Love, Acceptance, and Authenticity

Yesterday, I saw the movie “Love, Simon” and it was very convicting to me.

Let me start by answering the obvious question running through your mind, but I will elaborate extensively on this as I continue…. Why would a Christian woman want to see a movie about a teenager coming out as a gay young man?

I was intrigued by the movie when I first saw the preview and knew I would love it because it would be real and about voicing emotional struggles, something I’m not the greatest at.  I chose yesterday because it was the 4th anniversary of the funeral my uncle (who was also my godfather) and I thought it would be a nice way to show respect him because I loved him deeply.

I will digress for a moment to share about my relationship with my uncle.  I found out my uncle was gay when I was in high school and I had a really hard time with accepting that.  It really wasn’t until I was in college and had a gay professor/friend that I was able to love them both for who they were.

For the record, I was not a Christian at the time.  I had grown up as a Catholic, been confirmed, and then walked away from God.  I mention this only to say that my initial concern with homosexuality was not because I felt “holier than thou” or that I was a better person (trust me, I had my own “sexual sin” to contend with), I just didn’t understand it; it was different and different confused me.

And now, over 20 years later, I am a Christian, and honestly, I still don’t understand homosexuality.  But, you know what… it doesn’t matter whether I understand it or not.  God did not place me on this earth to understand other people or their choices.  He created me to seek Him, allow the Holy Spirit to transform me from the inside, and love other people.

Back to my uncle… He was a kind, loving man, and I felt like I could be completely myself around him.  I never felt like I had to wear a mask or try to impress him.  I knew he loved me simply because I was me, not because of what I did for him. When I spoke at his funeral, I shared several stories that described our relationship and ultimately compared the love my uncle showed me to the kind of love that God shows me – the unconditional kind.  I listened to my speech yesterday and cried the whole time.

I cried because I miss the one relationship in my life where I felt I could be truly authentic and not be judged.

I cried because losing my uncle also meant I have lost connection with his friends, who I also care deeply for.

I cried because a family member, who I used to have an amazing relationship with and I know truly loves me and wants the best for me and our family, sent me a very hurtful text over a year later regarding my decision to have a private wedding and threw in a dig about that speech being all about me.

I cried because after the funeral and at the after-party at the bar my uncle previously owned, so many of his friends came up to me and told me what I said meant so much to them.  The crazy part is that it wasn’t just the stories I shared that impacted people, it was the way I talked about God and salvation and even talking about when I shared Christ with my uncle.

I just cried and cried…. and then I went to see Love, Simon and cried some more, on the way home, I cried even more….

I guess it’s about time to get to the original point of this blog…. otherwise, you might think I’m just a cry baby (which I am, so I’m happy to share that as well).

There’s a part in the movie (and it’s the trailer, so this isn’t a spoiler) where a comment is made as to why straight people don’t have to come out.  That got me thinking….

I think they should… I think we all should “come out”, but sadly, many of us never do.  I’m not talking about our sexuality here, I’m talking about something way more intimate – coming out as who we are.

I can imagine that telling your family and friends that you’re gay is incredibly scary, but it’s just as hard to share your authentic self…. the imperfect, crazy, sinful, broken-hearted person that you are; that I am; that we all are.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, we are all pretty messed up – and that’s okay.  That’s what we are supposed to be.  That’s actually what drives us to seek God, although we often look for substitutes before we get on the right path (but, that’s a blog for another day).

I understand why people don’t want to share their imperfections – because judgment hurts.  Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are, especially if they’re different from you.  I think we need to create a culture where it’s okay to be different and stop trying to be the judge of everyone’s life.  God is the only judge that matters (well, other than our court system, which I am not trying to minimize here).

God will judge us (Revelation 20:11-15), that’s biblical.  And, it’s also biblical for Christians to judge other Christians in a well-defined manner (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  This type of “discipline” is to be done in love, bathed in prayer, and it’s vitally important to remember to make sure we are looking first to our “logs” before our brother’s “specks” (Matthew 7:1-5).  I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of my own logs to worry about before I start condemning random people for their sins.

God commands me to love… (Mark 12:28-31; John 13:34-35; John 15:12-13; etc, etc – lots of this in the Bible).  Love means accepting people who are different than you.  Let me phrase that a little differently… Love means accepting people who sin differently than you.  Love means seeking to understand the emotions and feelings that are beneath other people’s choices and truly getting to the heart of the matter.  And, if we are completely honest, the “heart of the matter” is often a scarred, beat up, abused, terrible mess.  I know mine is!

Love means being vulnerable with those closest to you and accepting their vulnerability when they share it with you.  And while you may not agree with who they are or the choices they make, showing them grace and mercy rather than condemnation.  We also should commend their bravery for sharing intimate details of their life because that’s never easy, and again, I am talking about more than just sexuality.

Shame and guilt are from the devil.  While we should not be proud of our sins, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to share who we are, sin and all.  We are all sinful people.  It’s nothing to be afraid of.  We live in a broken world; horrible things happen; it’s heartbreaking.  That all started with Adam and Eve and it’s only going to get worse before it ultimately gets better when Jesus comes back for eternity.

Why add to the world’s problems by shaming and condemning others for who they are or what they choose?  We all have tons of our own problems to work on, so there’s no reason to add to our list of sins by being critical of others.

And when the person we are shaming doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, all that happens is they get pushed farther away from desiring to know God.  I feel like if we, as believers, show compassion to everyone, regardless of how they sin differently, we would present Christianity in a much better light.  Sometimes I feel that unbelievers do a better job of showing love and mercy than we Christians do, and that makes me sad.

I look forward to living in a world where we see our similarities, not our differences; where we can respectfully agree to disagree when we don’t see things the same; where we seek out to better understand why we disagree without it becoming an argument.

I had a very open conversation with a Muslim while in Senegal and it was amazing.  I see our differences, but I also see where we are the same.  I didn’t feel led to argue about right and wrong.  I simply told him what I believed and he told me what he believed.  I shared my perspective and I listened to his perspective.  It was simply beautiful.  I want this in all areas of life.

I need to do my part in this.  I want to share more openly how I feel, and I want to listen better to how others feel.  I don’t want to start debates of what is “right” and what is “wrong”.  If you ask me for my beliefs and opinions, I want to be honest with you, even if it’s not what you want to hear, but I don’t want it to turn into an argument.  We can agree to disagree, but it’s important that we share our authentic selves and not wear a mask.  I do this pretty well with a couple of my long-time friends because after all these years they “get” me, but I want to be like this with everyone and not feel like I have to dance around my feelings so as not to offend.  My motivation is never to offend… I just want to hear and be heard.

I used to be better at this than I am now.  I guess it’s easier when you’re young, single, and carefree.  But, now, I have more intimate grown-up relationships, where I want everyone to feel free to be honest about what they truly believe without it turning into something ugly.  I’ve experienced enough “ugly” to last a lifetime, so I’m ready for things to change.

I mentioned crying after seeing Love, Simon….the whole way home…. Now, I am going to be vulnerable and tell you why.

I cried because despite having a blog called “Authentic Believer”, I hardly write blogs of any real significance anymore.  Why?  I guess it’s because I am struggling with intimacy in my marriage and if I can’t share my true self with my husband, how can I share my authentic feelings publicly?

I cried because just yesterday morning, I had an assignment in this marriage book and workbook I am working through (it’s called “How We Love”) that told my avoider self to ask people for help even if I don’t think I need it.  It even says that this will be difficult and to ask God to help you first recognize and acknowledge your needs.  I did that, but I still didn’t recognize or acknowledge my need.  I needed to invite my husband to see Love, Simon with me.  I needed him to understand why it was important for me to see it.  But, instead, I encouraged him to go hang out with his youngest son because he just returned from visiting his mother during spring break.

I couldn’t invite him to see the movie because I was afraid he wouldn’t want to go or wouldn’t appreciate it the same way as me.  I couldn’t even talk to him about the movie, other than to say it was good.  I am crying as I type this because it’s terrible I am so afraid of our differences that it’s easier to post my feelings for the whole world to see than to just tell my husband how I feel.  I’ve always been a better writer than talker; I guess that’s part of it.

This intimacy part is blog lagniappe; I didn’t even intend to go here at all, but I needed to to be authentic… and just for the record, the feelings I shared above are not about my husband. He is a wonderful man, he loves me for me, and he’s incredibly compassionate and great with emotions (unlike me).  This intimacy problem is all me, my husband tries so hard, but it’s my issue.  I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that.

I am going to try and blog more and let everyone know who I really am; if I am going to be an authentic believer, I need to be authentic.  I think some people think they know me better than I know myself.  But, that’s not true, I know myself really well; I just don’t always share it very well.  I hope that will change.

I always like to end my blogs with a verse, but I didn’t know the right one until attending church. I’m including it here:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:1-11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

#thxsimon

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Ministering at the (City Name Removed), Romania Special Needs Orphanage

(This is a blog that was originally posted in July of 2016 and I was asked to remove it. Since I am no longer affiliated with the church that mission trip was organized through and since I have removed all specific names from this blog and my mission trip blog, that was allowed to remain, I hope I can share my writing at this point. I felt led to repost this blog and yes, it’s gut wrenching, but I feel like it needs to be part of my story because it deeply affected me. To make matters worse, there was a baby girl I fell in love with from this orphanage and I later learned that she passed away. I don’t think I can put into words how hard that was to learn, as I would have taken her home with me had I been allowed to. I wish I could show her to you; she was beautiful and I feel like she just needed love. I know she’s with Jesus now and that brings comfort, but it’s hard when you wanted to do more to help and we’re not allowed to and then to hear something terrible happened. Maybe I’ll have to pull my journal entries from this trip and after receiving the news and share more about this. Until then, let me start with the original (edited) blog from July 2016. I am not sharing this on Facebook, as I don’t want to encourage anyone to ask me to take it down again. Maybe here, my writing and my feelings can live in obscurity for those who will benefit from my experience.)

I like to think I’m a pretty tough person emotionally, but Wednesday night, I cried for hours and just couldn’t stop, after experiencing a place so horrible I’m afraid I will always be haunted by the images of the children. As part of our mission trip to Romania, we are serving at the (City Name Removed) Special Needs Orphanage, a place where children with various diseases and disabilities are sentenced to live after being outcast from society. Maybe that’s a harsh way to put it, but that’s what it feels like.

Well-meaning people have tried to help me come to terms with all that I saw. While some do have valid points, I cannot simply un-see or become desensitized to the horrible conditions these children live in. I am thankful that other people care enough to try and help me get past this hurdle, but I do not believe I will get used to the way things are, accept that this is all the children know, or simply be grateful that we are so much more fortunate in the United States.

The best advice I was given is to look at how orphanage conditions have improved over the past 25 years, and especially more recently, now that (Organization Name Removed) has been ministering to these children. I was encouraged to look into what orphanages were like previously, and see they have come a long way.

Not being a history scholar, I had to spend some time researching orphanages in Romania. I was shocked to learn that communist leader Ceausescu, who came into power in 1966, sought to form a society of worker bees. He made abortion and birth control illegal and required all mothers to give birth to at least five babies to form his army of laborers. Women were monitored for signs of pregnancy and there were punishments imposed if they didn’t deliver their babies. There were taxes on childless couples. This was governmental control that invaded into the reproductive rights of families. I cannot imagine living under this type of regime.

The reality of the population increase that resulted from this is that families were not able to support themselves, were forced to abandon their children, and place them in state-run orphanages. They were encouraged to believe that the state could do a better job raising their children than they could at home. Unfortunately, that mindset is still prevalent today in certain Romanian people groups.

Orphanage populations grew; orphanage funding decreased; conditions in the orphanages deteriorated. When Ceausescu was removed from power in 1989, the orphanage system was in shambles. From https://www.theguardian.com/news/2014/dec/10/-sp-ceausescus-children:

<em>”Electricity and heat were often intermittent, there were not enough staff, there was not enough food. Physical needs were assessed, emotional needs were ignored. Doctors and professionals were denied access to foreign periodicals and research, nurses were woefully undertrained (many orphans contracted HIV because hypodermic needles were seldom sterilised) and developmental delays were routinely diagnosed as mental disability. Institutional abuse flourished unchecked. While some caretakers did their best, others stole food from the orphanage kitchens and drugged their charges into docility.</em>

<em>When the revolution was over, the world’s press discovered Ceaușescu’s archipelago of orphanages and the appalling images went around the world: disabled children with bone-stick limbs tied to their beds, cross-eyed toddlers who couldn’t walk, malnourished babies left unattended in cribs with metal bars, little corpses stacked in basements.”</em>

Romania’s little secret was exposed to the rest of the world and that prompted reform. Open adoptions were possible for some time, but that ability was revoked in 2001/2005 due to corruption and greed. The situation has improved, and orphanages have been abolished for “normal” children. Babies are now placed in foster homes, a much better alternative that orphanages, although still far from perfect. However, reform in the special needs orphanages has been much slower.

My perception of the Special Needs Orphanage (extraneous detail removed) at (City Name Removed) is that it has improved from the conditions previously described for Romanian orphanages. It appears clean and decently maintained. It is warm, but not too hot in the summer, and it appears there are adequate furnaces for the winter. It seems that the children are on a time-based schedule for feeding, bathing, clothing changes, and diaper changes. I don’t know what the frequency is, and it’s not a need-based schedule, but these needs are being somewhat met. There are ~6 staff members (a nurse, a cook, and a few caretakers) per shift to care for the ~40 kids in residence. I understand there is one physiotherapist that works the facility. From what I can tell, the employees are loving people doing the best they can with the number of personnel, conditions, and regulations they are given.

However, it’s far from ideal.

I apologize that some of this will be hard to read and I hope i don’t offend anyone by my observations, but it’s what I saw and it was very hard to see. When something like that happens, I feel like I have to do something about it. I tried to talk to a local Christian lady today about getting her church involved, and I am committed to loving these children to the best of my ability while I am here. But, I don’t know what else I can do – so I feel compelled to share what I saw and how I felt.

How often, exactly, are the children’s diapers changed? What happens if a child soils or wets his or her diaper or bed in between diaper changes? Apparently, they wait until the next regularly scheduled change and sit in their excrement. I have been in several rooms with children wearing dirty diapers and have not seen any intermediate checks in between official changes.

The walls of the (extraneous detail removed) orphanage are bare; there are no pictures or anything child-like to look at. There are no toys in most rooms; in fact, I’ve seen very few toys at all over the entire (extraneous detail removed) floor. The clothing doesn’t always fit the children, nor is it necessarily the right gender or “appropriate” (I saw a little girl wearing a t-shirt with inappropriate writing on it).

Here’s where it really starts to get brutal.

All of the children wear diapers, regardless of their age or physical limitation. Some children are fed through a feeding tube. The children who do not eat solid food tend to have disfigured teeth. The food I have seen children be served are bottles or a mush type substance that is spoon fed. I have not seen the feeding tubes get utilized, but I can see the lines connected to some children’s noses for that purpose. The children are extremely thin; you can feel many of their ribs without much trouble at all. Many of the kids look years younger than their biological age, as they are significantly smaller than you would expect for their age.

Most of the children never leave their beds, unless they are being placed in a stroller or brought to the bath stations. Even children who should be able to learn to walk are not given this right. As a result, many of the children have limbs essentially frozen in awkward positions; they cannot even stand up. Some of these issues are caused by their disabilities, but I do not believe that is a universal truth. Many of the children’s limb issues are exacerbated by (if not fully caused by) not using their muscles or bones, or in other words, laying in a bed all day.

Many of the children have severe disabilities, such as Downs syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, or a host of other neurological issues. Some children appear less severe in their condition, but seem to have the same physical consequences after years of residing in the orphanage. But, even in the midst of these horrible diseases, early intervention, therapy, and education would be a great way to help these children lead the best life possible. I feel like these important physical and emotional needs are being neglected at this orphanage.

After my first visit, I was horrified. More specifically, after my first encounter with one of the children, I was in shock, frozen, not knowing what to do, wanting to help, but completely clueless of what would be helpful. I wasn’t sure if I could move the children’s limbs, for fear of causing injury. I am not a physical, or occupational therapist; I wanted to help, but I had no idea how.

Finally, I decided that the power of touch was well, powerful, and the only chance I had at making a positive change. I stroked the children’s arms, touched their face and hair, held their hands, prayed for each one of them while touching them. I was able to make some of the children smile, but others just laid in the bed. Most did not make any sounds other than a laugh or a grunt. Other than the tiny babies, there is not much crying at the orphanage. There was one deaf and blind boy who repeatedly hit his head against the side of his bed. Other kids rocked and a couple did something similar to the head bashing. I could, and maybe will, write about some of the children (anonymously, of course), as I am journaling about my interactions to help me process what I witness.

It would have been so easy to not return to the (City Name Removed) Special Needs Orphanage after my first visit. I did not like what I saw, but I am a logical person, and the truth is, if I didn’t return to show love to these children, who would?

Today, I saw the same horrible things that break my heart, and while I am not desensitized, I am focused on my purpose. I am here to share God’s love with the unloved children of Romania. If there’s the slightest hope that any one child will be touched from my presence, then my time in the orphanage is worth it. I will volunteer at the orphanage six more times before I leave; I pray that I leave some lasting impact on at least one of the children.

I am so thankful to be volunteering with (Organization Name Removed) Romania. They have a long road ahead of them in improving the conditions at this orphanage, but based on the people running the ministry and their success in other segments of their ministry, and with God as the focus of their efforts, I know they will be successful.

Please join me in praying for these children and the work of (Organization Name Removed) Romania. (Extraneous Detail Removed).

Attention to Detail 

I’m doing the chronological reading plan of the Bible this year and am at the end of Exodus. I guess I never previously paid much attention to the plans and construction of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant (Noah’s ark also will suffice for my point), the lampstand, the alters, etc etc. What I’m getting from all of this is the immense level of detail that God described for the construction and more importantly, the exact level of detail that was constructed. 

To me, this shows that God isn’t some laid-back God, who is satisfied at whatever we think is good enough to give Him. He has standards above anything our biggest OCD minds could possibly comprehend. He communicates what He desires in a detailed way. It’s not “hey, I want this; do it however you think it will be the easiest”. It’s “hey, I want this; this is exactly how you do it, and I will give you the talents and abilities to do it to my level of detail.”

How often do we know God is tugging at us to do something and we do the least amount we can to get by? Maybe it’s because we are lazy. But, then again, maybe it’s because we are taught that attention to detail is a bad thing and it’s wrong to be so “anal” or “particular” or even “accurate/precise”. 

I don’t know if anyone else feels the same way, but I often feel like I’m “too much” when it comes to the way I approach tasks, at work and at home. It doesn’t stress me out whatsoever to be the way I am, but I feel like it bothers or stresses out other people. And that can stress me out, but using my God-given talents is never the stressful part. I can even take my concern for what others think as an excuse to be lazy or complacent because that’s more expected (you maybe can imagine how this could happen at work), when I know I’m not that kind of person. 

I feel like society encourages us to lower our standards for everything, but I don’t see God as being like that. Of course God wants us to rely on Him for every task, but I believe that in everything we are called by Him to do, we should do to the absolute best with the ability He has given us. He give us the strength and ability; He gets the glory. We shouldn’t compromise who God has made us to be just to be more “comfortable” to society. 

Colossians 3:23-24 tells us that whatever we do, work heartily, as if for God and not for men …. because we are serving the Lord. 

Maybe I’m reading too much into this in light of the detail of Exodus, but I’m starting to realize that God made me the way I am, and if I’m listening to and trusting God, then I am glorifying Him. If that’s too much for other people or they resent this part of me, that’s not my problem.

It is well with my soul….

Loving Babies at the (City Name Removed) Children’s Hospital

(Updated 1/27/18 to remove specific details)

I have volunteered for two shifts now at the (City Name Removed) Children’s Hospital through (Organization Name Removed) Romania and I feel like I am beginning to understand the process and definitely felt more comfortable today. Tomorrow, I work my first shift at the special needs orphanage in (City Name Removed). To be honest, I am concerned that this will be much harder for me than the hospital and I am trying to understand God’s purpose for bringing me here.

The verse that keeps going through my mind is Luke 10:42, “but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” This verse is from when Jesus is visiting Martha and Mary and Martha is busy attending to all of the tasks that need to be done, whereas, Mary is sitting at the foot of Jesus, enjoying Him. Needless to say, Martha is not very happy about this, but Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen what is best.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am a Martha. I like to get things done. I see a problem; I solve the problem, as quickly and accurately as possible. There are times that I am content “to be”, but most of those are in situations where there is nothing I can “do”.

I wonder if God is trying to show me that it’s okay to just be there for these babies? I was at peace with the idea of that prior to arriving here, but it’s been hard to see things that can be done to improve the situation – at least from my perspective, and not be able to do a darn thing about anything.

I do see the improvements that (Organization Name Removed) has made for the conditions of the babies here in (City Name Removed). From what I have heard of how things used to be, (Organization Name Removed) has made so many great strides. They provide all of the diapers for the babies who do not have parents staying with them at the hospital. The love on these babies every day, sharing the love of Christ with those who need it most. They minister to the workers of the hospital. They are deeply involved in the lives of these children, trying to help the children of the community make better choices and become more educated. They do so many wonderful things.

They are doing the best they can to work within the constraints of this hospital system. For instance, they have tried to increase the number of diaper changes per day (it was shocking for me to learn that this is a scheduled event – very hard to grasp), but the hospital does not have the personnel resources to accommodate this. So, babies continue to be changed four times per day, on a schedule, not necessarily when they need it.

The more I think about it, maybe this is as good as it gets – and it’s definitely better than the alternative, or the way things used to be. Maybe pushing too much for change would close the door and take away all of the amazing things this ministry has been able to do. Maybe it’s best to look at how much (Organization Name Removed) has done to improve a bleak situation, rather than how much more these poor babies need. Perspective is everything, right?

Maybe my expectations of the situation are out of whack. This is not America; perhaps it’s wrong to assume that babies will be cared for according to the standards of America, or my personal standards. Romania is a different culture; they do things differently. Maybe different isn’t wrong, it’s just different…

There’s this sweet little girl that I met yesterday in the respiratory unit. She has big brown eyes and beautiful brown hair. I don’t know her name – I heard several different names used for her, and I am not sure which one is correct. She appears to be around 2 years old to me. She was hooked up to an IV line yesterday and just cried and cried in her baby bed. She wouldn’t come to anyone. I assume her parents are involved in her life because she was crying for mama. Or, at least I hope they are, and just not with her in the hospital for whatever reason.

Today, when I went in that room, I saw the baby I held yesterday was sleeping peacefully. The little girl was no longer attached to the IV line and just had the port in her hand. I took the opportunity to try and connect with her, and I did. She was so sweet, quiet, smart, and very independent. She was also very mature and emotionally strong.

When the nurses came in to check her for lice, give her a breathing treatment, and give her medicine, she cried briefly, but handled each issue like a champ. She even held her nebulizer in front of her mouth and nose completely on her own. I am so impressed by this little girl.

She was very shy at first, but eventually she agreed with play with a toy. I read to her, but she wouldn’t do the tactile things in the book. She was tentative, but at the same time, she was so secure just being next to me. We just sat on chairs next to each other for the longest time. When the nurses would come in, she would cling to me. It was so sweet, but at the same time, my heart breaks for this little girl.

It was hard to put her back in the baby bed, and she cried both times i had to. I wanted to cry too because I knew she was just going to lie in that bed and cry herself to sleep, at least until the next (Organization Name Removed) volunteer came to love on her. She’s the kind of kid I wish I could take home with me.

I was happy when the nurses came in to listen to her with a stethoscope. They seemed happy with her progress. I hope that means she will be able to go home soon and not have to be confined to a baby bed. I know nothing of this girl’s family life; I just know she’s in the hospital and appears to be unattended by her family. I pray she has a loving family who just can’t be there for her at the hospital, despite wanting to. I pray this sweet little girl finds her way in this complicated world.

Marriage is Not Fair – and it’s Not Supposed to Be

I have been married a little over four months now, and have just come to the conclusion that marriage is not fair!  Thinking back to the days before Mike and I started dating, I remember my friend Kelly telling me that marriage is God’s way to teach you to not be selfish.  I don’t think I fully appreciated the truth in those words, but I’m starting to get it now…. finally!  I guess I’ve always been a slow learner!

The transition to where we are now has been difficult; I don’t think I realized how hard it would be.  He’s an amazing man; I’ve never loved someone this wonderful before; our strengths and weaknesses perfectly complement each other; he loves my kid; I love his kids; what could possibly go wrong?

Well, it turns out – a lot…..

Moving, reducing household “stuff”, selling a house, sharing a room – a bed – and having different evening routines, blending finances, navigating hobbies and separate time, realizing you handle many things quite differently, but sometimes react to problems in exactly the same not-so-great emotional way – Yep, it’s hard when you’re almost 40 years old and you’ve never done this before!  I think the kids have done amazingly at becoming brothers.  I think Mike has been patient with me and as understanding as humanly possible.  Unfortunately, I think I’ve been a mess – and I’m afraid that’s going to continue until I figure all of this out.  But, it makes sense – Marriage is the answer to selfishness and I have almost 40 years of selfishness to work through!

I realized last night that many of my frustrations are based upon my perception of things not being fair…. The kids not being treated equally, different rates of progress merging the household stuff, outside “separate” interests and my unfortunate lack thereof, different priorities in spending, etc. – None of these things are bad, we just see and react to things differently.  But, it becomes a problem when I get mad that things aren’t fair and then, I want to try and control the situation to make it more equitable, from my rather biased perspective.  So, I question, challenge, and criticize; maybe he will change to be more in line with my thinking?  However, I recognize that as controlling, so I try not to take it too far.  Maybe the answer is focusing more on “finding myself”?  Perhaps I need more hobbies, maybe I need to spend more money on myself, etc?  Truthfully, maybe I do need to develop some hobbies or rekindle the ones I used to have that are appropriate within a marital relationship.  Maybe I do need to figure out who I am, since once I met this amazing man, my number one interest has been him.  However, while those things may be important, they are really missing the point completely.

Showing love is about me putting Mike’s needs and desires ahead of my own – always, not just when I agree with them.  If something is important to him, it should be important to me.  If he wants to “do”, “spend”, “act” in a particular way, I need to encourage that as his wife and not be mad when it doesn’t seem fair based on my limited perspective.  My job is to love Mike unconditionally, not only when it feels good or is in line with my thinking.  Respecting Mike means trusting that he will love and cherish me in everything he does and, more importantly, trusting that God will work on him if he doesn’t.  It isn’t my place to help God with Mike’s spiritual maturity.  I have plenty of my own growth to worry about.  40 years of selfishness… That’s where my focus should be.

The point is that no one ever said marriage is fair and it’s not supposed to be.  Marriage is based on unconditional love, the kind of love that Jesus showed us when he died on the cross.  Giving up His perfect life to save me from the penalty of my enormous sin problem certainly wasn’t fair to Him at all.  Marriage isn’t about what’s fair – it’s about love… selfless, giving, patient, kind, enduring love.  That should be the only thing that matters to me.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV)

Love and Marriage

It’s approximately 3:15 in the morning and I woke up from a sound sleep with scenes and quotes from the movie “Runaway Bride” on my mind, as well as my own words from other blogs I’ve written and speeches I’ve given. The transition from deep sleep to being fully awake was so dramatic, it would be impossible to ignore the overwhelming need to write my thoughts. If I end up posting this blog, I suspect it may ruffle some feathers, but maybe those feathers have already been ruffled and it will bring peace and comfort. Maybe I’m opening a can of worms by trying to explain my heart. Maybe I’m too open, and have the right to do anything I want, so it’s wrong to try and justify my feelings and actions. Maybe I’m wrong for even feeling the way I do…

Maybe those, and other thoughts that cross my mind, are just Satan’s lies and are designed to beat me down. I don’t know, but I’m going to say what I need to say and then decide what to do with it later.

Anyone who’s read my blog knows that I’m transparent to a fault. I will talk about sensitive subjects, my deepest feelings, and where I struggle. One of my personal goals is to let others know that they are not alone in their walk. I want to show that many people wrestle with the same emotions and even frequently the same issues they do, especially as they grow as Christians. The sanctification process is not easy, and certainly is not for the faint at heart, so I share my emotions and what God is teaching me to help other people know they’re not alone and it’s okay to be open and secure about yourself – exactly where you are.

In the time I’ve been blogging, I have publicly posted every blog I have written (you have no idea how scary that was and still can be for me), with the exception of one blog, written in December 2011. I also gave a Toastmaster’s competition speech in 2009 that was loosely based on another blog, but I took the speech to a deeper place and it’s not posted either. The “secret” blog has been on my heart for a while now and last Saturday, I came across a draft of that speech as I went through my files preparing to move.

I still do not feel led to post either of these writings in their entirety, as there are parts of them that would likely be taken as negative, when they were never meant in that way. Rather, these were just events that shaped my personal views, and a part of life, nothing bad whatsoever. Anyone who knows me well hopefully realizes that while I fall incredibly short, more often than I would like, I would never deliberately want to hurt anyone…ever!

I want to share parts of these two writings, and I hope this helps you understand where I am and why I see things the way I do. None of my decisions are really up for negotiation, but it is my hope that if I am vulnerable enough to go this deep, it will be clear that my actions are not meant to hurt or exclude anyone. It’s just who I am. And, yes, I do realize that I’m an almost 40-year-old woman (ugh – that’s harder to type than I thought) and have earned the right to do what I want with my life, regardless of what anyone thinks. I just want to go the extra mile, praying that on some level, you will understand where I am coming from and realize nothing I have done or will do was meant to hurt anyone – family, friends, anyone at all!

I was 35 years old when I gave my Toastmaster’s competition speech on relationships. It was about being single at such an “advanced” age and finding contentment in that place. I poked a lot of fun at myself in that speech, but it’s always easier to take those jabs when you’re telling your own stories!

In that speech, I talked about one of my favorite books, Boundaries, and how it clearly showed me that I was breaking the basic tenets discussed and that contributed to my dating issues. That is, we are responsible for ourselves and to other people; I am not responsible for other people and they are not responsible for me. I realized that it’s important to have reasonable expectations for people and my relationships with them, and to love others, unconditionally, for who they are, not who you want them to be.

In the Christmas 2011 blog, I delved deeper into the topic of being unmarried. I discussed my fears of marriage and described my proficiency in having unhealthy relationships. I closed that blog with the following passage, finally getting to the point where I felt ready and open to having a healthy relationship in God’s timing.

“And, thus, I remain torn…. I’m too old to settle for something unhealthy. I am doing okay on my own, but I know God wants more for me. I know I was created to be a “help-meet” for man. I was not designed to be alone. But, I was also not designed to control, nor be controlled by a man.

I desire more than anything a Godly husband who will love me in spite of my many shortcomings, someone who sees his own imperfections as avenues for growth and wants to take that spiritual journey together. I want a man who will step up and be a man, the spiritual leader of the household, but still have the grace and mercy that Jesus had for the church. I want a man who will love me with all of his heart, yet understands my heart.

I know these men exist; I’ve met them….but, there are smarter women than me who figured this out a lot sooner than I did! I pray that God sends me someone who has traveled the same crooked road that I have, has made a lot of similar mistakes, but is now headed in the right direction and wants me along for the ride….”

Looking back, I know that God answered my prayer in bringing Mike into my life not long after I wrote those words, although we didn’t become friends until the summer of 2012, and he didn’t become my boyfriend until May 2013. In that time, God has been teaching me a lot about patience and trusting Him with everything!

My relationship with Mike has been a huge opportunity for my own personal growth, which has been frustrating at times because I had felt I’ve come so far, only to learn that I still have a long road ahead of me! But, I’ve made peace with that and now understand why I was “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” for so many of my adult years. In fact, I’m grateful that God waited until I was where He wanted me to be before allowing me to make a decision that I would have regretted earlier in my life. Now, I accept that marriage, especially blending a family, will be hard, but I am committed to making it work. I am beyond thankful for having an amazing Godly man at my side, and having God as the center of our relationship.

I don’t think you have any idea how far I’ve come in this process (and still admitting I have a long way to go) and how God has been working on me for a very long time. Most of my growth has come after 2007, when I accepted Jesus as my savior and began the process of letting Him into the dark places of my heart. I could not be where I am right now without God’s incredible love, extensive patience, and the fact He is helping me believe His amazing plans for me.

I would not be where I am without God doing the same work in Mike, and bringing us together. I am also grateful for the countless prayers, encouragement, and counsel from so many people! I definitely have a better understanding of what is meant by “speak truth in love” because it has been demonstrated by some very special people to help both of us get to this point, both separately and together. Our family and friends, guided by the Holy Spirit, have been instrumental in helping us both become ready to be united in marriage!

It is beyond amazing to fully realize what God has done in both of our lives! I cannot take any credit for the fact that I am getting married to the most incredible man I have ever met. It is 100% God at work, no question about it!

Our wedding is a celebration of what God is doing in our lives. It is about God, Mike, me, and our three boys. It’s about us making a commitment to each other and to God that we will follow His lead in our life, during easy times, hard times, and impossible times. It is about celebrating who God is and the amazing blessings He has given us and is joining us as one to love and nurture three incredible young men.

The wedding will be intimate, deeply personal, and truly Christ centered. While I’ve come a long way in my transparency, it’s still scary for me to be so vulnerable. I get easily distracted because of that. Every time I post a blog or speak, I get nervous because I’m afraid of being too authentic, too real, too much…. It’s sometimes very hard, and I do need reassurance, probably more than I care to admit and I truly wish this wasn’t the case.

Even though I am open, I am not without fear. I was shaking during and after Mike’s proposal at church. I loved it, especially because it signified so much about everything we have both been through, but honestly, it scared me to death. I couldn’t even truly cry about how beautiful the whole thing was until I watched the video of it later, and then the tears of joy wouldn’t stop because I truly realized how incredibly lucky and blessed I am. Mike later told me that he couldn’t look at me while singing because he was afraid he would cry.

In the moment of the proposal, I was worried about what everyone was thinking and the fact they were all looking at me. Afterwards, I was so overwhelmed by the love and encouragement from everyone that I don’t remember what I said or if I even acted appropriately. I was afraid that I may not have clearly communicated how thrilled I was that everyone was excited for us. There was so much going on and I didn’t want to do anything wrong.

Wrong as they may be, these are the thoughts that distract me from truly being present in the moment. Wrong as it may be, I am still very sensitive (although honestly grateful for God’s timing) to the fact that it took me this long to get to a place where I was ready to be a wife to a Godly, wonderful man.

This is why I want a private wedding ceremony. I want it to be about God, Mike, and our three boys. I don’t want to be distracted, overwhelmed, worried, or afraid to be completely myself. This is not saying any people are distracting, overwhelming, or cause fear or worry in my mind. It is purely a situational thing, and it’s not any of you, it’s me. I can admit that and it’s okay that I’m not perfect in this area.

The things that cause me stress are very good things and I am incredibly grateful for everyone who loves us and who wants to celebrate with us. This is why we are excited about having two parties to celebrate our wedding with you after we are married. Your support and encouragement mean so much to both of us. We love you all and would never want to hurt you….any of you!

I truly apologize for any hard feelings that I may have caused for any of my family and friends, or for Mike’s family and friends. I am thankful and humbled by your love, encouragement, support, and desire to share in our happiness with us! I sincerely hope you can make it either in Covington, Louisiana on November 29th or Kingwood, Texas on December 13th. And just to be clear, we aren’t looking for presents (in fact, we have so much stuff, we have joked about giving everyone something of ours as a “gift” for attending); we just truly want to share our joy with our family and friends who mean so much to us both.

Relationships and God

It’s been a while since I have written on my blog, partly because I haven’t been spending much time alone, but also because the writing I have done has been deeply personal (even for me) and is not something I feel I should share publicly, as it affects more than just me.  However, today, I had a conversation with a friend that made me want to try and explain what God has been teaching me and where I am in my spiritual walk.  I’m not sure this will end up blog worthy, but it’s a step up from simply writing in my journal, so let’s see what happens.

A friend of mine, who has also never been married and is not currently interested in dating, was telling me about her friend’s engagement and the conversation soon turned to our experiences in relationships.  It has been a very long time since I have been in a relationship, for good reason, as I have never been too successful in that department.  My last attempt was a complete disaster, and the ones when I was younger were not much better.  I have blogged about all of this before, although I took down one of my more insightful blogs written in December 2011 because I was hesitant about portraying anyone in a negative light.  However, while it’s easy to blame other people for your problems, the reality is that my struggles in the relationship department have more to do with my relationship with God than my experiences in life.

I think that’s why I want to publicly share my thoughts on this topic, because when I was talking to my friend about everything, she told me it is good that my current relationship is based on God, as she doesn’t even think of God when she considers dating.  I said this is a relatively new feeling for me, and explained how looking at love and marriage through the lens of God is the only way I could ever envision it working out for me. 

I have always said that it’s good I never married as I would have ended up getting divorced or being miserable, and that’s a very true statement.  Part of this is that I was a huge perfectionist, and wanted this perfect prince to sweep me off my feet, so we could live happily ever after.  But, I had a very negative self-image and never really felt worthy of such a prince, and thus didn’t looked for the right men in the right places, nor did I give them much reason to respect me.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture… Bottom line, God was not remotely involved in my desires, much less the center of my world.

All of this began to change in 2007 when I became a Christian, but my relationship dysfunction was still very prevalent when I wrote that blog in December 2011.  God has definitely been getting through to me ever since that time, and while He still has a long way to go, I am beginning to see everything differently.  It has been and will continue to be a struggle, but it’s definitely drawing me closer to God, and that tells me it’s a good thing.

Studying God’s covenant with us and realizing that marriage is a model for Christ’s relationship with the Church has really opened my eyes to how everything is supposed to work. Even at our recent women’s retreat, the speaker made a great comment about marriage. She said that marriage is being faithful in spite of how the other person is behaving, which is how God has always been faithful to the Church.

I am far from perfect and I disappoint God every day, often because I choose to. Yet, God still upholds His end of the bargain, every day, despite my many failures. I do not deserve His love, yet He lavishes it on me completely. For the first time in my life, I see that a marriage isn’t supposed to be about me, but rather about glorifying God and putting an imperfect person ahead of myself. I fully want to share the grace that God has given me.

If God can love me selflessly, why would I not strive to love my husband in this manner?

If God forgives me every time I stumble, why would I not want to show my husband the same grace and mercy?

If God’s way is always shown to be better than mine, why wouldn’t I consider letting go of my control and following His plan completely, including His model for marriage?

I honestly don’t see how a marriage could ever work without God being the center of both people’s lives. I assume most people are just as flawed as I am and not only mess up with God, but mess up with each other frequently! If I was married, I know I would constantly let my husband down trying to live in my own strength. I think this could easily lead to anger and resentment in the absence of God. Even with God as the basis for the relationship, the potential is still there because we live in a fallen world and people tend to be quite selfish. I am realistic enough to admit that simply seeing God’s way as the answer does not make it easier to get everything right. There are currently many ways I *want* to glorify God and I am falling short, so I know my desires are not enough on their own. Marriage would be a daily struggle with the flesh, just like everything else in life. But, anyone who has known me for a while realizes that even getting to this place emotionally and spiritually is huge for me.

I am so grateful that God brought an amazing man into my life, one who has his own set of challenges.  I love how everything has happened, not necessarily in the way I have “wanted”, but in a way that provides incredible opportunities for me to grow personally and learn to trust God for everything. I honestly find the struggles to be more meaningful than if everything went the way I envisioned. I am slowly letting go of my need to control everything related to my life. I love how God keeps bringing transparent people into my life who are dealing with issues that seem to perfectly tie into what I am experiencing.  I can see God’s hand in everything I do and that is such an incredible comfort and blessing. I am truly enjoying the journey more than any other time in my life and it’s all because of God…