Elaina’s Story

In mid-2011, I moved to Virginia. I found a church but it was larger than the video and website lead on. I went week after week and met no one.

One day, I went to a church connecting event and sat across the table from this couple. “Hi, my names is Elaina. This is my husband Asquith or A.Q.” Once we started learning about each other, we became fast friends. There was also another couple in our church. We became a close group of 5. Standing outside of church well after service dismissed talking about theology, or life. Sitting at the coffee bar hashing out ideas. It was a highlight in my life for sure.

Life slowly changes for all of us. Elaina and AQ were called to another church. Then, I moved, then the other couple moved. However, Elaina will always be the type of friend anyone would wish for. She is fiercely loyal, straight to the point and eager to seek God’s will in any matter. It is truly an honor not only to have her as a friend but to be able to have you hear from her! Without any further ado, here’s Elaina’s story.

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My husband and I met in Miami while working for a community development ministry. After a year of friendship, we choose to commit our lives together before God and our families. Now if you knew me, you’d know I wasn’t the type of girl who longed for marriage or children. I never saw a healthy marriage and used my parents’ divorce as the picture of what the Lord called it to be. I was also told it would be extremely hard for me to get pregnant. I believed what the doctors said over what the Lord could do in my life. And because of all this, I made it very clear to my husband that children were not going to be in our future. I’m sure God laughed at me because He had some very different plans for us.

 

In November 2011, only 1.5 years after we’d been married, I found out I was expecting. I couldn’t believe it! Even with the fear and ‘what ifs’, I could feel the Lord working on my heart, filling me with a desire for children. I was reminded of something a dear friend said to me. She heard from one of our professors at Moody that, “Children are the best form of discipleship.” Those words rung in my head until I finally realized I was both happy and humbled that my God saw it fit to make me a mother.

 

I wish I could say the story ends here with a happily ever after, but it doesn’t. The day before Thanksgiving I felt some deep pain in my stomach, and my husband rushed me to the ER. After some testing and being able to hear the baby’s heartbeat, the doctors were convinced that I was ok and sent me home. I went home relieved and thanking God. The doctors weren’t right. The next morning, I woke up to find blood on the bed. Once again, we rushed to the ER. I remember the hours spent waiting were torture. I prayed and cried out to God in agony, begging Him to save both of our lives. The only option to stop the internal bleeding was to complete a D&C. I had lost my baby, and everything was a blur after that. People kept telling us you’ll get pregnant again. Another person asked me what sin I was in (*that was cruel*). A brother at the time encouraged my husband and I to get away, so we went to D.C. and stayed with a friend. It was a refreshing time for me and my husband to reconnect, for us to cry out to God. The thought of children was pushed to the back of my mind, AGAIN. But God had other plans.

“Meanwhile, my insides were screaming with pain and guilt. Pain from losing my daughter and guilt for feeling angry towards a loving God. I buried my feelings deep down and never talked to anyone about it.”

Our miscarriage made me numb towards children. My heart was cold towards God, other women who were pregnant or any person that mentioned they wanted children. Meanwhile, my insides were screaming with pain and guilt. Pain from losing my daughter and guilt for feeling angry towards a loving God. I buried my feelings deep down and never talked to anyone about it. We were serving in a church at the time that did not welcome showing any form of weakness. They thought Christians should bring it to God, leave it alone and NEVER speak of it again. Nobody asked me about the miscarriage, and I never brought it up.

 

Fast forward three years, and I found myself pregnant again. This time I was so careful. We didn’t tell anyone until I was about 20 weeks. It was an easy pregnancy considering I was a high risk due to my age (38), but when it came time for me to deliver, there were a few complications. Again, I found myself crying out to God to save this life He gave me. After 32 hours of labor, 3 epidurals that didn’t work, 2 rounds of Pitocin, my blood pressure continued to be too high. I was on the verge of having a stroke, and my son’s heartbeat was dangerously low. They rushed me back for an emergency cesarean. Within thirty minutes I was able to see my son and hear his first cry. I don’t know who cried more… me or him! I kept thanking God for this healthy baby boy, Asquith Malachi Thompson. In the hospital I felt good. There were nurses and doctors everywhere to help, and I had a room filled with family and friends.

 

But things changed when I went home. For the first two weeks I couldn’t walk because my legs were extremely swollen due to medication and the fluid I retained. I was unable to hold Malachi without my husband handing him to me. Nursing him was a struggle. Sleep was a struggle. I was tired all the time, and my son had his nights and days confused. It was overwhelming, as I battled with my own healing and taking care of my son.

 

I knew a week into being home something was wrong with me. When I looked at my son while breastfeeding, I felt nothing. No goo-goo ga-ga. No joy. Nothing. All I felt was sadness… all the time. And I couldn’t focus on anything. I went weeks and months feeling like I didn’t deserve to be where I was. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like I couldn’t care for him the way someone else could, and I couldn’t be a wife the way my husband needed. I feared if I shared my feelings with anyone, social services would take my son away, and my husband would leave me because he would think I was an awful mom. On top of everything, my grandmother was going through cancer, and I couldn’t be there to support her. I felt useless, fearful, anxious and panicky all the time. I questioned God for every emotion or lack thereof, and then felt shame for questioning Him. The cycle was endless, and it was exhausting. I remember several times sitting in the car, with my son in the backseat, thinking he’ll be ok with someone else. I’ll just drop him off with a friend and go end this pain. But the wrestle was always, “I’m a Christian. I’m in church leadership.” And even though we had changed churches and the leadership was very different, I kept telling myself I still shouldn’t be feeling this way.

“…this was going to be the day. After the appointment I was going to drop my son off with a friend and end it all. I was going to walk away from my life because I was sure everyone would be better off without me. But my good God had other plans.

One day I was headed to Malachi’s appointment and decided this was going to be the day. After the appointment I was going to drop my son off with a friend and end it all. I was going to walk away from my life because I was sure everyone would be better off without me. But my good God had other plans. As I was driving to my friend’s house after the appointment, for some reason He reminded me of a task my Pastor asked me to do. I turned around and headed back home. I’d do this final task and then go finish my plan. While I was completing my task, my husband called to check up on me. Before he hung up he said, “Babes, I love you…very much.” After we hung up I wept so hard. Face down on the floor. “Why God? Why have you given me so much pain? Why is this happening to me?” I cried myself to sleep on the floor, with my son in his swing. I woke up to my son crying, and as I breastfed him, I looked down at his face and cried some more. All I wanted to do was cry the pain away. When my husband got home from work that day, I said nothing to him. I couldn’t bare the shame of telling my husband I was set to walk away from everything and end my life.

 

A few weeks went by and my pastor called to see if I had sent an email to a couple at church. I told him yes, and he asked me to forward it to him. When I went to forward the email, I saw it sitting in my inbox… it had never been sent! I broke down sobbing. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me! I was constantly forgetting things, unable to finish tasks on time. Afterwards, I called my pastor and told him what happened. He asked to meet with me that day, and as he came to my house, he gently asked, “Is everything ok with you?” I broke down and confessed I was struggling with postpartum depression (PPD), and I needed help.

 

At first, as the words came out of my mouth I felt like I was being a false Christian. Was I betraying God? My family? My friends? Was everything I knew to be true about God a lie? How could I even feel this way? No good Christian should feel “this way.” Christ had done so much for me… My head was a fog of lies that I had believed for almost an entire year. As my pastor listened, he suggested I step down from my role at church and focus on getting healthy again. I was open to ALL help, whether it be medical or spiritual. I met with a biblical counselor, and she told me to try the counseling for three months and if at any time I wasn’t getting better to go see my doctor for medical help as well. She also connected me with another lady who was going through PPD. Together we started reading a book called Depression: Looking up from Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch. That book gave me categories for my depression. It gave me hope when my life seemed so dark and lost. Counseling, my local church, a community of patient sisters and, most of all, the Word of God helped me face many struggles and lies. God used a misplaced email to help bring my depression into the light. And I was brave enough to cry out for help. The grace of God kept me alive, and the grace of God keeps me fighting for my life every day. For me bravery is confessing… Confessing shame, guilt and my hearts darkest fears. Most of all, as I acknowledge my need for my Savior, my courage grows.

For me bravery is confessing… Confessing shame, guilt and my hearts darkest fears. Most of all, as I acknowledge my need for my Savior, my courage grows.”  

I still struggle with my depression, but I have been shown healthy ways to live with it. It is a temporary form of suffering I endure on earth that daily draws me nearer to Jesus. Each day I have to speak Gospel truths to myself. When I start believing lies and I begin feeling my depression, I have to reach out to others. I am grateful for our church and the security I feel within. We have a saying we live by, and it can be found here: Gospel, Safety & Time.

 

Throughout it all, depression has brought me into a deeper faith and trust in my Heavenly Father. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Elaina has been blessed with a wonderful, patient, loving, humble husband; Asquith (AQ) Thompson and a very vibrant, intelligent and energetic son Malachi. They are truly the best gifts her Heavenly Father has seen fit to give her. She received her Masters of Urban Ministry from Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago in 2008 and soon after moved to Florida to serve as a Community Development Missionary in Miami, where she met her husband while serving together. Their family now lives in Newport News, VA, where she is currently studying for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Certification. She also serves as the deacon of hospitality at Hampton Roads Fellowship. Asquith & Elaina desire to grow in the knowledge of the Gospel, church planting and the importance of the local church.  They hope to plant a church in 2021 in Barbados. To connect more with Elaina contact her through Facebook @facebook.com/elainav.

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Eleven Letters

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I stared at the blinking curser. I reread the text message. I put my iPhone down. I had to pray because I couldn’t handle the hurt. I picked up my phone and wrote eleven letters. I never knew eleven letters could be so hard to write.

Before I was able to write those eleven letters, my mind, and emotions went on a roller coaster ride. Why would this person even write me? I thought. They haven’t written, texted, called in over a year and suddenly they feel bad when I lost my Dad? This person obviously still had my number. When I was hung out to dry, where were they? When I sent the goodbye email to them? Where was their response?

I could feel the anger, frustration and hurt rising up. I wanted to put my fist through the wall. But then I remembered something… I quickly looked up the passage of the Bible that was brought to mind. I counted the letters and realized that Jesus spoke eleven letters that I’m sure took every ounce of strength to say… He said, “Forgive them.”

I looked down at my phone and saw all the letters I managed to piece together “Thank you _ _ _” There were eleven letters. I knew I had to hit send. I hesitated for a moment, but was able to send it.

The person on the other end of the text wanted to continue the conversation, but I didn’t feel the need to respond.

This blog was started a year ago, but I remembered it tonight because this individual reached out for a second time.

I don’t feel the need to get into all the details, but I think it’s important to understand that when boundaries have been crossed, confidentially broken and an alignment is made with the side that is not trustworthy, or truthful, one needs to keep his/her own boundaries.

I had a very godly leader tell me that just because he’d forgiven someone who had crossed boundaries with his family (multiple times) that individual was not to be around his family. Every situation is different.

However, I think it’s important to understand that forgiving doesn’t mean allowing the one who has not sought reconciliation to walk back into your life. Quite frankly, they could do more damage.

I really wrestled with what to do with that text message. I cried from a deep part of me that still is tender to talk about at times. It’s a place that unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand. The pain goes so deep. It’s hard to know how to explain it. I’ve never been hurt as badly as I have by those few people. But time, and healthy relationships have helped more than I could have imagined.

Writing those eleven letters, took a lot of pray and supernatural strength. I could not do it on my own. But, if I believe in grace and have received grace then when someone is showing a glimmer of remorse, I need to extend grace. This does not mean I open my life to them, but I can be kind. God is love and love is kind and because God loved me, and was kind to me, I can love and be kind to others. But, I cannot do this on my own.

Forgiveness is a process and a powerful tool.

Let’s hear it for the boys

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different guys I’ve talked to over the years… I think because recently, I experienced another let down.

This is by no means a blog to bash men. Thanks to the good men in my family and the good men who’ve I’ve met along the way, I appreciate men and know this world needs you.

But, sometimes, I know as a woman, I wish I knew things I could work on to be a better sister, friend and possibly spouse one day… So here’s a blog to the single guys.

I’ve talked with guys who I’ll call Mr. Stuck. They are great guys who want to get married, they work hard, they know the things they need to get in order before seriously dating someone, but they seem to be stuck. Instead of trying new things or plugging into a community, or taking a missions trip or a trying things to see what they might like or not like, they seem to be stuck. My encouragement to this guy would be to wait for your spouse actively. Try things, make new friends, ask God for open doors and take them. Life is too short to stay stuck.

I’ve also talk to guys who I’ll call Mr. I Can’t Commit. Sometimes this isn’t even intentional. They are really striving to do things right, but somewhere in their past, they never let something go (ex-girlfriend, their own singleness, etc) they by default choose something over you because what they had is “comfortable” and you’re an unknown factor so they stay with the familiar. My encouragement to you is a quote by C.S Lewis, “There are far greater things ahead than what you leave behind.”

Then there are the Mr. Hesitation. I’m just going to say this because I needed to hear it at one time too. One date or coffee DOESN’T mean you’re obligated to marry the girl you take out! I once turned a dinner with a guy down because I was so paranoid I’d have to make a commitment that night. It takes time to get to know someone, so if you go out a few times and it doesn’t work out — It’s okay! Let it go and move on. I once had someone ask if they could give my number out to a guy and I said sure and he never called or texted. He was sure that I’d say no. But the fact is, I GAVE my number willingly. I was already saying “I’m willing to give this a shot.” So, guys, give her a shot. Sometimes girls will say no, but in the words of Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

And then, Mr. Where’d-you-go? I have had some situations where the guy just disappeared. To this day, I still don’t understand it. If you decided to go a different direction or you don’t think it’s working out, just tell the girl. Even if a girl is confident in who God made her to be, pulling a disappearance act will cause her to question herself. Just tell her you’re headed in a different direction and you wish her well.

Lastly, to the guy who I’ll call, Mr. Keep My Cards Close… who holds back information, this goes both ways. If there is something that you need to discuss that could harm the relationship, just say it. The thing is, if you’re contemplating doing life with this person, you need to be upfront. If they can’t handle the information you share, then you shouldn’t be with them anyways. Relationships are built on trust and if honesty isn’t mutually shared, you will have a ton of issues in your future.

So, those are my few tidbits on relationships. I don’t know a lot but what I’ve experience has helped me define more who I shouldn’t date and who I should give a chance to. Overall, I’m grateful for every guys that has crossed paths with me— good and bad.

Life is about learning, so whatever relationships you’ve had, learn from that and while you’re waiting, learn to be active.

So to recap:

• Don’t get stuck

• Give the past up

• Give her a shot

• Give her an explanation for your disinterest

• Don’t withhold your secrets If you’re wanting to share your life with her.

Hope this helps! And guys… we really do need you!

In a world full of protests…

This week was full of unexpected things. Things were rough personally, the goals I’ve been pursuing were greeted by road blocks, and there were protests taking place on one of our work properties.

We live in a very polarized world. It’s almost like the Red Sea has parted (again). But, instead of walking through dry land, there are one set of people in one side of the waves; and, the opposing side in the other wave. The line is drawn and no one is meeting in the middle.

I once heard a very wise man say, “You don’t win anything by stating what you’re against. You win by stating and exemplifying what you are for.”

I thought about that for a while. I had to let it sink into my brain. What does that mean?

I think I understood it a bit more in light of this week. Before I get there, let me explain what I do for a living. I am the Executive Assistant| Grant Writer for a non-profit pregnancy center. This week, we had protestors in front our one of our clinics saying that we were a “fake clinic” and that we “coerce and shame women” into having their babies and a slew of other things. The thing is, they don’t know us.

First of all, the women come to us come at their own will. We do not drag women under false pretenses to come to our clinic.

Second, we have filed all the necessary documents needed to operate a state qualified medical clinic as a legal non profit organization.

Third, we simply give the women the medical information about either birth or abortion. We also tell the women we do not refer for abortions. If someone were to call as ask, we would tell them we don’t. We offer early pregnancy verification which every woman will need regardless of her choice.

The thing that makes me sad is that we have become a culture that just screams at each other. We don’t take the time to get to know how the other-side thinks and acts.

This week, in the midst of the chaos and confusion and accusations, a beautiful thing happened. I have a really good friend, who if you looked at us, you’d probably think, “how are they friends?” We don’t always see eye to eye on everything but she has been such a good friend to me. For example, she drove over to my house to help alleviate a task I needed to do when I was scampering to get to my Dad after the accident. She sent cards, brought me gifts and just listened to me when I felt like I was going to lose my mind.

When it comes to certain topics, we have different viewpoints, but this week, we said and talked about our differences on a certain topic. She shared her viewpoint and I shared mine. We weren’t trying to jam information down each other’s throat, we just talked and we listened to each other. This… This… is what I wish the rest of our country could do.

I realized the statement that the wise man said pertains to this… My friend and I may disagree on more than we may agree on but what we agree on allows us to discuss what we disagree on because we are for each other. She has my back and I have hers.

I know that if I opened my own non-profit that she didn’t agree with, she wouldn’t come protest in front of it… Because she knows me and if she opened a business that I may not agree with, I wouldn’t protest her because we know each other. We can talk to each other about our differences.

My Dad used to say, “Build a friendship strong enough to handle to truth.”

I think if we saw the story of the person holding the protest sign, we’d understand their need to be heard. People go through situations that often shape their viewpoint. I hope I learn to look beyond the sign and listen beyond the yelling to hear what that person’s story is. Everyone has a story and instead of protesting or getting angry at one another, I hope I find the opportunity to hear their story.

This is how Jesus treated people. When everyone saw a prostitute, he saw a woman with pain. When everyone saw lepers, Jesus saw men who were desperate for healing. When everyone saw Matthew, the tax collector, Jesus saw someone who could be a writer, disciple, teacher.

So, in a world full of protests, I pray we have ears to hear and eyes to see that those people are each uniquely made. They have a story and they’re longing to be heard.

Strive be the ears so that one day, someone will trust you enough to ask you for your voice.

A Disciple’s Life

I was one of twelve chosen, I still don’t know why I was picked. Some were related and others complete strangers. Some had a radical turn around and some just quietly left to follow. But we were a force to be reckoned with.

I have never felt so passionately about anything in my life, which is probably why it was easier for me to say goodbye to the life I once knew. Being with these men made me feel alive. I had a purpose. I had a reason to live. Sure, some of the things our leader said were different. A lot of things I didn’t understand, but he was patient and he cared. Besides, I saw so many things I never even thought were possible. Food overflowing from a simple basket, water being turned into wine, lepers cleansed, the blinded eyes restored, the deaf able to hear and the dead being raised.

I knew I was headed in the right direction. I felt as if I were born for this. I could never grow tired of this life. I never knew what was coming next. I’d sometimes be frightened that things wouldn’t pan out; like the one time we crossed the sea and the storm rolled in, but then HE walked on water! Or, that time when we had fished all night and caught nothing to eat. I almost lost it when HE told us to throw the net on the other side; like we hadn’t done that 100x already! But, true to HIS word, we had more fish than we knew what to do with. I don’t know how HE did it.
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Then there was that day that HE called us together and said:

Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  As you go, proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker, is worth his keep.  Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matthew 10:5-15)

Heal the sick? Raise the dead? Cleanse the Leper? Drive out demons? I thought that was HIS job. I thought only HE could do that. But, we went out anyways. HE didn’t really negotiate with HIS commands.

It was incredible! We did those things. I actually did those things. I was so tired when we returned, but it was exhilarating. I felt invincible. I couldn’t believe I was chosen to do this. This MAN had changed the course of my life forever.

But after we got back, things started to change. I had learned to love our leader like I never loved anyone in my life. I loved to hear him teach. I tried to protect HIM at any costs. But HE started saying things like, I must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and raised the third day” (Matt. 16:21)

I didn’t understand why He’d say these horrible things. Suffer? Be killed? Was this a new parable? I thought to myself. HE must be using those words in a different way than I think.

Tension started rising among the scribes, elders, and priests. I knew they didn’t like what HE was doing… But I thought they would come around. How could you not like this MAN? But, the more time passed, the more the tension grew. I was growing a little more concerned, but then, I’d witness another miracle, or have another long talk with HIM. HE knew just how to settle my uneasy heart.

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Then, the most wonderful thing happened! HE was given a King’s welcome! The moment we all had been waiting for. We knew HE was going to reign; and now, it was coming to pass!  People were throwing down their tunics so HE could ride on something other than the ground. The people were shouting. I had tears in my eyes from the sheer joy of it all. Our King is here. It was such a wonderful day. I never knew so much joy could be contained in such a short amount of daylight.

A week passed and I still felt like I was floating from all that had transpired a week prior. HE decided to have a dinner with us all. It was a quiet night, but it was nice for it to just be us. It seemed we always had others around. But something was different about HIM. HE looked sad. HE and Judas had a brief discussion and then Judas left. I didn’t think much of it because it was Judas. He always had his own ideas about things.

But HE started worrying me. He made sure we had wine and bread and HE said, drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt 26:227-29)

His blood? The phrases He spoke months earlier came flooding into my mind: I must suffer, and be killed. It’s just a parable, it’s just a parable I continued to repeat to myself.

Later that night, we went to the garden we sometimes went to. I was so full of dinner I fell fast asleep. HE asked us to stay awake, but I didn’t think it was that important. We prayed all the time. I think we had enough prayer to cover us that night.

But then something woke me up. I heard a crowd. I immediately woke the other two disciples with me. I saw Judas, but he was with the scribes. Whatever this was, didn’t sit right with me. I was too fearful to stand beside our leader, so I hid not too far away. I couldn’t hear very well, but I saw Judas kiss HIM.

Suddenly, the soldiers, who had accompanied the scribes and Judas, bound HIS hands. Nooooo, I wanted to scream, but I didn’t want to be heard. I knelt down and wept. I was so angry at myself for not staying awake to pray… Why are they taking HIM?

Eventually, I learned where they had taken my beloved leader. I went there immediately. HE was being question, accused and then they took HIM outside to be beaten and whipped. Tears poured out of my eyes and down my cheeks. Why? Why is this happening? Why don’t they believe HIM? HE’s the most compassionate man I have ever met. One lash turned to two, two lashes into four, four into thirty-nine. I couldn’t watch anymore. HE was barely recognizable.

I found a place to cry until I felt as though I had nothing left in me… I decided I needed to go back. When I did, I found my beloved friend and my hero hanging, like a criminal, on a cross. People were shouting at HIM, “Save yourself.”

I prayed to God, HIS Father, to give HIM the strength to get off that cross. It wasn’t too much. I still had hope, despite the fear. I’d seen HIM do miracles on top of miracles. Time pressed on and still, HE hung there.

The sky began to grow dark, it felt like I was watching a picture of my own heart. I saw HIM struggling to breathe. The ground began to shake and HE cried out, My God, My God why have you forsaken me. (Matt 27:46) Never before had I ever heard HIM say anything close to this. HE was always talking about how HE and HIS Father were one and that if we knew HIM, we knew the Father. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing.

My heart was breaking in me; yet, I had seen this same man bring back others from the gripping hand of death. I couldn’t make sense of it.

Then HE said, it is finished and HE breathed HIS last. A groan from the deepest part of my soul came out. I fell to my knees, NOOOOO, Jesus, Noooooo…. This cannot be…. Please, God, you can’t take HIM!

It all moved so quickly; yet, it also felt like time stood still. HE was taken down and buried. I couldn’t grasp what was happening. It felt like a nightmare. I couldn’t connect my mind with the reality in front of me. The tears came easily as my heart was broken into a million pieces, but my mind was still not able to process it.

This MAN was my life. I left everything to follow HIM. Everything I believed in revolves around HIS words. How could we do all that we did and the outcome be standing at HIS grave? So many questions flooded my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get out of my cot. Fear encompassed me. The moment HE died, something inside of me died.

I don’t remember much of that Saturday. But Sunday I heard a stirring of women…
He’s alive!

What? I questioned.
HE died, I saw HIM, don’t mess with me, I already have enough to process. I said.

No, HE’s alive they insisted.

I ran all over looking for HIM. When suddenly, HE found us… I couldn’t believe my eyes! He was here. One day turned into two, and two into four, and four into forty. HE was with us for forty days. But, this time, it was different.

Part of me doubted. I knew HE was the way to eternal life but so much of this MAN I just did not understand. HE did everything backward. Why did HE have to die? Why cause all of us and HIS own mom and family so much grief? Why couldn’t HE just saved Himself, and not put all of us, including HIMSELF, through that agonizing situation?

But, I noticed one thing. After HIS death, I listened more carefully to what HE said. HE had allowed a great wound in my heart to awake my ears and heart to listen more intentionally. Losing HIM once made me more grateful for the time I had with HIM and the people around me. I was also grateful for HIS love for me. One breathes more deeply and feels more intensely when pained.

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HE told us He’d have to leave, and this time I knew it was not another parable. HE would really be leaving and handing us the mantle.

So, the day came. Before HE left, He instructed us to, go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the earth.

 

HE said HIS goodbyes and ascended to heaven. To be honest, the mayhem from all the chaos in the past month or so caused us a lot of fear. We all were a little lost after HE left. He’d left us with more instruction than the first time, but we were hoping HIS next return would be around the corner, but as time passed we realized we had a mantle to carry and a gospel to spread…

After a large gathering, known as the Day of Pentecost, the church began and the gates of Hell have not and will never prevail against it!

A Wedding to Remember

We scurried down the stairwell and waited for the guys to walk past. I saw the last pair of shoes walk forward. The hallway door opened, “Okay, you’re up!” I carefully made my way to the other set of sanctuary doors. The doors in front of me opened as the music changed. I walked one foot in front of the other as the eyes of the wedding guests looked intently, anticipating the bride who would soon follow. I took my place on stage and waited as one by one each bridesmaid made her way.

It was a beautiful service. The pastor did an amazing job honoring my former roommate and dear friend as well as her now husband. When I first found out about their engagement, I couldn’t have been more excited. I was so happy I felt like I was the one getting engaged!

The day wore on and there were pictures, the announcing of the bridal party, the first dance and the cutting of the cake. I’ve attended a lot of weddings but this one struck me differently.

There is a huge difference in attending a wedding and being in the bridal party. When you’re attending you come and go and you don’t have any real obligations. But when you’re in the bridal party, you are on the inside track. It’s your job and privilege to serve the bride the best you can. It’s your job to help make it easier on her as well as support her by standing on stage. It’s a representation that you will stand alongside the couple through their thick and thin, through their sickness and health, until death do them part. You have a part to play when you’re the wedding party. Another thing is people recognize you. There is an authority that comes with it. If I were to walk up to someone and say the bride needs this, or can we have some of this or that to someone who is there to help, it gets done.

This struck me because I thought, isn’t this what we are supposed to be doing in the family of God? We have the privilege to stand beside her in the good and bad, through the thick and thin. The church is called the bride of Christ, so although we are a part of the same body, we are also to be standing with the church and serving her. And we have been given authority to do so.

On the day of my dear friend’s wedding, she was serving too. She was fixing her Dad’s suit, pinning a corsage on her mom and even putting flowers in her bridesmaid’s hair. She is so full of grace. She is so kind and always caring about others.

It was a beautiful challenge as well as encouragement to see how well things flow when we serve one another. When we put our priorities aside and help the person next to us, this honors one another as well as Jesus, our Bridegroom.

One reason I was so ecstatic to be there was that is what my friend did for me. I felt like in a small way, I was able to give back a little. She has been a constant support for me. I even had to bail on our living arrangements and she said, “It’s okay, you just take care of yourself” that meant she’d have to find someone to fill my spot or pay extra out of pocket, but she never complained or got upset at me. She was also the only person I was able to talk on the phone with when my Dad passed away. She inspires me to love, give and serve others as Christ has done for us.

“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Today my challenge is to give, to serve and to love deeply. Look for someone who is growing weary, or pray for someone that you thought of, give a kind word or write a card. Life is short and it is only truly lived out as we give!

Song of the week (This song my family used to sing in our devotion time): Make Me A Servant

Fighting Fear: The Fear of the Unknown

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I got out of bed to do my quiet time, feeling depleted. My “prayer” sounded more like a complaint and a pitiful plea.

“I can’t do it. I’m overwhelmed. I’m tired and I just don’t know if I can keep up”

I had a lot of responsibilities awaiting me at the office. I had reports to finish. People needed their schedules. Facebook posts to create, the endless to-do list always present in my mind. These things were piled on top of the project deadlines, many of which were overdue. Even when I was off I was thinking of the amount of work left unfinished. I almost didn’t like having time off because I knew I had more to do. So after my pitiful prayer, I was surprised to have this thought, I believe from the Holy Spirit, pop into my head:

“Just focus on loving me, today”

“Just love you?” I thought. “You don’t care if my to-do list gets done? You just care that I love you as I’m doing my to-do list?”

“Yes…”

Suddenly, the weight I felt from thinking about the day crumbled! Like Jesus was taking my load, and just asking me to walk with him. Asking me to hold His hand as a child would her Father while navigating through a busy street.

I don’t remember if my to-do list got done that day, but I remember the pressure I had the majority of the week dissipated. It was simply my job to love him. To love him by making a good post, to love Him by creating a solid report, to love him as I scheduled meetings and production times, to love Him while I worked with my other co-workers. My to-do lists won’t even be a thought in heaven. However, the person I loved well might very well be standing next to me there.

God reminded me of this lesson again but in a different way. My life lately has been and felt a little unsettled. I have so many questions: Should I do this? Should I do that? What interests should I pursue? Should I be more ambitious? Should I wait? What about this prospect? How open should I be?  In life, there is so much to think about. One day can hold a basket of questions that need to be answered.

If I am being honest, the past few weeks have been really difficult. Not because of anything in particular, but because it seemed like nothing was happening. I feel like I’m waiting but I don’t really know what I’m waiting for. The nothingness became wearisome. But then I heard a message by Dr. Michael Youssef. He said when you remember you’re up. When you forget you’re down. I realized my hopefulness had a slow sprung a leak. I was beginning to lose hope. Maybe I was forgotten. Maybe my desires and dreams are just that a dream. Maybe my life will amount to nothing.

After listening to that message by Dr. Michael Youssef I wanted to write a letter back to God. Because, at the end of the day, my purpose in life is not about having a career, having a comfortable life, or having a bunch of letters after my name. My purpose is to love God and love people. As I began thinking on this, I wrote this prayer:

God,

I know I rarely get it right. I know I judge too quickly, rush impulsively, and try to control
everything. I think too highly of myself. I am selfish and get wrapped up in my own insecurity. I go from thinking I can do it all; to thinking, I’m incapable of doing the most menial tasks. But God, I’m asking that you would use me. I know I don’t get things right, but I want to serve you. I know I am not the smartest, but the little I have I’m asking you to use. God, I know I’m not good at showing it and I fail daily, but I do love you. I know I doubt you way too much, but I trust you. You’ve proven yourself time and time again. You’ve loved me past my deepest wounds. You sat with me on my darkest day. You held me as I cried out. You provided when I had nothing. You cherished me when I felt worthless. God, I only have one life and I want to live it for you. Help me to love you. Help me to love others. Those are the most important things you ask. Thank you for loving me enough to come rescue me. God, do the impossible through me for your glory. I am nothing, but with You, I have all I need. Use this life for your purposes.

Love, your girl,
Christi

In life, the unknown is daunting: unknown relationships, unknown diseases, unknown treatments, unknown financial burdens, unknown hardships, unknown life changes. We know nothing about the future. Everything could change in a split second. But one thing I know is that whatever is ahead, my purpose is the same: Love God and love people. Perfect love casts out fear…

Because God fearless loves us, we can fearlessly face this life. Remember: He has already overcome it, and He who is with us is greater… Greater than anything we face.

I’d like you to watch a short clip of a dear friend who is living fearlessly now: All Things Possible: High Risk Missions to Iraq

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Song of the week: Fearless, by Ginny Owens

Fighting Fear: With the Opposite of Fear

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Introduction:
This month’s theme has been Fighting Fear!  Today, my dear friend, Connie, is sharing her thoughts on fear. Connie is one of my heroes. No matter what she goes through, she strives to be more like Christ and it is evident. To be truthful, she is more like a sister to me than anything else. I know you will enjoy her thoughts today :)!
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I’ve been thinking about fear this week, and how my sin is often rooted in fear. And do you know that the Bible commands – commands – me to not fear, not be afraid, and fear not over 100 times? So, fear is a sin, and apparently, one that is common enough and serious enough that God reminds us over and over again to just NOT DO IT. And I think one reason for that is that fear has a lot of power to cut us down, cripple us, and make us forget who we are. It’s a stronghold that has a very… strong hold.

So what’s the opposite of fear? If I choose not to fear if I give my fears to God and sacrifice them on the altar of my heart, what will replace it? One of my craziest fears is that if I let go of my fear, I’ll not have anything left… but I know this is a lie because God never leaves a void in us. Emptiness is meant to be filled by him. So how does he fill the newly-vacant throne of fear? The words that He revealed to me were these: Joy, Trust, Hope, Grace, Peace, Freedom, and Love.
So this week I feel like my prayers are stronger… instead of just asking God to wrench fear from my hands, I’ve been asking him for an exchange – my fears for his hope; my fears for his joy, my fears for his peace… It seems like an unfair trade, but his resources are endless and he is so generous, I don’t think he minds. In fact, I get the feeling he is pleased… And guess what is starting to fill up my heart?!

Connie Chandler
Website: conniesbowlofcherries.blogspot.com

Read my book, Tales of the Great King: Click Here

 

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Song of the Week: Overwhelmed, by BigDaddy Weave
Listen Here

A Single Challenge

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“It’s wicked to throw away all your other gifts because you can’t have one”- Little Women

On long road trips, I like to listen to audiobooks. It has become a tradition that I listen to Little Women at least once. I grew up watching the movie dozens of times. Since I have four sisters, it was like watching us (a century behind and one less sister).

As I was driving from Virginia to Florida, I heard this quote by Amy: It’s wicked to throw away all your other gifts because you can’t have one. It hit me so hard that I rewound that section of audio and listened again. Conviction set it.

How many times have I done this? As a single person, there is a tendency to throw away our other talents and gifts because we can’t have “the one”. We sit around doodling while waiting for “the one”. I am talking to myself here. I have been there and done that.

At one point in my life, all I did was work and waited for someone to come along. Call me crazy, but I thought it would only be a matter of time until he came around. Well, after about 3-4 years of “waiting”, there was no one even “on the horizon”, as my dad says.

I took a leap of faith and decided to do something else, besides work and wait. When I took that step, it was a whirlwind of an adventure. I was using gifts that I didn’t know I had. I was learning new things left and right. I was going places I never dreamed were possible. It was an exciting time and challenging time.

That time created a hunger to learn more. Life can be extremely challenging, but it also can be absolutely amazing! God is greater, kinder, more beautiful than we can imagine.

Just last week I was listening to the audio book by Steven Curtis Chapman, Between Heaven and the Real World .  After the death of his daughter, Maria, his wife asked them to remodel the house. It was too hard to live in after Maria’s passing. Steven struggled with the idea of how much money it was going to cost, and if it was a waste of money because their house was fine.

He prayed about it and felt like they should move ahead with the idea. The day came and the demolition crew started their work. Steven looked over at his wife, Mary-Beth, and saw tears running down her face. He walked over and asked her if she was okay. “I needed to see this”,  she said. “This is what happened to our family the day Maria died”. Their family took a devastating blow. Yet, through the tearing down and building back up, Steven saw God’s love. He felt the Lord told Him that sometimes His love appears extravagant and wasteful.

Isn’t that true? I was pining away for a marriage when God wanted to show me more. He literally allowed me to travel around the globe. It was extravagant and sometimes it seemed wasteful. Because I had the budget information, I would often say, I can stay here. However, God allowed me to go on one trip after another. I learned so much not just on the trips but over that span of 3 years, I saw God in ways I never knew I could.

My encouragement to you who are single comes from a 10th-degree black belt: Act on life. Don’t let life act on you. You are not a victim to life or anyone.

Use your gifts. Use your time wisely. Live well. Love fervently. Give fearlessly. Life is short and we only have one life to live.

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Don’t let the enemy steal any more years. Don’t let him steal your joy, your affection, your devotion, your desire to grow and learn.

There is a 2nd-degree black belt I work out with in a group, who told me, “I’m trying to help you be the best you”. Sometimes it feels like he is trying to kill me, but he is pushing me to be better. Isn’t that what God does for us? He allows challenging things because He is strengthening us. Elisabeth Elliot once said, “God will not protect you from anything that makes you more like Jesus”

Life is meant to be lived, not just survived. Sometimes surviving is the only thing we can do. Other times, surviving has become our comfort zone. Living on purpose often takes us out of our comfort zones. But today, remember to thank God for all that He has already given you. Thank Him for the friends you have, the job you have, and the opportunities He has opened up for you. Instead of focusing on the one thing or person you don’t have.

Sometimes, when I wish I had someone, I remind myself that I do have someone. He is my closest friend. He says that He is my husband. So, instead of wasting time wishing I had someone else, I try to look for ways to love Him. I do not do this as much as I would like.

We are God’s children. He knows we are incapable. He wants to make us laugh, and wants to spend time with us. He wants to be close, but often times, we are so preoccupied with other things or wishing for the one thing we don’t have.

Think a friendship that may be morphing into something else. Think of the little glances shared back and both. Think of the sweet gestures: a hand to the side as he walks behind you, a gentle touch to the elbow, a goodbye hug, exchanging eye contact and a laugh over an inside joke.

I know for me, I think about each thing over and over again. I think of what they said or re-read a sweet message they sent. Imagine if I thought of God that way.

Imagine if I mulled over in my mind the MANY things He has done: The opportunity to travel, learn all kinds of new skills, learn martial arts, write, be near family, and have amazing friends. I should be on cloud nine all the time.

So, I am challenging myself to think on Him this week. To think of the ways He has blessed me. He is too good and has done too much for me to waste more time.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

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Song of the week: King of my heart, by John Mark McMillan & Sarah McMillan 

Listen Here

You Are Not Enough…


About a week ago, I got in my car and headed to the bank. On my way there, I was having a conversation in my head, half praying, half talking. “God, If you just open this door, I’ll be happy. That’s all I want”

Before I go on, I am ashamed to admit this, but I felt like I should. It’s not about perfection. It’s about being honest about imperfections, in order for God to shine. To see His beauty and patience in my ugly day to day mess.

So after submitting my grand idea to God to open a door, a thought popped into my head. “No, we’d still be having this conversation; you’d just want something else”. I sat there thinking for a moment. It was true.

Have you ever prayed and asked God for something? After waiting and praying and praying some more, you still don’t see it. I have been praying. I have been asking. I have been knocking. I’ve been doing the next thing.

But, without even realizing what I had actually done, I was telling God that He wasn’t enough, at least for me. It’s not that I don’t believe God can answer. I have seen Him answer prayers for my friends and family. I have seen Him be enough for others, but for me, lately, He has not been enough. Why? Because I was not giving Him enough time to be enough for me. I’ve allowed distractions and ambitions to cloud my thinking and occupy the time that God used to have.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”… I shall not want.

Yet, I found myself wanting. I found myself trying to get God to solve my problem through other means, instead of through Himself.

The question, for me, was not if God is enough. The question is, is God enough for me?

For you, it could be: I know God can heal, but can He heal me? Or, I know He can provide, but can He provide for me? Or, I know He can do exceedingly abundantly beyond what I can ask or think, but can He do that for me?

Our relationship with God is partially about what He can do for others. But, it’s mostly, about knowing what He has done and can do for us.

At the end of my life, I am responsible for how I lived. I want to live satisfied in God alone. I know other things won’t satisfy. I could land the dream job, get a spouse, start the family, start a business, and still be empty. I know this. And it’s not like I wasn’t content before. Last year, around this time, I was losing everything, except God, and He was enough. Yet, a year later, I find myself floundering, treading water, wondering when I’m going to feel a rock for me to stand on.

I’m also learning that life is a journey. I don’t need to beat myself up for having to relearn a lesson. The Christian life is not about learning it once and moving on. Some things we have to learn and relearn.

This week, I became a Green Belt in Karate. I started the first phase of material this week as well. There are things in this phase of green belt that I learned when I was working towards my yellow belt. I am relearning the techniques from the material I learned a few months ago.

I think God allows us to relearn lessons because we never “arrive”. We are always learning. Some things are new, and some things we relearn.

So in this season of waiting, knocking and praying, I am asking God to teach me that He is enough for me.

Because God knows me better than I know myself, He hasn’t allowed what I want, to show me what I need. He knows that I need this lesson. He wants to be the one I take refuge in. He is the only Rock that will not crumble. He is the only one who will not disappoint, and He is the only one who will ever be enough for me.

So, I want to encourage you today, because this is what I am called to do, encourage (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If you feel you have drifted, as we all have from time to time; take a moment to come back. God is gracious. He LONGS to show compassion (Isaiah 30:18). Come to Him. He is waiting. He wants to help. He is the Lifter of our heads. He is the strength we need. He is the wisdom we need. He is the Healer we need. He is the love we are looking for. He is the filler He is waiting. Don’t run away, run back to Him. He does not condemn you. He loves us even more than we can ever even fathom.

Song of the week: Even If, by Mercy Me  (Listen Here)

 “I know You’re able and I know You can  Save through the fire with Your mighty hand  But even if You don’t  My hope is You alone  I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt  Would all go away if You’d just say the word  But even if You don’t  My hope is You alone”