Scarred but not ashamed…

Earlier today, I shared an image (below) on my Instagram and Facebook pages along with this message…

Scars are a reminder that wounds can heal ♡ Stay tuned… #scarred #Psalm118 #notashamed #byHiswoundswearehealed #itsbeenajourney

I’ve worn scars most of my life. At times, I’ve hidden them. Other times, I’ve been open and honest. I once carried a great deal of shame with my scars but I am not ashamed. They are a part of who I am and where I have been. They mark my journey, which hasn’t been easy.

Today, they aren’t gone…just different.

Not to cover them, but to give them more meaning, I spent some time today with a gentleman named Mike…

Mike is a butcher by day and I guess you could say another kind of butcher by night as a tattoo artist. He’s twenty-seven. He was raised in a religious home and currently lives with his parents to save money. We had the chance to talk a lot. He told me he’d stopped believing because he’d had too many questions and not enough answers. He shared stories with me and I shared with him. I didn’t push him or try to force my beliefs on him but he was graciously open to me sharing the significance in the choices I made for my tattoo as well as some backstory on my scars.

I want to share with you the significance in my tattoo as well…

First, it’s my right wrist…

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

The crown of thorns and the cross remind me…

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

The cross was also drawn from the cross on the necklace I wear daily.

The puzzle represents the small bit of life we see and knowing God sees the bigger picture. I may only get a puzzle piece here or there. I may often feel alone and invisible. But God knows.

The teardrop represents the moments when crying wasn’t safe, the years I spent unable to cry, the tears I’ve finally been able to share in the place I’ve felt safest, and this promise…

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

The dove represents peace and hope, both of which I’ve desperately needed and He has graciously and freely given. In the doves mouth is a ribbon of teal and purple which speaks for suicide awareness. Teal is also the color for childhood sexual abuse awareness…both of which have impacted my entire life.

The dove also speaks for the innocent that can’t.

And Psalm 118 …

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:

“His love endures forever.
Let those who fear the Lord say:

“His love endures forever.”
When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;

he brought me into a spacious place
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.

I look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

All the nations surrounded me,

but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They surrounded me on every side,

but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They swarmed around me like bees,

but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
I was pushed back and about to fall,

but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defense;

he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory

resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;

the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,

and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:17 was shared with me a couple times before I ever knew I’d need it. Then on February 21st, 2015, I realized just how much that verse would come to mean. It was the moment I found myself at the lowest, loneliest place I’d ever been, yet God met me there.

I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done. Psalm 118:17

Life is beautiful and ugly. Moments still come when I question giving up but this verse reminds me He is in control and all things in His time.

Now, I wear it…proudly.

Each of these pieces were very carefully thought out and planned as far as the tattoo goes but I believe God was working through this just as much as I was. I was blessed to meet and spend the day with Mike and his co-workers, to be able to share with them a little of my life, and maybe even bring a little light into theirs.

Not only will this serve as a meaningful mark for my own reasons, but it’s also a reminder for me to pray for Mike and be thankful for sweet blessings.

 

Series: College Life | Firsts…

I’m in my last semester of college for my BA in English. I have five, yes five, English courses this semester…and a husband, three kids, and a dog. And four of those classes have long book lists so needless to say, I have little time for anything.

With all that said, I miss being here. I am trying to make time to blog but honestly, I’m exhausted. Physically and emotionally. Especially since my last blog which told of another huge loss I’m dealing with. It’s still hard. It’s going to be hard. It’s life. Anyway, a professor from one of my writing classes gave us a writing exercise in class a couple days ago and I wanted to share it all with you…

The exercise: Write about a first or firsts…

“It was ice cold and stark white in the delivery room. Even though I hadn’t started pushing yet, I was already exhausted. It’s indescribable how those sharp, stabbing pains in my stomach and back had stolen any umph I could muster up. It was all I could do just to breathe through them.

Speaking of breathing, I hate that word. I hate focusing on breathing. There was a time in my life when holding my breathe was normal. It was safe. Here was this doctor standing beside me telling me to breathe. Frankly, I wanted to rip his lungs out and say, ‘You try breathing!’

Not to mention my husband standing there with an empathetic look. All I could think was he’d gotten me into this mess — he better figure out a way to get me through it. I wanted to stab him every time the knots got tighter inside. I felt like my body was attacking me, which I’d felt many times before, only this time, it wasn’t my body. It was this strange creature growing inside my body causing this crazy whirlwind of physical and emotional feelings.

I screamed at the doctor, ‘Just get him out!’

I was twenty-two. I wondered what God was thinking letting me have a kid. Didn’t He know how screwed up I was? Why would He trust me with an innocent little kid. I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive, but God expected me to keep a baby alive?

‘Push…’ I hear the nurses say, ‘You can do it…breathe, just breathe.’ I swore if I heard one more person say breathe I was going to smother them all with the extra pillows they’d stuffed behind me.

And then…

I saw these tiny red toes and heard this wimpy, pitiful cry. It was the first time I’d given birth…the first time I’d really known what love was…the first time I had a reason to breathe.”

So there you have it. That’s my creative story of firsts. Though portions of the story may be somewhat exaggerated, when I write, I write from my heart. So yes, that little creature that turned my world upside down…he gave me purpose. He gave me a reason to fight. We’ve had our moments. I’ve had my really crappy mom moments and he’s had his drive me crazy moments. He’s seventeen now. He’s a senior in high school. He’s a volunteer firefighter. He’s training to be an EMT. He’s a good boy. I’m thankful, but still surprised God trusted me to raise this kid…and his two siblings.

Through all the hard in life, in marriage, in parenting, in loss, in grief, in darkness…through it all, I depend on beauty like this to help me breathe again.

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A Raging River…

>>>>> Yes, this post is incredibly long…what do you expect when it’s been so long since I posted. Don’t click away. Bear with me, read it until the end. Please. <<<<<

2017 Raging River

The past few days have been quite overwhelming. Change is inevitable yet so often, difficult to accept. Loss is painful, excruciating. This sums it up…

Life.

Let’s say you’re on a journey. We each have a different path. Some have flowers and butterflies early on and some have briars and thorns. Maybe some have briars and thorns the whole way. Let’s say the briars and thorns are the hurt, pain, and trauma that stings, cuts, and scrapes like the briars. Then you make it to a river. It’s fierce. It’s scary. You know to get to the path on the other side, free from the briars and thorns, you’ve got to cross the raging waters. And let’s say therapy is the stones laid out before you. You just have to take the step. You make it to the first one, catch your balance, plan out your next step and prepare to move forward. Some stones may be slippery. You may twist your ankle. It’s not an easy crossing but you press on. You step to the next stone, getting closer and closer to the other side.

The let’s say grief gets in the way. Grief over loss, losing the stones. It stops you in your tracks. There aren’t anymore stones laid out for you to step across. All you see is raging waters. You feel the sting of cold water splashing against your scraped and scratched up legs. You feel lost and alone. You wonder if there is hope…but as you glance back at the stones you’ve crossed, you’re reminded there is hope. You found it a few stones back.

Where do you go from there?

Your journey halts. You’re stuck on that stone for who knows how long while the water crashes around you. It’s overwhelming. It’s painful. It’s scary. You beg for more stones. You cry out for stones from the deepest part of your heart. But the stones are gone. How do you get across. How do you reach the other side without drowning?

You know it will happen…you just don’t know how. You know it won’t be with those stones and that is where grief has settled in. Maybe you’ll fall a few times. Maybe you’ll get soaked but you’ve made it far enough to know the river won’t take you.

Where is your path leading you? Are you headed through flowers and butterflies or are you tangled in the briars? Are you safe on a stone or treading water just to breathe? Or have you crossed the river and reached the other side, with soft green grass, the shade and protection of a giant weeping willow tree, a cool, gentle breeze, and a place to rest, where you can look back and see just how far you’ve come?

I wrote that sometime last night. Words usually come easy for me but the ability to accurately explain my feelings, well, not so much. This seemed clear enough to create a visual of what I’ve been feeling.

Why all this? I do want to offer an explanation. I owe that to myself.

Abandonment.
Abuse.
The insecurity of home.
The lack of support, love, and nurturing.
A childhood lost.
A girl growing in a world alone, a world that has mostly been cruel.

If your own mother and father don’t love you, why would anyone else?

That is a question I’ve asked over and over again. A parent’s role in a child’s life involves love, nurturing, protection, direction, guidance, support, and so much more. Those are things that can’t be replaced by another person. It’s an ugly fact.

I’ve bounced from house to house, never really feeling home.

Abuse.
Foster care.
Grandparents.
Homeless.

I’ve been in and out of therapy since around age 11. At 15, I wanted nothing to do with the therapist the courts ordered me to see. I was stone cold hard. My walls were so high, no one could touch me. It was great. And it was lonely.

At 19, after losing the one person I knew without a doubt loved me, my Papa, a part of me died with him. He was the only person that had given me a reason to live all those years. He was the one person who taught me what real love looked like, how to be kind and respectful, and how to love others unconditionally.

At that point, life became careless. I was a firefighter. Back then, female firefighters were rare. I loved that. I loved being the tough girl. I loved the idea that I could step into a burning house, with flames all around me and knowing they couldn’t touch me. I embraced the idea that I would gladly give my life in order to save someone else. In fact, I wanted to.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

And today, twenty years later, I can say there have been many times that I ached to find home. Not a home this world can offer, but an eternal home where there is no more pain and suffering.

Admittedly, I’ve attempted to take my own life. Several times. And yet, here I am. I look around and see raging waters. But I also see the path continues. I’ve learned that somehow, I’ll find a way.

So, where I am today is in the midst of grief. They say being able to feel is a part of healing. Well, I must have done a lot of healing in the past few years because I’m definitely feeling this. It’s heavy. It feels like I’m choking. It feels like there are rocks in my lungs. It feels like I’m covered by a blanket waiting to be smothered. It’s incredible pain. I’ve never known pain like this because I was never able to feel like this.

Over the past four years, I have been seeing a therapist. She’s the last of a long list of attempts to break through my walls…and she did. No one else had been able to do that. Not because they couldn’t but because I couldn’t let them. I couldn’t trust. I could talk about my past and all the wrongs but I couldn’t feel. No one could knock down the walls that kept me safe from the pain of the world around me.

Kara did. I don’t know how she did. She says I did the work.

Therapy is an odd thing. My opinion of it has changed frequently and probably will continue to change. In many ways, it’s amazing. You have the opportunity to share anything without judgment. Without anger. Without being punished. Now, don’t get me wrong…that doesn’t come easy. It takes a long time to learn that it’s a relationship where it’s safe enough to trust. A LONG TIME! (for me anyway)

But when you find that person, the one who can really see you, the one who lets you know it’s okay to breathe, the one that reminds you, you’re not alone, the one that bears ALL your secrets, the one that has loved you in spite of all you’ve been, done, and are…when you find that one, it means the world to you.

Kara isn’t perfect. She’s not some magical creature with a wand that wipes away all the wrong of the world. Nope, she’s pretty normal. She’s just a regular human being who struggles like the rest of us but we clicked. She taught me to trust. That was something I’d never been able to do.

She taught me…

to trust – that taking the chance can be worth it.
to believe – to believe I am strong, worthy, lovable, wanted.
to seek hope – that even in the darkest moments, hope is there.
to love – to love myself, to see my worth, to know myself.
to dream – to imagine where I would be when I made it to the other side.
to embrace – to seek truth and embrace it.
to grow – that I didn’t have to be afraid of who I would become.
to change – to bring truth in to erase all the lies I’d believed.
to feel – that it would hurt like hell but it would be so worth it.

And that’s where I am. I am feeling. I am grieving. When my Papa died, back in 1997, I cried off and on for three days and didn’t speak to anyone. I felt dead inside. That was about all I could feel. I wanted to die with him. I was numb. I was lost. I was alone. I wasn’t able to grieve because I had no idea how to really feel anything other than empty.

Grief sucks! Plain and simple – it absolutely hurts like hell. Losing someone who has meant the world to you, by death or by the end of a relationship is incredibly hard.

Two days ago, Kara told me she’s leaving her position in a private counseling setting and heading into the school system. It’s what is best for her and her family. It wasn’t an easy choice, but one she had to make, none the less. I care greatly for her and want the best for her and her family…I just wish I could be a part of her best.

I was/am devastated. DEVASTATED.

This woman, the one who knocked down my walls, helped me learn to breathe, taught me to find hope, and to press on, to fight death and find life…she’s leaving me. And all I can think of is I knew this would happen. Everyone leaves.

A father who never cared enough to even meet his daughter.
A mother who chose the man who sexually abused me for years, rather than her own daughter.
Teachers who cared but couldn’t realistically move on to the next grade with you, every year.
Lawyers, advocates, foster parents, friends, houses, family, etc.
A grandma, who much like myself, bounced between emotions, never really being able to express unconditional love, but rather love based solely on conditions, and fits of rage and anger.
A Papa who meant the world to a little girl who had no one else, who had the hands of strength, the heart full of love and compassion, a presence of the only thing safe in the world.

Whether by death or by walking away, the people that have mattered most, who have cared most, who were supposed to love, protect, encourage, support, etc. – they all leave.

And that’s where I’m at.
Kara is leaving.

I know it’s not the same. I know she truly cared. She’s dedicated four years of her own life and time to helping me. She’s put in countless hours of watching me stumble over words, back track on progress, question everything she’s said, argue or debate her truths vs. my truths, and lately, she’s watched me cry.

For years, pretty much all my life, crying wasn’t an option. Crying wasn’t safe. Crying made things worse. Crying meant something was wrong. Crying meant you weren’t strong enough.

But Kara taught me it was okay to cry.
She taught me I was safe with her and it was safe to cry with her.

She never took advantage of my vulnerability and what I viewed as a weakness. She viewed it as strength. Progress, she would say.

I can’t tell you the exact day when I first cried with Kara. I can tell you it wasn’t that long ago. It’s only been within maybe the last year that I really felt like I was stepping across the stones that created a path to somewhere better. And she was walking with me. Holding my hand. Offering hugs, when I was able to ask.

You may wonder, why is it a loss? It’s not like she died and is gone forever.

But it is a loss. That’s where the ugly part of therapy comes in…

Kara always said the therapist/client relationship is like no other. It’s complicated. There are ethics and boundaries she has to adhere to for my own good, but they are incredibly difficult to accept and understand. You’d think just the fact you’ve spent so much time with one another, that would be enough, but it’s not. Ethics, boundaries and the design of the therapeutic relationship don’t leave a door open for anything when the relationship ends. It most definitely is a loss. It’s a death.

And that’s what I am grieving.

I am grieving the loss of the person who knows me better than anyone else in this world.
The person who has taught me what safe love looks like, what love really means.
Who has given up much of her own life in order to save mine.
The person I pray for and want the best for, yet ache to be a part of her best.
Like with my Papa, I am grieving the person who showed me I mattered, that I was loved, that I was wanted.

I have an amazing husband. He’s caring, patient (very, very patient), gentle, and understanding. For the most part, I’ve shut him out of my therapy life and my healing journey, mostly because I’m stubborn, and partly as some lame attempt to protect him from my own heavy baggage. It was safest for me to view the time I had with Kara, in her office, as the one place, the one person I could actually let see the real me. I treasured that time. I cherished it. And I learned over time that I didn’t have to carry it all with me when I wasn’t there. She was safe enough that I could leave it all with her and actually live life in the in between. There’s so much comfort in that.

I have three beautiful, smart, amazing kids. I adore them. They are great kids just like my husband is great. They are my biggest fans, my biggest source of support, and they are honest enough to be brutal when I wear something wacky!

As much as I love them, it’s not the same. Theirs is a relationship where they depend on me. They receive unconditional love and support from me and in return, they love me back. They look to me for comfort, protection, guidance, and so on. They need me. They come to me for hugs or to fix everything.

That’s what I’m missing. That’s what I’ve lost. There is no one on this earth that can fill that role. There is no one who has known me forever, who calls me theirs, who has done and would do anything for me, who has wiped away tears, picked me up when I fell, held my hand through the hard times, and taught me what a mother’s love is supposed to look like. Kara did that for me.

And honestly, I am so truly blessed. My home…my family…I have found in my church. It took me years to get to that point to but I believe all that time, God was preparing me, teaching me, growing me. And He’s given, and He’s taken away. I’d like to put in a direct request that He stop taking away but it seems when He takes away, He helps me find many other things/people to keep me moving forward.

I have some amazing people in my life. There are women who have walked this journey with me, who have been my allies, my support, my stones along side Kara. They’ve prayed for me. They’ve kept me accountable (sheesh!). They’ve guided me and taught me. And painfully, when I look at them, I see what wonderful mother’s they are to their children, how they pray constantly for them, how they love them with such a deep, genuine love. And I see how they have that with their own mothers, how they have those people that have always known them, always cared, and always called them theirs. I realize there is no perfect family. I realize it’s a really messed up world and every family has its issues. Still, it’s hard to be loved by these amazing ladies and know I will still never matter that much…so much that I would be first in their lives, that I would be right in line with their other children, that they have watched grow from the tiniest fingers and toes, picked up from falls, held when they were sick, ached with every ounce of their body when their children were hurting. That’s what I grieve. Even Kara couldn’t offer that.

But here I am.

The river might be raging but I can still see the other side. I’m determined to someday sit beneath that giant weeping willow tree, feel the warm sun bearing down on my face, the gentleness of the soft green grass below me, and the freedom to breathe.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

But for a moment, let me grieve. This is healing, right?

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Mother’s Day blessings…

MyZoo

What is Mother’s Day?

It’s a day most of us celebrate the women who have poured love into our lives, nurtured us, cared for us, kissed our boo-boo’s, held us when we were sad or afraid, and so much more. It’s a love that’s irreplaceable and no one else can fill that role.

Not everyone has that love. Some never had it. Some had it in a warped way. Some have lost it. There are many things in our fallen world that separate us from the most special bond God intended us to have.

A mother isn’t just someone who physically gives birth to you. For me, while I have loved my mother, she was also not the mother I needed in some of the hardest times of my life. That abandonment still affects me greatly today at the age of 39. It’s a longing my heart aches for. It’s a loss I don’t want to accept.

I spent my very first Mother’s Day, back in 2001, alone. I asked my husband to take my son and go visit his family and leave me alone. I believed they were better off without me. I believed I deserved to be alone. Oh how wrong I was but the lies I’ve believed all my life tainted any truths I needed to believe.

That little boy will soon be 17. He amazes me more and more each day. Sure, we’ve had our issues and all I can say is I have messed up and apologized many times, as has he. And over the years, #2 and #3 have blessed our family. Most days, it’s a zoo but it’s my zoo. Most days, I’m tired, worn out, wishing I could find solitude in a tiny cabin in the woods where I can be alone with my thoughts, yet I know I would quickly feel lost in the quiet.

What I have learned is that being hurt by your mother doesn’t mean you will be a bad mother. I think in many ways, it’s helped me be a better mother. When our oldest son was five and I made a choice that too closely resembled choices my mother had made, I hated myself and feared I was becoming her. I knew my son deserved better than that, just as I had. I cried out to God with two requests:

“God, either you’ve got to take over or I’m not going to make it.”

I remember saying those words out loud and I can hear them just as clear today as I did on that September morning.

The roller coaster of life has continued as it does for most. There have been amazing times and there have been horribly, hit the bottom, completely empty times. Through it all, God has placed just the right people in my life at just the right times. For so long, I was angry at God for allowing things to happen in my life and for not having the mom and dad I saw so many others have. I wanted to feel that unconditional love, to have that complete trust in someone that no matter what happened, they would hold you, cry with you, and believe you.

I didn’t have that. I won’t have that. I have to accept that.

But this Mother’s Day, I’m going to celebrate in spite of the wounds I carry.

I’m going to celebrate the three amazing blessings that call me mom.

I’m going to celebrate that God has led me down a different path from my own mother’s choices.

I’m going to celebrate that even though I am completely broken, my children know they can always depend on me to believe them, hold them, cry with them, and love them.

I’m going to celebrate the many people God put in my life to keep me going and even though I wanted them to fill roles they couldn’t possibly fill, I can clearly see what special gifts each of them have been.

I fear naming them as I certainly do not want to leave anyone out but I can honestly say, so many people have greatly impacted my life and I am grateful for each of you. To those of you have been the closest to tending to me like what I imagine a mother or father would, I thank you. I probably put unrealistic expectations on you and for that, I’m sorry. But know that my heart is full because you poured into my life.

From earlier days in my life, thank you to my 6th grade friends who gathered with me in the small teachers lounge as I poured out my heart, wow…what a crazy position you all were in. I asked you to swear on the Bible not to tell and though you did swear it, you knew what I had said was something worthy of breaking that promise. You knew it needed adult intervention. And you made sure I got that. Thank you for being my friends, the first people I ever felt I could share my secrets with. And I so wish I could have said thank you to Mrs. Glenda who was the first adult I ever confided my secrets to. I learned she passed away a while back. She had such a gentle, loving spirit. I was drawn to her because she felt safe. She was my voice when I couldn’t speak. Even though things did not go well, I know she believed me. I am thankful for Mrs. Carson, my 8th grade English teacher who became a light in my life. I’m thankful we are able to still stay in touch. And I thank you for all you did for me and all you taught me. To Mr. Black, my high school art teacher, thank you for rocking the Duke sweatshirts and pulling for the “right” team! Thank you for fueling my love of drawing and art. Writing and drawing have been outlets that got me through life. I suppose you could say among many unhealthy was,  those have been my healthy ways of coping. Thank you for giving me something else to think about, to strive for, to love when my world was pretty dark. To my high school buddies, Erin and Christina…I kept you at a distance personally, just as I did everyone, but you were my friends and I’m thankful you were there. You helped create many good memories! My softball buddies, Kelly and Angie – fun times. Man, I lived for the dirt and I’m so glad we had so many good times together in a place I loved so much.

To my Guardian Ad Litem, Anne, who was there for me during some of the hardest times. Thank you for listening to me, for believing me, for treating me like I mattered, and for giving me a voice even though I was afraid to use it. I knew I was safe with you and that’s what mattered.

To my sweet grandparents, affectionately called Nana and Papa. I miss you. Thank you for taking me in when you were both facing your own nightmares. You had each been diagnosed with cancer but at the same time, you were there for me, supporting me, and taking me in as your own. You had always been there but you made your home mine too. You loved me as much as you could. I know it was hard. I was horribly broken. I was a depressed, hurt, abandoned, and lost teenage girl. I know it was hard on you. But you loved me anyway. Nana, you had your moments that really hurt. There were stings from you that I still feel today but at the same time, I remember those moments when you let me crawl up on your lap and cry. It was the only place I could cry. That meant more to me in that moment than anything. When I needed a place to cry, you gave me that. And Papa, I don’t think you ever did anything wrong in my eyes. I looked at you with nothing but admiration. You were the perfect gentleman. You taught me to love others, to help others, to care about others, and to forgive others. You taught me what real, safe, true love looked like. You smiled at me at all the right times. Your eyes filled with tears when you knew I was hurting. Your face showed disappointment when you knew I’d made bad choices. But you never stopped loving me. You never stopped letting me know I was loved. You are the reason I am married to the man I am. He is God’s precious gift to me and he came just as you left. God didn’t allow me to be without that one perfect man for me. First it was you and when you could no longer fill that role, it became Tony. He’s so much like you. The perfect gentleman, the one who would help anyone, who has forgiven endlessly, who has shown me every single day of our life together that I matter and he loves me. Thank you for being such a great example of what a real man is. And thank you for playing ball with me, for late nights, for giving me and Nana lots of giggles when your teeth fell down or your major comb-over had come to the dark side, lol. Thank you for giving me my blue eyes when no one else in the family had them…just you and me. And now, no one in my little family has them except my own daughter. What a special gift we share with you. Thank you for loving me.

Danny and Lee, thank you for loving me, for caring about me, for loving my grandparents and being a support to them as they faced their own trials and raising an abused, scared, angry teenager. What a world they were thrown into. Thank you for taking me in when I had no where else to go. You not only provided shelter for me and my sweet Tippie, but you provided a sense of family I’d never experienced. I got a glimpse of what a real family looks like. For a short time, I got to know what it felt like to have a sister and brother, a mom and dad. And though you couldn’t really fill those roles, you certainly did all you could to make me feel at home. The physical gift of providing me shelter was beyond wonderful but the emotional love you showed me was priceless.

Jimmy and Cindy, thank you for making me laugh. Oh what fun times we had…and some not so fun (like stacking the phase 10 cards just to see me get mad or flipping the hat off my head). Sure, those things made me angry on the outside. My short fuse often reacted. But on the inside, I knew you loved me and cared about me. I knew everything you did was out of love for me. You not only loved me but you gave me the outlet I so desperately needed. You gave me other things to focus on than my own nightmares. You gave me reasons to smile and laugh. You stayed up late endless nights with me playing Rook. Those moments were a treasure because I wasn’t alone. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have been alone in my own world of darkness, despair, and hopelessness. When I was with you all, you lifted my spirits and shined your light into my darkness.

To Becky and Bill, I guess if anyone could claim to be my parents, you both could. At times, you have loved me like your own and from day one, you claimed my kids as your own grandkids. I have loved that. What a special treat it has been for myself and my kids. My biggest regret is that we haven’t made much time for you all lately. Life has been busy and has taken us in different directions but you are never far from my heart. You’ve loved and supported me since I was 17. You were there when my grandpa died and again when my grandma died. You were there when I needed help with Noah and your love for him was priceless. You’ve continued that and I am so grateful for all you have done for us. Thank you for loving me and my family.

To my church family – there’s no way I can name each of you individually because I would certainly miss someone. Each of you have impacted my life in some way. I won’t say it’s always been easy or even good but that’s how families are. I know first-hand that families are dysfunctional. What you all, my chosen family, have taught me is that families work through those things, they overcome trials, they support one another, believe one another, and forgive one another. What amazing lessons I have learned from this sweet family God brought me into.

Thank you Skip and Jeff for being faithful leaders who have taught me more about myself than I ever imagined. You’ve taught me I’m not alone and you’ve accepted me in my darkest moments. You never turned me away. Instead, you poured hope and love into my life. You showed me that I was worthy of your time and God’s love. What greater gifts could I have asked for than for someone to reassure me that God has a plan for my life?

To my sweet friends who have come, gone, or stayed by my side, I thank you all. Even if our ways have parted, you were there at just the right time and blessed me beyond anything I ever deserved. In your own ways, each of you has allowed me to be a part of your life and your family. You have shown me the love of a sister or mother when I needed it most. I realize expecting that unconditional, irreplaceable love from you was never fair to you and probably only hurt me more. Even still, you showed me the closest love of a sister or mother than I could imagine. Leslie, Ashley, Jennifer, Ambra, Rachel, April, Karin, Keg, Julie, Trish, all my amazing Bible study sisters, thank you for walking through this life with me. I know I haven’t been the perfect friend – far from it and you loved me anyway. I know I carry with me some pretty heavy baggage. You’ve helped me carry it. My emotions and reactions can change instantly. You love me through it. You’ve accepted me. You’ve allowed me the freedom to be honest about things I maybe never felt safe enough to share. And you’ve prayed for me so many times. What an honor it has been to have each of you in my life. My heart will always hold you in a special place and I am a better person because of you.

To my amazing Armstrong family…wow. What a beautiful blessing it has been to be a part of such an amazing family. I often jokingly say  you are the most normal family I could ever imagine but really, it’s true. Sure, there are kinks but I have never seen such love for one another, encouragement, love, and support. And I get to be part of that! It sure has been nice to feel like I am part of a real family. I hate we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like. You all have shown me what “family” really means.

There are so many more people I could name, who have touched my life in amazing ways, who have shown me that I matter, encouraged me, pushed me, and loved me. My SCS friends and family, the kids I’ve been blessed to work with through subbing, my photography friends and families who’ve trusted me with their most precious treasures and those who’ve allowed me into their lives during some of their own most difficult losses, to those in the fire department and rescue squad who became my family when I had none. I know they call it a brotherhood and I was the only girl around but you didn’t leave me out or single me out. You made me feel like I belonged.

And to my sweet “friend,” Kara. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day. I know you and I have a different relationship and most days, that’s more than frustrating. And yet I know you want the best for me, even if that means things are different. You’ve provided me a safe place to bear my heart, to cry the tears that have flooded me inside. You’ve taught me more about myself than…well probably more than I ever wanted to know, lol. And you’ve helped me make sense of my own mess, my broken world. You’ve helped me patch the wounds, right the wrongs, replace lies with truth. You’ve taught me my own truth and you’ve taught me God’s truth. You’ve shown me a love so unconditional, I can’t even put into words how priceless it’s been. You’ve believed me. You’ve encouraged me. You’ve supported me. You’ve prayed for me. You’ve allowed me to be real with you. You’ve helped break down the walls I had built so high and strong. You’ve made difficult choices when you needed to knowing it would lead to hurt or a loss of trust, but you did so to keep me safe, to protect me, because you care. You have become such a huge part of who I am, of who I am becoming, of who I will someday be. Everything you have done for me is irreplaceable and even if there are times when I want assurance that you are who I want you to be, you are always who God made you. You have taught me to trust. To trust you, to trust others, to trust myself, and to trust God. I came to you having little to no trust and look at where I am now. I’ve still got a long way to go so don’t plan on going anywhere :)

So you can’t all be mother’s, in fact, none of you can be my mother. There’s only one woman on this earth that was given that name. What I ask of all of you is that you pray for her. My life is very different and I am stronger now. I have had to be a mother to my children. I have had to protect them, guide them, love them, and everything that I am supposed to do as a mother. Part of that was saying goodbye to my own mother. I know it hurt her. That was never my intention but it was what was necessary for me and my family. I have never, not one day hated my mother. I have loved her and wanted a mothers love more than anything. But what I’ve learned is that just as I am broken in my own ways, she was broken in hers. Part of that was in her ability to be the mother I needed. Please pray that she can find peace in her own life and know that she is loved from afar.

And because I’ve lived without a dad too, we’ll go ahead and count this as my Father’s Day note too. So here’s to all of you…Happy Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, friend day, sister day, brother day, family day, etc.

“To the world you may only be one person but to me, you’ve been the world.” – unknown

Series: College Life | Adulting in a Kids World…

I’m going to go out on a short limb here and guess that most of my readers are middle aged women. There may be a few stragglers from other categories and that’s okay too (in fact, I welcome all!).

But I seriously doubt very many teenagers are dropping by and hanging around. However, I find myself surrounded by a sea of teenagers and young adults.

Why? I’m glad you asked…

College. That’s where they hang out these days.

Okay, so maybe they’re not just hanging out. I’m sure that’s not all they’re doing, in fact, being one of these “students” myself, I’m just about certain they’re doing much more than just hanging out.

They’re doing papers (or at least should be).
And papers.
And more papers.
They’re probably studying, at least a little.
They’re not sleeping very much (notice the papers and studying above).
They’re playing sports.
They’re working jobs.
They’re drinking coffee (and probably some things they shouldn’t)…and lots of it (again, notice the papers and studying).
They’re looking for boyfriends and girlfriends and just friends in general.
They’re trying to adult.
They’re paying bills (or maybe begging for coffee money from mom and dad).
They’re finding their way around in a semi-adult world.
And because they’re still kids, they’re partying, making friends, playing, etc.

In the community college atmosphere, I saw this, but ever so slightly. Being on a big 4-year campus, I’m dead in the middle of college life. Wow, culture shock?!

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When I first came to “Uni,” which is what I think these kids use as short for “University,” (I still haven’t figured out what “Sovi” is but I think maybe it’s the Student Union? Anyone that wants to help this “old” gal with college lingo, feel free!) back in August and the weeks that followed, I thought, “No way…I’m too old for this!”

And most days, I still feel that way. I mean, after all, I’ve got a husband, three kids, a dog, Bible studies, friends, church stuff, writing, part-time work with photography and subbing, and on and on. I don’t have time for this. And I don’t. But I do.

So all this time, I’ve been thinking how great it is that these kids are schooling while they’re young because at 38, I feel way too damn old! Ya know, these “youngin’s” have all the advantages…

But…

On my hour long morning commute (an hour if traffic’s good – one way | sometimes I find myself sing to Dori’s tune…“just keep driving, just keep driving!”), I have lots of thinking time (which is exhausting in itself but oh how sweet a time it can be!). This morning, I was thinking of how hard it’s been for me to adult in a kids world. I’m exhausted. I’m the girl that has always stayed up until midnight or later and never thought twice about it. Now, I find myself ready for bed before my kids are even in bed (and they go at 8:30p)! Actually, to say I’m exhausted has to be an understatement. I don’t even know a word to define how tired I am and words are my thing (after all, I’m an English major – though that doesn’t mean I’m a pro at this word thing by any means so don’t hold me at fault there, lol).

So, back to my morning drive…this morning, I was thinking…maybe I’m actually the lucky one here. Maybe instead of these kids having all the advantages, I actually am the one with the advantages. I started thinking about all the things in my life that are settled and the peace that comes with that…and how for these kids, nothing is settled.

See, I am married. I don’t have to hunt for the perfect man. I already have the perfect man for me and he’s my biggest supporter and encourager (if that’s not a word, I’m making it one!). I don’t have to date and wonder if this guy is going to be the one or if he’s the biggest jerk ever. I don’t have to go to parties and drink (been there, done that, worn out the t-shirt and realized it’s only by the grace of God I survived any of that) to have fun or wear minimal clothing to try and attract all the wrong people. I don’t have to wonder if I’ll ever have kids…I have three and certainly couldn’t do this college thing if they weren’t such awesome kids. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills because my husband works so hard to make sure we are taken care of and I’ve got student loans that I know I will one day have to and be able to pay back. I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to live or what I’m going to drive.

Point being…there are so many things these kids have to worry about. That list above is tiny compared to all the worries and pressures they have. I don’t have to worry about those things. Sure, I have to adult but part of that means I also have a lot more stability, security and certainty than they do. I have a family that supports me, helps around the house and in every day tasks so that I can do this adulting in a kids world thing, who pick up my slack. I’ve got friends, young and old, who are praying for me daily. I’ve got a church family that has been one of the greatest blessings from God. The support and encouragement has been amazing. I feel like I have a group of cheerleaders encouraging me daily, with the “You can do this!” and “You’ve got this!” comments.

And I’ve been down enough long, hard roads and made enough wrong turns that I know…without a doubt, somehow, I can do this and that even if I don’t, it will be okay. I don’t have the weight of what if’s on my shoulders. Most of these kids can’t say that. They don’t have that comfort or peace.

So, while I’ve looked at this thinking from the perspective of “I’m too old for this…” I think I’m realizing these “youngin’s” don’t actually have the advantage. They may have more energy (or drink more coffee) but I have peace and security that only comes through life experiences and an unfailing trust and faith in the God who has brought me through the darkest times. Kudos to me for adulting today!

While you’re here, would you please say a prayer for me…that I can be a light to these kids. I don’t know their backgrounds. I don’t know their struggles. But I do know my own and I know how hard things can be. And I know what it’s like to go through the hard times alone, without the support of family and friends. I imagine, like myself as a teen, many of these kids are facing some of those same struggles I faced. Please pray that I can be some kind of encouragement to them, a light in whatever their darkness might be.

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Unfortunate misconceptions…

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In usual fashion, this post is quite long…ramblings of a sort. I’m honored if you make it to the end. Words fill my heart and head. And when they start to flow, I don’t want to hold them back. I hope each of my words touch your heart and leave you with love and compassion in a cruel world.
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Misconception

In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, I’ve heard of and witnessed many stories filled with or fueled by hate. I’ve also heard many stories of the outpouring of love and support for the families of the victims involved in the senseless murders of 49 people and the many others injured, forever scarred by evil desires. It’s a mixed up world we are in and unfortunately, in a time when we should all come together in support of one another, we remain divided, allowing anger to fester between us. These are my own thoughts. Feel free to comment with your thoughts as well, but leave hate out of it. There’s no room for anymore hate. Comments filled with hate, from any point of view, will be deleted.

Misconception – a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Tragedy – “an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress, such as a serious accident, crime, or natural catastrophe.”

On September 11, 2001, thousands of people breathed their last breath. A country was impacted by the tragedy of violence, hate, and murder. A country mourned. The world mourned. We still mourn.

December 14th, 2012, in the peaceful town of Newtown, Connecticut, a young man walked into an elementary school and murdered 20 children and 6 adults. The children were 6 and 7 years old…still babies, learning to read and write, to dance, to share with one another, to walk in a line, to whisper, to live, to love. Their lives were invaluable to those who loved them but to that one young man, their lives were meaningless.

June 17th, 2015, in a small South Carolina church, a group prayed together. They welcomed a troubled young man into the church and prayed with him just before he took their lives. A tragedy of violence, hate, and murder.

On June 12th, 2016, at a night club in Florida, men and women danced, laughed, sang, and breathed their final breaths as a gunman ripped their lives away. A moment of terror left 49 dead and many others injured. Hundreds of lives, forever changed, by violence, hate, and murder.

It’s been said that many of these tragedies are done “in the name of religion.”

This is true. Many acts of hate and evil have been done “in the name of religion.” What this means is people, filled with hate towards a select group of men, women, or children, committed acts of horror, terror, violence, and murder and claimed to do so based their belief that in doing so, they would be fulfilling the desires of their god. When this happens, the unfortunate misconception is that religion is to blame. We lump all religions, every group of people who gather to worship a higher power, into one category. We label religion as evil. But that’s where we are wrong.

When religion is based strictly on a set of rules or laws that one believes must be met in order to receive salvation, that opens the door for competition, jealousy, anger, rage, and hate. It creates a need to “one-up.” It puts people in a position of attempting to attain the impossible … perfection. When religion is based solely on the grace and mercy of one man, sent from the Creator of the earth, we are humbled people, learning to extend compassion and forgiveness, understanding we are no better than any other, knowing we are all broken people in need. This removes ourselves from being the source of our own salvation and places that salvation in the wounded hands of the only Savior.

Not one of those lives stolen deserved to die that way. Not one. Not the youngest of the children at Sandy Hook, not the heroes who rushed into falling buildings to save the lives of others, not one man or woman based on their sexuality, their feelings, their desires, period. Not even the men who began their lives as one tiny heartbeat, 10 little toes and fingers, a light, soft swoop of hair on their head, raised and taught to hate to the point they would brutally torture and rape women, or sacrifice their own lives to selfishly and hatefully take the life another, in the name of religion. Not one of them should have died. Not one.

Let’s get something straight…

Religion did not carry a gun into the the flashing lights and crowded dance floors of a night club in Florida and the gun did not walk in there on its own. A man chose to allow anger and hate to fill his heart. He chose to carry guns inside a night club filled with people. He chose to murder many innocent men and women and forever change the lives of many others. A broken man. A man with empty places filled by hate. Religion is not to blame. Evil is. Religion did not fly a plane into the World Trade Center with the intent to kill thousands. Broken men did. Religion did not walk into a church, sit among a group of people as they prayed what would be their final prayers, and then rob them of another breath. A broken man did. Religion did not enter an elementary school, open fire on a terrified, helpless, innocent group of 6 and 7 year olds, and destroy the lives of many. A broken man did.

We are all broken. Hear me, we are ALL broken.

As broken people, we need each other. We need love, support, encouragement, hope, peace, faith. Each of us is designed to grieve, to mourn, to desire fulfillment, closeness, relationships, and more. But in a broken world, we are left empty in many of the places we need, so deeply, to be filled.

For some, those places are filled through work, friends, activities, addictions, religion, etc. Others find themselves filled through what most would call religion, but what I will call a relationship and faith. Faith in something better. Faith in a loving God. Faith in a God who became flesh to teach us, guide us, and love us. Faith in a grander place and a grand design. Faith in humanity. Hope.

A successful relationship comes from knowing someone. You learn about their character. You grow to understand them. Through prayer, through reading Scripture, I’ve been able to understand more about the God I believe created the world. I have learned He is a God of love, not hate. He is a just God, who will punish evil, but at the same time, reminds me to live with peace and unity among all, including those who have different beliefs, make different choices, live different lives, and even with my enemies. He instructs me to pray for my enemy, those who hurt and betray me. Praying for those who hurt me does not wipe away the hurt, the wounds are not forgotten, and the pain is not removed, but the hate that could fill my heart is replaced by forgiveness, love, and hope. What could make me bitter, angry, and hate-filled, instead, allows me to look for the good, to appreciate the blessings, to love the unlovable. Religion is much more than a set of rules. It’s a relationship with the One who gave me life, and gave His own, in order that I may truly live. Without a relationship, without that appreciation, without the mercy and grace given as a gift, we have nothing.

Marriage does not work without communication.
Parenting without nurture wounds a child.
Religion without Christ, the giver of grace and mercy, is empty.

Perhaps we need to create some sort of substantial separation between what we define as religion and Faith. I’m not even sure that works because there are peaceful, loving Muslims. There are peaceful, loving, Buddhist. There are peaceful loving people in all sorts of “religions”. And there are broken people in them, just the same.

As a Christian, I believe we all need…we all need a savior and I believe the source of salvation is not in acts of goodness, service, kindness or in acts of control, hate, or murder. I believe our salvation is based solely on the grace and mercy of a loving God by His own flesh, Jesus Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10

Are bad things done in the name of religion? Yes.
Does that make religion bad? No.

But these words in my Bible, that I believe are breathed straight from God through man, serve as instruction and guidance for my life. They very clearly say that I am not saved by acts of kindness, service, or a good heart, nor am I saved by acts of evil, hate, or murder. I am saved by the acts of one sinless man, the very God I believe in, the one who created everything out of nothing, the one who fills darkness with light, the one who walked on earth in the form of flesh to experience the very same feelings and emotions we experience, in order to draw us closer to Him, to show He fully understands, to set an example before us of how to extend hope, love, and compassion to those around us, who created us with the purpose of doing good. Acts do not make me a Christian and believing in God does not make me good. I am a sinner. I have made bad choices. I have hurt people. Being a Christian, a believer in Christ, a follower of Christ, makes me a person who can freely admit that I have dished out my own fair share of wrongs and had wrongs done to me but am saved by the grace and mercy of one God, who took on the sins of the world through flesh, with the purpose that I will do good in His name. That in the name of God, because I have faith, I will love. I will show compassion. I will try to understand others. I will accept as they are, just as He has accepted me. I will pray for peace.

Do I profess to fully understand all of that? Nope.
Can I explain it without any doubt so that anyone else will also believe? Nope.
Do I have faith anyway? Yes.

There are a lot of “religious” people who spew hate and disgust at people who are different from them.  There are a lot of non-religious people who hate the religious bigots. That means there is a lot of hate going around. I don’t understand why this happens and I can’t explain the hate some are filled with.

Unresolved anger?
Fear?

Maybe there are no answers or maybe there are hundreds of answers.

What I do know is that we are designed with a desire and need to be with one another, to love one another, to support, encourage, and care for one another. From the moment a child is conceived, she has a need. She needs nourishment from her mothers body to enable her to grow inside her mothers womb. She needs comfort and protection as her organs form and she prepares to breath her first breath. And in that moment, the moment she takes her first breath, she needs love, comfort, and nourishment. Without those things, she will die. We are created to need one another.

While some people frown upon the word sin, one fact is, sin separates us. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, as a human being, you are not exempt from the effects of sin (or the wrong/bad choices people make). As a Christian, I believe sin separates us from God. I believe in a good God who can take no part in the evilness of sin, who mourns and grieves with us because of the evil in our broken world, but who promises us a place of peace and hope, to fill the emptiness left by the sinful acts committed by us or against us. As a person, who walks in the flesh, I believe sin separates us from each other. It doesn’t matter what religion you are or if you believe in anything, you are still subject to the effects of sin. Gossip destroys relationships, reputations, and lives. Infidelity puts walls between couples and robs them of the trust in their partner. Jealousy leads to dissatisfaction and a lack of thankfulness in the blessings of the meaningful things in our lives. Rape takes the innocence of an act designed to be pleasurable, fulfilling, intimate, and turns it into something horrific, a brutal, damaging form or torture that follows one throughout their life. Murder not only destroys the lives of many, but it robs the murdered of another moment, another breath, another chance to extend hope and love. It is an irreversible choice.

Sin, evil thoughts or acts, crimes of rape, murder, jealousy, infidelity, and so on, create in us a cold, dead heart. Not in the physical sense, but by us placing the value of a thing above the value of a person, in pursuing our own desires before those of another, in forcing things upon another against their will, in stealing ones innocence, in destroying the lives of others. It takes the love and warmth that was meant for us and replaces it with hate, anger, rage.

Religion did not destroy the lives of more than a hundred people at the Orlando shooting. Hate did.

While some claim hate in the name of religion, what people need to understand is, you cannot lump all those who have faith in a higher power under one title. Religion is not the source hate anymore than a tree is the source of money. An individual persons choices and actions are the source of and result of hate. Hate comes from many different people, religions, cultures, groups, beliefs, and so on. Hate can be found in a classroom, in a church, in a store, on a baseball field, in a group of friends, in a marriage, on a highway, or anywhere and in anyone’s heart.

So can love. It’s our choice what we fill our hearts with.

Religion – “the belief in a god or group of gods; an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods; an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.

Can religion be the source of hate? Yes.
Does that mean religion is evil or hate-filled? No.

There are many peaceful, loving, caring Muslims who believe their God is a God of peace. There are many Christians who pray daily for peace, grasping for bits of hope for a better tomorrow, believing in a loving God.

And then there are those who have their own motives, fueled by their brokenness, filled with hate.

I can only speak from the Christian perspective because it’s what I know.

Do religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do non-religious people hurt people? Yes.
Do Christians hurt people? Yes.
Do non-Christians hurt people? Yes.

Does the Bible speak of hate, murder, sexual immorality, punishment, war, and many other horrors? Yes. Does that make it hard to comprehend? Yes. Have countless people asked, “How can a loving God allow so much hurt and pain?” Of course. Is it possible for that to create doubt in a loving God? Yes.

Here’s the thing…doubt comes from a lack of understanding. I can say that because I’ve been there. For most of my life, I’ve doubted that I was worthy of the love of a good and loving God. I also spent many years believing He was punishing me for being a bad person. I lived in fear, doubt, hopelessness. I wanted to believe in a good and loving God but I couldn’t imagine one who would accept me.

Broken people need.

They need healing.
They need hope.
We are ALL broken.

At some point, in my own life, I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I was in a place of desperation. The only choice I felt I had was to depend on a God I couldn’t see, one I feared hated me, one I was certain would never accept me, but one I placed my faith in anyway. It was a choice. I don’t take pride in any of the choices I have made but I am thankful for the direction my life took that led to the choice I made that sunny September morning in 2005. What I’ve learned is the God I believe in truly is a loving God. He chooses broken people. We are broken, created with many needs, leaving us each with empty places, that I believe, only He can fill. He uses broken people. He uses them for good…not evil.

So when someone commits a horrible crime, destroy lives, robbing them of a future, of hope, and they do so in the name of religion, we need to understand there is a difference in them, their beliefs, and mine. Religion is not hate. Religion is a group of people, worshiping a God they believe in, because it is important to them. That does not mean religion can be defined as hate.

Are there some religious people filled with hate? Yes.
Are there many other religious people filled with love? Yes.

Please don’t put us all in the same category based on misunderstanding of religion or the differences in religions.

Personally, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in hope. I believe that someday, there will be no more pain, tears, suffering. I believe because it’s what I need. It’s what works for me. I have lived through many tragedies of my own. I have lived a very broken life, with many hurts, many moments of darkness, and many thoughts of escaping this cruel world. I have questioned the God I believe in. There are things I will never understand.

I have sat alone in a cold, empty room, having had everything even down to my underwear stripped away from me and in that darkest, loneliest moment, the comfort of God’s words were all I had.

“I will not die but live, and proclaim what the Lord has done.” Psalm 118:17

Those words were with me that night. Whether you believe in God or not, I believe those words came from Him, over 2,000 years ago, and in that moment, He used them to comfort me, to give me peace, to restore my faith and bring life back to my worn and tattered soul. He gave me hope that I could breathe another breath, that I could face another tomorrow, that somehow, someway, I could help another through the struggles of this life as well. I was not alone. Though physically, I had nothing but a hard cot, a scratchy blanket, and a set of paper scrubs, I was not alone and He provided exactly what I needed in that very moment. Those words were everything.

And still, I find myself asking at times…

Why does a mother have to say goodbye to her child before it can even take it’s first breath?
Why do people fulfill their own sick desires by violating innocent children?
Why does a man walk into a night club and murder many innocent, precious, people?
Why do we not value each and every life, breath or no breath?
Why does a child face starvation and desperation?
Why are people hated because of the color of their skin, their physical disabilities, or their sexuality?

What brings a person to the point that he or she sees no value in the life of another?

I could go on and on with the questions but there are no answers. The only answer that brings me peace is that the God I believe in is faithful and promises hope, love, and healing. He promises to never abandon, to provide strength in times of need, to hear our cries, to mourn with us.

There may be religious people who hate. But religion itself is not hate. Religion is a group of people in a shared group of beliefs in either a God, laws, rituals or whatever. But hate is what fills a person. Religion may teach works, hate, or murder. Religion may teach hope, faith and love. Each of those things are what a person is filled with and each of those people are given a choice in what they will be filled with. A man who chose to murder 49 innocent people in the name of religion chose to be filled with hate. A person professing to be a Christian, shouting hate-filled statements of disgust and anger towards a group of people based on their sexuality, makes the choice to hate. A person who denying the beliefs of any greater power or a different higher being and in turn mocks, condemns, or ridicules someone else because of their differences in beliefs, chooses hate.

Why? Why are we so afraid of people who are different from us? Why are we offended when someone chooses something we don’t agree with? Why do we feel our beliefs and desires have to be the beliefs and desires of everyone? Why, like God, do we not allow people to make their own choices, and extend encouragement, support, and love? Perhaps if the gunman in Florida had been nurtured and loved, raised to accept the differences in others, to embrace those differences, to love in spite of differences, maybe he would have chosen love instead of hate.

And as a Christian, I know there are many “Christians” who express disgust towards homosexuals, yet when one is found guilty of adultery, gossip, slander, stealing, or something else they deem those “sins” as inadequate compared to what they believe is the sin of a homosexual. What someone does in their bedroom is their business. It’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s theirs. If you believe in God, then you also know that Scripture says…

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19

Basically, it says butt out. Mind your own business.

While that may sound harsh, leave the judgment to the God you believe in. If you feel the need to do something or say something, follow God’s word and pray. Don’t pray to change someone who’s different from you. Genuinely pray for them, that whatever is best for them will be, that the God you hold so highly, wrap them in His loving embrace and comfort them in any times of trouble. Cry out to God with your frustrations, concerns and fears. When we fail to trust the very God we expect others to follow and trust, we are no example to them. If we believe, as we say we do, in a loving and just God, then we should show our trust in Him by leaving the judgment and correction to Him and extend to others the grace and mercy He has given us.

The greatest commands are to love God and love others. Before anything else, we love God and others. A friend said to me, “Does your Bible say homosexuality is wrong?” Yes, it does. It also says tattoos, gossip, infidelity, stealing, murder and more are wrong. And it says we are all broken. It says we are all in need of something to fill our empty places. And it says we all have choices on what those empty places will be filled with. And it says if we choose to let those empty places be filled with love, we are full-filling the greatest and only commands we need to follow. By loving God and loving others, everything falls into place as it should.

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36-39

“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8

“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:1-11

These are verses from my Bible. These are the commands of a loving, sovereign God.

Do bad things happen? Yes.
Does God punish people for the bad things they do? I believe He will.
Does He still mourn and grieve for those who turn from Him, those who do wrong, those who are hurt by the hands of another? I believe so.
Does He offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness? Yes.
Does He withhold that from anyone? No, it’s available to all.
Does He command us to do the same? Yes.

So while there are many things in Scripture that I may never understand, I do know God’s love is available to anyone. And I believe He loves everyone.

“… when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6

Christ died for the ungodly. Not the saints. Not the perfect people. Not the holier than thou. But for the broken, the needy, for all of us, not based on religion, sexuality, age, color, or name. We are all His creation. His desire is for not one person to be lost. But with that, He gives each of us the choice. He won’t force us to choose Him. We are free to make our own choices.

A religion may be a group of people who share a common belief, or even believe certain rituals or laws, but each individual is responsible for the choices they make. There are bad people and there are good people. There is sorrow and there is joy. There is pain and there is healing. What will you pour into others?

Many non-Christians or non-religious people say the Bible is filled with hate. I admit, there’s a lot in the Bible that makes very little sense to me, things I don’t think I’ll ever understand but as you really begin to understand the God of the Bible, you see, it’s His letter to us of guidance, hope, and love.

“We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” 1 John 3:12

Cain was evil. He was affected by sin. Each of us are given a choice. We can allow sin to control us or we can take control of that sin. Cain allowed his anger, his jealousy, to enrage him to the point he murdered his own brother. His deeds were evil. Cain made a choice to commit an evil act.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16

Each an every heart that ever beats is precious in God’s eyes. Every single one. And each and every person is given choices in life. The hate-filled men who murdered thousands of innocent people in the name of religion as they brought a country to her knees on a beautiful September morning…they were created, intricately, in the depths of a woman’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made. And in a broken world, they had a need. They had an emptiness that only God should fill. Instead, the choices they made led those empty places to be filled with hate and evil. What should have been filled with peace, love and hope, was occupied by plans of devastation and murder, and done in the name of religion.

But religion did not cause the events of that September day. Broken people, who made hate-filled choices did.

Does God allow evil?

Each of those twenty precious babies from Sandy Hook Elementary had value. They had value to their parents, to their families, to their friends, and to a loving God. Did God want fear, suffering, and death for them? I don’t believe so.

I believe from the very beginning, from the moment God took the dust of the earth and formed it into a man, He had a plan. A grand, beautiful plan, but a plan we would play part in. He could have created us as robots that followed everything He desired but instead, He allowed us to make that choice for ourselves. Without a choice, there would really be no meaning or no purpose in our lives. With choices, we would learn to put others before ourselves, to love one another, to mourn with each other, to laugh and be joy-filled together, to pray together, to live together. And with that, we would learn differences, and with differences would come jealousy, anger, and hate. And we would have a choice. We could choose to look beyond those differences in acceptance and love, or we could choose to allow bitterness to take root and grow into a hate-filled heart.

If God is all-knowing and in control, how do our choices make a difference?

Because He is all-knowing, He knows our hearts. Our comprehension and understanding is inadequate compared to Him. After all, He created everything, with a single breath. Can you do that? His ways are beyond our understanding. But He is good. His purposes are good. His desire is for us to choose Him, to come to Him in our own free will…not forced, but to make a choice to serve Him, a good, loving God. Being in control means He is aware of the outcome and in the end, He wins. Evil cannot win. Evil does not get the final say. Hate does not win. Love does.

Some people bring up the Old Testament laws and use them against Christians today, calling us hypocrites. I understand that and honestly, there really are plenty of hypocrites in the church, and outside the church. I’ve been one myself. Again, we are all broken people. I’ve been a thief. I’ve been jealous. I’ve gossiped. And on, and on, and on. And I’ve loved. I’ve served. I’ve grieved. I’ve suffered. You name it, I’ve probably done it. I’m broken just like anyone else.

But I have something that the man who walked into a night club and took the lives of 49 innocent, precious, beautiful sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, did not have. I have faith in a good and loving God. My religion is not hate. My religion is Christianity. I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I believe in a God who became flesh as an example of how to forgive, to love, to care for others, to bring comfort, to serve, to live. I believe in a God who became flesh to show me that He understands the temptations and sufferings I would experience on this earth and that He alone can provide the strength and courage needed. I believe in a God who promises to be with me through every moment of joy and through every painful tragedy. I believe in a God who is not filled with hate or disgust for any person, because after all, He created each and every one of us, loving us from before our hearts even beat for the first time, with a grand plan that someday, we would join Him in a peaceful and perfect world, but only after He allowed us to choose that for ourselves.

Religion is not hate. God is not hate. Evil is hate.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

People have a choice. Love or hate. Choose love. No matter what you believe, no matter what you’ve heard or what the media blows out of proportion. No matter the differences, no matter your location, no matter your history, no matter your future, choose love. Hate destroys what is meant to come together. Love brings unity and that is what God desires. We are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We are one nation. We are America. We are broken. We are all in need of something. Don’t let hate be what fills your empty places.

Let love win. Let love win. Let LOVE win!