Motherhood... the ups, the downs, the flowers and mud puddles. It's a long and treacherous journey... short bouts of waltzing and twirling down this path... but mostly just putting one foot in front of the other or dramatically crawling towards the finish line when necessary.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"It has been said that the hardest job in the world is raising a child, but the people who say this have probably never worked at a comb factory or captured pirates on the high seas." 

~Lemony Snicket
(Horseradish, Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid)

This author of one of my favorite 'book of quotes' (as well as, The Series of Unfortunate Events) deserves much praise for capturing the inconvenient truths of life in the most humorously morbid way... and I usually agree with his melancholy statements. Until now...

Now it's my turn to relay the harsh truths of reality with a few quotes of my own...

"Motherhood... makes capturing pirates on the high seas, look like a Disney-themed vacation... and working at a comb factory like a relaxing, mental-health therapy session."

~Jessica Rockey
(Publish-pending future best-selling author) ... 'publish pending', meaning... as soon as I have time to eat a few calories so I don't pass out and die... then use the bathroom... then throw another load of laundry in... then fix kids lunch... only to realize we're out of all reasonable things to feed them... quickly place an 'emergency' online grocery order so we'll have something to eat tonight... then order pizza for the kids to eat for lunch, because, apparently they haven't acclimated to living off of spoonfuls of peanut butter like their mother has... I digress.

OK... now I'm sitting down to write... because I enjoy writing... and because my business-mentor and friend Erik Wilt (shout-out!) is making me. Well... not making me, but 'encouraging me'... and holding me accountable to sitting down and writing for an hour this week. So when did doing something enjoyable 'for myself' become such hard work??? Well, for me, it happened on an unusually cool day in the spring of 2009... I became a mom.
... and again in 2011... and 2012... and yet again in 2015.

So, here I sit... on an unmade bed that smells like old goat cheese since the baby spit up on it yesterday . I'm paying a babysitter to manage my gloriously unruly children for 5 hours, so that I can spend at least an hour of it trying to get a fussy baby to nap... before sitting down to 'enjoy myself'.

I am not complaining, mind you. Being a wife and mom... and staying home with my kids is exactly what I wanted and chose to do... and I feel privileged to be able to spend my days loving on the dear souls that mean more to me than anything else in the world. But... seriously... this is hard work. HARD WORK.

Capturing pirates on the high seas seems like quite the advantage. Open water... equipped with nets and candy lures (or whatever one catches a pirate with)... and focused completely on the task at hand... 'catch pirates'. Simple. Of course, there's a bit of sweat and risk involved... but 'tis true of most things worth accomplishing in this life.

Now... let's change the scene a bit. My living room, for example. Catching pirates and getting them to say 'yes ma'am' and brush their teeth and stop saying potty words... while you have a baby pirate chewing on your nipple... and a mine field of Lego's underfoot, all on just a few hours of interrupted sleep... and now you've got yourself a job. Well, not a job... more like a chaotic, philanthropic,  non-profit charitable organization of some sort.

I imagine that on the high seas... if you're good at your job... then eventually, you capture the pirates, prop your feet up and drink the remaining rum. Again... very relaxing. But my days seem to be mostly spent trying to locate, capture and domesticate said pirates... and when the day is done... sleeping with one eye open since there's always one that escapes the holding cell and makes their way to my bed... where they proceed to pee on my sheets and kick me in the stomach. Not complaining, of course... it's just the harsh reality of dealing with pirates.

... and so... oh gosh... my hour is up! Unfortunately... I've spent my last, precious few minutes ferociously swatting at an antagonizing mosquito that turned out to be a rogue fuzz from a furry blanket.  I will have to finish my thoughts at another time... but will post this unfinished work of art in attempt to become less of a perfectionist... and more of a 'seize the opportunity' kind of mom.

No meaningful, thought-provoking wrap-up... which, I'm sure , my fellow pirate-wranglers can understand...

... until next time!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Starry Night...

As I was putting Evangeline down for a nap today... I gave her a big kiss and told her something I say to her often. "I've loved you the longest!" ...of course, she gets this because she is the oldest... but it's still our secret and we try not to advertise this to the other two.

Today... her response was a bit different. "Momma... really what baby am I?" ... I knew exactly what she meant...

She's seen the pacifiers that we hang on our tree each Christmas. She walks past the empty picture frames I have hanging in our hallway... and she even remembers my last two miscarriages.

So I told her... "Actually, Doodle, you're my second baby."

She's been a bit obsessed, lately, with this babies we've lost. I'm sure because she can understand the excitement and anticipation of our little girl, due in November. She can see and feel her little sister growing inside of me... and she knows she would miss this baby if it weren't in our lives.

What she doesn't know is the tremendous sadness and uncertainty that her dad and I faced exactly 7 years ago today. (July 24th, 2008)

Seven years ago... David and I had already announced the due date of our first little one. We had surprised each family member with a pacifier... and everyone was eagerly awaiting meeting little baby Rockey.
I was 11 weeks pregnant and David and I sat in the waiting room anticipating our first ultrasound. We were so excited... and never anticipated the nurse's response as she searched for a heartbeat. As I lay there on the ultrasound table, the excitement turned into confusion... and eventually the confusion turned to sadness. There was a baby... but no heartbeat. Just silence... that long, awful silence. She searched for a while, then asked me to change as she talked to David. She showed gave us a picture of our sweet baby... then, prepared me for a blood test... and tried to give me an idea of what would come in the following days or weeks.

We drove home in that same, awful silence that permeated the ultrasound room. Our hopes and plans for the next 9 months(and life in general) had changed in a moment. My thoughts wandered to the future... would I ever be able to have children? What would a miscarriage feel like? Would I know when it was happening? Obviously, these questions are almost humorous in hindsight... now that my house is full of children, but they overwhelmed me at the time.

We had friends over for dinner that evening... and they shared their exciting news with us... they were pregnant! Ugh... I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Really God? This seems ironically cruel. Of course, we were thrilled for them... but the timing was heartbreaking.
I think of the confusion and pain that was almost overwhelming on that day. I believe in a God who is all-sovereign, all-powerful... and all-knowing. I believe this God is loving and knows me personally. I believe that he created me in my mother's womb and 'ordained each of my days before one of them came to be' (Psalm 139). I guess usually these verses in the Bible seem to encourage the normal christian. But for me... it made me question this all-powerful God like never before. And as a passionate person... My love for God has quickly turned to hate on a few occasions... especially this one.  Why would God 'allow' this life to begin? 'Allow' the excitement and anticipation to grow... only to snatch it away? If he knit me together in my mother's womb... why didn't he do a better job with the precious life that I would soon be forced to flush down the toilet?

A few days later... I naturally miscarried our first baby. Which... if you've read any of my previous posts on the topic... was traumatic, horrible and heart wrenching. But I don't want to focus on that today...
Today... I feel like the Lord has helped me to take a few steps back and view our story over the past 7 years  the way He sees it. As a masterpiece.

As an artist ( broadly speaking)... I have always been drawn to the impressionist's. Seemingly meaningless strokes of a brush, random colors ... if you're looking up close. But just take a few steps back. Glance at the random colors and brush strokes from afar... and you see the painting as the artist intended.. as a MASTERPIECE. The artist knew what he was creating all along.
At this point in my life, however, I must admit I was not a fan of this 'Artist' who was painting my story. These drab and heavy colors were overwhelming the palette I had anticipated to paint my life with. I didn't understand these chaotic brushstrokes and random colors... not at all what I had imagined for my life.

Just a short while later... we found out that we were expecting again. The fear was stronger than the excitement. No fun announcements were made... I was just anxiously awaiting that first ultrasound... and a heartbeat.

Hate for God and fear for my baby finally gave way as the months passed and I finally met my darling Evangeline. I remember missing my first 'lost' baby... while holding my beautiful firstborn daughter. What a strange feeling. Realistically speaking, had we not lost our first baby... the world would've never known this brilliant personality and strong-spirited soul all wrapped up in my little Evangeline. I can't imagine life without my 'doodle'. The strokes are still chaotic and mysterious... but the colors seem to be warming up.

By Evangeline's first birthday... we had another bundle of joy on the way! I was definitely nervous... but allowed myself to be excited, and soon enough... we had a baby brother! A pensive and colicky little thing... he was attached to my hip. Oh, dear Elliot... he and I had quite the strong bond from the beginning... since he never slept and needed his mama all the time.

Time marched on. Many blessing were heaped into my life... which meant, naturally, that God and I were on better terms. My human heart accepts blessings without question. I'm pretty sure the brushstrokes in my life still seemed chaotic... but the colors were glorious.

At this point in our lives, David and I knew a few friends who had just gone through the unthinkable tragedy of losing a baby at full term (stillbirth)... and we also had a scare when Elliot was born not breathing. We knew that we wanted more children... and were acutely aware that anyone thinking that they were in control of perfectly planning their own family was grossly mistaken. The illusion of control is just that... an illusion. No one plans on a miscarriage or a stillbirth. No one plans on a cancer diagnosis, a disabled child or a fatal car accident. If your life or family planning has gone the way you 'planned' or hoped (4 kids evenly spaced by the time I'm 30) ... then you are simply blessed. You are not in control. I don't say that to be mean... I say that to help lift the burden off your shoulders... because if you think you are in such control of your life... you must be carrying a very heavy burden... a burden not meant for any of us to carry. The heavy weight of perfectionism and the illusion of controlling one's life are heavy loads to carry. Quite exhausting, I imagine. And I promise you... eventually, something in your life will brake the mold... and it will send you reeling in anxiety and despair if you somehow think that the only one holding the paintbrush is you.

These days... I like to imagine myself picking up the paintbrush and helping this 'Great Artist' paint the story of my life... because he loves me and wants me to join in and create something beautiful... but I've realized that to 'white-knuckle' this brush from the 'Artist' would only be foolish... and so I've learned to relinquish my control and learn to trust. Trust that he sees my story from an eternal perspective. Trust that the one who created me and ordained my days, has a brilliant design for the reasons behind his creation.

There was a sense of freedom that came from knowing that I was not in control... and that life and death were not in my hands. That our children are a gift from God whether we had our 'acts together' or not.

Which brings me to September 2011. I found out I was pregnant again when Elliot was just 7 months old. I was overwhelmed at the thought of '3 under 3'... but was so excited. I had had two healthy, consecutive pregnancies ... and the thought of another miscarriage was far from my mind. I kept the secret all to myself for a week as I nursed Elliot twice a night... and took the time to take pictures of him in a 'big brother' onesie and wait for the photo book to come in the mail in time to surprise David on our anniversary. Of course he was thrilled... and we chuckled at the fact that there was once a day that I ever worried about being able to have children.
Our plates were full... in the best kind of way.

We announced our new addition to our family... which if you've had three kids, you know this is the time the excitement dies down... and the concern amps up. "Oh... was this a surprise?!" ... "You know how that happens..." well meaning observers would comment.
The only thing more intriguing then announcing a third pregnancy in this day and age... is announcing the fourth. This immediately sends friends and family into 'intervention mode'. Wide eyes and blank smiles... 'oh... wow?!' ... followed by apologies of how they initially responded... followed by inquireries of future family plans. "So... are you done? "
... I'll choose to leave you all hanging on that one.

Anyway... about a week after our announcement, the unmistakable and unexpected pain of a second miscarriage was my new reality. These dreary colors, that I though I was rid of, were once again permeating my world. Isolated grief and sadness that only a mother can feel. This time... the confusion and questioning was less. I had walked through this before and knew that the backdrop of darkness in my life made the beautiful colors more brilliant in comparison. I knew that God had beautiful things for me in the midst of pain. I trusted that He was painting something beautiful... but none of these things take away the deep sadness. The reality of remembering when I was in my first trimester with Evangeline and Elliot... and knowing that there was a beautiful life inside of me that I would never get to hold.

Several months later... our sweet Mary Adeline was on her way! I imagined the colors a little more pastel with the arrival of another girl ... but the bold colors seemed to explode on the canvas of our life. Joy unspeakable... hysterical chaos... three sweet blessings that made me want to shout from the rooftops and pull my hair out at the same time. Had I been in complete control of my story, my children would've slept better, obeyed quicker and the girls would've kept bows in their perfectly combed hair. What the heck... If I were in control, I'd go ahead and make myself a few inches taller with high arches and a less 'sturdy' midsection... but that's not the point. Let's stay on track...

But what I could never have created on my own was unfolding before me... the sweet bonding and quiet moments that only happen in the darkest hours of the night. The redemption of the imperfect. The beauty of unkept curls falling over a yogurt covered cherub face... I would've never thought of that! My own paintbrush would have stayed in perfectly placed lines. And if I was still grasping too tightly for control... I would've missed cherishing that sweet face, all the while... searching for that god-forsaken bow!

Somehow the pain in my life was turning into trust. The striving turned to ease. The chaos turning to beauty.

Over a year later... December 2013... at 13 weeks pregnant... we lost another sweet baby. I'm not sure why... but this was the worst of me. The physical and emotional labor and delivery... that culminates with empty arms. Nothing but a small gold box buried deep in the earth. Another pacifier on our Christmas tree... another empty frame on our wall. Perhaps this loss was harder for me because we didn't have another bundle on joy on the way anytime soon after. Or maybe because I thought I had 'paid my dues' and didn't deserve this unfair treatment. Either way... the baby's due date 'July 3rd', came and went. The year anniversary of the miscarriage came and went. There was no joy of a new life to saturate the sadness... and no 'mystery' of 'well, I wouldn't have this child if we hadn't lost that child'. It was complete loss and sadness. We would've had a little one year old this summer...

February 2015... On a cold and dreary Valentine's day, the weekend we were supposed to be moving into our new home, I miscarried our fourth baby. No words...

And we are, with another sweet little girl on the way. Eight pregnancies in seven years. Three beautiful children to hold and love... four to love and miss... and one on the way. I'm tempted to relax and assume that everything will be fine since we've heard that beautiful beat of her heart. But I've learned enough in my 34 years on this earth to realize that resting on the hope of something as fleeting as a heartbeat is not where my trust should lie. Christ is my solid rock. I can fall through all the layers of trust this world alludes me with... and the quicker the better... because I know that placing my feet on that rock is the only true security.

All of our dark skies and chaotic brushstrokes look different. Chronic pain, multiple surgeries, miscarriages, infertility, broken relationships, losing a child or a loved one, a difficult marriage... so  I've learned that it's best not to compare. Comparing one masterpiece to another seems rather senseless to me. Each are beautiful in their own, unique way. Each take different amounts of time to complete. Each telling it's own story.

The idea that time heals pain is quite unrealistic. But it does take time for the paint to dry... and time for my hardened heart to soften. It's taken me time to slowly let the ashen colors and chaotic brushstrokes of each miscarriage, sleepless night and pain infused day, to soak into the canvas. And it's taken time for me to start backing away from those moments in my life. I thought I would lose something special as I backed away from these moments. Afraid that somehow backing away from them meant I didn't care anymore. But it's turned out that backing away from my darkest moments has opened up a whole new perspective. The darkest strokes in my painting are the ones that deepen my perspective and cause the stars to shine brighter.

I used to view the sky as a dark and dreary canvas... with, perhaps a few, beautiful stars gracing the sky occasionally. But, as I grow in love and trust of the 'Great Artist'... the God of the universe who created me and loves me, a Father who loved his creation enough to send his son into a dark world to rescue us and redeem the broken and shattered pieces of this life... my view has been turned inside out.

The reality of the sky has become the glorious and bright colors of heaven. The darkness... simply the drab and dreary canvas of this broken world. The shattered dreams and missing pieces of this life tear away the dark facade of this earthly sky only to reveal eternal beauty beyond what we can imagine. Why would I ever want to paint my own fading stars on the canvas of this life with the illusions of control and my idea of perfection?

The more of this earthly canvas that is ripped away... the better I can see eternity... and the more glorious it becomes.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

If these walls could speak...

It's Valentine's weekend... February 2015. We're in the middle of moving... something I hadn't planned on, or dared to even dream of at this point in our lives'.... yet here we are. An answered prayer that I never even uttered. Just a deep desire in my heart to have a little more space... but most of all, a home to settle into and dig our roots in deep. A place that my children would remember as they look back on their childhood... and still be able to come home to as adults. We've found that place... or rather, it was literally handed to us out of nowhere. "So... you want to buy my house?" a friend asked David one day at work... "Umm... maybe..." David responded, .... and the rest is history.

As grateful and excited as I am for this beautiful place we will now call home... I am sad and torn to leave our Providence Road house. In just a few days these walls around me will be a distant memory. I try to grasp on to these fleeting moments, my white knuckles giving way... and I look around and study the stains on the walls and gouges in the wooden floors that tell our story. A beautiful story... one with jagged edges and exquisite mountaintops. A story of Providence.

As I walk through this sweet sanctuary on Providence Road... I get lost in a world where the walls around me would narrate my story... and, naturally, there would be a gloriously melancholic soundtrack. 

If these walls could speak... 

They would take me back to 1983 and introduce me to a young quiet boy with two fingers in his mouth and beautiful blue eyes. The youngest of 5 children that dealt with life by drifting with the tide and fading into the background of a busy household.

They would remind me to be patient with this boy, who would grow up quickly as he learned to fend for himself and work unbelievably hard.

These walls would chuckle at the young 26 year old girl coming back from her honeymoon to realize that, in all her efforts to choreograph the perfect entrance for the 20 flower girls in her wedding... she forgot to get the house in any livable condition. This girl would cry herself to sleep that first night... with no furniture in the room or curtains in the windows... but boy... that wedding was totally worth it.

These walls would ask me to 'please, for heaven's sake', stop throwing mugs of coffee at them. They did nothing to deserve such an outburst of anger... and that there has to be a better way to get through to my new (and frightened) husband. And truth be known... if I had taken the time to listen, I'm sure I would've heard them gently suggesting a strong antidepressant and therapist.

These walls would've told me to stop frantically looking for those pills. That my husband hid them because he loves me. They would tell me that the slow and agonizing detox would be worth it. That living life without drugs would be possible and, not just possible, but glorious. They would tell me that feeling pain is ok... because all of the wonderful blessings of life without meds makes the pain bearable. 

These walls would cry with us as we lost our first baby. They would gently remind  young, brokenhearted parents that we would soon have a house full of little ones. 

They would tell a young and exhausted mom to 'sleep when the baby sleeps'... and that crawling around on the floor pretending to be a puppy with Evangeline is totally worth the bruised knees and aching back.

They would softly hum with me throughout the night as I sang to my colicky little boy. They would remind me to hold Elliot tight and cherish these midnight moments, because in the blink of an eye... he'd be 4 years old and calling me 'mom'.

These walls would laugh as they'd recount a frantic mom's first day at home with 3 kids. One pitching a hellacious fit... one smearing poop all over his crib... and a newborn crying to be fed. I dare say my sensitive and caring walls would even give me a pat on the back for throwing the kids in the tub and nursing Adeline while sitting on the dirty bathroom floor without a fowl word or tear... It's either laugh or cry... and by baby #3, you definitely learn to laugh a lot quicker!

These walls would remind me that God is faithful. He has been faithful to my mother-in-law, raising five kids in this house while going to school. He has been faithful to my dear sister-in-law who was once a young mother, raising three little ones here after being diagnosed with cancer. He is faithful. Providence Road has been a milestone for me as I learn to rely on his faithfulness.

These walls would remind me of our 6th wedding anniversary. The one that David spent at home caring for two sick kids while I was stuck in traffic, on my way home from Philly, with a screaming newborn. That was the only anniversary that we've ever been apart... but it was all better as I walked into a clean house with a freshly mopped floor. The idea of romance definitely changes throughout the years.

These walls have witnessed the loss of a second baby. A tearful mother sobbing on the bathroom floor. These walls would remind me not to cry for our third little one buried under the tree outside our window. Our sweet baby isn't really there... we will see him again.

These walls are sending me along to our next haven with beautiful pictures that I will always have. Pictures of three babies and a Millie Precious Darlin' waiting in the front window as I pull into the driveway. A picture of smudgy handprints that I eventually stopped trying to wipe away. Pictures of baby powder tornados leaving paths of destruction from room to room. Pictures of friends, desperate for fellowship (like myself) ...bringing their babies for morning playdates. Pictures of family nights and holidays... birthday parties and cousin sleepovers. 

These hallowed hallways continue to echo the love and laughter that has made it's home in my heart over the past eight years... and after two weeks of getting around to actually posting this... I can say with confidence that you don't leave the memories behind... something I was so afraid of... you bring them with you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Broken Ballerina

Written October 31, 2014

It's been 17 years... and that's a really long time when you're only 34. Half of my life. I've always been a 'date person'... It seems that birthdays and anniversaries are permanently etched in my mind... even the bad ones.
It was Halloween 1997... I was a 17 year old ballerina. I say 'ballerina' so boldly because that was all I wanted to do... all I COULD do. "Wouldn't you just love to teach someday?!" someone would ask me occasionally...  "Umm... NO!" ...was my immediate thought. "That's what 'broken ballerinas' do... you know... when they're old... and can't dance anymore." Of course, as a timid 17 year old, I would never say that... I would just passively smile instead.
But I truly and deeply LOVED the art of ballet. I was not a natural performer... but I could literally take hours of classes a day. Hours... the bloodier the inside of my point shoes... the better.

Well... that Halloween day changed everything for me. That was the day that my back 'went out'. At first I wasn't too worried... because, "I'm a young, healthy ballerina, of course". My biggest worry was missing a few rehearsals for our upcoming Christmas performance.

However, weeks and months of chiropractor, doctor and physical therapy appointments would reveal a serious problem. Two cracked vertebrae, severe spinal stenosis and two herniated and torn discs. After multiple epidural injections with absolutely no relief...we tried to fix the tears in my disc first. A painful (and experimental) test had to be done to see if I was a good candidate for this new IDET procedure. They would put a needle into my discs and pump it full of liquid... to see if my torn discs would leak and to decide if patching them was a good idea. Of course I had to be awake for the procedure in order to give them feedback... and could not be numb... so they could distinguish exactly where my pain was coming from.

IT WAS HORRIBLE. I can go back to that operating room and the pain I felt that day in a split second... it's still so vivid to me. I remember tears streaming down my face even though I was trying not to cry. It was quite traumatic. In fact I believe they aren't even allowed to do these procedures anymore. The only 'plus side' of this whole rigmarole is that I can now endure natural childbirth without even blinking an eye... unless there are hemorrhoids involved, which in that case... please just knock me out...

I digress... apologies all around.

Years pass... and every new attempt to 'fix me' goes down the drain. I was a broken ballerina. Very broken. I resorted to an army load of narcotics, anti-depressants, valium, ambien and vodka to ease the pain.

At a doctor appointment one dreary, February day... with a homemade red velvet cake in tote (for one of the nurses)... I laid across the floor in the waiting room with tears streaming down into my ears... unable to get up on my own... My doctor scheduled a spinal fusion for the following day.

After a week in the hospital, I was sent home with 2 rods and 6 screws holding my back together. I wish that was the end of the story, but after months of 'not recovering'... we realized that my body was rejecting the material they put in. So back in for a second spinal fusion. This time they would fillet me like a fish... one surgeon would take everything out of my back and replace them with new titanium rods and screws... and another surgeon would flip the operating table over and access my vertebra through my stomach. After a dash or two of cadaver bone... they stitched me up and let me simmer.

The second surgery went much better than the first. People that came to visit me at the hospital observed that I didn't look as 'gray and pitiful' the second time around. I took that as quite the compliment.

The sweet, fragrant blossom on this tightly pruned plant that is my life... is that my back is stable and has not deteriorated further... the thorns, on the other hand, are many. My pain is the same. Some days I can tolerate the constant pain fairly well... and other times, I can hardly take a deep breath without my back seizing up.

I remember wondering... " how long will I have to deal with this before God heals me?"

The woman that touched the hem of Jesus' garment suffered for 12 years before being healed. "I could never make it that long!" , I remember thinking. Yet here I am, 17 years later. Still praying... and waiting. Jesus healed people miraculously and instantaneously when he encountered them... why hasn't he done that for me? I know I have at least a mustard seed's worth of faith... that's all it takes, right?
I've seen people healed before my eyes... I believe he can and will do that for me one day... but the hoping and waiting can feel like quick sand. Despair and hopelessness swallowing me up with just one step in the wrong direction.

I read Romans 5 yesterday. One of my favorite verses is tucked into this chapter of scripture. Something about rejoicing in our sufferings... because  suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope... and hope does not disappoint.

BULL$H#!... I used to think (and I may have even screamed it at times). How on earth can suffering bring about hope?! I wrestled with these words for YEARS... but recently these words have wrapped around me like a warm blanket, instead of the sandpaper they used to feel like.

What's the difference? For me... 'hope' was the defining term. Hope in what? Hope that my surgery would be successful? Hope to dance like I used to? Hope for a comfortable life without pain?

That's how I would naturally define 'hope' if it were left up to me entirely. But if I believe in the Bible as the inspired word of God... then I should probably figure out how HE defines HOPE. In Romans 5 (and throughout scripture)... the word HOPE is pointing to a 'future glory'. Hope does not reside in the crevices of this earth... or even on the highest mountaintop of this world we call home. God defines hope as a future glory... somewhere else... heaven... our real home.

Now that changed everything for me. Defining hope God's way instead of my own was like stepping into a new world.

My eyes were starting to recognize God as LOVE... instead of some cruel dictator. If God loved me enough to send his son to die in my place... and if all of God's wrath was poured out on Jesus (as the Bible says)... then why would God punish me further by heaping more judgement on me? If God's wrath was satisfied at the cross... then why do I envision him still pouring wrath out on this earth?

Well... to be quite honest... because this world can be a pretty crappy place... and I'm speaking from a place of privilege compared to many. The physical pain that I've encountered doesn't even begin to compare to what so many beautiful souls have had to endure throughout their days on this earth. Genocide, starvation, abuse... and all this happens under the watchful eye of a 'sovereign god'? That just doesn't sound very loving to me. I want absolutely nothing to do with a god that passively sits back as his, supposedly, beloved children groan in agony...

...and so I wrestle. Wrestle with my idea of an all-powerful sovereign who allows such things. I grapple with the things I've believed about god my whole life... and it's in this deep, dark pit that a flicker of hope ignites.

Wait... a flicker of hope... as I contemplate the suffering of this world? I couldn't think of a more surprising place to discover such a thing. Then I press in further to the god that scripture reveals. A God who created us in His image. A God who walked and communed with mankind in the paradise he created for them. A God who gave a choice to his beloved children... instead of dictating over us like a puppet master.

I have been given the choice to believe or not... and there have been plenty of times that my hard heart chose the latter. But the more I chose to believe in and learn about the god of scripture... I grow to know Him more as a dear and loving Father.

A father who loved me enough to punish his own son for the sins of humanity of which I am a part. A father who wants me to long for this 'place of hope'... this heavenly home he is preparing for me. A father who loves me enough to take away the cheap appetizers of this world... so my appetite for heaven can grow. An appetite that reminds me that this world is not my home.

When I watch somebody land a glorious triple pirouette or hold a steady 180 degree developé a la second... my heart wants to kick and scream... "I can do that! Or least I used to do that..." (well... if I'm honest, a solid double). But not the 'I did it once in my socks in the kitchen' kind of double... but the 'I can nail it every time... en pointe... and even hold the balance'... double.

Either way... I can no longer do that.. and it hurts. I used to be a ballerina... but now I'm broken. I used to be an optimistic dreamer... but now my opinions resonate more with that of a cynic. 17 years is a long time to feel the jagged edges of your broken pieces. Jagged edges that rip away the delicate fabrics and facades of this world. Yet through the tears in the dark canvas of this broken world shines a far away light... like the stars in a black sky. Maybe the holes in my portrait of this world allow me to see into a more beautiful world. Yes... it's completely destroying my own masterpiece I've been painting... but I see more and more of HIS glorious masterpiece as my own is ripped away.

I have experienced the presence of God in my darkest moments. The comforting of his Holy Spirit when I literally wanted to die rather than endure another night of pain. I have seen the sweet side of surrendering to a loving father... and the relief of knowing that He has the power to change my heart and he redeems the broken pieces of this world.

I don't pretend to know God's thoughts or ways... they are far above my own... and I've decided I that I simply have to be ok with mystery. The essence of faith. Trusting without seeing. But every time another piece of this world is ripped away, I can see His picture more clearly.

If I had it my way... my painting would put me center stage. Somehow the ballerina in the picture would have a breathtaking arabesque, beautifully arched feet, an effortless smile... and no pain. That ballerina would be perfectly content in the world she perceived. Her own heaven.

But it was never my way...

... and so I wrestle... and think...What if this sovereign god exists? A god that knows our temporary happiness would forfeit our eternal life? A god that has a plan to redeem what is evil in this world so that we don't have to suffer in vain. A god who loves me? If this god of scripture exists... and I believe he does... then it's almost too good to be true. I could never define hope the way he does... hope coming from suffering? Indeed...

Suffering has produced perseverance... and perseverance does produce character... and the more character I acquire, the more I understand the Character of the one who created me... and as I understand Him more... I can't help but hope. This hope springs from knowing Him... and is impossible without Him. How beautiful it is to sit back and watch hope unfold... knowing that I'm not the one painting the picture. I've given up the quest to paint my world the way I see it... and now hope to spend my days trying to see through the brokenness of my world and into his world. I can only imagine His painting getting more clear and glorious with each passing year.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tear Soup...

  • A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven't. Most don't mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn't happened, so people imagine a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had.

    But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she'll know.
    - Barbara Kingsolver

My first two miscarriages were sad... unexpected... and maybe I never fully grieved since I was already expecting another baby well before the due date approached. Those babies could never be replaced, but the hole was less noticeable as I was dealing with another pregnancy already. 

This miscarriage has been quite a different story. Just a few days into my second trimester... The labor  (and delivery) was much more intense. I still have dreams about it. It was horrible... something no one should ever have to go through alone... yet most of us do.

This week has been on the horizon since December. A large tidal wave, off in the distance. I knew it was coming, but tried to ignore it. The undertow started pulling me in a few weeks ago. During a recent battle with severe migraines... the panic attacks started... then came a few episodes when I was literally 'out of my mind'... delirious. David had to fill me in the next day on the crazy things I was talking about.
The interesting thing is... the things I was talking about may seem crazy to someone else... but as David was repeating all the 'nonsense' back to me... it made perfect sense.
It's a dream I've had quite often over the past few months. My baby... outside my window... I forgot to name it... it wants to come in and I can't get the window open. That's where the dream always ends. ALWAYS. I can't seem to make it past that part of the dream, no matter how hard I try to hold on.

I tried to hold on that day. I knew the feeling all too well... and I just wanted time to stand still so I could have my baby inside of me for just a bit longer. It took all day... the physical pain of labor that ends with emptiness.  The physical and emotional pain are indistinguishable... it still is. I've been embarrassed to be sad. Ashamed that it's still so raw. Shouldn't I be over it by now? There are so many worse things going on in the world...and I have so much to be grateful for.

But no amount of gratefulness for what I have or logical reasoning will bring my baby back. My due date is tomorrow... and something's missing. Someone is missing. 
It's a lonely grief. No one seems to remember. I don't expect them to. I have dear friends that have announced pregnancies... had gender reveal parties... are due any day now...or even just had their babies. I am so happy for them. I would never want them to think that their joy somehow makes my grief worse. It's just a reminder. A beautiful, tearful, agonizing and glorious reminder of what would've been. Who would've been. 

I've been given the gift of three beautiful children to hold and love. I've also been given the gift of three children to love and miss. I've tried to somehow 'get it right' with each miscarriage. Thinking the sadness wouldn't linger so long if I just dealt with it better. 

I didn't know what to do the first time... so I tearfully flushed the toilet. I was too upset the second time... so I made David flush the toilet. By the third time, I knew I could never do that again... and I was too far along anyway... so we buried our baby under our window outside. It still haunts me... knowing my baby is out there in the cold. There's no right way to lose a baby.

I'm realizing that I don't need to pretend not to be sad. I don't have to hide the tears (although I'll probably still try)... and I don't need to paint over my sorrow with well-meaning platitudes. "Maybe something was wrong with the baby"... as if I couldn't love a child with something wrong with it. "God won't give you more than you can handle"... as if I'm being punished for 'not being able to handle life' any better. You should be grateful for the children you have... of course I am! 
Losing 3 babies has produced a deeper sense of gratefulness for the children I have... but 'being grateful' for the children I have doesn't make me miss this baby any less. 

I've been told that I 'share too much'... and I'm sure that's true sometimes. But it's said that 1 in 4 women have lost a baby to miscarriage... and I can't stand the idea of so many women feeling so alone in their grief. Mother's who's most cherished thing on earth was gone with a flush of the toilet. Mother's who would rather be going through labor today, then sitting comfortably in front of their computers trying to put their grief to words. 
Mother's who feel silly crying themselves to sleep for the past few weeks. Mother's that want to punch well meaning strangers in the face when asked... "You aren't having any more? Are you?" 
(ok... maybe that was a bit too much).

If you're grieving the loss of a baby you never got to hold... you're not alone. It's ok to be sad... and gently remind people why you're sad. (or not so gently is totally appropriate at times... Sally Fields 'Steel Magnolias' style if need be).

If you have lost a baby that you did get to hold, just for a few hours or days... please know that I can only begin to imagine your grief. Having gone through the lonely grief of a miscarriage... my heart breaks for those who have lost a precious baby to stillbirth... or infant death. Someone so beautiful and cherished... so few memories to cling to. 

Even the grief of infertility is something that needs to be understood more. I imagine it's a lonely place to be... a life-altering grief that seemingly goes unnoticed. 

Dare I even mention the unspoken grief of a regretted abortion? Yes, there is a grief to be spoken of and shared even then...

"There is, I am convinced, no picture that conveys in all its dreadfulness, a vision of sorrow, despairing, remediless, supreme. If I could paint such a picture, the canvas would show only a woman looking down at her empty arms."
Charlotte Bronte

If you know anyone whose lives have been touched by these losses... it's o.k. to acknowledge their grief and remember their baby. Don't worry about reminding us of our babies... we never forget them to begin with. Knowing that others remember and care brings great comfort. It's not something you ever get over... just learn to live with.

One of my favorite books explains it well... Tear Soup.

"For many years the custom of making tear soup had been forgotten. As peoples' lives became more rushed they found it much easier to pull "soup in a can" from the shelf and heat it on the stove. But several years ago Grandy got a taste of a well-seasoned tear soup. One of her friends made it from scratch after her child died."

"As soon as Grandy tasted the rich flavor of that carefully made soup, she promised herself never again to assume that quicker was better."

"She put on her apron because she knew it would get messy. It seems that grief is never clean. People feel misunderstood, feelings get hurt and wrong assumptions are made all over the place. To make matters worse, grief always takes longer to cook than anyone wants it to." 

"I've learned that grief, like a pot of soup, changes the longer it simmers and the more things you put into it... 
I don't think you ever finish. The hard work of making this batch of soup is almost done though. I'll put the rest in the freezer and will pull it out from time to time to have a little taste."

Remembering my baby today... and having soup for dinner.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Good, the Bad... and the Ganache.

The christian testimony. The 'story' of how one came to become a follower of Christ... a christian.                       What's your testimony?
            Oh... you should hear 'so-and-so's' testimony.

My testimony is pretty boring. I'm really nervous about sharing my testimony...

These are common phrases to hear, growing up in church... I'm sure I've even mimicked these very words before... but the more I think about it, the 'curiouser and curioser' these statements become.

 In my small group at church... we've been taking turns sharing our testimonies with each other. It's a great way to get to know each other. Some stories are elaborate and shocking... others, simple and pure... some could be made into a major motion picture, which in my case, Emma Watson would star in (according to the infallible facebook quiz) ... but among them all, I can honestly say that I've never heard a boring or disappointing testimony.

Which makes me think... WHY THE DISCLAIMER???  Why have we , as christians, somehow decided that our testimonies should fit in pretty little boxes... ending, of course, with... "AND THAT'S HOW I BECAME A CHRISTIAN."

The HAPPILY EVER AFTER of christianity.

But what if we make the box BIGGER??? Or just get rid of the box altogether?! What if we start testifying daily... because this world needs witnesses. Witnesses that can say... "YES... I'm a christian... but that's not where my story ends"...
Witnesses that have seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their daily lives... Witnesses that can tell their stories... again and again.
 I guess, in the court of law, one eye witness with a sheepish testimony might not make a 'slam dunk case'. But if you have thousands of witnesses all lining up to attest to the same thing... it's much more convincing.
 Maybe you don't have an extravagant account of how you 'became a christian'... but if you are a christian... and you claim to have the power of the living God at work in you... then you should have some exciting stories to tell!

So... without further ado... here's mine for the day.

I've found myself in quite the storm lately. This walk of faith... I thought I was supposed to turn out looking a bit more victorious... a bit more 'Christ-like'. But it turns out quite the opposite.
For those of you that don't know me... I'm 33 years old now... and I've dealt with severe and chronic back pain since I was 17. After trying everything possible to help the pain early on... I eventually had a spinal fusion (at the age of 24)... which didn't work. After my body rejected the materials they reconstructed my spine with... I had a second spinal fusion (the same year). Thankfully, they were able to stabilize my spine, but it didn't help much with the pain. I was a ballet dancer... and I couldn't dance... oh well... moving on. I've prayed and asked God to heal my back, because I know he can... and he will one day, but until that day... I know it's going to be a rough road. Chronic pain is tough to endure year after year... it wears on you.

Fast forward to 33 year old Jessica. Scars and struggles. Addictions. Withdrawals. 6 pregnancies. 3 beautiful children here... and 3 babies I can't wait to meet in heaven one day. Life goes on. You learn to cope with the pain.
They told me the fusion would last about 10 years. Now... I've never been great with numbers... and I'm the epitome of the creative, perfectionist procrastinator... which is probably why it's just now hitting me like a ton of bricks...
wow... it's been almost 10 years...

The panic starts to creep in and overwhelm me. Why hasn't God healed me yet?! And to add to my load of raising 3 little ones... I've also stepped into the role of choreographer for a local Passion Play... something that I believe,with all my heart, that the Lord has called me to do.
I guess I just expected Him to miraculously take the pain away, so I could dance... or at least teach... but that hasn't been the case over the last few weeks. My pain has been increasing... and the doubt and fear has tried to find a way into my heart. Sometimes there's quite a fine line between faith and foolishness... maybe I made the wrong decision? Maybe I shouldn't be dancing in the play?

I hit a new low of pain this morning... I was in agony and tears just trying to put my clothes on today. I just kept saying to my husband... "this is ridiculous... why did I think I could handle this?"


The thought that just keeps coming to mind is that I'm drowning... literally sinking in the storm of my circumstances.
I came to the end of myself this morning... in a heap of tears on the kitchen floor (after trying to soothe my unruly emotions with a bowl of homemade chocolate ganache)... 
THE END of myself... which turns out to be a wonderful place to find yourself.

I was instantly reminded of Jesus... walking on the water... calling Peter to get out of the boat and walk out with him. Talk about humanly impossible... I guess I'm in good company. Yeah... that's me, doing something crazy like jumping out of the boat in the middle of the storm... "Sure, I'll choreograph and dance in the play this year!"

The circumstances, of the past few months especially, have been incredibly overwhelming... and I look around at the storm... and in a panic... start to sink. Just think drowning in your own tears 'Alice in Wonderland' style. I was a hot mess, this morning... but I had to get up and go pick up Evangeline from school... then proceed to Chick-fil-a for a play date that she has literally been looking forward to for MONTHS. 

So... I look up to Jesus. I don't need to conjure up enough faith to be healed... I don't need to call and beg for earthly assistance, in the form of a babysitter (although I'm quite accustom to doing so). I just need to be reminded of what I believe.

I believe that there is a powerful and all-knowing God... and I believe that He loved me enough to abandon His perfect son... dying on a cross... so that my sinfulness and unbelief wouldn't separate me from Him anymore. I believe that Jesus paid the price for my sin... and I believe that I have access to God because of that. I believe that God has faithfully carried me through the last 10 years... and that he has a glorious plan for the next 10 years...

I believe in miraculous and instantaneous healing... but my testimony is one of endurance. I've witnessed the healing of my angry heart during the first few years I dealt with pain. I witnessed the miracle of carrying 3 children to full term and bringing them into this world... when some doctors didn't think my body could handle it.
 I've witnessed the tethers and chains that bind my heart to the things of this worlds being broken.

Today... my testimony is this. The grandest of miracles has already happened, as C.S Lewis put it. God came down to dwell with us. He put on flesh... his name was Jesus... and he has given us his Spirit. His Spirit within us testifies this truth to us... even at our most desperate and ugly moments...

I believe that we need to tell our stories... the good, the bad... and the ganache. Heaven forbid that someone ever look at me while I'm out with my kids... or running a rehearsal... and think, "Wow, that girl really has it together."
The truth is... anytime you see me... I am in a desperate state. I have either angrily cussed my husband out for not 'reading my mind' (last week, ironically enough, on my way to bible study,lol) ... or once again tried to manage my pain and desperation by self-injury. I have most likely sobbed my heart out on the kitchen floor or gotten angry with my children... or, the worst state of desperation... actually fooling myself enough to think that I do have my act together... which doesn't happen often.

My story today... God heals... God redeems... and He met me today... on my dirty kitchen floor.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dear Christian,

Equal Love... This slogan captured my heart and interest over a year ago when it popped up all over facebook. I braced myself for the endless debates that would ensue. Christian facebook debates... one of my biggest pet peeves. Not that it's wrong... just sometimes I can't help but wonder if our bold facebook debates would be better suited in a personal atmosphere... at least in a place where you know your audience. Every time I see some macho comments on gun control, (definitely not referring to my dear brother, Jacob Rickards)... my mind can't help but wander to a place in time where the men would chat it up personally... among friends... perhaps in a smoke-filled, wood paneled room.... complete with a bearskin rug. My vote is to open virtual bearskin rug rooms right here on facebook... that way, I know to avoid them.

I can only imagine how many people I am offending at this very moment... so let me explain.
I do believe that facebook can be a great avenue to have open discussions with 'friends' on a variety of topics... I mean, people are entitled to their opinions. I have an equal love/hate relationship with facebook political debates. Sometimes I roll my eyes and keep scrolling down... sometimes, I actually read all 78 comments and even take an interest in something that I may have never thought of before... and other times,  I simply have no choice but to 'hide' this person's incessant flood of political opinions and rants from my news feed... and I'm definitely not referring to you, Brian Wasko.

Politics can get hairy... especially when played out on the impersonal world stage of social media... but may I suggest that the potential miscommunication and offenses that come with the world of political facebook debates pale in comparison to the world of MORAL and RELIGIOUS FACEBOOK DEBATES.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. Gay Issues in the Christian Community.

I wanted to burst on the social media scene a year ago when my blood started boiling as I read through different facebook statuses and comments regarding the 'red equal sign'. But I hesitated as I realized that many of my opinions on the topic were based on either my personal opinions, traditional values (not to be confused with biblical values) or ignorance (not to be confused with stupidity). So I decided to wait... and learn... and I asked the Lord to search my heart regarding this very real issue.

I got up with a few friends that I hadn't talked to in awhile. Friends that I knew grew up in the church... and were now living openly gay lives... and even married with children. One guy I contacted, sweetly offered to answer a few questions for me... but I think I may have frightened him away with my candor. I apologized after not hearing back from him for awhile... he answered quickly, reassuring me that my questions weren't offensive... but he had been really busy with work. I decided to take him at his word... and I also let him know that I believe he would have an extremely valuable perspective having grown up in a christian community... and that anytime he's ready to answer... I'll be there to listen. I'm still hoping he takes me up on it one day.

Another friend was very hesitant when I contacted her. She had to give some serious thought to whether she even wanted to talk to me or not. I pushed a little and explained what my purpose was in asking such personal questions. I wanted to write a blog post on the topic of gay issues in the christian world. Eventually she gave me her email address... and said she would let me 'interview her' via email... because she liked my purpose. We emailed back and forth and I'm not sure why it surprised to hear that she was a genuine and devoted christian. Quite a minority, I assume. Eventually our correspondence changed from an interview into a friendship. We may (or may not) disagree on many different topics... but we had so much more in common... than not. Both trying to honor the Lord with our lives... both trying to figure out what that actually looks like. Both understanding the gray areas that so many assume are 'black and white' in the christian world. We are both in the 'trenches of motherhood'... dealing with tantrums and sleepless nights. She is not my 'gay friend'... she is my friend... and I'm beyond thankful to have someone in my life that causes me to dig deep to the foundations of what I believe... and to be able to love and care deeply for someone I may not agree with in all areas. I'm so glad she was brave enough to answer my questions.

I am a christian. I believe in the Bible as the inerrant word of God. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was God's plan of redemption... and believing in him is the only way to eternal life. I believe that because God sacrificed his son to pay for the sins of humanity... those who believe in Jesus are covered in the blood he shed for us... and now God sees his perfect son when he looks at me... and now, as a Christian, I believe that through the power of the Holy Spirit... I am being conformed to the image of Christ.

Now, this is a bold statement of faith... and I understand that I could potentially offend everyone who doesn't share this belief. I don't want to do that... but when you choose to believe something as TRUTH... you must naturally agree that all opposing views are false. There are so many wonderful people that I truly love who don't share my beliefs. But what's more offensive? Believing this is true and proclaiming it boldly... or believing that this is TRUE and not sharing the best news ever told?! You can think I'm ignorant, misguided, crazy... or even wrong... but no one in their right mind could ever criticise me for being unloving. Love proclaims boldly to those who, according to the Bible, are perishing. Maybe I'm overlooking something... but I honestly can't think of too many people who would argue me here.

For God so LOVED the world... LOVED. THE. WORLD. No one is left out... he loves. Now, one thing I think this generation has gotten wrong... is to believe that love and acceptance are the same thing.

I once knew a women who had a grown son, whom she dearly loved. She witnessed his marriage to his wife... and was a doting grandmother to her son, daughter-in-law and grand-children. Many years later, this son left his marriage and was living with another women. This godly mother loved her son and welcomed him into her home even though she disagreed with his choices... but she drew a line... a very bold line. "Son, you are welcome in this home anytime, but the only woman who will ever be welcomed with you... is your wife."
The son lived with another woman for years... The mother loved her son without accepting what she believed to be 'a sinful lifestyle'. Oddly enough, the son never felt unloved by her... his lifestyle was not  accepted... but he was. If you fast forward many years into this love story... the husband came back to his wife, there was forgiveness and reconciliation... and they have been married over 50 years. The son remained lovingly devoted to his mother until her death many, many years later.

Love and acceptance... they aren't the same. Oh, how I wish this generation understood this. This should be something we wrestle with. I want my gay friends to know that just because I believe what the bible says, doesn't mean that it's easy to swallow or understand. We, as Christians, should wrestle with this topic... because it affects so many people in such a deep and personal way... we should strive to understand the heart of God in this matter... not simply 'skimming over it' because it doesn't affect us.

So this brings me back to equal love. We get it... everyone assumes that Christians are generally against gay marriage (at least, morally speaking). Or you may have a newly evolved 'liberal christian' who all of a sudden wants to 'support' gay marriage by updating their profile picture to the popular equal sign... or nonchalantly 'liking' some one's equal love profile update. This is not an argument for or against gay marriage. I certainly don't mind sharing my personal views... but that's simply not my point in writing this.

Let's face it... whether you support gay marriage or not, it's only a matter of time before equal rights will be a reality in all 50 states. It seems to be much more difficult for my parent's generation to grasp... morally and culturally... after all, sexuality was much more of a private thing as they were growing up... especially in the christian culture. If there had been social media back then... one would never post pictures of their bare baby bellies... complete with 'hand heart' over the belly button. Seriously... It was just barely 50 years ago when showing one's belly button on TV was considered vulgar.

But 'kids these days' live in an overly-sexualized world... and if we as parent don't talk about the tough topics... believe me, they'll go elsewhere.

'Progress' hasn't simply kept up with time... it has multiplied exponentially over the past few decades. Many generations will never be able to understand the things that our generation is being asked to tolerate. I want my gay friends to understand this... without feeling condemned... or discriminated against.
But as the world around us progresses... our understanding of these issues needs to progress as well. I'm not saying that Christians need to change their beliefs... but I am saying that our age old answers... reflect a lack of understanding at best... and complete ignorance and hypocrisy at it's worst.

For instance... 'not accepting a gay family member and their partner in your home' would not seem strange in the christian community 10 or 15 years ago. Fellow Christians might even affirm one another for 'standing up for righteousness' even. On some level I believe the gay family member would even 'get it' and just accept it as the way things are.

But what about now? In 2014... may I boldly suggest that this very well may not be what Christians need to be doing to 'stand up for righteousness'. How are we to be salt and light to a desperate world if we won't invite them into our homes? What happens when your child is invited to the birthday party of their very best friend in school, who has two mommies?
Just avoid it... 'Oh sorry... we can't make it." Is this what we're called to do? Or are we called to permeate the darkness with the light and good news of the gospel? How can we do this if we ignore and avoid?

If you believe that you have been called to stand up against gay marriage... then you absolutely have the right to do so. But if you're going to oppose something... at least be good at it. It seems very easy to me to 'like and 'share' facebook statuses about marriage being one man and one women... from your cozy corner chair at starbucks... when it's no secret that Starbucks has not been shy about supporting equal rights and gay marriage. They have also gone as far as letting those who oppose this agenda know that they don't need their business. It just seems logical to me that christians would quietly stop pouring a large portion of their income to a company that is supporting gay marriage... rather than flaunting empty support while taking the risk of hurting people through the impersonal world of social media. If your goal is to really stand for what you believe... put your money where your mouth is. Christians... have we not placed ourselves in the very sterotypes that we complain about?

I digress... apologies all around.

Or even still... with so many people 'coming out' since it is more widely accepted these days. Imagine that you have raised your child in the church... yet they have moved away, entered into a same-sex partnership... and may even have children. All of a sudden, you are praying for a christian family to befriend your estranged child and to take a genuine interest in them. Not to save them from their 'same-sex relationship'... but to share the love of Christ with them... and to minister to their soul. Heaven forbid the Christians next door choose to avoid such a messy 'situation'. Heaven forbid we hoard the greatest news any one's ever had to offer, simply because we don't agree with their lifestyle.

These waters are so murky and tough to navigate... but my biggest question is How should Christians address gay issues?

Let me start off by strongly suggesting that Christians have majorly missed the mark in regards to gay issues... in fact, I believe that we carry the majority of the blame when it comes to the Christian vs. Gay debate.

I'm sure my thoughts are scattered... and I'm overlooking many topics related to this issue... so these are just a few observations, of the top of my head...

We should approach these issues with humility...
The truth is... if you are a heterosexual, bible believing christian... there are probably many things you haven't even thought of or considered. Sometimes just listening to some one's story is much more loving than trying to come up with some biblical argument. Perhaps keeping your opinions to a minimum by simply stating... "This is what I believe scripture has to say about about this issue... but I'd really love to dive in and learn more."
In order to have these sorts of real conversations... logic would argue that you actual have (or spend time with) friends that aren't Christians... I'm amazed at the amount of Christians, in my generation, that don't have any friends who are gay. It very shallow and easy to oppose something when you keep it at arms length.

Sexual Immorality...
In the Christian world... the 'go to' verses against homosexuality are verses that broadly speak out against 'sexual immorality'... which includes much more than 'being gay'. As Christians, we need to realize what this really means. Sexual immorality has been rampant in churches for decades. How is this OK? I'm not talking about the big headlines of fallen pastors of huge ministries... I'm talking about sexual immorality. Christian couples that are 'waiting' to have sex until after they're married... but 'waiting' looks more like a 'technicality' than sexual purity. Kids growing up in churches... having sex in cars after youth group. Soon, you get engaged because that somehow makes it less sinful... and eventually getting married (for the wrong reasons far too often)  somehow negates that fact that you were living in sexual sin.

Christians... the atonement for your sexual immorality is the blood of Jesus. Getting married doesn't atone for your sexual immorality... Jesus alone does.

Please don't say THAT...
There are a few things that make me cringe when it comes to the topic of christians addressing gay issues. Not because they aren't 'true'... but more because there are certain christian-ese platitudes that should be banned from 99% of the conversations regarding this topic.

"My sin is just as bad as your sin."
I'm sure the majority of us have used this phrase at one time or another... but it seems especially prevalent in a 'straight christian > gay christian' scenario. The problem with this well intended 'discouragement' is that it seems to overlook the implications of what this really means in the life someone who is being told that a huge part of this person's identity is sinful.
It's easy for a young, straight, christian girl... to say this to a gay christian that has devoted themselves to celibacy. Young, christian girl means well... but her biggest struggle against sexual sin, at the time, is remaining pure until she gets married at the age of 22. This is not wrong... it just completely overlooks the fact that this young, gay christian is staring at an open sea of confusion and mystery. The current of christian waters work in the favor of many young adults that desire to marry and start a family at a young age. But a gay christian swims upstream his entire life. Swimming against the current of the world... but never finding a safe place in the church. Grieving the loss of how they imagined things... and still fighting against 'sexual sin' long after the young christian girl has her dream wedding, two children and and a facebook page that makes life look like a hallmark movie. To that person... 'my sin is as bad as your sin'... seems to lack a great deal of understanding and empathy... like, maybe they just don't 'get it'.

And never say THIS... 

One thing that has always struck me as 'odd'... is that somehow Christians assume that we're all in the same 'club' when it come to this issue. We might 'watch ourselves' a bit closer when out in public or around non-christian friends... but freely joke a fellow christian for 'acting gay' or 'throwing like a girl'. Do they ever stop to wonder why many gays are 'anti-christian'? Have they ever thought of the 12 year old boy in the pew behind them? Picking up on the blatant discrimination... and never feeling comfortable to share that he thinks he's gay. A young child that needs the guidance of a strong, Christ-like man to talk to... only there seem to be none around. I would argue that we are raising future anti-christian, gay men and women in our own churches. Kids that have questions... kids that need empathy, understanding... and answers. Kids whose hearts are soft towards God right now... but will grow cold and bitter as they feel ostracized and mocked by the very ones that should be ministering to their souls.

I've had the opportunities to spend a lot of time among different christian churches and ministries in our area... and one of the saddest things to me has been to hear words like 'fag', 'homo' or casual jokes 'that's so gay'... uttered from the mouths of those who have devoted their lives to being 'Christ-like'. Now, some of these more 'blatant terms' I can honestly say are rarely used in the christian circles I've been a part of... I can think of twice that I've heard of personally... but to be completely honest, that's two times too many. And what's even worse are the people that stand by and chuckle... or don't say anything. I'm pretty sure that last time I witnessed this... I did hold my tongue... I was so angry that I couldn't say anything at the moment without causing a scene... but then I came home and starting writing this post.

I realize that this is a confusing term for many... so please bear with me.
I've been a part of these treacherous conversations... and I don't think I've ever witnessed them ending well. Perhaps because the majority of my family are quite passionate and opinionated people. The joke is that if one of us 'Rickards' aren't quite sure what we're talking about... we just say it like it's 100% fact. That way... you somewhat call everyone else's bluff... with your overwhelming sense of self-confidence. My brother Jacob is great at this... but he is equally as great at chuckling and shrugging his shoulders once he's proven wrong. I love that about him. But, unfortunately, this quality in most of us doesn't make for great intellectual debates... it's more like a rowdy episode Keeping Up With The Kardashians (Southern, Bible-belt version)... I'll be pitching this idea to E! in the near future.

Once again... I digress...

Using the term 'gay christian'... seems like quite a contradiction... so let me clarify. "You can't identify with being gay and a christian at the same time!" I've heard this many times...

Usually these statements are thrown around before one stops to try and understand what is meant. What I mean by this term... is a christian that is attracted to the same sex. A lot of pastors like to use the term 'same-sex attraction'... but I don't think that truly captures the essence of someone who believes that they're gay. Someone that only feels attraction for the same sex... and can't seem to find a way to be attracted to the opposite sex. Most of the time... this person has felt this way for a long time. Feeling like the have no place to fit into the church... and no one to talk to. This excludes them more than christians realize. For example... how many of you have been able to open and honestly share your 'struggles' in a 'small group' or 'care group' setting within your church? I know that I have definitely benefitted from being transparent with my peers... and finding camaraderie and accountability there.

Now... let's take it a step further... how many of you have shared 'openly and humbly' in a church, small group setting, that you really have a hard time witnessing to your neighbor because she's gay? Now imagine... someone in your group that has struggled with 'same-sex attraction' since they were young... Are they really going to feel comfortable being transparent about their struggles at that point?  One christian is praised for their humility in sharing... while the other is shut out. I wouldn't shame the first one... it just shows which way our cultural, christian current takes us... It shows complete ignorance to the fact that our churches are full of people who think they're gay... not living a 'gay lifestyle'... but struggling to identify themselves to a community of people who don't know they even exist.

I understand that there are Christians that are gay and believe being in a committed, same-sex relationship is ok... I have not come to this conclusion myself... but I must acknowledge that they exist... and not act 'repulsed' or 'disgusted' by them. I can care for them as brothers and sisters in the Lord that need a great deal of love and understanding... because, more than likely... they have felt confused, desperate, alone and ostracized for most of their lives... and if their minds or 'sexuality' need to be 'changed'... than the Holy Spirit is better at that then any of our 'great debates'.

I realize that I can be starting endless debates on this topic... so let me defuse some of them by saying I don't have it all figured out. I know that pursuing righteousness is important. I know that, as Christians, we are called out of the world to be set apart... in the world, but not of it... which means our beliefs and opinions will not always be popular.
But one thing I do know is that we are called to love. Jesus loved. He loved radically. He ate with the 'sinners'. He hated hypocrisy...

So how can we be more like Jesus... and less like hypocrites?

The issue of equal rights and gay marriage should not be something we take pride in opposing... or somehow cheer each other on as if we're leading some moral high ground parade. We have one enemy of our souls... and it is not a gay activist. Gay slurs and jokes should NEVER be acceptable in the Body of Christ. If you believe that the TRUTH is that these people are going to hell for their 'sin'... then I can't imagine anything more repulsive than to mock and make fun of them. How this must grieve the heart of God! Christ would not be mocking those he came to save... he would be friends with them.

I've debated about posting on this topic for quite sometime. I want to emphasize that I believe that scripture is the word of God... and that's where all of us , as christians, should be going to hear from God. But I do believe that we have gotten many things wrong... and need to carefully hold our opinions and prejudice up to God's word and make sure they are the same. If anything... I pray my words will convict some of hurtful behavior. I pray that these words will bring comfort to those who have felt alone. I pray that it will cause us christians to dig deep about what we really believe... and ask the Lord to search our hearts.

I pray that at least we can bring these issues out of the closets... and into the light. Confronting tough conversations with boldness and LOVE.