{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 31~Doing a Blog Series Will Either Kill You or Grow You

Wow! I can't believe it. I actually did it. I have written my first series! I also managed to blog twice a week for the past 4 months (except for those 2 sick days...).

I have learned so much in this process. So much about myself and also about you! Here are just a few of the things I've gleaned from writing these last 4 months:

I really enjoy writing, but it is also very hard and so much work! Making myself do this series made me stick to a schedule. Even when I was tired. Even when I felt uninspired. I had deadlines to make and although you are a very forgiving audience, it helped to know that you were waiting for my next post. That you would notice if I went missing. There were times that I would sit down to write and have no idea what to write on. You were my motivation to press on!

Writing brings out emotions I didn't know were there. There were many times that I would sit down to write and not think about how it was going to affect me. I was very vulnerable and very open and that was painful at times. Sometimes I would have tears streaming down my face as I wrote. Other times I would find myself shaking as I typed, emotion spilling over. There were several posts that had my heart racing and hands trembling as I pressed the "publish" button. Almost every single time, I felt better after I was finished writing. Writing (a blog specifically) can make me feel somewhat anonymous. I learned about myself and this "character" that I play in real life as my fingers rolled on the keyboard. I was shocked at how much I hadn't verbalized before now.

Blogging let's all kinds of people in. And that's good! I know that by writing these words, I am opening myself up to anyone who happens to type in the address or click a link or perform a search through a search engine. I have talked with people all over the country, and really around the world, who have read from these pages. God has used my heart and my mind and my emotions and my fingers to touch those of you that I never see in every day life...or I have never actually met in person. That's so amazing!

You have stories too! I can't count how many times I received a long email, facebook message or comment telling me how you relate. Get those stories out! They are meant to be told!

I really enjoy writing!! I feel more accomplished, stronger, more determined every time I publish a post. Even though it's hard and emotionally draining, somehow I come out a better person on the other side. I will always be a writer.

So there, it is. {31 Lessons!} On to other adventures...

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 30~There is a Difference Between Forgiveness and Trust

As you can see from that picture there at the top of the page (Like the new picture? Our friend, Brianne, did such a wonderful job with our family photos!), we have 5 children. This raising and growing and training children thing is the most wonderful and most difficult task I've ever been assigned. As our oldest children are nearing the teenage years, we are having to test the waters with privileges. We extend the line of trust and see how they respond. If they respond responsibly, we give a bit more freedom. If they prove we've given too much freedom by breaking that trust, we pull the line in a bit in order to protect and train them a bit more. Then gradually, over time, they regain our trust and we start the process over again.

In this process, we try to have an open dialogue so that they can see that our lack of trust in them doesn't equal a lack of forgiveness. When we correct our children and they respond by apologizing, we forgive. We forgive, but there are still consequences for the mistakes they've made. We love them and we don't hold a grudge against them, but there is always a process that we must go through in order for them to regain our trust. Once trust is broken, it takes time and a series of right decisions to regain that trust. Forgiveness is always given, while trust must be earned.

This is similar to our relationship with God. When we are new in our relationship with Him, He doesn't expect much. There is a lot of grace without a lot of responsibility. As we grow in our relationship with Him, His trust in us grows. Sometimes He'll test us. He'll give us more responsibility than we've had before and He watches how we respond. If we stay close to Him, reliant on Him and handle situations with wisdom, He gives us even more. More influence, more blessing, more responsibility. We read about this in the parable of the talents:

 "The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'"
Matthew 25:23 NLT

However, we also read about what happens when we respond immaturely or poorly.

"To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away."
Matthew 25:29 NLT

God tests us to see how He can trust us. So what does God say about forgiveness? His Word is very clear: He is a forgiving God.

"But if we confess our sins to him, 
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins 
and to cleanse us from all wickedness."
1 John 1:9 NLT

If we read on about forgiveness, we see that He not only forgives us, but He also requires us to forgive others.

"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, 
forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."
Ephesians 4:32

And I think this may be where many of us, as Christians, can become confused. We read clearly, over and over, that God requires us to forgive, just as He has forgiven us. However, we are able to forgive freely without extending trust freely.

The meaning of the word "forgive" is:

"To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.  
To renounce anger or resentment against."
When we forgive someone, we are releasing them from our anger. We decide that we won't hold any resentment against them. I find an easy way to test this is to say their name and see how it rolls off of my tongue. Is it hard to talk about them without telling all their faults? Am I able to pray for them without asking God to shovel heaping coals on their head? Am I able to ask for God to bless them?

Conversely, when we look at "trust", it means:

"Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

One in which confidence is placed.
Reliance on something in the future; hope."

When we trust someone, we are in a mutual understanding of roles and expectations. We have a reliance on them for an expected outcome. When we trust someone we can rely on their integrity, their character.

I think it is fully possible to forgive someone, to release them from my anger, even to pray for God to bless them, but not put my trust in them. When someone has broken trust, it takes a series of positive, wise decisions to gain that trust back. Forgiveness is an issue of my heart and an issue between me and God. Trust is an issue between me and another person. God requires me to forgive other people. On the contrary, God requires wisdom when I place my trust in someone. This is not to say that we should walk around in judgement or with a critical spirit. But, in every relationship: close friends, a significant other, with our leaders we are to test people according to God's Word to ensure credibility and safety in relationships. Love all and trust with wisdom.

Where are you on this? Do you think there is a difference between forgiveness and trust? Do you find it's hard to offer one without the other?


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


I'm Sorry...

I'm so sorry that I haven't posted today's {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. I haven't been feeling well and just haven't been able to finish today's post. I am excited to share it with you...I'll be sharing about how I've learned the difference between forgiveness and trust.

I am headed to the doctor in the morning and will hopefully be feeling better soon! Watch for Lesson 30~I will post it in the next couple of days.



{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 29~He is Close Even in the Darkest of Days

Yesterday was an important day in the history of our church. As you may know, my husband and I serve at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Yes, THAT New Life. The New Life that pressed on through a change in leadership and a shooting on our campus, resulting in injuries and the death of two beautiful teenage girls~all within the span of 13 months. Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of the shooting. We celebrated by hearing testimonies of God's faithfulness and worshiping the God who held us through it all.

The Works Family | 5 Years Later from New Life Creative on Vimeo.

But Brad and I weren't there that day. As I attended the services yesterday, I couldn't help but think back on the past 6 1/2 years...

Brad and I moved to Birmingham, AL in August of 2006, after serving at New Life for 10 years. You may remember our story of meeting there and marrying there. We were in the midst of growing our family there but after a prompting (that really lasted 4 years) from the Lord, moved to serve with another church. Several months later we were answering questions about our move. Had we known about all that was going on with our pastor? No, we hadn't KNOWN anything. We were following the direction of God to move. That November, when our pastor was accused of a "moral failure", we were as surprised as everyone else.

Those two events, the move and the "scandal" that happened, began the hardest 2 years of our married life. I was 7 months pregnant with our 4th child when we moved. We left almost all of our family in Colorado and moved to a city where we knew only a few friends. Our Colorado house didn't sell and our finances began to take a dive.

Brad was overseas that Thursday when the news broke that things at New Life would never be the same. I remember our Birmingham pastor calling to check on me. As I wept over the phone, he assured me that "everything would be okay." I didn't know how that could be true, but I held onto the strength that those words provided. Brad and I didn't sleep that entire weekend. I had a 3 week old baby to attend to and my other 3 children to feed and care for. I would stay up at night to pray and talk with Brad, who's time zone was the opposite of mine. I was on the phone a lot~getting reports and updates and crying with friends from home.

The months that followed were extremely hard. Our hearts were breaking. The personal hurt was one thing, but to watch our closest friends and family struggle to keep the church family together was especially difficult. There were accusations and hurt feelings and people leaving...it was everything I had ever heard about when churches struggle and we were experiencing it. The media frenzy around our extended family was something I had never seen before. And we were watching it from afar, not able to actually hold and hug those that we love so much. I spent a lot of time praying for strength and protection for our family members. I also prayed for my own heart to stay clean. No one knew how to walk through this situation and people made mistakes. But I truly believe that everyone was doing what they felt was right. The people of New Life Church were at the top of the priority list. Every conversation, every meeting, centered around the idea that this was God's church and these were God's people and that we have a responsibility to care for them. I know now that this resulted in hurts of other kinds which is hard too. However, I know these people personally and I know that everyone was doing their best to get through and make the best decisions they could.

We were watching all of this and at the same time struggling on our own. We had 4 very small children and were far away from family. Our finances were at an extreme low and we were literally living off credit. We moved 4 times in 18 months, unable to keep up with rent and bills. We truly loved the people at our new church (and still have many wonderful, close friends there) but were unable to fully invest ourselves because of all the turmoil. During those 18 months I felt as if Brad and I, and this large yet tiny family we had, were on an island, surrounded by beautiful water and beaches but unable to enjoy any of it because we were starving. Starving for stability and direction.

When I look back on it now, it seems more like we were wrapped tightly, like a baby swaddled in a blanket or a caterpillar in a cocoon. Even though we struggled and wanted out, God was protecting us and strengthening us. Through all the hardship, He really had us in the palm of His hand the whole time.

On December 9th, 2007, we were just returning home after a full morning at church when Brad received a phone call. Had we seen the news? Did we know what was happening at home?

We sat on our couch in silence as we turned on the live broadcast from New Life, our home church, showing emergency vehicles, news crews and SWAT teams. A man had entered the campus and shot several people in a violent rage.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I reached for Brad, who was already on the phone trying to reach family. Where were his brothers and their families? Were they safe? Why was this happening? Hadn't our church been through enough?

That night, we talked to Brad's brother who recounted all of the details. The stunning news that there was a shooter, the moments of fear as he tried desperately to find his son, the story of his other brother hiding in a dark attic with his wife, 2 small children and friends...it was horrifying.

When Brad hung up the phone, he verbalized what we both already knew: it was time to go home.

He had a conversation with our pastor just a few weeks before, processing our situation. The inability to settle down, our house still unsold. We were now expecting our 5th child and were looking at another move as the family we were renting from wanted their house back. And most of all, our pastor explained this "rose colored glasses" phenomenon. The fact that we were even considering moving back to New Life had to be a miracle...most people knew New Life was on her last leg. This shooting would be the end of that church as we knew it.

But somehow we still loved this church. This body of believers that is so STRONG. So resilient. We knew these people and we knew that they would get back up and move on. We talked it over with our pastor and he agreed. It was time to go home.

Now here we are. We've been back at New Life for almost 5 years. We've stabilized our finances and our little family is growing. We love this church. New Lifers are strong and prayerful and worshipful and reliant on the only One who gives us strength. New Lifers know that our confidence doesn't come from any man. It comes from a personal, real relationship with this God who has held us through it all.

He has never been absent, even for a moment. Here's a song that Brad wrote, reflecting on the past few years...


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 28~The Best Gift I Can Give

I'm writing you from the quiet of my home this morning. Christmas music playing, my "home for Christmas" candle burning, tree lights on.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? If only every day of this season were as calm as this morning.

There are so many things to do...

Christmas parties to prepare for and attend.
Gifts to buy and wrap.
Decorating and baking.
Christmas photos and cards to send.

and on top of all of that...

Christmas services, plays, programs, concerts.
Special outfits to buy and wash and iron for each.
Extra rehearsals and snacks to bring.

This is all added to the everyday craziness of life. I know you feel it too. You have your own list. Many shared with ours, some that are different.

Why does this month have to be so crazy? To be honest, many times I feel like I am barely making it through this season. I SO look forward to December 26th when it is all over. I've been so tired by the time we get to Christmas day that I make it through the day in a haze of exhaustion, fueled by coffee all day long.

Why is it that we, as Christians, feel a need to make this month so much more celebratory than every other month of the year? Shouldn't we be celebrating all year long?

Don't we know this truth every day of the year?

This miracle,
the gift of a perfect sacrifice,
born to a virgin...
is it only true on December 25th? Or MORE true?

The true meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior, giving to others, deliberate time spent with those we love...shouldn't we be doing with our every day lives?

So why do we give into the craziness of a culture that has not grasped this Truth? Shouldn't we, as Christians who follow this Christ every day, resist the hustle and bustle and busyness of this season?

This is the darkest time of the year. The sun sets behind our mountains by 5pm every night. And we light lamps and candles and tree lights to warm the atmosphere in our home.

And shouldn't we be doing the same in a culture of darkness? Shouldn't we be light to the dark? To the hurting and needy around us?

And how can we accomplish this if we are frazzled and stressed? How can we truly love those around us if we are preoccupied with to-do lists and shopping lists and...exhaustion? Are we spending the holidays running on adrenaline and caffeine or are we truly giving our hearts and our time to our God who started it all? To our families who long for our attention and time over all else?

Things are a bit different in our house this year. We are still participating in all of the activities of the season. My kids are in school, which comes with extra Christmas activities and parties and concerts and gifts. We are in the midst of children's musical and Christmas Eve rehearsals at church. We decorated our tree (and might I just add that it's smaller and more sparse than in years past? Easier to get in the house and decorate so that we had time for other things?) We're in the midst of gift buying and wrapping.

But my intentions are different this year. We are taking time in these dark evenings to quiet ourselves. To read Scripture and enjoy the anticipation of Advent. I am taking time to look my children in the eyes and hold them close and listen to hearts.

I am giving them the gift of me. The gift of a mom focused on them. A wife with a quiet spirit, a still demeanor. It doesn't come naturally for me, especially at Christmas, and I'm not perfect. But I am trying. So that when they come home from the busy of school and work and church and parties, they find peace. So that they can find rest and comfort in the haven of our home.

What is a way you are focusing your intention this Christmas?

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 27~Sometimes the Answer is No

If you've been around this little blog here for any amount of time, you have heard me talk about Uganda. I love the country of Uganda. I love the people of Uganda. In a I-can't-talk-about-it-without-tearing-up kind of way. In a heart racing and words get all jumbled kind of way.

My daughter Brooke says these wonderful "I love you more than..." phrases. Like "I love you more than ice cream!" or "I love you more than pink!"

I love Uganda more than coffee and chocolate.

I went last year and then had the opportunity to go again this year. When we got home from our trip this year, Brad said he saw our missions opportunities "expanding". He wants New Life Worship to be serving around the world. I assumed that meant I would coordinate some other trips and lead another trip to Uganda.

But every time I talked about it, I had this little, icky feeling in my stomach.

And then, on a day that started like any other, everything changed. During my prayer time that morning, I heard a "no". Not an audible "no". But a feeling kind of "no". I knew what He was saying. I knew He was telling me to go a different direction next summer. But the thought of it was nauseating. Our contacts over there are only stronger now. I knew I could lead a trip and see all of these wonderful people again and I would love it. Why would He say no?

I ended my prayer time by making a little deal with God. "We" agreed we would talk about it more the next day. I met Brad for lunch that day. We were chit-chatting and talking about the goings on of his day. And I was mostly paying attention, but I had this nagging feeling that just wouldn't go away. I knew I should talk to him about my feelings about Uganda, but I knew that once the words left my mouth, there was no taking them back. If this was what God was saying, and I admitted it out loud, I was stuck. I would either have to admit that I wasn't going to Uganda this year or admit that I hadn't really heard from the Lord.

Finally, through tears, with my heart racing, I blurted out the words. "I think that um, maybe, that I'm, um, maybe not supposed to go to Uganda next year."

My wonderful, understanding, practical husband. He looked at me with such understanding and asked why I might think that. Hmmm...why did I think that? I didn't have a reason. Except that maybe God was saying "no". I told him about my little deal that I had made with God. That we would talk about it more tomorrow. And we kind of left it at that.

Except that I couldn't. I cried all day. I was angry. I went on a drive and told God that I was confused and angry. I had finally found an avenue of ministry that fit me. That feels so right and so good. Why would He take this away from me?

The next morning, I awoke with the question lingering, burning in my heart. What was the answer? Was He really saying "no"?

I turned on the Bible-reading app on my phone. As I was reading, I came across this:

I know! It couldn't have been more clear.

*Disclaimer: it's always important to take into context Scripture as God speaks it to us. So just as I don't have any "family" in Uganda, I don't think God was saying to actually "forget" the people over there that I love so dearly.*

I surrendered. Through tears. And not the silent, weepy, kind of tears. Like the bawling, ugly cry, kind of tears. I told Him that I don't want to go anywhere He isn't leading me. I have learned that He is a good God. A good Father who only desires what's best for His children. He knows so much more than me and I will choose to trust. I will choose to obey.

I went into the next room and showed Brad the verse on my phone. We both laughed about how completely obvious God's answer was. God knows me well enough to know that it needed to be obvious. There's no wiggle room or getting out of this one.

I had already scheduled to go to breakfast with one of my dearest friends that morning. As I cried all my makeup off and gulped down coffee, I explained to her all that was happening. And as I explained it that wonderful feeling came that always does with obedience...peace.

Although it was hard (and still is, to be honest) there is such a peace in knowing that I am going in His direction. I know the difference between following Him and following my own way. At this point, it's about as blatant to me as going outside on a cold, Colorado-ey day with or without a coat and gloves. One makes me feel prepared and protected. The other leaves me feeling frazzled, shivering and cold.

So, I'm not going to Uganda next summer.

I don't think I'm done with Uganda. Or with Africa. But it's just not for next year.

I don't know the why.

But I do know that He told me to give up a business that was successful when it didn't make sense. And it was to prepare me for my first ever trip to Uganda...that changed my life.

I do know that He took my second trip to Uganda and completely wrecked any plans I had so that He could create the trip that He wanted. And the experiences that I had and the people that I got to meet are treasures that I will always hold dear in my heart. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.

He loves me and is FOR me and is working for my good. His plans are only good and I'm beyond second guessing Him at this point.

What has developed since then is that I am going to WALES! I have never been there before and I have no idea what to expect, but I am excited for all that God has planned for me, our team, and the people that we will come into contact with.

See? All those times that I've told you that this life with God is such an adventure? It's really true! He has such great, big plans for each and every one of us. He has wonderful plans for you, too. But the key is to ask and obey.

What (big, scary, hard, crazy thing) might He be asking you to do?


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.

Would you like to go on missions with New Life Worship? We have trips planned for Uganda, Swaziland, Germany, Wales and El Salvador all taking place next summer. Contact me by commenting or email if you'd like more information!


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 26 ~ The Good Guy Always Wins

As I mentioned in my previous post, we were on vacation last week for Thanksgiving. One of the days, we went with the whole family to see the movie "Rise of the Guardians" (which I highly recommend!).

I'll try not to give too much away. It's your typical kids' movie format, good vs evil. There were a few scenes that were kind of scary for our little ones. My little Brookie made her way down the aisle to sit in my lap. As she settled in, I whispered in her ear to try to calm her, "Do you think Jack's gonna win?" She looked up at me with a big smile and said, "Yes! Because Jack's the good guy."

What a wonderful childish worldview she has. And how accurate.

I have been in the depths before and wondered if I would make it out.

I have felt despair, felt conquered, felt small.

And these are the works of the bad guy. The guy who tells lies and makes us think things will never get better.

But, the sun always rises again. The world continues to spin. Life goes on. Those dark days don't last forever. Because I know the One who gives HOPE.

I can live in hope and peace. I can live as a conqueror. Because the good guy ALWAYS wins. In the end, He wins. In my today, I can surrender and let Him win. I can focus on the One unseen...who is always there, even in the despair.

At one point during the movie, the characters are talking about evil and bad dreams and how those things will always exist. And then one of the characters gains his confidence and boldly proclaims, "Yes, it will always exist. But I don't have to FEAR it."

And isn't that the truth?? The bad guy exists. Evil exists. But we don't have to fear it!

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity
(of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), 
but [He has given us a spirit] of 
power and of love and of calm  
and well-balanced mind 
and discipline 
and self-control."
2 Timothy 1:7 AMP 

Have hope today. Be encouraged. Hold your head high. 
Because the Good Guy always wins!!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 25 ~ To Thank Him in All Seasons

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Ours was filled with family and fun and laughter...and chaos and bickering here and there. We gathered in Austin, TX with my husband's side of the family. There were 29 of us together for Thanksgiving dinner...16 being children. There is rarely a dull, or quiet, moment!

On Thanksgiving morning, I awoke with an exciting, giddy feeling. I was excited for the day, of course, but it went beyond that. By about mid-morning I was overcome and went to our guest room to take a breath and reflect. 

I am just so very thankful. This has truly been a year of miracles. Miracles in our church, miracles in our church finances & personal finances. Miracles in our family. And I have been very aware of each and every one and have been sure to thank our good Father who provides so amazingly for his children. 

But on Thanksgiving day I realized that there have been other miracles that I had not given attention to. Miracles in my own heart. Miracles in the way I view God. This has been a year if tremendous growth for me...many of you are witnesses to this as you follow this series. But there is a new reliance, a new closeness, a new God-confidence that is rising in me. A hunger to be right smack dab in the middle of what He's doing. A desire to cooperate fully with His plan. Every. Single. Day. 

I told Brad a few weeks ago, in a moment of surrender and brokenness and longing...

"I'm just done doing my own thing."

And then I'm forced to look back to where this growth has come from. 

It's come from mornings on the porch, reading and crying and asking "how can people disappoint us so..."

It came through years of feeling isolated and alone, sure that no one around could understand what we were going through. 

It came through a moment on the beach, staring out at the ocean, pounding my fists in the air, telling Him that He might be asking too much. 

And then finally surrendering and remembering the moment on the bus when I told Him I wanted Him to use me MORE. To use me EVERY day. 

On Thanksgiving day, I thanked Him for the hard times. For the stretching. For the growth that only comes through hard lessons. 

We can choose the easy. Stay stagnant. And when the hard times come (as they always, eventually, do), we can grow bitter and angry. Or we can grow strong and thankful. 

I will thank Him for the opportunity to grow. To feel. To be ALIVE and feel the bitterness of hurt and pain and the sweetness of triumph and peace. 

And the wonderful balance, the hard choosing to experience them at the same time. Can we experience triumph and peace in the midst of hurt and pain? Can we smile through the tears, knowing that He is doing a deep, strong work in our hearts? This is what I'm longing for. To truly consider it pure joy when I face trials. To know that He is always good, even when the circumstances are not. To stay pure in heart when the impulse says to become angry and resentful. 

To be found blameless in His sight and thankful always. For each breath is a gift...how wonderful it is that He gives us two...

(A few of these references are from Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts. I am on the road in the boonies of Texas and I gave my copy away to a dear friend so I am currently unable to post the links. It's a great book that changed my life and a MUST read in my opinion!)

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 24~Engagement Story {His Version} ~ God Has Mercy on Indecisive Guys

Hi everyone, this is Brad. I'm a guest on Andrea's blog today. She told her engagement story to all of you on Monday. So now I'm gonna tell my side of the story.

It was back in the summer of '96 when I first met Andrea Gilmore. And she is correct. We met whilst she was showing her belly button ring to her friends. I walked up on a group of girls, and since I was the new guy in town, I was trying to meet as many people as possible. So I stuck my head in a group of girls and said hi, and there it was, out for everyone to see. Her belly button ring. I made a funny joke and then moved on to the next group of kids.

I really got to know her better when she participated in the internship at church. I had a girlfriend at the time, so I didn't really see her as girlfriend material. But I thought she was nice (That's not the same as saying she had a really nice personality just in case you were wondering *wink*).

In the fall Andrea decided to go off to college. All of us who had worked with her in the internship were sad to see her go. She had become a valued member of the team and we were certainly going to feel her loss. She and I had become good friends and would stay in touch as she went away to school. During that time I had broken up with my girlfriend. I know you can see where this is going. The stars were beginning to align!

She and I had developed our friendship during her time at school. I think it is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I couldn't really think of her and I in a relationship because of the age difference. The struggle in my heart was beginning.

Over the Christmas Holidays she came home. We hung out. We kissed. Boom! There were fireworks. It was on! But not really.

In her second semester, she developed kidney stones and had to be hospitalized. I happened to be out there on a trip with several of the pastors from our church so we got to see each other. Being the pastoral guy that I am, I made a hospital visit to see her, and spent a good bit of the afternoon there. I had started to look at her in a different light by this time, so it was kind of interesting. I prayed with her and went on my way. But I knew something was a little different.

It wasn't long after that that she decided to withdraw from school because she had gotten so behind in her studies because of the hospital stay. She told me she was coming home, and I decided to do something about it. I asked her dad if I could bring her home from school and he obliged. I wanted to see if there really was something there, and I thought this might do the trick. I picked her up and brought her home and we decided to date. After about a month, I called it off because it didn't feel right to me. Thus continued the struggle in my heart.

The next couple of years were pretty rough. She came on staff in the Youth Department, and wouldn't you know, she was assigned to help me! We continued growing our friendship and did most everything together. Ministry was great, personal life was not. I got into this cycle of wanting to hang out with her, but not wanting people to know that we were hanging out together. You can see the problem here. This went on for about 2 years. To make a long story not quite as long, let's just say I was not fully in touch with my feelings.

In the summer of 1999, we decided to take the Youth Choir on a 3 week mission trip to Europe.  Andrea and I led the team of 50 kids with a hand full of moms, and my 1 lone guy, Rob Stennett. To this day, Rob is my hero! Anyway, it was on that trip that I fell in love with Andrea. She had planned the whole trip, and even had another kidney surgery right before. She came 4 days later than the rest of us, but she came. She was tough. I liked that. I watched her interact with the students, lead prayer meetings, and get us all around Europe. She was amazing. And she was only 21. I thought to myself, "what would she be like at 30?" I liked what I thought the answer was. I was falling in love.

We came home from that trip, and unfortunately, went back to more of the same relational dynamic.  Let's just throw it out there. I was a loser. I couldn't get myself to admit I loved her. It wasn't until I was on another trip to Turkey in the fall that something changed.

I was talking with Andrea who was at home taking care of all the business in the office. I called her on her day off and asked how she was doing.  She said she was going to Denver later with a friend. I named a couple of girlfriends to which she responded "no." She was going with a boy! We hung up and I got really mad. I didn't know why I got really mad, but we all know that I was jealous! I know jealousy is wrong, but in this instance it really helped me out! I was coming to some conclusions about our relationship.

We were in the airport in Athens, Greece getting ready to come home early. All the pastors were talking about how they were surprising their wives.  I said, "I want a wife to surprise."  That led to a conversation where 3 questions were posed to me about Andrea. I answered yes to all 3 questions.  "So, what's the problem?", they said. To which I responded, "Nothing!" We went immediately from the ticket counter to a jewelry store in the terminal where I purchased a diamond ring that I was going to give to Andrea upon my return. I called her from the airplane on one of those gigantic phones and asked her to pick me up at the airport. After some persuasion, she said she would. My course was set. I just had to win her over.

I spent the next 4 days winning her heart because I had kind of lost it with all my indecisiveness. We went out every night and I told her things would be different. And they were. I bought her flowers that she took to work. The card read "I love you and I don't care who knows." She was beginning to believe me. I asked her dad for permission to marry her. He said they had been waiting for me to come around. I guess everybody knew before I did. Why am I always the last one to know?

I got home from Turkey/Greece on a Wednesday. On Saturday, I took her to the park where we had a nice picnic. We went for a walk in the woods, and I knelt down on one knee, took out the ring I had purchased in Greece and asked her to marry me. Freakiest moment of my life. She didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to say. I think we both screamed! It was like an out of body experience. We gathered our stuff and headed to town as the newly engaged couple. We called family and friends and began to spread the news. It started to sink in. And it felt so good.  I knew that Andrea was a great woman, and I didn't want to miss out on a life with her. That thought pushed me over the edge.

We got married 2 and a half months later on New Year's Eve 1999! What a celebration that was. I remember it as one of the best moments of my life. We had so much fun with our family and friends, and were excited about our new life together. We knew it wouldn't always be easy, but we knew we would get to do it together and that made all the difference.

So what's my lesson to be learned here?  I think there are several.  But here's the one I'll land on.  God is merciful to guys who can't make up their minds about marriage and put their potential wives through the ringer. Hey guys, that's not a license! It's an encouragement to figure it out and get your business in order so God can bless it instead of have to have mercy on it! Either way, I'm grateful for my wife, my kids, and the life we have together. I would never have dreamed it this way. But that's why He's God and I'm not.  His dreams for us are always better than the ones we dream for ourselves!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 23~Engagement Story {Her Version} ~ The Right Man is Worth the Wait

Thank you all for your kind words regarding last week's post. I am thankful for each one of you who wrote to encourage me and especially those of you who shared your own stories! We're in this together and there is strength that comes from being honest and open about our struggles.

This week is going to be a bit lighter and fun!

I've mentioned before that Brad and I never officially dated. But I have never told you all the whole story. So here goes, with all the juicy details *wink*...

The first time we ever met was in the summer of 1996. I was an 18-year old, new Christ-follower, and still pretty rough around the edges. Brad was 28 and just off the road. He had been traveling with Truth and had decided to settle down and get a real job (just kidding, Honey!!). He was the new junior high student pastor. We were at a youth meeting and I was showing some of my friends my new belly button piercing. Brad walked by, stuck his face in our circle and said "What's going on over here?". I quickly lowered my shirt and told him to stop staring at my tummy. He had some funny response like "Well, stop showing it to everyone!".

We always got along really well. But I didn't view him as "dating" potential for me. He was, as I said, 10 years older than me. He was the youth pastor and the newest, most-eligible bachelor around our church. There was a lot of buzz when he moved here. I was pretty new to the church myself, but I was around enough to know that people were talking about him. The ladies (and girls) all thought he was cute and great marriage material. The guys all thought he was really cool (although dressed a little too preppy) and everyone knew he was an amazing singer. (I know it sounds like I'm bragging...maybe I am...but it's really true!).

I enrolled in our local university that fall, deciding to stay close to home until I was sure of what I wanted to do with my life. I had a plan early on in my senior year of high school, but then I found the Lord (or really He found me) and it changed everything I had thought about what I wanted to do. I stayed really involved at the church, in the youth group and continued getting to know everyone there better...including Brad.

In January of '97, I decided to take a semester off of school and intern full time at the church. There were 7 of us and they divided us up between the senior high and junior high groups. And yep, I was placed in the junior high group with Brad. We had so much fun, coordinating retreats, special events and summer camp. We all took a road trip to California at the conclusion of our internship and I remember sitting shotgun while Brad drove the 15-passenger van. We talked and laughed and had a lot of fun.

I decided to go to Oklahoma for school that fall. Many of my friends were going and it seemed like it was the best choice for me. My heart was for ministry and it seemed this might be my best route. My friends on staff at the church asked me to stay, but I didn't think it was the best decision. They had fun joking with me about how I would be homesick and calling them everyday. John, the youth pastor, actually bet me that I couldn't go 2 weeks without calling. I took the bet. Later, Brad told me that I could call him instead.

My experience at school was really great. I didn't so much love the school part (I still didn't know what I wanted to study) but I really enjoyed the experience. It was a Christian school and every week at chapel they brought in different preachers and teachers. I was learning so much about the Lord and about His people. God was wooing me, bringing me closer to Him and I would have these amazing encounters with Him. I loved calling or writing Brad and telling him all about it. He was always so encouraging and had really great insight about all that I was experiencing.

I came home from school for a week during fall break. The youth department was having a week of dedicated prayer times in the morning. I was sitting and praying in our youth chapel one morning when Brad passed by in front of me. The Lord spoke to me and told me that Brad was my husband! I was completely shocked! I felt like our relationship had grown to a friendship level--I no longer viewed him as the pastor way older than me, but as a good friend. But I was interested in a guy from school and was actually enjoying getting to know, and date, different guys. I wasn't looking to get into a serious relationship and I never assumed it would be with Brad!

It snowed and snowed that weekend (if you're from Colorado you may remember, or have heard of, the blizzard of '97). We had so much snow that we couldn't open the doors of the church. We had all been up there for a junior high lock-in...and we were literally locked-in! I was supposed to drive back to school that weekend, but obviously couldn't. On Saturday night, I was sitting in the youth offices with John (the youth pastor I mentioned above) and he asked about my "love life". I was open with him and told him I was enjoying dating at school. And then I mentioned Brad. I felt my face flush as I told John about how our relationship had changed. I didn't mention the part about God speaking to me, though. I was a bit nervous that I had made it up. He smiled and nodded as I talked and then told me that he and Brad had talked about me and that Brad had acknowledged the change in our relationship as well. The conversation didn't go much further than that, but I left feeling like maybe I had really heard from the Lord.

A few weeks later when I was back at school, one of my closest friends called and told me that he had overheard Brad and John talking about me and that John told Brad about the conversation we had. I was furious! I was supposed to go home for Thanksgiving and now I couldn't imagine going home and acting like everything was normal. Had I ruined my friendship with Brad? I called John and asked him about it. He was honest and told me it was true. I was so mad...and he actually thought it was funny! He laughed and told me that everything was going to be fine and that they all couldn't wait to see me when I came home. That made me even more mad and even more nervous about seeing Brad.

I didn't call or write Brad after that...I just couldn't imagine facing him. The night before I was supposed to drive home, he called me. He didn't address the "talk" he had had with John. It was pretty short and light and he said he was excited to see me and asked if we could talk when I came home. I told him that would be great and that I was excited to see him too.

We spent a lot of time together during Thanksgiving break. On my last night there, he brought up his conversation with John. He told me that he was interested in me too and that we should just be open to whatever what might happen. His exact words were, "I'm not saying let's date but I'm not saying let's not."

Not confusing at all, right?

We talked a few times on the phone in those weeks after Thanksgiving. When I came home for Christmas break, we saw each other almost every day. We were alone sometimes, but most of the time we were with friends. One night, after we had all been together at a friend's house, he kissed me. Ok, so I'll leave *some* details out but I'll just say that I left that night knowing that this was the man of my dreams and that we would live happily ever after.

And it's true. But it didn't happen right away.

I went back to school and he didn't call for 2 weeks! He tells me now that 2 weeks isn't that long and that I shouldn't have taken it so seriously...but guys let me tell you, waiting 2 weeks to call is never a good thing unless you're trying to communicate that you're "just not that into her"! He apologized and said he had been busy moving into his new house. I told him that was no excuse and that it was lame to not have called. We moved on, but things didn't move at the pace I originally thought they were going to. He was very nonchalant and noncommittal. I started thinking that I had read him all wrong.

He came out to my school a few weeks later with some of the other pastors for a conference. We went for a drive and he told me he wasn't wanting to get into a long-distance relationship and that we should not continue the way we had. This was upsetting for me, but I understood and agreed that we'd stay friends. I was already contemplating a move back home in order to take a position at the church, so we decided that we would just see what happened.

Two days later, while he was still in Oklahoma, I woke up in excruciating pain. My friend rushed me to the hospital where they diagnosed me with a kidney stone. It was so large that I would have to have surgery to have it removed. Brad came to the hospital and stayed with me through that day while they ran tests. We planned for surgery a few days later. Brad's flight home was for the next day. I assured him that I would be fine and we said goodbye.

He called to check in on me and sent flowers after my surgery. He was so sweet and caring as I recovered.

The whole kidney-stone ordeal lasted for about two weeks which resulted in me missing a lot of classes. When I was finally recovered, I had a decision to make. It was going to be very difficult to make up the work, but not impossible. I could work really hard to make up all of the missed school work to finish up the semester or I could withdraw. In light of my wanting to take the church position back home, I decided to withdraw.

Brad called and asked if he could fly out and drive me home. He said he had talked to my parents and wanted to begin officially dating me. Of course I said yes!

The drive home with Brad was so fun. I felt like this was finally it...the happily ever after I was dreaming of.

Not so fast!

Life was so crazy when I got home. The position I was wanting at the church didn't turn out to be right for me. I had just dropped out of school and was living with my parents. It seemed everyone at the church was watching Brad and me, waiting to see what was going to happen. I had random people that I didn't know stopping me to ask about our relationship. I felt like the world was spinning and I couldn't find my direction.

After about a month of craziness, Brad broke things off with me. I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Wasn't he supposed to be my husband? Why weren't things working the way I thought they would?

Although we weren't officially dating, we still saw a lot of each other. We were in the same group of friends and we were all working at the church, even though I was volunteering. I took a job answering phones at a local non-profit and started praying about what my next move might be.

A couple of months later, in the summer of '98, John and Brad offered me a job at the church. I would be an administrator in the youth department, focusing on junior high youth ministry.

The next year was a mix of ups and downs. I really loved my job. I loved the students we were getting to work with. I ran small groups, went to football games, coordinated retreats, ran rehearsals for our youth choir, went to summer camps...it really was my dream job. Anything I could dream up to do with these kids, I could do and it was just so fun. I also really enjoyed working with Brad. We did get along really well. We worked together really well and I just loved being with him. I was completely in love with him and he, and pretty much everyone else, knew it.

We would talk every now and then about "us" and it always came down to him not being sure. To be honest, this was heartbreaking for me. I knew I loved him and wanted to marry him. I knew I had heard from the Lord sitting in that chapel, but he didn't seem to be in on the secret. So, I waited. I cried a lot. I prayed a lot. I had one close friend (hi, Rachel!) that I confided in...although I never told her about God speaking to me. She would always say, "One of these days you'll be done and you'll walk away." I couldn't imagine that being true. I couldn't imagine ever walking away from Brad.

In the summer of '99, we planned a three week trip to Europe with our youth choir. It was my responsibility to plan all of the details of the trip and I loved every minute of it. We ended up with a team of 50 students and 10 leaders with a trip planned for France, England and Germany, one week each.

A few days before we were scheduled to leave, I woke up in the middle of the night with that all-familiar, excruciating pain. My mom took me to the emergency room where Brad met us. The doctor confirmed that it was another kidney stone and I would need surgery.

We were supposed to leave for Europe in less than a week! I was so upset. I couldn't imagine missing this trip--after I had spent so much time praying and planning for it. We arranged the surgery date, the after-care and then changed my flight so that I would meet the team 4 days late.

Although I was not fully recovered, I took some pain pills with me and met our team in Paris, France. The whole trip was wonderful. We had such a great team and it was so fun watching these young students minister with such boldness. We also saw so many great sights in Europe. I remember standing on the Eiffel Tower with our group. It was a breathtaking view and I couldn't help but imagine what it might be like if I was there alone with Brad.

That three week stretch was the longest Brad and I went without spending time alone or talking about the "us" issue. He was completely focused on the team and the ministry of the trip. I admired that and grew a new level of respect for him during that time. He led with such authority and confidence. Because we weren't spending any "personal" time together, I had the chance to view him from afar and see how amazing he really is. I had known this all along, but the emotions of our relationship had muddied my opinion of him. If absence really does make the heart grow fonder, this was the perfect example.

We came home from that trip different. I didn't understand it, but somehow we had matured in how we related to each other. I sensed a new, although different kind of, closeness with him.

He asked me out to dinner one night a month or so later and I accepted. Although we hadn't addressed it specifically, we began spending more time together and to me, it felt like we were dating.

In late September, we were on our way to a movie when I got up my nerve to bring it up. I just had to know what he was thinking and how he was feeling. I told him I felt confused because we would go out and have a great time together and he would treat me like we were dating. Then we would go into work the next day and he would treat me like it had never happened. He pulled into the movie parking lot and we talked for a while. It was the same kind of conversation...him being unsure. Finally he said, "I really like you. I just don't know that I'm in love with you."

That was it for me. The moment that my friend Rachel had always told me about finally came. I didn't cry. I wasn't emotional. I plainly said, "Well, if you don't know that by now, you never will. I need this to be done now."

Crazily enough, we still went in and saw our movie that night. I don't remember much of it. I just remember feeling like this was the end and that things would be different from that point on. He was due to leave on a trip overseas with some of the other pastors in a week, so I figured that would give me some time to process and decide what I was going to do.

The night before he left for his trip, he called and asked if I would come over while he packed. I told him no. After I hung up, I regretted saying no. While I felt I needed to be clear about my intentions, I also couldn't bear the thought of him traveling overseas without knowing that I cared about him. I went over to his house, said goodbye, told him to have a great trip and that I would take care of everything on the ministry side while he was gone.

While he was gone, I began researching ways to leave. I considered moving to California where my grandparents lived. I considered going back to school. I felt I needed to move on. I needed to get away where my heart could heal. When one of my friends asked me out on a date, I said yes. Even though I didn't want to date anyone else, I was feeling an urgency to move on. I had obviously misunderstood, or made up, what God had told me in that chapel. It was over.

What's funny is that my friend and I went out to dinner and both proceeded to talk about the people we were in love with. He was pining over another girl and everyone knew I was in love with Brad. What was supposed to be a date ended up being a time of commiserating. It's funny to think now of how I thought going out with someone else would mend my heart. However, he invited me to attend a concert with him the next Monday and I said yes.

On Monday, as I was getting ready, my phone rang. It was Brad calling me from Greece! He was all business, asking about church stuff. I played along and gave him the report. Then, he asked me what I was doing that night. I told him I was going to a concert. He asked if I was going with Rachel and I simply said, um, no. He understood from my tone what I meant and he quickly said goodbye and hung up. The way he hung up made me sad, but I quickly put it out of my mind.

That Wednesday morning, I woke to the sound of my phone ringing. It was Brad. He said he was calling from the plane (Do you remember those pop-out phones that used to be on the back of airplane seats? No one ever used them because they were so expensive! Yes, that's the phone he was calling me from.). He said they were flying home early and that he would like me to pick him up from the airport. I said no. He asked again, please would I just come? He had some things to tell me.

Standing in that airport was so awkward. There I was, the secretary...standing there with the pastors wives who were awaiting their husbands. I smiled shyly and told them I was just giving Brad a ride home.

When we got to Brad's house, he began to unpack. He took out a Greek goddess statuette and said she represented beauty. He told me that she reminded him of me and that he had thought of me every moment of the trip. He said he couldn't enjoy any of the sights or events because he wanted me there with him. He told me he realized that he loved me.

I was so shocked. And nervous. I was nervous to put myself out there again. How did I know he wouldn't change his mind? I thought it might be easy for him to say these things while we were alone at his house, but what would he say when we were at work? Was this just emotion from being gone, or did he really mean it? I thanked him for the gift and then I left, without saying much else.

He called the next day and asked if he could take me to dinner. That night he expressed his feeling again. And I told him how I felt. I just didn't feel like I could believe him. He had been so wishy washy before. How could I trust him? He asked me to let him prove it. I agreed. That sounded kind of fun! Before he left that night, he told me again that he loved me. I somehow stammered the words out--in total unbelief that this was actually happening. Could it be that this man that I loved so deeply really did love me back?

The next morning when I walked out my door to go to work, I found flowers on my doorstep. The note attached said, "I love you and I don't care who knows." I called him and thanked him--and then threatened to take them into work for everyone to see. He told me that I should do that. He really was proving himself.

That next morning, Saturday, we went to a friend's house to celebrate the adoption of their daughter. Brad asked if he could take me out afterward.

He took me to a park and we enjoyed a picnic lunch together. We went for a walk in the woods, walked barefoot in the stream and held hands. Was this what dating Brad was really like? I was so incredibly happy.

As we were on our way back from our walk in the woods, Brad knelt down and asked me to marry him. It was as if the world stopped spinning. I was so in shock that I don't remember anything he said and I couldn't say a word. When he showed me the ring, he told me that he had bought it in Greece. I wish I could tell you that it was so romantic--and it was--but I was so overwhelmed at the events of the past few days that I could hardly respond. I don't think I even officially said yes!

By that evening, after we had shared the news with friends and family, we settled into what we were doing. We decided to get married quickly--on December 31st, 1999.

I love our story. It's not perfect. It wasn't then and our first year of marriage was pretty rough as I recovered from the inconsistency of our courtship. It took me a while to accept the fact that he loves me and wants to be married to me. It's still not perfect. We have our disagreements and rough patches. But we made a decision to love each other and that decision, and our love for the Lord, keeps us committed through the hard times. I have always loved Brad. And even as I write this story, I see how his heart was always set on me as well...even though he didn't always know it *wink*

During our first premarital counseling appointment, I told Brad what God had spoken to me two years earlier. He was so shocked and surprised! And he told me how grateful he was that I had never told him that before he made the decision on his own.

I am so thankful for him. He is such a gift. He is perfect for me and was well worth the wait!

Make sure you come back on Wednesday to hear {His Version}!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 22~We're Meant to Walk in the Light

I was in the school library with my 6th grade class when the images came flooding back. The informational video about "how babies are made" presented images and content that seemed all too familiar. I ran out of the school library and down the stairs to the school counselor's office.

That day was the day that everything changed. My naivety about the world was gone. The next 3 years were full of turmoil and hurt. Tears and anger. It culminated in a moment...sitting on my kitchen floor eating pill after pill...trying to swallow down the pain.

After a year of therapy, I came to understand a bit of how our amazing God-created minds work...how we can unintentionally suppress hurtful events...in order to survive. My little 6-year old mind couldn't comprehend what was happening. So it pretended it never happened. Then the images shown in that library brought all the memories to the surface.

I did the work of recovery. I dug deep, searching for...wanting...healing. Looking back, it seems I only pushed it all down again. Until several years later when I met the true Healer.

My salvation experience was so radical, so life changing. It never occurred to me that there was more work to do with the memory of that 6-year old girl, abused and tattered.

It was just last year that it all came flooding back again. The emotions of it...the pain of it all...was suffocating. I found myself questioning who I was. What I say I'm about. Who and what I live my life for. Could I really claim to be a Christ-follower, covered by the blood of Jesus, when I had never talked to HIM about those dark days? Could I be a good wife...a LOVING wife...still carrying around the damaged body of the past? Could I really speak to others about FREEDOM if I was only ignoring those parts of me that weren't truly free? Had I been lying all these years...pretending to be someone I'm not? Am I a hypocrite? A white-washed tomb...full of death and decay deep inside?

I had this overwhelming desire to tell it all...to tell all the dark details..."Someone has to know...I need to confess it all"...But to who? Who would want to know these things? These things that I haven't talked about in over 20 years? Should I tell Brad? Would he ever be able to look at me the same? What if it turns out that I am still that frightened little girl and not this woman that he thinks he's married to?

I was then reminded of how gentle our God is...how He knows me better than I know myself and that if now was the time to address these issues then He knew I was ready. And that He would walk every step with me.

I talked to a good friend. I told her of how I felt this need to confess it all...to get it all out in the open. She challenged me to pray more about that. Why bring the innocent (namely, Brad) into an issue that is years old? Of course, he would walk through the pain with me (he already was), but did he need to know every detail? Was God asking me to take Brad into the depths of that pain? There are some things that just have to be worked out between us and the Lord...and did I really trust that God would be my Healer? Or was I looking to Brad to provide in a way that only my Creator could?

I will always remember the night that God told me to tell Him everything. It was dark in the room...we were having one of our "choir rehearsals" that seemed to more and more often be turning into nights of worshiping rather than rehearsing. It seemed everyone in the room was in their own space with God. No one was looking at me. I went to one of the dark corners of our rehearsal room and I knelt down with my face in my hands.

And I told Him everything. Everything I could remember. All the different times of those hands inflicting pain. All the emotions that came with the remembering. All the shame. All the doubt of who I am now. All the questions of how that little girl and the now-woman can co-exist.

And HIS response: "I KNOW."

See...He was there. His relationship with me goes way back, way back before my relationship with Him started. He knew me before I ever even knew He existed. He has known me all along...and He has ALWAYS been there. Even in the dark and disgusting.

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew and approved of you, 
and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you."
~Jeremiah 1:5, AMP

Wow. Does that actually say "approved of you"? He approved of me...before, then, during, after, now...always. In an instant, all of those dark times were brought to light. And I was free. Free from shame and guilt. What happened then was then and I am who I say I am now...a daughter of the highest, biggest God there is. Set apart...set FREE.

There are so many questions that come up with these topics...these hard topics of 'why do bad things happen to good people', 'why does God let these things happen'...And I don't know all the answers. But here is how I've found peace:

We live in a fallen world full of fallen people. We are not God's puppets. He has given us free will. He wants us to CHOOSE Him and His ways. But when we don't, He's doesn't force us. This means that people will choose to do horrible things and yes, sometimes (okay, always) it affects others. And sometimes those "others" are "us". This is not heaven and we can't expect perfection until we get there.

God has a plan to use all of the hurt to help others. I experienced this trauma. I survived it. I not only survived, but I am thriving and living a wonderful life with a wonderful husband and wonderful children. I am living life to the full...excited and happy and free to live. And when 1 out of every 3 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys (source) will deal with this kind of pain, how can I stay silent? How can I pretend it only happens to others? I will not be silent! I will speak out so that YOU know that recovery and healing is possible. So that you can be aware that it happens all around us. So that you can do your part to protect the children around you.

Okay, and here's the hard one to swallow...

God loves the bad guys. He loves that person JUST as much as He loves me. This doesn't mean that He approves. He is just as disgusted by these actions as you and I. But His LOVE in unconditional and always there, available to ALL. Does this mean that I spend hours praying for the person who caused me so much pain? To be honest, no I don't. I have surrendered it to Him. He is a just God and a much better judge than I could ever claim to be. Judging is not my job. Living in freedom and worship and sharing my story of healing is my job. And I'm not going to waste any more time thinking about the dark days of the past...except when it can be used to bring freedom to others.

I am still that little girl. My past is mine. It is His. It did happen. Those memories do exist. And I am stronger because of it. I am a survivor, a conqueror. I claim the freedom that Christ died for all those years ago.

"They defeated him (the enemy and all his schemes)
through the blood of the Lamb
    and the bold word of their witness."
~Rev. 12:11 MSG, extras added by me

Yes, my bold witness. It's still really hard to share this, and I've never shared it publicly before. But if even one of you reading this will relate and find joy and freedom, it is all worth it. If you are struggling with this, please talk to someone. If you don't have anyone, click that little envelope over there and send me an email. I would love to be a listening ear and pray for you. He has not called us to walk in darkness, but in light. And not alone, but together. Don't tell yourself that you don't deserve this freedom or that it was your fault. Because you do and it wasn't. Don't settle for anything less than His absolute best for you!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 21~We Are Family

Brad and I have been at New Life Church for 16 years. We met here, got married here and have grown our family here. We've been involved in youth ministry and worship ministry. We've done premarital, parental and marriage counseling. Brad has performed weddings, funerals, vow renewal ceremonies, baptisms and baby dedications.

This is pretty typical for pastors. These responsibilities come with the job. What I feel is unique about our situation is how long we've participated in these things with the same people and the same church. For 16 years.

I know that many pastors have stayed in the same place longer than us and most of those people will agree with my words:

It's so worth it to stay around.

We are part of a healthy church. It is not perfect. People make mistakes and disagree. People are hurtful at times. And those things are to be expected. We are all people, after all. We have had times when we've wanted to leave. When the pressure or the work load or the dealing with people becomes so challenging that we want to run away. The call is high and the battle is strong and it is everyday life.

And we did leave once. We knew God was calling us away and although it was hard, we had peace and knew we were doing what God was telling us to do. And then He called us back 18 months later.

And you know what I missed the most during those 18 months? WHO I missed the most? The normal, everyday people that I see every Sunday. The people who have known me for years. The people who have watched me grow. The people that I've seen grow. I missed walking into church and seeing people's faces...and behind those faces knowing the stories of their lives. Stories that I know because I've known them for years. I've seen them struggle and overcome. I've hugged them and prayed with them in times of grief. I've laughed and rejoiced with them in times of triumph.

A few weeks ago, Brad and I prayed over a couple as they were dedicating their second child. This is always such a privilege, but what made it extra special was that the dad was in our youth group and youth choir years ago. We watched him grow and then go out to travel the world and tell people about Jesus. Then we watched as he got married and is now having children. It feels like a little wink from the Lord when we see a bit of fruit from our youth days. Not to say that we made him into who he is--he has an incredible family and has had many other wonderful influences, but I love that we've participated and had the chance to witness his life.

We've had amazing transformations happen at our church. One that comes to mind is a woman in our choir. She came to our church 4 years ago, distraught and hurting. She didn't know the Lord very well, even though she had been a "Christ follower" for many years. The disappointment of fallen hopes and dreams had left her jaded. She joined our choir and got connected with other believers who have supported her and prayed for her. She used to come to rehearsal and cry the whole time. As we've seen her grow, she is now ministering to others. Now when she cries it's because she is so overwhelmed by the miracles God has done in her and in her life. She is now in training to become a pastor and counselor herself!

The only way I know these stories is because I've been here. I've been here when it's hard and I've been here when it's great. We spent that short time away and we loved those people too, but there is something about longevity that cannot be replaced. God has knit our hearts with the people of New Life Church. They are our family. In good times and in bad.

We've had an amazing year of miracles at our church. Yesterday was one of the really, really good days. We had lines of people getting baptized and our children's choir and worship team joined our adult choir and worship team to lead worship.

In the middle of the worship time, I caught eyes with one of my dearest friends. We both smiled, knowing that we were experiencing a miracle. There are so many reasons why yesterday shouldn't have happened. The fact that our church is still a church, and a thriving one at that, is a miracle in itself. But what goes beyond that is looking into the eyes of a friend and being able to smile in the midst of the challenges that face her. Knowing that there is a plan for good for her life and a plan for destruction (as there is for every one of us) and knowing that she is choosing life and freedom. Even when it's hard. And knowing that I will walk every step with her because I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.

I can't say we'll be here forever. Only the Lord knows that and we would leave again if He told us to. But for now, we know we're where we're supposed to be. Getting to witness changed lives and growing families and triumphs and trials is what makes it so rich and rewarding.

We are family.

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.