what gifts God may have given me.  I have always longed to have something special to contribute, something artistic, something that touches people deeply, something that someone may find comforting in the darkness, and hold onto knowing that someone feels their pain, something that leads someone out of the darkness and to the knowledge of a Savior.  I have always envied the singers and the painters and the poets for their ability to express snippets of their pain while leaving much to the imagination.  And, while I have dabbled in poetry and short writings, doing much of the same, I have always felt as if it takes off the edge, but never gives me relief of the burdens that weigh down my heart.  I am quickly coming to the point, now, where I cannot deny them any longer. 

I have spent many years getting frustrated with God for giving me a talent I couldn't use, this curse of writing that can help to heal my own broken heart, while feeling that the words I wrote could never be shared.  God has also graced me with compassion, and while my heart has hardened through the years, I still carry immense grief at the thought of hurting the ones I love.  Even still, I pace the floors at night in want, in need, of some way to purge the pain, and telling my story to God alone just doesn't seem to satisfy.  I feel as though He always points my words back at me as if to say, “If you know this, then why aren't you telling the ones that need to hear?”  I have often wondered which would be the greater cross to bear:  Sharing my story and potentially breaking the hearts of those who read about themselves, or refusing to share this story of great redemption that could potentially be the lifeline to some helpless soul, shining down the light of Christ and extending a ladder into their self-inflicted dungeons, that they may see God’s grace that has the power to lift them out of the mire. 

            In recent months, I have concluded that the latter would be the greater cross to bear.  So, pray with me, brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you should see some glimpse of yourself in my story or not, that I not write my words in vain, but that they may be filled with the love and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pray with me, that the hurting who come across these words will make room for me to sit with them in their darkness, to take comfort in the life that I have led, despite the sinfulness of so many years, and to take heart that it took all of that - every hit and low blow, every minefield that I ignorantly or willingly walked across in my rebellion, every piece of my heart that I lost along the way – all of this, so much darkness to lead me to so much Light.

“Like a bride - cherished, adored and waited for, so intimate with every title that you love her for.  My God, you never fell in love with open eyes.  You chose to die upon the cross.  You knew exactly what I cost.  I was worthless, but you made me worth it.  I was a slave content to beg beneath your table, but you took me in and made me a son.”  - My Epic, “Childbodybride”

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Take my advice, Della.

       4476 Brill Drive.
       I don't think that I'll ever forget that address.  It wasn't my first.  It wasn't my last.  But, it was like a twilight zone, a portion of my life that seems so disproportionately strange in memory, and yet, so oddly fresh.
       A part of me has always been afraid to tell of it.  Another part of me feels as though it may burst if I don't.  I have always been afraid of embarrassing those who endured those years with me, bringing shame to my family, or angering my parents in divulging so much of our private life.  My daddy once said that the great thing about writing fiction is that you can tell your story without anyone ever knowing that it was your's.  I, however, suggest that the great thing about writing nonfiction is that everyone will know that it was your's.  How else would we be a testament to the majesty of God's grace?  Without transparency, we would be nothing more than a fairy tale, unattainable in it's own right, providing warmth to the reader, but no hope for their reality.  Christ has been diligent to teach me that I have nothing in this world to boast about, nothing less than his great glory.  Likewise, I have nothing to hide, for I have been made new.  And with keeping this in mind, I will share with discretion, but honesty.

       "But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  -2 Corinthians 12:9-11

       We moved into the blue house when I was four years old.  I was quite sure it was a mansion.  The big empty rooms seemed greater than any house I had ever seen.  But, then again, I was four, and they were empty.  I was too excited and unaware to notice the missing window panes, the rotting floor, or the smoke stained walls.  It wasn't until a few years later that I began to notice that my house wasn't up to par.  The houses on the bus route to school looked nothing like mine.  Not even the other houses on my street looked similar.  Our house sat alone on a few acres of land, family-owned property, apparently.  The house had been empty for years, possibly decades, and it was apparent as such.  We were moving into this neglected house because there would be no rent to pay, as we couldn't afford to pay any.
       It wasn't long before the floor literally fell out from under us.  The window panes that hung like loose teeth in a snaggle-toothed mouth eventually fell, and the holes were covered by sheets of plastic.  The front door was held shut by a twisted piece of coat hanger that latched onto a nail on the wall.  The light fixtures stopped working, one room at a time.  First the bathroom, then the kitchen.  We showered with a garden hose that ran from the kitchen sink to the bathroom, and into the tub...  the bathroom that was only lit by a flashlight that hung from the useless shower head.  The broken toilet was flushed with a bucket full of old bathwater that we would save after a bath for that very reason.  It was excessively hot in the summer, and the house was filled with the humming of box fans.  It was excessively cold in the winter, and we fell asleep to the flickers of a kerosene heater.
       We lived there for eight years.  As frustrating as it was to live in such a circumstance, the challenges of being poor don't often stick out in my mind so much as the wars that raged within those fragile walls.  It isn't easy being a little girl without the answers trying to answer to a demanding parent that expects you to have them.  It is nothing short of confusing to be told that "all I want is your best", only to present your best and be told "I think you can do much better".  It is beyond oppressive to be made to feel like you are always in the way, walking on eggshells, trying not to set off an ill-tempered parent.  An emotional mine field is no place for children.  It grieves them and destroys who they are.  A child can easily become obsessed with "playing their cards right" in hopes of gaining approval, or avoiding wrath.  When you say to a child, "Do it one more time and I'll knock you out a window!", a child, whether young or old, does not know that you are simply "speaking out of anger, and wouldn't actually knock them out a window".  You are big, they are small, and it is a scary thing to be screamed at by an adult red in the face from anger.
       I should put that a bit more personally:
       It was beyond oppressive to be made to feel like I was always in the way, walking on eggshells, trying not to set of an ill-tempered parent.  An emotional mine field was no place for me as a child.  It grieved me and destroyed who I was.  I became obsessed with "playing my cards right" in hopes of gaining approval, or avoiding wrath.  When you said to me, "Do it one more time and I'll knock you out a window!", I didn't know that you were simply "speaking out of anger, and wouldn't actually knock me out a window".  You were big, I was small, and it was a scary thing to be screamed at by an adult red in the face from anger.
       In such a hostile environment, even when I wasn't being taught, there was so much that I was learning.  I became illusive.  I learned to be observant, to speak less and listen more.  I learned to hide.  I learned to keep secrets.  I learned that it was better to tell a person what they wanted to hear, even if it was a lie.  I learned that it was better to give a person what they wanted, even if you didn't want to give it away.  I learned that you only fight the ones who cannot win against you, and you always give in to the ones whom you can never win against.  I learned to manipulate.
       These lessons always translated so powerfully in my life as a young girl.  I learned that a man's attention is going to cost you, and that I, alone, was not of much value.  I never questioned that I did not have to succumb to a boy's demands, no matter how young I was.  It was as if I had a sign on my forehead: "Insecure and unwilling to defend herself"...  and so it was, the boys would come, and I would freeze, not knowing that I had an option in the matter.  It happened as early as kindergarten.  And it's as though it never stopped.  Sexual abuse is not something that you can hide from, especially when you're sitting next to them in class.  Sexual abuse only reinforced what I already knew, that I was not my own.  I remember one boy, specifically, who would never let it go.  I avoided him for three years of elementary school, until one day he ended up in my third grade classroom.  He looked at me and smiled, and I began to feel sick.  He then walked back to my teacher, and at some point came up behind me and whispered into my ear, "You remember that time in kindergarten?"  And then he laughed as he walked away, turning back to smile at me before walking out of the classroom.  The details of what happened, when, where, and with who, are almost insignificant next to the fact that this was a child who was acting like a predator, treating me - another child - like prey...  in a public classroom, under the noses of ill-supervising teachers.  Parents, be aware, these things do happen, even in the best of schools.  Pray for your children daily as you send them to school each day, as you never know who's company they are in.

       If I could give myself any advice today, I would say, "Della, mind your temper, as it can wreak havoc on the hearts of your little ones.  Be angry, and sin not.  Do not yell.  Do not threaten.  Always discipline in love.  How you treat them now will determine how they allow themselves to be treated in the future.  Treat them as though God handmade them just for you, because He did.  Delight in their laughter, rejoice with them about little things, and love them patiently through their trials.  Hearing them tell you a pointless story in three-year-old jargon is far more priceless than catching the last five minutes of your favorite show.  Don't become so busy that you can't help them when they need it, as soon they won't ask for your help at all.  Most of all, do not teach them wretchedness through your own poor example.  You teach them what is permissible, not by the rules that you set for them, but by the rules that you have set for yourself.  If you allow poor behavior of yourself, expect to receive it, also, from them.  These children, simply put, are reflections and refinements of your own self.  Learn from them, that you may lead them through the guidance of the Holy Spirit...  lead them diligently to Christ.  Be immersed in Him, so that He is all that your children will see.  Be their ambassador for Christ."

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."  - 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 


Saturday, December 1, 2012

The beginning of grace... (Part 3/3)

        The months that followed our union were worse than any I had ever lived.  Now, I belonged to him.
I remember one night not long after he totaled one of his cars while driving drunk, he found the keys to his sports car that his brother had hidden from him, and off he went.  A few hours passed, and there was a knock at the door.  I looked out and saw a police car, and so I opened the door and stepped out onto the porch where an officer stood holding Nel by the arm.  He was covered in blood, pieces of glass dug into his skin, visibly sticking out of his face and arms, and yes, very much drunk.  I was speechless.
“Does this guy live here?” the officer asked.
“He does…”
The officer went on to tell me that Nel had driven his sports car across the median on I-30, and proceeded to drive directly under an oncoming 18-wheeler, which then ran over the front end of his tiny car, barely missing the passenger seat where he had been sitting.  After hearing that, I couldn't understand, first of all, how he made it out alive, but second of all, why this officer wasn't taking him to the hospital, or jail.
“Ma’am, he refused medical attention, and our jails are full tonight.  We called INS (immigration), and they don’t want him either.”
“Officer, isn't there anything you can do with him?  We aren't safe here when he’s drunk, and now we don’t have a car to go anywhere.”  I was literally crying, begging this officer to do something.  His only response was, “We charged him with a DUI, but we can’t hold him.  Just give us a call if he tries to hurt you or the children.  Have a good night, ma‘am.”
To say that I was baffled by all of this would be an understatement.  It merely reinforced my feelings of isolation and desperation, the feeling that there was no way out.  Though my faith in Christ was growing, I still felt obligated by this marriage certificate to stick around, and so I learned how to “play his game”.
Over the remainder of our time together, things progressively got worse.  But, I became quieter and more obliging while he was sober, gaining his trust, as he was generally paranoid that I was looking for an escape.  His sober self became more permissive, more relaxed, and began allowing me more freedoms, such as grocery shopping without him, and visiting family without having to check in as often.  All the while, his drunken self became worse, becoming violent and destructive.  His verbal taunts became physical marks.  Things had gotten so bad that even his brothers told me that they had had their fill of his nonsense, and would no longer come to my aid if the boys and I were in danger, and because they were tired of fighting him, they would simply leave if things got out of hand.
I became more bold in protecting my children while he was drunk, as I knew he wouldn't remember my actions once he was sober, fighting him if need be.  There were nights when I would lock him out of the house, thinking we were safe, only to watch him punch through the windows and climb in after us.  He wanted the boys, always saying that he needed to “take them away”, that they didn't need to be here, which always sent chills down my spine.  His drunken nights turned our home into a war zone - shattered glass on the floor, blood spatter on the walls, broken furniture, and tables turned upside down.  It was routine, with me cleaning it all up once things had settled down again.
I had to be so prepared for his drunken nights, that while he was sober, I would do things like rearrange the furniture in our home in order to aid in my escapes, as it had become the norm to literally have to run for our lives when he was in a drunken rage.  I would claim that I was just “freshening up” the look of our home, and he would even praise me for it, when in reality, I was strategically placing furniture items in places where it would be easy to barricade doors, or trip him up, anything to slow him down as we got away.
As scared as I would be when he was in a rage, I would act as though I wanted to hug him, just so that I could sneak the car keys out of his pocket so that the boys and I would have a chance to get away.  Too many nights, I would have to do little things here and there to prepare to get way, like quietly unlocking the front door…  and then waiting until he wasn't watching to sneak the baby bag outside the door…  wait until he wasn't watching again, preparing for the moment when he would be distracted or passed out just enough, as it wouldn't be for long, so that I could snatch the babies out of their beds and run to the car, hopefully getting inside and locking the doors before he could reach us.  Most nights, for time’s sake, there would only be enough time to sit the boys in the front seat, hold onto them with my right hand, while using my left hand to steer, and I would speed away while he often chased after the car, trying to bust out the windows.  When I felt like I was far enough away, I would pull over and buckle them into their car seats.  Sometimes, I would go to my parents house, while other times, whether it was due to the time of night or my own feelings of shame, we would just spend the night in the car, and not return home until I knew he was sober.
I knew that we couldn't carry on like this, the boys and I spending at least one weekend a month in a ratty hotel, which was all that we could afford, or asking to stay the weekend with my parents, all the while simply returning home as soon as things had settled down.  He was dangerous, and our need to get out was urgent.  I continued to pray for a way of escape from harms way, while still being sure that divorce wasn't an option, as he hadn't dismissed me, nor could I prove yet that he had committed adultery, despite my suspicions.
         At some point, during the winter months of 2010, as I was gaining his trust more and more, I began to mention the idea of me getting a job.  I presented the idea only occasionally, generally around bill time, as it was more apparent to him that money was tight, despite his having a good job, since so much of his money went to alcohol.  He eventually consented, but with conditions.  I had to work with Hispanic women, as he held very little regard for Americans, and a job where there were no men.  I found a listing for a professional maid service in a Latino magazine, and so I applied and was hired soon after.  Another condition was that the boys had to be kept by his female relatives, or the wives of his own friends, no daycare.  I wasn't extremely comfortable with this, but I knew that I had to make money somehow, and I knew that these were kind women, and so I agreed, praying that things would soon begin to change.  As he grew tired of driving me to and from work, he requested that I find someone to carpool with.  Luckily, there was no one readily available.  In January of 2011, he agreed to let me buy a car, again, with conditions.  It had to be in his name.  I prayed desperately for this car to be made mine and not his, as I knew that it wouldn't truly be resourceful if he could take it at any time.
As we shopped around for cars, we finally decided on one to purchase.  As we were required to insure it before signing the final papers, we left the dealership to visit his insurance agent.  I still felt so disappointed that my money was going to a car that wouldn't truly be mine, and I tried hard to appear happy about buying the car for the sake of convenience, which was all he cared about.  As we were applying for insurance, the rates that were quoted to him were outrageous.  Whether it was due to his DUIs or car accidents, I’m not sure, but what happened next just about sent me to the moon with excitement.  He asked the agent to give us a quote using my information, which she did, and those rates were much more acceptable, thus the insurance was bought in my name.  We walked out of the agent’s office and got into the car, at which point he starts the car and says, “Well, I guess we’ll have to put the car in your name then.”
I couldn't believe my ears.  He didn't realize that the car didn't have to be in my name for insurance purposes, but I wasn't about to educate him!  It was all I could do not to shout for joy, praising God as his providence unfolded, but I casually said, “Okay.”  I felt like my insides were going to burst, and I knew that we were on our way to freedom.  Going back to the dealer and signing the paper work to buy the car in my name was so hard to do without crying.  It was as if I had been locked in a dark room for over a year, and now someone was handing over the key, literally.
As I continued working, God granted me favor at my new job, and the boss, who wasn't the nicest person, was becoming generous for no real reason at all, always giving me many of the highest paying homes to clean, and always concerned with how I was doing personally, even though she knew nothing of my home life.  At the same time, all of a sudden, both of the women who had been alternating days to babysit the boys while I was at work became otherwise obligated and could no longer watch them.  One of them, who had been seeking full time employment for over two years, received a job offer.  The other lady, who had two daughters, the youngest of which was nine years old, had been praying for years to have another baby, and she became pregnant…  what timing!  I saw this as a hiccup in my plan, as it could prevent me from working.  I doubted God’s sovereignty, as this was a new concept to me.  I went to my boss and explained to her my dilemma.  She told me to wait a moment, and she went to the back office and made a phone call.  She talked to the owner of a well-respected daycare nearby and offered to exchange cleaning services for discounted childcare for my boys.  I was blown away.  Suddenly, all of my dependence on this man was beginning to unravel, and my eyes were being drawn to a God who obviously loved me more than I could imagine.
         This idea of God being in control, being sovereign over all things, believers and non-believers alike, was so hard for me to wrap my mind around.  And there He was, proving it to me, taking care of details that were completely out of my control.
         He was preparing a way... and I was falling in love with a Savior.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."    Ephesians 1:3-10

Read "The beginning of grace... (Part 1/3)"
Read "The beginning of grace... (Part 2/3)"