Thursday, January 31, 2013

Perfection: Always striving; Never Achieving


Many of the people we know, probably like some of you, grew up in a Christian home, and were familiar with Christian jargon. I however, being raised in an atheist home, barely heard of or thought about God, and didn’t really know who Jesus was. It may surprise you to know that after just a couple of weeks at church, I had this conversation with my (at the time) 7 year old son:
Ryan: “Why do they call him Jesus Christ?”
Me: “That is his name, Jesus is his first name and Christ is his last name.”
Ryan: “Oh, ok.”
I laugh now at the thought of this conversation, but at the time I realized I did not really know anything about being a Christian.

If you have been following along these last couple of days, you already know I struggle with begin a control freak. Another part of that issue is the constant drive to achieve perfection. I am a research nerd by nature. I always did well in school, enjoyed studying and was good at reading the material, memorizing it and mastering that skill. I prided myself on being able to study virtually any subject, learning all I could and then mastering it. So, shortly after making a profession of faith, I set off on my new journey. My plan was to read the Bible from start to finish, learn the material, and then master it; becoming the “perfect Christian.”

I started in Genesis and worked through the law. I was curious why we didn’t still sacrifice animals, and of course, I stopped eating pork. I did not eat pork for almost 4 months until I got to the New Testament and found out that the dietary laws had been lifted. (This explained so much, as I was confused why so many Christians sinned by eating pork! No, I am not kidding.)

You may be thinking this all sounds ridiculous, and as I look back now, it was. But, at the time, I truly wanted to live my life exactly like the law demands. My striving for perfection would soon be replaced with a humbling realization that I cannot fulfill the law’s requirements, which is why Jesus had to come to fulfill the law. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). If we could read the Bible, master it and be “perfect Christians” there would be no need for Christ’s sacrifice.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels (clay pots), that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). As a clay pot, we are full of imperfections, leaving no doubt that it is God at work in us and through us. We need to be reminded often of our poverty and inability to be perfect on our own, apart from Christ. “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14)

I hope you have found this week’s posts encouraging. Find your comfort and peace in Christ, and quit striving on our own to achieve that which is given freely to those who are called by His name.

Feel free to leave your thoughts! Have a great day J

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What is "Good"?


How do you define ‘good”? How does God define “good”? They are not frequently defined in the same way.

Four years ago next month, I would not have chosen for another driver to rear-end my car on the expressway causing me even more pain from the back and neck issues that I already had, and were made worse that day. That one event was the just the beginning in a long string of events that would forever change my life. Being in that accident sent me to a new doctor, who sent me to Northwestern Hospital, where they found the 5 ½-inch long nerve tumor in my abdomen. That tumor was very close to my spine, and if I had not gotten in that accident, by the time doctors discovered it, I may have been unable to walk at all. The car accident turned out to be a good thing.

The greater good was done in my heart. God took a stubborn (my doctor says he prefers to call me tenacious), independent woman, and brought her to a place where I could no longer take care of everything myself. In doing that, He has given me such peace, and has strengthened me each day. He has used me in ways I never dreamed possible, and wouldn't have been possible if I had my will be done, and not His. He has humbled me and exalted Himself; just as it should be.

I look back now and I have nothing but gratitude for that day. I had been struggling with symptoms of numbness and with having my knee buckle when I walked for over four years before the accident. Doctors could find nothing wrong and one told me I should see a psychiatrist. I gave up finding the answer and learned to live with it. When that accident occurred, I had not mentioned this issue to a doctor in almost two years. God, who is rich in mercy, allowed me to go through the accident to get me to a place I needed to be. Although today I walk wearing a full-length leg brace and will for the rest of my life, I am pleased to have had God’s loving hand guiding my every step through this long and difficult journey.

So, I say the car accident was “good”. What do you say?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Any Control Freaks, Like Me, Out There!


The last two days we have been discussing God’s sovereignty (ok, so there really hasn’t been ANY discussion…is there anybody out there?) Today, I would like to focus in on control; as in relinquishing control or better yet, as in finding out you never were in control at all.

For those of you who read my story (and for those of you who didn’t, you really want to and you can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here), know that I was abused as a child. The abuse I suffered shattered the trust and love that a child should know. In a subconscious effort to make sense of a world that didn’t make much sense, I became a control freak. I know now that this is common among people who suffered child abuse. I grew up obsessed with keeping everything I owned private, organized and clean. I hated when friends would come over and want to see my bedroom, or wanted to play with my toys. (Those who knew me then, recognize how far I have come; those who haven’t known me long still think I suffer with OCD.) I didn’t like for anyone to break my things, take them away or get them dirty.

The first step in giving up some of my perceived control was getting married. (I love you honey, but you did drive me crazy in the beginning.) Then, along came my two kids. It is very difficult to control your schedule, home, possessions, or anything else with little ones running around. For a long time my world felt out of control. (We joke about how I never had a library fine for a late book until I had kids.) Losing control was a frightening experience for me. I stressed and struggled and made my family insane trying to hold it all together.

I had come to believe that if I could control everything in my environment, I could be happy and safe. I was constantly striving and never achieving that security.

That is when the Lord stepped in. After becoming a Christian and learning more about the Lord, I started to gradually realize what we talked about yesterday. God is the One in control. No matter how much I tried, how much energy I expended or how much I worked at it, I could not make things turn out like I wanted them to. If we compare my life to a dam about to burst, I was the tiny little person at the bottom trying to plug every leak with my finger. Not only could I not stop the dam from leaking, or bursting but also I never really felt safe or happy. Mostly, I felt stressed and tired and untrusting of people.

 When your eyes are open to God’s sovereignty, you really discover what peace is all about. I quit driving myself mad; quit pushing myself so hard and just started to enjoy the moment. I enjoyed my kids more, my husband more, my friends, and home and life more. Life got less stressful when I got off the hamster wheel I was running on since I was a child. My progress has been gradual, but I have continually repented of my desire to control things and prayed to continue to trust in my Savior.

Some would say I relinquished control, but the truth is it was never mine to begin with. What freedom comes to those who trust God completely; who know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that He and He alone is in control.

Are you running yourself ragged in the hamster wheel? Are you constantly trying to stop the leaking dam? Are you stressed all the time? It’s time to stop and let God be God, He always was the One in control anyways.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Does God control all things, or just some things?



The Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary defines sovereign as follows:

Sovereign = as an adjective—
1. Supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe.
2. Supreme; superior to all others; chief. God is the sovereign good of all who love and obey him.
3. Supremely efficacious; superior to all others; predominant; effectual; as a sovereign remedy.
4. Supreme; pertaining to the first magistrate of a nation; as sovereign authority.
Sovereign = as a noun—
1.       A supreme lord or ruler; one who possesses the highest authority without control. Some earthly princes, kings as emperors are sovereigns in their dominions.

So what does it mean when we say God is sovereign? He is supreme in power, superior to all others and possesses the highest authority without control. To say that God is sovereign is to speak of the fact that He is in control of ALL things. If even one little, minute detail escaped His care or notice, then He would not be sovereign, and thus not really in control of anything.
If someone falls and breaks a hip, many people’s first response would be to think this could not possibly be God’s will. If God is sovereign, then He allowed that to happen. If it could happen outside of His control, then the cascade of events following that event would also be outside of His control. Your broken hip caused you to miss work, your coworker then had to travel to a place youshould have been and met people you should have met. In the meantime, the ER doctor was called in on his day off to repair your hip fracture, leaving his family alone to deal with a burglary that was about to happen. I could carry on this line of thinking to infinity. One broken hip, that you may say should not have happened, and every person involved has to be somewhere they “should not” have been. Soon the ripple effects would be far and wide, leading ultimately to the common belief today that God is small and helpless.

No one who calls themselves a Christian would flat out say that God is small and powerless, but is that not what they are in effect saying? It is not God’s will for Christians to be poor, sick, (fill in the blank). Today’s “theology” common in the church is to deny God’s sovereignty. (again, I am no theologian. I have however, come to understand so much more about God's sovereignty and have found some comfort in that knowledge.)
As one who has been through my share of suffering, I was truly humbled and awestruck when God first opened my eyes to His sovereignty. Everything I have, all that I am, all that I go through, is from the loving hand of my Father in heaven, who works allthings “together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I cannot adequately express the peace and comfort this thought brings to me; how it helps me to live joyfully each day. NOT ONE THING escapes God’s notice. He is allowing things in each of our lives, that we might be molded more and more into the image of His Son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Are there areas in your life where you have perhaps acted as if God were not involved, or He had no control over them? 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Not My Will But Yours, Oh Lord


From 1998, when I first uttered the name of Christ as my Lord and Savior, until now, I have grown so much in faith and trusting Him, and in my understanding of His sovereignty. I would love to say I always pray that His will would be done and not mine, and the truth is I do utter those words after most of my prayers. Unfortunately, whether I say it or not, my next thought is doubt, or one of rebellion against that very idea. Does anyone else end their prayers with "not my will, Father, but yours be done, BUT I really hope you do what I want." 

Most days I am not nearly that blunt. Many days that thought creeps into my head. Some days it is lurking just beneath the surface. My thoughts tell me that what I want really is the best answer, so surely God will agree. God has proven Himself faithful and true both in my life and all throughout history to His people. So then, why do I insist on getting my own way, or thinking I know what is best for me? 

My life history has repeatedly shown, however, that I am unable to make "good" decisions for myself. God has mercifully used those choices in my life to draw me closer to Him, to remind me constantly of my poverty, and to show me my utter dependence upon His Spirit. When I really stop and reflect on all that He has done in my life, my mouth is silenced. If it were up to me, I would not have chosen to suffer. There are many things in my life that no one in their right mind would choose to go through, but looking back each thing was purposefully brought about for my sanctification, and for His glory.  

Lord willing, over the next couple of days, I will flush out the subject of God's sovereignty and our feeble and repeated attempts to control everything. 

Today, however, I ask you this, in what areas of your life are you still truly wanting your own will to be done, and not the Lord's?

Have a blessed Lord's day and I will see you all right here tomorrow!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

How Well Did You Serve Today?

I ran across a little note card that I had tucked away in my bible. I had written down just two short questions that our pastor had asked us during a sermon. I have looked at it many times, and to my shame, have tucked it back away in the Bible only to be "rediscovered" a few weeks or months later.

Here are the two questions:
#1 Were God and His anointed, Jesus Christ, exalted and glorified today?
#2 How well did I serve?

How quickly two simple questions can stop me in my tracks. How I would love to be able to say I have the "right" answer to those questions every day of my life, but I don't.

I pray that God would be glorified in me each day, and that I might serve well.

We have been saved not just from a life of sin, but to a life of service. Christ said He came to serve, not to be served. (Mathew 20:28) Christ willingly laid down His life. As servants of Christ are we ready to lay our lives down in service to one another? May we be challenged by these two questions and seek to glorify God and serve Him well, but serving others.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Potpourri Friday

I had watched this video many months ago, but never forgot it. You may wonder how a man born with no arms and no legs can present such a powerful testimony of our Lord's grace. Take just a couple of minutes out of your busy schedule to be encouraged!

Watch one of Nick Vujicic's Youtube videos here.

Or this recent short segment form CBS news here.

You can find more information about him at his website, http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

Thursday, January 24, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons...


I never understood the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I have been accused of being a little too literal at times; this may be one of those times. First, what is so bad about lemons? I use them in my water and iced tea. My daughter eats them plain. I will overlook that and move on, so “life” hands me a sour, yellow, citrus fruit, and I squeeze it, add sweetener, shake it up, pour it over ice, then sit back and enjoy.

I am only half joking. When we are faced with “sour” issues in our lives are we to “sweeten” it up and enjoy it? I can understand wanting to sweeten the bitterness of a difficult trial, but do we really want to enjoy it? For some people, when life hands them lemons, they become more bitter. They get bogged down focusing on their struggles. They grow angry, depressed and bitter; their hearts are hardened.

As a chosen people, we should enjoy God in the midst of our suffering. In fact, our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, regardless of our circumstances. I would suggest that sweetening and enjoying the trial itself is unhelpful and almost impossible. We can, however, enjoy the precious fellowship with our Savior who sustains us during these times.

Has life handed you lemons? Are you continually drinking in the bitterness, or have you been able to enjoy God and His peace as you sip your icy beverage?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Just Smile and Wave Boys!


One of my most used quotes comes from the children’s movie, Madagascar (it is really the only thing I remember from the whole movie, but is sort of my “motto”), is this: “Just smile and wave boys.” We are always told not to judge a book by its cover, which is true for people as well. Every one of us wears a mask at least some of the time. We hide behind humor or a smile (my favorites, by the way); we use anger, keep people at arm’s length, or display indifference, perhaps?

I live with physical pain; others have emotional pain that they carry. I put on a smile and walk out the door. “Just smile and wave boys.” Only my closest friends and family know the truth behind the mask. I often struggle in telling people the depth of my pain. To be honest, most people who greet us with a “how are you doing?” don’t really want to know; others don’t even hang around long enough to hear you say, “I’m fine, thank you.” They don’t want to hear how hard it was to drag yourself out of bed this morning, or how it can be depressing to no longer be able to do all the things you love. The trouble with a happy face… no one knows you are in pain.

The trouble with masks is that they keep people from really knowing us; they keep people from praying for us. As Christians we should be able to be honest with ourselves and each other. When I choose to put on that mask, although not a conscience thought, I am being prideful. I think I know best about who wants to know more, or who can handle the details. I feel the need to put on a front that suggests I am doing well and don’t need prayer or support, when the truth is I’m weary and utterly dependent upon God for strength. I most certainly do need their prayers.

The truth is that we are all venerable and hurting. We all need friends to help bear our burdens. We need to know that someone needs our prayers as much as we need theirs.

What masks are you wearing? What is the condition of your heart underneath?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle


If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase, well, actually, I wouldn’t be writing this post right now, because I’d be somewhere warm on vacation.

I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) this is a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13-
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man;
But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able,
But with the temptation will also make the way of escape,
That you may be able to bear it.
Now, I am no theologian (and I don’t play one on TV). What I can say is this, Paul is using a Greek word for temptation here (for you Greek scholars the word is peirasmos) that is a general term and can be applied to any kind of trial that comes upon a Christian, whether a temptation to sin or a testing of one’s faith (God tests His people, but does not tempt us to sin).

So while it may be correct that the popular phrase, “God never gives you more than you can handle” is applied to a testing of your faith or a trial you are going through as a Christian, the phrase itself implies that the strength to handle our temptation comes from us, and this is clearly incorrect.

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man.”  Every trial or temptation we face may seem more difficult than anything anyone else has ever experienced, but rest assured, others have had and still do carry burdens just as heavy as ours.

Paul goes on to tell us, “But God is faithful…He provides the way of escape.” There is not a new and different way to escape each temptation, but there is only one “way of escape.” That “one way” is Jesus Christ himself. Jesus taught the disciples in Mark 14:38 to “watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” We also are not promised that we are to escape ever having to face temptation. The “way of escape” is not God rushing in to remove the temptation from us, but it is being able to face the temptation, with Christ. We are able to go through it, not in our own strength, but in His. God strengthens those who are His, those who walk with Him and seek Him in prayer.

“He provides the way of escape.” The work of salvation is all God’s work. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it…” (Philippians 1:6) This is not to say we have no responsibility in this life. We are not to act as if we have no work to do in this life. God begins the work, and continues to work both in us and through us.

For the record, it has always troubled me that people frequently say “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I am sure it is usually said because people don’t really know what to say, and because it sounds reassuring. For me, it isn’t. I do know “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). I know no temptation is too much for God. Most days I know I am going through more than I could ever handle, if I were on my own. But God’s still small voice quiets my heart and steadies my resolve. He strengthens me. He provides Jesus to me. I trust Him wholeheartedly. Daily, His faithfulness continues to amaze me. He allows more than I can handle to draw me to Him; to glorify Himself by showing His strength in my weakness. (Just two among many other reasons, most of which I am not yet privy to.)

What do you think of the phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle”? When do you find yourself using it?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Poked, Prodded and Scanned, Oh My!


Each December I plot my New Year’s resolution. Each December I actually plot out the exact same resolution; year after year. (quit snickering Chad!) I haven’t kept it yet, but try and try I must. My resolution has been this: I resolve to NOT meet our maximum out-of-pocket expense from our health insurance this year. Alas, I have failed again.

To give you an idea of what my January looks like, I will summarize. As of right now, I have had or will have:
4 doctor’s appointments
3 MRIs
1 Spinal Tap
1 Colonoscopy
An ultrasound
And my yearly mammogram (This is very important! My mother died from breast cancer, so please go get checked!)

You may think this sounds daunting and overwhelming, but for me it is normal. (For more information about my past health issues please read the two posts entitled “My Story” Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

Currently doctors are perplexed again. My newest issue involves both of my feet being numb. I am talking so numb I can’t really feel them when walking or driving. (Yes, let this be a warning to you. DO NOT drive closely behind my car, as I frequently make abrupt stops not realizing how hard I am pressing the brake pedal. I am hopeful that I will not add broken nose to my list of diagnoses!)

My job has become being a patient; which has made me more patient. I have learned to enjoy my time spent in MRI machines and waiting rooms and long car drives. It is a distraction-free time to spend with the Lord in prayer, and with His Word. I have also found the waiting rooms to be an untouched mission field. I have met many scared, worried, and despairing souls in waiting rooms. I tend to be pretty introverted, but have tried hard to notice these hurting people. I have found that many are bursting to be heard. (People love to talk about themselves, so I let them.) I listen, and then I share about God’s amazing grace in my own life.

Every one of you will be in a doctor’s waiting room at some point, granted maybe less frequently than I. Will you sit and bury your nose in a celebrity gossip magazine (I have been guilty of this as well), or maybe you will be that one patient that is loudly complaining to the young lady behind the front counter about how long your wait is and how valuable your time is? (By the way, it isn't her fault.) Maybe you can be the one that strikes up a conversation with a fellow patient, and pray that it leads to you sharing your faith with the lost and broken?

Do you have any waiting room stories to share? We would love to read about them.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Do We Want Justice?


In a continuation of yesterday’s theme, I thought we could look at Matthew 20 at the parable of the workers in the vineyard. I will paraphrase the story. If you are unfamiliar with it, please open your Bible (or browser) to Matthew chapter 20, verse 1-16. (Go ahead, I’ll wait.)

A landowner goes out early in the morning and hires workers who agree to work all day for a denarius (a small silver coin).  He goes out again three more times throughout the day and brings more workers, agreeing to pay each “whatever is right.” After the long day was over the landowner gathers the workers to pay them. He starts with those hired last; those who worked the fewest hours, and paid them each one denarius.  He continued in this manner paying each worker the same amount regardless of the number of hours worked.

At this point the labor union was contacted, because clearly something fishy was going on here. Ok, just kidding, but the men who worked all day in the heat were very unhappy. These men wanted justice. They felt they deserved more money. The landowner says he has done nothing wrong. The workers were paid the wage they agreed to, and it is lawful for him to be generous with his money.

In this parable we see an image of God the Father. He calls some early in their lives, others come later in life. Some amass fortunes, others go to bed hungry. It is by grace alone, through faith, that we are saved. We cannot compare ourselves to others. Justice demands God to punish all, but instead, God who is rich in mercy, saves some. Who are we to question the manner in which He brings this about or His timing in doing it?

We must not look at other people with envy, thinking we should have what they have or that we deserve more. Do we want justice? If we do we will find punishment. God forbid we receive justice! We should be very grateful and must be content, for all that we have is of grace.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Contentment or Envy?


America is a country that is wealthier, as a whole, than many other countries. We don’t need to worry about clean water or indoor plumbing. We are a nation obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses”.  We can be easily swayed into wanting more: more money, more health, more friends, more kids, more free time, etc. I think that the analogy of the glass of water is appropriate for viewing all of life. When you look at that glass is it half full or half empty? Are you constantly aware that it is half empty and always striving to get more? Or are you thankful the cup is half full and not empty, like it could be?

Envy is like the evil twin to contentment. Envy has us in a constant state of agitation and striving. We are jealous of what others have and fail to take notice of all that we do have. We hear frequently of our children being labeled the “entitlement generation.” A kid growing up today feels like the world owes them something. Contentment starts with us learning the truth that we are owed nothing.

Contentment must start in knowing the truth about what we do deserve. Scripture makes clear that we are all sinners, who have sinned against a perfect, holy God, and that sin’s wages are death (Romans 3:23 and 6:23). If we are “owed” anything it is punishment for our transgressions. We deserve an eternity in hell. Only when we first know what we deserve, can we begin to understand what we have been given. If we have repented of our sins and we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are clothed in His righteousness and saved by grace.  Applying this knowledge about God to our current circumstances is the key to contentment.

When we remember what we have been saved from, we are able to keep our trials in perspective. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Knowing of God’s grace is what truly matters. We must be thankful with the knowledge that our situations, troubles and trials are temporary here, and that our eternal salvation has been secured through Christ. We cannot be jealous when others seem to have an easier path than we do.

May we learn to say what the Apostle Paul did in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” It is my prayer that I suffer well, and in doing so, display God’s glory to a lost world, for it is Him who strengthens me each day.

One last thought for today. We have a Precious Moments figurine with a little boy mowing his lawn. He has stopped and gone over to peer over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. The caption reads: The grass might be greener, but it still needs to be mowed.” When you are struggling and tempted to be envious, look to God and to all the many blessings He has given to you. All that we have comes from the gracious hand of God. We deserve hell. We get grace. How can we be anything BUT content?

Book Recommendation "Same Lake Different Boat"

I ran across this book several years ago. It is still one of my favorites on topic of disability.

"Same Lake Different Boat" by Stephanie Hubach, is a must read for everyone. Whether you know a friend or family member with any type of disability, or you just want to understand more about disability, this book has something for you.

It examines Bible concepts of disability, the emotions involved in dealing with it, and how to best minister to those in our churches who are disabled. It is interesting, personal and easy to read. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1596380519/ref=rdr_ext_sb_ti_hist_1

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hymn Lyrics to Encourage

I found this verse to John Newton's hymn "Begone Unbelief" in a book I am reading and was inspired to share it.

'Why should I complain
Of want or distress,
Temptation or pain?
He told me no less.'

This post will be a good lead in for tomorrow's topic of contentment.

Here is a link to the entire hymn and music. Enjoy!

http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/nt/716


Potpourri Friday

I decided to have Fridays be a day where I keep my posts short and simple. Sharing interesting items I have found this past week. I will share links to other blogs and articles, or any other pertinent information I stumble upon!

So, here is the first installment of Potpourri Fridays. (If any of you are more creative than me, perhaps you can come up with a better title than "Potpourri Fridays". I am willing to take suggestions!)

In an effort to complete this first week of blogging, I decided to share the link for a newspaper article from April 2012 in our local newspaper written about me.

http://elburnherald.com/24209/2012/04/28/czerwinski-takes-on-adversity/

Have a great weekend and hope to see you all back here tomorrow!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Continuing Saga-My Life Part 2


Within weeks of my birth, my pediatrician was concerned about my large head (yes, my sister lovingly referred to me as “bubblehead”). The doctor told my parents that I was probably a “water baby” and would be mentally retarded. At six weeks old, I underwent what is now considered to be a barbaric medical procedure, a pneumoencephalogram (trust me, you do not want to know). I was wrapped in a papoose, sedated, and then sedated again as I apparently was quite a little fighter! (Some things never change). And the procedure was performed. The test showed nothing except an “enlarged frontal lobe” and my parents were sent home with me and no more information.

I dealt with a lot of sickness as a child. Frequent stomach aches, fatigue, miscellaneous complaints of joint pain, headaches, etc. I got motion sick all the time. I caught every bug that came around. I had horrible allergies. I missed a LOT of school. I was diagnosed with my first ulcer in junior high, had my tonsils removed in 9th grade and spent many weeks in various braces or on crutches for different orthopedic conditions during high school. I am certain that my mother’s propensity for being a hypochondriac didn’t help matters any. I saw a few doctors, had many tests and several abnormal results, but nothing definitive.

When I became an adult I still dealt with fatigue and some occasional joint pain, and I hated not getting any answers from doctors, disliked taking medication, and never liked the doctor’s insinuations that I was crazy. In an effort to avoid being labeled a hypochondriac like my mom, I toughed it out and stopped going to the doctors for the most part unless absolutely necessary. I went through two rather difficult pregnancies and passed my 1st kidney stone while pregnant with my daughter; other than that things weren’t too bad.

Fast forward to 1998, Chad was doing well in his job as a union carpenter, and I was in the electrician’s union apprenticeship program. We were well on our way to having our best financial year ever, our marriage was growing stronger and the kids both were in school and daycare. We were living the “American Dream.” Exercise had given me more energy and helped me to be stronger for my job. I had been bodybuilding pretty seriously for about 2 years at this point and was in the best condition of my life. By most people’s standards our life was going well. And then the bottom fell out. In February of 1998, I started having some back pain. Within a couple of weeks it had gotten pretty bad. I assumed I pulled a muscle during a workout session, and cut back a little. Another week passed and the pain grew worse. I stopped working out all together.  After a couple of weeks of total rest, I was still in constant pain. It was getting hard to carry heavy tools, climb ladders and even sit for prolonged periods. Fatigue crept back in, which I attributed to my having stopped working out. In March I competed in a bench press contest that I had signed up for before the pain started. It would be the last time I would go to Gold’s Gym to work out. The period of time between March and May is a whirlwind of doctors and tests and bad news. All we really knew was that I was now in constant pain, and not just my back, but all of my joints. I suffered with debilitating fatigue, daily headaches and extreme, unexplained, weight loss. (I was down to about 90 lbs at my lowest). May 26, 1998 was my last day at work. Doctors had very few answers. We knew that it was some sort of autoimmune condition plaguing my body, but not much else.

Around this same time, God, who is rich in mercy, sent a faithful servant to the job site on which Chad had been working. Chad had been warned by fellow workers that this Jesus freak was coming and he talked about Jesus and the Bible all the time. If memory serves, they worked together, side-by-side for only two weeks. During that time Chad heard about Christ and was invited to church repeatedly. Chad would come home and tell me all about Christ. (I now find this amusing that God choose my unsaved husband to be the first to share the Gospel with me!) We were told to come to church for prayer. We were told stories of God’s miraculous healing powers. We were desperate. I felt horrible and we had tried everything else, so we packed up the kids and headed to church on the 3rd Sunday in June, 1998, ready to give this God-thing a try, and hoping to get our lives back to ‘normal’.

By this time I could barely walk. I was so weak I needed help to walk more than a few steps. I used a cane. Chad took over all the chores and shopping and most of the care of the kids while I found myself unable to get out of bed more than a few hours a day. Those were dark days. Doctors flat out told me they didn’t know my prognosis and had no clue if I would live or not.

We walked out of church that morning different.  We didn’t fully understand what we had just heard, but we both wanted to know more. We went there that day seeking a healing, but instead found The Healer. Our lives were forever changed. Within weeks, we were at church every time the doors were open. We couldn’t get enough of the Word of God. We had recognized our sinfulness, our utter hopelessness apart from Christ and need for repentance.

As I started to understand God’s word more and more, my dark days slowly started to get better. I started feeling physically better too, as the medicine helped to control the condition (which they have named many things over the years, but that is for a different post). Two months after our first visit to church we bought our first home to be closer to family because we needed the extra support. Just a couple of short months later, just before Christmas 1998, we withdrew our children from public school and began homeschooling them. One cannot truly put into words what one experiences when the Light of the World shines upon your heart and your eyes are opened to the Truth, but Chad and I had begun the journey to discovering what it meant to love selflessly. We no longer wanted both of us working constantly while someone else taught our children. Not knowing my prognosis gave me an urgent desire to spend as much time as possible with my children. It is amazing how clear your priorities become when you get a glimpse of the fact that tomorrow truly is promised to no one.

It has now been a little over 14 years since our first encounter with God. My! How far we have traveled; at times it seems we have chased our tails and gone in circles, but overall I am amazed at all that God has allowed us to go through in order that we might know and trust Him more fully. I won’t bore you with all the medical details, but I have been through a lot these past few years. I have had over a dozen surgeries, tried numerous medications, gone through more medical tests than most people will undergo in a lifetime, and been humbled to receive love, support and prayers from the Body of Christ as a whole. I will give you a rundown of what I currently deal with in the way of medical issues. Most significantly, in 2009 doctors found a 5 ½ inch long tumor in my abdomen. In order to get the tumor out, 7 inches of the nerve running down the front of my leg had to be removed, leaving my left leg partially paralyzed. I am able to walk with the use of a full-length leg brace. I am still suffering from an autoimmune disease, which doctors eventually decided was ankylosing spondylitis. I have more than a dozen bulging discs from spinal degeneration, leaving me in constant pain. I am currently dealing with numbness in both feet from inflammation in my lower spine as well. The underlying condition is also to blame for my ongoing stomach issues and my diagnosis of autoimmune inner ear disease (cause tinnitus and hearing loss). Along with all that I have the more common issues of high cholesterol and migraines, I have had 14 kidney stones and also mild heart palpitations, called PVCs.  (There may be more, but I don’t want to scare you off!)

Some days are harder than others, both physically and emotionally, but one thing that remains constant is the love of a Father who never lets me down like my earthly one did. I hope to share my journey through struggles, faith, understanding, and, well, just life! Hopefully God can use this blog to encourage both you and me in our walk for His glory and our sanctification.

Have a blessed day! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Early Years- My Life Part 1


The year was 1970, and my mother was expecting her third child. My father, on the other hand, was awaiting the arrival of his first. The exact date was May 13, 1970, and I was on my way into this world. My father sat in the waiting room to hear news on the birth of his first child. You see, back then, fathers did not get to sit by their wife’s side, did not get to cut the cord, or take pictures during childbirth. This is where I make my grand entry. Born at 9:17 am on that Wednesday morning, and weighing in at 7 lbs. 7 oz, I drew my first breath. And thus begins my story.

I was born in Aurora, and spend the first 19 years in the same town. In fact I spent more than 18 of those years in the same apartment. My mother would tell you, if she were still here, that when she met my father he seemed like a nice guy. She was awkwardly introverted, and did not make friends easily. When this young man (He was a little more than 8 years younger than her) showed some interest in this divorced woman with two kids, she felt that it may be her only chance. She was heart-broken from her first marriage and struggling to be a single mom to two grade school aged children.

My mother was adopted by her Aunt. She was an only child to a couple who wanted children but could not have their own. She grew up in a home where there was love mixed with strict rules. She grew up with a bit of fear of her mother, who could be a bit harsh in her demands. My grandmother was not the warm and fuzzy kind of grandma. She had a mean, biting side and was always critical. Growing up, my mom towed the line. She didn’t drink or smoke. She studied hard, got good grades and followed the rules. That is until her last year of high school when she met her future first husband and became pregnant shortly before her graduation. She expected a storybook life together with what she would call her first, only and true love.

My father, on the other hand, was raised on a farm in southern Indiana, in extreme poverty. His father was a mean drunk. His mother died of cancer when he was just 10 years old. He is the youngest of 10 children. His oldest siblings left home as soon as they possibly could to get out of the house. My dad dropped out of school during 8th grade to help on the farm. He was beaten regularly, abused, ignored and left to fend for himself. There weren’t many good days in his home with very little money and very little food.

I always felt that my mother and father could not possibly have had much in common. My mother was raised in the north, very smart and educated. My father was from the south with only an 8th grade education. He was never a particularly good reader and my mother never stopped reading. So, here we were, my mom about to turn 30 with her third child just born, a 12 year-old son and 10 year-old daughter at home. My father found himself a step-father and dad to a newborn at the young age of 21.

This all sets the stage for my childhood. My mother struggled with depression, and she could be critical like her mother and was often difficult to please. My father had learned to abuse as he was abuse. My father was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive. From my earliest memories I mostly remember the fighting, the tears, and the abuse. I have very few good memories. The abuse escalated, my mother turning a blind eye, medicating with anti-depressants and heading off to work. My father stopped working, which made him angrier, and my mother more depressed. She now worked to support three children and a husband. Around my 7th birthday, my parents divorced, which left my mom and I alone for most of the rest of my younger years.

I was a broken child. My earliest memories are of pain, and fear; tears and heartache. These events shaped me in very unhealthy ways. I was constantly striving to be accepted. Although my mother and father were very different, they both sent the same message-you aren’t good enough. One did it through abuse, destroying my sense of who I was, and rocking me to the very core. The other, was critical of everything and was too deep in her own depression to notice mine. At the age of 7, I was a mess. Doctors put me on a strong barbiturate in first grade to help ease my “nervous stomach”. That is an understatement! I was sick a lot. I cried all the time. I was afraid of everything. I slept with the lights on (actually I did this until I married Chad!). I wanted to die, and spent many years contemplating this throughout my entire young life. I became obsessively controlling, trying hard to have some sort of control over what happened to me. My bedroom was spotlessly cleaned and organized, and I hated when anyone would come in there and move things around. It seems crazy now, but at the time it was the only “safe” little corner of my world.

Despite the abuse, I was “daddy’s little girl” and I was convinced that I have driven him off. I grew up believing that he did not love me; partly because he was too busy with his new family, and partly because my mother told me that he did not love me or he would visit me more. Initially, I was mad at myself, but as years went by with very little contact from him, I grew to hate him. I allowed myself to fantasize about hurting him if I ever saw him again. I heard from him off and on.

When he first moved out, he was living with my uncle just a few miles away. I went there every other weekend to spend the night with my cousins. This was a difficult time for me. My father seemed too busy to notice me. Mostly he picked me up out of duty because it was ‘his weekend’. On top of everything else, my cousin who was a year older than me, continued to molest me. By this time in my life, I had learned to NEVER say no. You do what you are told. Period. I never told anyone. Too ashamed and afraid that I would forever lose my dad, I kept silent. This set me up for a pattern of abuse; from a teacher at school, and an older worker at a hospital where I was a junior volunteer. I think that there is something that abusers can see in the face of a child who has learned to keep quiet and never say no, as it seems that the same children are frequently abused by multiple people.

I would later learn that many of my cousins had been sexually abused. It seemed to be rampant in my father’s family and many went on to be abusers themselves. This was a constant fear in my life, as I never wanted to become the monster I had grown to hate. For many years, I was scared to death to have children for fear I would hurt them. I had imagined that being an abuser was some kind of sickness or disease that one couldn’t escape. I now believe that abuse is a choice.  

The apartment I mentioned earlier that I spent more than 18 years living in was section 8 housing. By my middle school years, my mom and I were in the minority in that complex. I hung out with the teens in my neighborhood. By junior high we had all learned from the older teens about life on the streets and in the gangs. Though it seems cliché, the gangs offered me acceptance, or it seemed so at the time. I would later learn that none of them were true friends, but they were only there while there was something in it for them.

I want to use caution here to say that I do NOT want to glorify any of what I have already said or what I am about to say. I give this detailed background information to show in the next post the transforming power of Christ. I was broken, shattered, and past being able to put the pieces back together on my own. It is not something that could have been done in my own strength. I want to stress that it is ALL God and NONE of me that is responsible for getting me to where I find myself today. I grew up not hearing about God, or at least not in a good way. His name was familiar as a curse word. My mother was an atheist, or at least she would say that when asked. I was taught there was no god. I never went to church, not once, until I attended a wedding in a Catholic church when I was about 12. I had no hope and thought I had no one to answer to for any of my choices.

My 8th grade year is when my life started really unraveling. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. My mom was not good at setting rules. She didn’t want to be strict like her mother, and in an effort to avoid being harsh, she took a completely hands off approach. My ever hardening heart perceived this as weakness, and took advantage every chance I got. I went where I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted, and she didn’t question me. I lied, stole and yelled at her regularly. I was regularly doing drugs, drinking, stealing, having sex and hanging out with all the local gang members. This continued to spiral downward until I was arrested at age 16. Thankfully I had to meet with the police officer that was assigned to our high school. This was the beginning of a slight turn around for me. This police officer became like a father to me. He talked with me, got me involved with Tae-Kwon-Do and got me out of the gangs and off drugs. I wish I could say that I stopped all of my bad behaviors at that point, but I didn't, I still was unable to say no to young men. Even when I tried, it didn’t work, and I blamed myself for being somewhere I shouldn’t have been, or being dressed inappropriately. Then I drank to dull the pain in my soul. He had a huge impact on my life, so that at age 17, I joined the US Coast Guard and started on a path to becoming a law enforcement officer.

In an effort to keep this short (don’t laugh!) I will skip ahead to 1989. I had been out of high school for a year, and we moved to St. Charles to live with my sister. In November of that year I met Chad. I wish I had a wonderfully romantic story to tell. Unfortunately, I do not. We met at work, and like most of my other relationships, I felt that if I could just get someone to love me, life would be ok. I would be ok. I would know real happiness. In all my twisted years of upbringing, I learned that sex equals love, and although I wondered why I never felt loved, I kept doing the same thing hoping for different results.

Chad and I met in November 1989, went on our first date in March and I was pregnant by May 1990. This is not a good way to start a relationship! We were young, stupid and selfish. We didn’t know how to really love someone else, and we struggled. We struggled a lot. The first few years there was a lot of fighting, tears, anger and all the things that were familiar to me as a child. The one thing we both had was an overwhelming desire to stay together, and not have our kids feel the hurt of divorce as we both did. We would both willingly admit that we had broken every marriage vow, and were headed for divorce when we separated in 1994. By the grace of God, we started marriage counseling in the fall of 1994 and started getting things back on track in 1995. Just three short years later, with all things seemingly going well, our entire life was about to change…. (to be continued).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I am NOT...


The list of things that I am not could go on forever. (Don’t worry I won’t make you read THAT much!)

I am NOT an expert, although I love to read and research many things.
I am NOT a theologian, although I do read my Bible every morning.  
I am NOT extraordinary. I am not gifted. I am not a writer.

I AM a sinner, chosen by the grace of God. I am thankful to have been called to repentance.
I AM a Christian. I am continually being humbled under the mighty, omnipotent hand of God.

I AM hopeful that God would use my circumstances to change me more and more into the likeness of His Son, and my Lord, Jesus Christ.

I am not sure what I expect this blog to become. I am hopeful that I might share my thoughts and my story with even one person who might be encouraged by what God is doing in me and through me.

I am disabled.

I, like many of you, have been disappointed, felt the sting of grief, dealt with insecurity and rejection. I am intimately acquainted with pain; both physical and emotional. I am daily facing challenges, many people could only imagine. I am always praying to trust and know God more. I know the darkness, emptiness and hopelessness that living apart from Christ brings. And, I know, by the grace of God alone, what peace can be experienced, even in the midst of trials, through a union with Christ.

I am NOT sure what the futures holds, but I AM thankful you are here, going through this journey with me. I am excited to get started.

Have a great day! I am hoping to see you again tomorrow :)