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God at Work Wednesday: Heather’s Story

I have this friend named Heather who is amazing at being transparent and REAL. Friends like that are such a treasure…and today you get to meet her! HAPPY DAY!

Get those tissues ready because this story is likely to move you. God’s love is moving like that. Oh, and what’s awesome is that she doesn’t omit the bad or ugly parts and just give you the good. God’s power shows up best in our weakness….so without further adiu, meet Heather.

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“I’ve never been the prettiest, the most athletic or the most popular. I was smart and kind, but floated between groups of friends fighting to find my place in the world. I grew up in the church, knowing right from wrong and believing that sinning would send me to Hell. I served on every church retreat and spent much of my time in church or with church friends. I was the epitome of “a good kid”.

And then it happened….

I went to college. There, I went from a young, naïve, church-going 18 year old, to a raging alcoholic within days. That’s what “cool” kids did. Or so I thought. I very quickly fell into an addiction that began to consume my life. I found myself measuring my worth in how many parties I was invited to and how my guys were paying attention to me. I hated who I was and the life I was living but I felt trapped. I wanted to be liked and I wanted to be loved.

My first semester in college I found myself in a relationship with a man that would later prove to be extremely toxic. He avoided my calls, blatantly cheated on me and made sure I knew I was at his beck and call. I felt worthless, like God was punishing me for the decisions I had made. I began to believe the lies of the Evil One that a relationship like that was all I was worthy of, that I could never have more. However, deep in my soul, I knew that I wanted more, I craved more and yet I was digging a hole deeper and deeper, falling captive to the overwhelming grips of depression.

For three years I lived in this hell, a vicious cycle revolving around drinking and trying get a man to love me, instead he cheated on me every chance he got. I vividly remember sitting in my room crying, writing a list of what I wanted my future husband to look like. It included traits like: Godly, kind, loyal, honest, and trustworthy. I sobbed reading the words in my handwriting knowing that this man I was trying so hard to impress didn’t possess any of the qualities I wanted in a husband and also feeling unworthy that I deserved someone who did.

During college I also worked at a local gym and every time I went go to work I would see this man working out. He was quiet, kind and focused. I didn’t know his name or anything about him, but my heart would beat a little faster every time he walked by. I would joke with my co-workers that if I could marry anyone, I would marry him. One day I made this comment to an aerobics instructor I had befriended, when she responded “That’s my son”. I was embarrassed but it didn’t matter, I was still in a “relationship” and why would a guy like that ever look twice at a girl like me.

In early August, right before my senior year of college, my “boyfriend” broke up with me for what seemed like the 100th wants someone who is broken. But the amazing thing about God is that He fixes broken and makes it new again.

That same week, the man from the gym that I had a crush on for over 3 years asked me on a date. We went out and God forever changed the course of my life.

Through Josh, God began to provide hope again. God quietly spoke, “you are worthy”, and I begin to listen. But the voice of the Evil One loudly returned often in the beginning…”he will leave you too”, “you aren’t good enough”, “you’ll never be pretty enough, skinny enough, rich enough”. But Josh would remind me again and again that
those were lies and God’s voice began to get louder.

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I started to feel God’s encouragement and Josh continued to challenge me in my faith. For one of the first times in a long time I felt loved, love from a  man who showed unconditional support and an even greater love. His love mirrored the love of the Father God who had loved me unconditionally from the very beginning.

Josh possessed every quality on the list I had written so many years before. He was the man I had prayed for night after night through tears and desperation and God had answered my prayers in HIS perfect timing.

I wish I could say that once I met Josh that life was easy sailing, but that would be a lie. It wasn’t easy because we are two imperfect humans, so no relationship will ever be without trial. For a long time despite his love and kindness towards me, I constantly worried he would leave me, the Evil One would quietly creep back in. I tried to not let him be close enough to hurt me. I yelled, slammed doors and threatened to give back my ring more than once. I was afraid, guarded and still hated so much of who I was in the past.

I didn’t know how to love or truly be loved. I am so thankful for Josh’s persistence and faith. He wiped my tears when I cried and hugged me when I tried to run away.

As amazing as he is, I serve a God who is even greater, a God that has also been there waiting for me to return to him, crying for me and feeling every hurt that has come my way.

Through a church home, bible studies and many marriage mentors in our lives, God radically changed me and revealed some major truths to me:

1. I am worthy and deserving of being loved because God first loved me
2. God forgives and taught me to forgive myself
3. God can make all things new and beautiful
4. God loves me more than anything and mourns for me
5. God knows and understands what it means to suffer and persevere
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This October, Josh and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage. It has been an amazing ride and I am so thankful he has stuck by my side all these years. I can honestly say we are experiencing the best years of our marriage thanks to God’s redeeming love and the commitment we have for each other.

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My journey has not always been easy or glorious, but I know now that God has written my story so that it may bring someone else hope or healing in the midst of despair.”

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 7.26.21 AMPraise God. And you guys didn’t even get to hear how her kids are miracles yet either…I feel a part 2 coming your way at some point.

Who is someone who has shown you unconditional love? Has it changed you?

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Are you a Bubblicious Christian?

Jen Hatmaker does it again. Makes you laugh…makes you cry…and makes you wish you were her BFF all in the course of a few minutes.

I’m specifically talking about her revised and expanded book, “Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks your Comfortable Christianity.” I came up with a little review by giving just three disclaimers for the book, then I’ll share my fav quotes and we’ll call it a day.

 Disclaimer 1

There isn’t a single way you can read this book and not get all squirmy living in “the bubble.” Reading it means your heart, mind and spirit are at risk of being disturbed, interrupted and likely changed. Hence the book title.

Disclaimer 2 Every time I read a blurb (since moms of littles have to read 2.2 pages at a time), my head was stuffed, like it had just devoured a banquet of brain food. It is challenging and unsettling because of its gospel-driven ferocity and fervor.  “Interrupted” ain’t your happy-go-lucky-Christian-novel.

Nope. This is raw and gritty and real. It’s a story told by a woman (plus her hubby who pipes in every few chapters) who was asked by God to give up a pretty comfortable Christian life and live differently.  This book will likely challenge your theology and ministry philosophy as well as loosen those strings of materialism that love to tighten themselves around your heart.

Disclaimer 3

It has some stats that will leave you wide eyed.

For example, “Fifty-seven million children worldwide work every day instead of go to school.” And “Someone dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds.”

I have lived basically my whole life under the shelter of a comfortable, Upper Middle Class Bible-belt-ish community. And you know what is easy to do in this comfortable little world? Snuggle up in the safety. Unfortunately, the safe places are where the scales and planks breed. It’s easy to “sorta” and “try to” live out the great commission, but it’s not easy to devote my whole life to it…like Jesus asks and deserves. Sure, I’ve said I want to “go outside of the four walls” … but I have found that difficult to actually walk out.

This book tells the story of Jen and Brandon’s move to do just that: church outside of the church walls, a barefoot church. (There’s a gut-wrenching story in the book of a compelling Easter alter call to give up their shoes…read: new cowboy boots…for the homeless….gah, this story is GOLD and requires Kleenex.) The pieces fell together for a church plant in Austin, TX, and guys, the way they do ministry is breathtaking. It’s different…radical…inspiring. It’s hecka hard to swallow, but gosh darn it, it is Biblical!

The only criticism I have is that I wanted more. Instead of ending, I wish the book had kept going with an epilogue full of what their church looks like today.  I’m thinking they should include a flash drive taped to the back cover with an emotional video compilation of pictures put to song..and some hidden camera vids of their small groups, conversations, preaching, etc. That’s all I got for criticism.

I don’t know, guys. That Jen Hatmaker is outside the box…in such a good, confusing, hilarious, Jesus-y awesome way. Read these quotes from the book and you’ll see what I’m talking about:  

“I’ve never been more aware of my own poverty, foolishness, ignorance, and arrogance. As I get older, I realize I know less about the mysteries of God and more about my own tomfoolery.”

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“Love has won infinitely more converts than theology.”

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 “The ‘come to us’ system is no longer an appropriate response to the paradigms that exist in our world.”

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“On a practical level, why would we expect unbelievers to come to church with no provocation? What do they know of the beauty of the Spirit? Why would they be attracted to an unknown Savior or a community that feels like worshipping Him?”

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“I worry the Christian community has accepted an insidious shift from laboring for others to prioritizing our own rights. We’ve perpetuated a group identity as misunderstood and persecuted, defending our positions and preferring to be right over being good news.”

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“We cannot possibly know all there is to know about anyone without digging deep, getting close, and providing a safe place for people to be known. This takes the one investment that comprises our hottest commodity: time. We invite people in again and again and again, peeling layers back and slowly discovering that God has surrounded us with beautiful people whom He loves. There is no time limit, no statute of limitations. Sharing our lives with dear people to win them to Jesus is the substance of Christianity, the delightful work we’ve been commissioned to.”

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“I am so confident in the gospel and its effect on humanity. The baby is so compelling, and if changing the bathwater introduces more people to Him, then sign me up.”

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“It’s not enough to be theologically brilliant without the heart of a missionary. It’s sometimes intangible work planted in the messy soil of relationships instead of the cleaner territory of theology.”

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And my favorite:

 Interrupted Quote

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The quotes listed are probably only 1/10th of the ones I underlined. AND they’re just the serious ones. There are some hilarious stories and phrases sprinkled Jatmaker style throughout the book.

It’s good stuff & I hope you’re brave enough to read it. Peace out.

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God at Work Wednesday: Julia’s Story

Today you have the pleasure of meeting Julia. I met this beautiful girl while attending Wheaton College and today she is serving the least of these on the other side of the world. Her heart is so huge, and she daily serves as a huge inspiration to Kevin and me. She is someone we have been in prayer for for a few years, and I can’t wait for you to read about God’s provision for her.

I don’t care how small of a thing you’re worried about, you guys. God cares.

Read this and see what I’m talking about.

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Some stories are just too good, too important not to tell.

This is one of them.

Tuesday night I was at the peak of emotional misery. Nothing seemed to be going right in any area of my life. My muscles felt tired and my body ached from emotional erosion. I didn’t want to face the world. Unfortunately, the world was coming to me, in the form of a dinner party for a visitor staying at our house. Originally excited to meet our guests, the idea of new faces seemed too much to handle. Thankfully, a last-minute invitation to dinner offered me refuge in the only place in Amman I know as “home,” a young family who has opened their arms to me, mentored me, loved on me. I knew I could go there and not need to perform.

With a weight five times my own, I left my house, dragged myself up the stairs, and handled society until safely in the confines of a cab. I stared outside the window at the city passing by, blinking back tears and mentally numb from thinking. Were we there yet?

Almost to the destination, we stopped at a major intersection. Peddlers, young and old, Gypsy and Arab, often congregate here. Selling newspapers, life-size teddy bear stickers and plants of all shapes and sizes, they walk between the cars, peddling the day’s deal. That day, it was white flowers. 4 lanes of traffic over, I watched two young brothers cajoling a young man to buy a bouquet for his wife.

Suddenly, the idea of flowers felt so great to me. My heart longed for them. They were beautiful: White, crisp and joyful. They seemed like the perfect salve for my weary spirit and heavy heart. I yearned for one.

But, not only were the boys far away, I also didn’t think I could spare the money to buy them myself. With my heart heavy with disappointment, I decided I’d just tell God. “God, I’d really like some flowers. I know it seems silly, but I just wish I could have one. My heart hurts and they seem so nice.“

[I wish I could say that at this point I said something to God about being able to see the other "flowers" in my life that He blesses me with. I'm not sure if that happened or not. I'd sound like a better person if it did... but it probably didn't.]

The light changed and our cab moved forward, leaving the boys and their flowers far behind in the exhaust.

Fast-forward two days. I was in a cab again, heading towards the same intersection. A few minutes earlier, while waiting for that cab, an 8-year-old boy had run up and grabbed me, hissing lewd obscenities no 8-year-old should know. I was furious, insulted, assaulted. To cope, I began vigorously typing a blog post on my cell phone; consumed in the text, I lost all awareness to my surroundings. I didn’t even realize the cab had stopped at an intersection until, suddenly, a white flower appeared in front of my face.

I froze. It was the very flower I had asked God for.

Looking up, I saw we were at the same intersection from Tuesday night. A different boy is smiling at me from the passenger side window, bouquets of flowers clutched to his chest.

“Oh, no thanks, I don’t want to buy flowers” I tell him.

“No, it’s for you” the boy pauses, and then gives me a toothy grin, “it’s a gift.”

I’m sure my eyes doubled in disbelief as he passed the flower through the window. With a smile, the boy turns and walks away. Our cab pulls forward.

I suddenly have no more interest in my phone. I can only stare at the flower in disbelief. I had asked God for a flower, and he gave me the very one I wanted. He didn’t have to. I’m not worthy of it, heck I almost beat up an 8-year-old. And at that moment all I felt was pure, complete, love. God loved me enough to give me flowers. Not because I did anything special or deserved them, but because He loved me.

I stared at that flower for another 5 minutes, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, in complete awe of our delightful God who gives us even the smallest, most minute desires of our hearts. A God of the details. A God of love.

I debated for 30 seconds before deciding I had to tell my taxi driver about the best present I’d ever received. “Can I tell you something?” I asked. I then proceeded to tell him about seeing the boys two days before, wanting the flowers but not having any money, and asking God to give me a flower. And then today, just then, I got the very same flower.

Through the rearview mirror I watched the face of my driver, trying to figure out if he understood my Arabic. Without a word, the worn face of the driver broke into a smile. For a moment, I just watched him smile. It seemed internal, like the smile inside of me, and I knew he understood. Still silent, the driver lifted his hand to his face and quietly wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. Looking up at me, his smile grew.

Shaking his head in disbelief he praised, “Subhan’Allah” he said. “Subhan’Allah”

Praise God.

Yes. Praise God.”

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Julia is a 2014 grad of Johns Hopkins’ SAIS with a Master’s in International Economics and Development. Before SAIS, Julia spent three years in Jordan working with female entrepreneurs in Gaza Refugee Camp to establish community programs and distribute aid to the camp’s most marginalized. She will spend the next year working on women’s livelihood projects in rural India as a Clinton Fellow with the American India Foundation and has been placed in Cairo, Egypt in 2016 as a fellow with a humanitarian and emergency relief agency.

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God at Work Wednesday: Kevin’s Story

Today you get the pleasure of reading Kevin’s story and (like ALL stories that God is writing,) it’s a goodie ;) You’ll prob get a good glimpse into how he stole my heart almost 10 years ago.

You guys—I’m giddy excited to introduce you to my beloved. He’s THE ONE I vowed six years ago to spend the rest of my life with until my dying day, come hell or high water.

I could go on and on for hours and days about how much I love him and why…but today I’ll let him do the talking.

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“When Liv and I got married I said to her in my vows that when God saved me he saved my future marriage along with my soul. Before Jesus, I knew there was no chance of me staying satisfied in any one relationship.OliviaKevin-488

I grew up in a very unchurched environment. Church seemed boring and irrelevant,but I would have told you I was a Christian if you asked. Why? Because I believed in God…duh. That all changed my Freshman year of high school, but before I go there I’ll give you a bit of back story.

My parents got a divorce when I was 5 years old. I had no idea the impact that would have on my life. I love my family. I wouldn’t change a thing – but the impacts of a broken home are dramatic.

I grew up idolizing my brother and all I cared about in life was impressing him and his friends. The only things they cared about, at least as far as my young mind could see, were sports and girls…so I threw all of my energy into those two things. I thought the better I could be at sports and the hotter the girl I could pull in, the more approval I would get from the people I respected most. Underneath it all I now realize I was struggling to find my identity. I was insecure. I was doing anything to feel that love and acceptance.

By 7th grade I grew into this young hot shot that every father wanted to keep his daughter away from. I had done way too much way too soon sexually. I thought winning a girl’s heart made me a man. I thought the further I could get a girl to “go” with me meant I was winning. In reality, I had this gaping hole in my soul that would only take and never be satisfied…until Jesus filled it.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

That’s Jesus talking. I was drinking from the things that would only make me thirst more. It was like I was lost at sea, drinking salt water, only to leave me unsatisfied and eventually leading to death. But God rescued me. He wooed me to himself. The circumstances are undeniable. It was a perfect storm for my salvation.

My Freshman year of high school I met Josiah and Austin – 2 Christian dudes. We bonded over Boyz 2 Men and Michael Jackson during basketball season (so cool). Josiah’s dad started a church that next summer. My girlfriend made me go to Young Life. It was all working together to get me to Young Life Camp…I reluctantly went.

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For the first time in my life I heard the Gospel in all its simplicity and all its power. It hit home in a new way. I knew I was dirty. I knew I was broken. I knew I needed to be right with God. What did that mean? I never realized that being a Christian meant more than believing in God. There’s a way that this actually works and I was completely uneducated. The bad news was that I was on a path to a perpetual state of unrest and dissatisfaction. Continue the way I was going and I would continue having to constantly prove myself. I would continue believing the mirage that the next achievement would satisfy me. Not to mention, death and hell at the end of this human existence. It was a bleak future to say the least.

The good news…the Gospel…is that Jesus calls me his own through a relationship with him. Not because I earned it, but because he earned it on the cross. He gives me an identity as God’s adopted son (don’t even get me started on that one) and he calls me loved and accepted and forgiven. He paid off the debt that I owed to a righteous and just God. He took the punishment that I deserved. He accomplished it all.

Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Living a life to impress everyone else is exhausting. In Christ there is a peace that simply doesn’t make sense and a joy that is overwhelming. My identity is not found in the financial planning, the achievements, the vacations, the THINGS of this world, not even my family – they are found in the one who satisfies and gives rest. The one who brings life.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

In an achievement driven world what are you finding your satisfaction in? Will it last?”

IMG_2054(Must have more where those wedding pics came from? lol… Click here for a little video montage from our wedding day.)

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The bebe switch

There it is. Sitting right beside you…invisible to most, but not to you. It’s the SWITCH. The BABY SWITCH.

Look closely and you’ll see that it’s one of those fancy schmancy dimming switches. At the bottom, you find the setting “NO THANKS!” and the top basically screams “I. NEED. BABY.”

Since a lot of our friends are married and are having kids, we find ourselves in a discussion about future children quite often. We ask each other things like, “How many kids do you think you want?” and “Are you ready for another?” If you are married and you don’t want to be asked questions like that, don’t hang out with people. The questions always come. {If your marriage is in a tough spot or you’re going through infertility/loss…or just if you don’t like people all up in your grill, “the questions” are agonizing, amen?}

What was surreal for me was after three LONG years of my switch being agonizingly crammed into the top of the switch socket, basically begging for multiples…I found myself in the blessed lower register.

It all started in April 2013 when Annabelle popped out and life took an instant turn for chaos.  We adopted Coleton at birth and he was almost 14 months old, but all through his infancy we wanted more kids! Coleton was chill, easy (back then), and our philosophy had always been “the more the merrier!” But there in that delivery room with beautiful little Annabelle sitting (screaming) on my lap and shock waves of pain still reverberating through my…you know…it was like my subconscious reached over and slammed that blessed switch down into the “aaaand I’m good” slot.

I thought for sure in a few months all would settle, I would somehow heal up from the agonizing pain of childbirth and be ready to try for another baby, especially because we had so much trouble prior to Annabelle. But she was a fussy baby, so we chilled out. We waited. Aaaand waited, and waited…and waited.

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READ ME: That urge was NO WHERE to be found. Bless that switch. It stayed in the “I’m good” spot for what felt like forever. I was nursing and mommying and reading books about discipline (AKA freaking out about my parental insecurities) and was literally in shock at my “I’m SO STINKING GOOD” mentality. In fact, I was so positive I wasn’t ready (or if I would ever be ready again) for another child, I basically all-but wore a chastity belt when I was anywhere near ovulation (sorry, babe!) Where was that Mrs. Duggar spirit that used to live so strongly in me?!?!

I guess it didn’t matter where it was, because the desire just wasn’t there! I felt so NORMAL again!

You guys, it felt SO SO SO SO SO SO good to have that switch be off for awhile. I can’t even tell you how many years I have spent wanting babies. My desire to be a mom started  looooong before Kev put a ring on it, so after two years of being married but waiting plus three more years filled with miscarriage and heartbreak…I was grateful to feel like this was plenty. My heart and arms were so full I didn’t even want to think about peeing on sticks. (Hooray!!!)

And then, it happened. About five gosh darn days ago, I have no idea what happened but I could feel that switch creeping up. And I slammed that baby down. (Not our real baby, I’m talking about the switch.) “NO! We’re good! These kids aren’t even in preschool yet. They don’t understand what “OBEY MOMMY!” means! They still speak in a 90% noun-only vocabulary. It’s not time! No thanks,” I said, confident that my inner-self would chill out in a few days.

But the next day…like it had a mind of its own…my switch slid a little further away from the bottom again. Was it that beautiful, angelic newborn I cooed over at the farmers market? That sweet baby who giggled at me last week? The adorable mommy with the Ergo who peacefully shopped as her baby nuzzled into her chest? That 24th friend making her pregnancy announcement this month? The friend who is so chill and excited about her twins on the way, even with two littles at home? Maybe it’s that C and AB are increasingly fun and cute as the days pass.

Maybe it's me looking back at these pictures as I write this blog (making my ovaries hurt...)
Maybe it’s me looking back at these pictures as I write this blog (making my ovaries hurt…)

I’m sure it’s a combination of many things…now don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not in the top of the switch range yet (“I NEED A BABY NOW”)—In fact, not even close. But for the first time in sixteen months, the thought of a third child in our tribe no longer sends me running for the guest bedroom. It intrigues me… slightly terrifies me…and excites me. I’m an adventurer and a free spirit after all. Maybe things have “settled” a little and my daring side is feeling neglected.

Has anyone else ever experienced your baby switch changing overnight?! I’m dealing with a little whiplash since I didn’t see it coming…but it’s all good.

Now, don’t hold your breath for a pregnancy announcement…for reals…it’s probably still a wayyyys away. In fact, it may never come. We always remind ourselves that if C and AB are the only kids we have forever and ever, we will be a million times grateful. It was no walk in the park getting to this point, and they’re beautiful and healthy and ENOUGH!

But instead of clinging so tightly to control, I’m believing that God has a sweet plan,  and I’m just along for the ride.

Parting thoughts: I like my baby switch positioned at the bottom…at the “no, thanks….I’m good” spot. Blessed are you guys who hang out down there, for real. You don’t know how good you have it! (or maybe you do) But the middle isn’t so bad either, and that’s where I am today.

Contentment is a beautiful thing.

Where’s yo baby switch sitting?

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God at Work Wednesday: Aubrey’s Story

So pumped today for you to meet my friend Aubs. She was my roomie for 2 years of college and my faithful marathon buddy. We have been through a ton together, and today she is sharing part of her story.

Aubrey is a 26 year old PhD student studying Old Testament Lit at Emery and is probably smarter than 95% of us will ever be in our whole lifetimes ;o) She is married to a wonderful man named Jeff who is from Australia and still has a sweet accent, and they currently reside in Atlanta with their two Papillion puppies, Grace and Ransom. (Okay, how adorable is she?!)

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“When I was a sophomore in college, I knew that I wanted to be a singer. I loved music, I was majoring in voice performance at Wheaton College, and I just knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Of course, I was going to succeed in voice “all for the glory of God.” Its funny how much more glory God can get in our absolute FAILURE.

While I was planning and practicing for my sophomore recital (my first big college recital!), I started to lose my voice all the time. I developed a chronic sore throat and instead of getting better, I grew gradually worse and worse. I was so discouraged, and, frankly, embarrassed. I thought being a singer was who I was. But I was failing dismally. My voice teacher tried putting me on vocal rest, “How much are you talking?!” He couldn’t believe how much I would have had to be talking to go from voice major to chain smoker in the course of a short lesson! At the breaking point of frustration that had grown over the year (and after I assured him that I wasn’t that popular ), he referred me to a voice specialist.

The voice specialist informed me that I had a tumor, fortunately benign, on my vocal cords. I would have to have surgery to remove it at the end of the semester, and until then, no more singing. Afterwards I would have to build up from there and just see how it went. My dream of excellence in singing was, very clearly, over.

What do you do when you have reached a limit like this? I couldn’t work harder, invest more effort or time to “push through” this. I was, simply, an artist without an art.

It turns out that that limit was the only way that I could have been halted in my tracks, realize the weakness of being human, and turn around to face God. It was such a small trial, but it taught me that freedom can be found in something so important being taken away, even if at the time I felt like I had failed. I realized that was not the end…so what next?

I found myself with lots of time on my hands. That’s what you get when you’re a voice major without a voice! I turned to the book of Ecclesiastes” ‘What gain does humanity get from all their toil under the sun?” the speaker in the book asks, “who knows what is good for a person?”

In that period where my speech was limited I set out to find the answer to Ecclesiastes’ question. It was that first question that set me on the path to where I am today, still a full-time student of the Bible! And still a full-time student of the lessons that God so graciously taught me as an over-confident college student.

1) We are limited as human beings. Our bodies can fail us, our circumstances can get out of our control. We can put in all that effort to “be all that I can be,” and still be, as Paul says in Romans, “subjected to futility” along with creation (Romans 8:20) BUT

2) Our belief is in one who, though he had no limits, took on all of our limits, in order that we could be redeemed in our failure as much as in our success. This is our mystery, where we are now free to encounter our limits as temporary, we are free to struggle against them in the belief that even the “no’s” are redemptive.

It took my struggle with the small limit of losing my voice for me to be forced to grapple with the nature of a God who embraced all our human limits, even the greatest one, of death. Somehow it was on the other side of that experience where I found a kind of freedom to love my work without a crippling fear of failure. It is a joy, of course, to succeed, but not a need.

So now, maybe we can be free to fail, free to realize our limits, free to realize the weakness of our bodies and our minds, and instead of thinking we have to be excellent for Christ, realize that our failures can be testimonies to his excellence.”

What struggles have you encountered that made your frail humanity very apparent? Did the struggle bring you to your knees?  Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 6.48.56 AM

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Encourage her

en·cour·age
enˈkərij,-ˈkə-rij/
verb
  1. give support, confidence, or hope to (someone).
     
    That woman you see walking her dog by herself. That girl at the coffeeshop. That frazzled mommy at Chick Fil A or Target. That friend of yours who drains you. Your spouse. Your crazy kiddos who you desperately want to see go back to school. That loner you know. EVERYONE!!!
     
    They. Need. Your. Encouragement.
     
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    Pour out some joy and (I promise) it will have a reciprocal effect. Say stuff like:
    “Hey you look great today.”
    “You have a gorgeous smile.”
    “Your family is beautiful” (even if they’re the most rambunctious little boogies you’ve ever seen!)
    “Thank you for ________. You are so good at _______.”
    “You are one of the most _________ people I have ever met.”
     
    Carve out 30 minutes to grab coffee and deliver it to someone you love or maybe someone you don’t know well with the sole mission of encouraging them. Send some snail mail love. Too lazy for the USPS? Shoot a text. Let’s simplify even more, just show those pearly whites to someone in need of a smile. 
     
    We are such frail human beings! Encouragement can make the difference someone needs so desperately. For me, words are enough. They are free and so small, but they have changed my life.
     
    Every single time I do a speaking engagement or write a blog and someone says something like: “Thank you so much, that was exactly what I needed to hear today” …I seriously feel like I can change the world. I am filled with joy and fulfillment. I feel inspired and courageous in my calling to write/speak and that tiny phrase someone said to me changes my entire day/week.
     
    On the other hand, anytime I go a week or two without a word of encouragement, I find myself slipping into failure mentality and considering whether or not I should even continue writing/speaking/doing what I do.
     
    WHAT?! I’m SO FRAGILE and frankly, embarrassed to admit my weakness in this way. But I think it’s a common sentiment. We were made to live in community and to encourage one another…yet, we are in a culture of independence (and isolation.)
     
    People are lonely. Lots of us spend our days hunkering down and “doing what we do” and it keeps us from sharing life and doling out ‘words that give life.’ And we start believing lies that we suck. But you don’t suck! You are awesome!!!
     
    Encouraging comes easier for some than others, sometimes depending on how much you were praised as a kid or how insecure praising others can make you feel. BUT, encouragement has the power to change the atmosphere of our friend circles, our community and our relationships…
     
    The people you lord over at work…your lazy co-workers…want them to do better? ENCOURAGE THE CRAPPINESS OUT OF THEM! Say “you’re doing a great job of ______” and they will step up their game. It’s quite opposite of what you might think or expect.
     
    I dare you to encourage your spouse instead of tearing them down when they’re driving you nutso and just watch how that changes the dynamic.
     
    Simply put, human beans need praise. And you should give it away. It costs nothing, brings you joy and could mean everything to them.
     
    Your mission for today: encourage 3 people. Bonus points if you share with me who you encouraged and why.
     
     1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage one another and build each other up…”
Worship

Friday Favorites: New Music

Sometimes you hear a great song for the first time and you’re like “YES!!! THIS IS SO GOOD.” And you just know that it’s going to become a go-to. It’ll sneak its catchy little way into your running playlist and your chillin’ playlist and your holy yoga playlist and your Sunday afternoon drive playlist. Some songs are just that good.

Even with a playlist full of amazing songs though, you can get sick of your music because you’ve heard it a bagillion times.

New music is refreshing…so take a sec and clean up your playlists. Add new songs & take off the stale ones. Don’t have money? Use Spotify, it’s free and flippin awesome. (It’s ten bucks a month to get it on your phone –totes worth it.)

Here we go =) These are the songs that make me jam out like a fool, stretch my stride and make me want to dance or worship Jesus like a crazy person. Some are old and you will know them, hopefully some will be new for you!

10 Awesome Workout Songs

1. Grenade — Bruno Mars

2. Roar — Katy Perry

3. Hey, Soul Sister — Train

4. Some Nights  — FUN

5. Best I Ever Had — Gavin DeGraw

6. Sail — AWOLNATION

7. Defying Gravity — Wicked

8. Girl on Fire — Alicia Keys

9. Do You Remember — Jay Sean, Sean Paul

10. We Have Overcome- Israel & New Breed

 

Flashback Friday--Out for a run last fall!
Flashback Friday — Out for a run last fall :)

5 Fun Songs

1. Good Life — OneRepublic

2. Happy — Natasha Bedingfield

3. Best Day of My Life — American Authors

4. Royals — Lorde

5. Good Morning — Chamillionaire

Because what's not fun about OJ?
Because what’s not fun about Jammies and OJ?

6 Sweet Chillin’ Songs

1. Tapestry — Hillsong United

2. Daisies and Pews — Katie Herzig

3. Free Fallin’ — John Mayer style (ahh)

4. Back to the Earth — Jason Mraz

5. Stick Around — David Ramirez

Chillin' with daddy
Chillin’ with daddy

10 Fav Worship Songs

1. Your Love — Shane & Shane

2. The Lord Our God — Featuring Kristian Stanfill, Passion

3. Your Glory/Nothing But The Blood — All Sons & Daughters

4. Desert Soul — Rend Collective

5.  Joy Will Come — Desperation Band

6.  All Things New — Elevation Worship

7. I Exalt Thee-Chris Quilala Version — Jesus Culture (not on Spotify, but is on itunes)

8. I’m a Lover of Your Presence — Bryan & Katie Torwalt (not on Spotify but is on itunes)

9. Embracing Accusation- Shane & Shane (you have to listen to the words on this one…the whole song)

10. Messiah/You’re Beautiful — Phil Wickham

Worship

Leave me a few of your favorites in the comments too! I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for new jams.

Peace out guys…have a great weekend!

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God at Work Wednesday: Carly’s Story

Yet again this week I have a miraculous story of God’s rescue to share with you. The situation looked hopeless… BUT CHRIST.  Hear me when I say to you: THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE.

Today i have the pleasure of introducing you to my sweet friend Carly who shares her story courageously and boldly.

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“Growing up, I was faced with a lot of different challenges. I grew up in a non-Christian home where love was not played out. My parents weren’t affectionate to each other, and weren’t affectionate toward me. For example, I seldom received hugs or kisses. Even though my parents were legally married, they didn’t act like it. My dad kicked my mom out of his room, so I was forced to share a bed with my mom. It just wasn’t “normal”.

During elementary school, I went through a very traumatic event. I was molested. Molested by someone that I barely knew, someone that I had only been introduced to a couple of times. I remember this event like it was just yesterday. I remember how hopeless I felt and scared I felt. I remember being touched in a way no one should ever be touched. This event, along with many others changed the course of my life.

After this incident, I started attending church. My mom and I went to my Grandparents house quite a bit, and Grandview Church was only a block away. I started attending frequently…by myself… as a third grader. I continued going back because I felt and saw true love. I didn’t know why or how everyone was so happy but I wanted whatever they had.

Little did I know, the reason they were so joy-filled was because of the Lord.

In middle school, a lot of different events happened in my life. First, I made the best decision I’ve ever made which was to accept Christ into my heart. However, this was another very hard year. My parents separated and I was abused yet again. I was a victim of sexual harassment at my Junior High, and this was the time I started my addiction to pornography.

Yeah, you heard that right. I was addicted to PORN.

It was an addiction that lasted 7+ years. It started on accident. One of the most important people in my life didn’t believe me when I told her about the abuse, so I decided to just search it for myself. I knew that what happened to me wasn’t right and that it was “dirty” but I didn’t know what it was called. I knew about sex, so I decided to type it into the search engine. S-E-X. 

Immediately…I was bombarded by so many images, videos, etc. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it affected my life greatly and caused a lot of destruction in my life and heart.

High school was hard for me as well. I was sexually abused yet again in 9th grade and was also being bullied at school. At this point all I could think was, “What is wrong with ME? What am I doing wrong? Why would this happen yet again?”

I tried telling the school about it, yet no one took action. I talked to the police, yet no one took
action. I also went to my own family members, yet no one took action.

At this point, I felt so hopeless and felt so abandoned. Enter my darkest days. I turned to suicide during the summer of my sophomore year, attempting to take my life many times. It is only by the grace of God that I am here sharing my story today.

Satan had a strong pull on my life that year. I really questioned God. If God REALLY loved me, why would all these bad things continue happening to me? In 11th grade, the addiction grew. I was consumed by pornography. Minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days of watching, visiting chat rooms, etc. I was enslaved to this sin. I turned to pornography more and more, seeking comfort and intimacy I had never recieved as a child.

I craved affection and attention from everything and everyone. And in a messed up way, porn felt like it delivered that. It was something that I didn’t have to talk to, but it was always there. It became like a friend. And still in High School, no one knew about it…until I moved in with a family from our church, Harvest Bible Chapel. (Melisa and Jim)

I told the parents about my addiction and about all that had happened in my life. Moving in with them was such an incredible blessing. They loved me in spite of my addiction and hurts. They helped me grow in my faith tremendously. They showed me what a Godly (and functional) family can look like and I am so thankful. A couple months after I moved in, Marisa decided that it would probably be a good idea to seek counseling. So she and another youth leader from Harvest took me to an intensive counseling weekend in Indiana called Twelvestones.

Twelve Stones helped me in various ways. They helped me see how deep my sin was, how much it was hurting me and others around me. I learned that I could achieve freedom through Christ and that God could redeem and heal all of the wounds in my life left by other people and myself. I came away from that weekend with a better understanding of how much
God loves me, because growing up, I never felt loved.

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Of course I never once thought this would be “my” story. I never once thought I would struggle with abuse…abandonment…suicide…bullying…pornography…etc. But in some ways, I am thankful for all of it. My story has given me so many opportunities to share Christ and has made me a stronger individual.

And what’s even more awesome is that my story isn’t over yet. It’s still being written. I’m still being changed and sanctified and healed. And it’s good stuff, people.

If God uses me to be a light through others’ pain, then it was all worth it. I have seen tremendous healing in my life, and have experienced what true freedom in Christ is. I just want to share the greatness of our God with everyone. HE IS SO GOOD! But for now, I am just a twenty-year old girl trying to live out this thing called life. “

How beautiful and amazing and courageous is she?!?! Please consider sharing or leaving a comment of encouragement for Carly. We serve a God who still does miracles today. If you need help or healing from past abuse or a porn addiction, visit the Twelve Stones website or the Blazing Grace site.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is all you need, my power works best in weakness.”

God at Work Wednesday: Cindy’s Story

Every Wednesday I’m going to be highlighting a story of God moving in the life of someone I know. I think testimonies are the most powerful way to share our faith and change the world. So without further adieu, meet Cindy. Cindy babysat for me when I was a little girl and through Facebook we have recently reconnected.

“I needed someone to rescue me.

It started in my early teenage years … feeling the need to be perfect to fit in…the intense desire to be loved and accepted. I was trying to please everybody else, which made me feel so out of control of my own life. The one thing I could control was my food intake and my exercise.

What started out as a simple attempt to become “healthy” quickly became much more than that and spiraled out of control. I shut out my family and friends. I turned away from everyone that I needed … including God. I felt hopeless. I felt alone. But that did not matter to me at the time because the numbers on the scale were going down…. and down …and down.

I kept aiming for a smaller number each time I reached my “goal”. It was funny … not ha ha funny, but weird funny. I thought when I got to a smaller number, I would be happy and perfect; however, it never happened. The lower the number got, the more unhappy I became.

When I was 16, I was in and out of treatment centers and hospitals for weeks at a time. My eating disorder got worse after each treatment attempt. I was not ready to let go. My family and friends felt helpless. They saw me slowing killing myself, but they could not stop it.

When I was 18, my doctor gave me two weeks to live. I had starved myself down to 79 pounds. My parents had contacted every treatment center they could find, but I was 18 … I was able to refuse treatment. Remuda Ranch, a treatment center in Arizona, had called to do a phone interview with me. They only take patients who are willing to try to get better. I refused their phone call; therefore, they would not accept me. My parents were devastated.

My parents were taking turns staying home with me because I was so sick. I wasn’t even able to get out of bed. It was a day that my dad was home with me. It was a few days after I had refused Remudaʼs phone call. My dad was crying out to God, praying for a miracle. Within minutes after he finished his prayer, the phone rang. It was Remuda Ranch conducting a follow up call. My father walked down the hall to my bedroom with the phone in his hand, knocked on my door, and told me who was on the phone. By the grace of God, I said I would take the call.

Why they called again? I have no idea. I believe that was the divine intervention of a God who longed to rescue me from myself.

Less than a week later, frail–broken-and-on-the-brink-of-death-little-me flew to Arizona. I had so many emotions…fear, sadness, anger, confusion, and in a strange way, relief.

My rescuer was already working behind the scenes, softening my hard and anxious heart. It was there at Remuda Ranch at the broken age of 18 that I (with a lot of hesitation) decided to let go and let God. He intervened and rescued me from the eating disorder (ED) that was draining me of joy, freedom, and life itself. There the Lord met me in my brokenness, took my hand and started walking with me on a journey to healing.

 

This picture was taken when I was at Remuda Ranch (probably 2-3 weeks into that treatment program).  The tube hanging from my nose is a feeding tube.  I had to be hooked up to multiple daily feedings to allow my body to get nutrition.  My body could not handle solid food at that point.  Solids had to be slowly re-introduced.
This picture was taken when I was at Remuda Ranch (probably 2-3 weeks into that treatment program). The tube hanging from my nose is a feeding tube. I had to be hooked up to multiple daily feedings to allow my body to get nutrition. My body could not handle solid food at that point. Solids had to be slowly re-introduced.

I never knew what a long (so very long), hard (so very hard) journey it would be. There were so many ups and downs (and I am not just talking about the scale going up and down). I am talking about mental and physical obstacles I had to overcome. I had to rebuild trust with God, my family and my friends. I had to rebuild trust with my very own body.

Remuda Ranch
This was also taken at Remuda Ranch, about 4 weeks into the treatment program. I was there for 60 days.

Fast forward nine years. God provided an amazing man who asked me to be his wife, and he has been such a gift to me. A couple years after that we decided we wanted to start a family.

When I was in the midst of the eating disorder behaviors, I didn’t know (or maybe I knew but didn’t care) what kind of damage I was doing to my body.  When I went to my doctor (the doctor that took care of me all through my eating disorder) to happily tell her we were ready to start trying to get pregnant, it hit. me. so. hard.

Because of the trauma you put your body through for years and years, you might not be able to conceive or carry children” she said.

I was devastated.

The consequences of my decisions as a young girl had such a massive ripple effect. I was terrified and angry, but again, in my despair God had a plan. I had yet another opportunity to relinquish my plan and control.

*In retrospect I can say with confidence that it’s in the hardest things that we grow the most.*

After a long time of trying, we became pregnant — with the help of fertility treatments and procedures. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl! I was overjoyed, and our sweet daughter has been such a gift. She is one of many amazing gifts that came as a result of God’s miraculous rescue.

If you have struggled with an ED, you know that they can be so gosh darn persistent. Throughout the years, I have battled off and on with control vs. surrender. When I let God get a hold of my heart, I was able to walk in healing and freedom. When I tried to do it my way, I would get stuck in old patterns. This was the cycle, and it was hard.

When our daughter was 3, we decided we wanted to have another child. Shockingly, we naturally became pregnant. Not only did we get pregnant on our own, but there were FOUR sacs in my womb. What?!?!? Everyone was amazed and perplexed. However, the pregnancy did not progress. At week nine, we had to say goodbye to all four babies in my womb. I was devastated and blamed myself because I had slipped backed into my eating disorder behavior before that pregnancy began. My body could not carry one child, let alone four.

But God wasn’t about to give up on me. He was my patient rescuer, and he fought so hard for my heart. Within the few months following the loss, I gained about 19 pounds and we decided to try again. We were naturally blessed with an identical twin conception. God enabled me to carry those two babies to full term and I gave birth to two healthy baby boys! Another miracle given by my rescuer.

This girl who was once told she had two weeks to live…a woman who was told she may NEVER be able to have children…is now the mommy of three little miracles, ages 6 and 2. And miracles are exactly what they are!!!

Picture by Stacia Spraetz, Fall 2013.
Picture by Stacia Spraetz, Fall 2013.

WOW … what a journey it has been!!!

When I turned 35 this year, I had a massive epiphany as I looked at my life through a new lens.

I could be dead. I could be childless. I could have missed out on ALL OF THIS! But God—OH GOD—in His amazing grace REACHED DOWN INTO MY MESS AND RESCUED ME. He knew me and loved me every single day. He waited patiently, He is my healer, and He has an amazing purpose for my life.

This pic (illustrating exactly how my life is ...awesome!) was taken by Emily Hernandez in August of 2012.
This pic (illustrating exactly how awesome my life is!) was taken by Emily Hernandez in August of 2012.

In those moments of breathtaking gratefulness just a few short months ago, God spoke to me. He wanted to break my chains off COMPLETELY. Not partly. Not for a few months. WHOLLY.

After more than 20 years of trying to fight an eating disorder on my own, I let go of my past. I forgave myself and devoted my life to Him. It’s through this continuous surrender that God’s greater plan and purpose for me can take root, and I cannot wait to fully experience all that He has for me!

For anyone who is struggling, I want you to know that there is hope and there is healing. I know there are times when you feel like there’s no way out. It may seem easier to let the ED take over and not fight back. But your true strength will come from handing it over to God and accepting his freedom. He will speak to you and open your eyes to all that He has for you. It’s a life of great purpose we’re promised in the Bible.

“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 a hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11

Satan still tries to use stress and loneliness to tempt me to fall back into old behaviors, but I KNOW that those behaviors will only leave me feeling more stressed and empty. The way I fight back is by reminding myself that it’s Satan trying to pull me down. Instead of turning to those familiar behaviors, I take a “time out” to notice what is causing me to have those ED thoughts and then I do something healthy and productive to get rid of those thoughts … pray, write, read, call a friend … etc.

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Please know that I would love to pray for you, chat with you, encourage you, or help you in any way that I can. I’ve been there. I know how alone, scared, and hopeless you feel. But I promise you … there is hope. Do not give up. You are worth SO MUCH MORE!!!!!!!

God is good … ALL THE TIME!!!!!

If you would like to contact me, please leave me a comment below or message me on Facebook.

Be free!

This picture was taken just a few days ago when I went to ______ with my sister and mom, two wonderful women who have loved me fiercely through this whole battle. My heart is so full, and I feel so free!
This picture was taken just a few days ago when I went to Alto Pass, IL with my sister and mom, two wonderful women who have loved me fiercely through this whole battle. My heart is full, and I am finally free!