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When I was broken, You made all things new again – Shay’s story

IMG_3163God takes every broken piece of our hearts and lives and redeems it. When our hearts stray and we look for satisfaction, self-worth and contentment in other places, He draws us back in and reminds us that he is our portion forever and will never let us go.  

I grew up attending private school and recognized Jesus as my Savior at a young age. I was very sheltered and naive — I loved following the rules and was known as the “Goody Two- Shoes” at my school. I had many friends, most of which I had grown up with since kindergarten. The summer after tenth grade, I met a boy who caught my eye — Chris. We began dating and it stuck. It started out great, but then everything changed.

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My relationship with Chris was very stormy. People in my life tried to convince me that something was off, but I wouldn’t listen. I lost many friendships and isolated myself. My response to friends who questioned our relationship was always defensive. Chris experienced the death of two of his best friends early into our relationship and I knew that he was deeply affected by this trauma. We had been through so much because of this and had a significant amount of emotional attachment. He was my first love and because I knew that he had a wonderful family and wonderful friends, I refused to believe that he may not be right for me. As time wore on, he started to have angry outbursts and used inappropriate words with me. I wasn’t able to openly share with others about what I was going through. Near the end of our dating relationship, it got to the point where I couldn’t pray anything other than, “God, please help me.”

When our relationship ended initially, I was relieved, but still devastated. Little did I know that I would end up going back to him several times because I no longer recognized myself without him. It felt like four years of my life didn’t count.

Once our relationship ended for good, I was very broken. The transition from high school to college had been difficult — I hadn’t made many new friends and felt very alone. In my mind, I had always envisioned college being a wonderful, carefree experience, but it wasn’t panning out that way. It was in these tender moments that I relied on God more heavily than ever before. I realized that God wanted me to repent of the idolatry I had placed on my attachment to Chris. The Lord brought me comfort with 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, my favorite passage: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” The scriptures helped me find purpose in my brokenness and sadness: “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.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:3-8‬

The summer (just after the break-up) I was encouraged by my sister to go on a ten-week missions trip with Campus Crusade for Christ (also known as Cru). God placed such amazing people in my life on this trip who became my community. I made some of the deepest friendships I have ever had, and I had the opportunity to do a lot of praying and talking with the Lord about what I was going through. My faith grew exponentially. Thankfully for me, about 20 out of the 80 people on the trip were from my school, so I went back to school that fall with a supportive community all around me.

I know God uses our journeys and works them for our good (Romans 8:28). He speaks to us through scriptures and wise council, particularly in areas where we are broken. I’ve grown so much in the last several years. Reading “The Search for Significance” by Robert McGee and “Radical” by David Platt were very impactful for me as well as leading and attending Bible studies with other women who offered encouragement and accountability. More recently, I attended the Passion conference and have gained wisdom from participating in Beth Moore’s studies on “Esther”, “Revelation”, and “James.” I know God is not finished yet. I’ll never get to the place where I’m “done” being sanctified by God until I reach heaven and spend eternity with the Lord.

Remember how I said 20 other people on the mission trip were from my school? Four years after that trip, one of those people became my husband. His name is Matthew, which means “a gift of the Lord.” I don’t think that’s an accident. Not because my life is complete now that I am married — it isn’t. Not because he’s perfect — he isn’t. Not because I’m perfect — quite far from it. But, I do believe God picked him for me and planned for his name to mean ‘God’s gift.’ Why? The Lord knew that I would tangibly see His love for me through my husband’s kindness, gentleness and steadfastness. Every good and perfect gift, after all, is from above.

When I wait on you, not a moment is wasted – Rosie’s Story

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This story is for anyone who is waiting for hope, waiting for answers and waiting on God to come through. It’s hard to see him in the midst of a challenging season when your patience, strength and endurance are wearing thin. Thankfully, we never wait alone — when we wait on God, we wait with God, and when we realize that we don’t have to rely on our own strength or our own grasp of control, we experience freedom and the blessing of God’s faithfulness. 

Fleas. Yes, I said fleas. When I started writing my story months ago, I never envisioned that this is how it would begin. But, as it turns out, it couldn’t be more applicable.

After a trip to Florida, we discovered that our cat had fleas, and even worse, that our home was infested. You can imagine my heartbreak when I realized after taking my son to urgent care for suspicious red bumps all over his body that, in fact, he was getting eaten alive by these terrible pests.

If you’ve never had fleas take over your home, consider yourself blessed. If you have, I’m so sorry! And if you had a young child while going through this experience, I am especially sorry! It’s definitely at the top of my list for most horrible things ever. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Here’s why:

  1. Every time my son woke up in the morning or from a nap, I would discover new bites on his body. It ended up becoming a ritual where he would just lay on his changing table as I looked for “fresh” red bites. I would fear putting him to sleep, fear letting him play on the floor, fear having him anywhere in my house. My heart broke every time I saw a new bite.
  2. We spent hours treating our home — this means washing EVERYTHING, vacuuming non-stop, putting powder all over our floors, rugs and carpets and having to leave our home for the weekend. Then, we came back, spent all day cleaning it up, only to find more live fleas.
  3. When the treatments we tried didn’t work, I had to call the professionals. This means vacuuming once more, bagging up anything you don’t want sprayed with insecticide (which is everything — bedding, pillows, toys, kitchen appliances, high chairs, you name it), leaving your home for several hours, coming home and ventilating everything before you can even go inside, and then vacuuming again, and waiting 24 hours before really deep cleaning your entire home.
  4. After spending ridiculous amounts of time, energy, and money to eradicate these pests from your home, you find more fleas and the process seems to never end. You don’t want to be in your home for fear of getting more bites and you can never be completely at peace because you constantly feel like things are crawling on you.

And so, the waiting begins. Waiting for my house to be flea-free. Waiting for my son’s bites to heal. Waiting for another home treatment. Waiting the allotted time before I can clean again. Lots and lots of waiting.

Seasons of waiting have become an integral part of my story. I have been through many of them. I wish I could say they were easy, but like the flea situation, they have all been incredibly hard. They have tested my patience, my strength and especially my faith. 

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Several years ago, a job opportunity became available that seemed like the perfect fit for me. I had been in my current role for a while, but knew that if an opportunity opened up with this organization, I would certainly pursue it and believed with my work experience, background, and passion for the cause, it would be a no-brainer. Some unbelievable circumstances transpired that put me in a situation where I had no peace about pursuing this position. I cried. A LOT. I pleaded with God, I asked the question we all ask in difficult situations, “Why?” For the first time in my life, when I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do, I heard Him audibly respond, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I didn’t understand what that meant in that particular moment, but I couldn’t ignore what He had told me and I knew that although my flesh wanted to press on and pursue this opportunity, my Spirit wanted me to be still, to be patient and wait on the Lord. 

Fast forward to years later. I now know why what I thought was the perfect job for me wasn’t where He was calling me to be. I stepped into another role that helped build a foundation that has led me to where I am today. It’s certainly not the plan I had for myself, but it’s the plan God had for me, and it’s better than I could have ever imagined. What I thought was best was not even close to His best for me, and I can now say I am grateful that I had to go through that incredibly challenging season. It strengthened my faith, and ultimately, brought me closer to God.

I love this excerpt from Louie Giglio’s “Waiting Here For You” Advent Devotional. It’s one I have read many times:

“If we are honest, we all hate to wait. In fact, most often we say something like, I can’t believe this is taking so long; it’s costing me time I don’t have! That’s because most of us consider waiting to be wasting. But it’s not so with our God. God works while we wait. Even when you can’t see what He is doing, God is always orchestrating the events of heaven and earth to accomplish His purposes for Your life. Trust in His unfailing love — love that moved Him to send a Savior from heaven to restore and rescue you. God’s plans for your life will not be thwarted. Wait patiently, knowing that waiting is never wasted when you are waiting on God.

In the moment, waiting can feel like wasting. A waste of time. A waste of energy. A waste of efforts. A waste of tears. I remember when my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family. I remember that his parents were told they would never have children and that my husband and his sister were miracle babies. I remember wondering if it would be the same for us. I remember having tests done. I remember waiting for the results. I remember being told that everything was normal. I remember crying. I remember waiting for a positive pregnancy test. That experience shook me to the core and my waiting felt like wasting, but I will never forget that when I let go of my grip of control and truly surrendered my fears and anxieties to the Lord, He answered my prayers. It happened when I least expected it, but it happened at the perfect time. 

I love this truth that Louie shared about God’s timing and not our own: “A Savior had been promised to God’s people for centuries. They longed and prayed for rescue. And then on the right day, in the right place, at the right time, Jesus was born. While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time. All of us are waiting on something, often wondering if God has forgotten us. In your waiting, let the birth of Christ encourage you. Just because God hasn’t come through (as far as you can see), it doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. To Him, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. This very minute He’s working for His glory and for your good. Though circumstances say otherwise, God is going to come through, on schedule, fulfilling his long-appointed plans for you. Don’t give up before the time is right. Take hope in the manger and know that you are loved and prized by the God who stepped down from heaven and arrived at the perfect time for you.

Little did I know that another season of waiting was upon me before my sweet boy came into the world. My due date came and went and the anxiety started to build. I tried every wives’ tale in the book in an effort to get things going, but nothing was successful. I knew that a scheduled induction was more and more likely as each day passed, but that wasn’t part of my “plan.” I was frustrated, impatient and just so tired of waiting. I guess I needed another reminder on letting go because once I threw in the towel and accepted that nothing within my control was working, my contractions began on their own and my little guy was in our arms later that day. 

During this time, a dear friend sent me the link to a message from our home church on “Gaining Wait” – yes, wait, NOT weight. The message focused on Psalm 130 and how the psalmist acknowledged that he had no control in his current valley and fell on his knees surrendering the very situation that was piercing his heart. He cried out to the Lord and waited prayerfully and patiently. Psalm 130:5 says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.” I loved what Scarlett, the speaker, went on to share, “We have no idea when certain seasons of waiting will be over, but you can be certain that if your hope remains in Christ during the waiting, your pain and suffering will not be wasted.”

So, here I am in another season of waiting. I don’t know when the fleas will leave my home permanently — at the moment, it seems like they may stick around for a while. But, I am waiting expectantly and asking the Lord to not only give me patience to endure, but “patience in joy” as Paul talks about in Colossians 1:11. I am putting my hope in His word as I wait because I’ve seen and experienced His faithfulness in my life time and time again. I am praying that my spirit will be filled with eternal joy that cannot be shaken by difficult circumstances or earthly sorrows. I am believing that there is a greater purpose in my waiting and that He is with me every step of the way, refining my character, reinvigorating my faith, and reenergizing my weary soul. I love what Nicky Gumble shared: “Who you become while you are waiting is as important as what you are waiting for.”

We are all waiting on something — love, children, healing, jobs, purpose, homes, reconciliation, promotions, financial freedom, peace, direction, guidance, wisdom, answers, and the list goes on. It’s so hard to wait (especially in our culture of instant gratification), and it’s so easy to feel like you are missing out, but I promise, friends, if you are truly waiting on God, you won’t miss a thing.

When I doubt Your Existence, You Restore My Faith – Patricia’s Story

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This story is for all of us. Circumstances in the world, in our lives, or in the lives of others have certainly made us ask these questions, “How can He be real when all of this is happening?” or “If He is real, why would He allow such terrible, tragic things to occur?” We may never have answers on this side of heaven, but I am constantly encouraged by how He works and moves in our lives when we continue to doubt, when we continue to have questions, and when the unfathomable happens to us or someone we love. What the enemy meant for evil, God uses for good.

I would characterize my childhood as blissful. As a family of four, we were really close. My younger sister and I were part of a father/daughter camping club for years that took up most weekends growing up. Outside of that, we would vacation together, take RV trips with family friends, and spend weekends at the beach. Life was easy. We were Sunday church go-ers (because everyone was in my small town) and I gave my life to the Lord my freshman year of high school at a summer camp.

My senior year of high school, I started applying to colleges and received an acceptance letter from Georgia Tech. It was my parents’ alma mater, and even though it was out of state for me, I knew this was where I wanted to go since I intended to study engineering just like my parents did.

When it was time to move in, my parents and sister drove me up to Georgia Tech and we spent the weekend exploring Atlanta, taking tons of pictures, and getting excited about the adventure I was about to embark on. Little did I know, that was the last time our family of four would be together.

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Two months into my freshman year of college, I got a surprise visit from my dad. I had joined a sorority and it was initiation week. I was walking back from a meeting with my sorority sisters and I heard my name. I turned around and saw my dad there. My initial joyful reaction turned into terror very quickly. He said the words I never expected to hear: “Your mom and I are getting a divorce and I’ve moved out.” Wait, what? My parents never fought, I mean never. They were happy. I could name 50 of my friends’ parents in my hometown that I would have expected this from before mine. I was totally, completely blindsided. The part I hate most about telling this story is that it’s so common. Many people probably have a very similar story to mine. But that fact doesn’t make it any less painful when it’s your family that is torn apart. You see, it shatters dreams you didn’t even know you had. Like your parents dancing at your wedding, taking your future kids to their grandparents house one day, all holiday traditions you spent 18 years building will never happen again.

The next year that followed was rough. After my dad shared the news with me, I cried for three days straight. I eventually got tired of crying and stopped. But then, there were other emotions — I was angry and hurt. I didn’t want to deal with it, which was easy for me since I wasn’t in the same state as my parents. So I kept living my life, distancing myself from my family because I hated the pain. I didn’t want to go home because it hurt me so much to see my mom’s heart so broken. My sister was rebelling. My dad had moved on. At some point, I was so tired of my dad reaching out and trying to fix our relationship that I told him I needed a break. For six months we didn’t speak. I refused to see him. My life spiraled.

During all of this, a spiritual battle was waging war within me. My numbness toward my family situation caused numbness in my relationship with God. My anger at my dad manifested in anger toward God. My broken childhood caused me to doubt if God was even real in the first place. It took a year of counseling to see the connection. I stopped going to church because when I did, I couldn’t sing the words. They felt like a lie. I would sit in the back and cry. It was easy to have faith when life was simple and happy. But when it wasn’t, it had to be rooted in something deeper, and mine wasn’t. So the doubts and questions crept in — What if this is all a joke? Is Christianity even logical? The questions consumed me, and started making more sense. So I gave up on faith. Because faith isn’t concrete. You can’t see it, so why would I stake my life in it?

For whatever reason, before it got really bad, I had applied for a leader position with a Christian mission’s organization that summer. The plan was to spend the summer in South Dakota with three other college students, hosting high school groups and doing mission work on the Indian reservation. I almost didn’t go. Ironically, my role there was worship leader and teacher. Yea, the girl who wasn’t going to church. I went, however, for lack of a better summer plan.

It was a difficult summer, don’t get me wrong. I cried a lot at the beginning. My heart wasn’t totally in it. Every week I spoke to different groups about the same topics. Thursday night was forgiveness (keep in mind I’m currently not speaking to my dad). Every week, I was telling groups of students that we’re supposed to forgive because God forgives us. Well, the repetition did me good. One week it all clicked. I had two issues going on: unforgiveness and doubt. First, God finally made it clear that He forgives us so that we can live in total freedom. That freedom, combined with God’s power in us, allows us to forgive. He freed me that summer, and my relationship with my dad has slowly been restored ever since. Second, God worked a miracle that week. I honestly can’t remember all of the details. Something we’d been praying for the whole summer happened in a way that completely shocked us. In an instant, all the doubts that had plagued me vanished. Not because it proved He was real, but because I couldn’t look at the world anymore and prove He wasn’t there. It was taking more faith for me to accept everything as accidents and coincidence than faith in a God who orchestrates. What I love about God is how He weaves our lives into beautiful tapestries and gives us glimpses sometimes to see it from His perspective.

He used the divorce in a mighty way. My mom and sister both found deep relationships with the Lord through the grieving. The three of us are extremely close, on a much deeper and more authentic level than when our lives looked blissful.

He used my doubts to minister to others. I’m currently leading a class at church for people who need basic questions about Christianity answered — it’s a class for people who were right where I was. Only now, I’m convinced — with a passion to help others navigating the tough questions also see truth.

He used my unforgiveness to extend grace and mercy to people around me. Over the past few years, my heart has been increasingly opened to love people more than I could before — to give people grace because we’re all human.

He used my shattered dreams to make new ones. Actually, I think it’s more like He gave me perspective. That this life and our earthly dreams aren’t it. We have a bigger purpose, a bigger hope that awaits us. He freed me from holding on to the things of this earth so tightly.

God’s not done. I’m young and certainly don’t think this is the biggest battle that I will face, but He used it to build a foundation. Ephesians 3:14-21 was prayed over me during that year:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

And man, did He answer those prayers! He used it to make me “rooted and established in love.” He has shown me that “His love surpasses all knowledge.” I know now that He can do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.” May He get the glory!

When I fall, You raise me up – Eleanor’s Story (Part 2)

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This is the second part of Eleanor’s story and her struggle with addiction. It’s yet another example of how God can use unlikely circumstances and situations to grab our attention and remind us that He is in control. It’s then, that we realize, He can do anything to help us. We just have to be willing to listen to His voice and respond to His promptings in our lives. 

In April 2006, I quit smoking. Unfortunately, when I quit smoking, I started drinking more. It’s definitely in my genes — my mother was an alcoholic as was her father (my grandfather). During my childhood, I remember doctors coming to our house and explaining to us that my mother was going to a nursing home to “dry out”. She was in and out many times. It was very sad.

Everyone used to tell me what a beautiful woman she was and how when she walked into a room, people would turn around and look at her. When you are going through something like that with someone, it’s hard to see beauty in it. She wasn’t beautiful when she was drinking. She died when I was 16 years old.

Because of my mother’s addiction, we didn’t have alcohol in our house growing up. We would have a drink when we went out with friends or if there was a party, but we didn’t drink at home. I really didn’t drink by myself at all until years later when I was alone.

After my first husband and I divorced, I moved into a quiet, beautiful condo. I remember coming home from work and making myself a drink, lighting a cigarette and turning on the news. I thought I had died and gone to heaven — that’s really the way it felt to me. The height of luxury.

My second husband and I would have a cocktail together and smoke every night. At the time, it seemed like fun. He passed away a few years later and that’s when I really started drinking heavily. It became a daily ritual that was a big part of my life. Then, out of the blue, something happened that changed everything.

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In June 2010, I was over at the beach with my cousin, Jean, and her daughter, Kim. Jean’s mother, my aunt, was my mother’s sister and also an alcoholic.

I remember Kim mentioning that she was going to have a glass of wine and I went ahead and made myself a drink. I drank about half of it, but it didn’t even taste good to me. Later, we went out to eat and when I came home and got into bed that night, my legs hurt so badly. At the time, I was taking Xanax to sleep. When you mix that with alcohol, it’s like the atomic bomb. I would go to bed after having five or six drinks, take a Xanax, pass out and then wake up in three hours. When I woke up this time, I took a few Aleve tablets and finally went to sleep.

The next day, I didn’t go down to the beach at all. I took a shower and went to put makeup on, but my hand was shaking violently. I couldn’t even put my eyebrow pencil on. Eventually, it subsided.

At dinner that night, I had a glass of wine, but I knew something was wrong. I really didn’t feel well and I had an upset stomach. We came home and I got into bed. The room I was sleeping in had a high bed with it’s own bathroom and lanai. I went to sleep, but woke up because I had to go to the bathroom. When I got out of bed, it was pitch black. I couldn’t see anything and it was like I didn’t have any legs. I felt like I was having a seizure and was reaching for something, anything, to hang on to. I ended up finding the the curtain and grabbing a hold of it — that was the first thing I touched. Everything else was like air. As I grabbed a hold of it, I started to fall backwards and hit my head on the sliding glass door. When I fell, my back landed right on the corner of a marble ledge. I screamed, but no one could hear me. I just sat on the floor and tried to catch my breath. I had to go to the bathroom so badly when I first tried to get out of bed, but it was like I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom anymore. So, I grabbed a hold of the sheets and the mattress pad, and pulled myself up and back into bed. As I was laying there I said, “God —this has happened for a reason. Why?” He said, “I think you need to stop drinking.” And I said, “I know. Is that what you want me to do?” “Yes.” The closer I get to God, the more I hear him when he speaks to me. He’s repetitious. I don’t usually get it the first time, but this time, I did.

It’s been almost six years since I’ve had a taste of alcohol. Every once in a while, a glass of wine sounds tempting, but I would never, ever touch a drop of alcohol with the help of the Lord because addictions stay with you — they never leave. I learned that from smoking. I wouldn’t chance it with alcohol because I wouldn’t want to go through it again. I knew someone who was an alcoholic, but hadn’t had a drink in 12 years. She had a weak moment at one point and ended up turning into a raging alcoholic which ultimately killed her. It’s not worth it.

After I stopped drinking, my cousin, Dicky (who is also an alcoholic), suggested I go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with him. He said, “Cousin, you really should go to AA.” And I said, “Dicky, I could get up there one time and tell them my story — that God did it for me. I did nothing. He did it for me. It was His grace.” As far I’m concerned, that’s the only way anything gets done.

When I call, You answer — Eleanor’s Story (Part 1)

This story is one that’s close to my heart for many reasons. I love that we can have a constant dialogue with God. The best part is it’s not one-sided. He answers our calls. He responds to our pleas. But in His timing and not our own, and according to His will and not our own. It’s so difficult to wait, but if we are patient and persevere, we will experience His faithfulness. 

One of the most profound ways God has worked in my life is through my struggle with addictions. It’s something I could never have “quit” on my own — In fact, I tried to do it on my own many times and failed. In His own timing and by His own grace, He answered my prayers.

feather2When I was 16 years old, I started smoking cigarettes. It’s a very addictive thing. I smoked while my children were growing up and continued far beyond that. It was something I enjoyed and looked forward to each day.

About 13 years ago, one of my friend’s was diagnosed with cancer. She was young — in her early 50’s — but her cancer was terminal and she was dying. I remember she would occasionally drink at parties, but never smoked in her life. She was a very healthy person and her cancer had nothing to do with how she took care of her body.

Throughout the course of her treatment, I attended a healing ministry with her at a local church and also drove her to doctor’s appointments. She had optic neuropathy, which impaired her vision, so she couldn’t drive herself. Before we drove to our destination, she would always say to me, “Would you like to have a cigarette before we get in the car? It would be okay.” It made me feel so awful. I had come to a point where I really didn’t enjoy smoking, but I was addicted to the nicotine.

Around this time, I started praying at night before I went to sleep. I would get in bed and say, “Dear God, please, when I wake up in the morning, take away my desire to have a cigarette.” Having a cigarette was the first thing I thought of each day. In fact, the need for nicotine woke me up.

Every morning, I had my routine. I would go make my coffee, sit down to read my Bible, and light a cigarette. I’m embarrassed to say that I read my Bible while smoking. It was pretty bad.

My poor friend would give anything just to be able to live and here I am and I can’t stop smoking. I continued to pray each night, “God — you know me. I have no will power to do this myself. I need your help.” I knew God’s timing was not my own and I never gave up because I knew if it was going to happen, it was going to have to be through Him.

I had tried so many times to quit smoking on my own and nothing worked. I would be out with someone and maybe hadn’t had a cigarette in two months and thought, “That just smells so good. Can I just have one of those?” Then I went, “Oh, that wasn’t bad. I had one cigarette, I don’t need to have another one.” But, I’d get up the next morning and by later in the afternoon, I thought, “Well, if I could just get by with one or two a day, I’ll be fine.” Then I would go out and buy a pack of cigarettes. Well, within a week, I was smoking two packs a day. It’s so insidious.

One morning, about three years after I started praying, I woke up and began my normal routine. I made my coffee, lit a cigarette, and started having this pain in my chest. I smoked the whole cigarette and went and took a Maalox because I thought it might be indigestion. I went back and got my coffee, lit another cigarette, and smoked about half of it, but the pain continued to intensify. I knew I had to call an ambulance, but for some reason, I couldn’t do it myself. I called my daughter who ended up calling 911 and the paramedics were here in a couple minutes. They did an EKG at my house and one of my sons (an emergency medicine physician) came over and took a look at it and said it was pretty good, but I should probably head to the hospital and have everything checked out. So I went in the ambulance to the hospital and one of the paramedics gave me a shot of nitroglycerin and it stopped the pain. By the time I got to the hospital, I felt just fine. I was admitted and they did blood work and ran tests. The test results revealed that I suffered a minor heart attack. The interesting thing was, as the hours went by, I never thought about a cigarette. I was actually comfortable and the pain had stopped. I ended up staying in the hospital for five days and never once thought about a cigarette.

When I was discharged from the hospital, I came home and remember walking into my kitchen. My beautiful gold cigarette case was there on the counter. I just picked it up and threw it in the trash. It was almost an unconscious effort because, by then, cigarettes weren’t even in my mind. It was like I had just picked up a piece of garbage and was throwing it away. I kept a carton of cigarettes in my kitchen cabinet for a year for no other reason except I guess it felt good not to want them.

I remember I used to smoke a lot when I golfed. 35 years before I quit, I was golfing with this girl and lighting up a cigarette and she said, “You know I quit smoking.” and I said, “ You did? How did you do that?” She said, “I don’t know — it was like a miracle. I just woke up one morning and didn’t want to smoke anymore.” And I said, “Oh, that’s what I want.” It kind of went out of my ear.

Now, it’s been almost 10 years to the day since I stopped smoking. I truly believe that anything is possible with God, and nothing is possible without him. That, for me, has spilled over into all of the areas of my life. I am so grateful.

I met my one, true love and He is perfect – Dianne’s Story

XSV1UVLKCCThis story continues to encourage me no matter how many times I read it. The Lord never stops his pursuit of our hearts — even when we stumble, even when we fall back into the bondage of sin, He is there, waiting, with open arms. No matter how many times we try to slip out of His grasp, He never lets go.

I had a wonderful childhood — I grew up with awesome parents and two amazing older sisters. We’ve always been believers – meaning we professed faith in God – but we did not attend church or live out our faith on a regular basis. My dad taught me how to pray, and my mom taught me the stories of the bible. From a young age, I knew there was a God –but what I didn’t know, was if God was just someone I had learned about in the Bible or if He actually was alive in me.

I truly believe God uses our biggest weaknesses to draw Him closer to us and to strengthen our faith. For me, that weakness is and always has been matters of the heart and relationships. My weakness started at a young age and has created a 15-year cycle only One could break —  Jesus.

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I was 14 years old — my first year of high school. One look was all it took and I was in love. This beautiful, doe-eyed man with dark hair was just plain “cool”. Not only was he cool, but he was hard to get and wild to hang out with. You know, the typical “bad boy”. But wait, he thinks I am pretty? Me? Little old me? This is when I got a taste of the feeling I became addicted to for years to come. He was my drug and I would stop at nothing to get my fix. Throughout all of this, I remained sexually pure. He had my emotions, my heart, my mind and my self-worth, but he did not have all of me.

Now, at 18 years old, I was considered a “good girl”. Who waits until 18 to have sex these days? All of my friends had lost their virginities at this point, and eventually, I followed in their footsteps. I lost my virginity to my first love, the “cool” guy. I call him “my drug” because that’s all he was, and all every guy after that would be.

A month later, I see a positive sign. And no, not in the spiritual sense. Here I was, 18 years old, had sex one time, the first time, and I was pregnant. At this point, my high school first love had left me for another girl. Lost and alone, with serious bouts of depression, I told only two people at the time. One begged me to keep it, the other just shook her head in disbelief. I will never forget the shame and lowness I felt that day. When I told him, he begged me not to keep it. He said he would kill himself if he had a baby right now, and offered to pay for it. That was it — $75 later and it was done. My life was forever changed and it is the biggest regret I have thus far

Despite everything that happened, I spent the next four years fighting for this same man, “my drug” — the one who told me to have an abortion. I couldn’t survive without the feeling he gave me. It became my source of happiness, and when he tried to take that away, I couldn’t handle it. We ran with a faster crowd — lots of drinking, partying, and emotional abuse. It’s hard to believe, but the biggest and most traumatic experience of my life was about to unfold. 

Someone very dear and close to me was dating her first love at the time. He was older and friends with my first love. They dated for years — he was like the older brother I never had. One night, his girlfriend (my dear friend) was working. I decided to go out with him and a few other friends to our usual hangout until she got off work. Before I knew it, I was extremely intoxicated. It happened so fast. I kept saying, “something was put in my drink. I need to go”. He took me home and “took care of me”, or so I thought — He put me in the shower to help me “sober up”, made a nice “bed” next to the toilet so I would feel comfortable, and the next thing I know, he slid up right behind me.

I ran out of his place hysterically crying. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. His roommate saw me undressed, crying and believed something else had happened. I didn’t care. I knew what had happened and I just wanted to leave. I ran to my first love’s house hoping for some comfort. I didn’t get any — he didn’t believe me. No one did. My dear friend came home the next day and I told her everything with not a breath in my lungs. Thankfully, she believed me, confronted him and he said, “I don’t know. I may have done that”. She gave him a good slap, but two weeks later, they were both bribing me with Rascal Flatts tickets. I guess the pain of reality was too much for her, or deep down she didn’t believe me either. As sure as the air I breathe, I know what happened that night. God knows what happened that night. I was taken advantage of by someone very close to me.

After years of emotional abuse from my first love, and bullying from the women he left me for, I started to really feel that this was normal. Then, I noticed the dear friend I mentioned above started to have a different aura about her. I couldn’t explain it. She was more peaceful, confident and wise. I was curious as to what had changed. She introduced me to Northland Church. The pastor’s messages really spoke to her heart and it started to change her. She eventually left the man who took advantage of me and is now happily married with kids. Not many people have the heart and good nature she does. I decided to start going to church with her. I prayed God would give be a sign, a burning bush, anything to help me get over my first love and change my life. On the outside, everyone saw a beautiful, happy life — a girl who “had it all”. But on the inside, I was dying.

One night, on the way to church, my dear friend and I were talking about my situation with my first love and how I cannot break the cycle with him. No matter what he did to me or what happened, I couldn’t leave. Family and friends were very concerned. I explained to her, “It feels like I am constantly playing tug of war with God”. I have always heard God’s voice, but I refused to listen. I felt God was pulling one end of the rope saying, “No child, you are not to be with this man,” while I was pulling the other end disobediently replying with, “Yes, yes I will.” When I explained this inner turmoil/battle to my friend, her answer was simple and sweet. “Well, my money is on God.” Thirty minutes later into the service, our pastor says to the hundreds of people in the crowd, “Sometimes you are going to feel like you are playing tug of war with God. Well, brothers and sisters, my money is on God.” The crowd laughed and I just stared in disbelief. I look over at my friend who was looking at me with an expression not of surprise, but of, confirmation. She wasn’t surprised our Almighty Father sent such a profound message that was perfect for me. I left church that night, my faith forever changed.

Years went on. My faith was changed, but my heart and self-worth were not. You think I would’ve learned my lesson at this point, but that was not the case. I entered another toxic relationship with a different man. I finally left the first one, but replaced him with a better version of “the drug” I was used to. No one understood it. I was a good girl — I didnt do drugs or cheat. I had a great upbringing, good friends and a wonderful career. But, my biggest weakness caused the biggest heartaches and trapped me in a downward spiral of sin. I chased these men. I chased “the drug”. All the while, my deepest inner desire was to be loved and a part of a healthy, loving, faith-based relationship. To be wooed and swept off my feet. To love a man unconditionally and have that love returned. I was so far from it.

At that moment, it hit me and my world changed. This man I have been dreaming about all my life has been with me this whole time. Jesus. He had been fighting for me over and over for 15 years. He gave me so many outs, second chances and graceful love. I started crying. I couldn’t believe that the One I kept turning my back on and ignoring, was the One who was giving me what I was searching for all this time. To chase and fight for me with unconditional love. Oh, how beautiful that love is. My love story with Jesus reminds me so much of the book of Hosea. I “relapsed” and ignored God so many times. I committed sins that I am certain hurt him. But no matter what, no matter how much time went by, he fought for me. He thought I was worth it. It’s time I started to believe it as well.

I recently ended the toxic, four-year relationship. It’s something I should have done from the beginning, but I am okay with it. My four-year “loss” was truly a gain in that it changed that man and brought him closer to God. It also changed me. It helped me to realize who my true love has been all this time. I couldn’t ask for more. God works in such mysterious ways.

At 28, I can say for the first time that I am truly content. I am confident, and slowly starting to find my self-worth. Ironically, God has placed a man in my life recently who is so different from the others. I believe this is a second chance. I don’t know what will happen, but I am willing to step out in faith and trust God.

I look back at where I’ve been, and where my dear friend was compared to where she is now. Her beautiful life and family, full of faith and love. I’ve learned, contrary to what my type-A personality would like to believe, nothing is perfect. We all have our path, our thorns, our hurts and our victories. It is all part of God’s glorious plan and the only advice I can share is to just let go and let God. The more you choose to ignore God, the more hardened your heart gets. And that’s a dangerous place to be. Your Father will never stop loving you or give up on you. No matter what you’re facing, please remember that. Close your eyes, take a leap of faith and get ready to experience the best love story of your life!

Take a step, give what you’ve got, and trust him – Danny’s Story

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Back in the late ‘70s, times were different. I was searching spiritually in my life. I was young, impressionable, and was a member of a rock band. I didn’t have much direction with regards to a career or education after high school. I decided to enroll in a small school called Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. I was a great student, and performed well academically. While I was going through the motions of life, my heart was beating for more spiritual reality. I met a group of friends who introduced me to Christ and my life changed. Following Christ made sense and it became the most important thing in my life — I knew that I wanted to give myself to the Lord wholeheartedly. This began by getting involved in campus ministry and making my spiritual growth my number one priority. My education, and everything else, took a back seat. I didn’t have anyone around me telling me my education was important, or that I should develop other skills and experience. I was content to grow and be recognized as a leader in my church and community, and decided to make that a full-time job.

I met the girl of my dreams in 1979 and we got married shortly thereafter. We left our home in Ohio and made a big move to Maryland to start a new journey. Maryland was home for us for 13 years. I was fully-engaged and using everything I had in my toolkit related to my talents. It was combined with my passions and it didn’t feel like work — it felt like I was living the dream.

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As I reached mid-life, I began to question some of the decisions I had made in my 20s — perhaps I got on the “wrong bus” in terms of my career and using my talents. Although great things happened, I felt like I followed someone else’s flight plan for my life and not my own.

In 1995, the wheels of the wagon were coming off so to speak — there were changes in the church, and I couldn’t put my heart into it anymore. I felt very lost and I knew I couldn’t live an authentic life and continue on this path. Fear filled my mind as I began thinking about doing something different. I wrestled with several tough questions that shook me to the core — Do I have any skills? Do I have what it takes? How does the world even work? What’s the next step? Is there a next step? I lived in the seclusion of my non-profit world and really questioned whether or not I could make it outside of my comfortable bubble. My wife stayed at home teaching our children (who were 11 and 9 at the time), and we lived in an expensive county in Maryland. Things really started to take a turn for the worse — I was so anxious and depressed that I could barely get out of bed. I was visibly shaken, an absolute mess, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. For someone who made their whole life talking about God and with God, I seemed so incredibly lost.

Fortunately, there were no drugs or addictions — except the addiction of wanting to feel like I could do something of value and provide for my family. There was a sense of “letting go” in spite of my entire professional career. I was starting over. As I sat and talked to a counselor, I remember the illustration of being on a trapeze and having to let go to catch the next swing or ladder. When you let go, there are moments of free-falling. I was in that state and it turned me inside out. I remembered Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away” — it was all about breathing. Just keep breathing. I knew had to keep getting out of bed and take baby steps.

When I was 40 years old, I started sending out resumes for the first time for a professional job without a lot of hope. I sent one resume to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra — they were looking for an audience development manager. I knew nothing about classical music, and didn’t care really care for it (even though I was a musician). For some miraculous reason, out of nearly 200 resumes, the director of marketing picked my resume out and looked at my experience working in Howard County. Our church was successful by most definitions — thriving and growing — which is important since only two out of 10 people would attend any place of worship on Sunday. I suppose the director of marketing thought, “if he can get a unchurched area to come to church, maybe he can help encourage people to come to the symphony.” I remembered “baby steps” on the day of my interview —  just get to the parking lot, find a spot, get to my interview, sit there and talk coherently to a hiring director. After my first interview, they asked me back. I brought in a marketing plan — silly now, but it was an attempt to say, “give me a shot at this.” I ended up being a perfect fit and they offered me the job. As it turns out, I did have transferable skills and something to offer that was helpful to others. I slowly started gaining confidence even though I wasn’t making much money. I had great success there and things were stable. You never know how one unlikely character is going to be used in your life and directed by God.  

Looking back, the biggest part of my healing process was taking baby steps, getting back in the saddle, and riding. I just used what I had — I knew I didn’t have college degrees and real world experience, but I have always been a big believer in giving what you have and everything will be okay. I always remember Matthew 14:16-21 when Jesus fed 5,000 with so little. I’m not the most talented person in the world, nor do I have the most credentials, but I have just enough for God to work with to bless and multiply.

You restore my spirit, You redeem my pain – Leigh’s Story

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This story is such a beautiful reminder of how the Lord reaches us in the midst of our pain, in the pit of our sorrow, and in the depths of our suffering. He removes seeds of destruction and despair and replaces them with seeds of restoration and hope. The new seeds grow into goodness, deeply rooted in the unconditional love and faithfulness of Jesus.  

I have 14 friends who are pregnant. And while I’m happy for them, there’s still a slight pull on my heart. Between you and me, it’s hard for me to hear the intimate details of another woman’s pregnancy and I’d rather not be invited to baby showers.

I’m 35 years old, and for more than 20 years, I’ve known that outside of a miracle, biological kids would never be a reality. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia shortly after my 12th birthday. The next few years were by far the most challenging and faith-stretching years of my life. As a young child, I gave my life to the Lord, inviting Him to be my Lord and Savior. The Lord ministered to me in very real ways and I grew tremendously in my personal relationship with Him.

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Shortly after completing my 2 ½ years of leukemia treatment, my cancer returned. I knew I was at a high-risk to relapse during my treatment, and without the chemo, the leukemia did come back. Exhausted from years of weekly treatments, I was faced with the decision to have a bone marrow transplant. This only offered a 20 percent survival rate, and if it didn’t work, I would go Home and be with the Lord. I remember sharing with my parents that I would win either way as the apostle Paul so boldly shared in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  

After much prayer, I decided to move forward with preparation for a bone marrow transplant. A month into rigorous treatment to get me back into remission, I was bedridden from the high-dose steroids. Shortly afterwards, I was hospitalized, leaking spinal fluid and “mentally absent” due to the stress and weight loss. The Lord graciously brought me back into remission, restored my mind, and provided a bone marrow donor, my sister.

After the initial 2 ½ years of weekly treatment, I knew that there was a chance that I might not be able to have kids. But at the same time, I remembered how the Lord had given me a heart for international adoption before I ever learned that I had cancer. I knew without a doubt that God was in control and had a plan for my life. However, the pain I experienced that day in March 1995 when I learned of my upcoming infertility will forever be etched in my mind.

My parents took turns taking me to the hospital. On this day in early April, it was my Dad’s turn to go with me to meet with the radiologist “Dr. K.” My heart still pounds and tears roll down my face as I remember this painful visit. Dr. K is a world-renowned radiologist and very nice man. But none of this mattered as he shared that the eight total body radiation treatments I would receive in the days leading up to my bone marrow transplant would cause infertility. My spirit was shattered and I needed a shoulder to cry on, but I was in a room of men who could never fully understand the implications of this news on a 14-year-old young woman. When I got home and shared the news with my mom, we cried together. Of course, my mom wished she had known and could have been there with me as I received the news. I later learned that my mom sat outside the radiation room during my first treatment and wept for my loss.

I won’t go into all the details of my bone marrow transplant, but I will say that I know I am here today by God’s grace. The marrow I received was a very poor match and I spent a week on the ventilator and 7 ½ weeks in the hospital. The new marrow did graft which was a huge relief to everyone, especially to my sweet sister who donated the marrow!

The news from my radiologist remained on my heart, but I am a very private person and rarely talked about it with anyone. I knew that my infertility would be more challenging when my friends got married and had kids, and even more so when I got married. But for this season in life as a teenager, I could entrust it to the Lord.

Fast forward a few years — my life continued to look different than I expected. I always thought I’d be married in my early to mid-20s, but the Lord had other plans.

I met my husband in 2007 during a work conference in Colorado. We were both serving in Christian ministry and he had just moved to the city where I had been living for the past year. We got to know each other better over the following months and I remember how fascinated I was when I learned that he was adopted from Korea as a young child!

He was working as the assistant to the president of our ministry and traveled quite a bit. I laugh now thinking how much I wanted him to ask me out. When he finally did, we had to wait two weeks to go on our first date due to his upcoming travels!

When I look back at our dating relationship, two of the things that stand out the most in my mind are related to my illness. After we’d been dating awhile and were pretty serious, I remember him asking me the sweetest question: “Will we be able to grow old together?”

In January 2009, I had extensive surgery around my right eyebrow to remove basal cell carcinoma caused by the radiation I received. This was such a hard and long day as the doctor had to go in six times to remove layers of tissue and examine the cells under the microscope. My face looked hideous, but my husband was right there with me, helping me make difficult decisions and doing everything he could to support me. I knew that this was the man I wanted to marry. My husband and I were married shortly before our 30th birthdays!

While the Lord continues to bring healing to my life, the life-long side effects from my years of treatment have not been easy. The Lord is helping me trust Him and find joy in trials, but I will admit that I battled a spirit of bitterness and anger at times as I thought my life would look much different 21 years after cancer treatment. The radiation has left mental and emotional scars causing headaches, hormone, ear, eye, skin, bone, memory and muscle damage. I get sick much easier than others and the sickness hangs around a lot longer. And then there’s the infertility.

It was only over the last few years that I verbalized the shame I felt with my infertility. Why shame? I couldn’t control the fact that I had childhood cancer and needed the chemo and radiation. I had nothing to be ashamed of, yet the feelings were still so present. This was an area where the enemy wanted to have victory in my life.

My husband and I began talking more seriously about adopting a child in the winter/spring of 2011. I was thrilled and wanted to begin the process immediately, having had a heart for adoption for more than 20 years. Words could not express how much I wanted this child!

Later that summer, we met with some friends who adopted a little girl from South Korea to ask questions and hear about their experience. I remember tearfully sharing my biggest fear for the first time: others will know of my infertility when they find out we were adopting. My pain and my sense of loss were still very real.

That same week, the Lord spoke to my heart as I brought my pain before Him. I was getting ready one morning when I heard the Lord’s voice so clearly, speaking the truth of Joel 2:25 into my life: “I will restore what the locusts have eaten. In my human mind, I had lost so much life from the cancer, but I had an overwhelming peace, knowing that God was in control and would bring redemption and restoration for His glory. My cancer and plans to adopt were not “plan B” in God’s mind. They were and always will be “plan A.”

In her article, Redeeming the Locust Eaten Years, Hannah Goodwin writes,

When we allow God to work in our souls, we give Him the access He needs to clean out what the locust (the invading enemy of our souls – sin) destroyed and build up what the Spirit delivers. The Holy Spirit, in effect, redeems what was lost by working through our lives . . . .

Our sin makes us weak, but it is Christ in us that makes us strong in spirit. God works everything together to restore what sin has cost us. It does not matter what the “locust” have done to destroy your testimony or the life of a prodigal you know; the Lord, through His mercy and grace, is ready to redeem.

This encounter with the Lord has remained on my heart. The Lord graciously brought me through this time and I soon became involved in the ups and downs of an international adoption.

The extensive paperwork, background checks, personal questions and expenses of an adoption quickly taught My husband and I that there would be many fewer parents in the world if everyone had to go through this detailed process to have a child! But I knew in my heart, that if I had not had cancer, I may not have taken this opportunity to give a needy child a home.

Nine months after beginning our adoption, we took our third and final trip to Russia to bring our son, Isaac, home. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day in our flat in Moscow with my husband and Isaac! The following weeks were challenging as I wanted to care for my new son, but had become very sick while in Russia with pneumonia, ruptured ear drums and fluid in my lungs. Many prayers, my husband, and a kind pharmacist friend in the U.S. helped me through this time!

Shortly after returning home, I was lying in bed one night when the Lord reminded me again of His provision in Isaac. Years ago, a doctor told me that my chances of getting pregnant were about like the chances of Abraham and Sarah conceiving. I joyfully shared this with my husband and said, “But Isaac is in the other room!”

I am continually tempted to ask, “How would my life be different if my body hadn’t been physically weakened by cancer?” But I can’t go there. I have a husband and child who need me to be present now and a God who will give me victory over the enemy.

Surprisingly, having a child hasn’t really lessened the pain of infertility. But verbalizing my pain has brought great healing. I was able to sit down and talk with another friend and adoptive mom about my struggles with infertility. It wasn’t anything she shared that helped my heart — it was the fact that I put it out there. It’s not a secret and it’s not something I should be ashamed of. This experience brought so much healing to my heart and I’m much more at peace about things. The Lord is teaching me a lot about what it means to know His true joy that is not dependent on any circumstances.

I’ve since shared this struggle with a few other friends and have taken a huge step of faith to share it with you. I know that I am on a lifelong journey of completely releasing my infertility to the Lord and embracing His plans for my life. And I pray that He will use my story to encourage others. We will never fully understand God’s ways this side of heaven, but we can know He is at work and has a greater plan in mind than you or I could ever imagine.

These days, if someone asks if I adopted because of medical reasons, I still share that I’ve wanted to adopt a child for many years. Others laugh saying, “You’ll get pregnant now that you’ve adopted Isaac!” And as a very petite woman with a son who looks like a “future linebacker,” people ask, “Is his daddy tall?” I respond, “Taller than I am!” as we all laugh! I usually don’t share that my son is adopted. Often, this information isn’t relevant. Isaac is my son and I’m his mom, and that’s what matters.

In December 2015, we became a family of four, bringing our daughter, Lottie, home from South Korea after a three-year adoption journey.

I’d be honored to talk with you about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, cancer, infertility, and/or adoption.

Let him go, but hold on to me – Marie’s story

This story gives me so much hope. Nothing in our lives is beyond repair or restoration. He makes beauty from ashes.

In November 2000, after 13 years of marriage and many empty threats to divorce, it finally happened. We crossed the line of threatening and decided to go through with it.  At least he did — I just decided to let go and let him have what he thought he wanted.  

Although maybe I shouldn’t jump so quickly to that part of the story. After all, that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there were other problems and many of them were my doing.

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I knew I loved him the night we sat in his car after a date. He bawled like a baby because at 23 years old, his mom and dad were getting a divorce. We were both Christians and during our courtship vowed that the “D” word would NEVER enter our vocabulary.

My husband and I married in March 1987 and marriage was wonderfully hard. The process of two becoming one physically, not so rough. Emotionally, relationally… ouch!  We figured it out, though, and shared the journey with four kids along the way. My husband worked two jobs so I could stay at home and homeschool our children, but the exhaustion, financial pressures and my knack for dissatisfaction (with almost everything) created distance. Somewhere in our thirteenth year, he fell out of love with me. I was devastated.  

It’s important to know that I am the youngest of five children — my closest sibling 10 years my senior. I was the joy of my family, not just to my parents, but also to my siblings who spoiled me rotten. I had never been unloved or disliked. How could this be happening to me? How could he possibly not love me? I had no idea what to do. I was embarrassed and broken. An active church member, a homeschool mom, I was the “perfect” Christian wife and mother — how could my husband not love meMy entire identity bubble burst and I was too proud to see how flawed that perspective really was.  

I was without hope, so I did the only thing I knew to do. I lifted my eyes unto the hills, that’s where my help comes from, my hope was in the Lord — I dug deep into Jesus. I wept with Him, poured over His Word, cried out to Him on my knees. I sought counsel and became deeply dependent on the encouragement of a few women God placed in my life “for such a time as this.” The Precept Ministries study “Covenant” was pivotal in my hope. The verses that I clung to were, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 and “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He takes great delight in you; he will quiet you with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17. I prayed Philippians 1:9 over my husband at night, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth and insight…”  It was the hardest and sweetest season of my life. Don’t get me wrong, my relationship with my husband was volatile and I was very angry at him for abandoning his love for me, but Jesus filled his shoes. He (Jesus) began to whittle away at my pride. He began to show me where I was at fault. He began to challenge me regarding my lack of love for my husband, by revealing my selfishness and by teaching me to love by releasing my hold on him. All this time, my husband had been my god. I depended on him for my worth and value. I expected his perfection and berated him when he wasn’t the biblical model of a husband.  

That night when he said he didn’t love me, I wanted God to fix it right away. I foolishly believed this was about Him changing my husband, but it wasn’t — it was about Him changing me. God took that broken, prideful little girl and taught her how to love someone even when they didn’t love you in return. I ironed shirts, made dinner, gave up homeschool, went back to work, went to counseling, read books on marriage. I did a lot of things, but the most effective thing I did was surrender to God’s will. Whatever he told me to do, I did — including letting my husband go when he said he wanted to leave. Oh, it hurt. I honestly think God saved me from taking my life that night because I was undone, but I knew that I had to let go. When I did, my husband was left standing alone and the only person left for him to hold on to was Jesus.  

After my husband realized he had nowhere to go, he accepted that divorce was not the answer and he was willing to work on our relationship. My brother came alongside us in that season and led us through a VHS bible study. He would come over, park his van in the driveway, and we would watch the video series and discuss the questions — that way, we remained close to our kids. We also started meeting with our church pastor. It was a period of about two years of work and restoration and God was the one who orchestrated the healing.

We celebrated 28 years of marriage in 2015. We have grandkids! We are growing old together. He is no longer my god, I only have room for one of those, but he is surely my partner. God redeemed what the locusts had stolen – He restored two broken people to Him and that resulted in the redemption and restoration of their marriage. God makes bricks from straw. To Him be ALL glory and honor and praise — forever and ever. 

Your will, not my own – Ann’s story

This story leaves me in complete awe of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness time and time again. So often we think that we have it all together, that we are in control. And then suddenly, without warning or anticipation, something happens that changes everything. But when it does, He is with us. Guiding us every step of the way. 

The hardest struggle I have ever faced began in December 2010 at the age of 23. Up to this point in my life, I had experienced external sadness and sorrow with the loss of loved ones, and through my husband’s life-changing motorcycle accident during our first year of college. These experiences taught me many lessons, helped shape my character and helped plant seeds of faith. However, I had not experienced any real internal struggles. I felt that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I had not experienced failure, and felt that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve success in any aspect of life. I thought that I made the plans for my life and then watched them unfold. I felt secure and in control of my thoughts, feelings, actions and destiny. Little did I know, these convictions were all about to change as my world was turned upside down.

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I was halfway through my second year of law school and was really excelling. I had several prosperous job opportunities lined up for me when I graduated, and I saw the path of my life laid out before me. However, inside I had a tugging, nagging feeling that I could not define. Now in hindsight, I realize the nagging feeling was the Holy Spirit trying to lead me down a different path. At the time, I ignored the prompting. I was stubborn and planned out my life using my head and not my heart. I suppressed feelings and bulldozed ahead to accomplish the goals I had set for myself.

During final exams before Christmas break, I took some Benadryl to help me sleep after a late night of studying and lots of caffeine. Unknown to me at the time, I had an extreme adverse reaction to the Benadryl. I was without sleep for an entire night, and felt extreme anxiety and restlessness. The next night I took more Benadryl, and this pattern continued. By the third night of no sleep, I was having rolling panic attacks (which I had never experienced before in my life). I felt like my body had been taken over, and I was in an extreme state of panic and agitation. A family friend gave me a benzodiazepine, (Klonopin — same family as Xanax, Valium, Ativan) and I instantly fell into a deep sleep.

Knowing I had to finish my exams, I went to the doctor to get a prescription for the benzodiazepine to take for the rest of the week of my exams. I still did not equate the Benadryl to my sleepless nights and was not sure what happened to me. The eight nights taking Klonopin was enough for my body to become dependant. Two weeks after stopping this medication, my body went into withdrawal. It is hard to describe what withdrawal is like, because it does not seem humanly possible to experience the level of physical and mental pain I went through. It is like I entered hell on earth, and I plummeted very quickly into a dark pit. I had to be put back on Klonopin to begin a very slow taper that lasted for 10 months. During this time, I experienced many nights of no sleep, was unable to eat for two months (lived on Ensure), had extreme anxiety and panic, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to breathe properly, and deep depression. There were many moments when I felt like I could not endure the pain any longer; many times I wanted to give up because I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even after I was completely off the medication, it still took more than a year for my brain to fully recover. So, in total, I spent more than two years in this dark pit of suffering.

However, God had me in his grip through every moment of this trial. It truly is awesome to reflect on how He was there from the very start of this walk through the valley of darkness, how he provided me with exactly what I needed to get through each day, and how he was able to change what was meant for my harm into pure goodness.

His sovereignty began on the very first night of no sleep when I took the Benadryl. I received a message in the middle of the night from my uncle who is a missionary in Guatemala. He had never sent me a message through Facebook before, and this message read, “Ann — remember, God does not give us a Spirit of fear, but a Spirit of power, a Spirit of love and a sound mind. — 2 Timothy 1:7” I did not understand the meaning behind this message at the time, but I now view it as purely miraculous. God knew the trial that laid before me, and in His mercy and love, He made sure this message was sent to me from the very start.

In a time of confusion, and under the care of a doctor who was, to say the least, ignorant of the extreme harm these medications cause, God opened the door for me to see a new doctor. This doctor had compassion for my situation — he was knowledgeable about withdrawal and the damage caused by benzodiazepines (benzos), and he helped manage the entire process of slowly getting me off the medication. In my first appointment with him, he pulled out a Bible and read a scripture verse to me. Never in my life has a doctor been bold enough to bring out a Bible during an appointment. He said he felt that God’s hand was in this situation, and he needed to share this with me.

God surrounded me with an amazing support system during this time. My cousins, aunts and dear friends spent many days and countless hours by my side. They poured love and encouragement into me, and spurred me on to not lose hope or give up. God used my husband, family and friends to keep me walking through this trial.

This trial brought stillness to my life. The life I had all planned out suddenly came to a complete stop. Everything I thought I knew, I no longer did. My world was turned upside down so quickly, I was lost and scrambling to find ground beneath me. During this forced quiet time, I was so hungry for Christ. I read scripture and many Christian books. My favorite verses were, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. I also found so much encouragement from reading, “Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow, “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer, and “Believing God” by Beth Moore. I listened to Christian audio tapes, started attending a bible study, and talked with family and friends for hours about my faith and my purpose. I prayed ceaselessly, and prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I prayed for healing, I prayed for strength, and eventually reached the place where I prayed for God’s will to be done in my life in His perfect timing. My faith and relationship with God grew exponentially during this trial. Not to mention, the faith of my dearest loved ones, including my husband. He came to faith through witnessing God’s work in my life during this time of suffering. As hard as this trial was, the goodness that came out of it could not have happened any other way. Now that I stand at the end of this struggle, I am in reverent awe of God’s sovereignty in every aspect of my life and the lives of others.

I am now healed and am a much stronger version of myself. My perspective on life has become God-centered, and my life is now God-controlled, instead of self-controlled (I still have my moments, of course). I know that life is full of trials, and there will be many more trials to come. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 However, now I can rest assured that no matter what valley of darkness may come, God will be by my side through it all.

Truth Speaks © 2017