Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Little Girl's Hero

A friend's grandfather recently passed away and she wrote a sweet tribute about him, which inspired me to reminisce about my grandfather who just happened to pass away 3 years ago this week.

My grandfather (Pops as we called him) was a lot of things. He was a true war hero. He was a proud and faithful U.S. Marine who served in WWII and Korea. He was a brave and brilliant fighter pilot who completed many successful missions and earned all kinds of medals and accolades. He was also a national champion tennis player. He had cases of trophies for tournaments won. He was a middle school principal, a college tennis and basketball coach, a husband of 66 years, a father, a grandfather, and so much more. But of all the things he was, the thing that mattered most to me was that he was a little girl's hero.

My parents were divorced when I was a toddler, and my dad wasn't in my life as much as I would have liked. I had an amazing step-father who treated me as his own, and the times I did spend with my dad were valuable times, but my grandfather filled a void I never really even understood was there. I believed I was the most special girl in his life. He treated me like a treasured jewel. He was interested in every silly, senseless story I ever told. He watched intently as I showed him all the tricks I had learned - forward rolls, cartwheels, cheers... each one was amazing in his eyes. He sat by the pool for countless hours while I practiced my dives, performed synchronized swimming routines, and made him count how long I could hold my breathe under water. I made him judge every performance and give me a numerical score, even they were always a perfect 10. He was my pretend student when I taught school, even though I gave him detentions and sent him to the principal's office every day. He taught me how to drive and was a willing passenger as I drove his car all over town at 13 years old. He didn't seem to be the least bit worried that I would crash it. I twirled around in my new dresses, showed off my sparkly shoes, and modeled swim ware, and he thought I was the most charming little girl ever. He taught me how to play cards and played countless hours with me, even letting me win when I needed to. He took me on walks in the mountains of North Carolina and never tired of little-girl conversations along the way. He never told me to stop talking, he never told me to hurry up, and he never told me to come back later. He always had time for me. If he was building in the garage, he let me help. If he was gardening in the greenhouse, he let me plant. I was glued to his side much of the time, and that was plenty okay with him. He was so proud of his little granddaughter, and I knew he believed in me. He thought I could be the president of the United States one day if I wanted to, and I believed him.

Every little girl needs a man in her life that treats her like a treasure. Every little girl needs a man who loves her silliness, who believes in her, who thinks she hung the moon, who makes her feel beautiful, who lets her express herself without reservation, and who always has time for her, no matter what. My Pops was that man. I have a daughter now, and I pray that my little girl will find a real-life hero in her Daddy like my Pops was for me. Daddy's of daughters, don't get too busy or too consumed with the world that you overlook this invaluable duty to be your little girl's hero. Grandfathers of little girls, don't neglect making them feel like your treasure. It won't matter how much money you make, if you're a prized athlete, or even if you're a decorated war hero. What will matter is that you're HER hero. Never underestimate the impact you have on those little girls. It will stay with her. I promise. I am 37 years old, and my Pops hasn't lived on this earth for 3 years. But I still treasure every moment I spent with him. He will live on forever in the woman I am.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

26 Minutes to Spare: My Birth Story

I have given birth three times. And each of those three times were completely different than the others. It amazes me how the body can do such different things each time you go through the same experience. I decided to record the memories of the experiences - especially this last one - so I would never forget the stories. Those experiences are part of me now. They were major events in my life that impacted me in ways I could never have predicted. So this is my "birth story".

When I had my first child, I was an excited first time mom-to-be and I was full of expectations and plans of how my birth was going to go. A bit naive, like most first-timers, I thought I had it all figured out and it was going to be just like I planned it. I was determined to do it without drugs because I assumed that real women give birth all natural. I mean, after all, women have been given birth for thousands of years. Our bodies were designed to do this. (There is nothing wrong with this way of thinking - it's true. But I didn't realize that the human body can override your best made plans.) So I planned to labor at home as long as possible (no one was going to tie me to a bed and plug me into an iv and a fetal monitor). I was going to eat, walk around, and whatever else I wanted to do. And I did. My contractions started in the early afternoon and I stayed home for several hours enduring my labor (which was not very painful at the time) until my contractions were 5 minutes apart, which was when I went to the hospital. On the way there, the contractions became very strong and painful, and I could hardly stand the pain anymore. A nurse checked me upon arrival and I was 9 cenimeters dilated! Normally, this would have been considered success since that is what I wanted. But my body did not cooperate with the rest of my plan. I got stuck in this stage of labor called the "transition" stage. That is the stage of labor when you are about 8-9 cenimeters just before you deliver. It is the most painful and intense phase, but it usually only lasts about 30 minutes to an hour. Well mine lasted 4 hours! I just wouldn't progress beyond it. I was too far along to get an epidural, but I wasn't far enough to push and deliver. The pain was horrific and indescribable. I remeber wanting to just pass out and go unconcious. And a few times I thought that would happen. I was screaming and crying and it was physically and emotionally traumatic. They finally gave me a spinal, which is a temporary shot of the same medicine used in an epidural and it gave me about 30 minutes of relief before I finally was able to push and deliver my baby. I had 12 family members and friends in that delivery room with me when I gave birth, and I think we were all traumatized by the experience. I vowed I would never give birth without an epidural EVER again.

With my second baby, I most definitely remembered my plan to do things differently. My water broke late at night, and although I was not having any contractions yet, I went straight to the hospital and asked for an epidural. I actually got the drugs before I had a single contraction so I never felt anything at all. Once I got the epidural, I went to sleep for a few hours, woke up, and pushed out my baby withouth ever feeling an ounce of pain. I'm not gonna lie - it was blissful. It was the best way I could imagine giving birth. No pain, no screaming... it was calm, and quiet, and easy. I had very little trauma to my body and a very easy recovery. It was the complete opposite experience from my first birth. And boy was I glad. THIS was the way I was gonna do it from then on. I didn't need to be anybody's hero. And I didn't need to be the all natural super woman I once thought I had to be.

When I got pregnant the third time, I was adament about having the exact same experince as the second one - an early epidural, no pain, and an easy delivery. I made my plans and thought I knew exactly how it was going to play out. It started out just as I planned - my water broke in the middle of the night while I was sleeping. The gush of water woke me up, but I was not having any contractions yet so I was feeling no pain. I left for the hospital early, determined to get my epidural just like the previous time. But this time, things took a different turn. On the way to the hospital, I suddenly started having painful contractions and they were very close together. It was like I had skipped the early stages of labor altogether and I had advanced to the later stages right away. When I got to the hospital (less than an hour after my water broke), I was having pretty intense contractions and they were only about 3 minutes apart. Still, I wasn't in horrible pain and I assumed I had plenty of time to spare, so we parked the car and I walked into the hospital and up to the labor and delivery unit without a wheelchair. I walked up to the desk and informed the nurse that I was in labor and that my water had broken about an hour ago, my contractions were 3 minutes apart, and that I had a history of fairly fast labors and I wanted an epidural immediately. She gave me some paperwork to sign and fill out, and I stood at the desk and filled them out (stopping every couple minutes to breathe through a contraction). The entire time I was on my feet, not in a wheelchair, and not giving much indication that my labor was progressing rapidly (which it was). The nurse put me in a bed in a holding room and checked my dilation, which was about 6 centimeters. We all assumed that meant I had plenty of time to get into a room and get my epidural before the baby would arrive. We were wrong. They put me in my wheelchair, wheeled me to a room and ordered my drugs. I got out of the chair without help and climbed into the bed, and I knew at that moment that my dreams of getting an epidural were dashed. Suddenly my contractions became super intense and about 30 seconds apart. I was in intense pain and not getting a break between contractions. I suddenly felt that all-too-familiar feeling from my first birth of a huge amount of pressure in my bottom and the burning feeling you never forget once you experience it. "This baby is coming right now," I thought to myself, "and I am not going to get my drugs!" I began to freak out at the thought of not having any drugs and I yelled at the nurse to hurry and put the iv in my arm so I could at least get some narcotics if the epidural was out of the question. But she didn't have time to get the iv in. While one nurse was checking for a vein and the other was trying to get the fetal monitor on me, I felt the pain go into over-drive and I had the extreme need to push. The baby was on it's way out and there was nothing I could do but go with it. The doctor looked between my legs (as she was getting ready to asses me again and was attempting to do a quick ultrasound to make sure the head was down in the pelvis). She did not realize that the baby was on it's way out and there was no time for any of that. I realized it, but was in denial, still hoping to get some drugs in my arm before I had to deliver. The doctor suddenly exclaimed that I was 10 centimeters fully dialated and that the head was visible! She looked at me and said, "You're gonna have this baby right now!" "No!" I yelled, "I need my drugs first! I can't do this without drugs!" My husband, who was holding my legs up, looked down at the crowning head and then at me and said these words: "You can do this. I see her head, it's coming out, one push and you got this." So I decided it was time to let go of my hope for drugs (the nurse hadn't even gotten an iv into my arm yet) and push the baby out. I had to end the pain and that was the only way it was gonna happen. So I pushed. A small, timid, little push at first. And then another one - a big one. I felt her little head pop out and then felt her body slide out fairly quickly. I barely had time to realize what was happening and I looked down to see a baby placed on my chest. There she was! I had just given birth to this baby, and it all happened so fast. No drugs, no fetal minitor, no iv, no nothing. I didn't even really do any work. She just came, and I just went with it.

I looked up at the clock and it was 5:26 am. I had walked into the hospital at 5:00 am. It had only been 26 minutes since I casually strolled into the automatic doors of Mission hospital and rode the elevator up to the 4th floor. Less than 26 minutes since I stood at the desk of the labor and delivery unit and filled out paper work that gave them permission to deliver my baby. It was only about 10 minutes since I was wheeled into my delivery room and walked over to my bed. And now I had a baby on my chest. I vaguely remember watching the doctors and nurses scramble as they realized my baby was coming out whether we were ready or not. The looks on their faces was unforgetable. The look on my husband's was great too. I think I was the most surprised of anyone though. I laid there looking at this sweet baby girl, stunned and in shcok. What just happened? What did we just do? I just had a baby. In minutes. It was a crazy feeling. But it was also so empowering. I was so proud of myself for doing it naturally, even though the entire thing took only minutes.

I had texted friends and called my mom on the way to the hospital, hoping they would make it to witness the delivery. But they were all as shocked as me when I called them a half hour later to tell them that the baby was already here. I still love remembering the events in my mind, and sometimes I go back through the whole experience in my head as I fall asleep at night. It was such a whirlwind of chaos and emotion. But it was so amazing too. Two days later I brouhgt home the most precious beautiful baby girl I've ever seen. Her name is Piper Leigh, and she made her debut with 26 minutes to spare.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crazy Little Place Called Church (He Makes All Things New)

Two years ago, the city of Nashville, Tennessee experienced a catastropohic flood that devastated much of the city's structures and forever changed the landscape of the country music capital. As the rain fell and the rivers crested, homes were reduced to rubble and lives were drastically deformed. In the immediate aftermath, my husband and I went there to do a very small part in helping our "neighbors" to heal. We helped with clean up and rebuilding efforts, and most importantly cared for the spirits of those who were victimized, reminding them that God hadn't forgotten them.

When we visit Nashville today, we see very little (visible) evidence of that destruction that seemed at the time to be unrecoverable. Though the emotional scars undoubtedly remain, the physical healing and restoration is glaring. Houses have been rebuilt; businesses that were once underwater have now reopened; yards that were reduced to fields of mud and toxic sludge now have flowers blooming. Lives have been restored, and hearts have been healed. The old has been made new. There is now something where there once was nothing.

God is in the business of redemption. He is the master of making something from nothing. He spoke the universe into existence. He gave life to a body formed from dust. Restoration is His specialty. Jesus himself said, "Behold, I make all things new." Not some things - ALL things. It was hard to imagine it while standing in the middle of that devistating flood, knee deep in heartache and loss; but God would, in the wake of that disaster, make new the old, bring life from death, and bring beauty from ashes. And He did it in more ways than one.

Not only did He restore that great city and the lives that dwell there, but He used that experience to birth a vision deep with my and my husband's hearts. It was there that we felt the call of God to be part of a new work that would personify this vision for ministry that could be and needed to be accomplished in our own city. We began praying about being involved in planting a new local church - from scratch - and living out our desires that we believe God placed within us. Desires for a corporate body that didn't settle, didn't do things the same traditional ways everyone else did them (with just a different name and a different sign out front), and that wasn't satisfied with comfort, complacency, and status quo. Nine short months later, we (with the help and hard work of a few others who also had dreams) opened the doors to that new work. That flood had ignited a spark within us that quickly became a blazing fire that wouldn't be quenched.

Today, as I sat in church, I couldn't help but be amazed by the reality that what didn't even exist two years ago was now a living, thriving ministry in which I have seen lives radically changed. It's a work that fans the flames of my faith, because the fruit I've gotten to witness has not been a result of anything we could have ever done. I realize that as hard as we've worked and as much as we've given, we are simply along for the ride, and the Holy Spirit of God has been the force behind all of it. What I've been privileged to see and experience is so beyond me, my comprehension, and my abilities. God has done amazing work, and he's given us a front row seat. And oh, how I am enjoying the view! I often wonder why God would have me to be part of his plans and wonders, but He has made it abundantly clear that while He doesn't need me to help Him accomplish anything, He has given me the privilege of watching it up close. I'll never fully know why, but I'm grateful that He allows His creation - anyone who wants to be a part of it - to join in. It's humbling.

This morning, I walked into the dimly lit theater where we gather to worship and I was immediately overwhelmed. There was a team of musicians singing and playing their hearts out - not because of the hundred or so people in the "audiance", but because they had an audiance of One, and they were clearly focused on Him. There was an entire group of people down in front (between the stage and the first row of seats) just dancing with joy. They were singing and dancing with arms lifted high towards heaven, not caring who was watching, but spinning and jumping as the music loudly filled the auditorium. I know the sotries of some of those peoples' lives, and I know why they were dancing. It's the joy that comes with freedom. A few others were at their seats kneeling on the floor shedding tears, and a husband and wife were kneeling and praying together close by. Their hearts were in a different place than those who were dancing, but I loved that they were each connecting to the same God in the same place, just with diferent expressions. I just stood there singing, overtaken with gratitude, quietly thanking Jesus for his faithfulness in my life.

After the musical worship time but before the teaching time, our pastor asked if anyone had a testimony of God's faithfulness they wanted to share with the family. Several people shared briefly some of the work God was doing in their lives, but I was watching "Happy", who could barely stay in his seat. When Jay (our pastor) called on him, Happy jumped out of his seat and ran onto the stage to grab the microphone. His smile was piercing. I know Happy's story too, and tears came to my eyes as I watched his excitement. He talked about how he used to be homeless, and how he spent his days hiking and wandering from place to place, sleeping in tents. He talked about how someone from our church (during a street outreach) approached him as he mingled with people at the "Occupy" demonstrations and struck up a conversation. That person listened to his story and shared a little of their own story, and the next Sunday he showed up at church. Happy was very knowledgable about the Bible, but he had no plans to become part of a local church. But when he showed up - dirty and dishevled - and found a strange combination of unconditional love, diverse people, and an academic presentation of the Bible that challenged him, he knew he'd be back. As he struggled with depression and even suicidal desires, he continued to be drawn back to the place where he was making friends, learning more about Jesus, and finding an identity (and it helped that our pastor and a few others literally canvased the city and searched for him in fear that he would take his own life). Happy enthusiastically told the poeple at church this morning how God began to transform his life. He talked about redemption and the blood of Jesus that was shed at the cross to purchase his restoration. He talked about how he became our church "barista" and loves making coffee for people while getting to know them. He told the church that, through this transformation, he now has an apartment downtown and real furniture, and (this is the best part) how he now takes in other people off the streets and ministers to them! Every week people in the church bring him carloads full of donations of food, clothes, shoes, and suppplies - NOT for Happy, but for those he takes in and ministers to. As he was sharing about this new "ministry" that began in his new home, another man in the crowd chimed in and shouted, "Happy just gave me these new shoes this morning!"

I then glanced over at another man in our fellowship - we'll call him "Joe". Joe has been living a transgender life and has been in and out of jail. He has been coming to our church every week for several months now, never missing a week. On many occassions he wore a dress to church, and I'm sure he expected to either be kicked out or at least shunned by the people. Neither of those things happened and he continued to come, hearing the gospel presented every time. He later told us he was baffled by the love and acceptance of the people, and even though we preach an exclusive gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, he's drawn to our message. He's curious about our Jesus. He admittedly is still "on the fence" about this Jesus stuff, but he's open and wants to learn more. We laugh with him as we tell him we've "calimed his life" and are waiting for him to finally submit to the saving power of Christ. Today he wore jeans to church, and he told the entire body of people that he's never known anyone to love him the way our body has.

A few rows away from him sat a couple who were separated and on the brink of divorce not too long ago - he having an anger problem, and she having an extramarital relatinship. They are now happily back together, have renewed their vows, and come to worship every week with their beautiful children. And there are countless other stories that are similar. I simply don't have room to write all of the redemption that I see in those seats every week. From the guy who plays bass on the stage, to the guy with the felony record... to my very own household.

As I sat there a took this all in, my heart began to overflow. When this ministry was just a dream for me, I never imagined what it would feel like to watch lives change right before my eyes and witness such drastic transformations that could only be the work of a mighty God. I am no stranger to the life-changing power of God - I spent 15 years in a church in Florida where I got to witness it daily. But I wasn't a part of that work from the ground up, so somehow it's different this time. It's just sureal to me that two years ago none of this existed. These people who are now family didn't even know each other. People who were wandering the streets are now home. People who were deep in sin use are now free. People who were lost are now found. It's crazy to think about. But it's the redemptive power of God at work right in front of my eyes. It's the fuel that powers my faith every time I see it. It's the encouragement I need to get through the demands of ministry and the toll it takes on my family. It's the reminder that the God I've given my life to serve is real and working in my midst. And that there is more than just the here and now, and more than what we can see on the surface at play. There is a kingdom beyond this earth, and I get to see it, touch it, taste it, and take part in it every day. That will never stop amazing me. It's why I can't wait to get up every morning and jump into God's word. It's why I can't wait to lead our upcoming women's retreat where the topic is redemption and where some of these stories will be shared. It's why I can't wait to get to church every Sunday. It's why I love Jesus. It's why I want everyone else to know Him too.

God is in the business of redemption. He makes all things new. He brings life from death, something from nothing. I've seen it. I've experienced it. And it blows my mind.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

25 Things You Don't Know About My Husband

Go on, admit it. You clicked on this link because you thought I was going to give you something scandalous and salacious, didn't you? Well I'm not going to do that... but I will tell you 25 things you don't know about my husband. After my last blog post (25 Things You Don't Know About Me), I decided to do a follow-up post about my husband. If you read this all the way through, I guarantee you'll learn something about him.

1. He wore a suit and tie to kindergarten most days.

2. He had wavy, golden blonde hair until he was about 4 years old (and it was long, because his mom didn't want to cut it).

3. His favorite pair of shoes as a child were pink Converse high-tops.

4. He met and started dating his future wife (me) when he was 14 years old!

5. He was a freshman in high school dating a senior. His friends thought he was cool, and mine thought I was crazy.

6. Six months after we started dating, he bought me a tiny diamond "promise" ring, using money he made working as a bag boy at a local grocery store.

7. For my high school graduation, the two of us took a trip (by ourselves) to New York City. I was 18 and he was 16. It was only his 2nd time outside of the state he was born in (Florida).

8. He didn't get any questions wrong on the math portion of his SAT. And he earned the nickname "Rain Man" when he worked in Calvary Chapel's accounting department because of his crazy math skills.

9. His original major in college was Biology (for a pre-med track), but after the first year, he switched it to accounting because it was much easier and he didn't have to study much.

10. He gave his life to Jesus, got baptized (in the Atlantic Ocean), and proposed to me all at the age of 20 years old.

11. When he proposed to me, he sent me on a scavenger hunt throughout our city. Each clue was a poem written by him and left at a location that was special to us (the restaurant of our first date, our church, a lifeguard stand on the beach...). The final stop on the hunt was a movie theater, where he had our song playing, pictures of us on the screen, and roses at my reserved seat. He emerged with a ring and asked me to marry him.

12. He was as actively involved in planning our wedding as I was. He made many things by hand, stayed up all night putting our programs together, and he even got buckets of sand from the beach to use in our decorations.

13. He had a specific moment in college while stopped at a red light where he felt a clear and specific calling to be a pastor. The crazy part was that he had not yet given his life to Jesus, so it didn't make any sense to him. (Two years later, he gave his life to the Lord and began working for a church/ministry.)

14. He's been actively involved in ministry of some kind ever since. His biggest passion in life is to see people come to know Jesus and to help them grow in a relationship with Christ - especially children. He preached his first sermon in September of this year, and he loved it.

15. He is a "helper". He loves to serve people. He will drop what he's doing at any time to help anyone with anything - rain or shine, winter or summer, day or night. And he enjoys every minute of it.

16. His most embarrassing moment happened while we were in Africa for two months serving as short-term missionaries. He was battling stomach problems from eating African food, and had an 'explosive' episode as a guest in someone's home, whose toilet happened to be broken (unbeknownst to Luke). It was literally a scene right out of the movie 'Dumb & Dumber' (those of you who've seen the movie will understand). This post may be TMI, but I couldn't resist. And trust me, I left out the gory details.

17. Although he likes sports, he doesn't pay much attention to them. We're college football fans, so he catches most of the Gator games, but other than that, he hardly ever watches a game of another kind, with the excpetion of an occassional Monday Night Football game. He has missed many Super Bowls and World Series to do something fun with me or the family.

18. He gives me a foot massage every night, usually at the end of my shower or bath, and he doesn't do it half-hearted. He uses lotion and everything.

19. He leads our family in 'family devotions' (and Bible discussion) at the dinner table 3 nights a week. And he puts the kids to bed and prays with them every night.

20. He makes it a point to go to bed with me every night. He doesn't believe in doing things seperately. We even watch the same TV shows so we're not in seperate rooms of the house at night. He tells me at least once a day that I am his best friend and that he loves spending time with me. He is an incredibly loving and affectionate husband.

21. Whenever the kids are sick, HE is the one to stay up at night with them and clean up vomit, etc. (Like I said before, he is a servant and takes joy in letting me off easy.) He also gets Jonah ready for school each morning and drops himm off.

22. He is a "preaching junkie". He loves listening to other pastors' sermons - no matter their style or denomination. And he enjoys visiting other people's churches for fun.

23. He wins every game he plays. Board games, billiards, mini golf, Scrabble on the iPad... it doesn't matter. If it's a game, he is winning. I beat him at mini golf once on our honeymoon, and he has never gotten over it. But he used to let me win at pool when we were dating in high school. That's how I knew he loved me, because he doesn't let anyone win - ever.

24. He can rap Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" in its entirety, and he does it every chance he gets to do karaoke.

25. He has a huge heart. He loves his wife, his kids, and pretty much everybody on the planet. It takes a lot to make him mad. In fact, in 18 years of being with him, he has never once raised his voice at me. Ever.

25 Things You Don't Know About Me

Occassionally I read 'US Weekly' magazine for some mind-numbing entertainment (don't judge me). Amidst the celebrity gossip and the latest news on 'The Bachelor' there is a section called '25 Things You Don't Know About Me' where someone famouse reveals their 25 things. I was reading one the other day and thought to myself, "could I come up with 25 things people don't know about ME?" I don't know that they exist. My life is pretty much an open book, and I consider myself to be fairly transparent. But am I? Or do I share selectively and hide the things I don't want people to know? Am I good at masking the secrets that make me vulnerable or are painful to reveal? As I contemplated, I realized that my husband knows everything there is to know about me, and some close friends/family know most things about me. And the rest only know what I choose to display. And I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Not everyone needs to know our deepest hurts, our biggest fears, or our most intimate details. I use discernment when I share myself, and all in all, I still think I'm pretty "knowable" (transparent).

I was still challenged by the thought of coming up with 25 things people don't know about me that I'd be willing to share... so I put pen to paper and began to think. This is what I came up with:

1. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old, and though I was very young, I still bear the scars of that seperation.

2. I gave my life to Jesus and was baptized at 8 years old, even though my parents did not know Jesus before that and my dad staged a protest of my baptism and tried to talk me out of it.

3. That same dad gave his life to Christ almost 30 years later (in his 50s) when I brought him to church. And now he convicts me with his discipline to study the Bible and tell others about Christ.

4. I went to a Catholic middle school and got an 'F' in religion because I argued with my teacher and refused to do work I disagreed with.

5. I was a cheerleader in school, but I got kicked off the team for bad grades.

6. I drove my mom crazy by being a poor student in all of grade school. I was more interested in my social life at school than studying.

7. I was such a bad student that my parents warned me often that I would never graduate or get a good job. Ironicaly, I became an excellent student in college and made the Dean's list many times. I graduated from the University of Florida with a 3.5 average (probably just to prove them wrong - I'm a bit stubborn, but everyone knows that about me).

8. At 15 years old, I told my mom I was going to a movie with a girlfriend and sleeping over at her house. I really went to a club in Miami Beach with some random guys I didn't know (and that girlfriend). We missed curfew that night, but we used the excuse we got caught at a long train. It was worth getting grounded for.

9. I was the world's biggest Pearl Jam fan in high school, and I came late to my step-grandmother's funeral so I could go to the Lalapalooza concert to see them.

10. I met and started dating my husband in high school at 16 years old.

11. I knew after 6 months of dating him that I was going to marry him.

12. I was a competitive gymnast as a young girl, and I quit gymnastics to take up dance (ballet, tap, and jazz). I continued dancing into my mid 20s.

13. My husband and I gad our first 'real' date at a restaurant called Lester's Diner. Six years later, he proposed to me by sending me on a scavenger hunt around town. One of the places I had to go to get my next clue was Lester's Diner.

14. I love to travel. I've been to 42 out of 50 states in the U.S. and also many other countries and continents (Africa, the Carribbean, Mexico, Canada, England, France, Switzerland, Austria, and more).

15. My husband and I took our 4 year-old son to spend two months in Uganda, Africa living at an orphanage. It was one of the most amazing, life-changing experiences I've ever had.

16. When I had my first child, I arrived at the hospital already 9 cm. dialated and delivered with no epidural. It was horrific.

17. When I had my second child, I arrived at the hospital before even my first contraction and got hooked up to the epidural right away. It was blissful.

18. I have a Bachelor's degree in Health Science Education, and I teach Reproductive Health (sex ed) part-time.

19. Right after college, I did outreach education for the health department in the ghettos of south Florida, where we walked the streets and taught prostitutes and drug addicts how to prevent STDs and HIV/AIDS. This sometimes included showing them how to use a condom.

20. I have a huge fear of rejection. I will avoid rejection at all cost, even if it means never going after something that is not a guarantee.

21. I have two recurring dreams - one is that I'm on a plane that crashes, and the other is that I show up for my final triginometry exam in college and because I never went to class all semester, I don't know the material and I fail. I wake up relieved that I did in fact graduate college... and I am deathly afraid of flying (although I fly all the time).

22. I have been to Disney World close to 100 times.

23. I have a passionate love affair with food. One of my favorite places to go on a date with my husband is the Melting Pot. I also love Thai food, Italian food, Mexican food, and... who am I kidding - ALL food. The only thing I won't eat is chicken livers.

24. I LOVE studying and teaching the Bible, and I have big dreams of writing books, speaking at conferences, and teaching God's word all over the country. But since I fear rejection and allow my insecurities to overwhelm me, I don't know how I'm going to make those dreams come true.

25. There are a lot of things I like about myself and a lot of things I don't like about myself. I am a work in progress, and I ask God to change me on a daily basis.

Wow, that wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I think that once we start giving it some thought and peeling back the layers of our hearts, there is a lot more to us than we think. I desire to be a more transparent and genuine person who openly shares myself - good and bad - with others. It's not easy, but it's good.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Strength and My Song

Today I stumbled upon a box under my bathroom sink that immediately gripped my heart. I had forgotten it was there, but when I was looking through the cabinet under my sink for lotion, I saw it; and it stopped me in my tracks. It was the pink "First Response" (pregnancy test) box that I bought back in December. It contained 3 pregnancy tests when I bought it, and all 3 tests - though now used - were still in it. Each time I took one and it came out positive, I put it back in the box under my sink.

I took all three of the tests this time, even though I only took one test with each of my previous two children. I don't know why I took all three this time - it was as if I didn't really believe it when I saw the two lines appear. I remember the excitement that came over me each time I took a test and saw the positive result. My heart leapt for joy with each one. I had wanted that baby so badly. It was going to be my third and final child, and after two boys, I was hoping for a girl. I had names picked out, a stroller pattern picked out, and even a few pieces of infant clothes hanging in my guest room closet. I was thrilled. I was so busy making preparations for a new baby and coming up with creative and clever ways to tell our family and friends, and I had just tucked those positive tests away in a box under my sink and forgotten about them.

About four weeks after I took those tests and found out the joyful news that I was going to be a mommy again, I got the news that my pregnancy was ectopic. That meant my 7 week-old fetus was growing and developing normally, but in my fallopian tube instead of my uterus. An ultrasound confirmed that it was in the wrong place, and it could not survive there. In fact, it had to be removed or I would likely not survive either. So an immediate surgery was scheduled to remove my baby from my body.

The next couple days were a blur. An overwhelming emotional roller coaster ride left me confused, sad, angry, lonely, and empty. One day I was pregnant, and the next day I wasn't. One day I was nauseous and symptomatic, and the next day nothing. One day my body was intact and healthy, and the next day I was wounded and scarred. One day I had a working fallopian tube, and the next day it was gone from my body. It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever gone through. My baby was forcefully taken from me when I desperately wanted to keep it.

I honestly didn't imagine that it would affect me so deeply. I've been pregnant two other times, both of which resulted in live healthy children. And I never imagined that losing a pregnancy would hurt much at all. I never "bonded" with my previous babies until they were actually born and I was holding them in my arms. So I just thought that a lost pregnancy would be little more than disappointing. I knew I would be sad, but I didn't realize the turbulence of other emotions it would bring. I felt everytihng - from less of a woman to grief stricken and barren.

Almost two weeks have passed since I lost my baby. And I've been steadily getting stronger and better. My wounds - physical and emotional - are healing. Scars remian where the inscisions in my belly once were, and scars also remian on my heart that once housed the love and excitement for a new little life. Over the past week, I've been able to smile and even laugh at times. I've been comforted by the unlimitted love of my husband and great friends, who have cared for me so much during this time. I've been showered with love and prayer, and I've had a delicious homemade meal brought to my door from loved ones every single day since the surgery. I am blessed. And overwhelmed by the love of others. My strength is returning, and the past few days have been the best ones yet. I've even had times where I almost felt completely normal again. Until I opened the cabinet and saw that box under the sink.

The flood of emotions quickly returned and sadness washed over me. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered the excitement and joy that was contained in that box that has since been ripped away from me. I cried for a moment. My husband held me. And then I brought myself to throw the box away. It was a brief moment, and then I was back to caring for my boys and going about my day. I'm sure those moments will come and go as times passes, and they will get easier and easier. The healing process will continue thanks to the Great Physicain who heals me from the inside out.

Moments before I stumbled upon that box under my sink, I stumbled upon this verse: Isaiah 2:12 ~ "The Lord is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord is my strength and my song."

God's timing is so perfect. Right before I was reminded of my pain, He reminded me that He is my strength and my song. He fills my heart with music and because of Him I can sing. He holds me up when I am weak, and He puts a song on my lips when I don't feel like singing. One of my favorite worship songs has always been the song by Third Day that says, "You are beautiful my sweet sweet song, and I will sing again."

He is my sweet song. And He is beautiful. And I will sing again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm Glad Jesus Isn't Santa

As parents, my husband and I decided when we had children that we were not going to teach our kids to believe in Santa Clause. It's not that we're against Santa... or people whose holiday does include him, but we just decided that was not a tradition we were going to follow in our home - for several reasons.

The main one was this: We were teaching our kids about Jesus, a supernatural being who is omicient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all places), and sees your heart. We didn't want to teach our kids about a fictional character with similar attributes (Santa)only to one day have to say. "just kidding, he isn't real"... but maintain that Jesus IS real. We thought that would be confusing, and we didn't want our kids to know us as parents who mislead them. We also wanted to keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus (the Savior who came to redeem the world) rather than on commercialism, getting stuff, and thinking of self. It was as simple as that. No big deal. Unlike some other people with strong religiious convictions, we don't bash Santa or call him evil. We just simply tell our kids that he is a fun, make-believe character like Mickey Mouse. A fictional character that represents the holiday, but is not real. My kids get it, and they are not the least bit deprived because of the lack of "magic" in our home. They know that their gifts come from people who love them, and they are greatful.

The other day I was riding in my car listening to Christmas music on the radio, and I heard "Santa Clause is Coming to Town". You know, the one about making a list and checking it twice - finding out who's naughty or nice. As those lyrics began to sink in, I found myself a little dismayed. Minutes later, I was at Barnes & Noble and saw a popular new book/toy called the "Elf on the Shelf". The stuffed elf acts as Santa's spy and sits in various locations in your home watching your kid's behavior, and then reports back to Santa so he'll know who to put on the 'naughty list' or the 'nice list'.

Then it struck me. I didn't like the song, and I didn't like the elf on the shelf, and I finally realized why. Santa opperates on a system that I (as a Christian) can't relate to. It's a "works-based" system, and it's foreign to me as a Jesus-follower. My entire faith is built around the idea of grace. Your works don't save you. Jesus doesn't weigh your good and your bad and decide what reward/punishment you get based on your behavior or your performance. He gives on a system of grace - we mess up all the time, don't earn or deserve any favor, but we get it anyway, because He loves us unconditonaly. That's the definition of grace - getting something you don't deserve. Not because of anything we have done, but because of the never-ending love and generosity of the Gift-Giver. That's the foundation of my faith. That is what I teach my children. And that is the culture in which I'm used to existing. That's why the whole Santa thing strikes me as "off". The works-based system of getting gifts because you behaved good enough, or getting overlooked because you didn't meet the mark goes against everything my faith represents, my Bible teaches, and my Savior proclaims. It's contrary to everything I teach my kids about Jesus. And quite honestly, I think it's even a little cruel. Can't we just teach our kids to be obedient and respectful without threatening to take away their Christmas? Shouldn't we expect good behavior from them simply because it's what we value as a family, and it's necessary for success in the world? And shouldn't we bestow gifts on them at Christmas simply because we love them and we're thankful for God's blessings?

I'm glad Jesus isn't Santa. I'm thankful that my Savior doesn't weigh my good and bad deeds and gift me accordingly. I'd have a lot of scarce Christmases. I'm so thankful for the unconditional grace of my Savior, that gifts me with forgiveness of my sins and eternal life - not because I earned it, but because of His endless love. Yep, I'm sure glad Jesus isn't Santa. Merry Christmas!