Now


O to grace how great a debtor 
daily I'm constrained to be! 
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, 
bind my wandering heart to thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above. 

("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Robert Robinson)

The giving of one's testimony - or the story of how Christ saved a person - is an important part of most Christian circles. It is common to give one's testimony in a church service, or to share it with a group of friends in some kind of bible study setting. Usually it refers to the story of how a person came to know Christ - commonly, the events leading up to that particular incident which, in much of Christendom, is the end-all/be-all event of one's life.

However, I have come to realize in recent years that a testimony is not - and SHOULD not be - limited to a single life event, but rather is something that should be lived out daily.

When I was baptized in the Nazarene church, I had to publicly answer a series of questions regarding my faith in Christ, including this one:
     "Do you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, and do you realize that He saves you now?"
"...saves you now" it says.

Now.

As in, in this very moment. In every moment, Jesus saves you, is saving you, continually. I of course responded with "I do." But I did not fully understand at that time what it meant that Jesus "saves me now."

When we talk about Jesus saving us, we tend to refer to a particular frozen moment in time - a moment that seems wistfully and distantly removed from where we are now. There always seems to be a zeal and a spark connected to that moment of saving grace that somehow never made it to this present moment. I used to hear people's testimonies of how Jesus saved them from lives of alcohol, drug, or sex addiction, how they had been in prison, on the streets, at rock bottom, and Jesus swept in and rescued them, removing the need for anything but Him.

I secretly used to wish that I could have a rock bottom.

I know. You're probably thinking, "Are you insane? Really?"

But I did. Because those people always seemed to have so much energy and abounding love and gratitude when it came to Christ. And I, having grown up knowing Christ from the time I was a child, had the monotony of one who knew all the right answers but for whom they held no depth of meaning.

There is a phrase in Chris Daughtry's song "Home" that goes "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it all, you just might get it all, and then some you don't want."

It started back in 2003. I was just about to start my first year back at college when my parents announced they would be getting divorced. This struck me hard. Divorce went against everything my parents had said they believed, and so it was difficult to reconcile the whys with belief. I became, for a time, a go-between messenger, hearing "you tell your father blah blah blah" and "next time you talk to you mother tell her blah blah blah." It was emotionally exhausting, and eventually I had to remove myself from that situation.

During the same time, my husband was going through some stuff that made our marriage more of a hostile
desert environment than a blossoming oasis. The gravity of this combined with the emotional stress of my parents' divorce wore me down, and I ended up on a trial of anti-depressants for a while.

One evening, after getting off the phone with one of my parents, I was in tears. My husband began arguing with me, saying that their divorce wasn't even my concern, and I shouldn't have to bear the weight of it. His parents had at that point been married for 42 years. I yelled at him that he had no idea what it was to go through his parents separation and divorce. And he yelled at me that I shouldn't even be upset about it.

This was the beginning of the emotional rift.

At that time, there was a certain young man who had been a decent acquaintance. When I disclosed to him that my parents were getting divorced and how it was shaking me emotionally, he immediately offered comfort, saying he understood exactly what it was like as his parents had also divorced while he was in college. He offered me a shoulder to lean on at a time when I most needed my husband, who had offered me nothing but bitterness and anger.

I toed the door open ever so slightly.

Over the next two or so years, I entertained lively fantasies in my head of this man, while simultaneously sowing bitterness toward my husband, who continued to battle his own demons. Instead of trying to support one another and grow closer, our lives seemed to be pulling us apart.

I recognized for a long time that I was suffering from depression and I realized that I had allowed my heart to grow so distant from my husband that I was ready to leave him if this other man were to give me any indication that there was a reason to leave.

I also knew that this was not what God wanted for my life. I still loved my husband, deep down. But that love was buried beneath layers and layers of hurt and anger. I knew that in the emotional state I was in, I would not be able to dig myself out of that. But I wanted to be free of it.

I felt so tiny, so small, buried inside myself. There was this huge swirling mess of tangled emotions, depression, lust, heartache, fear. And somewhere deep inside was that little spark that was still me. And that little spark knew that the only way out of this mess was by giving it all over to Jesus.

And so I prayed.

Anytime my thoughts or emotions felt bigger than me.
Anytime I really wanted to give into those fantasies.
Anytime I wanted to yell and scream at my husband.
Anytime I thought about taking the whole bottle of pills.

I prayed.

And little by little, the darkness grew less.
Little by little, my burdens got lighter.

I slowly, steadily made progress, learning to forgive, learning to heal. Learning to stop blaming other people for the mess I had become.

And learning to stop hiding.

Because when you grow up Christian, and your life falls apart, it's hard to let other people see you as you are. I had been trying so hard to put on a brave face, to make everything seem okay when it really wasn't okay.

I found that I still had friends who cared about me, people who took the time to pray with and for me. And they didn't think I was a horrible, terrible person for all the things that had been going on in my head and my heart. They thought I was human.

I was finally making headway, coming out of that dark place in my life. My husband was making progress as well, coming out of his dark place.

And then, in 2008, we discovered that I was pregnant.

We were ecstatic! Joyous! Thrilled!

Now that we were together again in spirit, we would finally have a living testament to our oneness in the form of a beautiful baby.

Everything was going well.

Until my water broke at 5 months.

I remember the car ride to the hospital, my lungs heaving, trying to find air, as my entire body was wracked with uncontrollable chills from the adrenaline rush that told me I was losing my baby. I watched the midnight city lights rush past my window in a blur of color, not paying attention to anything but what my body was telling me as my husband slammed on the gas, veering around slow-moving traffic to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible.

As the nurses attached monitors to my body and probed my womb with ultrasound scanners, they told me that I had no amniotic fluid left. My baby was okay for now, but without the amniotic fluid, her lungs would not develop properly.

After a while, I was alone, in a dark room surrounded by the beeping of heart rate monitors for the baby and blood pressure and contraction monitors for me. My bed was slightly inclined at the foot to try to counteract any evil plot gravity may have had for pulling my baby from my body.

The uncontrollable shaking had still not stopped. My jaw quivered as I gasped out the only prayer I could think of: "God, I just want my baby to be safe, whether that's in my arms or in yours."

The shaking stopped and for the first time in hours, I felt a warm peace creep through my body. And I was somehow able to sleep.

Days went by and not much changed. I clung to the hope that my life would continue thus for the next few months, boring and dull as it was to be trapped in a hospital bed. I hoped that my sweet baby girl would stay safely tucked away in my womb until her lungs were developed enough that she could breathe on her own - or at least with the help of a machine.

But she had other plans.

After two weeks in the hospital, it became obvious that our sweet Genna's birth was imminent. With nothing to keep her in my womb (the amniotic sac having been compromised when my water broke), Genna's little feet began pushing through my cervix. It would only be a matter of hours before I would have to birth her.

I never went into labor, never had contractions with her. She just gradually made her way out until I was forced to push her fully into the world.

Upon the last push, there was no loud baby cry, no joyous intake of breath at her baby cuteness. Rather, there was a quiet and focused determination as my doctor snipped the cord and the neonatologists rushed her across the room to try to get her hooked up to an oxygen machine.

And as she came out of my body, I shuddered a gut-wrenching sob that forced all the air out of my lungs. I knew she was going to die.

My doctor came over and just stood next to me, holding my hand as I cried up to the ceiling.

It was only a few moments before my husband came over to me and told me that the neonatologists had done all they could do for our sweet little girl. And so they wrapped her up in a receiving blanket - which was so huge around her tiny, one-pound-three-point-nine-ounce body - and we held her.

She was so tiny that her eyes were still fused shut - she never got to see me. But I know with certainty that she knew who I was. At one point, as I cradled her miniscule body close to mine, I reached down and touched her spindly, fork-prong-sized fingers with my seemingly gigantic pinky finger. And with those tiny, spindly fingers, she gripped my pinky with all the strength she could muster.

It was the only hug I ever got from my first child.

And I will never forget it.

In the months that followed, I spoke all the right answers, but I did not feel them. I grew cynical and distant. I stopped answering phone calls - partly because I kept getting calls from a healthy pregnancy program through my insurance company, who kept leaving me messages asking about my due date and cheerily stating they hoped all was well.

I hated them. I hated a lot of things. And, okay, probably a lot of people. But I buried it. I tried not to show it.

It was desperately difficult to go to church, where my husband was youth pastoring a youth group in which there were two pregnant teenagers, both of whom had uncomplicated pregnancies.

I asked God why. Why had I done everything right, and my baby died? Why were these girls "living in sin" and yet their babies were fine? It wasn't fair. None of it was fair at all.

I ended up stepping down from my position at work, which was the Children's Department Lead at a bookstore. It was too difficult coming into work and reading stories to groups of happy toddlers, helping mothers with tiny, healthy babies find books on parenting, and seeing young families laugh and play together. I just couldn't do it anymore.

All the while, I wondered why. Why, God? I had just finally started to feel healthy and whole inside again. And then you take my baby away? I just couldn't grasp it.

I stoically did not let myself grieve until that September - a whole four months after my sweet Genna left us. I went to a women's retreat with my church, and there, while perusing some books in their bookshop, I saw a couple books about grieving the loss of a child. One of the books specifically dealt with stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal loss.

I bought the books and devoured them. It was a little difficult to read through all the tears. But it was cathartic. I finally allowed myself to face my grief head-on.

And I began to realize that God didn't just let my baby die, and God didn't steal my baby away from me. God was grieving right along with me. Every step of the way.

I have never gotten over the loss of my first baby. I don't think it's possible for any parent to "get over" losing a child. Ever. But gradually, the days and weeks get easier to bear. My husband and I have had two healthy living children since then (though we have also experienced three miscarriages besides the loss of our sweet Genna).

And I thank God daily for my beautiful daughter and son, that I can hug them and hold them and cuddle with them. That I can take them to the park and the library. That we can read and sing and play together. That they can breathe with no difficulties. That they are not chronically ill and have no health issues whatsoever.
My life has gotten infinitely better. Sure, my husband and I argue from time to time. (Sometimes several times a day.) But it's not the kind of argument that threatens a marriage. We end up laughing. We have learned to communicate. To forgive. To love fully.

Does that mean that we are without troubles? Without temptations?

Certainly not.

I will freely admit, there are still days when faded memories of a certain young man come drifting into my mind, or when I may feel a bit of attraction for someone rise to the surface, or when I feel depression setting in. But now I am better equipped to swat them away with the swift hand of Christ's purity. Am I always successful? No.

But Jesus saves me now.

Now.

In this moment.

New Day


For the past several years, I have been feeling in the deepest parts of my spirit that some sort of change was coming for me, for my family. I've had no clue as to what kind of change that might be, though we felt the beginning stirrings of it almost 2 years ago when God moved us from one church home and planted us in another. But I feel that the change, whatever it is, may be nearing its culmination.

I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately. There are a number of things going on contributing to this stress, but the current that constantly runs beneath all of it is the fact that I still have not fully dealt with the death of my daughter over four years ago. And that has influenced how I handle things - big things as well as little things. Things like interactions with my husband, my outlook on life, and even how I am raising the two children I now have. I am very aware that this issue needs to be dealt with, and I am taking steps toward dealing with it. But in the meantime, my stress levels have been gradual building.

Today, I was driving around after dropping off my husband at work. The kids were asleep in their car seats in the back, and I was conversing in my head with God. We are on the cusp of so many possibilities - a possible house, possible school for my husband, possible preschool for my daughter - and for so long it has just felt like my life has been bound up in the unknown. I feel like I have been tossed about, jarred against one wall and then another, until I finally stopped fighting it and let myself be bruised and broken from the jarring. And all of a sudden, as I was silently talking with God, silently weeping as I drove, this phrase just stuck in my head - "New day." It was almost like a voice spoke it. And without forethought, my whole being suddenly began crying out to God, resonating with the phrase - "New day! New day! New day! New day! New day!" I didn't vocalize it, but I was crying, and if I had actually said it out loud, it would have been gut wrenching and without breaths between the words.

It was the first time I have had a prayer wrack my body to the core.

And I'm not even sure what the prayer meant. And by that I mean, I did not plan that prayer, didn't think it out. It just...poured out of me. I think that was literally the Spirit praying for me. It was an intense experience. For those several seconds, all that consumed my mind, my heart, my soul, and even my body, was "New day!"

I feel like we will begin to see answers within the next month. And while I am not sure exactly what this "new day" will entail, I am eager to find out. And with all my being, I will look for it.







Failing miserably...

In the (new to me) small group that my friends host at their home every other Wednesday evening, we began a journey last week called Ashes to Fire. It's a journey through Lent to Pentecost, with a devotional book containing morning and evening prayers, readings and reflections for every day. Tonight is the second time I will be with the group. And I feel like a slacker student hurrying to finish her homework before class. Because I haven't read any of it over this past week.

Yeah. I know.

Hopefully the group will forgive me. I'm sure God will. But still. Makes me feel like a loser.

Loving Our Enemies

Nine years ago today, the World Trade Center was hit by two planes that had been commandeered by Muslim extremists. Every person in the world has a different memory of their experience of that day. Some remember receiving a phone call from their loved ones who were on one of the planes; some never got to say goodbye. Others watched helplessly as people they knew jumped from the toppling buildings live on tv; some were on the streets at Ground Zero giving out shoes and water to those trying to escape the falling towers. And then some of us were in classes, at work, or, like me, just waking up, when we first heard the news.

I woke up when my mom called me from work. That was the first indicator that something was very wrong. She told me haltingly that I needed to go turn on the tv right now, so I hurried down the hall in my pajamas and flicked on the tv. I think I actually flipped through several channels, but the scenes were the same everywhere: live footage of the World Trade Center with smoke pouring out of it. I hurriedly woke my husband and we went into the living room. The first tower had already fallen, but as we sat on the couch and watched in stunned horror, a second plane crashed into the second tower, and it, too, fell.

I don't remember anything that any of the newscasters said; I don't remember what I did later that day. I just remember watching the towers fall and thinking how incongruous it was that in New York City (and around the world, in the families of those affected) there was this mass devastation, and yet outside my window, the sky was blue, the birds were chirping, and it was a beautiful early autumn day.

I have prayed often that God would bring peace and closure to anyone who was affected by the events of September 11, 2001, whether they be direct victims of the attack, family of victims who died, or even people involved in the planning and implementing of the attacks. Yes, even them. First of all, God calls us to love our enemies and pray for them. This would include those Muslim extremists. That doesn't mean that we have to agree with what they did, or their philosophy on life, or anything. Praying for someone, even forgiving them, never means that you're saying that what they did was okay or right. It just means that God has brought you to a place where you can be at peace - with what happened, with the people involved, with yourself, and with the past and the future.

We don't have to agree. But we do have to love, and pray. Jesus says in Luke 6:

     "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse  
     you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If
     someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if
     anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to
     you.


     "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And
     if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you
     lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,'
     expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting
     to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is
     kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

     "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive,
     and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken
     together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured
     to you."                      (Luke 6:27-38, NIV)

Now, it may just be me, but I don't read anywhere in these passages where Jesus tells us to retaliate if our enemies do bad stuff to us. He doesn't even say that we should "defend" what's ours (like, say, at the risk of being "blasphemous," our country), but rather, give more of it to those that take it. Someone takes my coat, I should give him my shirt, too. Someone punches me in the face, I shouldn't punch back. Even if he does it again.

This ideology is in direct opposition to patriotism. I've long found it difficult to reconcile following Christ with being an American. And while I am by no means saying that we should hate America, or that America is evil, or that Jesus is anti-America, I am saying that "the American Dream" is not Christian philosophy. In America, we take pride in ourselves, in our country, in the things we do and own, in the power we have to shape our own futures. I agree that we should be grateful that we have such freedom. But the conflict comes when we offer our allegiance to both these ideals and to Christ. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Matthew 6:24). Whenever we have "two masters" that conflict, we must make sure that the one we choose to constantly follow is Christ.

So even though I love America - the freedoms we have to be who we want to be, to worship as we feel led, and to seek our fame and fortune if we so choose - I cannot live in a duality serving both Christ and America. When it comes right down to it, I will serve Christ, even if that means loving the people that bomb our cities, kill our soldiers, and attempt to displace Christianity with their religion. I must still love them, and serve them, even while they hate me, mock me, destroy the things my country stands for. I must defend them, because they are God's children also. Our families have suffered at their hands, yes. But their families have suffered too. Terrorists are people, too. And even though they may be my "enemies," they are my brothers, because we were all created in the image of God, and because of this, they deserve to be loved.

Also, I just want to be clear that, while I'm not in total agreement with war, I very much appreciate the dedicated soldiers who have left home, family, comfort, and given countless hours - and many, even their lives - to protect us. Even though I may not be in full agreement with what America stands for, I can still appreciate those who serve our country, and on this day, this anniversary of grief and death, I honor you, soldiers, who are voluntarily fighting for justice and dignity all over the world.

And to the families of those who have lost loved ones, whether in acts of terror, or through their loved ones' dedication to serve, I pray that God would give your souls peace, that your hope in humanity may be restored, and that, above all, you may forgive those who have hurt you, even as Christ forgives us.

I will be still

Call me crazy, but I've been thinking about monasticism.

Not to become a nun or anything, of course. I mean, come on, I'm married. The vow of chastity would be out the window in a minute.

But on a more serious note, there is a lot in the monastic lifestyle that intrigues me, or calls to me, if you will. With the lifestyle comes a certain amount of peace, solitude, stillness. A contemplativeness that transcends the busyness of life and focuses on God and God alone.

This is what interests me.

I find that I often get too caught up in "doing" and "going" and forget to be still and know that God is God. And this is the most important thing for us to do.

In chapter ten of the book of Luke, Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him, while Martha busies herself with, presumably, household chores - things that do need to get done, in a practical sense (especially when one is entertaining Jesus - "My goodness, those dishes aren't clean! Can't have the Messiah eating on that!"). But while Martha is upset that the majority of the chores have fallen to her, Jesus tells her that "...one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42, HCSB).

Right there, Jesus is speaking not only to Martha, but to all of the Marthas in the world (men included!). We all get too caught up in the "doing" sometimes, and we all need a reminder that it is okay - actually preferable and vitally important - to sit at Jesus' feet and just listen.

I couldn't just drop my life and go live in a monastery. I have legitimate responsibilities that I have already committed to (such as my husband). But I think it is feasible to bring a bit of the monastic experience into my life. Yes, it will be difficult to turn off the computer after the fourth time checking my email and playing Geo Challenge on Facebook. Yes, my husband is hungry and wants dinner now. Yes, there are a whole host of other things just waiting to be done.

But what is more important: a casserole, Or the King of Kings? My husband, or the Lover of my soul?

Jesus is important enough to make time for. I have no excuse to not make time for him. If he is truly my All in All, then shouldn't I be giving him my time?

This is my goal this year, an early New Year's resolution, I suppose. I am determined to be conscious and aware of my days, of how I spend my time. I want to live my life with purpose and intention, and I don't want to do anything that will pull me away from God and into the busyness and chaos that screams for my attention.

I will be still.