My Testimony: A Story of Unrelenting Pursuit

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I was born to an addict, both drugs and alcohol. My childhood was sprinkled with periods of sobriety and relapses for my mother. My father and mother never married, and I didn’t even meet my father until I was 14. He entered my life for 5 years, only to choose to walk out of my life again at age 19. I was raised in a house living with my mother, half-brother, 2 uncles and my grandmother. My mother fought with everyone, usually about her lack of money and demanding my grandmothers financial help, or about her lack of care for my brother and I. Our home was usually a very volatile place. My mother would also disappear for periods of time, and I never knew if she would come back. I had terrible separation anxiety, and when she was home I was always afraid she would leave me. I was neglected by my parents, unappreciated, uncelebrated, uncherished. If it weren’t for my grandmother and her unrelenting endurance and work ethic, I surely would not have survived my childhood. Though she is no longer with us, her legacy continues to be an inspiration to me daily. My grandmother took me to her church off and on. At around 7 or 8 my mom started taking us to church too, and I remember doing what all the adults there wanted me to do, eventually asking Jesus to live in my heart – though I didn’t really know what it meant.

My childhood and the neglect created a very dark place in me. I struggled to feel like anyone cared about me at all. It was hard to accept that I was born into an empty, hollow, barren place in this world. I had problems falling asleep as a child, and would lay there crying, asking God to just pick me up and carry me to a mom and dad that loved and wanted me.

When I approached my teenage years, my dark places filled with rage. I was angry with God and couldn’t understand why he put me in such a terrible situation, when it seemed that all my friends had families who truly loved and accepted them. Then around 13, those dark places began to grow and deepen and I tried to fill them with boys and anything else (with the exception of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol), and my life began to plummet into a heavy downward spiral as a result of my choices.

As a child, I can remember feeling like I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear when everyone would start fighting. This led me to search for an escape. About half a mile down my back country road, there was a small stream in the farmers valley that flowed under a bridge. When I felt like I had to flee, I would run as fast as I could to my bridge. I would go there because I was desperate for peace and solitude. I did this for years and years. Sometimes I would stay down there for hours on end until I’d hear people start yelling for me up the way. Eventually, they knew where to find me, and could see my blurry figure sitting on the edge of the bridge down in the valley from our driveway. Sometimes I wonder if those Amish farmers were praying for me, the neighbor girl who just sat on the bridge alone, day after day.

I would sit there and cry, feeling frustrated that my life and my family was a mess. I had always been adamantly determined to never do drugs or smoke, or be an alcoholic, or in any way be a bad person like my mother and father.

It wasn’t until I was about 15 that I realized that from the very bottom of my dark places, I was being deeply drawn to find respite in God at my bridge. He was drawing me in and deeply pursuing me, shielding and removing me from the hell that was my life. I would sit there and meet with him, not even realizing that was why I was there again. He had been cultivating in me a spirit of fervent perseverance and endurance since the day I was born.

One particular day in the summer at age 15, I remember feeling like I was increasingly getting sucked into that vacuum of dark, impoverished despair of this world. The shackle around my ankle was tightening and pulling me into the underworld of this society, and I was becoming exactly what I was so determined NOT to become. I knew who was controlling that shackle, I knew who was pulling me under the water.

With a resounding and infuriated roar, I said NO MORE.

God showed me His golden thread woven throughout my life. He showed me that it is not BECAUSE OF HIM, that I was suffering at the hands of the only ones who were charged to care for me. I was in poverty, barely having my needs met, yet somehow I usually ended up with enough. It wasn’t His fault. We are given a free will to make our own choices. You always have a choice in every matter, but you are never free from the consequences of your choices and sometimes those consequences extend for generations. I was suffering as a result of the choices my parents made, God never intentionally put me there to suffer.

That was the day I realized it was the Holy Spirit who had been giving me visions. He showed me a giant hand with a puffy cloud on it and I was standing on the cloud that was moving me through my life. God showed me that it is because of His ferocious love for me that He was carrying me through my tumultuous life. And He wanted my heart, even the dark, scarred caverns and the splintered and hemorrhaging places.

The Golden tapestry He wove through my life astounded me. Suddenly I saw my world and my life differently. I saw that from the day I was conceived, He was pursuing me. He chose me. He showed me the hollow, empty shell that my life was becoming. He showed me that with Him, I didn’t have to live like that. He wanted to change my DNA to His Royal bloodline. But it had to be my choice. Life will still be an uphill battle, and there will still be suffering, but if I can keep my eyes on Him, I can and will endure anything.

I chose Him.

And each day since, I continue to choose Him. Because apart from Him, I am nothing. The names He calls me in our secret place are My Beloved, Daughter of the King, Jewel, and Gem. He frequently reminds me that He has loved me with an everlasting Love. Only He was capable of removing and healing my dark places and filling them with His light and love.

I am freed. Released from a life of captivity. Free from the war that was waged for my soul from the moment I was conceived. Free from the life of evil that was drowning me. I am healed and whole. Seen and loved. Celebrated and chosen. God is always faithful, and God is always good. He has proven this to me through my life’s experiences and through his Word.

For that, I am eternally grateful. And I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the Heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling me.
(See Phil. 3:14) NLT

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

The silhouette of a warrior woman with storm clouds in the background.

Life Right Now; Running: Life’s Biggest Passion

Back in November, I ran my second full marathon, Harrisburg Marathon. I love this race. I am head over heels. The course is mostly flat with just a few minor hills. My training went pretty well, only a few minor hiccups. I had been struggling with Piriformis Syndrome for over a year but I was not currently having a flare up. I also came down with a nasty case of bronchitis 4 weeks out from RD so I had to miss my last 20 mile training run. If you have ever run a marathon, you know that that training run is probably the most important one on the entire schedule. I already had a 20 under my belt 2 weeks prior, so it was OK physically – but mentally not so much! I struggled to believe I was ready for all of it. I mean, of course I was, I had been in training for more than 4 months and only missed 2 runs total, the 20 and a subsequent 8. But the mental marathon is just as big a part as physically running the race. I eventually worked through it and had to revise some goals.

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I felt great going in to race day. Race morning was incredible. Low of about 42 degrees at the start, eventually warming up to about 58 degrees. Blue skies and warm sunshine. The day felt primed for a PR, but I just knew I didn’t have it in me due to Piriformis Syndrome (PS). I had to be very careful not to sprain my hamstring like in my previous marathon in April. So I decided to take it easy and run a comfortable and smart pace. I knew that was 8:15-8:45. I stayed put and eventually found myself at the tail end of the 3:45 pace group. I felt great and was keeping up easily, but at mile 16 or 17 the pacer dropped to 8 minute per mile pace and took off. I felt too uncertain about the last 10 miles to chase so I decided just to remain on my pace in order to not jeopardize myself in the end. What I didn’t account for was how monotonous and lonely I would then feel after running with a group for 10+miles. I realized I was mentally crushed that I got dropped by the group and it took its toll. My pace declined a bit (about 8:45-8:55) and I just kept trucking along. My wall came at mile 24 when nausea set in and my brick-feet couldn’t go any faster. I didn’t walk a single step of this race. There was never a time I felt that I really, actually wanted to quit. I kept myself grounded and my eyes glued on Jesus. I finished in 3 hours and 55 minutes, which is a new PR (by default, my first marathon I sprained my hamstring and had to run/walk 13 miles of it in 4:17). I finished feeling so proud of myself. I ran the mental race I wanted. Sure, timing didn’t go as planned, I wanted 3:45 (before the race and before finding myself in that pace group). But if you’ve run a marathon before, you know that you have to be flexible in your methods but never sacrificing the goal. My goal was to finish without walking and injury, which I accomplished. My sub goal was 3:45 which was not met, but that’s okay! I feel so good about that race, and I really feel such a great sense of pride in myself for maintaining my mental strength even through some pretty rough patches in training and the race. Plus, its an improvement from my first marathon, so I feel blessed to finish uninjured and happy!

Now, on to life right now. Things have been really shaky for me in this recovery time. It has been exactly 1 month since my marathon. I took the first 19 days off from running, trying to heal up the PS. I biked on my trainer about 6 or 7 times during that time frame, but I found that biking made the pain worse so I decided to start slow and short back in to running and see how it went.

It didn’t go well. I ran 5 times over 1.5 weeks, and now here I sit on an opened ended break from running. The pain is too intense and worse than before and I just need to stop running for an extended time frame in order to get the PS to go away. My guess is that Mid to late January I will try reintroducing running again. 4-6 weeks from now. That may not be enough time. I’ve had PS for so long (its been 14 months now) that I don’t even remember what it’s like to run without pain or problems in my gait. All spring races are off the table for right now. I don’t need to pressure myself into getting better. We will see what registrations I can pick up as those days get closer.

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For all who know me personally, you know how devastating it is for me to even write that. Spring races are what give me a launchpad into a new running year and help me pay for my gear (if I place). My heart is broken into a thousand pieces. Running is one of my life’s biggest passions, and right now, I can’t do it. Winter is typically my speed segment and I typically reduce mileage a decent amount. If I don’t have a speed segment to improve my speed, then my whole year is in jeopardy for improvement. No speed segment means that it will be virtually impossible to run a November 2017 full marathon with a faster time than this year. My  brain keeps spinning thinking why would I even push my body into another full knowing I’m not capable of improvement because of missing training pieces? Why take the injury risk and TIME and energy if I can’t get any better??? If I can even possibly shake the PS?

Why you ask? Because I just love the marathon build up. I am so in love with running and I have been for more than 15 years now. Any miles on the road you GET to run, are worth it. Miles go into your virtual piggy bank and help spur your growth. Even if I can’t get any faster in 2017, it would still be worth the experience to deposit into my piggy bank. That’s why. My sparkly & shiny love of running outweighs all the difficulties that come along with running a full marathon. Or any distance I am given this year.

This has been such a difficult time in my life. Running is my God-given talent that the Lord has asked me to share with the world. It’s my Light within to help bring athletes the love of Christ. When people look at me, I want them to immediately see the servant-hood of Jesus within. The running community is my sphere of influence. They are the people God has called me to serve and love.

The past few weeks I have really been questioning my calling. The enemy has placed seeds of doubt and unfortunately I have allowed them to develop during the post-marathon blues. Sitting here unable to run due to a pretty serious injury caused me to doubt the very foundation of what He wants from me right now. I wondered if I really heard Him correctly. I wondered, “How could God call me to do something that doesn’t ‘help’ anyone but me? I’m not setting out to cure cancer or feed the poor or go suffer in a third world country.” I started  very wrongfully believing this calling was just made up in my head and I was just trying to find a route to selfishly do what I love.

I realized that that belief and my mindset was not only sinful, but really limiting God and His plans for me and my best pal – running. Of course God is going to ask me to do something I’m passionate about. He loves me, and wants to give me good gifts, that are multipurpose and also advance His kingdom. So duh, of course He wants to give me a calling and dreams that He himself placed in my heart. Naturally, of course I want to share that light with others. Matthew 7:9-11 says: “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”

Of course He wants to bless my life with things I love to do and want to do. It’s not selfish to want to do them and share the joy it brings with others. I’m sharing my life with the people who care about me, and also with people who need Jesus.

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Now it has not been an easy cakewalk in the park, His plans rarely ever are. 2016 is a year that I am eager to get behind me. It has been such a confusing and painful year. So many highs and lovely things, and even lower lows. I placed in numerous races, but I had and still have every runner’s worst nightmare of an injury. I truly just want to get this all behind me and start over next year.

The lessons God has taught me over the past few weeks – but particularly during my fast on Wednesday, and the personal/relational problems that He has brought into the light, are astounding. I am taken aback when I see His thread woven throughout every area of my life. Both internal and external. He showed me that I dug up some issues that I dealt with in childhood that he once buried. I’m all the sudden struggling again to bind that “Orphan spirit” that shaped who I once used to be before God gave me a new heart. I have been feeling pulled to be more present with my family and with others, and feeling like I need a reboot of my entire operating system with a long time of R&R. I need to realign my mind with the Word and his voice. Since having kids that has always been the daily struggle, to actually spend QUALITY time in the word both studying and listening. It is and always has been a part of my daily routine, but my time spent just isn’t quality sometimes. I have trouble concentrating because my house is constant chaos.

This is a snapshot of my life right now. It’s not pretty. It’s a lovely shade of bruised blue, much like the sky bruises with a shade of blackish blue grey after a rough summer storm.

But this is life. I will live it to the fullest. These are His plans for me right this moment, and my husband has a very similar calling to mine which is no coincidence. However, we do feel the Lord preparing us for something bigger including (and beyond) these current callings, he is rooting things out of us and spurring us on to grow in Him. We feel like we are on the arrow, poised and pulled back on the bow, waiting for His release. Where the arrow lands and where it takes us, we do not know.
But He is preparing the way through the wilderness. We will enjoy every step through this adventure.

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Garden Spot Village Marathon

I had high hopes of posting more through this marathon training cycle. I wanted to post a synopsis of each week’s training, yet here I am 8 days out and not once have I posted!

Anyway, training went very well for me. I was not so lucky in that my case of hamstring tendonitis came back ferociously and brought with it another episode of IT Band Syndrome.  I spent 4 weeks in physical therapy. Thankfully, I can run these days without significant pain anywhere… but as you can probably imagine race day still feels kind of scary because anything can happen. I’m praying that I don’t have another instance like at the Hershey Half, where my hamstring got so tight that it just gave out. Also, I see a snowflake on the 10 day forecast for race morning… I am petrified. Running in snow/icy roads is probably one of the worst conditions to have to race in. Footing is uncertain and one slip can literally drop you to the ground and you’re toast. This is obviously frustrating because I will have dedicated 18 weeks to this race. I’m gonna be furious if it snows and no one can perform well. It’s April for goodness sake! That would mean I would have to find a “Plan b” race somewhere in April/May so I don’t totally waste my training time. My Plan B marathon is Delaware Running Festival. Pray the snow away!!

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But as I said, things are looking good for me. I feel great, legs are not responding well to taper (but they never do for me anyway). They feel like cement. I’m really struggling to hold myself back during taper.

My 20 miler went great, ran it in 2:59 and couldn’t be happier about that. I thought for sure it’d take a good 10 minutes more. I felt great too; I mean I felt like I had run 20 miles but I felt surprisingly great. Not much pain anywhere. Not a whole lot of soreness. And not a whole lot the next day either, I could totally still walk!

Everything is coming together very well. Fueling is great, and my plan is in place. I am loving Tailwind and organic raisins with water in alternation every half an hour. Race morning breakfast is great too. A cup of coffee and 1 slice of my homemade 100% whole wheat bread with 1/2 tsp of natural peanut butter and 2 tsp of raw honey, 2-2 1/2 hours prior to start. Works like a charm each run. I always feel satisfied, but not heavy after eating that. It makes me feel energized and ready to get to work!

My shoes are almost to retirement, which I am slightly concerned about. I knew when buying this pair 8 weeks ago that it’s going to be close with mileage. So I’m going to run my last long run tomorrow and see how my legs respond. If I am not confident in them I’m going to have to buy an emergency pair and break them in as fast as possible. It’s not wise to run a race in new shoes, but I think it’s equally unwise to run a marathon in spent shoes, especially with my current injuries. So we’ll have to see about that, but I’m leaning more towards running in my tried and true pair to avoid any new-shoe blistering.38d4a38b43067f43dd91fd357842062c

This experience has been wild, to say the least. I have studied previous years results. I have run the course every week, and run every square inch of it (not all at once). I know every bump, every turn, every windy spot. I know what pace I have to hit, and where at any given moment. HOWEVER – God has a funny way of doing things. He asked me to do this for Him. He has also informed me that this race needs my idea of “proper pacing” laid aside, and needs to be run by the guidance of the holy spirit at all times. AKA that is so scary. I am such a competitive racer that I really want to do well. But He is reminding me that ITS NOT ABOUT THE TIME. And I agree, I’ve never run this distance and I don’t really know how my body will respond so I have to run with a mixture of nailing down a goal pace and running by feel. Tough to do that in the heat of the moment. Moment by moment I will have to rely on God to show me the way. I know where I stand in contention to placing. I expect to do well with placement, based on my training times and my ability to race well mentally. I have a home field advantage in that this race is in my town, and I’ve run this terrain pretty consistently for almost 8 years.

God has been revealing to me that this race is the starting line of so much more than just marathons. There is something big coming from this experience. I’m stoked to find out. This experience has changed my life. It has changed my faith in God. I fully believe that God will carry me through anything He asks me to do. I believed that before, but not 100%. There was always that .01% in my heart that was still unsure, because God has never asked me to do something that so ferociously forced my reliance on him. There were multiple times that I legitimately thought this race was over for me. After taking 2 weeks off to heal my hamstring, I saw the orthopedic doctor and thought for sure she was going to tell me to give up. I was shocked when she said I could continue if I take it easy. I didn’t believe her. But here I sit, largely pain free at all times.

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Once I get though GSVM I plan to take a few weeks off. I do have a 5k the Saturday after (which I didn’t want to do but its part of a series I’m running this summer so I got kind of stuck having to run it), but I plan on just giving my body total rest for those first 5 days, with a spruce up easy short run on Thursday and that 5k on Saturday. Then another two weeks off running totally. I plan to bike and get back to HIIT circuit training 2-3 days a week. I need time to heal my injuries from all the impact my body has taken. Then I will resume easy springtime running the first week of May and start rebuilding my way to begin training in mid-July for Harrisburg Full Marathon in November. I have one short race each month, with my half marathon in September and I can’t wait! I love 5ks and 5 milers! I am SO looking forward to NO training schedules to have to follow this spring and running by feel and just enjoying running in its simplest form again.

The future looks so bright and I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me on race day.

Brenda

{Boston in a box.} Chasing the Unicorn.

Running is one of my heart’s biggest passions. I love it so much. It really is one of my favorite things on earth to do, and I’d rather be running than almost anything else.

Long ago, I had stuffed the dream of running the Boston Marathon deep into my heart. So deep, that I never told a single soul. This was a total pipe dream as I was never a fast runner. Average sure – but not Boston quality, and I never really thought I could ever possibly run that fast for that long. I’m a relatively seasoned runner as I’ve been running for 14 years which is actually more than half of my life. mj

Over the course of the last 14 months, God has really blessed my running abilities. I spent most of last winter huddled around a space heater in my freezing cold basement doing crazy amounts of speedwork, intervals, and fartleks on my treadmill along with tons of lifting, strength training, yoga and drills. I put SO MUCH effort into my off season and God really blessed that hard work.

Two months ago I ran the Hershey Half Marathon which was my first longer distance race. Throughout my 8 week training, I realized that if my race predictions held true, the finish line of that race was going to become the starting line of much more for me. A couple weeks prior to the race, I started feeling a bit of irritation in my hamstring. Sure enough, halfway through the race I had sprained it so bad that I lost about 2 minutes off my pace for each remaining mile. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped because of the injury, but I still walked away astounded by how much progress I had made, and the doors that God had opened for me this year. Even though I could barely walk to the car…

I really enjoyed the race experience and decided that I wanted to do more longer distance races. I always wanted to run a marathon and had previously trained for one in 2011, only to be sidelined by a miscarriage before ever making it to the starting line.

So I started planning out 2016’s race schedule, and I thought I’d shoot for a fall full marathon after a couple half’s and 5 milers (my favorite!) throughout the year starting with a half in the spring. But as I started doing my race research and studying race courses, I realized that for a little bit more training effort, I could do a spring Full (instead of the half) and I could really maximize my training time. The Lord was definitely working to change my heart. I wanted to do a spring race, but the idea of having to train all winter outdoors really had me feeling unsure. Outdoor running gets riskier for me the colder it gets because of having asthma. So I decided that if I was going to put in the effort to continue running outdoors all winter, I had better make the risks worth it and go for the Full! The holy spirit had been working on me, and day by day I started seeing the full picture of what God was asking of me. But after driving the race course and seeing how hilly it really was, I realized that with having a freshly healed hamstring injury it would mean almost certainly re-injuring my hamstring during the race. I thought, “there’s just no way I can run out and back up a mountain in my current state!”

And of course, during a prayerful run God interjected my thoughts right as I crested a pretty big hill and looked down over my small town with NO pain at all in my hamstring and he said, “With Me, you can do all things.” Ya’ll should have seen my face. It was like that scene in Elf where he finds out his dad is on the naughty list… “Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!”

He was reiterating what I already knew I had to do but just didn’t want to face.

But seriously though. I thought, “God, there is no way!”After a great deal of prayer, I came to grips with the fact that this is what God wants me to do next. So I signed myself up for a crazy hilly full marathon in April. My 16 week training has begun. I am forging ahead into the unknown, but I trust that the Lord will lead me, keep me healthy, and breathe strength into my fearful bones.

A few days after all that, I started feeling the Lord press me to look more seriously into the qualifying standards for running the Boston Marathon, as I’d heard that they have changed a lot over the last five years or so since I last reviewed them. I was shocked to see that according to this year’s race performances, I was literally right on the cusp of qualifying by only a couple minutes. It feels sort of like when you’re on a roller coaster and you’re right at the very top, cresting the hill waiting in suspense to soar over the edge. I didn’t even have a single clue about the treasure I was actually sitting on! With a whole lot of hard work I could absolutely get there, possibly by next year. I realized that God is right, and I need to start getting some marathon experience if I ever want to come close to this deep-seeded dream.

Back in November, the Lord started giving me a vision. It’s me holding a beautifully wrapped gift box, with a beaming light gleaming up in my face. My face has a look of awe. I didn’t know the meaning of that vision, but sort of assumed it was a metaphor about our salvation and the gift we have in Christ. However, a few weeks ago I had that vision again, and this time it had a Boston Marathon finisher’s medal inside the box. I instantly dropped to my knees and ugly cried. I still just can’t even comprehend how this is all happening.

The Lord is so good to me. He chose to enter the library of my heart and browse all of my cataloged dreams. He picked this gleaming book up off of my shelf of broken dreams and decided to re-write the ending. Simply because He is Good and he can. This is the type of love I have never had the privilege of experiencing and struggle most with accepting.

You can imagine why I can’t help but cry every time I think about what’s going on in my life right now. I have never felt worthy of any accolades or accomplishments, and never before have I ever felt like I was naturally good at much of anything. That’s largely because of my upbringing. I was not raised in a loving “greenhouse” home environment that my strengths and talents were watered with praise, encouragement, or positivity. I was told “NO you can’t do that because of…” more times than I can even count. My ideas were not met with an attitude of encouraging growth, but only being shut down and told that I didn’t have the ability to accomplish that. I don’t really think this was intentional on behalf of my family, and I largely just let it roll off my back and ignored the negativity as I got into my teenage years and started taking real control of my own life.

God is on a mission to uproot all of those lies that were sewn into my heart. He infused strength into my abilities and pushed me to a different level of running by giving me encouraging race experiences that PROVED my abilities. No matter how sheepish I feel admitting it, I can’t deny that I’ve done better lately, and made huge progress with every race I chose this year. I think I probably would have argued my way right out of doing this full marathon (let alone a mission to Chase the Unicorn) had God not prompted me to get into racing.

About 5 months ago, I started feeling that God was changing my direction, and what he had for me next I would not even be able to wrap my brain around. And He’s right, I can still barely stomach the whole idea. But I’m psyched out of my mind for this challenge, and I’m going to eat that mountain for breakfast. I probably won’t qualify for Boston by way of my spring marathon because is the hills, but I am very realistically hopeful that in November I will qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon.

I think he’s got some other things up his sleeve for me once I complete my marathon on April, and I’m starting to see some glimpses of those puzzle pieces coming together. And I couldn’t be more excited to travel this adventurous road into my future.

Brenda

Miscarriage – Part Two ://: Flushing shame away // Short Stack’s Challenge //

This week marks 4 years since the beginning and end of Short Stack’s life. Just when I think I’m feeling strong about it, grief comes crashing in again like an unexpected wave.

However, with the time passing, I have developed a lot more clarity and strength to share more about my miscarriage. It gives me great joy to speak to others experiencing this pain. It’s a unique unspoken club that only exists in hushed tones, as if people think that it’s contagious to even speak the word miscarriage.

But I’m here to tell you that silence about this subject is your greatest enemy. The Bible tells us that the devil comes to “Steal, kill and destroy,” and part of the unending devastation that comes along with losing a child, is suffering alone in silence and shame.

Shame plays a big part in the silence.

I personally still drown in the shame I feel about losing Short Stack. You see, something I never shared previously (except for with Jon and I believe one additional person) was that the day of my miscarriage, I gave birth to my tiny 5 week gestation baby in the bathroom. And in a moment of utter shock and panic, I flushed him down the toilet. (If you read my previous post about miscarriage, You’ll read about how I know he was a boy.)

Every single day of my life since, I have regretted this action more than any choice I have ever made. How I wish I could go back in time and change that day.

I had only known I was pregnant for 3 days. We weren’t trying (and weren’t planning on trying for years), so this baby was such a surprise, and I knew absolutely nothing about anything relating to pregnancy. On the morning of my miscarriage, I started to have light bleeding but had no idea that that was what was coming. I went to work like any other day, but within 15 minutes of being there the contractions had gotten so intense (I didn’t realize that’s what was happening until later because all I could feel was pain) and the pain got so bad… I felt a gush like nothing I’d ever experienced, only to get to the bathroom to discover that I was holding my child for the first and last time. I felt the Presence of the Lord fall on me in that very moment. I had never before experienced such a tangible, ethereal presence of the Lord, but I felt Him come and escort my son to Heaven. The tangible presence of peace was so strange, it really was as if I was feeling my son passing into the arms of Jesus. And just as quickly as He came, this presence lifted and was gone.

My head was swimming. I was SO overwhelmed with confusion and panic, and I had no idea how I could leave the bathroom carrying a miniature baby, covered in blood, sobbing. In that moment I was so utterly overwhelmed by emotion and confusion and SHAME that I literally went into instinct mode and I flushed. As soon as I did, I realized my grave mistake. It was too late to bring him back. So I ran. 6e3a68a759c607b5c470b360b9b43bcb

I have been running from it ever since. I felt God pulling at me for years now to share this detail. So many women have stories like this. We are all ashamed for various reasons, and silence will only continue to magnify the pain.

There is nothing I want more in life than to be able to properly honor my child’s life. He didn’t deserve to have his life stolen from him. He does deserve to be honored, which is why we celebrate his actual Birth Day every year. Last year we put messages to him inside balloons and sent them off into the sky. Atlas drew a picture for his big brother. There are no words to express how hollow that makes me feel.

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Child loss takes pain to an entirely new level, and you will never “get over it” or “heal from it.” If you lost a husband or sibling or a parent, people would never expect you to just get over it, stop talking about them, and forget that that person existed. In the words of Dr. Seuss, a person is a person no matter how small. Sure the pain will lessen as time goes on, and you move on with your life. But don’t be surprised when it overtakes you. It will.

The memories and flashbacks still knock the wind out of me.

Which brings me to my next point, speaking of knocking the wind out of me. Three months ago, I decided to sign up for the Hershey Half marathon, which just so happens to fall on Short Stack’s 4th birthday this weekend, October 18th, 2015. I am running in memory of him, to honor his life, to show a positive example of how a person can create healthy positive habits to encourage life to continue moving forward after loss. You can choose to be debilitated, or you can choose to use this pain as fuel to inspire others to keep moving forward. The Bible tells us that He will give us beauty for our ashes, and joy for our pain. The Bible also tells us to bear the weight of each others burdens, and to weep with our brethren who weep. I have created a plan that I feel will help others navigate this path. I do not mean to trivialize the pain we feel, or to try to cover it up or ignore it. I recommend speaking with a counselor in addition to this plan. Doing something tangible, like an actual dedication to a walking plan can help people (women especially) move forward with hope and healing.4ff7f5a1463d9fb9ccd260412a8c54f1

For that reason, I want to personally invite you to participate in Short Stack’s Challenge. And if you are years post-miscarriage, and feel that this isn’t necessary for you, PLEASE share the details of this plan with others if they share their current loss with you!! You could also offer to walk/run with them.

#1 Each and every one of you who have experienced the loss of a child and are currently or still dealing with it, are encouraged to get out there and walk or run as often as you choose depending on the current state of health you’re in, and your doctors clearances on exercise. Distance, speed, pace, none of that matters. Exercise (and fresh air, for that matter) physically changes the hormones in your body, and as some say it is the most underutilized anti-depressant. BUT… this plan is three-fold…

#2 For every few minutes that you are out, pray OUT LOUD to God something you are grateful for. It doesn’t matter what it is, big or small, but thank Him for something. Picture Jesus walking with you, if that helps.

#3 Choose a Bible verse beforehand that magnifies the goodness and strength of our Creator, and meditate on that verse all day long, choosing a new one each day. I will personally come and walk or run with you if that will help you get out there.

God has been working on this plan with me for some time, and I know it is still in its rough first stages, but I think if I had known about doing something like this when I experienced my own miscarriage, I feel that I wouldn’t have felt so chained down by it. I had just started training for the Garden Spot Full Marathon (upcoming in early spring 2012) when my miscarriage happened, and I allowed it to knock me off schedule and into a pit so deep that exercise was not on my radar for months after that. I totally gave up on everything in my life. Now, I sit back and wonder what my grief journey would have looked like if I would have at least tried to stay on track with my plan. I gave up on a dream. I gave up on life. I didn’t have a single person to share my pain with, because I was the first of all my friends to experience this devastation. Truly, no one around me knew how I felt, and I felt isolated and totally alone.

I want to inspire you to take care of yourself, to love yourself and to keep your eyes focused on Jesus. He will bring healing, peace, and outrageous joy to those who diligently seek Him. My goal with Short Stack’s Challenge is simply to point you to Jesus, and his goodness and gentle love. With His strength, it is possible to move forward. It IS possible to get up each morning, and to do something nice for yourself (even if you feel like you don’t deserve it), and worship our Father at the same time. Don’t ever forget the goodness of our God, no matter the circumstances or unfairness of this earth. “Every perfect and good gift comes down from our Father in Heaven.”

Good luck, and happy exercising.

-Brenda

“If your wings are broken
Please take mine so yours can open too
Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Tears make kaleidoscopes in your eyes
I know you’re hurting, but so am I
And love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine so yours can open too
Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, cause I’m gonna stand by you.”

Rachel Platten – Stand By You

The Journey Through Death Valley

Ecclesiastes 3:1 – “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…”

Honesty and transparency go a long way in our world today, which is the only reason why I am choosing to write this post. It does not feel good to publicly parade my shortcomings and “failures” [I really hate that word] on the internet. But God wants me to live my life serving others. I think most of you can use a little encouragement right now. It seems like most of the people I know can identify with our season of lack. So I guess I’ll just rip it off like a band-aid.

Lately, we have been in a desert. During prayer and often times at church over the past few weeks, I get this specific vision: I am crawling on all fours on my belly on the floor of Death Valley. I am parched, sweating, dusty and dirty, and barely have any air left in my lungs. There is no strength left in my bones to continue finding my way out. I am seemingly alone, and left for dead. I am on what appears to be an unending journey.

In January 2014 Jon felt very strongly that we needed to save every last penny we could because we were going to need it. He didn’t know what for and we kind of just assumed it was to diligently work towards becoming debt free.

We were wrong.

We were obedient, and we saved a lot, hoping to be free of one my smallest student loans by the end of 2014. However, in October with Ezekiel at 4 months of age (Only $400 from our pay off goal), I started noticing subtle red flags that increasingly got worse when he started having blood in his diapers. He had always been a “spitter,” and the doctors would always tell me it’ll get better with age. After many doctor appointments, we had a diagnosis. Severe milk protein allergy, paired with severe reflux. He was dropping weight like nobodies business and he would vomit entire feedings most of the time. Poor kid was just so miserable. We started moving up the ladder of special baby formulas. And after so many attempts by 5 months, we landed on one of the most expensive formulas on the market. It’s a hypoallergenic amino-acid based formula that’s actually meant for incredibly premature NICU infants who are tube fed, and those who are severely allergic to milk. As you can imagine, it is outrageously expensive, to the tune of about $450-$475 a month at his highest consumption. It was a terrifying time, knowing our child was miserable and in pain.

Suddenly, our income wasn’t enough and we had to pull hundreds out of savings each and every single month since last October, just to pay the bills. We thank God that we were so diligent in following his leading, or we would have racked up a whole lot of debt. But that still doesn’t leave us without a canyon of disappointment. We had worked so hard for that money. I worked weekends for more than a year and a half for that money, at a job that I loved. It was however, a difficult and high stress job. I lead an entire team of volunteers who served our very large church family each and every weekend. It was an amazing opportunity for me to hone in on how to identify how the holy spirit leads me in a very practical way while serving others. Never again will I have an opportunity to get paid to do that. But it did come at the expense of family time, as it was my job to work every single weekend for the foreseeable future.

We sacrificed big time to get rid of that loan. And it has since been month after month of disappointment. We have been praying for Ezekiel’s healing all along, but it has not yet come. In December, we felt very strongly that it was time for me to quit my job, and to also leave our home church. We felt that God was leading us down a very different path, and that this was the start of a new journey towards developing our ministry. It was so very difficult for me to step down from such a great opportunity within the church. I agonized over it for months. We are still unsure of the next step, or what that even looks like.

Ezekiel is going off the special formula in the next couple days, as all formula fed babies do around 12 months. We were very hopeful to get ourselves back on track, and we felt like we could finally see the end of the tunnel this summer. And then, three weeks ago the transmission started acting up on my car. The car was given to us by some incredibly generous friends and has really served us well, but it was rather old and in very bad shape. It wouldn’t have been wise to pay to fix a car that wasn’t worth the cost of the repairs. Especially because we didn’t even have enough cash to pay for it!

It felt like the floor had collapsed underneath of us. We only got a small glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel with dropping such a huge monthly expense, but as it turns out, it was the train coming.

We had almost nothing left. Which meant only one thing: a car loan. I understand it is not the end of the world to some people to have a car loan, but it felt like we had finally met out defeat. We could not have possibly felt any lower about it. After all these years of financial struggles, we had finally hit the bottom. We fought year after year not to get into any more debt.

We are still some of the richest people in the world and we are grateful for all that we do have that is not monetary. We were able to secure another cheap vehicle, but not without getting into more debt.

God has been good to us throughout this time. We had someone anonymously donate an entire month of formula, and we had an a/c unit given to us recently all out of the goodness of other people being the hands and feet of Christ. I am eternally grateful that those individuals were obedient to the Lord on our behalf.

I know that I am selectively paraphrasing and not painting the entire, accurate picture for lack of time, and that these financial struggles may seem rather trivial to some. But, please know that this is not every detail. And if you reread some of my older posts, you know that I come from a rather poor background (in both love and money). I have never known anything but financial struggles and disappointments.

I’m really starting to identify with Job and his struggle to keep his joy. And Moses and his journey through the desert. His story brings me comfort, knowing that I am not alone as a fellow nomad desert-dweller.

Despite all of these things over the course of the last year, I have refused to lose my joy. Sure, it has been tough. There were days that I would just cry and pray at the feet of Jesus begging and pleading for him to take this from us, and to heal our son, and restore our financial situation. Thankfully, Ezekiel no longer has reflux and is off all medication for that, and will no longer require anything specific for his future diet, except avoiding all dairy products and everything on the common allergen list until we test each one month by month. He may even outgrow the dairy protein allergy by the time he’s 3, but from a medical standpoint, that is becomingly increasingly unlikely now as time goes by.

While the vision I continue to see is a little disturbing, I will say that in the vision, I am seeing things from MY perspective. Meaning I can only see a few feet in front of me for the dust in my eyes. I think that’s how we tend to see our problems, from a human perspective. But what I can’t see in that vision is all that is going on behind me pushing me forward, or what is just up ahead Calling me forward. Every last one of us are wholly and completely dependent on God for each and every thing at all times. We tend to forget that as we wrap ourselves up in our problems and our money.deathvalley

I have known all along that this was a honing process. God is whittling away at us, in preparation for something involving our ministry. This journey started for me as a child, and for Jon when we married nearly 7 years ago.

The future is unnerving. It’s hard to stay in faith and continue to believe that God is good. But He promised me comfort during the trials (John 14:27), which is where I’ve chosen to stand. God is the author of life, the author of good and not harm. God isn’t doing these things TO us. Some wise old dude once said that our journey through this life is not as much about what we are doing WITH our lives along the way, it’s simply about building our relationship with Jesus with our time. That IS the journey. That’s what we hope to do. Each and every day I am continually reminded of how each thought, choice, and word shapes our future. God will provide a way for us to get out of debt. He will provide for every last one of our needs. Our son will be healthy and whole and happy. Someday, we will look back on this stage and see how God was working, and see the rest of this picture. This is all up to God. We are merely along for the ride.

Brenda

::Hebrews 11 : Faith::

Hebrews 11

Life. Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, we don’t understand it. Sometimes, we react the wrong way. We are so quick to jump to conclusions in life, and if God doesn’t “answer” our prayer the way we want him to right when we finish praying, we feel like God has left us for dead in a field somewhere. I personally think this is because we live in a society that gets instant gratification. We want what we want, and we wanted it 5 minutes ago.

I think God always answers our prayers. But we say we can’t hear God when it sounds like He’s saying something we don’t want to hear. It’s selective hearing at it’s finest. If you’ve been baptized in the Holy Spirit (which I would highly recommend looking into if you’ve not yet partaken), He is always speaking to you and telling us which way to go. I know the distractions of life often get in the way, but it just bugs me to my core when people say that they feel like God is so far away, as if He is the one who stepped away. God promised us after the resurrection while he was giving the Great Commission that He would be with us always, even to to the end of the age. No if’s and’s or but’s about that statement. [See: Matt. 28:18-20]

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Which brings me to my next point: Faith. I can personally attest to feeling totally and utterly lost in life. Going through my miscarriage brought me to my knees, and to the very edge of my faith in Christ. Truthfully, I was at the brink of just giving up on everything. I had no idea what to do next. But that’s when it hit me… Life just isn’t fair. We live in this fallen world, and it’s not going to treat me any differently because I’m a Christian. In fact, it probably makes it that much more difficult, because the Thief is always in pursuit, trying to rob us of our Joy in Christ.

I have many more examples in my life of having to cling to the Lord each and every minute of every day. Fatherlessness, abuse, becoming a figurative orphan, choosing to forgo college in lieu of a promising full time job that I promptly got laid off from 7 months later when the economy tanked, and on and on again. My life has been anything but easy. Even when I felt like I was all alone and left for dead, not once has God abandoned me. Not once has he left my side. Sure, life has treated me unfairly. But if I choose to focus on that, I would make myself miserable. We were put on this earth to glorify God, we’re His treasured possession.

I know a lot of people are stuck in the rut of “If I’m God’s treasured possession then why did he allow me to lose my job?” Here’s the thing: God never said life would be fair, easy, or awesome. He instead promised us sorrows, pain, rejection, and intolerance for our faith in this world. But the truth is, Jesus already won. The war is over, and we’re at the point in this world that Satan and his army are just trying to take every single one of us down with him that he can. Putting on the armor of God has to be a daily occurrence, always choosing to place our faith in the Lord, and not this world.

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That my good friends, is where I personally think we go wrong. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1.

Hebrews is one of my favorite books of the Bible. In Hebrews, we read many examples of our ancestors receiving promises for their lives here on earth. My favorite example of this is Abraham & Sarah, knowing what God had promised them about Isaac, and that all of their innumerable descendents would come through him, yet Abraham was still willing to sacrifice him believing that God would just bring him back to life. THAT is faith my friends. No doubt, Abraham was terrified. How in the world could you willing take your son’s life? But it was a choice. And thankfully, Abraham chose correctly and he was rewarded because of it.

It’s not always easy to believe that God has our best interest at heart, and that’s because of the Curse. Women especially have this deeply embedded fear that we’re going to be abandoned, and that God really doesn’t want to care for us and love us. We also believe that we know what’s best for us, better than God would. Again, thanks to the Curse, women can easily become control freaks about just about everything. But again, it has to be a daily choice to put your trust in the Lord.

I just love how in verse 13 it says that despite the lofty promises God had made to these people, all of them died still believing they would receive them, and they didn’t actually receive any of it. Not a single one of them!

He goes on to talk about Daniel, Gideon, David and other examples of great faith. I find it interesting that he says that some of them were tortured and shamed because of their faith, some were imprisoned, whipped, and even sawed in half. Some were destitute and wandered the desert alone.

He’s speaking of the unfairness of this world. God had the power to turn their situations around and kill everyone who persecuted them, but had he done so, we wouldn’t have these great examples of faith because then they wouldn’t be living by faith, now would they? And we know that it is impossible to please God without faith. (see verse 6).

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I do believe that that is the secret to faith. It is keeping your eyes fixed on the Lord, and choosing not to waver even in the midst of imprisonment, lashings and being sawed in half. Questioning God will not get you answers or bring Him closer to you, it just opens up more questions. We must choose to believe that God has our eternal reward waiting for us, and in His due time we will receive that. But I do agree, it must be hard to trust God when you’re being sawed in half. That sure puts my problems in perspective.

I love how he continues into chapter 12…

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

5 And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
6 For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

He speaks of ditching the distractions of this world that trip us up in order to finish the race God placed us in. The only solution is to keep your eyes on Jesus. Even Paul alluded to the fact that we are dealing with relatively insignificant things, because we aren’t in a position where we’re being forced to give our lives in the name of Christ.

As I said, I’m the first one who can attest to how difficult life can be. But I do believe that the trick is that you cannot allow yourself to start believing that you’re a “victim,” or you will start down a road that’s very hard to walk. Instead, fill you mind with God’s promises, focus on the good and pure things from above, and choose daily to place your faith in Christ and the promise that He is with us always and forever, and neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow can separate us from His love. [Romans 8:38]

Brenda