The Invitation to Climb

lessons on a mountain

by Heather Gilion

Summiting a mountain was never on my bucket list. It wasn’t even on my radar until I met my husband, Dallas. My Dallas, however, has a deep fondness for the mountains. Skiing, hiking, it doesn’t matter which, he just longs for the peak adventure. If we talk too much about the mountains he starts to grow a beard immediately. Seriously, I’ve seen his 5 o’clock shadow turn into a shrub just by saying Colorado, backpack, and view in the same sentence—he’s my mountain man.

One thing I’ve learned about a healthy marriage over the years is that even though you will both have different things that make you tick, you should always make an effort to at least embrace your differences and explore one another’s passions. He now knows about infinity scarfs and how to get 40% off at Hobby Lobby. I am so proud.

I, on the other hand, trekked up a mountain because of my love for him.

MY FIRST 14ER

We stood for a few minutes taking in the mountains. Pictures will never do them justice, no matter how many you take. And believe me, I took a lot of selfies and ussies.

Dallas pointed up to the trail, “Look you can see other hikers on the trail.” It took me a minute, but I could see what looked to be ants moving on the mountain. That’s when doubt and I were in agreement, “NO FLIPPIN’ WAY is that going to be me?!?! I’ll never be where they are! Just smile and nod.” I shot Mountain Man a fake smile and squeaked through my clinched teeth, “Wow. That seems so far away. How exciting!” That’s when I saw his beard grow a quarter of an inch.

With a few selfies and exchanges of, “we’re really doing it Harry,” we began our ascent. The truth is, I was already huffing and puffing. I like to blame that on the fact that I’m from Missouri, but it’s the truth. Acclimation is part of the game for non-Colorado folk.

Before I knew it, I was officially on the side of the mountain. The car was getting farther and farther away, and I was taking one step after another. That’s how it’s done, people.

On the mountain you have a lot of time to think—and talk to yourself.

(Here I am internal dialoging with myself…)
“This is pretty cool. It’s not so bad is it?”
“Well, not yet. But what if you have to go the bathroom up there?”
“AHHH! I know. I know. But remember, you drank that coffee early so you could get business done beforehand.”
“True. But what if…”
“Hold on a second. Wow! Look at that view!”
“Oh my gosh, I hope I don’t die!”

On this particular trek there were many rocks. Sometimes the entire path was a bunch of rocks, so many that you couldn’t discern the path. That’s when an experienced hiker comes in handy. Mountain Man could always see the path. He has special mountain eyes, of course. He taught me about cairns that stood as trail markers to help guide our way. I also learned that those going up the mountain have the right of way, so if you are meeting someone on the path the person going down should yield to those going up. Probably because we’re the ones breathing heavy and sounding like we are getting kicked in the gut. Okay, maybe that was just me. Mountain Man was just fine, inhaling the cool Colorado air while running his fingers through the ever increasing bush on his face.

Mountain Man: “Sweetie, are you drinking enough?”
Me: “Maybe.”
MM: “Let’s stop and get some water in you.”

It was in the pauses that I realized the mini steps I’d been making for over an hour had accumulated beneath me and I was actually going somewhere. I was higher. I was farther. I realized I was doing what I had set out to do and it felt good! Of course, it would feel better if I was done. Because it was already harder than I thought it might be, but taking a moment to look back at where I’d come from was just what I needed to turn around again and get back to it.

We were climbing a mountain that was linked with other mountains, and after nearly two hours we came upon the saddle (a gently-sloping low point between two peaks). This particular spot on our journey was the most incredible, beautiful spot we’d encountered up to that point. As we walked up to ridge, it was as if the horizon appeared out of nowhere. The wind was strong, but the clouds seemed reachable. I remember at the beginning seeing “ants” up here! NOW I was an ant to someone else!

PRESSING ON

My legs were a bit weary and my mind said, “Isn’t this view good enough? You could be satisfied with this height, couldn’t you?!?!” But gazing over at my Mountain Man as he was gathering his beard into a small ponytail, I knew I must keep going. And not just for his sake, but the higher I went, the more I wanted to continue. The glory of God’s creation was before me and I couldn’t unsee this—and I didn’t want to. There was pain in this journey, but the beauty of the journey was becoming a prize worth knowing personally.

We moved onward and upward and there were more rocks. The incline at times left me baby-stepping my way up the mountain. {Have you seen those Mt. Everest movies where they are walking like snails? Haha! Yep, totally me.} At this rate I wondered if we’d arrive before Mountain Man’s beard hit ground. But slowly and surely I put one step in front of the other. Mountain Man was my cheerleader. He never groaned at my speed or chastised my ability. I just heard, “I’m so proud of you, honey. You are doing great!” or “Your tush looks nice in those pants.” All were very motivating statements.

The last leg of the journey I kept thinking about when I was in labor. I recalled the intense pain, the moments I wondered if I would die from the agony of each contraction, the promise that before too long I would see the little face that would make all of this worth it. Because here I was, barely breathing, crawling my way up a giant rock, and all I could see was more rock in front of me. I began to wonder, will this really be worth it? Will you get to the top and think, “Hmmm… well, it’s kindof cool up here, I guess.” I just didn’t know if it was going to be worth it.

But then that’s when I heard my Mountain Man say golden words, “I think this may be it! This will be our last push and then we’re there, I think.” I made my way up only to see… we were at a FALSE SUMMIT! AHHHH! A false summit is a peak that appears to be the pinnacle of the mountain but upon reaching, it turns out the summit is actually higher. You can’t see the true summit because the false one is blocking your view. Talk about dashing this girl’s hopes in that moment! But the good news was, I could see the actual summit in the distance… and it wasn’t too far away! So with a few more *we’re-really-doing-it-Harry’s, we made our final accent! (*Obviously, we need a Dumb and Dumber intervention.)

ALMOST THERE

Mountain Man cheered for me. I was cheering for me. My labor was almost over. I was pushing and pushing. I could hear my doctor, “One more push, and you’re done! Come on, Heather, I know you have one more in you!”

And that’s when I stepped foot on the summit. The sky opened up to a 360 degree view. My eyes could not even take it all in. It was too beautiful for words—too glorious to capture in a sentence. It’s like trying to describe the hands of your newborn—and you realize the only thing that comes out is “Wow, look… You have to see his hands!” You can’t describe the beauty; all you can do is invite others into the splendor you are beholding. That’s when you know you are witnessing the fingerprints of God. His marvels cannot be explained with mere language, or captured in a song, or displayed through even the most beautiful of art. We try, and it’s okay to try, but we’ll always fall short. God’s glory leaves one speechless. All I can say is, “Wow! You’ll have to go and see for yourself! I don’t have the words to describe it, just an invitation to experience it for yourself.”

INVITED

I guess that’s how I feel about my journey with the Lord. It feels like climbing a mountain some days. It feels like the journey is unreasonably long and too dang steep. There’s too many rocks and the obstacles in my way leave me wondering, “Why does it have to be this hard?” Internally I wrestle with the risks, the suffering I’m enduring, the uncomfortability of the climb—and at times, I almost talk myself into retreating all together. But it’s in those moments that the Lord calls me to rest and reflect. He gives me a moment to catch my breath and turn around. There are times in my life that I’ve looked back and been bummed, feeling like surely I should be further along by now! And other times I’m surprised that I’ve even made it this far—recognizing the grace and sovereign hand of God that has brought me to this point. There are “saddle” moments when you think, “This is good enough. I could be satisfied enough with this view and head back.” But then you hear the encouragers, your spiritual cheerleaders, say, “But there’s more. You’ve come this far! Let’s keep going.” And so you trek on. You press onward and upward, wondering why you can’t be the one satisfied with the couch, but the truth is, you’re not. You’re not made for ease or settling.

And you put one foot in front of the other.
You persevere.
You obey His voice.
You trust Him.
You place your hope in His promises.
You ask Him for the strength.

And then something beautiful happens—you reach the mountain’s peak. And that’s when you see the journey was not in vain. You see the beauty is that much more spectacular than you dared to dream. You realize there was purpose and beauty even in the pain. You know you can’t unsee this and you would never want to. Being in relationship with the God of the universe changes you. So much so, you want to tell others, but sometimes the only thing that comes out is, “I wish I could describe how much He loves you, but I just can’t. I wish I could put into words how great the climb really is, but my words aren’t enough. But… you are invited… invited to know for yourself—to see Him for yourself. Climb the mountain—He’ll never leave your side and you won’t be disappointed.”

PERSPECTIVE

Sometimes we need to have a new perspective. Fourteen thousand feet high and I was reminded again how small I really am… I am but an ant. But God reminded me, He loves this ant.

So even though you can’t really capture the beauty in a moment, you still try. We took our selfies and breathed it all in. Mountain Man braided his beard, that was now down to his chest, as we discussed being higher than the clouds. And much to my surprise, as we began our descent, I had a 5 o’clock shadow of my own.

And believe it or not, I returned recently and climbed three 14ers in one day!

I hope you climb your mountain.

_______________________

To learn more about Heather and Holly’s ministry, you can watch their 3 minute video: go here

To check out their book, Dancing On My Ashes: go here

If you are interested in learning more about God: go here

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{Story 2} The Redeemed “Other” Woman

the redeemed other woman

In this November {Thankfulness} series, we are super-duper proud to introduce you to the woman who changed our diapers and braided our hair. Our mom! She has always been the one we wanted to “be when we grew up!” We could gush all day over our mom, but if we did that you wouldn’t get to hear her amazing God-story! You, or someone you know, might need to hear what she has learned on her journey. We are so proud of her for bravely standing in the light, when most would cower in the closet. We introduce you to, the one and only, our mom, Diane Cary.


God has a plan for your life.
The enemy has a plan for your life.
Be ready for both.
Just be wise enough to know
Which one to battle – Which one to embrace.
-unknown author

by Diane Cary

I was raised in a Christian home, went to church, knew right from wrong, read my Bible on a daily basis as a teen, attended a Christian college, married a Christian man, and was blessed with 6 beautiful children – Holly, Heather, Heidi, Heath, Hannah, and Hunter. So how did I find myself becoming the “other” woman?

My oldest daughters shared their story in the book, Dancing On My Ashes. So if you’ve read it, you know that my husband Evan suffered a stroke that the doctors didn’t think he would recover from when he was 40. You’ve read how there were many ups and downs due to his health. You learned that 9 years after the initial stroke, he passed away. AND THEN… nine months later Holly and Heather lost their husbands, Scott and James. But as you read about our ashes, you also read how our God was faithful. There’s no doubt that we’ve gone through so much, but we’ve also learned along the way, that if we keep our eyes on Jesus and trust God that He will bring us through. HE WILL and HE HAS.

We have learned to take a day at a time.

We have learned that in our weakness, He is made strong.

We have learned that if our heart is broken, we’ll find God right there.

You may think – Wow! What an awesome family because of all the glorious stories you can tell. However, there is one story I am not proud of. A time in my life that I wanted to keep hidden in a dark little corner. A time when I turned away from God and went down my own path. This was a time in my life that I wish had never happened. Have you ever experienced a time like that? Have you ever wished you could go back and change the past because of choices you’ve made?

The Lord has been dealing with me regarding this time. You see, I became the “other” woman. I was unfaithful to my husband. I committed adultery.

I had meant every word of the vows I declared on our wedding day. Every word. So how did I end up breaking these promises? My only explanation: I became a woman who thought only of herself, and as I chose this destructive path, I hurt my husband, I hurt my children, I hurt a dear friend of mine, I hurt her family, I hurt my church, I hurt my Heavenly Father, and I hurt myself.

You see, I had an affair with my boss, the pastor of my church.

It’s still hard to say out loud.

I would like to believe that I was out of my head at this time. I was stretched to the limit. Anyone looking in at my life would’ve agreed. Our daughter Hannah had just been born and shortly after my husband suffered a stroke that put him in the hospital for 7 months. I would drop my newborn baby off at a friend’s home and then spend the day at the hospital. Once Evan was released and brought home, I would get him up every morning and walk him to a lounge chair where he would sit for the day, and then off to work I would go. I spent my lunch hour rushing home to fix Evan something to eat and give him his meds, and then dart back to work. Then at the end of the day, I would race back home to take care of him, fix supper, take care of my children, wash dishes, do laundry, clean the house, make sure homework was done and teeth were brushed. {Moms, you know the routine.} If someone had an “excuse,” I did. But there really are no excuses.

I was so frazzled that I didn’t have time for myself . . . and worst of all, I didn’t “have” time for the Lord. I was running on empty. So when my boss came to me with enticing words, at first I laughed at him and ignored what he was saying. But I think I became a game to him and he began coming on stronger and stronger until one day… one regrettable day…I caved. And once I stepped over that line, I didn’t know how to get back. I wanted to cry out for help, but I didn’t know who to talk to. I wanted to cry out to God, but since I was living in sin, I thought He wouldn’t be listening. I was a mess and felt as if I was all alone. Alone in my shame. Alone bearing my secrets.

Once the affair came to an end, my life did too. I was now a woman of shame. We were shunned by some in the church, which led me to assume my whole church family hated me. I couldn’t blame them. In their eyes I had hurt their pastor. And it was true, I had hurt his family. I was a disgrace to all those I had called friends and family. We left our church home because I was an embarrassment.

A beautiful part of this grace-story was that I was married to a man who didn’t believe in divorce. The fact was: I really did love Evan. Yet when I looked in the mirror, I was face to face with the “other” woman. I didn’t like her. I hated her. Where had she come from? I never planned on becoming her.

For the next 6 years, we worked at putting our marriage back together. It was rough. It was not easy. It seemed impossible at times. There were arguments, days of crying, moments of wanting to give up . . . BUT God.

That’s really it right there: But God, and only God!

He takes our unimaginable, don’t-even-want-to-say-it-out-loud messes and turns them around for His glory and our good! He taught Evan and I how to fill our home and our marriage with grace that abounds. Our Emmanuel, God with us, gave us the fight in our marriage. He also gave us dear friends who didn’t shun us, but stood by our side, fighting for our marriage. During this time, I wanted to move far, far away so we could start over. But for some reason the Lord would not allow us to leave. He forced me to face my past.

When you are a victim in a hurtful situation, everyone feels sorry for you and is quick to be there for you. But when you are the “bad” guy, people pretty much leave you alone. I remember being in Wal-Mart buying groceries and seeing someone from our old church in the distance coming my way. Of course I was nervous to see them, but as we got closer, our eyes met. That, once-upon-a-time friend, stopped, turned around, and went the other way. My heart sank. Didn’t they know that I had asked God to forgive me? Didn’t they know that we were trying to put our marriage back together? Didn’t they know that I was hurting inside? Didn’t they know that I needed a friend?

I think the hardest thing about putting my marriage back together was forgiving myself. Why did I do this and who was I? Many nights I cried out to God asking Him these questions and then one night I felt His tender arms surround me, just holding me. My prayer that night was . . .

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”   Psalm 51:10-12

I felt God’s redeeming love and His forgiveness. God began doing a work in my heart. I was no longer the “other” woman, but God was making me a “new” woman. His woman.

Seven years after Evan’s death, Bill came into my life and what a blessing he has been to me and my kids. A lot has happened since then – even more healing has taken place within me.

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Bill has been God’s gift to me and our family!

Shortly after Bill and I got married, Holly and Heather wrote their book, Dancing on My Ashes. I was so proud of them and so excited seeing all of the things the Lord had been doing in their hearts and lives. What an awesome journey they have been on! Even though they had this beautiful story they were telling, the enemy would come to me and remind me of my past. “Look how your girls have been faithful and strong in God, but you were weak and became an embarrassment to your family. You are such a failure.”

I knew that was my past and I knew that I had been forgiven – it was just hard to forget what I had done. But as God was writing a beautiful story for my girls, He was also writing my story. With Bill’s encouragement, our family returned to my “old” church home! That was a miracle in itself, because for years I had said I would never go back because of what I had done. But “somehow” I found myself back inside those walls. Somehow? No, more like there was Someone wanting me to return to face my past. Heidi, my third daughter, began leading worship there, and asked me to join her as a backup singer. My heart leaped for joy because I love to sing, but at the same time I was apprehensive, I wasn’t sure how the church members would take seeing me again.

I could just hear them: Why is she back? Why does she think she should be up front singing? Can you remember the mess she was a part of? Who does she think she is? Once again, the enemy was beating me down.

One Sunday while I was singing up front, these hurtful thoughts started coming to my mind again. As I closed my eyes in frustration, I felt the Lord gently ask these questions,

“Why are you a backup singer?
Are you singing for yourself and for your glory? Are you singing for these people?
Or are you here to sing to Me?”
And in my heart, I responded, “I’m singing to You, Jesus.”
And He replied, “Then sing to Me.”

As I began to sing, I focused my attention totally on Him and with that, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and I felt freedom like I had never felt before. I was so free! Have you ever felt completely free? Freedom that makes you want to dance? Now, I didn’t dance (because I didn’t want to fall over my feet), but I sure was wearing the biggest smile on my face! My heart was dancing, because for the first time I believed God saw me as forgiven, beautiful, NEW! I was no longer “other” I was His, redeemed by grace. He didn’t want my past hurt or sin to haunt me. He had freedom in mind for me. Today my heart sings of His joy and love that makes a “wretch like me” a friend. He is my forever love.

Can God use me with a past like this? Yes, yes, yes!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,
“and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29.11-14

I have experienced His forgiveness.
I have experienced His mercy and His redeeming love.
I have experienced His strength in time of need.
I have experienced a forgiving love from my church body.
I now guard my heart. I make time for my Heavenly Father every day.
I have Jesus! He is my everything! He is my all!

 

wall six

The Wall Six! From left to right: Hunter, Hannah, Heidi, Holly, Heather, and Heath

 


If you missed the first post in this November {Thankfulness} series go here: The 14 questions my husband asked me

To learn more about Heather and Holly’s ministry, you can watch their 3 minute video: go here

To check out their book: go here

If you are interested in learning more about God: go here

Heather asked me a very important question

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{by Heather Spring Gilion}

Here’s me and my friend Heather. I met her a couple of years ago at our church. When we learned that both of our names were Heather, we were instantly connected. EVERY Sunday when we see one another we do our little thing, “Hi, Heather.” “Hi, Heather.” And then we hug and giggle. I LOVE this girl!

At our women’s retreat she came over to me and asked me a very important question. With her hand propped on the back of my chair and the other playing with her hair, she stood tall and asked, “Does Dallas treat you like a lady?” With confidence I could answer, “Why, yes. Yes, he does!” I said, “Why do you ask?”

“Well, Charlie treats me like a lady.”

“And who’s Charlie? Your boyfriend?

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s good. How long have you been dating Charlie?”

“Ten years.”

“Wow, that is a LONG time, Heather! So, how does he treat you like a lady?” I asked.

“He opens the car door for me. He puts my seat belt on for me. When we’re walking into a building, he opens the doors for me.”

“Woah…woah… woah… HOLD ON! Charlie puts your seat belt on for you!?! Now, Dallas doesn’t do that for me!” I told her the next time I got in the car I was going to wait until he put my seat belt on for me. It sounded very flirtatious.

Here I am waiting!

IMG_3210

“If you love me, buckle me, buddy!” Ladies, it’s actually very romantical 😉

This little conversation has stuck with me. Here are some take-aways that I’m now sharing with you.

1. I’m thankful for Heather… and all the people that the Lord has allowed me to live life with. There is so much we can learn from one another! I need you. You even need me. We need one another.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10: 24 & 25

There is so much we can glean from one another. I love seeing our Creator’s creativity displayed through smiles and eyes and laughs and hugs and tears and hands. Don’t miss the moments of beauty all around you today! Ask God to give you eyes to see His handiwork displayed in the people that are all around you. Do you see how genius our God is? There is no one like Him! As cheesy as this sounds… you are you-nique! There is no one walking around on this entire planet that is just like you. Your fingerprints, your DNA, your soul is specific to you and only you! {Even if you are an identical twin… you are set apart and uniquely different.}

If you’re engaged in a conversation with me and I start smiling and you didn’t say anything funny, I’m not laughing at you, I promise! I’m enjoying moments of His reflection displayed through your adorableness. For you were made in the image of our God! And to see glimpses of His reflection is stunning and breathtaking. Scroll back to the top of this page… look at Heather! Aren’t her eyes glorious!?! And that smile! She’s always smiling, friends. She is generous with her hugs and hands them out like she’s the richest person on the planet. May we be so generous with our affection and our love toward one another!

The other take-away I gleaned from my convo with Heather:

2. Let your hubby buckle your buckle now and then. And offer to buckle his buckle. That’s sounding more like an innuendo than I’m meaning it to, but however you’re supposed to hear it, HEAR IT! May we find ways to serve and love our spouses in unexpected ways. Hey, wives! I’m speaking to YOU on the other side of the screen there: let’s love our husbands and treat them less like our employees or roommates and more like men that are loved and respected. May we strive to look for ways that send this message loud and clear. It’s so easy to get caught up in the tasks at hand and miss showing real love. I get that you’re busy! I’m busy. He’s busy. We’ll probably always be busy. But how do we weave love and respect through everything we do? In the way we speak, in how we go about marking tasks off our to-do lists, in how we talk to him on the phone, in how we delegate tasks, or how we partner and parent in our home, and how we respond when we’re tired or had a hard day or are on our beloved time of the month. {EEK!} It’s easy to be selfish. It takes work to be selfless. Oh the beautiful things that arise when we love with no strings attached! When we give a back rub without the promise of one in return. Oh to care MORE for another than you care about yourself. {Ouch! I’m stepping on my own toes, here!} It’s when I let the hugs linger and when I don’t rush to look away from his gaze, that I see… I see this human being that I’ve vowed to love and cherish, to be true to, to uplift and support, to frustrate and challenge (*wink* – God’s on a mission to make him more like himself, people… and He uses me!), and most importantly to respect and show selfless love as God has shown to me and equips me.

God, may You give me eyes to really SEE my man! May You show me how to love him the way You designed me to. May You continue to teach me how to speak his love language; how to pray for his heart, mind, and soul; and remind me to join him in the war for the purity of our home. Thank You for the grace that covers my failures as a wife, and the generous gift of Your very Spirit that leads me to even know how to love. For I can only offer love when I first understand Your love for me. May I serve him and accept the ways he serves me.

That’s all I’ve got today. I hope you’ve been encouraged today!

Buckle up! Loving one another is a bumpy ride!

 

 

{Story6} I have a brain tumor

Through the month of March, we’ve had a guest series called “This is my story, this is my song.” There were personal journeys of hope, victory, courage, and redemption that you needed to hear! I know, I know, it’s April… but I have another ONE!

This series has been too much fun! We can’t stop… we won’t stop… (Eek! I’m sounding like Miley Cyrus.) I (Heather) can’t wait for you to meet Preston! He’s the first male appearing on our blog! {insert applause machine.} Psh—this blog’s not just for females anyway. I’m so thankful he agreed to share some of his journey with you. I met Preston years and years ago when he was hired as the photographer at the university where I was employed. He is so personable and joyful! Once you’ve met Preston, you won’t forget him! So nine years later, when our paths crossed again, I was ecstatic to learn that he and his wife were becoming a part of our Lifepoint Church family.

When I was praying about who should share in our series, his name kept coming to mind. The first five stories in our series were stories where each person shared things from their past—hard things—but they made it to the other side—up the mountain—so to speak. Preston is not necessarily on the “other side,” he’s walking THROUGH it! He and his wife, Traci, have been beautiful examples to me of worshiping Jesus even when circumstances are hard.

We’re praying that this will encourage those who may be in the valley walking… or maybe crawling… through it.

____________

I have a brain tumor

by Preston Dial

I have a brain tumor. Gets your attention, doesn’t it? It certainly got my attention when I found out in late 2004. My wife, Traci, and I had been married for 4 years and everything was headed in the right direction. We were happily married, attending a wonderful church. We had good friends, a nice home, good jobs, 401ks and a good financial plan for the future. We were on the road to reaching that American dream! I can remember thinking: “God has certainly blessed me.”

That leads up to the big day that changed everything. Some would say for the worse, and honestly, there were times that I felt that way as well.

At the time, I had a successful and well-respected wedding and portrait photography business. I was at my home office, and as I was talking on the phone with my brother-in-law, Alec, my left arm that was holding the phone to my ear suddenly straightened out without me telling it to do so! All I remember at that point was saying to Alec, “I think I’m having a stroke.” Then what felt like a heavy black veil, pulled over my eyes. I had lost all sense of time and can remember when Traci found me I kept looking at her in a fuzzy way. An ambulance escorted me to the ER. A CAT scan showed a golf-ball sized mass in my brain. My surgeon was able to remove 99% of it and I was left with only minor deficits.

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During the time in the hospital, we were visited by more friends and family than I can remember. We were also so blessed by the huge outpouring of love and prayers from people we didn’t even know.

After the surgery, I did have some issues with my fine motor skills on my left side. In fact, when we followed up with my surgeon a few weeks later, he was relieved to see that I was able to squeeze his fingers, because there was a strong possibility of paralysis on my left side due to the location of the tumor.

After the dust settled from surgery and the medical bills started coming in, we realized my insurance was inadequate. A large portion of the medical bills would have to come from our own pockets! We emptied out our 401ks and had no idea where the rest would come from. In addition, I was now considered uninsurable.

The oncologist informed us that the mass was a rare non-cancerous tumor and that the typical survival time was 10 years. The next course of action was thirty-five radiation treatments.

Radiation is a very strange thing. You can’t feel it entering your body at all, however, it is certainly affecting you. I remember as they bolted my shoulders and head to the table with a hard plastic mesh thing so I would not move, I said, “Ok, God, here we go.” I had so many thoughts running through my head as I lay still on that radiation table.

After the first month of treatments my hair started falling out. So I just started shaving my head every day—and still do (which is okay, I’ve been told that I look good bald.) A few weeks later I started to feel the negative effects of the radiation. I was treated with was a small beam of high-intensity radiation. This was shot at me from several angles. The beam goes all the way through and out the other side of my head. The theory is that tumor cells are not as resilient as normal healthy cells and although the healthy cells are receiving the same amount of radiation, the healthy cell will rebuild and the tumor cells will not. Sounds good in theory, but it can really mess you up until your healthy cells can regenerate. In addition, the radiation can give you a major sun burn and that’s exactly what I got. It was some kind of radiation poisoning. It first started on my head and then moved to my face. It was excruciatingly painful. It also itched horribly. The overall experience was so bad that one night, Traci woke up and found me in the kitchen just standing there in complete anguish because I did not know what to do to make the itching and burning go away. She ended up taking me to the emergency room where I was treated.

Life moved on. I was able to get back to work with my photography business. And in just a few more months we were expecting our first child.

We were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had been able to set up affordable payments with the hospital and I had secured adequate insurance through the Missouri Health Pool. I had some minor issues with my fine motor skills, but I was so thankful that it was not worse. With the exception of our 3-month routine MRIs, our life was back to normal.

When you go through a life-threatening event, you start to look at life differently. You realize how fragile and short life really is. You also quickly learn it’s not the material things that are important, but the relationships with people in your life. Of course, as a Christian, I saw how God could use my experience to witness to others who needed encouragement.

Even though my tumor had been 99% removed, there was a strong chance that it would rear its ugly head back into our lives again. Two kids and almost five years later, the tumor returned. This time there were new chemotherapy drugs available, so in the spring of 2009, I started chemo.

During that following 6 months, I still ran my business. That whole summer wedding season was a blur. I was constantly exhausted and in survival mode.

I was stable for almost 6 months and then a MRI showed more growth. We really started to feel the stress and burden of how my health was affecting our lives. Another year of stronger chemo was suggested. I knew that there was no way that I could operate my studio while going through more chemo. After much prayer and council, we decided I would have to shut down the studio. This was really hard for me.

I began a new job selling timeshares in Branson. It went really well and things seemed to be headed in the right direction. I loved my job, the people I worked with and the families I got to meet. I was typically home by 3 p.m. so the hours were not long. It all seemed like such an answer to prayer.

This chemo round was much harder and affected me very differently, I started getting very weak and shaky; you could even hear it in my voice. I would get sick in the morning and middle of the night, I also started to get neuropathy in my fingers and toes (numbness and pins and needles). I was amazed at how God kept my spirits up and still used me. But ultimately, my sales started to drop and in November of 2010, I was let go.

For the first time in my married life, I had no idea how I would support my family. At this point we were almost completely broke. I was so sick from the chemo, and confused about why God had opened this door and then did not bless me in the way I thought He would. This was one of the lowest points of my life. We were totally reliant on God’s provision.

And God provided.

Not in the way we expected. But He provided. He provided everything we needed through family and Christian brothers and sisters. It was overwhelming. It was humbling. It was a great time of learning and leaning. A friend in the local wedding industry planned a fundraiser for my family and raised enough money for our living expenses for 6 months! We would get random calls from our church to let us know that there had been an anonymous envelope dropped by the office with our names on it. We would open the envelopes to find several hundreds of dollars in them. Another day would come with a call from a friend whose wife’s workplace wanted to give our kids a great Christmas. They delivered several toys and other gifts to our house. It was an amazing blessing. On one hand it was humiliating, but on the other, God allowed us to witness firsthand how He provides by using others to meet our needs.

I was approved for disability and Traci, after staying at home since the kids were born, went back to work. This was not “our plan” of how we wanted to raise our family and this is not how we expected God to provide. It was not our preferred way, but this is how He has provided for us.

I have exhausted my radiation and chemo options and we have decided to pursue more natural options. As it stands now, I am tentatively scheduled for another surgery in early May pending the results of my next MRI.

Having to deal with this tumor for the last 10 years has certainly changed our lives. I can honestly say that it has brought me closer to my saving God, family and friends. It has been full of many uphill battles but also too many joys to count. I can bear witness that God has sustained me and my family. However, it is over the last few years I feel God has used me the most. He has given me a great peace that no matter what happens to me, everything will be taken care of and this has allowed me to be a witness to so many others.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. James 1:2-3

Praise be to my great God in Heaven!

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The Dial family: Preston and Traci along with their children, Emma and Max

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Join with us as we pray for complete healing for Preston! God is able!

If you are new to this blog, follow Holly and Heather by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the screen!

Read up on their story: here!

And read why they wrote Dancing On My Ashes.

If you want to know more about who God is go here!
I hope you’ve been encouraged today!

{Story5} A Journey to Adoption: “I would not change a thing”

Through the month of March, we’re going to do a series called “This is my story, this is my song.” There are personal journeys of hope, victory, courage, and redemption that you need to hear!

I (Heather) am about to introduce you to someone very, very special. She is not only my pastor’s wife—but my friend. She is one of those women in my life that I love watching. She makes serving and loving her husband, her children, and her church family, look easy peasy. She’s probably the first face you’d see greet you if you were to visit Lifepoint; with her welcoming smile and sweet southern accent, she invites you into the family. This lady juggles a great deal with ease and smiles as she strives to abide in Christ. I joke with her that on days I have too much to do, I whisper to myself “What would Christin Harrison do?” {So, for all you momma’s with growing “To do” lists, the “WWCHD?” bracelets will be made available soon! heehee}

Maybe I’ll have her share some of her organizational secrets in another post… but for now, you’ve got to hear a piece of her journey that led she and her husband, Lane, to adoption.

So, have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a letter to your past self? What advice would you offer? I asked Christin what she would tell her 20-year-old self about the journey “past-Christin” was about to embark on. I know this will encourage hearts… and maybe, just maybe, cause you to write your own letter. What would you say?

Here’s Christin’s letter…

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Dear Christin,

So you are about to get married. You have so many exciting days ahead as you look towards your future and all that the Lord has in store for you and Lane. You may think the future is going to be easy, fun, romantic, full of wonderful adventures… and at some points in the journey, it will be. But oh how the Lord has an adventure set before you that you can’t even begin to imagine.

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On your journey, you are going to experience your first hardship even before your wedding can happen. At a routine doctor’s appointment, you are going to find out that you have two eight-pound tumors inside that have to come out immediately. But this surgery will not be your last. Five more will come your way during the first seven years of being married, which will even result in a hysterectomy at the young age of 28. It is going to hard. Painful. You will think that you can’t endure the pain your body goes through, the emotional toil that it takes on your spirit, and the sadness that seems to take root in your soul. But you know what? You will endure—the Lord will give you His strength. You will grow in your walk with the Lord during these years. The weeks, even months, of quiet recovery will be times of growth in your love for Jesus. The Lord will be your Great Physician and you will learn to trust Him with your health. Your marriage will be strengthened from the very beginning when you are just newlyweds. You will learn that Lane loves you unconditionally—no matter what—and those years will be what build the foundation that keeps your marriage strong in the future.

During these same years, you and Lane will be praying and planning to have a family. Doctors will tell you that there is a chance to conceive a baby with the small, one-third ovary that you have left before, but eventually, that has to come out too. Those months of hoping that you will find a positive sign on a pregnancy test will come and go and the disappointment will be there with each negative found. But over time, the Lord is going to do something in your heart. You and Lane will feel the Lord leading you to adopt…EVEN while it may physically be possible to get pregnant. That fact alone will shock many people. They will wonder why you would abandon your desire to get pregnant. That desire will not leave, but instead, your desire to be a mom to a child that is already somewhere in this world will be greater than the desire to wear maternity clothes. You will gladly exchange those maternity clothes for traveling clothes and trade the big belly for a big three-ring binder of adoption paperwork.

You know those children of whom you have always dreamed? They are going to come from two different parts of the world! You, Christin, the girl who loves to be home and is not a big fan of risks, are going to board a plane and travel to Russia to become a mom for the first time. You will be scared. You will wonder if this child will love you. You will wonder if you will have a “motherly instinct” without giving birth to this child. And in one split second, at the very moment you see and hold your baby for the first time, these fears will vanish. Instantly. This little blonde haired, green eyed, malnourished, eight pound, six-month-old little boy will change you forever. You will no longer wonder what it is like to be a mom. You will now know that there is nothing like it. This boy will be kind, tenderhearted, love you and all his family, and be filled with a desire to learn about everything. But most of all, he will love Jesus and serve Him and others faithfully.

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The day will come again for you to become a mom for the second time. This will be the result of many prayers. Not only those prayed by you and Lane, but also by your precious two-year-old son who wants to have a sister.  He will pray faithfully for her. The Lord is going to answer those prayers and be the Provider of all the details involved in this adoption as well. Once again, you will board a plane for yet another country, this time to the country of Guatemala. It is there that you will meet your princess! The moment you see her, your heart will overflow with love. That motherly instinct that you no longer worry about, will abound for this precious child. Just like her brother, this curly, brown haired, brown eyed, petite, six-month-old little girl will transform you. This little one will be caring, filled with love for people, and will want every day to be a party! And like her brother, she will love Jesus from an early age, which will enable her to love others even more than she loves herself.

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So, dear Christin, when the road that you travel gets tough, don’t lose hope! The Lord is in control of your life. Just release your grip on anything else but Him. At times, it will be hard and you will want to change His plan—or even give up! But the Lord will be faithful. Trust Him. His desires for you will become your desires. He will take your worries, your sadness, even the pain, and turn it into complete joy. You will wonder if it will all be worth it. Looking back, in complete confidence, I say, “YES!” I would not change a thing—nothing. Nothing. Just like Isaiah 55:8-9 says, ’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (ESV) That is the truth. His ways and His plans are far better than anything we could ever conjure up.

Love,
Christin

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If you are new to this blog, follow Holly and Heather by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the screen!

Read up on their story: here!

And read why they wrote Dancing On My Ashes.

If you want to know more about who God is go here!
I hope you’ve been encouraged today!

 

 

{Story4} My Marriage Was Over

Through the month of March, we’re going to do a series called “This is my story, this is my song.” There are personal journeys of hope, victory, courage, and redemption that you need to hear!

I (Heather) can’t wait for you to hear from my precious friend, Karla Parker! I have watched God totally win her heart through and through! Her empathy for others is truly one of my favorite things about her. She walked through a very dark and uncertain time in her life. I remember vividly one Sunday seeing her in the congregation worshiping. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she sang,

Savior, He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save

She knew her God and her God alone was the only One that could move the mountain that stood in front of her. I’m going to let her tell you her story.

My Marriage Was Over

by Karla Parker

My world came crashing down on a November night. I remember the moment so clearly. I was sitting in our living room eating when my husband told me he wanted a divorce. He was done. FINISHED. He was tired of never being good enough and he was tired of the endless fighting. He felt like he had failed at being the husband I “wanted” and “needed.” Marriage wasn’t fun anymore. We fought more than we laughed and we were basically living separate lives—not much more than roommates. So he decided to listen to the advice (a.k.a. threats) I’d shouted time and time again, “Just leave!” or “Let’s just get a divorce!” He’d had enough and his cold, angry and hurtful demeanor made me realize this was for real.

I instantly begged and pleaded with him for us to get help first! But it was too late. The damage had been done. And his mind was made up. Even though I hated what our marriage had become, this was not the way I wanted it to end after six years. I did love him. I did. He told me he’d stay with family until he could figure things out. Minutes later he was gone. He left—and I—I fell apart.

Over the next few weeks and months, my journey to wholeness slowly began. We had no contact. None. (Except for me, early on, begging for us to get help, which in return his response was “leave me alone!!!”) It was right before Thanksgiving and then our anniversary came, then Christmas…. New Years… my heart was breaking. I had no idea that I would be waiting eight months before I would hear from him.

I was a Christian. So was Terry. No one stands at the altar, and vows “’til death do us part” and believes they will one day willingly sign papers to break their promise. We had meant what we said, but here we were. It was over. His empty side of the bed was a cold reminder that something had gone terribly wrong.

During that time, God broke me. But it was in the wrecking that God began His gift of healing.  He opened my eyes to so many things. He gave me a love for my husband and a longing for God like I had never known before. I was immediately brokenhearted for how I had treated Terry. It was so painful as I recalled how I had used my words so many times as daggers just trying to get his attention.

I was grieving the loss of my marriage and of him. I felt like he had died.

My pride was shattered too. Here I was working at a Christian university at the time, attending an amazing church, with many close friends but NO.ONE.KNEW. We should have our acts together, right? Now EVERYBODY KNEW. I made a choice to become real with God, with friends, and with family during this time. Life became so freeing as the weight of hiding lifted. I still did not want a divorce but my new heart change was too late.

God began to show me that my faith hadn’t been in Him—it had been in Terry. Terry had been my God. Because Terry is not God, he couldn’t live up to who I thought he should be. And because my hope was in the wrong place, no matter how badly I tried to control and manipulate Terry, he never measured up to my expectations. And anger would erupt. I had no patience or grace. I was left frustrated that he couldn’t complete me. I began to let Christ fulfill my life again.

The silence from Terry was deafening. I missed him deeply. But as I pressed into knowing God more, I grew confident that God had a plan through this and I had to trust Him. I sure had screwed things up, but in Christ there is grace upon grace. I was learning to forgive… even myself.

I began to pray. People I didn’t even know were praying. I prayed that God would change Terry’s heart towards me. God became my first love again. I began to praise Him and thank Him for all He had done even though my circumstances hadn’t changed and even though it still hurt. He used others to encourage me. Over the months I had multiple moments I like to call “God Moments” where it was confirmed time and time again that I was to “wait upon the Lord.” To me that meant doing nothing but seeking to be closer to God in everything I did and then praying for Terry and our marriage to be healed. I knew God had joined us together and I knew the only way God would heal us was through prayer and a miracle. I didn’t know if a miracle would happen, I just knew God told me to wait. Exodus 14:14 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” Still means to wait. I waited and waited and waited.  (And I hate waiting!)

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Notecards filled with Scripture verse on them that Karla clung to.

I can’t say that I was perfect over those eight months of waiting. It was a roller coaster of emotions. My mind played with me. I distanced myself from mutual friends because it hurt knowing that they had contact with him and I didn’t. I hurt others when I let fear rise up. I questioned if I had really heard from God? In some moments I knew I’d be okay and I experienced amazing peace, but in other moments I was just so sad. Well-meaning people offered me advice; they couldn’t understand why I would wait. They didn’t understand this confidence I had in what God had shown me.

When I took my mind off Jesus, I was so confused. Why am I waiting? I need to move on! Towards the end of month six or seven, I started to give up the hope that we would reconcile. I decided to take off my wedding ring. Meanwhile, as I was letting go of my marriage, God was working in Terry’s heart. I was unaware of all the “God moments” that were happening on his end.

Out of the blue, Terry called me and wanted to meet but he would not tell me why. It had been 8 months. We met with our counselor for the first time since we had separated. I couldn’t believe it, but Terry wanted to fight for our marriage—he wanted to fight for ME! He told me everything he had felt over the last year, everything he had went through, but most importantly, he asked for my forgiveness for leaving. He wasn’t angry anymore. He admitted his failures too that led up to the separation. He took full responsibility for how his actions affected mine in our marriage. Although it was a hard moment, it was an amazing moment. I was watching my miracle take place. I was witnessing first hand God’s redeeming work in place. Emerging from despair was a picture of love and forgiveness. We had a lot of work to do. But we were fighting for one another, not with one another!

Terry and Karla on their "first" date... back together, September, 2, 2011.

Terry and Karla on their “first” date… back together, September, 2, 2011.

We learned and are learning how to communicate, how to give grace, and we have begun to pray together. We had to start trusting one another again. It has taken time but God has healed us completely! Almost a year to the day he moved back in. We have now celebrated almost two and a half years of our “NEW marriage!” I don’t know why God chose to heal our marriage the way He did, but He did! And we feel very blessed. I know many marriages have not turned out this way. Some of my closest friends went through heartache that ended in divorce but I know God has done and can still do great things through those situations too. That’s just what He does.

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Lastly, this video that my friend Heather (writer of this blog) made with Kanakuk Kamps sums up everything that happened in my heart. I remember watching this when things were hard. I remember thinking this season would never end. He truly changed me. I’m not perfect, we are not perfect, Christians are not perfect—and we don’t have to be. That’s why it’s called grace—a gift, not because we’re good enough but because HE’S good enough. We are all on a journey and God used this detour as a way to show us more about Himself. In the end, it was the best thing that could ever have happened for our marriage. God makes all things new.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. {Isaiah 43:19}

Here’s the VIDEO: YOU MAKE ALL THINGS NEW

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If you are new to this blog, follow Holly and Heather by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the screen! Read up on their story: here!

And read why they wrote Dancing On My Ashes.

If you want to know more about who God is go here!
I hope you’ve been encouraged today!

New Year’s Resolutions: Being okay with not knowing where you’re going

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by Heather Spring {Gilion}

We’re a week into the new year.

On December 31st, I asked my husband if we should make any New Year’s resolutions. He thinks they’re dumb. I think they’re kinda fun, but then again I’m a little bit on the competitive side. So mine are really contrived from a game-mentality. When I make a resolution I go through the entire year trying not to lose against myself. On January 1, I glare at myself in the mirror. Threatening myself, “It’s on like Donkey Kong!” Now, the hubs, he’s not competitive by nature. In high school he decided he wasn’t going to play basketball anymore because he just wasn’t “into it,” he had other scholastic aspirations. But what’s one of the first things I hear when someone meets him? “Dude, I bet you played some serious ball in school!” Why? Because he’s tall. He’s so tall when he gets frustrated at me he says, “Don’t make me come down there!” {I’m kidding. I’m kidding. He only says that to the kids.}

So Dallas may not be competitive, but he’s a planner and he’s constant. {He’s also constantly planning, but that’s for another blog.} Like, it’s silly to ask if he’s going to work out or read his Bible or mess around on his guitar or eat oatmeal or give me a hug and kiss when he walks in the house. Or will he call me right when I pour the milk in my cereal? I know the answer to these questions. Of course! He’s constant. He’s my steady-teddy. So, in his mind there’s no need for silly “new year’s resolutions!” If he sees a reason to add something, he adds it. If something needs to be subtracted… done… did it yesterday. “Lasterday” as our four-year-old says.

But for me—change—it takes me a minute. I don’t want to make a promise and not keep it. {Been there, done that.} I weigh the decision—the pros and cons. I have even been known to grieve what I know will be in my best interest. {Like the time I gave up Dr. Pepper. I still meet you in my dreams.} And some “resolutions” I know I’m about to make are not just for a year, but for life. Internally there’s a bit of a fight. I’ve been known to get a little grumpy with those around me when I’m making a change. Change always requires something from us. Time. Learning new habits.  Abandoning “ease” to take on a season of planning and structuring for the new. Giving up or giving in or doing away with or adding onto, it all takes work to arrive at a new normal. Sacrifice.

So, my man didn’t engage my “New Year’s Resolution” talk, {I was thinking about giving up almonds, I don’t like them much anyway}, but he came to me with a New Year’s Evaluation List. It was intense. It covered our relationship with God, with one another, with our children, our roles, our jobs, our dreams, our goals, vacation plans, expectations, and much more, because like I said he’s a planner and he’s constant. {Yet another reason I think he’s constantly awesome!} Dallas led us in a time of reflection and discussion and prayerful evaluation as we embark toward what God has for us in 2014. We’re still discussing. The self-evaluation is still happening. But as two very different people, we must come together as one so we can support and encourage one another when distractions and other “good” things tempt to steal from what we know to be our calling.

I’ll spare you all the things that are swirling around in my noodles and give you the “peak” in all my self-evaluation for 2014.
{peak = the thing that is beyond me but that is luring me higher.}

There are some specific questions I’m asking the Lord, regarding my time and what I spend my energy on. I want to be in-line with His will for my life. Desperate for it, really. And I know myself; I can get a bit distracted at times. But this question seems to have become what lingers at the top of this year’s mountain. It’s what’s haunting me and drawing me all at the same time:

Will you go without knowing?

Because I’ve been asking God a lot of questions lately.
“What are You going to do with this?”
“If I do this, how’s it going to end up?”
“What are You going to do with that dream?”
“Am I waaaay off base spending my time on this?”

Will I go without knowing how things will turn out?

Can I? Will I?

God does not tell you what He’s going to do. It’s taken me a long time to get this. I still catch myself asking for the outcome and begging Him to reveal details. But He answers my questions in a very unexpected fashion: He reveals Himself. He shows me WHO He is and surprisingly, with that, my heart is settled and my faith increased as I go out in confidence. Laying down my expectations and my agenda, this is my daily battle.  But as I understand more of the character of God, I need not wonder if I’m out here alone. I’m not. I don’t have to fret about the details. I just need Him. I place my ear upon His heart and I listen. I open His Word and I breathe Him in. I hold fast to His still small voice that’s ever with me and I obey. I need to be still and know that He is indeed—GOD. I need to trust when He says, “Hang a left,” that the best way is left. I need not fight to turn right.

When I wake each morning, will I go out? I can re-evaluate. I can make a plan. {And my tall hubby is more than happy to help me make one.} Again, there’s nothing wrong with making a plan. But will I be dependent upon Him, come what may?  Will I be flexible, scrapping my plan for His? Will I go and do and be without knowing how this will all play out?

I’m trekking up the mountain, whispering my vow: I will.

I’m Yours.

I’ll go.

I trust You.

I know You are good.

You alone satisfy my soul.

I don’t need to know the how’s or the why’s or the when’s, I just need to, with each step up the mountain, anchor my hope in You. For You, my Lord, will not disappoint.

He alone knows what 2014 holds for me and I’m okay with not knowing… because I know HIM. I will go.

 

I do. I still do.

by Heather Spring {Gilion}

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Nine years ago I put on a white dress.
I was teary. You were too.
Joyfully we said, “I do.”
I still do. Tomorrow I will too. And the next day, and the next, and the one after that.

There are still days that I get overwhelmed that God wrote you into my story. Man, He’s a good writer.

You are my Boaz. My love. My best friend. A companion for the unknown road. You were “that guy from church” that mowed this widow’s yard. And then you became my guy… the one chosen to awake this Sleeping Beauty (as you like to say). Dallas, thank you for waiting for me, pursuing me, and giving me time to see what God was doing. I was a bit slow… but you didn’t mind. You learned more about patience—you’re welcome.

As I reflect on the last nine years, I am humbled. We’ve shared dreams and pursued those dreams. We’ve laughed and wept together. Words of courage, challenge, confession, and admiration have left our lips. We had a baby boy…

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…and then another!

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Our two little blessings!

We’ve moved houses. We’ve disagreed and then agreed… to disagree. You talked me into liking coffee and I grew out your hair. You smell like campfires and I smell like tanning cream. Remember that time I got mad at you because coffee is hot? Remember when you caught our neighbor’s fence on fire? Remember when I bought $200 worth of frozen meat from a drive-by salesman that we didn’t eat because it was inedible? Remember this morning when we opened our eyes and didn’t say anything but we just smiled? Yep, I do. I still do.

As great as you are, thank you for not being enough. Thank you for the times when you’ve unintentionally broken my heart. Thank you for being flawed. Thank you for being a work in progress. Because, Dallas, it’s in these moments that I’m reminded that you make a crummy God. Don’t get me wrong, you are my Mr. Wonderful, but it’s in your imperfections that I’m reminded to release my grip on you and come to grips with the reality that you do not, or will ever, complete me. You may not complete or be able to fix me, but as we allow God to do the completing and fixing and molding and shaping, we walk hand in hand, finding our security in His grip.

“We love because he first loved us.” {1 John 4:19}

It’s been just shy of a decade that I walked down the aisle with glassy eyes and a pounding heart and vowed to be your wife. I see ever so clearly God’s grace and extravagant love for me through your eyes. More than ever, I do. I still do.

So here’s to the next chapter. What will lie before us? Where will we go from here?

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All I know is that there is still much to learn from one another. There are things in our marriage that need work, areas that need grace to abound, places that need attention… and your new motto is running through my head, “I can’t just speak things into existence, I’ve got to lead in the change.” I will gladly follow and pursue more for our marriage and our family.

When we were holding hands last night, I noticed our hands have aged! And you of all people know that I religiously apply my anti-aging products morning and night, but last night, I loved our aging hands. Absolutely LOVED them. Growing old with you is priceless! So… happy anniversary, my love! May our hands get old and our laugh lines grow deep. May our knees know wear and our vocal cords tire as we talk to God on behalf of one another. May our car’s odometer wrack up more miles and our tires lose their tread. May we lace up our tennis shoes, or strap on our snow boots, or sit on the beach as the water steals the shore. May we serve friends and strangers. May we model a covenant marriage to our boys. May we dream, flirt, steal kisses, and hug long. May our cheeks hurt from smiling all the days of our lives and may our hearts never lose the awe of God’s glorious Story.

May we continue to choose to love. My promise remains—I do. I still do.

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{Heather Gilion coauthored the book, Dancing On My Ashes. To learn more about her God-story go here. The E-Book is on sale through November!}