Saturday, January 14, 2017

Treasured In the Heart and in Heaven!

Have you ever watched "Inside Out"? It's that animated movie where you get an inside look into a little girl's head and you see how her thoughts and feelings work. You even get to see how some moments get turned into special "core memories"; a glowing, radiant ball that is nestled forever into the heart of who she is and shapes who she's going to be. It's an interesting movie because it makes you think about how a person perceives and processes things. 
 
Last Thursday, I was honored and privileged to get to witness this beautiful process when Paige showcased it to us at her student-led conference at school. In her language arts class, she showed us the memoir she was supposed to write. Chris, Casey, Gianna, Julie (Paige's biological mother), and I all gathered around her and her computer so she could show us her memoir and read it to us. When I saw the title, I was a little bit nervous and thought it might be a bit of an awkward moment. However, it wasn't awkward at all (at least not for me). I was very amazed and moved to the point of choking back tears when I read/heard these words:

My memoir is about getting new siblings.
My life lesson is: Not all change is bad.

“Get up, Paige!” called my dad. “We are meeting my girlfriend and her kids today, remember?” Now, those are some words of instant terror. I had already been worrying ALL NIGHT about what I was doing in the morning. I was afraid to see what she was like, what the kids were like, and how nice they were.

When we got to martin’s, we stopped at Starbucks and got some snacks. Then we did some brief shopping. I could see that her kids were very excited to meet me and the girl was very happy that she might have a new sister. They seemed very nice, but H-Y-P-E-R!

Months passed, and my dad finally decided that he was going to ask his girlfriend to marry him. First, he asked me if I would like having her as a stepmom. I said yes. So he asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

On the day of the wedding everything went as planned, and they said their loooong vows. (Let’s just say there were some VERY profound words!) I had gotten to know Gianna and Casey, my step siblings, pretty well now. Sometimes we would get in fights, which left me feeling languor. Sometimes everything was calm and serene.

In the years after my parents divorced, I definitely had a pessimistic attitude. I had it set in my mind that no matter what, all change was bad. I thought change could never make things better, that life was only going to get worse. I realize now that I was wrong. My siblings have been a blessing in my life. I no longer am alone with nobody to turn to, like reaching out into the darkness to find that I have no hope. My siblings know how it feels to go through a divorce. They are always there when I need them, and I will always be there when they need me.

I was absolutely BURSTING with joy inside! It added a whole new dimension of perspective and emotions to my own core memories of those moments that she described. Not only that, but it created a completely new core memory inside of me that I will never forget and will treasure forever! The whole moment was so affirming and encouraging! It was a tremendous gift from God that I quickly realized was something that could only be described as the treasure in heaven that Jesus describes
 
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Matthew 6:19-21.
Their first photo together!
The reason Paige's story meant so much to me was because (as anyone from or in a blended family knows well) adjustments are hard and unpredictable. You hope and pray that when your families merge together, everyone will love each other and live happily ever after. You hope that you won't have the complications that came up in the blended family that you grew up in yourself. I won't go into details about all of that, but let's just say it is a relief to know that Paige's perception of our blended family is a good one. I absolutely love the fact that she has Casey and Gianna for her siblings. My favorite part is getting to watch her and Gianna grow up together and be best friends and sisters. I don't have any biological sisters; and the one step-sister I once had was never around. I've always had my brother Ryan, but I've never gotten to experience the sisterhood that others have. It is truly a priceless gift that God has given me with Paige and Gianna; I get to experience sisterhood by observing theirs. I get to witness their games, their fights, their laughter, and their bond every day. It truly thrills me and their connection has been there since day one!

From our "MeliPaige" Day!
The other thing that I adore about this moment is the assurance that Paige loves and accepts me; that she is happy that Chris and I are together and we're her new family. In my heart, I've always loved her as my own, but I've always been concerned that it wouldn't be reciprocated. Everyone knows that things can be tough when it comes to the relationship aspects. In my own experience growing up, I was always afraid that in my effort to love and bond with a new step-parent or step-sibling, it would be upsetting to the other biological parent. I won't go into details, but I'll just say that when a parent or step-parent makes it difficult or confusing for a child to bond with someone (whether intentionally or unintentionally) it causes a lot of problems and takes years to sort out. Sometimes, it leaves a lot of unnecessary wounds and scars to deal with and makes healing very hard; creating other "core memories" that you wish you didn't have. That's why I've always hoped that the family that we have won't have the kind of pain and problems that Chris and I had in the families we grew up in. I've always felt that WE have done a good job. I don't worry about our bonds in this family (as far as what we can personally control in our household). It's what happens when the kids aren't IN this household that can be troubling. I don't want any of the kids to feel the way I did; that they have to hide their life or their emotions from the other parents because the other parent is too uncomfortable. I don't want them to ever feel stuck in the middle, but I know that it happens. I hate it. It hurts me and it hurts them, but we can't can't change or control the feelings and actions of the other parents involved. We can only keep doing our best and assure them that no matter what, there is always going to be safety, love, acceptance, and kindness reigning in our household. We want them to love the other parent and create beautiful memories with them just like they do with us! Our greatest hope is that the other parents encourage the kids to do the same with us so that they have the best childhoods possible and that they have no hurt relationships and rifts with anyone in the future. Doing the opposite is actually pretty self-sabotaging because you end up poisoning the child against yourself in an effort to poison them against someone else. It's really hard on the kids and causes them a lot of confusion and sadness. I hope that there will be a day where parents everywhere will make a better effort to have peace; for the kids' sake. 

Our Family; Est. July 5, 2014
Grace and peace to you, my friends! I have greatly enjoyed sharing this moment with you because this is what life is truly made of! NO ONE can take away this core memory from her (or from me). It cannot be changed. It cannot be bought. It cannot be stolen. It's forever sealed in our hearts and in heaven where no one can alter, taint, sabotage, or take it from us! It's priceless! All the money in the world cannot create the memories and emotions that it gives us; which is great because most of us aren't rich and would have nothing good if these things were dependent on affordability. Thankfully, true riches are definitely made up of the stuff that money can't buy! These treasures are created with love and character. Each and every day, we invest those things in our children and it's obviously having great returns!! :) When our children are old and gray, this will be the stuff that means the most to them; the things that they'll tell their children and grandchildren about. The older I get, the more I hold onto these real treasures. I don't have much of the "stuff" that was bought for me; the clothes, toys, and whatever. All those things were fun at the time, but they're gone. They've been sold in a garage sale, packed away in storage, or thrown away. What I have is, "Remember that one time where Dad said...." or "remember when Ryan did ______ and it was so funny?" It's the quality time, wise words, hugs, kind gestures, and laughter that lasts forever! Doing life together (just as God intended) will give you the kind of hope and joy that Paige so rightly identified as a blessing in her life. May your own lives be overflowing with memories that touch you to your core!! God bless you!

Friday, October 7, 2016

My 11th Hour Plea!

I know this is last minute, so I will make this short and sweet. I'm not sure if anyone will actually read this in time, but it's my 11th hour plea! PLEASE....help me to at LEAST make my $500 minimum goal tonight! The walk for life is tomorrow morning and I am only $162 away! Of course, I would LOVE to raise much more beyond that, but am grateful for whatever I can get for Heartline.

Please, help me right meow!
I've written a lot about the walks I have done in the past (and I tried extra hard last year, but still didn't raise very much). I know there are a lot of good causes and fundraisers out there that you might want to spend your time and money on instead. I get that. It doesn't have to be much. Just donate a buck for the babies (or whatever God lays on your heart) and share this link! PLEASE!! Heartline fell WAY short of their goal last year and it looks like this year isn't going to be a smashing success either. It breaks my heart and I hope that they never have to shut down! I don't want them to ever have to worry about that (or for scared and hurting women to not have a place to turn to) so PLEASE.....let's keep things going!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I apologize that I haven't said anything about it sooner. I wrote a few updates on my fundraising page, but I never did get around to blogging about it here. Things have been busy and stressful lately; there just hasn't been much time. Personally, I've been exhausted and also dealing with some major back problems. It is going to be very painful for me to walk tomorrow, but I'm still going to do it because I'm committed and care so deeply about this! Please, pray for a miracle; not just for my healing but that Heartline will be fully funded! Thank you and God bless you!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's Your Scarlet Letter?

Branding. It applies to almost everything. From companies and organizations, to food, clothing, and skin; we have logos, slogans, and labels for nearly everything under the sun.

The one kind of brand that some never see is how we brand ourselves inside. It's something that I was thinking about during Kent's message today (you can watch it when it's uploaded, as well as the rest of the amazing "how to be a neighbor" series by clicking here). I won't re-preach the whole thing for you. I just want to highlight his key point from 1 Peter 2:4-5:
As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 
Kent reminded us that Jesus, the perfect Son of God who did nothing but good, was rejected by humans. So, why should we be surprised that we too (as followers of Christ) are also scorned and rejected by others in this world? In case you haven't noticed, Christians are being treated with more contempt and hostility than ever before. We're "hateful" and we're "bigots" and whatever else doesn't fit some kind of liberal version of God that the world wants to portray instead of the holy, righteous, sovereign, UNCHANGING God of the Bible. Jesus said that the world would hate and persecute us just as they did to him (John 15:1, Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17).

BUT.....

Just as Jesus was chosen and precious in God's eyes, SO ARE WE!! In verse nine of 1 Peter 2, it is reiterated and affirmed:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We are NOT defined by how the world views us. We are defined by Christ. Our identity is in Him. We are who HE says we are! The world rejects us and tears us down, but Jesus accepts us and calls us "chosen" and "precious". He TREASURES us as a prized possession that belongs to Him!

I don't know about you, but that means everything to me! I have struggled with my own "branding" throughout my life. I kind of relate it to "The Scarlet Letter". Many of us had to read it in school, so you're probably familiar with it. The story is about about a Puritan woman, Hester Prynne, who had to wear a scarlet "A" for "Adultress" as her punishment for her sin. She even chose to make her letter a very large one and wore it prominently. She could have made it small, and put it in a more discreet place, but she didn't. She was punishing herself just as much as everyone else was.

Can you imagine wearing a letter which branded you with your sin forever; being judged and shamed by others (as well as yourself) and living with the constant guilt and reminder of your mistake? We don't see that kind of literal thing today, but I assure you that it still exists. We all have some form of a scarlet letter. It may not be visible, but we (and sometimes other people) know it's there. We feel it with us every day and it haunts us. So often, we can't forgive ourselves and let go of our negative branding; refusing to accept that Christ took the punishment for our sins. We punish ourselves for years (or forever) even though our sins have been paid for!

My biggest scarlet letters have been "D" for "divorce", "F" for "failure" (and "fat"), and no doubt there are others letters and words I could share about how I've felt and what I've dealt with in my heart. However, I am not defined and branded by these letters. Jesus has taken my "D" and given me the letter "R" for "restored" and "redeemed." That "F" now stands for "faith", "freedom", and "forgiveness". I have a "C" letter for "chosen", a "P" letter for "precious", and more than anything else, I am branded with a letter "G" for "grace"! YOU have these three letters too if you are a child of God because that is who you are, who you belong to, and what He calls you!

What scarlet letters are you holding onto? Are you ready to exchange them for pure, glistening, white ones? Isaiah 1:18 tells us that even though our sins are like scarlet, he will make them white as snow! That's an AMAZING transformation and He wants to do that for you! He wants to make you new and brand you with His love, mercy, and grace! Please, feel free to leave a comment (or message me) with what letters you're trading in and what letters He's giving you instead! When we share our stories, we can walk together and rejoice with one another!

Grace and peace to you, my friends! I felt like these were important thoughts to share today. If not for someone else, then at least for me. This is something that I will have to come back to and re-read because there are times where the old letters try to reattach themselves to my heart. The only way to prevent that is to remind myself of the TRUTH which can only be found in God's Word, as well as quality time with Him. It's a beautiful thing to have a relationship with the Almighty God; Creator of the Universe....and to BELONG to Him as a chosen and precious possession. It's no small thing to be a child of the Most High King and be an heir with His Son. Let's remind each other of that fact DAILY and delight in it; especially when others try to tell us differently. God bless you!