For Mothers and Daughters

We have a Mother’s Day gift for you!

It’s a “reading,” created for all you moms and daughters out there. It’s sole purpose is to get you two alone together for a few moments, unplugged and undistracted, as you read God’s truth to affirm, cherish, and remind each other that you are in this thing together. There’s something very special about the relationship between mothers and daughters, and our prayer is that through this reading, relationships will be strengthened, hearts will be mended, and faith will rise as you speak these words of life over one another.

It was initially written for a Mother/Daughter retreat my sister and I were speaking for the weekend. But seeing the response it had on the moms and daughters, we knew we needed to share it with others!

So I called on my good friend Logan Pyle. He loves Jesus and uses his talents and giftings to point the world to Him. (He and his wife, Karissa, are a breath of fresh air. Their family couldn’t be more precious!) I told him of my idea and he was as excited as I was! He brought the beauty of this piece to life… real life.

THEN… who would be the mother-daughter duo?!?! Actually, I couldn’t wait to beg my friend Lori and her daughter Blake to be a part of this project. Lori’s got this parenting thing down-ha! Okay, who really does? She’s a mess… a beautiful, humble, God-fearing, light bearing, masterpiece of motherhood mess! She knows this life is about clinging to her God as she leads her children to do the same. She and her husband, Scott, are the BEST! I know it’s been a teary season as they are days away from watching their sweet girl graduate from high school! This project was special on many levels as they end one era to lean on their God as they begin another.

Again, Happy Mother’s Day! Here’s the printable version for YOU! Seriously, click on this link, it’s for YOU: mother daughter reading

{p.s. Daughters, you will totally surprise your momma if you print out the reading before she does. She’ll probably fall out of her chair! Print out one for her and one for you. This is waaaay better than picking out some hallmark card at Wallyworld! Bring some tissues and some chocolate for extra bonus points.}

{p.p.s. Moms, you can leave hints, you can tag your daughters in this video, but they still may not pick up what you’re putting down, so don’t wait for your daughters to stumble upon this video and print out the reading like good children, download the pdf and tell your daughter(s) you know what you want for Mother’s Day! Boom! Girl time!}

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The video was filmed and edited by: Logan Pyle
The adorable Mother/Daughter Duo in this project: Lori & Blake O’Dell

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 If you are new to Dancing On My Ashes… WELCOME!

To learn more about Dancing On My Ashes,
you can watch Heather & Holly’s 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

In other BIG, HUGE, GIGANTIC NEWS:

The Take Me Away! Women’s Retreat Cruise with us is March 2-6, 2017.

We’d LOVE for you to join the fun.

It is a short cruise so families could manage without ‘mom’ and she would come back rejuvenated, tan, with her soul refreshed! This is a perfect retreat for women’s groups or individuals. If you organize a group for the cruise you can earn your trip!

It may be just the perfect getaway what you moms and daughters need! *wink wink*

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Safe to Sleep

safe to sleep -header

I (Heather) want to introduce you to someone pretty darn special; her name is Jessica Luraas. We pick up our kids outside the same elementary school every day. Over the past few years a friendship has developed. As we wait for our boys to burst through the doors at the end of the day, we’ve shared conversations about our children, our school, our churches, our passions, and our God. (It’s amazing what you can cover in a few minutes!) When Jessica first mentioned a ministry she was involved in, I was spellbound. I had no idea this even existed in Springfield, Missouri. I asked her to share on our blog what she witnesses everyday. I think it will be educational as well as stirring—poking a giant hole in the bubble we live in—as we hear from one that is on the front lines of everyday suffering. You will also see a glimpse into this sweet woman’s heart. I think you will love her as much as I do!

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{by Jessica Luraas}

Its 7:30 on a Tuesday night. It’s been raining all day. The women stream off the bus and rapidly fill the hallway to the church gym with weary shoulders and wet feet. Small rolling suitcases and backpacks are propped up against their legs as they wait in line at the shelter sign-in table. One is young, just out of foster care at 19 years old, she is emotionally wounded from years of abuse and can’t keep a job. Another is 65, her husband passed away suddenly and she used her disability check to pay for his funeral. She missed rent and got evicted. And there is the 42 year old who has a mental illness so debilitating she can’t work. She is waiting on disability, stuck in the system and unable to pay for her own housing.

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Every night of the year, thirty to forty homeless women in Springfield seek refuge through an emergency shelter program called Safe to Sleep. Dedicated volunteers spend one or two nights a month at the shelter, giving up a little sleep to ensure the doors can stay open. A host church offers its building for several months at a time. Countless donors give money and supplies that keep the shelter running. Women would be on the street without the shelter, it saves lives.

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The next morning I’m driving to pick up a woman who stays at Safe to Sleep. I will spend a good part of my day trying to help her navigate the road to a home. She has fought a lifelong battle with chronic pain and mental illness. She gets into my car with the deepest, most painful cough I have ever heard. She has pneumonia and bronchitis. Can you imagine being sick and homeless? You just want to sleep in your own bed, in your own home, with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a movie, but you can’t. You have to stand outside for an hour and wait for a warm building to open to get your dinner and then stand at a cold bus stop to get a ride to a shelter so you can finally lie down.

We are headed to the social security office to get a letter confirming her disability award which will help with getting housing. I like her, she makes me laugh. Her frank stories, told from a deep raspy voice pull me in. I know her life has been filled with drugs, shoplifting, ex- husbands, and bad choice after bad choice. I’m not sure what led her to be homeless at age 70 but I really want to help her. Everyone deserves compassion. Everyone deserves a home.

As we wait at a stoplight, she grabs my forearm and gives it a gentle squeeze. This tough lady with her weathered face, red fingernails, and throaty voice looks me directly in the eyes. She sincerely says “Thank you Jessica, it helps so much to have someone who cares.” This is my job, I get to make small things easier, because when you are homeless, small things are insurmountable.

People often ask me how I do it. How do I find empathy when a woman is rude to me? How do I take in a painful story and yet guard my heart? Do I ever get scared or feel unsafe? The truth is, sometimes I get frustrated and discouraged. Sometimes I have a hard time shaking a story I just heard. Sometimes I have no idea what to do to help. Sometimes I want to walk away and sometimes I have to walk away.

But here is the thing, it’s not about me. It’s not about how many women I help find housing. It’s not about how many hours I volunteer or how many new volunteers I recruit. Those things are very important, but what matters more is that God loves me and I love Him. He simply wants my heart–He wants every last bit of it. When I stop trying to please Him by doing things and start seeking a deeper relationship with Him, the doing comes naturally. The fruit of His love towards me pours out onto others. I am able to respond to His call on my life in freedom, without fear. The outcomes don’t matter because that is not in my hands. So that is how I do it. I don’t do it alone.

I will leave you with my favorite verse. It’s taken me years to understand what this verse truly means but I think I am getting there…“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4: 7). He wants our hearts to know Him, to know His love. When His love fills us up, we have enough to give to others. And we will always get more in return than we can ever give because His love for us is endless.

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If you live in the Springfield area and are interested in volunteering with Safe to Sleep or if you’d like to donate toward this ministry, email Jessica Luraas (Guest Advocate) at jluraas@ccozarks.org. They have evening shifts that end at 10pm and overnight shifts.

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To learn more about Dancing On My Ashes, you can watch Heather & Holly’s 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

How to Talk to Your Children About Death

how to talk to your children about death

by Heather Gilion

“Mom, I don’t want you to die!”

I heard this sweet little voice break the silence before the sun even had a chance for it’s coffee. “Zachy, come here sweety.” Not the words you expect to hear first thing in the morning. I cradled my four-year-old in my arms, “Mom, please don’t die.” My stomach immediately turned over and over as I held my breath. Stroking his hair with one hand and pulling him in tight with the other, I said, “I know death is scary. I want to stay with you as long as I possibly can.” I could feel him hold me tighter. I held him tighter. “I love that God has made me your mommy. I ask Him all the time to let me be your mommy all your days. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we can trust Him completely. I know it’s all hard to understand, but I want you to know, no matter what happens, God loves you and I love you very, very much.”

Noah, barely six at the time, overheard our conversation and chimed in, “Zach, don’t worry. If anything happens to mom and dad we will go to a nursing home.” I chuckled. Pulling Noah into the embrace, I had boys in each arm. “Well, I think you mean a foster home. Is that what you mean?” Both of my boys were familiar with the ministry of Boys and Girls Town since we’d visited there before and had been mentoring a boy that we met through the organization. “Oh yeah,” Noah said. “We would go to a foster home and have a new family.”

Zach lit up, “Oh, well, that sounds fun! Okay, I wonder who would be my new mommy and daddy?”

And just like that, the conversation went from dread of losing me to having new brothers and sisters and “wouldn’t that be fun!” Then something triggered a complete change in subject and they were on to Star Wars, (thank you, Lord!) and I sat there silent, listening to four and six-year-old brother banter. I began talking to God silently over this fear that had reared its ugly head that morning.

I get pretty mad about death, if I’m honest. I hate it. I want to punch it in the face. I want to go to bed and wake up and find that it’s not a thing anymore. There will be a day that it’s not a thing anymore. It’ll be a distant memory. It’ll be like, “Oh yeah, people used to die. Man, I can’t even fathom that.” I want it to feel like we’re talking about when people used to listen to music on their 8-tracks. “What are those? I think I’ve heard about them before, but I’m not sure.”

How do we talk to our kids about death and dying? All of us have been affected by death. I’ve definitely felt the pain of loss. I’ve buried my father, a husband, a brother-in-law, grandparents, and friends. So I’m not naïve to the fact that life can change in an instant! But when you have innocent eyes staring into your soul, begging you not to die, everything in you wants to say, “You don’t have to worry about that, buddy. Momma’s not going anywhere… EVER.” But that’s not the truth and it’s not healthy to set our children up for disappointment and a false hope. Only God knows the days and the hours I am to live on this earth. I’ve heard parents reassure their children simply to dodge their own fears on the subject, and to keep their children from any anxiety. But I believe I have a parental obligation and God-loving responsibility to prepare my children with the truth about death, even when I don’t like the truth. Although the conversations we have with our children surrounding death don’t make us jump for joy, we turn to the Word and anchor our hope in a God that conquered death once and for all!

When your child asks about death:

  1. Be truthful. Your children want to hear the truth. They want answers. Sometimes you won’t have all the answers, and you can be honest about that. But oh how confusing it is for them if you promise that everyone they cherish most will never die, and when someone does they aren’t equipped for this new reality. Death is hard even if you feel prepared, so setting your children up with the truth will be good for their hearts over the long haul. (Deut. 6:7-9)

  2. You don’t need to linger on the topic, but use those moments as teaching opportunities to point to the HOPE and LIFE we have in Christ here and now and the HOPE and LIFE we have in Christ after For a believer in Jesus, we have an amazing home that awaits us. Heaven is definitely a perk when it comes to the subject of death. Although Heaven is real, not everyone will go to Heaven. Heaven is only for those who have put their faith in Jesus. I wish every single person on the face of the planet would understand how awesome God truly is; that they would call Him LORD and follow hard after Him, for He is the only way to Heaven. Heaven is not for the “good” or the “well-liked.” It is for the sinners who have put their trust in God and been saved by grace through Jesus. So for those of us that call Jesus our Lord, we can cling to the hope that when we breathe our last on this side of eternity, our next will be in the presence of God. (John 14:6, Col. 1:3-4, Heb 11:1-2)

  3. God says “Don’t fear” 365 times in the Bible, one time for each and every day of the year, right? Even in death we don’t have to fear. Pointing our children and our own hearts to the truth that we can trust God no matter what is equipping them for what lies ahead. When those we love die before we were ready to say goodbye, we have a choice to anchor ourselves in the God who has conquered death and trust that He can use even death to bring about beautiful things. (Psalm 118:6, Deut. 31:6, Matt. 10:28)

 

To be honest, I hated to even write on this topic because in my messed up mind, I thought, “Oh great, Lord, if I write about this that means I’m going to die isn’t it? You are going to have me write this thing and put it out there for others to read and then I’m going to die in some freakish accident. And then this blog post will circulate like wild fire and my picture will be on the nightly news with that sappy, soft music playing as a smiling picture of me slowly pans across the screen.” Obviously, I’ve already played it out in my mind in weird, detailed fashion, but after I call myself back down from the crazy-brain ledge, I deeply breathe in God’s love for me and my children. The kind of crazy love that says, “Mom, I love them more than you. Can you trust Me?” The Bible says we are but a mist, here one day, gone the next, but we can trust God with our mist.

So what keeps this momma from finding herself in the fetal position, overwhelmed by “what ifs?”

Easter.

Jesus walked straight into death’s face. Was He scared? The Bible tells us He sweat drops of blood the night before. But it also says, “His face was set.” He knew what He had to do and He followed the voice of His Father right to His death. The Son of God allowed Himself to be murdered so our sin would be paid for. So death could never more be held over our heads. He died so that when He rose again on the third day, He could speak straight to death’s ugly face, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55) He defeated it.

His Word is clear. We live in a broken world and we will endure hard, want-to-hide-under-the-covers-all-day kind of stuff, BUT God is who He says He is and He calls Himself Emmanuel, God with us. So even when you find yourself walking “through the valley of the shadow of death,” you need not fear, for your God is with you. (Psalm 23:4). I love how one father explained death to his child as they drove home from a funeral. A semi truck was passing by and the shadow of the truck covered their car. He explained that if the truck were to collide into them they would die. But when Jesus went to the cross He took the truck in our place. He took on the truck for us, and now when we breathe our last breath, we don’t experience the crushing truck, we experience the shadow of the truck. On Good Friday, He took on “our truck”—death—so we didn’t have to. Now we experience only the “shadow of death.”

Emmanuel. Jesus. That’s His name, don’t wear it out. Well, actually, NO! DO wear it out! Wear it right out. Cling to it. Cherish it. Call it out. Say it out loud. Beckon upon it. Never let the truth of His nearness leave your thoughts. He speaks into our fears of the unknown. You can trust Him even when you don’t have all the answers. And if you’ve never said it out loud, you can call on His name today.

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

 

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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

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.

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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

{Story3} Suicide Interrupted

In our November {Thankfulness} series we are having a blast sharing YOUR incredible, redemptive God-stories! This one is a doozy! I (Heather) can’t wait for you to hear from Amy Fritz. If you were to meet Amy you might quickly assess she has a rare beauty that she possesses. Sure, she is outwardly stunning, but there’s a beauty that radiates from her soul. Looking in on her life, you could quickly assume, she’s got it all: she’s a newlywed, she’s a tennis all-star, she’s got hair that should be on commercials, and she has the sweetest little giggle when you talk to her. She’s adorbs! I worshiped in the same room with her for years before I learned her story. Can I just say, I LOVE when people share their God-stories because we see His love abound through one another. Watch this beautiful love story unfold… I introduce you to Amy.


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by Amy Fritz

There is not a second of your life where God is not present. Even in the days where He seems far away. Even in your darkest hours. He is there.

If you have doubts, if you’re struggling to hold on, if you’re overwhelmed by fear, or burdened by guilt and shame, this one’s for you.

I didn’t grow up “in Church”…I occasionally went to church, but not very often. I owned a Bible, but other than my name being written on it, I couldn’t identify with it. I knew of a man named Jesus, but I did not know Him. I always saw God as this faraway being that wanted nothing to do with me or my life.

Let me start from the beginning.

I grew up with a single mom and was the youngest of three kids. My mom did everything in her power to give us a good life, and she always put us before herself. During my childhood she decided we would pack our bags and move to southwest Florida to get a fresh start. Things seemed really good for us. I went to a great school, was a competitive tennis player, and even lived on a beautiful, tropical island.

I should have been the happiest girl in the world, right?

But I had my share of failures, secrets, and insecurities.

As I got older I was constantly putting a great deal of pressure on myself. Pressure to fit in, to look a certain way, to get better grades, to please others, to be a better tennis player, and the list goes on and on. I was constantly searching for approval. I thought that if I did all of the “right” things I would have more control over my life, and then nothing bad would ever happen to me

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Well, that wasn’t the case, at all. Because sometimes, you have absolutely no control over anything, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

I was only fourteen years old when I was raped.

I didn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone. I was too ashamed. Was I pregnant? Did I have an STD? No one could ever know about this! I thought that if I just ignored what happened, that it would eventually go away. Of course, I tried, but it never goes away.

My life was a living nightmare. I closed my eyes and it was there. I opened my eyes and it was there. It haunted me. I was broken. I was afraid. I was so alone. The self-blame was eating me alive. I lost all control of everything I ever knew. This girl who used to have it all together, who was happy, was now a complete mess. My world was crashing down on me, and it was happening quickly.

During this season I was running down a dark and dangerous path. No substance could fill the emptiness I felt inside. I was numb. Pills, drinking, cutting, partying, boys—I tried it all, and nothing worked. Maybe it helped me forget for a brief moment, but every morning I would wake up lower than where I started the night before. I was overcome with depression. I was filled with fear, and I was ready to end it all…

One night, on August 23rd 2007, I was five minutes away from doing just that. Ending it all seemed like the only road to freedom.

I remember crying so hard I couldn’t breathe, and being so afraid that I was shaking. I had everything I needed to end my life, the only thing left to do was commit. There was so much tension between my head and my heart. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt like I had no other choice. Out of anger and frustration I began throwing things around my room. In a rage I began shoving a bunch of stuff off a bookshelf. Books fell on the floor, but only one book fell on the floor and opened—my very dusty Bible.

Startled, I caught my breath, knelt down, and began to read.

It was opened to Isaiah 43, which says,

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.
I’ve called you by name. You’re mine.
When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
The Holy of Israel, your Savior.
I paid a huge price for you:
all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!
That’s how much you mean to me!
That’s how much I love you!
I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,
trade the creation just for you.”

God does not call us by our shame; He calls us by our name.

I read those Words over, and over, and over. I couldn’t get enough of them. The fear began to vanish as God’s grace drew near.

His presence was so real. Those Words were so real. His undeniable love was so real.

The truth is, never once was He far from me. He was there the day I took my first breath. He was there when I was packing my bags for our “fresh start.” He was there… when I was raped. As hard as that reality is, I was never alone. And here He was, in the moment I was about to take my own life, desperate for me to hear that He was near and that He loved me.

That night changed my life forever. I cried out to God for the first time. I was vulnerable with Him. I begged for His mercy. I knew that I could no longer live on my own. I was aware of my humanity, as I was face to face with His otherness. He was greater than anything I had ever imagined or believed. I decided from that moment forward to give everything I had to Him. My past, my present, and my future. Jesus forgave me! He restored my purity, He adopted me as His own, and He filled my life with new hopes and dreams. He set me FREE!

Today, I can say that was over seven years ago. Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the goodness and faithfulness of God. He saved my life, and I am forever thankful.

I think what amazes me the most, is that God—this awesome, majestic, powerful creator—chose to meet me in such an intimate way to deal with my intimate wounds. In that moment of desperation, He met me right where I was. He knows us. He knows exactly what we need.

It has not been an easy journey, but it has been a remarkable one. God has saved my family and has filled my life with so much love. He has brought so many other godly people into my life through the years that have stood by my side and fought with me. They have prayed with me, shed tears with me, and given me wise counsel. God is continually healing and sanctifying me by His grace alone. I am so undeserving, yet He is still so good to me. His Church is full of broken sinners in need of grace, and I am one of them.

This handsome guy is one of the main characters God has placed in my redeeming love story. This is my husband, Caleb, who pursued me with absolute patience and grace. He is the kindest, most respectful, caring man that I know, and his gospel saturated heart brings me closer to Christ and His love every day.

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Maybe you’re like me or have faced a similar situation and you’re too afraid to tell someone. Let me just say, fear not. It’s not your fault that something like this happened to you. Don’t let shame hinder the healing process. Jesus is able.

And ladies, guard your purity. Guard it with all of your heart. Wait for a man who will do the same. Don’t take purity for granted. Parents, guard your daughters. Husbands, guard your wives. Educate yourselves well, and be aware: 1 in 6 girls are sexually abused, and 60% of those incidents will go unreported. If someone is sexually abused, they are 26 times more likely to abuse substances and are 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Please, don’t take that lightly.

My prayer today is that God would be glorified through my story. I hope this is an encouragement and reminder that He is near and His love for you is unimaginable.

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If you missed the first two posts in this November {Thankfulness} series go here:

{Story1} The 14 questions my husband asked me

{Story2} The Redeemed “Other” Woman

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

Dancing On My Ashes (in ebook form) is available through the month of November for $2!

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

{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

Happy Mother’s Day: Why I’m glad you’re NOT perfect

{by Heather Spring Gilion}

This year for Mother’s Day, we didn’t procrastinate—we came up with the most spectacular gift for our momma! We are rarely ALL together, so we seized the moment and made plans for a mother/daughter photo shoot.

Here we are.

View More: http://cassieloreephotography.pass.us/wall-sisters

Holly, Heidi, Mom (Diane), Heather, Hannah

We spent the night before making flower crowns, (which is not as easy as one might think), we coordinated outfits and tried on each other’s clothes. And ta-dah!

But you’ll never guess what led up to this picture right here.

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Or this one.

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I’m serious. You’re not going to be able to guess in a hundred million trillion years.

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You would never know moments prior to these pictures we almost got arrested, our cars were towed, and we were crawling on our bellies under a chain link fence to escape fines, charges, and mug shots. (Yes, even our Mom! Ooops! Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!) I can almost imagine our mug shots, though. {They would’ve been the cutest mug shots EVER, if there could be such a thing!}

View More: http://cassieloreephotography.pass.us/wall-sisters

I told you, you wouldn’t guess, because look at our smiles! And we are REALLY laughing in some of these. We “look” like everything is right in the world. Like we don’t have a past or minutes before we weren’t running for our lives! We look like life is perfect and we are a bunch of flower-lovin’ hippies that just want world peace. Right? (And maybe, just maybe, we’re smiling because we’re not sitting in the back of a cop car in handcuffs.)

Sometimes when you peer into another person’s life via one little snapshot you assume you know their story. But the fact is you don’t know the road they’ve walked or the obstacles they’ve encountered or the mess they’ve made… you may just see a perfect little happy family. But life is untidy and chaotic and we can be careless with one another at times.

Can I take a moment to reflect on family for a minute? It’s a lot like this photo shoot from top to bottom. When we come together there’s opportunity for drama, adventure, trouble, poor choices, forgiveness, grace, laughter, tears… raw life. I can attest I’ve been schooled by all of these lovely ladies at one time or another, in a manner that has led to my growth. They have forgiven me and I’ve forgiven them. (Except for that time Holly called me a klutz or when Heidi cut my hair too short. I’m almost ready to forgive… almost.) But to really love one another we need Jesus at the center. And that’s when you get moments like this:

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A bond. It’s quite special, really. It’s called unconditional love. A love that grows as the clock ticks and tocks.

We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19

In this picture I see it. An awkward, messy, highly hormonal group of girls knowing one another and being known.

Here’s my thoughts on Mothers Day. I’m a fan. Not just because I’m a mom or I have a mom, or that I have the most amazing mother-in-law {Loretta} and mother-in-law {Penny} or because of my “other” mother {Glenda} that keeps me in line. No doubt, these are all extraordinary reasons, but there’s more to it. I think about the times I’ve failed as a mom or the times I’ve been frustrated that MY mom wasn’t perfect. Because of these imperfections I always come running back to grace. I’ve plunged headlong into it’s waters that have no shore. I’ve let His perfection cover my imperfections and I’ve swam in the deep. I’ve needed grace and I’ve extended it. I’ve learned as much by my mother’s shortcomings as I have in the moments she gets it right. In our weaknesses, and downright ugly moments even within the walls of our homes, we hear a whisper, “There’s more.”

This is a weird Mother’s Day blog, maybe, but what I’m getting at isn’t how frustrated I am that these women in my life aren’t perfect, or that I’m not perfect, it is in these shortcomings that I’m forever face to face with the truth that we have a GREAT NEED! There’s MORE to this life than living in the vicious cycle of trying in our own strength and failing over and over and over again. To be in family and to get it “wrong,” is an opportunity for grace to abound—for the gospel to actually play a role in the healing, restoration, and the bringing about of beauty. I’m not excusing our wrongs, I’m just saying, we’re going to hurt one another. But thankfully, if we let Him, He matures us and makes us more like Himself! “I’m finally growing up, Mom!” The ultimate Forgiver gives us this gift of pardon, simply to ask us to wrap it up and give it away to others. When you walk hand in hand with another you are going to be aware of their need for Jesus. {And boy, do my sisters need Jesus! *wink*} So when I look at these pictures and see the smiles on our faces and our flower crowns and our pretty dresses, I also see us crawling under the fence while getting my lace skirt stuck on the barbwire—I see the rest of the story. I see our mug shots in my mind—a picture of what we deserved. I see the entire journey that led us to this money shot. And we smile because we live and receive and give grace.

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When we look at our family, and we see it’s flaws and shortcomings and if we’re honest all we see is a legacy of let-downs, we can make a choice to stop casting stones and to start using those stones to build. What if we bowed low and viewed each stone as an offering to our God? Maybe you’ve even got your rocks lined up, ready to hurl every last one of them. They deserve it, I’m sure! But what if you took your stones and started to build? Loving family can be messy and draining as well as healing, freeing, and legacy building. But stone by stone we build. Not on the sand that shifts and cannot withstand the waves when they come. But we build our home on the rock… THE ROCK.

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27

We want to build. Our Mom is a builder. {She’s the one in the middle. You might’ve thought she was one of the sisters.} And she’s raising us to be builders—her baby girls now have babies of their own to invite into the legacy building. I’m not wasting my time on sand, my foundation is on the Rock. And the cool thing is we’re building a safe place where family is welcome, flaws and all. So thanks, Mom, for not being perfect.

P.S. We really, really didn’t mean to trespass.

P.P.S. All these lovely photos were taken by http://www.cassieloreephotography.com

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!

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“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!

 

 

{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!