Listening to the Holy Spirit. And a Pile of Pooh.

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So, this evening I felt like the Lord was placing it on my heart not to give the girls a bath. I know sounds goofy even as I write it. But, keep in mind I pray about EVERYTHING.  I also wake up each day asking God to lead me by his Holy Spirit and to give me the courage to obey. So, it’s not that out there. I just felt like there was some reason I shouldn’t give them a bath tonight. But did I listen? No. Came up with all kinds of mental reasons why they just “had” to have a bath tonight, started the water, and went on my merry way. And do you know that no sooner than I took off the first little diaper did one of my sweet darlings stroll into her baby tent (very cute looks like a pink castle) and pee ALL over the floor. Undaunted, and determined to be positive I thought, “Well, at least she didn’t pee in the bathtub.” I got a towel, cleaned it up and set forward in my mission of a bath. No sooner did I clean up the pee than I looked down to see that she had left me a little brown nugget on the floor. Again, I thought, “This isn’t so bad. At least it’s not in the tub.” I got a baby wipe, picked it up and went to the rest room to throw it away. Then I came back…the pooh had fallen. Three giant, wet, sloppy, piles of pooh. And, she had stepped in it. And, was walking around the room. And, coming to say hi to mommy. And, sister was in on the action too. Coming to help out. I thought, “Oh, (expletive)!” Then I thought, “That’s exactly what this is! I don’t listen to the Holy Spirit and I end up in a pile of (expletive)!” Let’s just say I’m a sinner saved by Grace and haven’t exactly reached perfection in my thought life. And, I’m stupid enough to be honest in my blog posts, so there you go. But seriously, if only I had just stinkin listened. It would be nice if it ended there. But, oh no, as soon as I finished bathing both girls, but, BEFORE I had a chance to take them out of the water, or drain the water, one of my sweet darlings stood up and peed in the bath. Bath number two. It took two hours to give the girls this bath I just knew they had to have and get them ready for bed. 

Now, I know some of you are thinking. Seriously, Jill, mere coincidence. Maybe so, but maybe not. I tend to think that God actually cares about the little things in our lives and tries to guide us in the path of least resistance even for the small piles of pooh. 

On January 15th I hosted my first baby shower in nearly 20 years. Fortunately, it wasn’t at my house so I didn’t have to clean :-) When I showed up at the home of the brave soul who did volunteer to clean, she had the prettiest leather couches. Now, I’d been shopping for a deal on a new couch for well over a year. Mainly because I’m cheap...and picky. Not a good combination. Our couch truly did need a little help, though. The stuffing was literally coming out of the back (think 14 year old boy and his 11 and 14 year old brothers :-) We had sewn it up…and it ripped again. (Personally, I think there was foul play involved but that’s neither here nor there.) When I saw her couches I was a bit jealous and I prayed, “Lord, would you send me some couches like that.” I love the look of leather but definitely not the price so I couldn't imagine doing something as absurd as going to the store to purchase any myself :-)

I prayed that short prayer on a Monday afternoon. The following Sunday morning I felt led to look on Craigslist in Midland. We don’t even live in Midland. But, I looked. And, low and behold, there they were. I got a genuine leather couch and chair, filled with down stuffing, and almost identical to hers for a total of $300. 

Still not convinced. I have one more story. Last Saturday I was eating at a restaurant in a nearby town. There was an older gentlemen sitting at the table next to ours and I felt in my heart that he didn't know the Lord. It wasn't anything that he said or did, just a leading by the Holy Spirit. I debated rather I should try to visit with him but when he checked out at exact same time we did I felt it had to be a confirmation. And, an opportunity. He started a conversation by asking me about the girls and telling me how fortunate I was as he and his wife had tried but been unable to conceive. I asked if there was anything I might pray for him about and he said, "A long life." (He was 89). I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed over him. He made a comment to the extent of "whatever works." As I watched him walking away, I could almost feel the Holy Spirit yelling at me (in a nice way) to catch up to him and really talk to him about the Lord. So, I swallowed my pride and away I went. I mentioned his comment and how I felt that he wasn't a believer. Turns out I was right. I prayed that the Lord would give me a word for him - something that I couldn't possibly know on my own but that might prove a witness to him. It was then that I felt that his mother had died when he was young. Again, this wasn't because of anything he said but simply what the Holy Spirit was laying on my heart. When I asked him about this, he confirmed again that I was correct. She had died of cancer when he was just 16. I tried to explain to him that my knowing this was the Lord's way of reaching out to him. But instead, he dismissed it as merely a coincidence. 

If you’ve read many of my posts you know this is more the rule than the exception. I believe our one job is to stay smack, dab in the middle of God’s will for us. Then, to be still, listen, and He will do the rest. Too bad I forget this on occasion and end up in a pile of pooh :-)

To hear more of the awesome ways God has provided in my life check out Jill's Story.

And, if you liked my little blog post please let me know in the comments and click the button to share with your friends. Always makes me smile :-)

I'm Pregnant...

 Me...and my little pregnant belly 

Me...and my little pregnant belly 

It’s quite a story. Definitely one worth telling. As many of you know who read My Twin Story Part 1 and Part 2. I had a rather rough delivery (lost somewhere between 1500 and 2000 ml of blood) followed up by postpartum cardiomyopathy (kind of like congestive heart failure but temporary and specific to pregnancy). So, I didn’t exactly have plans to have any more kiddos. Although, once I caught the baby bug I rather wanted more. Still, an OBGYN and a cardiologist advised against it. So, due to their advice and some abnormal cell growth I was scheduled to have a hysterectomy. I cleared it with the cardiologist, scheduled it with the OB surgeon, and my mother-in-law bought a plane ticket to come to Texas. A date was set. It was a done deal. The cardiologist just requested that I have one more echo-cardiogram to confirm there were no problems (I no longer had symptoms.) Still, I had doubts about the hysterectomy. It’s one thing to mentally decide not to have more children. It’s another thing to entirely unplug all the plumbing. So, like everything else, I prayed. I asked the Lord to open the doors that He wanted opened and to close the doors that He wanted closed. I submitted to His will.

 The Nibblittes and I just a few days ago (the teens don't like being photographed :-(

The Nibblittes and I just a few days ago (the teens don't like being photographed :-(

Within a few days I heard that the cardiologist had changed her mind and would now, no longer, sign off on the procedure. Instantly, I assumed that the echo-cardiogram was bad. But low and behold, it wasn’t. My EF was greater than 55%, which is a strong normal. At that point, I knew the Lord had simply closed the door and I permanently dismissed the idea of a hysterectomy from my mind. Still, I assumed my child-bearing days were over. 

A few months later I felt led to take the twins to see my Internal Fetal Medicine doctor. After all, he had known them as “Baby A” and “Baby B” on a weekly basis throughout most of my pregnancy. He needed to meet them in person! I also felt led to talk with him about Christ so I hit the road to Abilene. It was a great visit (Turned out he did know the Lord :-) While I was there he gave me a little bit of information that has been quite valuable. There’s no increased statistical risk of future pregnancies if the cardiomyopathy is healed within a few months of an initial diagnosis. Now, this wasn’t medical advice, simply a friendly conversation, but one that gave me quite a bit of peace. 

Add to all of that one more little incident. I was sitting on the floor of our bedroom reading my Bible while the girls slept. I glanced down to read the notes at the bottom of the page and noticed the word “Corban,” a gift to God. I thought to myself that must by why my friend had named her oldest son Corban. Then, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me, “You will have a son and you will name him Corban.” Even though I didn’t have any plans to have more kids I tucked it away in the back of my mind. Months past. Then, unexpectantly, in September I became pregnant with a little boy - Corban.

Posted on February 16, 2018 .

One Year with the Nibblettes

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So this was supposed to be a one year update and…they just turned 15 months old…which I didn’t realize until I just now looked at the calendar. Granted, I knew they weren’t 12 months old just didn’t realize their “birth date” for January had come and gone without me knowing they were a month older. I guess such is the life with toddlers. 

So first of all, apparently as much as I assumed I would be the type to have my child dressed to the nines every day in a Martha Miniature, petticoat and bell-laden ensemble, I am not. We do good to brush our teeth and comb our hair each day. And…if the pajama’s we wore to bed the night before look like clothes we might just go with those the next day verses getting a whole, new outfit dirty. After all, you’re cute enough when you’re one anyway right? Mama Jill, on the other hand, probably has not combed her hair or brushed her teeth either one. But, whose counting? Just the other day I told my husband, “Someday you really will have a pretty wife and a clean house. (He didn’t request it. I was just sharing.) But, right now between babies and teens I just feel like I’m treading water.” And I guess that sums up the toddler years best. A LOT of fun. A never-ending messy house. And, A LOT of treading water. You just do the best you can. The baby books are half-filled out. We are 15 months old and still drinking out of bottles to go to sleep at night. (Because mommy just decided all those doctors are crazy that say no more bottle at 15 months. Oh no! Give me my milk ba over a screaming toddler any day of the week.) 

We are also not out healing the sick or visiting hospitals or doing much of anything terribly remarkable. Except that each day is just a little bit remarkable in and of itself. When one girl gives the other a drink from her sippy-cup or moves a baby chair from the other room so that she can stand on it to reach her high chair, or says a very difficult to understand “thank you” I’m convinced I must have the smartest, most wonderful babies out there. (me and the rest of the mommies in the world :-)  Oh, and yesterday when one of the girls handed me the socks from the clean laundry I was folding (on the floor) I was just about ready to call Mensa. 

But I guess the most remarkable thing about my unremarkable life is just how satisfying it can be. For years I said I didn’t want babies. Quite frankly, I thought all that diaper-changing and face-wiping was a waste of time when I could be out changing the world (I know, I know, get the rotten tomatoes ready :-) But then when God chose for me I found out this is truly one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Just being a mommy. I’m also kind of a fan of baby hugs and kisses. But seriously, I’ve been posting to my blog uh…not quite so…regularly. I do absolutely no volunteer work. No feeding the homeless. No mission trips to 3rd world countries. And yet, somehow, I know I doing something very real. Very eternal. And, very important. Be it a mommy to teens or to nibblettes, to one or to 90, adopted or home-grown. There is just something about being a mommy that matters forever. Oh, and one last little update. I’m pregnant…

Four Ragged Diapers

“You’re too old”

 written by Carol Freeman Oct 2001, updated June 2004 and Jan 2017
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Don’t you think you’re too old to be having twin babies?” my neighbor asked me, punctuating her remark with raised eyebrows.  She was serious. Babies needed mommies with the energy of 20 or 30 year-olds, she intimated. But there I was, holding twin newborns on my lap, having turned 40 two months earlier. Oh, no! What should I do? Take them back to the hospital? Did she think that I had picked them up on a whim at Wal-mart that day and I ought to have the sense to take them back to ‘Returns’?

Gertrude (not her real name) had come to check out the twins and then she brought out her offering. Four ragged, cloth diapers. Had she saved them from her last baby, who is my age? Thank you, I managed to respond weakly, I’ll be needing plenty of those. Together as newborns, they were going through two dozen diapers daily or 148 weekly. Mrs. McCaughey, the Iowan mother of septuplets estimated that each child goes through 4,500 diapers total. 9,000 looked like a humongous figure to me. Trying to make our budget cover our family of 7, I was using cloth diapers. My neighbor Gertrude and her husband didn’t have a large income either. In fact, I knew it to be the same as ours, though of course it didn’t have to stretch as far since their children were long grown.

I tried to sort out what happened that day. I was offended, but did I have a right to be? The diapers have felt right at home in my rag box. Maybe I should have appreciated the thought and learned from her thriftiness; after all she did live through the Great Depression. I wonder if perhaps Mary had had only four ragged swaddling clothes for baby Jesus? God, I truly am grateful for all we have here in America.

But deep inside, it wasn’t Gertrude’s gift that was bothering me. It was her question with the raised eyebrows. I was afraid. Maybe she was right and the baby girls would prove to be too much for my creaky bones. At my pre-natal check-ups I was “diagnosed” with, “Advanced Maternal Age” (let’s call it AMA for short), due to age. Whatever! Why didn’t they just come right out and call me “Gramma Carol?” In fact, my age was their basis for sending me to have my first ultrasound, 20 weeks into my pregnancy, at which time I discovered that I was carrying twins.

In the hallway just before the ultrasound office, I stopped to look at a large picture on the wall – twins totally dominated it. I thought to myself, “How unusual….well, I guess some people do have twins.” I shrugged, but never had even one fleeting moment of self-application there. Minutes later, when the ultrasound technician said she had a “little surprise” for me, “there’s two in there,” I turned my head to look at this young, pretty thing and with great skepticism asked, “How long have you been working as a technician?” All I could see was white snow on the screen.

She obviously wasn’t old enough to have the authority to make such a sweeping announcement that would so profoundly change my lifestyle. Graciously, she just smiled. My 16 and 6 year old daughters were with me and screeching with excitement, they practically flew over me (just skimming the surface of my protruding belly) to get a better look at the monitor! Well, thankfully I could count on their support. We got in the car and two blocks later stopped at a Dairy Queen to….“celebrate”. Actually, I was shaking so hard I thought I’d better do something to buy some time in which to calm down before trying to drive home.

At home, I broke the news to my 13 year old son. “There’s two in here,” I said. What!?!! “Yes. Two girls.” “Oh. [brief silence] Couldn’t even one of them be a boy??” he bargained. What was God [or I] supposed to do at that point? Switch one out for a boy?

I was so grateful for my husband’s response when I called him that night in Mexico where he was teaching at a seminar. “How was your midwife and ultrasound appointment?” he had asked. “Are you sitting down?” I countered. “Actually, I’m lying down.” “Okay, good. The doctor said the babies are doing fine.” A brief silence ensued while he caught his breath and then, knowing full well that the plural form of babies was no slip of my tongue, he said enthusiastically, “Praise the Lord! ‘Multiplication’ is the word the Lord gave me this year! And here He is illustrating it before our eyes!” That was the right answer – I very much needed his support.

We had planned a 2-week trip to Brazil, leaving a week after this big news and since I was in my 2nd trimester, it was the best time to go. I learned one Portuguese word I’ll probably never forget that I used most every day there while pointing to my stomach - “gemeos” – it means twins! It was a great trip and I’m glad I went ahead, visiting this wonderful country.

As the months dragged on, I didn’t know where my strength would come from. I vomited regularly, throughout my 1st trimester and then again in my 3rd trimester. Simultaneously, I was so exhausted I can remember times sitting on the bathroom floor and laying my head right down on the toilet rim for a little rest between heaves. I started to swell all over. I was down to wearing sandals extended to the widest notch in the middle of winter, with no visible signs of ankles remaining. I couldn’t breathe freely, especially if I tried to sit up to the table on the straight back chairs, so I would dish up my meal and take it to an easy chair in the living room. My table? My belly. My teenage daughter took a photo of me with a plate perfectly balanced there with a muffin on top – no hands. I was into XXL maternity pants. At my last pre-natal appt. my belly measured 48”!

Indeed I had wondered during my pregnancy if I was going to make it, if I wasn’t “too old” for this. And now this “AMA” mother had 18 years looming before her of raising these twins.

Shortly, before the girls were born, my friends threw a baby shower for me/us. The last baby shower I had had was 16 years ago when Jenny, my firstborn, arrived. Would people want to come, or would they raise their eyebrows?  Baby showers are not the custom in Minnesota for any child but the first. These would be #4 and #5!  My first three had all been born an ocean away in the Philippines, so I had held on to none of their baby paraphernalia and was starting all over. I was totally overwhelmed by the generosity and the number of people who attended. Ninety (!) came and outfitted the babes in style, each bearing two gifts, one for each of the two girls, writing strong words of encouragement to me on their cards.

So silence that one lonely voice with the forlorn diapers. What gives the one negative word more influence on our thoughts than the 90 positive ones? No, I refuse to let it rule.

I clearly remember my obstetrician in the Philippines when I had gone in for my last pregnancy test with our third child. At that time, my older children were already 10 and 6, and now as I sat in suspense in the doctor’s office, I heard the question, “Wanted?” I caught my breath for a second at the implication of her one-word sentence and then replied from my heart, “We want all the children God gives us.”

Maybe these twins weren’t “planned” but come to think of it, I generally don’t “plan” on receiving gifts. One doesn’t have to expect to be getting a gift to be blessed and happy to receive it. Perhaps we might even enjoy a surprise gift all the more. Especially if we knew that the giver was always coming up with better ideas and plans than ours. My husband and I surely hadn’t come up with the idea of simultaneously doing ‘diapers and dating’ with stair-step kids, so I like to think then that they must have been God’s plan. I feel honored to think that He was pleased to add to our family. May we please Him with our lives.

My husband and I were traveling in China when these babies were made. Isn’t everything ‘Made in China’ these days? I think the God of Life must have smiled in triumph when he gave us twins from a land that requires women by law to abort any baby after their first. He gave us top-notch girls from a place that views baby girls as second-rate.

On February 9, 1999, Michelle and Megan Mae were born naturally without pain meds only 12 days “early”.  It’s not that I have ever had easy, painless births, but I avoid the medications because I love being alert after giving birth so I can fully enjoy those very special first few hours with the babies. There are the deep-breathing tactics and such to use, and they help some, but I knew I was facing two births here. So this time, I took a Manila folder and wrote out a Bible verse in big letters over both insides of the folder and set it on the stand right next to my head during the births, to serve as an inspiration to make it through: “Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…consider Him who endured…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.(Hebrews 12:1) It helped! Other helps? My “advocate” sister-in-law Michelle who while feeding me ice chips, gently insisted that I could do this. She kept me posted on every detail of the process and coached me on how to breathe. (Somehow I lose my ability to remember how to do this basic body exercise when the labor gets intense!) Then there was my husband and 16 year old daughter who tirelessly rubbed away my intense back labor for 3 hours.

Michelle Kathleen (named after her sweet aunts), came out head first, delivered by my great midwife, guiding me through it all. But Megan Mae (named after a dear Filipina friend), was breech and so the hospital regulations stipulated that a doctor had to deliver her. He didn’t want to deliver a breech baby nor do a C-section at this point. So while a trainee doctor pushed on the outside, he pulled and shoved around on the inside, trying to get Megan to change positions for the next half hour. Ouch. I think I can now empathize with the rope in Tug-of-War. Finally, she cooperated and turned 180 degrees. One catch. She was jack-knifed – both head and feet were presenting. The doctor felt sure her head would pop out first if I pushed, so he gave the signal, I pushed and she popped out – feet first, out to her hips. They finally decided that she was determined to be breech, so they broke her water sac after she was half out and let her come out in her own style.

Michelle weighed in at 7 pounds and Megan at 8. Both were healthy and ready to go home with us 24 hours after their birth. I breast-fed them for 20 months – please don’t bother me with formula, they didn’t like it and it’s too much work to get up and get it in the night anyway. I got one of those wonderful “Arm’s Reach” portable cribs at Babies R Us where the bassinet part is level with my bed, making for a perfect bed-extension. A cry in the night and I’d prop myself up on one elbow, pluck the one up and plug her in and promptly fall back asleep….until the next one cried. I’d return the first, turn over on my other side and cradle the next one in place. This type of crib, nestled in close to me, was a lifesaver! Tim and I could both basically sleep through the night with just slight interruption. I highly recommend it!

Michelle and Megan Mae are five now and sometimes it’s been as sweet as can be to have these two little identical girls’ lives twirl around ours, and other times, well…I’d be reserved to say it’s been a wild ride! Will I have the energy to do this? I think of my own mom. She was also 40 when she had me, the youngest of four, the oldest being only 5 years old at the time! (Maybe AMA is in the genes?) I think she did a good job, since I like to think that I turned out all right and I know my siblings all did!

God knew how old I was when He added to our family. He wasn’t taken by surprise. He will also enable.

Many months after the gift of the four ragged diapers, I discovered that Gertrude had miscarried twins at 24 weeks. Decades had passed, but it is possible that she may still have personal grief and bitterness buried inside, that was jostled into flaring up when she saw my twins. God bless her and may He free her from her pain. I will hold nothing against this dear woman.

 

PostScript – of DNA, hemangiomas and one lonely freckle!

 Michelle and Megan, 4

Michelle and Megan, 4

 Michelle and Megan, 8 months

Michelle and Megan, 8 months

6 weeks after their birth, the report came back from the hospital lab that they were fraternal. So although we couldn't tell them apart, we figured they would soon diverge in looks and we'd see their differences. They didn't and we couldn't. We depended on 2 hemangiomas (red birthmarks) Michelle had on her forehead and stomach. When they were two, one of the MVMOM moms told me that hospital labs examine the membranes of the placenta and are only 85% accurate in determining if they are identical. Only a DNA test for zygosity could give a definitive test. It was sometimes embarrassing to admit that after two years, we still couldn't differentiate our 'fraternal' twins, so we sent in saliva swab samples to a genetic lab for DNA testing. (If you want to do this, just type in ‘zygosity’ in the Google search engine and you’ll find labs that do this.)  We read on-line that if 4 or more out of 10 ‘strands’ test to be concordant, the babies are considered to be identical. Back came our lab report. They had only tested eight strands. All 8 of their STR 

DNA markers were "concordant" so that gives them a greater than 99% probability of being identical. It's been nice to have an excuse since then for our inability in telling them apart!

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The hemangiomas have long disappeared now, but Megan gratefully grew one lonely brown freckle on her forehead soon after the disappearance of Michelle’s hemangiomas and this lets us distinguish the twins. When we discovered that freckle growing, we decided to grow out their bangs so we could make use of it!

 

 

 Michelle’s first letter to Megan, Dec 14, 2006 (7 years)

Michelle’s first letter to Megan, Dec 14, 2006 (7 years)

Postscript 2017

The twins are almost ready to graduate from high school. It hardly seems possible that next year we will be ‘empty nesters!’ I’m still strong, work more than 40 hr/wk, plus keeping up with running the home, what with Tim traveling 40% of his time. I am thankful that God helped me to break partnership with the discouraging word initially given, and has given me the strength and capacity to raise these girls. Clearly I wasn’t too old to have twins at age 40! Most of all, I am so grateful that they love the Lord deeply and are best friends with each other. They encountered the Lord personally at age 12-13 and have pursued Him ever since. What a gift from the Lord they have been and still are. We can’t imagine life as a family without them.

 Best friends, Megan and Michelle, 17

Best friends, Megan and Michelle, 17

 I wonder if God didn’t give us identical twins because when he looked down to see what a wonder he had created that first day, He said, “Wow! She’s too terrific to just have made one. The world could really use two of her kind around!” (This is not necessarily good theology, it’s just a fun thought!J)

 

Russ Murphy ~ Beauty from Ashes

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Late one Saturday evening, around 11pm, I was reading my Bible from the book of Isaiah chapter 61 verse 3 where it says, “God will grant those who mourn in Zion beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting, so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” I’ve always loved that verse because, to me, it talks about what the Christian life is all about which is that Christ He has restored fallen mankind to our holy Heavenly Father. That God is continually bringing hopes and dreams that were once dead back to life.

Several hours later, I got a call telling me that our dear friends, David and Betty Weaver’s home was on fire. I immediately rushed across town where I could see the glow of the fire in the cool September night sky. As we got closer I noticed several neighbors outside watching the Weaver’s home burn to the ground. However, what caught my attention was watching and listening to Betty as she tried to console her friends by saying, “God will give us beauty for ashes.” I was so touched by the fact that Betty’s home was being consumed in flames yet she was the one who was offering comfort to her friends, family and neighbors. I thought it was amazing that the Lord was allowing me to witness Isaiah 61:3, a verse I had just read earlier in the evening, being lived out right before my eyes.

I was scheduled to sing a special music later on that Sunday evening at First Baptist Church, Lubbock, and already had a song selected.  However, after seeing how Betty and David handled their loss I felt led to write a song called “Beauty For Ashes.” I wrote the song that Sunday afternoon and had the joy of singing it at the FBC evening worship service. When the service was over both Betty and David came up to me and with tears in their eyes expressed their appreciation. They were such wonderful examples of what it means to trust God even in the darkest times of life.

Over the years I’ve sung that song on many occasions and had so much positive feedback because everyone has had times when they feel lost, lonely and confused.  My prayer is that this song will encourage everyone to keep trusting the Lord.

God has given me “Beauty For Ashes” many times but what I remember most was a prayer I prayed when I was just 11 years old. At that time my parents had just gotten a divorce and there had been no joy in our home for what seemed like an eternity. I really wondered if my life was doomed for misery so I prayed, “Dear God, I don’t want to ask for a lot but could You please let me have a life with at least a little joy and meaning?” I’m sure the Lord shook His head and smiled thinking, “Oh, I’m going to do that for you and even more than you ever could have imagined.” Since then the Lord as given me such a wonderful life that is beyond description.

When it’s all been said and done you can know that no matter what you’re going through the Lord can restore your life and dreams and give you “Beauty For Ashes.”

 

 

Wonderful. Beautiful. Blooming.

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I’m sitting in my car at the bottom of the canyon. My mind is racing and I can’t figure out whether to turn around or to go home. If I turn around I will surely do something I will regret and end up in prison. What do I do? Where do I go? God where are you? Tears are flowing down my cheek and all I can do is scream… My name is Monica and I just had a mother’s worst nightmare come true. It happened just shortly after what was supposed to be the start of a great new year. But it wasn’t so great after all. My daughter was inappropriately approached by a family member who made an advance towards her.

This is how my year began. This is what it was supposed to be like. I had a plan. I made a weight loss journal and I made a prayer journal to write what I was thankful for every day, record a scripture, and write something good that happened. This was going to be the best year ever and I was going to lose weight and get in shape! My family and I would grow closer than ever to God and we would live a happy and perfect life. But my heart was crushed. I thought I had my heart broken in the past by pitiful breakups but nothing could compare to the pain you feel when your child goes through something like this. I felt a whole new level of hurt because as I looked into her eyes and saw the pain… I saw myself.

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My parents came from a small town in Colorado and eventually moved to Texas for a better life and more opportunities. I remember one summer looking outside our tiny apartment front door and watching my parents leave. I stood there staring through the screen window hoping they wouldn’t leave me home and would take me with them. They left me with a family member to watch after me while they went somewhere very quickly. Well, a lot of things can happen in just a short “quick” amount of time. I never understood as a small child what happened or why it happened to me. I only knew that what he did was wrong, but I never told anyone what happened that day. This is the first time I have spoken about it publicly. It’s not important that you know who it is because I have forgiven him and that is the point that I want you to see. It took a lot of prayer and surrendering completely to God to be able to forgive him. I had to learn that forgiveness wasn’t for the other person but for myself. It was something that haunted me for over 20 years. It was a burden that I couldn’t live with anymore. Finally after spending some time with a pastor from my church, I gave it to God and I forgave him. I always felt unclean and like a disappointment to God. I always wondered how God saw me. But I saw and I heard what God thinks about me. He didn’t see me as a dirty woman, a sex addict or even as a failure. That night I finally became free…. I was free from the burden the enemy had laid so heavily in my life.

I have always had a dad who loved me more than anything on this earth. He would do anything and everything for me. My dad worked hard to be a provider and to keep his family content with everything they needed. My mom on the other hand was consumed by alcohol and my brother by drugs. So with a dad who was never home from working, a mom - always drunk, and a brother who was always high… I started to party and drink at a very early age. I even started having sex. Eventually I got pregnant at the age of 16 and miscarried within a month of finding out. Only 4 months later I got pregnant again. I celebrated my 17th birthday with this tiny baby growing inside of me. But pregnancy didn’t stop me from going out and enjoying myself. I still went to the club with my friends up until I was about 6 months pregnant. Looking back, I really regret doing that. Even after having my daughter I still wanted to party and have a good time. I don’t really know what happened to make me stop so suddenly. Maybe it was when I met my first real “boyfriend” after high school. We had a lot of good times and a lot of bad like any other relationship. After 4 years of a steady relationship we had a son together. He was a good man and took the role of a father to my daughter when she was just one. Her father was in and out of prison because of drugs and we didn’t communicate at all. He had his life and I had mine. He was with me through college and I landed a really good job later at an insurance company after graduation. Then we got an apartment together shortly afterwards. Well, that didn’t last long at all. Within a couple of months we parted ways and he moved out. We started fighting more and more and we were just in way over our heads. We were both young and trying to raise a family. It was a life that we really weren’t ready for. I started partying a lot more. I thought I was having the time of my life. I had a great job, a nice apartment, I was single and I didn’t have a worry in the world or so I thought. Little did I know, at the time, that partying would lead me down a road I never intended and bring with it, not happiness, but pain. 


I remember meeting him like it was yesterday. I was walking out of a bar at closing time. There are about 50 people outside all walking to their cars. I was with a couple friends and we are talking to people around us trying to find out where we could go afterwards. Then I heard, “Monica!” I turned around to see a guy I had briefly met at an old job and had seen around before from time to time. As he approached me that night, I knew my ex didn’t like him because of problems they had in the past. I really didn’t find him attractive but I knew it would kill my ex to see me with him. So I decided I would exchange numbers with him and later that night I ended up at a house party with him. We drank and talked a lot. He seemed really nice and interested in me. Friends warned me he hit his girlfriends in the past. But not this guy. It couldn’t be true because he was so nice and sweet to me. It took about a month for the first altercation to happen. Sure enough, he pushed me. I thought to myself that wasn’t so bad I had been pushed before. I can forgive him, he was drunk anyways. Pushing eventually turned into slapping, choking, punching, kicking and even dragging me by my hair.

I eventually started doing drugs with him. I had smoked marijuana and did cocaine. I never had any money because I was buying beer and drugs what seemed like every other day. I started missing work because I was so tired from partying all night. I couldn’t pay my rent half of the time because I spent all my money on my habit. I never had my kids because I let the drugs and alcohol come first. Everything that I had worked so hard for was spiraling down and I was the only one who couldn’t see it. I left him a couple of times but always ended up back with him. He convinced me that nobody would ever want me again and that I wasn’t worthy.

Christmas Eve 2012 I was about to start making Christmas dinner. The kids had opened their presents earlier that day and he had left for work on the night shift. As I started to take things out of the refrigerator, I looked at the Christmas tree in the living room, and it didn’t make me feel the joy it once had. I wasn’t happy but I just didn’t know how to get out. I couldn’t continue to live this life anymore. I hated who I had become, I had lost friends and I rarely saw my family. Sometimes I even felt like ending my life because I felt like it was the only way I could escape him. After all the mental and physical abuse, after all the times he stole my car and my credit card, after all the times he hit me in front of the kids, and after all the times he cheated on me… I finally had enough. I built up the courage and picked up the phone… I didn’t have a plan to what I would say or who I would call. The next thing I know I hear my daddy’s ever so comforting voice say, “Hello?” I held my breath for a brief second and choked back my tears as I whispered, “Daddy I want to come home.” Without any hesitation without any questions, my daddy’s only response was, “Come home.”

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I was home for a day or two, when I decided to go to a friend’s house. I still had all of my clothes packed in the back seat of my car. I had that feeling (the one that tells you not to do something, but I ignored it) I told myself I just wanted to get out of the house for a bit. I don’t know how he found out where I was but the last thing I remember was running to a back room because he was walking inside of her house and he was headed straight for me. He quickly followed me into the room and before I knew it… I was picking myself up from the ground, barely able to see from the blood that was dripping down my face. I wasn’t sure where I was hit or where the blood was coming from, but I knew I had to get out of there fast! He had friends holding him back and I was hiding behind my friend. I could see the fire in his eyes and the smoke from his ears, furious because I had left him without any notice. But by the grace of God, I was able to lock myself in the bathroom. I didn’t have a phone or any way to get out of the apartment. The only thing I could do was pray. I wasn’t even sure how to pray or if God would even listen to me but I took a step of faith and I asked God to help me keep the door closed as he tried to knock it down. I had my back against the door and my hand on the sink as my only leverage. I could feel the door bending inward as he was pushing on it with his weight. I could feel the pounding on my back as he tried to get in the bathroom, the only thing between him and I was a 2 inch wooden door… or so I thought. Little did I know God was there with me, his hand was behind me the entire time keeping him from getting to me. Eventually someone slid my phone under the door and I was able to call 9-1-1.

As I sat in the hospital bed with a police guarding the door, all I could think of were my kids and what they would say when they saw my face. My best friend picked me up from the hospital and took me home. I didn’t want to tell my dad but I had to before he came home. I think that was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I begged my dad to not retaliate and take matters into his own hands. So he made a simple phone call, “If your son comes to my house or tries to see my daughter, I will kill him.” I never have seen the hurt in my daddy’s eyes when he looked at my face in pure heartbreak. I didn’t want to see my kids but the reality was I couldn’t hide from them. I explained everything to them and assured them it would never happen again. After that day, I never hid anything from my kids and I always told them the truth. Even though I would never wish this on anyone, I do think that God has brought good in spite of all the bad things and that we are a strong family.

A year passed and I can’t say he didn’t try to contact me but I finally changed my number and moved on from the dark depression I was in. After seeing my mom in the hospital for pneumonia, H1N1 and Influenza, and nearly losing her life, losing a very dear friend and ex-boyfriend in a car accident, and dropping out of college from being ill… I decided to let go and give this “God” a shot. Apparently trying it my way hasn’t worked so what do I have to lose? I literally fell to my knees in my closet one day and raised my hands in complete surrender to God. Let me tell you my life has not been the same since that day.


I remember back when I was 12 years old, going to summer camp but not really going for the purpose of learning about God. I wanted to get away from home and maybe meet some new people. Plus a guy from church that I had a crush on would be there. Each day we had different activities but nothing that could prepare me for the last night of camp. I remember after an evening service, they did an altar call for anyone who was troubled and needed prayer. I didn’t know what an altar call was then or if I should even go. Nobody around me was getting up… and then it happened. I was walking down the long path to salvation. I didn’t know it at the time and I wasn’t even sure how I stood up and started walking. Looking back, it could only be the Holy Spirit who led me to give my life to Christ that night. A woman approached me shortly after I got to the front of the altar and asked how she could pray for me.  I started telling her about my parents and my brother and how I was new to all of this. Then I told her how I was already into drinking and having sex… She started to cry as she grabbed me and held me close to her. I didn’t even know her but I felt comfort in her arms as she started to pray over me… tears started falling down my cheek. I know now that even though I didn’t intend on going for that purpose, God knew and He had a plan.  My choices changed for a short while after that night. I stopped my bad behavior for a little while as I tried to spread the word of God at school. I soon realized that my peers rejected everything I stood for so I turned away from God and went back to my rebellious ways. I was 26 years old in my closet when I met the Lord, once again, face-to-face. He had been with me all along. It was I who had turned my back. But there He was, waiting to embrace me in His arms and love me as only our Heavenly Father can.


Before that day, I had leaned on God sort of as a safety net, what’s the worst that could happen? Better safe than sorry right? Well let me tell you… it was never that simple because after that day in my closet… God rocked my world!  I called a woman who never gave up on me and was probably praying for me since the day she met me. She first took me to church when I was about 11 but I fell out shortly after my church camp experience. She always invited me to church but I always declined her offer. So it was time to call her and ask if I could attend church with her. I can’t tell you how happy she was to hear that I wanted to go to church with her. That woman literally made a huge difference in my life since the day I met her because she never gave up on me.  I remember one day when I was sick she came to my apartment to bring me soup and Gatorade along with my very first Bible. I still use and cherish that Bible to this day.  She went home to be with the lord a little over a year ago from cancer. But the impact she made on me will never be forgotten. 

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This was the turning point in my life. From that point on I was determined to follow the Lord. I didn't get it perfect but I desired to walk with the Lord - and not on my own. My next relationship was not perfect but I did seek to find someone who loved the Lord and who didn't abuse me. Although that relationship didn't last as I wish it would have, I've learned many things. First and foremost, we don't gain happiness through people. Girls, let me tell you. There is only one man who can complete you. That is Jesus Christ. He never leaves us and he loves us because He is merciful, kind and perfect. He loves us right where we are but he doesn't want us to stay there. He takes us by the hand and helps lead us to a better place -the life he planned for us - walking according to His will, cleansed by His Word, made whole by His sacrifice on the cross. He is our only All and All.

It hasn't always been easy. I have had to cling to that truth. As I told you in the beginning, this year, my life took a turn for the worst when my daughter was violated.  After that day, I felt like I lost myself.  While helping my daughter heal through counseling and depression, I forgot to take care of myself.  I eventually had to seek help for depression and anxiety, which led me to start seeing a counselor and taking daily medication.  I was so caught up in my own world and my own feelings I neglected the people I loved.  I didn’t know how to juggle a hurting 12 year old, a 9 year old son, my job, life.  I even started to slip away from God.  But He held me within His hand, never letting me go. He loved me on my best days and He loved me on my worst. He loved me not because of who I was. He loved me because of who He is. And that, is the greatest love of all.

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Today, 9 months after tragedy struck, we are making it. My daughter has completed her counseling and although the road ahead is long, I know God is walking along her side every day. She still has nightmares on her bad days but she will find healing and forgiveness just as I have. This will be a part of her testimony to share some day with another person who may need to hear it. What the enemy meant for bad, God always turns into good. God hasn’t abandoned us and God has never left our side through it all. God was with me in the beginning and carried me during some pretty ugly situations. There were times that I started to question my purpose and wonder why God didn't give up on me but it’s because I am worthy - not because of anything I have done but because of the blood of Christ. Truly, by His stripes we are healed. Every day that I open my eyes, I know that He isn’t finished with me yet. What the enemy tried to use for bad, God turned around and used for good. My daughter and I are closer than we have ever been. All the days I missed out on when she was little are not hanging over me in regret but I can embrace our time together today. My daughter confides in me and talks to me more and more.  Both of my kid's fathers and I have begun to work together to co-parent our kids. My son's dad has even become a follower of Christ. I know I may not be where I want to be but I am not where I was.  

This leads me to remind you, dear reader, to never forget who God calls you.  After I forgave the man who violated me, I closed my eyes and began to pray with my pastor.  God showed me a beautiful white flower blooming.  As I looked into it further, I found a picture online that was identical to the picture God gave me.  When I read the description of the picture it said, “Wonderful Beautiful Blooming” and that is the answer to “How does God see me?”  I never knew how God saw me because I was always afraid to ask Him.  I thought of myself as a disappointment and a failure.  Then I realized those are lies of the enemy.  Even in my lowest and darkest moments I remember who God says I am and I will never forget the words he has put in my heart… Wonderful Beautiful Blooming

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Posted on September 16, 2017 .

What a Friend

When I 1st met Saralyn Morgan the thing that impressed me the most was seeing how she knew Jesus as Savior, Lord and Friend. I was aware of the Savior and Lord part but I had no idea you could know Him as a Friend. As a 17 year old young man I remember asking God that I could, one day, know Him as my Friend, the same way Saralyn did. 

In August of 2014, 2 months after Saralyn died, everyday I would pace in a circle around my living room and weep. I called these walks my "Trail of Tears." At times I cried so hard that I had to lay down on the floor to catch my breath. It was the most intense pain I had ever experience in my life. There were times I actually wondered if I was going to die from a broken heart. 

One day, after a "trail of tears" walk, I went into the bathroom to wash my face and cool off. I was horrified when I saw myself in the mirror. The hair on my forehead was matted down with perspiration, my eyes were red, wet and almost swollen shut. There were flakes of tissue all over my face and white salt rings on my shirt from sweat. My grief was literally pouring out of me. 

I was so embarrassed that I said, "Dear Jesus, I am SO sorry for the way I look. I am a child of God and I shouldn't look so sad and helpless. I guess I don't have as much faith as I thought I did." At that time I could feel His presence with me as He said, "There's no need to apologize. In fact, I've never seen you look more wonderful than you do right now." Stunned, I blurted out, "Wonderful? Wonderful? I look hideous. How can You say I look wonderful?"

Jesus answered, "Russ, you look wonderful because you are hurting so bad, yet you've stayed with Me, you haven't turned your back on Me and you are still loving and praising Me." Then, He did something I will never forget when I felt His Spirit put His hand on my shoulder and say, "I am so proud of you, Russ, MY FRIEND!"

The prayer I had prayed 45 years earlier was answered. I finally knew Jesus as my Savior, Lord and FRIEND!!! All I can say is What a Friend we have in Jesus.

Posted on July 25, 2017 .

Preparing the Way

About 10 years before Saralyn passed away, she said to me, "Russ, I need to talk to you about something." She went on to say, "I want you to promise me that if I die before you, you'll re-marry. Because the best thing you do is that you are an amazing husband." 

I was so surprised that I stammered as I replied, "You die before me?!! Are you kidding me?!! There's no way!!!" (Saralyn swam everyday, ate healthy and had a family history of living a long life. One of her grandfathers lived to be 102 and the other granddad lived to be 98 years old.) I went on to say, "Besides, I could never find another you." 

Saralyn answered, "I know you could never find another me, people are all different and no one can be replaced. However, I believe the Lord will send you someone who loves Him 1st, someone who is kind, caring, loving and forgiving. A person who may even love music they way you do. You know someone like a ........LINDA HUCKABEE." Saralyn wasn't saying it would be Linda, because we thought she was already married with a family of her own; but someone "like" Linda Huckabee. 

Then, on Sunday evening, June 15th, 2014, Saralyn closed her computer and said, "I just sent Linda Huckabee a friend request on FB." I smiled saying, "Wonderful. Let's see if we can take her, her husband and kids out for supper and find out what she's been up to the past 40 years." (At the time we hadn't seen or spoken to Linda since our days in college-over 40 years earlier) Just 21 hours later Saralyn bled to death in my arms due to a an aortic dissection. (Her aorta came unraveled from the inside and she died from internal bleeding.)

None of us had a clue that the Lord was taking the hand of my wife, Saralyn, to reach out and take the hand of Linda,(who had never married) my future wife, and bring her to me. At times I still shake my head in awe thinking about how good the Lord has been to me.

Kyle Stallings from SOG

Hi my name is Kyle Stallings and I'm part of a ministry called S.O.G. The story of how I came to know Christ goes like this......I'm originally from Florida, I graduated high school in 2001 and went off to college. After my first semester I went into the US Army. I enlisted in Jan. 2002. I got out the army in June 04. Instead of going back to Florida I continued living in El Paso. I partied hard and stimulated every sense I could. One day in March of 05 a check arrived to my apartment. It had been sent to the wrong address. I went into that companies account and took $223,000.00. I bought everything I wanted in life..A Hummer, Cadillac Escalade, Jewelry, Clothes, hitting the bars and strip clubs. I would pull out $10,000.00 in cash and spend it all in one day and at the end of the night I would be miserable and I couldn't figure out why.

On April 12th 2005 there was knock on the door and it was the El Paso PD there to arrest me. They booked me and sent me to my cell. I had been in the county jail about 3 months and this guy comes over and says "I'm going to this church service some guys are supposed to jump me in there. Will a couple of yall go with me?" So myself and two other guys went with him to the service. This construction worker would come in on Wednesdays after he got off work and would share the Gospel. On that day he said, "If you had been the only person on this planet, Christ still would of came and died for you so you could spend eternity with Him."

That amazed me because I had no idea who Jesus Christ was! The guys never showed up to fight. I went back to my cell and grabbed a Bible and started reading about who Jesus Christ was and on October 6th 2005 I gave my life to Jesus.

I was sentenced to 5 years in prison. I asked the Father what He wanted me to do for The Kingdom and He said "Christian Rap." I thought He was crazy because I had never rapped before in my life and really didnt even like rap. I met a guy while incarcerated by the name of Jeremy Perry who also was doing Christian music and told me about starting a ministry in Lubbock, TX. I was totally against it. I didn't even know where or what Lubbock was. I prayed and prayed and the Lord led me to come to Lubbock. So in April of 2007 I moved to Lubbock and it's been such a blessing being here! It hasn't been an easy road but God has remained faithful to His word and His work!

You can learn more about our ministry at www.sogcamp.com.......and by the way....the reason I would go home at the end of the night and was miserable was because I was trying to fill a hole in my heart that only Jesus could fill! :)

Never-ending Faithfulness

This is April's story, a precious woman who attended the conference with Bethany and Michelle, and has now become dear both to my heart and the Relentless community. I hope you'll grab a cup of coffee and take a moment to read it. You're certain to be encouraged, inspired and sense the hand of God throughout her life.

I grew up in a Christian home in a small town in northwest Colorado. When I was five years old,  I remember praying with my Mom to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins and invited Him into my heart and life.  I attended a Christian school from kindergarten until halfway through my ninth grade year. At this school most emphasis was put on correct outside behavior than on growing a personal relationship with Jesus. I believe that I did have a personal relationship with Jesus while growing up, but because I was a people pleaser for the most part  I just did what I was told to do and didn't do what I knew I shouldn't.  My sister and I transferred to the local public school halfway through my ninth grade year. Boy was that an eye opener!  However, I believe that God used this transition in my life to prepare me to be able to leave my little town after graduating to go on to college and enter the real world.  It was in college that my faith walk became more personal to me instead of just doing what my parents and others said to do. This was the beginning of God's long process of wooing me to a day by day, moment by moment, growing relationship with Him. He also showed me that He didn't just want a "good girl" who followed the rules on a check-off list of "to-dos" for a good Christian.  Jesus wanted a personal growing relationship with me, and I just needed to be open to how/what the Holy Spirit wanted to do in and through me each day and through each trial I faced.

         I spent my freshman and sophomore years of college at Oklahoma Baptist University.  Two months after starting my junior year, I struggled with some tough classes after changing my major and was really unsure of what I was to do.  I went back home for a couple months where my parents and I did a lot of praying about what to do next.  Then God directed me to apply to an eight month Medical Reception/Secretary program in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and I was accepted.  So, in January of 1990 I moved to Colorado Springs and started this program.  God also provided a great and loving Christian family for me  to live with while attending school.  God intervened with other details when He led me to start going to Circle Drive Baptist Church where a certain handsome GI, who was stationed at Fort Carson, was already attending the College/Career Sunday School class.

         Loren was getting out of the Army in just a few weeks and planned to move to Missouri. After we had two dates, God stepped in again, answered our prayers for God’s direction and He  led Loren to stay in Colorado Springs instead of moving.  We dated eight months before Loren was recalled back to active duty to serve in Desert Storm.  We were separated for about six LONG weeks, then God stationed him right back at Fort Carson where he finished up and was able to go back to inactive duty a few months later.  With lots of prayer and wise Christian mentor's advice, God revealed to both of us that He had created us to do life together.  Loren was everything I had prayed for in a future spouse throughout high school.  God knew exactly what I would need in a husband, and then He blessed me with more than I ever imagined needing.

         Loren is truly the picture of faithfulness and commitment in a relationship.  We had NO idea all the ups and downs we would face in this journey of almost 26 years together now, but who does in the early star struck years?  We were engaged in April of 1991, and married in October of the same year.  We lived in Colorado Springs for a year and a half and then moved back to Hayden, Colorado where I had grown up, because Loren was hired at TCI Cable TV.  We lived there for almost seven years.  While there, we struggled through the weary and somewhat mental, emotional, physical, almost dehumanizing effects of infertility.  But, oh how God was faithful through it all. Thank You, Jesus!  I have since learned that the majority of our motherhood journeys seldom turn out like the picture perfect design we all envision as little girls, but that's ok. Each of our journeys are as unique as we are and God has a specifically tailored plan for each of us.

          In January of 2000, after several months of praying for God's specific direction on where we were to go next,  Loren and I moved to Hutchinson, Kansas where Loren had been offered a job with the cable company there.  God was so faithful again in providing for us.  I had a job interview already set up in Hutchinson as a medical receptionist even before we had moved.  I enjoyed my job there, but at the same time, I was mentally, emotionally, physically drained from dealing with all that goes with infertility and the effects it has on a couple. If there is one thing I can pass on to anyone struggling with infertility issues or any other tough unseen internal trial, it is this:  Please stay plugged into your God-given passions.  Don't unplug from them and isolate yourself. This gives an open door to the enemy to play lots of havoc mentally, emotionally, and physically.  Through it all, also stay plugged into your relationship with Jesus, and release control of it all to God, His timing, and His plan.  By releasing control, I mean telling God that "I lay down my plan and I want your plan for me more than I want my plan.  Not my will but yours be done Father God.

         As Loren and I struggled through these issues, one thing we told God was that we would be open, willing and available to encourage other couples going through similar issues as God brought those who are struggling into our lives.  Infertility, mental health imbalance or any other type of condition that one battles quietly on the inside, where no one else sees it, is a very LONELY up/down road to travel, and the enemy loves to convince us that we are alone in our struggles.  Satan's number one weapon is to isolate us in any internal battle we face.  God  blessed Loren and I with many mentors and faithful prayer warriors to lift us up during this long trial in our lives. One thing that we have learned is that life is meant to be shared with other Christian believers. The hard times as well as the good times.  We weren't meant to struggle and suffer alone in solitude.  My prayer is that we are open to the Holy  Spirit's leading and plug into those who God brings into our lives that He wants to minister to through us.  One of my favorite prayers that I came across along my way, and try to say every morning is, "what are you up to today Holy Spirit, and how can I be involved?"  Love it when he allows us to be involved in His work on a daily basis.

         In January of 2002 on a snowed in day at home, God brought Loren and I to a crossroads in our journey.  With just one phone call, God presented us with a possibility that had not even entered our minds up until this point.  We were given the chance to be considered as parents to a baby that was due to be born in May, just four months away.  Wow, the conflicting emotions and thoughts that flooded our minds and hearts as to what to do with this God given opportunity!  Yes, it was risky and had unknown results of how it would all unfold.  Would it all come together as a happy blessing or were we just setting our hearts up for more hurt?? We took a weekend to think, pray, consult Godly mentors, and try to process it all.  One thought that kept coming back to our minds was, "What if this was God's way of starting our family?"  We did not want to shut the door in His face.  We were willing to take it one day at a time, trusting that He had a plan in it all and that He would be faithful in providing open or closed doors as well as whatever we needed for the journey, no matter what the end results.

               So, after four months of the roller coaster ride that adoption processes bring, God began our family with His gift of a precious, beautiful, newborn little girl straight from heaven.  We had been married for almost eleven years at this point.  Our lives have never been the same and we have never looked back.  God has blessed us beyond measure.  When our daughter was just four months old I became pregnant with our son, who was born the following May in 2003.  At this point my Dad suggested maybe I should amend my prayer for children that we had been praying for the past 8 years.

         After maternity leave, God allowed me to continue my medical receptionist job on a part time basis, three days a week, that I had been doing since we brought our daughter home.  I worked this schedule until my kids were almost two and three years old.  At that point and after lots of prayer God miraculously provided financially,  I was able to stay home full time with my kids.

           This was an answer to prayer in itself, because after eight years of infertility, a stressful job, adoption of a newborn, followed by pregnancy just a few months later,  I was mentally,  emotionally, physically, and spiritually depleted.  God continued His process of wooing me back to Him, and I was weary and worn enough to heed His calling.  I just needed to release it all to Him and lay down all my expectations, some unrealistic, at His feet and accept His way, His timing, and His healing. He was bringing me and my family to where He wanted us to be. I'd like to say this restoration process only took a short time to complete but it is actually still on going.

         The kids grew, and we entered another season in our lives of God's faithfulness.  Loren found out in 2009, just before Christmas, that his job was being eliminated. The cable company that he had worked for the past nine years was down sizing.  "Ok God, now what????"   After five months of looking for a job, Loren was hired on with another cable TV company...in Oklahoma.  That summer was quite the experience.  Loren spent the weeks in Oklahoma working and commuted back home to Kansas to spend the weekends with the kids and I.  We were in the process of trying to sell our house in Kansas and Loren was staying in a motel  until our house sold and we would be able to join him in Oklahoma.

         In August just before school was to start, God worked out the issues with our house through a rent to own arrangement. We were able to pack up all our household belongings and store them in part of the shop behind the house.  That way our renters were able to move into the house, and we were able to go stay in the motel with Loren while we waited to close on our new house.  So with the help of faithful friends, we packed up and headed out on a Sunday night.  We arrived at our motel late that night, and the kids started school the next morning in Oklahoma.

         We thought our motel home would only be for a couple weeks until we were able to move into the house we were purchasing.  It ended up being eight weeks. Boy, did we make some memories in those eight weeks with our family of four, and a dog in a small motel room!  They say love grows best in little houses, and I guess that goes for little motel rooms, too.

         Just when we thought our journey would settle down a bit God had other plans.  We were only a couple days away from closing on our house and being able to move in when we got a phone call from my brother-in-law. There had been some changes and they were now able to offer Loren a position working on the family farms in Texas.  "Wow!"  From our human standpoint, everything was just falling together nicely in Oklahoma.  Loren had a good job with benefits,  the kids had just settled into a great school with awesome teachers, and we were about to close on a house on two acres that we all loved.  But "that still, small voice" kept nudging in us that we were suppose to go to Texas.  So after continuing some more prayer we ended up dropping it all and moving to Texas.

         We stayed with my sister and her family who graciously took us in for six weeks until we found a house.  We got the kids reregistered in yet another school, and life went on.  The next two years were a HARD adjustment for all of us, and I never prayed as much for my kids' school years as I did during that time.  After 2 years it became very clear that we needed to make a change in the matter of the school our kids attended.  After lots of prayers, God led us to a smaller school system in a town fifteen miles away.  This season had been for us like the wilderness experience for the Israelites in the Bible.  Even in the midst of this dry experience, God was faithful in providing lots of special little delights and friendships to help carry us through it all.  We were and continue to be SO thankful for our current school and are praying for another blessed year at Sudan.

          Most of my last eighteen years have been a struggle on/off with mental, emotional, and physical health issues.  I have prayed, pleaded with, and even begged God to restore me to complete health. This has definitely been an up and down process, but the one thing I would not trade for anything is the growing sweet relationship I now have with Jesus through it all and the assurance that He will get me and my family through anything.

         As I release what I think is best for my healing and turn it over to God to allow Him to do with it however He sees best, I know He will be faithful to complete the Word He spoke to me about ten years ago.  One morning while I was in the shower, I was praying for enough strength to make it through another LONG day of my kids preschool season.  It was like God spoke directly to me and said  "I have brought you FROM infertility, I am here now with you THROUGH postpartum issues and this preschool season and I will be faithful to bring you To Victory".  God has proven Himself SO faithful over and over again, and I know He will be faithful to complete what He has begun in our family as individuals and in our family as a whole. He will bring us to His restoration and Victory.  I am SO thankful for Loren and all the sweet brothers and sisters in the faith God has blessed us with who continue to support and encourage us to stay in the fight and to keep going.

My kids are now fourteen and fifteen years old, and what an exciting journey we have had!  The main thing I hope we have impressed on each of them is that God is faithful through anything we face, and the most important things in life are a growing, intimate relationship with Jesus, and to share life with other brothers and sisters in the faith.  To encourage each other in this life we journey together.  God still does not cease to amaze me with His faithfulness and constant presence.  Keeping the faith.

 

Love & Prayers,

 April Scheffel

Eric Montoya Soldiers of God

Where do I begin.... well, let's start here...I'm 38 years old and in my lifetime I have done everything under the sun. From the start of my life at the young age of 3, I would witness my earthy father beat my mom like a man, sell drugs, deport illegal immigrants, and at one time was a assassin for an organization that later took his life. When I was 5 years old we lived in San Antonio, Texas. This is when my father passed. We stayed there till I was 8.

I remember when I was 7 that I came to the knowledge of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and the Lord worked thru me to bring my mother to the knowledge of the truth of His word. We both got baptized and thus began our journey of working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

My mother decided that it would be best if we moved back to Lubbock because all of her family was from Lubbock. So, she sold all of the big stuff in our home and loaded the car with as much as she could.

This is where the witness of God in my life began. On our way to Lubbock, unknowingly, my mother drove for at least a hundred miles before we had to stop and get some gas. At the gas station a man noticed that the two tires on the passenger side were both rim flat.

He said, "Excuse me ma'am, did you know your tires are flat?"

I just remember my mother filling up with gas, siting back in the drivers seat, and crying.

She said, "Son, it's a miracle. We should be dead."

I can tell you that car felt like it was floating, and I knew the Lord protected us. Well, to make a long story short, in my adolescence I fell hard. I got involved in a gang, sex, drugs, and money. You name it. I did it. I've always loved music since I was young, and, to a certain degree, music was used by the Lord to preoccupy me and help keep me balanced. I sang, made beats, and produced.

At the young age of 15 years old, the second miracle of my Father took place. When I was rapping with a worldly group and had lost my voice completely, I'm talking no sound at all, I remember crying out to God saying, "If you make my voice come back, I will give you all of me."

Well, needless to say, my voice still wasn't back. Suddenly, when it was our time to go up, I put the microphone to my lips and my voice came out crystal clear as water. I knew exactly what it was and Who it was, and for the stint of 3 long days, I walked in fear of the Lord. Yet, the Lord knew it was going to take more than that for me to listen.

I ended up selling cocaine in the summer of 98 to an undercover cop. I did this cause I lost my job and was in need of money. The reason I was stressing money was cause my daughter was on her way into this world. So, to make a quick buck I decided to sell drugs, and, of course, it didn't pay off. I got caught. I ended up receiving a 21 year sentence and doing almost 10 flat. I had lost it all - music career, my daughter, family, friends, car, house, job. Everything was gone just like that.

And as I sat in the county jail I heard the voice of the Lord tell me, "Now are you ready."

I saw a vision that I had when I was 5 before my dad died. He overdosed on heroin while I was with him on a drug run.

It was like the Lord told me, "Don't be like your dad. Be like Me." 

I cried and knew the Lord wanted me, called me and made me His very own.

On May the 5th 2001, I rededicated my life to the Lord and sat at the Masters feet, my Lord Jesus, for almost a decade, learning His word, hearing His voice, and being used by Him during my incarceration.

I came home in November of 2009, ready and suited to be used by the Lord for the advancement of His Kingdom. It was in 2010 that I met Jeremy as he was in a substance abuse class with me. It's funny how that guy always crossed my path, throughout my life, since my teenage years, from friends, places, even prison, until the day the Lord finally blessed us to meet up. I can get more in depth in regards to it but I'll save that for when I speak at our concerts in person. All I can say is that God is in total control.

Well, I ended up joining with Jeremy and some other brothers Colin and Kyle in a ministry that Jeremy and Kyle started called S.O.G. That stands for shut off gas (lol just kidding). Kyle usually says that when he introduces us. (lol) It stands for Soldiers of God, and we, as a ministry, have been nothing short of blessed. We have had our loses and victories but thru it all the Lord has given us the strength to endure and stand in love for each other and for those around us.

The ministry has grown in numbers since it was first birthed thru Jeremy, by the Holy Spirit. It's an honor to call these men brothers, friends and family.

I now am happily married to my best friend of 20 plus years, named Kassey, and I have a son from a marriage that didn't work out. Despite that, I, his stepmom and his mother were blessed with him, and we love our son so very much. I am still working, as the Lord blesses, to get back involved in my daughter's life. It's recently been prophesied that our relationship will be restored, and I believe that and receive that in Jesus' name. Well, all I can say, is I am truly blessed and fortunate to have what I have but most of all to be called a Child of the Most High God. As always, much love in Christ Jesus and amen.

Not in a Million Years

This man had such a HUGE impact on my life. I didn't know it at the time but looking back I know without a doubt. He took me (along with a group of crazy college kids) on my first (and only to date) mission trip which caused me to fall in love with ministry. I remember him kneeling before the church praying - longing for revival and seeking the Lord with his whole heart. What an example to follow. He now has his own ministry http://russmurphyministries.com. I hope you'll check it out :-)

Most folks are surprised to learn that I was painfully shy in high school.  I don’t think I said a complete sentence until after I was married.  In fact, I was horrified when I felt that the Lord may be calling me into full-time church work, knowing that it would require me to speak in public.  I was hoping that God was calling me to be a radio mime or a silent prayer leader but that wasn’t the case.  I’m not sure when the Lord changed things but I now speak and sing for groups each week and it feels as natural as breathing.  Saralyn, my dear wife, laughs when she tells folks that “Russ used to be so quiet but now he can carry on a conversation with a tree stump.” 

I always had a healthy respect (aka “fear”) for my teachers but I was deathly afraid of my senior English teacher, Miss Marrs.  She was a small woman but she could scold and glare in such a way that no one would ever dare cross her.  Her rules were very simple; be on time and have your work done.  But her most sacred rule, the rule that carried an automatic death penalty, was absolutely NO TALKING!!  I had witnessed a couple of my classmates who forgot about that rule and it resulted in a thorough chewing out. I couldn’t imagine how embarrassed I’d be if I was ever on the brunt end of Miss Marrs’ wrath. 

Normally, from her classroom I could see the clock in the hallway.  One day the desks had been re-arranged making it impossible for me to see what time it was.  I noticed that Billy Morris, a guy who sat in front of me, had on a watch so in my best ventriloquist impersonation I whispered, “Billy, what time is it?”  I glanced up at Miss Marrs and by her calm expression I knew she hadn’t heard me.  I was thinking I was in the clear until Billy whipped around and in full voice said, “HEY RUSS, DO YOU WANT TO KNOW THE TIME!!  IT’S 3:20.  IS THAT WHAT YOU WANTED TO KNOW RUSS?”

Miss Marrs shot up like a rocket and as she marched over to me I prayed with all my heart, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Billy was the one who had made all the noise but she was headed straight for me and I bowed my head just hoping the end of my life would be swift.  She wasn’t very tall but at the time I felt like the guy in the old sci-fi movie, “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”  I felt my face and neck getting warm as she inquired why I was so important that I just had to know the time.  Mercifully the bell rang and I bolted out the door praying she wasn’t chasing after me.

Flash Forward - Several years ago we had just been to a memorial service for my then, father-in-law, Dr. Bob Morgan.  I was in fellowship hall visiting with friends when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  There stood a woman who asked, “Are you Russ Murphy and did you go to Richfield High School?” I answered yes to both questions.  Then she asked who I had for senior English.  I laughed as I said, “I had Miss Marrs and the lady almost caused me to have a stroke. Why do you want to know?”  She stuck out her hand and introduced herself saying, “I’m Phyllis Strother but before I married my name was Miss Marrs; I was your senior English teacher!!”  All of a sudden I felt my neck and face getting warm while thinking, “Oh no. The woman’s back to get me!!”  She explained that she was so young when she got the job she had to act mean just to control the class.  I assured her that her “mean routine” had been extremely successful. 

I gave Phyllis some of my CDs and she later asked me to write a theme song for her organization, Grandmother’s Arise, a group committed to praying for their grandchildren. (I encourage you to go to www.phyllisstrotherministries.com or google Grandmother’s Arise to see how you could get involved)  Her request led me to compose one of my most personal songs, “My Grandmother’s Prayers.” 

Since then I’ve discovered that Phyllis is one of the nicest and Godliest women I’ve ever known. I sometimes meet Phyllis and her husband, Ralph, for coffee when I’m in Waco.  She is a gifted communicator and an inspiration to so many; but best of all, she is my friend.

Looking back, if the Lord had tapped me on the shoulder the moment Miss Marrs (Phyllis) was sternly lecturing me, and said “One day you and Miss Marrs are going to be in the ministry and you’re going to become good friends.”  I’m sure I would have shook my head in disbelief and said, “You have got to be kidding. Never in a million years!”

 

For Just One...

I felt like the Lord placed it on my heart to write this particular post but was unsure until I opened my Bible and read this verse. Then I knew the prompting was from the Lord.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. Ezekiel 34:11

I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:16

It was true in Ezekiel’s day and it’s still true today. The Good Shepherd really will search out one lost sheep.

So most of you know my story - walked in on my (ex) policeman (ex) husband molesting our daughter, instantly became a single mom, life fell apart and God put it back together again. But very few know this part of it. And this part well…its just as much a miracle if not more than everything else. After I walked in on Jason I felt like my life had instantly been ripped from beneath my feet but one of the very hardest parts was that I literally went to bed that night blissfully, happily married and woke up to a divorce. I guess in a way it was similar to someone losing a spouse in a car wreck, unexpected and instantaneous only I didn’t have the luxury of enjoying the past memories and good times. It was all…just…gone. That said one of the thoughts that continually resurfaced was did Jason know the Lord? Could he possibly have known the Lord? He said he did but how could someone who knew Jesus do something like that. And if he didn't know Jesus… 

I wanted to do something that would bring Jason to the arms of the Lord. Even if I could do nothing personally I wanted to somehow make a difference. To at least try.  There was man, an ex-gang member, that Jason had worked with when he was a cook at Red Lobster back in college. This man was the real deal. He had miraculously survived a stab wound and given his life to the Lord. Never to return. The old really had passed away and he truly was a new creation in Christ. Jason had spoken of him many times over the years. He said the he was the primary reason that he had ever trusted in Jesus. If anyone one could make an impact on Jason it would be him. But how could I reach him? I didn’t even know his name.

It was a cold winter day when I came home to a backyard filled with water and a busted pipe. Unsure of who to call. (a plumber but which one?) I went through the contacts on my phone. They had been the same ones my husband had - over a thousand names (literally) most of whom I didn’t know and many who were involved in some aspect of construction or home repair. My ex had been in property management and owned a spray foam company for a brief stint before becoming a policeman. I searched for names with “plumber” attached to the end of them and called. Around 10pm I got a return phone call. I honestly don’t remember if he was a plumber or someone I had called by accident. What I do remember is that I was folding laundry and trying to get things wrapped up for the night so I could go to bed and the man just kept talking. It was the oddest thing. He wasn’t flirting or trying to get hired to fix the broken pipe just wouldn’t stop talking. I learned he had worked with my ex-husband at Red Lobster back when they were in college. Instantly I knew it was the Lord. I asked him about the man Jason had spoken of so often. He didn’t know much but he could give me a name. Later I went to work on Facebook trying to reach the one man I thought maybe, just maybe, could turn Jason to the Lord and save his soul. I couldn’t find him but I did locate his parents who put me in touch with him. He lived in the country and didn't have Facebook, Internet access or even television. I told him my story and that Jason was in our local jail. It was a two hour drive for him but he made the drive many times. I asked him not to reveal to Jason who had sent him for fear this might hinder Jason’s receptiveness to him. We only spoke a few more times and never met in person but I knew he was sent by God if not for Jason’s soul for my own. For it is not His will that ANY would perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9

After everything came out in the news well-meaning people would relay to me all the horrible things they felt (and hoped) would happen to Jason in prison somehow thinking this was helpful. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I think the key to healing from every hurt is forgiveness. Anger gives a foothold to the devil. (Ephesians 4:27) Vengeance is God’s. (Romans 12:19) We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44

I am in awe every time I think about just how far God will go for just one of His lost sheep. The broken pipe. The strange phone call. The connection, introduction by God himself to a man whose location and even name were unknown is…well…nothing short of miraculous.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. Ezekiel 34:11

My Twin Story Part Two 

 Babies at 6 weeks old

Babies at 6 weeks old

Well…other than a couple extra days in the hospital my twin birth went off without a hitch. (LOL!)  Before I knew it we were bringing these beautiful new additions to our family home with us.  I was completely clueless. First of all, I thought as soon as I had the babies I would be skinny again. After all the only area where I really gained weight was my tummy. Ha!! I had enough fluid on me to float a boat. I was huge and even more uncomfortable than when I had been pregnant because now the weight was not isolated to my stomach. My legs and feet were so filled with fluid you could press these gross little indentions into them. My 14 year old son seemed to find this amusing. Maybe by the time he grows up men will be having babies :-) 

 First day home from hospital

First day home from hospital

When we got home I had a few hurdles to overcome. I was tired all the time, hungry all the time and having a bit of difficulty with nursing. The girls seemed to want to nurse all the time. At one point my mother-in-law suggested I might try pumping just to see if they were getting any milk. I was quite certain they were getting plenty of milk. After all, I was a new mommy who had never had a baby before (as opposed to a woman with two kids and years of experience both as a mother and a grandmother) of course I knew what I was talking about :-) And besides, no one at the hospital had really indicated that I wouldn't be able to produce milk. I had talked to a lactation specialist. They checked the latch. Surely, everything was great. Still, I gave pumping a shot. (to prove my mother-in-law was wrong) Only problem was…she was right. When I pumped I found that I was just producing a small amount of milk. No wonder the girls always wanted to eat and were fussy. They were hungry! It was months later before I really came to appreciate just how much of a blessing it was that my mother-in-law gently suggested that I might not be producing enough. I read a blog by a woman whose three day old baby died of dehydration. It gives me chills even now. She delivered in a hospital, nursed continuously and tried to do everything right. The only problem was that the hospital was so pro breast-feeding that they checked the latch but didn’t even entertain the possibility she might not have enough milk. I can’t even imagine. 

 Babies 6 weeks old

Babies 6 weeks old

I had already been supplementing with formula but at this point I definitely increased it. Funny thing, I hadn’t even planned to buy any formula after we left the hospital until my husband insisted. I thought if there was no option of formula then I would have no choice but to breast feed. The more you feed the more milk you produce so it seemed like a winner to me. However that's not always the case. With blood loss and complications sometimes there simply isn't that much milk. Oh, I could write a blog post on this alone. (Maybe I will. If not for anyone else but me :-) Anyway, in addition to increasing the amount of formula I was giving I called the lactation specialist. She suggested I pump every three hours around the clock. I tried to do this but was exhausted and hated to not sleep when I had the opportunity. By the end of the first day I couldn’t breath when I laid down.

It was the strangest feeling - like you were drowning but of course there was no water. Breathing was better when I sat up but still difficult. I could hear a crackling sound when I inhaled and I knew that something was terribly wrong. Nine years prior my mom had passed away. Before she passed fluid filled her chest cavity. She always spoke of “feeling like she was drowning.” Now, I knew what that felt like. The next day I went in to see my OBGYN. He listened to my chest and my complaints but said I was clear and it was all related to typical post-delivery problems. I left the office but wasn’t convinced. When I went home I felt as though I was getting worse instead of better. That night I had difficulty sleeping because I couldn’t breath while lying flat. I sat up in a chair and tried to do the best I could. I was exhausted. The next morning I called the nurse at the OBGYN clinic. She suggested maybe I was just tired but I insisted on a chest x-ray. Now I have to interject with just a little bit of background information. My husband was on leave from his deployment in the middle east so that he could be here for the birth of the girls. At this point he was due to board a plane and return the next morning. I was praying the impossible - that he would get to stay.

Late that afternoon the doctors office called to tell me the chest x-ray did show fluid in my lungs. The nurse said given the time of day it would be best to go to a walk-in clinic for follow-up that evening. My x-rays would be in the computer system. For some reason I felt the Lord’s leading to go to the clinic across town instead of the one closest to our house. We drove across town and when we walked in there was not a soul in the entire clinic. It was amazing. Went right in and were seen. After we were in the back a few more people came into the clinic. It was as though the entire area had been cleared just for us. (The other clinic had been covered up. However, I had determined in my heart that the Lord was leading us to go across town before I ever saw that they were busy.) They listened to my chest and decided I needed to go straight to the emergency room.

When we arrived at the ER, the staff from the clinic had already called ahead and talked to the attending physician. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone. I walked up to the front check-in desk. The receptionist was on the phone with someone from the medical team. Are you here for congestive heart failure? She asked. “Yes??” I replied both uncertain (That was the first time I had heard that diagnosis.) and figuring it couldn’t help but speed the wait time along. (LOL!) Immediately they took my vitals. My blood pressure had really jumped (go figure) and walked me to a room.

It was then that God really started to move. First of all we were sharing a room, separated only by a curtain with an older couple. Before we left the couple gave us a $100. We had mentioned nothing of money or needing money. The really cool part? Earlier my husband had given away $100 to a veteran. You truly can't outgive God. The other neat thing was that this physician took me seriously. He put me on Lasix and placed the wheels in motion for me to get a room for the night. But what he did next was absolutely beyond the call of duty and an answer to my prayers. He called my husband's commanding officers, explained my condition and worked to request that my husband’s leave be extended. Keep in mind by this time it was late in the evening, probably 9 or 10 at night and my husband was scheduled board a plane the following morning. The leave was extended by 10 days and I was transferred to a room. By the next morning I was much lighter (if I remember correctly it was around 20 pounds.) and could breathe better. 

The OBGYN came in to see me the following morning and said that I just had a little fluid in the bottom of my lungs from the swelling. Then he released me to go home later that day. I went home thankful that my husband’s leave had been extended. Maybe this was God’s answer to my prayer. But I still didn’t feel entirely back to normal.  My breathing had improved but was shallow and labored. I just didn’t feel like…me. I lacked energy and knew something was still wrong. This prompted yet another visit to the minor emergency clinic which resulted in another visit to the ER.

This time our doctor even surpassed the previous one - if that was possible. Determined to find out what was wrong, he ordered a CT Scan, an ultrasound and blood work. Then people REALLY started to take me seriously. Oh, sweet vindication. I was not just a bloated, fussy, ex-pregnant, middle-aged, woman. I had postpartum cardiomyopathy and in the words of my cardiologist the following day my echo looked “terrible.” It really wasn’t all that bad. The ejection factor only got down to 35% thanks to the fact that I would not take you’re ok, or just stressed, or just tired for an answer. I was sick darn it and someone was going to listen to me. And they did…eventually. I spent several nights on the cardiac floor (not quite as cheerful as the maternity ward), had an angiogram (all was clear) and was eventually sent home with an ace-inhibitor and beta blocker to take. This time I was a pretty good patient except when I refused to take my lasix because I felt dehydrated. (Funny when the blood work came back turned out I was right :-) By the time I came home I truly was better.

 A few hours before we came home from the hospital

A few hours before we came home from the hospital

When I had an echo at 12 weeks out I had and EF of “greater than 55%” which is a strong normal. Here’s the beauty of it all. God truly did answer my impossible prayer. After I was hospitalized a second time instead of extending my husbands leave for another 10 days, the Army decided to allow him to “complete the mission from the rear.” He was reassigned to a base in Texas for the remainder of the mission and could come home on the weekends. So, as far as I was concerned the postpartum cardiomyopathy was simply a blessing in disguise. As I write this I am healthy and whole, headed to the Yellow Ribbon Ceremony for my husband's brigade. All of the troops made it home safely. Most of the families who will be at the event have just been reunited this past month. I was blessed to have a beautiful family, two amazing little babies, three awesome teens and fantastic little pre-teen all this time and all I had to do to get it was hit a little rough patch and win the youngest newcomer to the cardiac floor award. 

Lessons learned. We are not promised tomorrow. Trust in Jesus as your Savior today. Don't take life for granted. And if you’re ever admitted to the cardiac floor of a hospital hide food in your suitcase. (It’s terrible!)

If you have a story of your own, please share it with us in the comments section. If you enjoy our stories please share this post with your friends. 

 

Btw if you haven't read My Twin Story Part 1 you can check it out here.

Have an awesome week!

Jill

My Twin Story

First of all let me say God is just full of surprises. I never in all my life thought that I would have a baby - much less TWO! I never was one to want to hold babies, never was a “baby person.” Boy, am I now! They are beautiful, wonderful little creatures that absolutely change your outlook on everything. When I look at them I am AMAZED that God would give up his only Son for us. I am astonished that anyone could ever hurt a child. I am appalled by abortion and I am struck by my own mortality. Truly they change everything. But as to how they got here that is a story all its own. And in my opinion one worth telling so here goes.

I had been married (well, remarried but who’s counting) for almost 4 months when on August 19th I had a dream I will never forget. In the dream I felt the Lord touch my abdomen and tell me by that time next year I would be pregnant. It was a potent enough dream that I gave up coffee (which I love) and wine. I’m a mom of teens so this is saying something :-) I also ate healthy, took vitamins but quite frankly hoped I wouldn’t get pregnant. I was a not-too-cooperative servant of the Lord! After all, I was 36 years old. My husband was 41 and between us we already had 8 kids (2 natural, 6 adopted, but again, who’s counting). Granted, most of them were grown up and gone. I had never been pregnant before - all mine were adopted. To make matters even more complicated just before Christmas I found out that my Army officer husband was being deployed for 9 months. 

By the end of February, I found out I was expecting. When I took the pregnancy test I was out of town visiting my Dad. Instantly I was in shock. This was not part of my ten year plan. I called my husband and told him over the phone. He was more excited than me - of course he had already raised babies and he wasn’t the one who would be doing the birthing lol. It just didn’t seem possible. I took excellent care of myself (ate organic foods, took prenatal vitamins, immediately scheduled an appointment with the doctor) but not because I had any desire to be a mother (again) simply because I felt an obligation to the Lord to take good care of this life He had entrusted me with and because I knew at my age (well any age) something could go wrong and I wanted to know I had done all possible to make things go, well, right. But excited I was not. Scared? Absolutely. Nervous, unsure, feeling like my life had been highjacked from me? You better believe it. But excited. Not so much. Funny thing was just a few weeks prior when doing a Bible study in Job I prayed and asked God for a double blessing. My testimony (at least in my mind) reminds me just a small bit of Job and I prayed for this double blessing as a sign and a gift from the Lord. 

Well, I found out I was pregnant on a Saturday and by Monday afternoon I was having my first ultrasound (I insisted as I was completely clueless about pregnancy and afraid I would do something wrong before I even knew what to do!) The tech looked at the image and said, “Oh, two babies,” just as calmly as if she had said she was having chicken for dinner. My husband and I looked at each other wide-eyed and I thought something similar to your last words if you were about to be hit by a truck. Shortly after, we were ushered into the doctor’s office where we found out that both girls were sharing an embryonic sac and a placenta. This wasn’t good news as it often can lead to complications. The doctor set up an appointment for me to see a specialist and we began to pray. We also called all of our friends and rallied all the prayer warriors at our church to pray as well. When we had our next appointment the ultrasound showed a thin tissue between the two girls - our prayers had been answered…there were two sacs!

The next 9 months were a bit of a blur. I was incredibly nauseated…all…the…time for the first 3. Didn’t throw up very much but just had a never ceasing desire to curl up in the fetal position and dry heave (I know, attractive right?). Second trimester was quite a bit better but as far as I’m concerned it only lasted a few weeks. By 20 weeks I was as large as most women well into their third trimester and I could feel it! At that point I started having weekly visits with a specialist an hour and a half from our house. My dad was so sweet, bless his heart. He drove up weekly to take me to my appointments since my husband was still deployed in the middle east. At one point when we went in to the specialist he said that there was uneven blood flow to one of the girls. Because they were sharing a placenta, this could be a big problem. Again we prayed and the next week when we went back the doctor said he was amazed that it didn’t even look the same. Everything was perfect. Other than being extremely uncomfortable for 9 months I think I had a relatively easy twin pregnancy. I went from 127 pounds to 176 at delivery day and was all tummy but a healthy, excited new momma.

The day that the girls came was quite a day! I was scheduled to deliver at 38 weeks. The doctor would have delivered at 36 but I insisted on waiting and he insisted on not going past 38 so that was our compromise. I was as naive and ignorant as anyone. I actually got up early that morning to put on make-up and fix my hair. I took a sweet little selfie with my husband as we arrived at the hospital. Things did not go exactly as planned. I joke that we prayed for the girls to be healthy, and they definitely were, but we should have spent at least a little time praying that I would be. 

At the hospital the nurses did one last ultrasound when I arrived to see if it was possible to avoid a c-section. But, the girls hadn’t moved and with one twin breach it was decided a c-section was the way to go. Funny, the part I was most nervous about was the epidural. It was easy. Just one simple shot. The actual delivery was easy too. Really kind of fun. They wouldn’t let me watch so that was a bit disappointing but I didn't feel any pain just tugging. Then they pulled out baby Aand immediately she was crying. I’ve thought back many times how amazing it is that one minute a child can be in your stomach (well uterus) and you’re just a plain, old, pregnant woman and the next minute they are lying on your chest entirely human. What a beautiful, amazing thing. Next they brought out baby B just one minute later. She was crying as well, ruddy and healthy as could be. I asked my husband to stay with the girls while they worked on putting me back together. 

Well, Humpty Dumpty did not want to go back together again. They had a terrible time of getting my uterus to contract. I ended up losing a lot of blood and needing quite a few blood transfusions. That part was ok I guess. It was a bit surreal. I remember the anesthesiologist repeatedly asking if I was ok and saying I was a trooper. I remember being a bit out of it. I also remember being very uncertain of rather I should accept the blood transfusions. I have always hated blood and wasn’t too crazy about the idea of having someone else’s in me!  Despite everyone’s assurances that the transfusion was both safe and urgently necessary, I dug my heels in.  No one was too happy with me about this. My husband was quite mad. I found out later why.  It wasn’t just that I looked deathly pale…my doctor had told him privately that I’d lost so much blood that my life was in danger.  Still, I resisted.  At one point my OB/GYN told me he didn’t give a s**t what I wanted…I was getting a blood transfusion (unless it was for religious reason but not simply because I didn't want one).  Later he told my husband I was the only patient he had ever cursed at in 30 years of practice. 

Still, I really wanted to hear from God on the matter. I just wasn’t sure what to do and wanted His peace. I know it probably sounds goofy now and keep in mind I had lost a lot of blood. I was also in a lot of pain by this point. I was planning to nurse and so I didn’t want any more pain medicine than absolutely necessary. I opted to have the epidural that wears off within a few hours verses the one that provides some pain relief for the next 3 days. I also refused all narcotics and pain relievers - at that point even Tylenol and Alive. Probably not the smartest choice as it would have had little if any effect on my milk. To make matters worse post-delivery I was given two different drugs on a rotating basis to help my uterus contract as it just wasn’t wanting to do so on its own. So perhaps those are a few of the reasons for my hesitation to accept the blood transfusions. Also, quite frankly, I knew that God was full well capable of healing me and causing my iron level to rise back to normal without me accepting any one else’s blood and that was the method I preferred. 

I prayed and asked my husband to put anointing oil on me and pray as well. One of the nurses aids joined us. At one point, I sent all the doctors and nurses out of the room except my OB/GYN. I asked him to run my iron count one more time which he said he would do (despite the fact that it was contrary to what they normally would do and in his eyes completely unnecessary) if I promised to accept the blood if the count hadn’t improved. The count hadn’t improved but after praying and retesting I did feel a peace about getting the transfusions. Actually, I felt like God was telling me that I was being silly and it would be the best for the girls if I just followed the doctors orders and got better. So at that point I became a much better patient. I received both blood and platelets as well as quite a bit of fluid. I took IV Tylenol and Aleve although I never did consent to any narcotics. 

Throughout the process I found out that I am both tough and stubborn.  [Editor Husband’s note: And how!]  My sweet little people-pleasing ole self at one point requested that my doctor be brought in from a surgery he was assisting in so that I could explain to him that I didn’t really need the blood and that I thought the nurse was just exaggerating my condition because we didn’t really hit it off all that well. Almost funny looking back. I kind of hate to type it as it makes me look completely crazy but it also makes me a little proud because despite how wrong I might have been I was assertive, direct, stuck to my guns until I felt to do otherwise and didn’t really care who I made mad. All this from a woman who is generally terrified of upsetting or offending anyone. 

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I also learned that pain, even really bad pain is just that. It goes away. There are far more important things and you really can deal with it. I came to personally understand that God can most certainly heal but He does so in a number of ways and sometimes insisting on the way we think best is well…a bit silly. But without a doubt the most important lesson that I learned is that “man makes his plans but God directs his steps.” In other words often the most AMAZING, WONDERFUL, AWESOME BLESSINGS are the ones we never knew that we needed. God is so good!  Sometimes we need to trash the ten year plan and trust Him. 

There’s much more to the story but that’s all I have time to write at this point - my sweet girls are waking up from their nap. So I’ll finish up next week. Many blessings and I hope you have an awesome week!

Btw if you have any neat birth stories I'd love to hear them in the comments :-) 

Jill

When God Speaks...

This past Sunday the most amazing thing happened to me. I was in church listening to the band worship but instead of worshipping I was consumed with my own thoughts. 

The woman who was singing looked beautiful - hair fixed, make-up on. I’m certain she had showered in the last three days. All things that I…well…let’s just say my beauty ritual post-twins has been a bit less…eh…consistent. Anyway, I know this woman. Wonderful person. Has two toddlers at home and still looks great. You know where I’m going with this but what God did next was, well, it was just really cool. So then my eyes shift from her to the woman playing the piano - stylish, put-together. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wear Goodwill’s finest but I’m not exactly a fashion queen, never have been. But post-babies if it doesn’t clash and smells relatively unoffensive I call it good. And, of course, next my eyes go to me. Why can’t I look like that? I need to keep myself up better? My poor husband. If they can shower and put on make-up I should be able to too. Maybe I should start wearing more jewelry? Maybe that would help? I wonder where she get’s her hair done? Maybe if I dyed my hair??? You get the point. Now, God could have just answered me himself. Laid sweet thoughts on my heart. Brought tears to my eyes…but He did one better. 

He placed it on my heart to go to the restroom and look in the mirror. I started to argue. Surely, that can’t be the Holy Spirit prompting me? I mean, we’re right in the middle of worship? I should be well…worshiping. Then He brought to mind a time whenThen He called to mind another time the Holy Spirit had prompted me and it was no-doubt a God thing. So there I tromped all the way to the back of the church and out the door to the restroom. When I arrived I didn’t really know what to do so I stared in the mirror and started to fix my hair. Maybe I could make it look a little better. As I was about to leave a young girl, about ten, came out of one of the stalls and said, “You know, you look pretty even if your hair isn’t fixed.” As I started to thank her she went on, “And besides, God doesn’t see your hair anyway. He looks at your heart.” It started to bring tears to my eyes but I just told her that God had really used her that day to bless me.It was exactly what I needed to hear. She replied, “That’s what I do.” 

I walked back to my seat a little different. A little better. I knew I had heard the voice of God - straight from a 10 year old girl.

Posted on May 27, 2017 .

Healing After My Mom’s Death - Read this if you have lost a loved one. It will help. Really, I’ve been there.

I wrote the post below 7 years ago and just read it again today. Wow! What a difference. I read such sadness in my voice – such hopelessness but such determination to survive. I did survive. In fact, I must say I am in an entirely different place now than I was then. Going through the loss of my mother was one of the most difficult struggles I’ve ever endured.  I was 27 years old but I felt just like a little child who had lost everything. And yet, As Rachel Lynde used to say (Anne of Green Gables), “The sun will go on rising and setting whether I (Anne) fail in Geometry or not.” Now, I know this isn’t geometry but you get the point. Life goes on. So, where’s the encouragement in this dreary post? Seven years later my life is so much better than I ever thought it could be. I remember being so depressed after my mother passed, feeling so incredibly guilty thinking I should have taken better care of her. (I took care of her but the enemy has a way of distorting things. He is our accuser and the Father of Lies. Never forget that.) I am better, whole really, entirely, 100% thanks to God. I read the following post and I don’t even recognize the girl who wrote those words. So if you are struggling, if you are hurting, give it time and seek help from those in the Kingdom of God. God is our Healer. He is our Redeemer. He is the restorer of lost souls and the physician who heals the broken-hearted. And will heal yours. He will take the weight from your shoulders. He took mine.

 

My Post from 2010

I love to look at black and white photographs.  They remind me of how effervescent life is, like bubbles in champagne, new today and gone tomorrow.  I look at those before me, forever young and beautiful, and yet, this still-life photograph never captures their essence.  It never tells of the long talks past my bedtime when I just couldn’t bring myself to confess whatever horror I thought I’d committed(like kissing a frog on a dare, which by the way, did not turn into a prince).   It never tells of the Saturday mornings going to garage sales or the Friday nights watching movies until 4 am.   It never shows the true beauty, that beauty that time cannot erase.  I’ve heard that pain only makes you stronger.  But sometimes I want to say, okay, enough’s enough, I’m strong enough.   Let’s move on now.   I wonder if I hurt so over the loss of my mother, that I might understand how my children must hurt over the loss of their own biological parents.   I wonder how to guide them through their own grief when my own journey seems so slow and so long.   I know that the key, the saving grace, is to learn to truly trust God.  I must trust that I did all I could, it was her time, she is happy and at peace.   I must trust, and yet, as deeply as I believe, that kind of trust doesn’t come easily.   And so I pay daily the price, I pick up my sorrows, and carry them with me as though I must carry the world on my shoulders only to glance behind and catch a glimpse that is not me holding up the world but His gentle hands.  I could let go at any time, and yet I choose to push with all my efforts, will myself to exhaustion, and carry the weight I refuse to lay down.

 

I gave Him my weight. Give Him yours as well.

Posted on April 18, 2017 .

Fear Should Not Be An Option

Braveandlove is a blog written by Christy Johnson, who is the wife of a young pastor in Los Angeles! They felt the Lord calling them to start a church, and it has been incredible to follow along (borderline obsessively listening to their podcasts... no shame) as He has guided their steps the whole way. 
Christy's blog is full of so much goodness. Everything from her recipes, stories from her family's journey of learning how to be fearless, to her clothing line, seeps excellence in every way. I am continually encouraged by them, and I hope you are encouraged by this story from her blog as well! 

Stay tuned, because we will be featuring more delight from Brave&Love soon!!! (: 

Kim

Relentless Creative Director

Nothing can stop us

 

I can pinpoint from the very moment we announced the start of Fearlessla, we have experienced an onslaught of circumstances that have caused us to make a decision….am I going to respond in fear or faith? This week our family faced one of the most terrifying experiences of our life that put fear and faith to the test. 

We were at a birthday party for our little nephew Zion. During the party, Lyric walked up to me and told me she wasn't feeling well and she seemed very lethargic. All her friends were there, a bounce house, tons of food, so I knew when she said this something was up.  I took her inside, checked her temperature and she had fever.  Immediately we gave her some tylenol and then decided it would be best to take her home.  Both my kids had been sick for about a month now and I was so worn out physically…I just knew that the enemy was attacking us with infirmity in our household and I was just over it!  We secured all the kids in the car and were on our way.  As we were driving, we turned around to check on Lyric and she was bluish in color, unresponsive, and her eyes were open gazing into the ceiling of our car.  I jumped into the back of the car and grabbed her out of the seat and tried to get her to come out of whatever was happening.  Nothing…no change, continued to turn even bluer in color, and I didn’t know if she was getting any oxygen at all.  I started to yell and pray at the top of my lungs and began to take authority over sickness and death.  In the panic of the moment, Jeremy misplaced his phone that was navigating us to the nearest hospital.  He began to ask God to somehow lead us to an emergency room.  One minute later we drive up to one, and later realized that if he wouldn't have lost his phone, it would have taken us to a location that would have not been able to treat her.  

Jeremy scooped her up in his arms, ran into the emergency room and began to scream for help for our little girl.  Immediately a team began to get her vitals.  Her oxygen was very low so they began to give her oxygen. I frantically asked them what was happening to my little girl.  They explained that she had a febrile seizure which happens when there is a spike in fever. An ambulance transferred her to the hospital for further tests to figure out the reason for her fever.  It was a long day of grueling and painful tests, IV’s, and exams.  And thank the Lord, the results were nothing serious.  It was an ear infection and bronchitis that caused the fever.  By the end of the night, Lyric was dancing in the room, laughing with the doctors and didn't even remember any of the traumatic experiences of the day.   

But…I remember….Jeremy remembers…it’s something we will NEVER forget.  It is seared in our memory.  Everyday I have to choose, will I respond in fear, or will I trust that you have given me this little girl and you will take care of her. Will I allow His perfect love to quiet my fears, or my fear to disrupt and destroy my faith and joy. 

I love this scripture in Jeremiah 41:10

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”   

When I truly internalize these words, my body and mind responds in rest and peace. And when I don’t, I feel the same exact way as I did before, tormented by my own thoughts.  I DO NOT have to be afraid about anything, He is not leaving me!  He is strengthening me for ever single challenge that comes my way.  In fact, it’s these challenges that allow me to trust Him even greater.  For if I never had a problem. If I had never had to worry. I’d never know what faith in God could do.

I just want to thank each and every person that prayed and reached out to us during this time.  I especially want to thank Toby and Kristen Bowker.  The day that this happened to our daughter they text us and told us they would drop everything to come and help us.. Some of the most selfless and caring people Jeremy and I know. Below is a picture of their daughter Bella Grace.  Toby and Kristen were told by doctors that she has a rare disease Aicardi Syndrome, causing a specific part of their daughter’s brain to be extremely under-developed.  As a result doctors say she will never have the capability to respond to verbal commands and at her worst Bella has had seizures every 90 minutes all day long.  Bella has taken huge strides and with a new medication they have seen a 50% decrease in her seizures!  She was told she wouldn’t see, but she sees.  Doctors say she wont smile, laugh, crawl, walk, run, and play.  But thank God doctors don’t have the final say! Will you believe with me for complete healing for Bella Grace?  


This family could use your help to raise funds that will allow them to continue pursing a miracle healing for their precious daughter Bella. To read more about her story, go to http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/pursuing-a-miracle-for-bella-grace/251382 or click on the picture. 

My heart goes out to all the parents who have children would suffer on a daily basis or deal with a disability.  If you have a prayer request, please comment below. Let’s all come together and agree for complete healing in every situation and challenge.

By His stripes we are healed

Posted on April 17, 2015 .

Jill's Story

When I was little I dreamed of being a Disney Princess – or maybe Vanna White, whichever came first. I grew up in a small West Texastown and attended Texas Tech University where I graduated with a degree in engineering. Right before graduation I was engaged to a fellow engineering student. We married; then reality set in. I was divorced a few years later. I met and later married another man. We chose to adopt kids – six, age 5-14, from foster care. Soon after we began the adoption process, I lost my mom suddenly due to illness. This was a terrible shock. It took me several years before I even began to recover. We grew as a family. I wrote a parenting book, under the pen name of Stacey Addison. I spoke at conferences. I taught school. I volunteered at church. I thought we had the perfect family. Then a few short years later, I walked in to find my husband, a local policeman, molesting our daughter. Suddenly I became a single mom, of six kids. As a mom, I’ve encountered everything from teenager’s involvement in drugs, to running away, to sexually acting out. I’ve lived through survival mode and graduated to survivor mode. I’ve failed. I’ve cried. I’ve screamed. And I’ve triumphed. And through it all, I can say, God is faithful. He is bigger than me. He is bigger than my problems. And, I can promise you, He is bigger than yours as well. I have learned so much in this process. I’ve learned how to handle the logistics of a large family. I’ve learned how to help kids work through trauma and to embrace victory. I’ve seen, first hand, the resiliency of kids who simply refuse to give up. I’ve seen myself go from a wide-eyed, naïve child, out to change the world, to a woman, slightly tarnished by life but glowing with a joy only God can provide. And most of all, I’ve learned to trust in God, to align my life to His will and to trust Him for the outcome. Below is a detailed description of just how much God has blessed me, sustained me and walked me through the fire.

 

Defining Miracles

I’m not certain why God answers my prayers.  I only know that He does.  It’s certainly not anything that I deserve or that I’ve earned.  But despite all of the hardships in our lives, I consider myself to be truly, irrevocably blessed.  For in these past ten years, I have seen the hand of God carry us through.  The best way that I can describe what happened the night I walked in on my ex-husband molesting our teenage daughter the night my marriage ended and my life changed forever, was that some force pulled the floor upon which we were standing out from under us and we fell…straight into the hand of Almighty God. 

God worked in many, many ways but the one easiest to talk about and to define was our finances. I list the details because numbers don't lie.  They are black and white.  They are not an opinion or an exaggeration.  These numbers helped me to realize just how big and truly impossible my answered prayers were.  All that I list below is an improbability of which the magnitude might be compared to the fog at Normandy.  It’s just too great a coincidence to be ignored.  So, I will let the numbers tell the story. 

My ex-husband had accumulated a significant amount of debt prior to our marriage and had very poor credit.  After we married I found this out. So upon my suggestion, we contacted creditors, made deals for the balances, and eventually placed all remaining debt under a consolidation loan in both of our names.  After all, I had the good credit and income that made the loan possible in the first place.  When we divorced, I willingly took on all of this debt because I knew he wouldn’t pay – regardless of what a divorce court ordered him to do.  I knew that his lapse in payment would mar my credit score and I would eventually be forced to pay everything anyway or file bankruptcy. 

The Debts that I took on from our marriage included the following:

  • The consolidation loan I spoke of earlier, which was $63,000 when we signed for it on 12/30/2010.  The payments were $1500/month. 
  • Certified Green Building Systems, which was a spray foam trailer my ex-husband had purchased with the intent of starting a business. The business never took so the trailer / equipment had been for sale for approximately two years prior to the divorce with no success.  At the time of our sudden separation, $51,588 was owed to the bank.  That monthly payment was $1,280.
  • We also owned a second house we had been trying to sell for quite some time. (When we moved we made the mistake of purchasing a new home before our old home sold - then it never did.) The mortgage was $1100 / month.

So there you have it: me, six kids ages 7-17, and a hole so deep light could scarcely penetrate – but God did.

In November 2011, the spray foam trailer sold.  It even rented a few months prior for an amount adequate to cover the note.

A few months later land we owned, that had also been sale for years prior to the divorce, sold.

The rent house did not immediately sell, but was soon rented by a gentleman who faithfully paid on-time for years.  He even offered to increase his own rent by $100/a month when he saw how close his rent was to the actual mortgage of the home. When he moved out approximately 5 years later the house sold within about a month and I made $50,100 on the sale.

When you add up the debt and the monthly payments, then compare that to my income, it was impossible.  But time and again I literally saw the hand of God provide.  When I didn’t have money, twice I was sent a $700 check for a refund of some custom windows we had ordered prior to our separation and which were obviously no longer a priority.  Not only did the company gladly refund money for custom windows but told me to keep the second $700 check even after I called them and told them I thought there might be a mistake.  Another month I received a refund for insurance of several hundred dollars.  I watched as God turned five loaves and two fish into enough to feed 5,000 men. The next entry describes that provision in great detail. If you read nothing else, read this next part. God really does specialize in the AMAZING.

 

Divine Provision

One of my good friends is a woman in her fifties who is raising two very young children.  She is active and energetic.  One day as we were visiting, she relayed to me her “secret” - eating and juicing fresh fruits and vegetables.  I, too, wanted in on these supernatural powers so I considered the possibility of taking on this habit.  I had but one dilemma: we ate canned food, frequently purchased at a salvage store, and much less expensive than anything fresh.  But as I prayed I felt God telling me, “Just go to the store and I will provide.” 

So I went to the store.  As I shopped I noticed a man sorting fresh fruits and vegetables.  His name was Abraham.  I could tell one box, although it looked perfectly fine, was going to be thrown out.  So, I asked him if I could have it.  He said you can, but you have to call it “pig food.”  This suited me fine and I happily took my pig food home with me.  Week after week I went to the supermarket for their pig food.  And week after week, I came home with the most beautiful assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables—fruit trays, avocados, peppers, watermelon—more than you can imagine and enough that it not only fed my family but we shared with our entire block and a couple of food pantries as well.  Eventually, I became tired of the extra time and energy that it took to support this “pig food” habit of mine and I began complaining—if not out loud at least in my spirit.  Shortly after, it ceased. Months went by.  And I became very tired of the staple apples, oranges and bananas.  I longed for the luxury I had come to expect.  So, I prayed.   It was a rather simple prayer.  Something like:

Dear God,

Please bring back the pig food.  I promise I won’t complain.  And if you don’t mind could you send me some baby carrots.  (At the time I prayed this prayer, I was chopping up carrots.  The whole carrots are so much less expensive than the baby ones but my youngest only snacks on them when they are in bite sized pieces.)

Approximately two weeks passed.  I told no one of the prayer.  Then a friend of mine came to me and said, “I found a store that will do pig food!”  I knew God had answered my prayer.  And sure enough when we picked up the first supply, there was a box measuring approximately 18’’x 24” filled with nothing but baby carrots.

Coincidence you claim?  Well let’s not stop there.  My phone broke.  Well, actually if you want to be technical it fell off of my moving vehicle and was run over.  But who’s keeping track.  I prayed for a new phone.  About a week later—without me asking or complaining—someone gave me a new phone.  And I might add a much nicer one than I had to start with. 

A few years after the divorce, I wanted to sell the “fixer-upper” that my ex-husband and I had purchased in 2009.  I was tired of the memories and tired of the “fixer-uppering” it took to maintain this humble abode I called home.  I prayed about selling the house.  I prayed about how much to list it for.  And it sold in less than a month for $20,000 more than I we had paid for it.  Oh, and by the way, I was completely honest with the poor souls who, for some reason, wanted to take on my mortgage.  I literally walked them through and told them everything that was wrong with both the house and the neighborhood.

One Thursday evening we were eating hamburgers on large sesame seed buns at my dad's house.  Typically, I only purchase the smaller, less expensive, non-seed version.  Enjoying my hamburger I whispered a silent prayer, “God, if you don’t mind could you send us some of those large hamburger buns with the sesame seeds.” The following Saturday morning, while sitting at a park with a friend of mine and our families, a man randomly jumped out of his car and began giving out  packages of large sesame seed hamburger buns.  As he handed us a package, my friend turned to me and asked, “Did you pray for hamburger buns?” Now, the man explained to everyone that his girlfriend worked at a fast food restaurant where they weren’t allowed to use the buns one day after they were out of date.  So, he would take what was to be thrown away and give it away instead.  You believe what you want.  But, I had never in all my years been sitting at a park had man jump out of his car to hand me a giant package of sesame seed buns (sealed and everything).  I say a prayer and two days later it happens.  You can’t tell me that’s not divine intervention.

There was one REALLY BIG way that God provided.  When my ex-husband and I adopted in 2009, a little thing existed called an adoption tax credit.  However, it was not a refundable tax credit.  That simply means that you could use the credit against any tax liability you might owe the IRS but you couldn’t actually receive any money.  So if you had no tax liability, there was no advantage to the tax credit.  Most families with six children do not have any taxable income, so the credit goes unused.  In 2010, this law was changed.  It was altered to be a refundable tax credit.  This meant that any remaining credit would be given to you in the form of a tax refund.  With six adopted kids, that translated into a check ofapproximately $100,000. 

About halfway through the divorce and halfway through 2011, I discovered that I should qualify for this refundable credit—a credit that wasn’t claimed in 2009 and could be carried over to 2010.  Call me selfish, but I didn’t want my ex-husband to get one cent of the credit.  So I said nothing of it and instead placed a statement in the divorce decree stating that we would each be responsible for our own 2010 taxes—liabilities and credits.  We filed an extension for 2010 and waited until the divorce was finalized in December of 2011 before filing.  At that time, I filed as head of household.  Turned out there were two problems with that.  One, unknown to me at the time, I couldn’t legally file as head of household.  Because regardless of the divorce in 2011, we were married all of 2010.  The second problem was a stipulation in the tax law that stated anyone who is (was) married and filing for an adoption credit must file as married filing jointly.  This was due to certain income requirements you must fall below (we were easily below the income requirements married or single).  So there you have it.  Two problems. 

What did the IRS do?  Well, they not only denied the credits but placed a $20,000 civil penalty on me as well.  For a couple of years, my accountant fought this decision.  She called the IRS.  She filed for tax court.  You name it.  Then one day, I decided I would believe God would work in my favor—that He would cause the penalty to be dropped and that I would be given the tax credit.  The very next day, the attorney, working for the IRS, who I had been talking to in regards to our upcoming tax court proceedings, told me that she was going to drop the penalty.  A few weeks later, I happened to make a phone call to a woman who just happened to be the attorney in the National IRS office specializing in adoption credits.  (I had no idea who she was when I made the phone call.  It was simply a name and number I saw on the bottom of a form.)  She took on my cause and not only was I given the adoption credits but the IRS issued official legal advice in reference to adoption credits.  This legal advice overturned a recent tax court case (very similar to my own) that had been granted in favor of the IRS.  In the words of the IRS attorney handling my case, “This really doesn’t happen.”

I signed the court documents in March of 2014 stating that the IRS was conceding the case and that I would be awarded $103,000 in addition to the $8,000 I had already paid toward the penalty. 

I knew I must pay off all debt with the exception of my house note.  I did not know what to do with the remainder of the money.  So once again, I prayed and sought God's guidance.  I thought, perhaps, I should donate a portion of the money to charity then place the remainder in a retirement account.  This seemed wise.  But, for some reason, I kept visualizing the parable of the talents found in the Bible.  You remember the one? (Matthew 25: 14-30)  One man is given 5 talents, which he doubles.  Another man is given 2 talents, which he also doubles.  And a third man is given one talent which he buries in the ground—for fear of losing it.  When the master returns, he is pleased with the first two men but angry with the third.  I never understood this.  After all, the third man didn't hide or steal from the master.  He was simply afraid of losing what he had been given, so he buried it instead.  I didn't really understand it—until now. 

Please keep in mind, this isn't financial advice.  Retirement accounts are wise and it's not sinful to save money.  The problem is that's not the reason God gave me THIS money.  He wanted me to DO something with the money – not to let my fear of losing it cause me to bury it away somewhere.  So, I prayed. I sought advice.  One thought lay heavy on my mind.  I have always wanted to write and speak full time.  I have always wanted to impress upon people the miraculous goodness of God—even in the most difficult of times.  I prayed again, “God if you want me to speak and write full time.  I really need you to close some doors.  I have a good job.  I don't know if it's the right thing to do to quit that job.  I don't want to lose my job, but if you want me to do this, please have them surplus me. (That meant you still had a job with the same school district but would be transferred to a different school.)”  About two weeks later, the principal of my school told me I had been surplussed.  I was terrified and excited at the same time.  Hurt, but knew it was an answer to my prayer.  I resigned on April 21, 2014.  Trusting God for the next steps.

To the best of my understanding, all of this points me to a scripture found in Mark 11: 22-25: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, Have faith in God.  I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, “May you be lifted up and thrown in to the sea,” and it will happen.  But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.  I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.  But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

Now this verse says two things to me.  Believe and don’t have unresolved sin in your life.  By unresolved sin I think it means perpetual sin such unforgiveness or anything thing else that the Bible speaks against, and yet you allow it to penetrate your life—sexual sin, lying, gossip, crude language.  This doesn’t mean that you live a perfect life and never sin.  We all have times when we miss the mark entirely.  I believe that it is referring to a sin you know is wrong.  But, instead of turning it over to God and asking Him to help you rid your life of it,  you rationalize your own behavior and blame others instead of taking responsibility.  By believe, I think this is referring to a rational decision that you make—a commitment to trust in God and in His faithfulness.  I am in no way saying that if you have an unanswered prayer, you are living in sin or lack faith.  I understand that God is sovereign and His ways are above my ways and His thoughts are above my thoughts.  I have resolved to place my trust in Him no matter what the cost, no matter what the pain, the loss or how desperate the confusion.  You see, I believe God is a “big picture” God and sometimes we are “small picture” people.  There are times when life doesn’t turn out like we want because there is a bigger picture, which we won’t see this side of heaven, and a picture that we couldn’t begin to understand.  I can’t help but think of Job when he questions God.  And God, in turn, asked Job where he was when He created the heavens and a whole host of other things that Job knew nothing about.  I will trust God and I will believe.

 

 

Posted on January 28, 2015 .