Posted in Faith

Five years

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It’s been five years since a very significant change occurred in my life.  On the night of September 18, 2008, I had an encounter with the North Ridgeville police department…and our Heavenly Father.  I was pulled over for the second time while driving under the influence of alcohol.  I blew a .012, which wasn’t nearly as bad as the first offense, but it was enough to get me SOBER rather quickly!  It was my second offense in less than two years.  I had a serious problem.

That night, sitting on the bench, waiting for the second officer to return so I could get my impound information, I made the conscious decision to stop smoking (which was something I felt empowered by), a decision to stop driving drunk, and a decision to live for Christ.

All I could do while looking at the walls was pray.  I would shake my head at my ability to get caught again.  I would tell God that I knew I screwed up but that He had to help me this time!  And I would pray that I would have words to tell Mom and Dad what I had done.  I was so remorseful.  Sadly, and now laughably, I remember telling the one officer how sorry I was for making him do all this paperwork at 1am in the morning.  He just smiled and said it was okay.  Really???  And I consciously remember asking rhetorically, “How could this happen again?  I thought I was past this”, only to have God respond in my spirit, “It’s ALL or nothing, Grace…all or nothing.”

That was all I needed to hear.

Prior to that day, I had been living a life that is not worthy of sharing (and since I’m forgiven, I’m not going to provide the details-that Grace is gone!).  But God didn’t care as much about where I had been, compared to where I was going.  He was telling me He forgave me, but I had to stop pushing Him away and going the other direction.  It was either align myself with Him or these things would continue.

I was so sick to my stomach.  I was ashamed.  My parents had raised me better and I was misrepresenting them.  They taught me God was forgiving and loving, but that we also had to deal with consequences of sin.  I knew better than to deal with life the way I had been.

That night, I said yes to God.  It wasn’t the first time, but it definitely had significant meaning.  After my breathalyzer reading was recorded, I was sent home with a court date and no car keys.  A friend picked me up and dropped me off, never to hang out again.  It appeared to be the death sentence of my social life.

I had to tell my parents the next day.  I didn’t know how.  I had to call off of work and think, and after sixteen hours of straight thinking, I was DONE thinking!  I was twenty-eight years old, and had no car to get to work. When I did tell my parents, disappointment reigned, and I was told I could move back home.  My stubbornness kept me from doing that, so I agreed to have my mom pick me up from work, take me to my apartment so I could code charts in the evening after work, and then she would pick me up from there to sleep at their house so she could take me to work the following day.  What a toll emotionally and physically it put on my parents, for seven full weeks!  I will never forget Mom’s sacrifice as we both trudged back and forth from Cleveland to Brecksville to North Olmsted and back.  Dad and my sister provided rides when they could.  It was so appreciated!

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I thank God for His intervention and that I finally listened to the prodding in my spirit.  I thank Him for His provision, and for getting me through the court dates, lack of license, lawyer fees, hotel expenses for my “dry-out” weekends, and impound costs.  I also thank Him for my loving family who helped me see my need for change, never stopped loving me and who prayed for me during my struggle to let go of the flesh.  And mostly, for my now-husband, Kevin, who was my best friend during my struggle.  He didn’t leave my side, but believed in me, and urged me to stay the course, even when neither he or I would know what that meant.  I had to make some serious lifestyle changes.

If you know someone who struggles with alcohol and isn’t able to say no, please listen to their cry.  I had gone through my divorce during my first DUI offense, and knew it was because I was numbing myself.  The second time I got caught, was just me not knowing how to say no to what allowed me to disconnect.  Both times I was caught, I was relieved.

I will be clear: I am not against drinking by any means.  I still have a social life, and a full one!  I love to be social, share a glass/bottle of wine in celebration, or meet for a few drinks after work to connect with someone. However, when alcohol determines your calendar and life choices, it becomes a problem.  My previous struggle has been given to God and it now isn’t an issue for me if I don’t have alcohol.  I can take it or leave it.  But for some people, that is not an option.  I realize it MAY be an issue if I let it, so I have to be careful. We all have a tendency to do something in excess, but when it starts costing you jobs, relationships and money, it is NOT worth it.

And friends, I am not judging any of you.  This is not an “I’m better than all of you” post by any means.  I just wanted to share my personal account because milestones are huge to those of us who overcome things.  This was a huge struggle for me to overcome given my reasons for starting drinking in the first place.  For a time, it defined me.  But now God defines me.

I guess you could say this is my public service announcement for drinking responsibly, putting others first and surrendering the parts of ourselves that prohibit us from having right relationships with God and others. Where some may think this was all just a conscious part of my being able to stop bad habits, I know in my heart, it truly is a gift of God to stop sin from taking over me again in that way.  True surrender means letting go and giving it to God.  And He definitely took it.  ūüôā

Posted in Faith

Saying Yes to God

Wow, it’s truly been an amazing seven months and I haven’t blogged about any of it! ¬†I apologize for that. ¬†This year has truly been one of learning and growth, and love and surrender. ¬†Much will come soon.

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To briefly share an update, I’m currently doing an online bible study that is opening my eyes to so many things. The book that is being used is shown above. ¬†I decided to join the online study through Proverbs 31 Ministries because of the freedom of not having to do the study at a set time. ¬†It allows me to do the study at my own pace, and I love things like that [online college student here as well- ūüėČ ].

We’re currently in week one, after reading the first chapter regarding a “soul that longs for more” and in that first chapter, Lysa described a time that God asked her to step out of her comfort zone and give away her well-worn and personal bible to a complete stranger on a plane. ¬†Her reaction at first was the same as ours would have been, to question God and wonder if we’d heard Him right. ¬†But when it was clear that THAT was exactly what God was asking her to do, she surrendered. ¬†She gave it to the man, stating God had told her to give it to him, and that sometimes God pauses to touch the heart of one person, and it was him. ¬†The man went on to become a believer in Jesus Christ, and has since shared his testimony with seemingly everyone he encounters.

In reviewing and rereading that story (up to five times-it just strikes me differently each time), I felt prompted to answer one of the suggested questions and write about a time that struck me as COMPLETELY stepping out of my comfort zone, for God’s glory.

I am a stepmother. ¬†I have married a man who had an already existing family and became one of them. ¬†This also means that there is a biological mother in the picture. ¬†And as many other blended families go, ours is similar in the fact that she and I have not seen eye to eye in the past. ¬†In fact, there have been many difficult exchanges, and emotional arguments that brought nothing but heartache to both sides. ¬†Since about a year ago, it has become my new law to not engage with the bio mother, for frustration with miscommunications and lack of closure when something is taken the wrong way. ¬†It’s just not worth it. ¬†We’re like oil and water.

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One thing I know I have in common with this woman (whom we will call “M”) is a love for dogs. ¬†She and my two stepdaughters had a black lab that was about six years old last year. ¬†She was spunky, loved to play and fetch tennis balls, and was a great companion to their mom when the girls were with us.

Sadly, and completely unexpectedly one morning last November, our youngest (whom we will call K2) woke up to her beloved dog breathing oddly. ¬†She shared her panic with her mother, who rushed the dog to the vet and within an hour, their pooch ended up dying there. ¬†M and the girls were completely distraught. ¬†Our eldest, K1, was working, and was told while on her shift about the dog’s passing. ¬†How dreadful!

I was a wreck, as my husband called me at work to let me know, and I couldn’t stop crying, as I know how much M and the girls loved this dog. ¬†I was in shock, and completely heartbroken simply because they were.

God began to tell me that this could be an opportunity to help M and the girls heal. ¬†“I’m sorry, Lord…what!?” ¬†How could a dog dying help M’s and my relationship (or lack of)? ¬†And seriously, the woman can’t stand me, so how in the world can my understanding of her pain, help her? ¬†She wants nothing to do with me, and I’m sure could care less that I care about her. ¬†It made no sense.

So I listened, and God made it clear he wanted me to offer for the girls to stay home that night, if they wanted, instead of coming to our house as the schedule normally stated.

I went into “other shoes” mode. ¬†When some situations are unclear to me, I try to put myself in other peoples’ shoes, to stay humble, and to give God an opportunity for me to see past myself. I imagined M being alone, crying all day and questioning, and just wanting to hold her girls.

I know M’s email address, so I sent her an email to let her know that Kevin had told me the news, that I was sorry and if there was anything I could do, to let us know. ¬†Normally any communication sent by me to her is ignored and she refuses to acknowledge it. ¬†Much to my surprise, she responded that they were heartbroken and she thanked me.

WHAT!?!!?

Was the wall coming down, or was she just vulnerable and thankful?  I tried to make no assumption, and just be thankful that she responded.

From my desk at work, I texted my husband about offering for the kids to stay with their mom, who said he agreed, and he offered. ¬†Both girls declined and said that they still wanted to come over. ¬†I don’t know their reasons, and won’t assume any. ¬†They both deal with death and stress differently.

I was shocked, and thought, oh no, M will have to be alone all night. ¬†So I just prayed. ¬†I prayed for God to comfort her, for people to surround her, to give her His peace. ¬†The kids came to our home later that day, were very quiet and laid on the couch. ¬†Kevin and I just let them know how sorry we were and let them cry. I rubbed K2’s back while she laid with her face buried in the couch cushions. ¬†K1 clung to her daddy. ¬†I’m not sure we did much talking that evening.

And over the course of the next two days, God was telling me to step out of my comfort zone and show M that I cared about her loss. ¬†I was wrestling with God about it, because any encounter with M usually starts and ends with awkward silence and staring/glaring. ¬†It’s quite painful, and irritating. ¬†So, in telling God I wanted to stay away and not “poke the bear”, He urged me to do what I normally do when friends have a loss: get them a card, explain my heartache with them, and give them a gift.

“You’re insane, Lord…simply insane. ¬†You know she hates me, right?”

Randomly driving down the street Friday afternoon, I laughed at God. ¬†I laughed out loud. ¬†In my head, I pictured getting M a poinsettia and a card, and giving it to her. ¬†And I laughed, because we don’t even go near each other unless we have to. ¬†And she’s not my friend. ¬†I would love for things to be cordial and friend-like, but the truth is there’s no acceptance on the other side. ¬†I couldn’t possibly show her love in her brokenness. ¬†How in the world would I give her a gift, a card and let her know my sympathy?

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And Saturday morning came…I was to pick up K2 and we were going to head to Nana’s for our Thanksgiving dinner with her. ¬†Kevin and K1 were working and would come later. ¬†Seeing as how I had to go get K2, it meant I would be in the vicinity of M. ¬†Whoa…really, Lord? ¬†I have to go to her house? ¬†So instead of turning left to go to her home, my car went to the right…in the direction of the grocery store…

God led me to the card section, and I still couldn’t believe I was doing it. ¬†I found a card that said exactly what I wanted it to say (imagine that) and I picked out a gorgeous poinsettia. ¬†I was elated at the idea (I’m always hopeful), yet so nervous even paying for the items. ¬†How ridiculous, right?

So I drove to M’s house and started brainstorming. ¬†Do I just leave the plant and card by the front door? ¬†Do I knock? ¬†Good Lord, I can’t knock…what if she doesn’t answer? ¬†I hate rejection!! ¬†Lord…do you know what you’re asking me to do??

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I pulled into the driveway and texted K2 that I was there. ¬†I had our greyhound/lab in the backseat, next to the plant. ¬†And I began questioning, “How do I get the plant to the door? ¬†Maybe I’ll just give it to K2 and she can take it in…yeah, she can do it, it’ll be nicer coming from her…” ¬†And as these thoughts are coming, the side door opens and M comes out, not K2.

OH…CRAP…

I’ve got a gorgeous plant in the backseat, our dog, and a card on the front seat. ¬†M didn’t look into my car, she walked down the driveway past ¬†my car, and went to the mailbox. ¬†I got this urgent PUSH from the Holy Spirit!!

ImageI grabbed the card from the seat next to me, and the plant from the backseat and met M as she was coming back up the drive.  She was wrapped in a blanket, and tears were just pouring down her face.  I almost lost it!  I handed her the card and the plant and fumbled with words.

“M, I am so sorry…I got you this. ¬†I can’t stop thinking about you guys…” ¬†She just looked at me with tears and sadness, and said, “We are so heartbroken!” ¬†I choked up…and I reached out my hand. ¬†I wanted to hug, but she’s not a hugger (certainly not with me), so instead, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

At this time, K2 emerged from the side door, and was just standing there. ¬†Later I found out she was saying inside of her head, “Oh wow, are they going to hug?”

While K2 was putting her book bag in the car, M leaned in through the back window to pet my Bella. ¬†I really choked up, because I know how much she was missing her girl. ¬†And I just said again before pulling away, “I’m sorry.”

Now unlike Lysa’s story, I have no idea what happened after I followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit. ¬†I have no clue if M was thankful, or touched, or anything. ¬†I don’t know if she kept the card, hung it up, or burned it. ¬†And I don’t have to worry about any of that. ¬†I did what was asked, and I have to leave it at that.

The eldest, when she got to Nana’s that night, said what I had done for her mom was extremely nice. ¬†I just know I went out of my way to do something I REALLY didn’t want to do, for the sake of showing love to someone who needed it.

I was myself, I was obedient, and I was blessed. ¬†Out of this study, I’m learning that EVERY SINGLE DAY is a chance to show love to someone who doesn’t deserve it. ¬†Every single day is an opportunity to show God we are listening and to be obedient to whatever His call may be. ¬†From paying for the person in the toll booth behind you, to holding the door for someone, to giving a card to someone who needs it, to pushing aside years of hate and anger because we all have moments of loss.

God has a strong desire to show each and every one of us HIS LOVE. ¬†And for those of us who sit in pews, who sing hymns, who serve our communities, if we are not showing LOVE for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, it means nothing.

1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter.  But the first three verses are crucial to understanding LOVE at all.  They talk about believers doing all of the necessary things that would seem to show the world our commitment to Christ, but if we do ANY of those things without LOVE, it is meaningless.  See below:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

May I invite you to turn an ear toward Heaven, to reach out with willing arms, to look past previous hurts to the One who already died and rose for those hurts, and to simply say YES? ¬†“Yes, Lord, I will do what you have asked.”

How many moments slip by that could change the life of another human being? ¬†How many opportunities are presented to us, and we let fear override our love button because we don’t want the rejection? ¬†How many times have we said NO?

I’m turning my #palmsup to my King, and letting go, so He can place something inside of my hands that far surpasses what I held onto in the first place. ¬†And I’m rejoicing with my over 10,000 sisters in Christ who are on this “letting go and saying yes to God” journey. ¬† These next few weeks may be incredibly painful, but I am assured and confident that our Lord will reveal His true self to us. ¬†We just have to have our hands open!