Friday, December 27, 2013

A Decade of Grace and Life

Today is my first child's tenth birthday.  Birthdays are a big deal at my house.  We love a good reason for celebration--especially the celebration of life.  This birthday is extra special though. Each year that I celebrate his birthday, I cannot help but think about the journey we've shared.  The past ten years have been filled with challenges and life-defining moments.  While it's a longer story, I hoped to share part of our story, so you can understand how special this guy is to me.

The year 2003 began with much hope.  I was a senior in high school & had been accepted into my top choice in colleges.  Graduating as salutatorian, I would receive scholarships to attend & would be the first in my family to attend a 4-year college (and the first to graduate).  I planned to pursue a pre-med degree, until my grandfather's health deteriorated quickly.  This changed the course of my career choice, because I realized I could not stomach terminal diseases or their effects. Within weeks, I also was heartbroken to lose the only man who had been consistent in my life.  He died at the end of February.

In addition to my grandfather's death, my mom finalized the end of an unhealthy marriage, and my relationship with my high school sweetheart was sure to end as we both had very different visions for our lives.  Despite some major life changes, I managed to stay focused on my big plans for my future.  All of my hard work would pay off & I would have the opportunity to follow my dreams & escape.

I was almost to the finish line, when two days before giving my graduation speech, I found out that I was pregnant. I was in disbelief because of how careful I was about "controlling" this situation, so how could it even happen?   Whether it was the round of antibiotics (that I was given no warning about) or the imperfect time of dosage each day, arming me with birth control hadn't provided the safety or assurance that my teenage brain thought it would provide.  I was sad and scared and mad.

Despite my prior beliefs about abortion, I had bigger plans.  I had worked so hard, carrying a high GPA, participating in athletics year-round, serving in leadership positions in multiple clubs, working since I was 14--my entire scholastic career was flashing before my eyes.  "Ruined" is what they said.  "But you can take two doses of medicine and everything will go away."  "Don't worry, it's just tissue--the size of a grain of rice actually."  "Jesus forgives, He wants you to be happy."  "You don't want to miss out on all the things you've worked so hard for." In the counselor's office at the abortion clinic three hours away, I started to think that choosing life meant choosing death of my dreams.  As I moved from room to room, it was a blur, but when I joined the room of other women--some visibly showing, reality hit.  And the prayers for the unborn were answered with a peace in the heart of a young, scared girl who realized this child was fearfully and wonderfully made.

Suddenly, I stood and searched for the Exit signs.  As I left, the lady at the front desk reminded me that I could not get a refund of the $400 I paid to ensure I wasn't a failure or another teen mom statistic.  I assured her that Life was enough.

That evening, I told my mother and we cried together.  We also prayed.  Over the next several months, I worked double shifts and battled morning sickness, but felt an overwhelming peace and energy that calmed my heart.  I had no intentions of not going to college, but I also had no idea about how it was going to happen.  While my mom helped to change my living arrangements, I prayed that everything else would fall into place--not typical for my type-A personality.

A month before I was set to leave for college, I was on my way to work on a beautiful sunny day.  I was going too fast around a slight curve when it suddenly began to rain hard.  Before I knew it, I couldn't see a thing and my car was spinning.  When I opened my eyes, a transfer truck was headed toward me head-on. I closed my eyes to pray and when I opened them, my car was on the other side of the road but I was alive.  The witnesses at the scene who stopped indicated that part of my car went under his truck, but spun out.  I was completely unharmed, as was my unborn son.
Little did I know that the accident meant that I would be able to pay off my car with the insurance value and buy another car with cash, allowing me to not worry about a car loan payment.  This was the beginning of God's provision.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[a] 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Matthew 6:25-33

Whether it was generous tips at work or the kindness of my church community & school mates that provided almost everything I'd need for this special boy, I had almost everything I needed before leaving home.

However, on the way to Athens, my mom received a call from the campus property manager letting me know that she had double booked my assigned apartment.  But, by the time we arrived, they worked out another assignment at the only place they had left.  It was going to cost more money, but I didn't worry because of God's provision in the past.  As I walked up the stairs and began to unload my stuff, a young girl came outside.  She began to tell my mom that she had prayed for another young single mom to live close to her (most of the other neighbors were married graduate students).   This amazing woman would become my best friend and disciple me and love me through some of the most difficult and amazing times.

As the months went by, my belly grew and my classes became more difficult.  Taking 17 hours was intense without being pregnant.  Add in the sleepless nights, being away from home and a stolen car and it was pretty crazy.  As I entered my third trimester, I celebrated my 19th birthday and received a random call from my father.  As a child of an absent, alcoholic father, I was the typical perfectionistic maybe-I-can-earn-his-love-by-making-something-of-myself kid. It meant a lot to me that he called around my birthday, as he had admitted before that he didn't know the actual date that his first child was born.

We had a short, but good chat.  After all of the years of tough-love toward him, my time in the word & understanding of Christ's great grace allowed me to offer forgiveness to him.  He indicated that he was anxious to start fresh and was excited at the prospect of being a grandfather (while furious at the other half of the equation).  I truly felt loved by him for the first time.  That was the last time I would talk to him.  Three weeks later, my neighbor came to the door with a phone call telling me that my father had been murdered.

Physical pain, despair, loss of hope poured over me. The redemption and the relationship that I had lived for and prayed for with my father was gone.  But the true redemption and the relationship that brought life appeared in this desperate, barren time.  Christ spoke to me through his Word.  My prayers were constant and my life depended on them.  My need was great and He provided peace and comfort.  His people surrounded me and cared for me.  They prayed for me and served me.  My father had gone, but my Father was here.

Just a little over one month later, I came home for Christmas and enjoyed time with my family. My Mom's unhealthy marriage had taken it's toll on my family and the closeness that many families experience hadn't existed for a while before the death of my father, but this year Christmas was different.  I enjoyed a time of forgiveness and healing with my family, recognizing that tomorrow is not promised.  As we exchanged gifts and prepared for the expected arrival in mid-January, I started feeling strange aches and a crazy burst of energy.

Just two days after Christmas, I started cleaning up my Mom's entire house and organizing everything (NOT typical for me).  It was a beautiful day and I had the urge to walk up her crazy hill and down to the church.  I did this several times.  I didn't recognize that this was labor (I didn't read any pregnancy boards back then).  I thought that your due date literally meant the day you give birth, I wasn't prepared two weeks early.  Despite my doubts, I knew I felt strange and achey so my mom insisted we go to the hospital.  My baby boy was born 4 hours later as I experienced one of the most amazing, life changing moments of becoming a mommy.

As I held my little boy, I knew what unconditional love was.  Everything else I was feeling is indescribable, but I never felt like choosing life was a mistake.  Quite the opposite.  I was grateful for the prayer warrior and angels and everything else that protected this amazing blessing.  I knew there were natural consequences of my sin, as the challenges with his father were already evident. But peace consumed me.  Love consumed me.  I felt forgiven & I forgave.

Over the past ten years, I have struggled with some of the other natural consequences of choosing life & raising a child as a single mother.  It has been very difficult at times.  When God didn't restore and bless the relationship with my son's father, I became very bitter and rebelled and denied my faith.  I experienced more consequences based on the poor choices during that time.  I tried feminism, atheism and sought to discover my purpose outside of Christ, but came up empty. Thankfully, this sweet boy served as a reminder of God's grace and unconditional love.  He continued to be a motivator for me to do well and finish school.  He also influenced my decision to come back home after graduating.

Despite the hurt and wrongs in the relationship with his father, I remembered the pain I felt of growing up without knowing my dad.  When I moved back home, I reluctantly agreed to attend church with a dear friend seeking God in her own desolate time.   On Father's Day in 2007, I realized that I still had a Father in Christ--that a Father's love doesn't leave just because we stray.  That an imperfect earthly father doesn't accurately portray our Heavenly Father.  I quit running from the Truth that had literally saved my life and the life of my son and came home.

So as I shared my story about my son's life, I hope that someone will see how Jesus the Son holds our life.  That my faith isn't just a lifestyle to adapt because I want to be a good, southern girl living in the Bible belt; It is my response to the need for a Savior, Prince of Peace, Heavenly Father, Grace-giving Lover.  I love because He first loved me.  I chose life and He saved mine.

And as I celebrate my son's life, I hope that we can think about how we view life and what it means to choose life.  Consider what it means to fund & support organizations that promote women's rights as the ability to abort a baby versus the real feminine empowerment of choice based on a women's innate ability to love & care for a child while still working toward her dreams in life.  True women's rights advocates should agree that we do not have to make a choice to have one or the other.

While I do not condone teen pregnancy, I hope that more women who find themselves in my situation can receive the grace and provision from His people and the message that choosing life doesn't mean choosing the death of their dreams.  Choosing life offers a different dream that can be fulfilling, motivating and amazing no matter what challenges you face.

If you feel compelled to play a part in providing grace & life to another mom like me, please consider supporting Choices Pregnancy Resource Center by donating here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A New Birth

This Christmas has brought more joy to me this year than ever before.  I believe that my time reading the Bible has helped my heart realize the power in God's sovereignty and the fact that my life is truly in His hands--even the day-to-day, what am I gonna wear, how is that gonna happen stuff that I tend to worry about.  In years past, as hard as I tried, I still couldn't shake the guilt of not buying enough and the remorse of spending money on toys that captured my kid's attention for a couple of hours then ended up in the floor (curse you strategically displaced Legos that I step on in the dark).  I also struggled with the time that I spent shopping online, coupled with the time I didn't spend on decorating the house enough.  So much guilt (and it's stirring up inside of me now).

But God has unbound my heart and opened my eyes to the gift of enough.  He is Enough.  I realize how crazy and Christian-y this sounds, but I have experienced real, life-altering joy that I didn't understand in past seasons.

Before, I was stuck in a Martha world.  A long list of to-dos, emails to respond to in real-time, sales to close/ conference calls/ meetings to attend on maternity leave, 2-3 events per night after working all day & before coming home to my family, etc.  None of these things alone are bad.  They are all highly valued by the American culture that we live in.  But keeping up with the busyness of life, left no margin for networking with the Creator of the World.

So I trusted that He was Enough and followed His calling by faith.  It's been close to 7 months now.  When I left, I gave myself 3 months to sit at the feet of Jesus and get to know Him and my family better.  This was very difficult for me.  I felt comfortable with busy.  I loved closing deals, connecting people, coming up with big ideas and making them happen.  Now I was closing the toilet bowl (continuously), chasing little people, coming up with big plans and watching them crash and burn.  And the paycheck. Earning a living was empowering and validating, it fit my pretty packaged plan.  But God called me to trust, to put aside all of these things that I packaged that defined me.  He said I. AM. Enough.  And I decided to spend a lifetime of sitting at His feet in service, seeking Him--not my own ambitions.

The gift of freedom from fitting in my self-made feminist mold brings such peace and joy.  There's no wall to break down or tower to build---just the invitation to have faith in the Power that fearfully & wonderfully made us and equipped us to do good works.  I have found much success and personal growth in simply getting to know my children better and helping them discover that they are created to join Christ in a marvelous adventure as well.

And while my house is decorated a little more than it was last year, the presents are intentionally sparse, leaving room for new traditions, less clutter and more time spent getting to know the One we're celebrating.   No guilt, more gifts (spiritual) and a New Birth that offers so much more than any present money can buy.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Midnight melody

Little gal is wide awake right now singing songs. Song that never end.  I am usually firm, go to bed or else mom. Tonight I am "enjoy the crazy" mom.  First of many all-night laughs, chats and lullabies with my girl. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Dave Ramsey gets right about poverty

Recently, some of my kindest friends have posted an article that immediately caught my attention due to the name in the headline and the author.  The article, written by Rachel Held Evans, is entitled "What Dave Ramsey gets wrong about poverty."  Being that it was Christmastime and Dave has been top of mind for me and my family (I'll get to that in a minute), I clicked on over with an open mind 1) because although I follow Dave Ramsey's teaching, he's not Jesus, so he could have gotten it wrong and I wanted to be informed, 2) to see what he could have said that disparaged the poor--after all, as a former poor girl, I get all fired up about someone talking bad about the least of these.

courtesy of CNN's article mentioned, courtesy of Dave Ramsey
As I read, I was discouraged and encouraged at the same time.  I was discouraged because among other things, the title of the article didn't really match the article itself.  Rachel Held Evans wasn't really even addressing something Dave Ramsey said;  she was criticizing one of the many articles reposted on his website by Tim Corley. RHE's article would be more aptly titled "What Tim Corley gets wrong about poverty." But wait, who's Tim Corley?  I sure didn't know, and I beg to guess that many others don't either, that's why it was more likely to be read if Dave's name was interjected in the article since his postings during the Christmas season are getting heavy traffic from followers like myself who need a little inspiration to get wealthier this Christmas season.

Oh wait, scratch that, as a stay at home mom, I'm unlikely to get "wealthy" (which is what RHE insists DR followers are after) during the Christmas season since most of our money is leaving the house in the form of giving to causes (the public school system that needs more money during this time of year with fundraisers, events, deadlines, etc), paying higher bills (winter=more expensive), clothes for the kids since they apparently grew, etc.  Ugh, I digress...Obviously I'm not getting wealthy.  The REAL reason I perk up when I hear the "other" bearded man during this Christmas season is because no matter where I turn, I am barraged with deals, sales, MUST-HAVE "savings," that are effective in making me feel like I MUST buy stuff for my children, family, friends, self.  Gifts that "won't disappoint," sales that you "can't afford to miss," offer promising of acceptance and joy.  But Dave says "Don't believe that crap! [paraphrased]."

He offers advice budgeting to make sure that you don't overspend, tutorials on making gifts when that's all you can afford, guides to help you decorate with what you have---resources to help you use your own resources without tacking on debt and despair this holiday season.  But oh wait...did you see that?!?! Yep, there it is.
via Dave Ramsey's Facebook page

He "judged" the people using government assistance.  That's it. I'm done!

Oh, wait, I actually read the whole thing and it didn't judge anything.  It says that I can take initiative and prepare myself.  Who does he think he is?  We're barely scraping by here.  I've gotta hang on to what I have.  Oh, but I seem to recall someone else encouraging me to use my resources wisely no matter how meager they seem.  So Dave Ramsey & Jesus are on the same page when it comes to this. 

In addition to Dave Ramsey's encouragement to those in tough financial situations, the actual article that Tim Corley posted has some really good advice in it.  Maybe the title sucks, I'll let you decide, but telling people to eat less junk food, exercise, and listen to audio books (the three things RHE criticizes) is NOT WRONG people.  

Sure, poor people have less money to spend on healthy food and junk food is cheapers--BUT beans and rice, lentils and couscous, frozen veggies and Aldi produce are affordable.  How do I know?  Because I bought them with my food stamps---AND I lived in a "food dessert."   Does it get old?  Yep.  Do I feel like crap and get sick all the time when I eat the above food--nope.  I feel much better.  But what REALLY gets me about this article and others like it is that it makes the assumption that "poor" people aren't smart enough to get this.  The reality is, when people say, "Oh I'm sorry you're having to eat Cheetos for dinner, I understand" instead of saying "hey, let me teach you how to eat healthy on a budget" they too, are contributing to the problem. 

Thankfully, I had a mother that taught me to count price per ounce and to buy on sale and resources that taught me to cook with what I had so a quick, cheap meal didn't have to mean McDonalds or a bag of Skittles.  

Next point, exercise.  Whether its running to the bus stop or taking the stairs at work, every little bit counts.  Saying "poor people don't have time to exercise" is again, insulting.  We all have 24-hours in a day.  I've worked 2 jobs while going to school as a single mom.  I found time to exercise.  For me, it was jogging on the sidewalk with my baby in the stroller or dancing for 25 minutes in my living room while he watched and laughed at me hysterically.  Don't say "poor people can't."   Give encouragement instead, y'all!

Oh but, you know poor people can't listen to audiobooks.  Really?!?! Maybe they don't have an awesome library or used bookstore that sells stuff for super cheap or free like we do in my city.  Maybe there's no time for checking stuff out (there is).  Whatever.  When I hear this, I hear "poor people don't want to read audiobooks."  The reality is, they may not be a part of the "culture of poverty," but an article like Tim Corley's is saying exactly that.   I read his article and thought "here's some stuff that those with more resources value, but might not talk about---maybe some poor people could benefit from."   I didn't get "do these things and you'll be rich" and I doubt the other poor people thought that either--until someone told them that's what they should think.  

I will end my rant with my overall belief that God created us all equal.  We are born with gifts, talents, abilities, etc into an imperfect world where we must make choices that can either help or hurt us.  Dave Ramsey and others empower us to look at scripture to see how to make choices that align with the Bible so that we can make a positive impact in our lives---enabling us to give to others.  That's what he gets right. 

In parting, before you assume that I am "rich" like Dave Ramsey (who started his ministry after going bankrupt), I am not.  Some of us are born to single parents and have daddies that left us because they mentally chose to continue living in a cycle of poverty.  But that doesn't destine us to be in poverty the rest of our lives.  Thanks to biblical wisdom that encourages us to use whatever we have---however little that might be--we can be blessed by God's generous provision. God says that if we are wise with what we have, He will entrust us with more.  

Does that mean we'll be rich?  No, our lot is not always measured in wealth.  But we can be diligent and intentional with what we have and break out of the bondage of debt---as Dave Ramsey, so passionately teaches.  He provides resources that can help those who are in debt and influenced by consumerism and convenience, no matter how "rich" or "poor" they may be. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

30 Days of Gratitude: Christmas cheer

Day 30

I fell behind again, but for good reason. Trying to blog I real time leaves little room for exhaustion after hosting two Thanskgivings, sick babies, delayed construction projects, etc. 

But all the "issues" above are really just some of the consequences of blessings. We take the good with the bad, because even when life happens and we fall behind, Jesus is there-waiting for us to call upon Him to carry our burdens and give us joy. 

As Novemeber came to a close and December rushed in, I happily welcomed the customs and trappings that come along with the month-long celebration of Christmas-including lights, community and songs of celebration. 

While many shy away from "Jesus" this season, it's impossible for me to forget the gifts He has given me. This month will be a celebration of gifts and a continual desire to cultivate gratitude as a way of life. 

Merry Christmas! I hope you can find joy and experience Christ's gifts only He can offer. 

(Extra)ordinary Life

Who knew that a date night thwarted by home repairs & sick kiddos could turn out to be so awesome as we found ourselves laughing uncontrollably, planning our drive thru prank (that won't happen, but sure was fun to plot.) It made us realize that we both have such an odd sense of humor that only we get sometimes & that there is always something to laugh about. 

Finding romance in the form of junk mail on a cruddy day is the stuff dreams are made of.  And loving a man that gives up fancy dinners and spends off days grouting tile and making me breakfast in bed freakin' rocks!

I love this (extra)ordinary life!