We Have a Gratitude Problem


Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences. [Read more…]

The Prosperity Gospel and the Truth About Suffering


A sweet friend of mine took to Facebook to share the news of a new and difficult diagnosis she was trying to process. She was grappling with news of a condition that will be a life long struggle with pain and disability, and she was turning to her friends online for some much needed support. 
A few comments down, it happened:

“Don’t speak that over you. You do not have *diagnosis*…I rebuke that in the Name of Jesus! God wants you well. Speak healing over yourself.”

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Just a day earlier a well meaning connection had sent me a private message on Facebook, suggesting I should listen to a sermon titled that exact same sentiment: God Wants You Well. The sermon description included the lines “[Religion] even tries to make us believe that sickness is a blessing. That’s just not true. God wants you well.” Seems like a pretty positive message right? I mean, Jesus DID go around healing the blind and asking the lame to walk, so clearly He doesn’t want anyone to be sick…right? He only wants blessings for His followers: all the good and perfect gifts from the Father, and everything else? Well those are the attacks of Satan – obviously.

Friends, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as great as that sounds? It’s totally not Biblical – not even a little bit.

Take a seat, grab your coffee and your Bible if its handy, and lets dig in together to see what God REALLY says about suffering. I’m taking on 7 key points where we can compare the teachings of the prosperity gospel side by side with God’s word, and see just how much they don’t sync up.

The Prosperity Gospel says: Rebuke Suffering
The Bible Says: EXPECT Suffering

1 Peter 4:12
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as thought something strange were happening to you.

1 Thessalonians 3:3
…that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.

1 Peter 4:19
Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good

1 Peter 2:21
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps

The New Testament is absolutely littered with references to suffering, especially if you dig in to the writings of Paul. (There’s a guy who did his fair share of suffering. )We’re reminded time and time again of the truth that suffering is to be expected for followers of Christ. When Jesus told us to pick up our cross to follow Him? He was preparing us for the reality that the Christian walk would in no way guarantee us “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Quite the opposite. Paul tells us in Thessalonians that we are destined for suffering, choosing a word that communicates the idea of the very purpose for which something was created – like a salt shaker is made to hold salt. As appealing as it is to believe that a life following Christ is one where we leave our troubles behind us, the truth of Gods word sheds light on a very different reality.

[Read more…]

When God Pushes Pause

 

The blog has once again been eerily quiet.

There was such a year of build up to creating this site, with God opening doors I could have never ever dreamed and with opportunities coming together in the most providential of ways. It was amazing to experience how when you are willing to simply say yes to whatever and wherever He leads, the journey is beyond anything you can ask or imagine. It was all of the truths of “immeasurably more” coming to life and exploding off the page. It was magical.

And then right when the opportunities were most abundant?

HE PUSHED PAUSE.

If you follow my social media channels you will have likely seen the reason behind the recent silence on the blog. After 15 years of continuing health issues a surprising twist has come to light. Countless misdiagnoses and failed treatments and incredulous shrugs from doctors who couldn’t agree on a name for the symptoms that seemed to be multiplying more rapidly than ever all culminated in a unexpected identity for my captor:

LYME DISEASE

With the key finally in hand to the mystery of my crippling illnesses, we set out to finally banish my issues once and for all, only to discover we had been dealt a double edge sword. This particular diagnosis, it would seem, is only a beginning to a very long road indeed. Treatments are difficult and uncertain. Doctors who are knowledgable of the condition are few and far between. Insurance companies all but refuse to cover any of it. The diagnosis isn’t so much an ending to this struggle as the beginning of a new one.

[Read more…]

I’ve Been in Pain

946770_10153542624579818_1936731990056128860_nIt’s been a long time since sharing my words in this setting. Too long. Its been an awkward enough pause to address it, but doing so is easier said than done. Some bloggers would suggest I call it a “sabbatical.” That’s really just a cop out at this point. Still others would counsel to have me point to my behind the scenes projects to show that I’ve been “in demand” and the brand is still thriving. And yes, I’ve been working furiously on the book and lining up my 2016 speaking engagements, but it’s certainly not what’s kept me away.

Here’s the unglamorous and totally truthful reality:

I’ve been in pain.

Some of it is physical pain. Many of you know I suffer from a debilitating pair of chronic health conditions called Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) and Fibromyalgia. Winter is the hardest time of year for both these conditions, as cold and flu season hit with a vengeance and cold weather is a known trigger for additional fibromyalgia pain – especially now that we’ve left mild CA for a state with an actual winter. We even had our first ever snow this year. The pain has been harder to tolerate than I’ve been used to, and our medical insurance situation last year left me unable to pursue any real forms of help. I’ve been fairly open about these issues on my social media accounts, and have appreciated the wonderful support Ive received from both my readers and and from fellow members of the spoonie community. And it would have been easy to enough to leave it there and accept all the good wishes and understanding emails of encouragement. But that’s not the whole truth…

I’ve been in pain.

I’ve been neck deep in pain that was difficult to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. It’s a pain I’ve tried to rationalize myself out of, explain away, and stifle down it hopes it would disappear on its own. But as with most pain, it really doesn’t work that way. It’s continued on as this persistent ache, popping up at the most inopportune moments and gnawing away at my ability to ignore it. It’s not going anywhere, and the more I attempt to ignore it the more aggravated it becomes.

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I’ve been in pain.

At the beginning of 2015, in the midst of our multiple months of unemployment, my husband and I discovered we were very unexpectedly pregnant. It was quite the shock, and I would lying if I said it didn’t take some time to used to the idea. It was literally the worst possible timing, but it was far from unwelcome. We felt blessed to be experiencing the possibility of another miracle baby, one we had been discussing for some time but weren’t quite ready to take the leap to try for yet. That baby was a shining light in the middle of a dark season, a much needed anchor of hope to ballast us in the midst of so much uncertainty.

And then, after a longer than usual ultrasound with the nurse, the doctor said those horrible two words.

Not. Viable.

This marked the 7th child that we wont meet until eternity. A 7th precious little one with no birthday to celebrate, no future to plan.

I’ve been in pain.

12342486_10153485769759818_246129569753746655_nSoon after the loss,  my closest friend was blessed with her own unexpected surprise: a 4th little one to join her beautiful brood. It was a joy I admittedly have struggled to untangle from my own sorrow. The happiness I feel for her is authentic, but it’s difficult not to feel the pain of the could have beens. Up until now all our boys have been perfectly staggered in age. If I had carried my most recent pregnancy to term, this trend would have continued, but with the final pair being the closest in age of the bunch. We would have experienced our first pregnancy we’d actually get to do together. Watched the boys grow together. Done it all together.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps the hardest part of miscarriage is that the world around you goes on, and you carry no visible scar to help legitimize your pain. There isn’t a label such as “widow.” There is no grave marker to show. There’s no words to properly explain the gaping hole you know you’re walking around with but simply can’t find a way to show. You’re seemingly alone in it. – and no one knows, or they’ve all but forgotten.

I’ve been in pain.

They say, “time heals all wounds.” Has this ever really been true? If you leave a gaping hole in your leg untreated and wait for time to remedy it, does it really heal? Don’t you usually end up with gangrene? Why have we been taught to believe any different with invisible wounds? Why do we beat ourselves up when our pain doesn’t heal according to some fabricated timeline we’ve assigned ourselves? Why do we feel the need to limit the reaches of our grief? And how can we ever find healing for wounds we are so unwilling to admit, let alone treat.

I’ve been in pain.

1237591_10153541449494818_9191476745620302457_nMy best friend welcomed her 4th little guy into the family a couple weeks ago. He’s beautiful: perfect in every way. And with his birth, I was finally able to admit out loud to my husband for the first time whats really been paining me. Maybe it was the first time I was truly able to admit it to myself. I miss my baby. I miss what might have been. I ache to have a photo, or a birthday, or even a name for this perfect little person I haven’t been able to meet.

I’ve been in pain.

Perhaps finally admitting it is the first step to real healing. It stings like mad, but most wounds don’t heal themselves. And I refuse to ignore this one any longer.

I Stopped Praying for Things, and It Strengthened My Faith

11001935_10152843388074818_2261632969863150391_nFollow me for long enough and you’ll know that I certainly didn’t get my tattoo on a whim. The concept of immeasurably more has been something I talk about pretty constantly.

The phrase comes from Ephesian 3:20 which says “And to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” In our family the phrase has been adopted into something we say whenever things aren’t seemingly going our way. You’ll hear “well, this must just be another immeasurably more thing.” What we mean is that we are so incredibly small in our humanity, that we simply cant even begin to imagine big enough to really ask for God’s very best – so when things aren’t going the way we want, we simply aren’t able to imagine or ask big enough to see the whole picture. We have learned to trust that God’s best will always come through in the end, and it will always be immeasurably more than the things we thought we originally wanted. We’ve seen this truth play out time and time again in our lives in very tangible and memorable ways, so it’s become the truth we come back to time and again when times are hard.

And right now? Times are hard. My husband is still unemployed despite so many seemingly promising leads and opportunities. Unemployment still hasn’t made a single payment to us even though they owe us thousands of dollars at this point. We recently experienced a surprise pregnancy only to endure our 7th miscarriage to date. Its been a stream of situations that seem unfair and disappointing. But it’s in a time like this, clinging to the truth of immeasurably more becomes all the more essential to getting through. Having this truth tattooed permanently across my wrist ensures that I have no choice to remember it daily and meditate on it often. Recently my study of this phrase has lead me to a whole new understanding, and a deepening of my faith. You see, this past month believing in this truth has lead me to practice a new discipline in my prayers: I have stopped praying for the things I want. I know this sounds absolutely bizarre, but let me explain – and you might just come to understand your own faith in a whole new way too.

I haven’t stopped praying this past month, quite the opposite. I find myself in a near constant state of prayer: crying out to God both silently and out loud through my day to day tasks. Rather its the content of these prayers that have so radically changed. It started when my husband began to take promising interviews for possible job opportunities. The natural inclination in a situation like that is to pray desperately for the interview to go well and for it to ultimately end in a restoration of employment. But we are no stranger to this whole situation, and I’ve seen how that can end in the past. We would get our hopes up about a particular position, start to pray constantly for it to materialize, and then when it didn’t go our way we would feel heartbroken and let down – sometimes even resentful that God would seemingly lead us towards and opportunity only to take it away. Yet the more I meditate and studied this concept of immeasurably more, the more a new truth became increasingly clear. If I truly believe He has my best in mind, and I truly believe His best is all too often better than what I can even imagine to ask for? Then praying for specifics is the very antithesis of acting in that truth. When I pray for specifics, I open my heart to potential letdown and bitterness if things don’t go my way, and its too easy to ask for things that turn out to be less than God’s very best.

idontprayspecificsSo what is the alternative? This past month I have spent a lot of time studying that very question and applying the truths it’s brought me to. Instead of praying for any particular job or seemingly ideal solution to our situation, I have begun praying for my heart and mind to be more deeply rooted in His will and His truths. I pray for God to sustain our faith. I pray that His will be done, no matter the specifics. I pray that he adjust my attitude and align my heart closer to His own, that I will be led to seek after His very best and be open to receive whatever He has in store for us. I pray that our testimony be visible to others in this time. I pray that He teach me to recognize and receive all His good and perfect gifts, and that He give me the faith to see even the things that seem like disappointments as His loving act of sparing us from less than his best. I have stopped focusing on the things I think I want, and started focusing on who I know God to be. Rather than asking for specific circumstances, I’m asking for the wisdom to see His truths and the faith to openly accept His timing.

And the results? It’s been incredible – not just in the specifics of how He has been providing for us in this time, but in the deepening of my faith and my relationship with Him. Immeasurably more has become even more true to me, and the truths I’m able to glean from it’s application have only grown. Does this mean I believe that no one should pray for ANY specifics? Not at all. There is no shame in bringing your hearts deepest desires to the Lord in the intimacy of prayer. I’m finding though that it’s a truly faith strengthening discipline to set aside a certain time period, or specific situation , and admit that our human hearts all to often deceive us and the things we want most may ultimately be less than God’s best. By actively choosing to surrender ourselves to His will in such a specific way, we not only deepen our dependence on Him, but we begin to focus more on who God is and less on what He can do for us.

The truth of immeasurably more continues to play out in our life and each and every day right now, and the more I lean into it the more I find myself excited about seeing how God’s best ends up unfolding in our situation. I don’t know what His plan for us is, but I do know who He is, and for right now that’s more than enough – it’s immeasurably more than enough.

*I’ve started creating some Immeasurably More items for sale on my Zazzle, both to help bring some much needed income in for my family but also to spread a little hope and inspiration.  

How I Lost 50 Pounds in Only Six Months

How I Lost 50Lbs A year ago I was the heaviest I had been my whole life. At 5’9″ tall, I was 212 pounds and was wearing a women’s size 1x or an extra-extra-large. I was constantly fatigued, my chronic pain issues were becoming more and more inflamed, and I was so frustrated with the way clothes fit that I was beginning to lose any sense of what my personal style really was anymore. As my confidence suffered, so did my marriage, and it was difficult to want to go to social occasions when I knew I was going to face the inevitable parade of trying on 20 uncomfortable and poorly fitting outfit ideas before ultimately settling back into one of the 4 or so comfortable pieces I had relegated to myself almost daily. I was finally unhappy about it enough to be ready for change. In 6 short months I was able to shed 50lbs, bringing me to 162 lbs and a women’s size 8 on top, 10 on the bottom, or a size medium. The transformation has been a dramatic one, with the weight loss visible not just in my body but in my face as well. It changed the entire way I look, but more importantly it changed the way I feel. Not only was I able to lose the weight, but in the past 6 months I have been able to successfully keep it off, fluctuating  in a range of only 5-7 lbs through different seasons and changes in activity and diet. Amazingly, none of this weight loss was from working out, as when I was losing this weight I was going through various health issues and wasn’t cleared for physical activity any more strenuous than regular walking or occasional hiking with my boys – so nothing with a caloric burn to really bring about significant weight loss. This means ANYONE can lose weight, even if you’re facing physical handicaps that keep you from strenuous exercise. So how did I do it? Three main components made up my plan.

 

1. Kick Preservatives to the Curb: Eat Whole Foods Instead

ProduceI actually began my dietary changes not to lose weight but to help with various health issues I was experiencing. Rather than count calories, I was intentionally limiting the amount of processed foods and preservatives I allowed into my diet. In fact, I wasn’t tracking calories in much of a meaningful way for most of my weight loss journey. My focus was on eliminating the amount of chemicals making their way into my body. I learned quickly that the battle was best fought once at the grocery store, rather than over and over at home. This meant trying to keep my shopping trips to the outer walls of the grocery store as much as possible, and avoid purchases from the aisles in the middle. We kept tons of easy to snack on produce, especially berries and cuties oranges, to make up for the sugary treats I had become rather addicted to. Salty snack cravings were satisfied with choices like lightly salted almonds, or specially chosen tortilla chips or baked pretzels from a trusted whole foods provider like Trader Joe’s. I had to change the way I looked at what constituted a typical meal, since I wasn’t always able to cook meals from scratch but still didn’t want to fall back on processed convenience food. I actually ate many a lunch that looked almost exactly how I would feed my young kids: a few pieces of a preservative-free lunch meat (like turkey or nitrate-free salami,) a few nibs of cheese, a handful of pretzel crisps, a large carrot, and a selection of fresh fruit. I ate regularly, I never excluded any major food groups, and I never let myself go hungry. And sure, I would occasionally cheat, especially if eating a meal out with friends, but my goals were less about following a perfect program and more about creating a different lifestyle in how we approached food overall.

2. Find Ways to Actively Treat Yourself: Too Much Restriction Leads to Cheating & Quitting

Trader Joes ChocolateOf all the times I’ve managed to lose weight in the past, the process has been full of starts and restarts, and usually the pounds I lost came back within months – and it would bring some of its friends. This time I wasn’t so much focused on losing weight as on overall health, so I was allowing myself treats more than on any previous diet attempt. As the weight continued to slide off, and all throughout the past 6 months of maintaining my new size, treating myself has remained an important way to KEEP with these healthy changes. I’ve found from experience that the more I try to stick to super restrictive plans that require you to cut out entire food groups or eliminate all sugars or fats, the more Im tempted to cheat;and the more I cheat, the more quickly I convince myself I’m going to fail and quit the diet entirely. By allowing myself treats (like these amazing 100 calorie chocolate bard from Trader Joe’s,) I wouldn’t feel like I was on a diet, and my attention would be less focused on what I “couldn’t” have and more on the incredible changes I was seeing and feeling in my body.

 

 

3. MY SECRET WEAPON: Essential Oils Were the Ultimate Game Changer

Essential Oils for Weightloss

Now some of you may have read this far and thought to yourselves, “this isn’t really anything new to me – eat healthier and dont worry too hard about it… been there, done that.” For you folks in particular, I’m about to share my secret weapon that changed my health and diet in ways I honestly thought fell under the heading of internet scam or too good to be true. And in the spirit of honesty, when my friend first started telling me about essential oils from Young Living and all they could do for my health, I thought, “Yeah, sure… and Dr. Oz has the magic kale smoothie cure for cancer right?” At the time though, my health was in a pretty nasty way, and after trying so many things that simply weren’t working, I was desperate enough to give it a try. When my starter kit first arrived, I would classify myself as a “hopeful skeptic.” I certainly didn’t expect the oils to live up to the hype, but I was desperately hoping they would help even a little. And man, did those little bottles exceed all of my hopes. Within a month we were successfully using oils to help everything from insomnia to viral infections to chronic pain to acne that had plagued me since my teenage years. It was at this point that I heard about a trio of oils recommended for helping in weight loss. According to the experts, an empty capsule taken each day filled with a mixture of lemon, peppermint, and grapefruit oils could help with weight loss in incredible ways. Peppermint would aid in digestive function, lemon would help detox and balance the system, and grapefruit would drastically curb sugar cravings and help speed metabolism. Since I had already seen such wonderful results with other uses for the oils, I decided to give the oils for weight loss a try – and within 6 months I was 50 lbs lighter. When taking the oils I could feel a noticeable difference in my energy levels, in how quickly I felt full at meals (my portion sizes were dramatically reduced,) in how regular I was, and most noticeably in how much less I craved sugar. At one point I even went off the capsules for 10 days to see if it was just placebo effect, and by the end of the 10 days I was swearing up and down I would never stop taking them again. When a sugar craving hits especially hard (::cough:: PMS much? ::cough::) I put a little grapefruit oil directly on my skin like eau de toilette or diffuse it into the air, and the craving is noticeably eased. Thanks to my amazing mason jar tumbler and glass straw from The Mason Bar Company, I have also been able to add various citrus oils too my water intake each day. Lemon, Grapefruit, and Tangerine have become my favorite oils to drink, and just a few drops make keeping up my water intake super easy and delicious, while also providing the health benefits of the oils themselves.
(*It’s super important to point out that citrus oils should never ever ever be consumed in plastic of any kind, as they can eat at the plastics over time and can pull toxic chemicals from the plastic into your water. Only drink citrus oils from glass or stainless steel products. I cant recommend the glass tumbler and glass straw I’ve shown here highly enough!)
(**It’s even more important to point out that not all essential oils are safe to ingest. In fact MOST essential oils are absolutely NOT. Please research all essential oils before you purchase or ingest. I did a lot of research before decided on oils for my family, and the only brand I can SAFELY recommend for these uses is Young Living, especially because of their Seed to Seal process.)

I’m so grateful for the way these oils have affected my health and my weight loss journey, that I’ve decided to give away a 24 oz tumbler with my favorite mint lid and a glass straw (generously given by our friends at The Mason Bar Company,) as well as a full sized bottle of grapefruit, tangerine, and lemon! Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. Winner will be selected by Random.org. Contest will close at 12:00am on 4/1. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

When Your Worst Day Goes Viral

Click to Read the Post That Sparked It All

Click to Read the Post That Sparked It All

Friday, February 27th was one of my worst days. We were already walking one of the hardest seasons of our life, but we had been doing our best to keep our heads up and choose joy regardless. It was then that a trip to the grocery store turned into one of the most difficult experiences of my life so far, and threatened to shake not only myself by my 5 year old son to the core. Shaken and reeling, I took to the one place I could openly speak my mind in a way I simply couldn’t when the incident occurred – my blog, my little corner of internet real estate where I could openly share anything and feel like I had a tiny platform to be heard, maybe even understood. So a sat down for 30 minutes, watching my boys playing out the window behind my screen, and put my feelings into words. It was off the cuff and right from the heart, words going directly from my brain to the page, and I simply pressed “post” and returned to my day, feeling a little relief at letting my go of that burden of words unspoken. Little could I have predicted what would happen next.

#youremyheroaidanIn the next 48 hours the post went absolutely viral. In fact, 90% of the TOTAL page hits to my blog in its first month? All of them came from this one post. But it didn’t stop there. A reporter from our state newspaper spoke to me over the phone and penned an article about our experience. Other blogs and websites that run guest content offered to run the piece for us on their own pages. I started “Project Aidan” and the responses only grew. People posted comments, sent private emails, and posted to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag on various social media outlets. Kids mailed us drawings for Aidan’s. People sent letters. A microscope company contacted us to applaud Aidan’s unique love of science and sent us a gift pack to cheer him up. A middle school in another state spent class time making cards and a video to tell Aidan how special he was. Aidan even had a Skype date recently with a producer from the Ellen show about possibly appearing on the program, and now Aidan will be featured on The World Needs More Love Letters where he will receive even more outpourings of love, encouragement, and acceptance. I’ve made connections in the Autism and Hyperlexia communities I never could have dreamed of. I’ve received countless emails from parents saying they cried tears of their own because they’ve been in our shoes, and the post gave them the words they couldn’t find on their own. The response continues to grow and messages keep coming in.

Aidan is still working through a lot in response to the issue. In fact I just this past Monday afternoon had a meeting with his support team at our school, and its clear he’s still grappling with so many issues related to self esteem and how he perceives himself. For Aidan, its difficult to see the difference between different from other kids, and being somehow lesser than other kids. It’s something we work every day to try to address, and Lord knows this situation made it exponentially harder right now. But Aidan is an incredible kid, with so much strength and resilience underneath it all, and every time he reads a message telling him how incredible he is or gets a card in the mail to tape up in his reading fort? I can SEE the response. It’s very real and its incredibly apparent. Every message of acceptance helps outweigh the messages that convince him he’s not good enough, and every note of encouragement helps show him that not everyone shares the opinions he was burdened with that horrible day.

disagreeThe reality of a post going viral though, is not every response will be positive. There have been emails and comments that for a brief moment make me question it all – mothers of other children on the spectrum chastising me for what they view as exploitation by sharing our story publicly, people telling me I’m oversensitive and should have simply ignored it and moved on, people lamenting bloggers in general and how ridiculous they perceive the entire idea of sharing life online, even people who said the incident seemed too exaggerated to be true and suggested I made the whole thing up for our 15 minutes of internet fame. Any time you have a post that gets as much exposure as this one has, you’re bound to find voices that aren’t encouraging or supportive. It’s been an important set of lessons for me to learn as a new blogger: when and how to let those comments slide, to always ask where I get my value from and who I allow to define me, and how to keep the opinions of other keep me from changing my online voice and the message I use this platform to share. Ultimately I had to decide that if you’ve never experienced people disagreeing with something you’ve written, you might not being saying a whole lot. Criticism comes with the territory, and it’s just a speedbump, not a roadblock.

Im excited to see where this journey leads as this story continues to unfold, but for now I encouraged that God has me exactly where he meant me to be: writing, sharing our stories, and living our life as an open book to be used in ministry to others – nothing to hide, nothing to fear. I appreciate each and every message to the #youremyheroaidan hashtag, every card or drawing or gift we receive, but mostly I appreciate knowing we aren’t alone, and that there are still so many good people in this world ready to encourage the brokenhearted and speak love where its most desperately needed. Day by day its helping us erase the memory of what happened that day, and we’re confident God is using even our worst day for good. And ultimately, thats what it’s all really about.

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I’m the iPhone Mom in the Food Stamps Line

If you follow us on social media you may be aware that in January my husband was officially laid off from his job as a mobile app developer for a start up. It was a pretty crummy situation, since only this last September the same company had given us permission to relocate from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area and begin a whole new life in Salem, Oregon. Because of the nature of my husbands work, he is able to do his job entirely online, so it was no big deal for his company to allow him to work from another state. In fact, a majority of the coworkers on my husbands project lived too far away to commute to the office, being that they all live in India. Such is the nature of the new global economy, so we were thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of Silicon Valley life and live in a quieter, slower, more intentional way here in Salem. What we didn’t expect however was that only months later the company would admit to hitting financial difficulties; difficulties they chose to solve by eliminating an employee salary – OUR salary. Yikes. So now that we relocated from the very place where a majority of these tech jobs exist, now we would be looking for work. Double yikes.

Layoffs-Unemployment-Job-Cuts-Losses-Pink-Slip-FiredWe ever so briefly asked ourselves if we had made a horrible mistake and needed to consider taking interviews back in CA, but we quickly remembered all it took for God to bring us to Oregon, and how he had confirmed to us over and over again that we wanted this life for our kids. Besides: even if we got a decent salary back in the bay, the cost of living had skyrocketed so high that we would never be back on our feet again, and certainly never have a home or a life like we’ve found here in the far more affordable state of Oregon. We recognized that it was more logical to deal with short term struggle here in Oregon, where we at least have a shot at a future, then go back to CA where we may never get out of the cycle of paycheck to paycheck life, if we could even support ourselves at all.

So Bobby went about the business of applying for new work. He even went through multiple interviews with the same company, who eventually brought him onsite to meet the team and even talk to HR… only to send him a form email the next day saying they “couldn’t offer employment at this time.” Resume after resume was going out, and most of the time he only heard crickets in response. The very last paycheck had come at the end of January, and we would do everything in our power to stretch that as long as could. Besides, Bobby had paid into unemployment insurance with every check, so we’d at least have that right?

The letter from unemployment was jarring: your claim has been denied. What? That couldn’t possibly be right. Countless phone calls and entire CD’s worth of hold music later, the mysterious problem was finally uncovered. Turns out the HR representative at Bobby’s last job had made an eentsy weentsy miniscule typo – in his social security number. *head-desk* So all those payments diligently made to unemployment insurance month after month, paycheck after paycheck, ensuring we were properly prepared for an occasion just such as this? Not a one of them was credited to Bobby, but to a magical second social security number that wasn’t even his. More phone calls and even more hold music later, the final word was something along the lines of “yes, you most definitely qualify, but no, we have no idea whatsoever how long it will take for the two states to sort this mess out. We’ll get back to you… eventually.”

So here we are – 2 kids, 1 mortgage, 0 immediate sources of income.

So now it seems the calendar says MARCH along the top, resumes are still going out each and every day, and that paycheck from January is shrinking so that it’s all but vanished at this point. I wont lie – the scariest part is when you realize you cant pay your mortgage anymore. We moved to a whole new state to seek more affordable housing, something well within responsible budgeting guideline suggestions, and yet now that we’re here we feel it slowly slipping away. February is still due, March is now upon us, and who knows when either UI benefits or a new job will finally bring the next check into our mailbox. So I finally put my pride aside and applied for food stamps, because my children need food on the table more than they need my stubborn self reliance.

A Popular Internet Meme

A Popular Internet Meme

Now I suddenly find myself stepping into the role of an unpopular stereotype: the iPhone mom in the food stamps line. I admit it, Im terrified to answer calls on my shiny gold iPhone when I’m in the social services building or even in the grocery store line. I’ve even gone so far as to turn my wedding ring upside down so only the band is visible, the stone hidden away from view. I know what people may think: “how can you have an iPhone and claim to need food stamps?” “How can you have ANY nice things but then expect the hardworking taxpayers to pay your bills? ” And I get it: it’s hard to think that while you’re working so hard, trying desperately to create a future for your own family, that somebody else expects you to pay for theirs. And yet, here I am – forced to abandon my pride and accept the help that is often less than willingly given, knowing full well how many people may think we don’t deserve it.

The truth? Even people with good jobs who keep to the budget and make the “right” choices with their money can end up in situations they never expected, and sometimes by no fault of their own. In this new economy our story is FAR from unique. Thousands of people who have worked hard, spent money responsibly, and haven’t taken a vacation in years are finding themselves very suddenly and unexpectedly struggling to put food on their table. Gone are the days when we can assume that anyone that’s willing to work hard can make a good life for themselves. It’s no longer as simple as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps or simply altering your budget. My husband had a great job, made smart choices, always put into his retirement responsibly, and we aren’t exactly buying luxury cars or designer bags around here. Most notably my husband and I haven’t actually taken a vacation since our honeymoon – and that was over 6 years ago.

Why am I sharing all this? Why even feel the need to justify our situation? My hope is that by sharing the reality of our own situation, and how difficult it has been to even admit we need government assistance at all, that people would see that these unflattering archetypes we so easily mock represent real people with real stories. From everyone I’ve seen and spoken to in a situation like mine, one thing has been consistent: nobody PLANS to live on government assistance. Trust me when I say you aren’t getting enough to live comfortably, just enough to keep your pantry from running empty. So when you see that mom with a nice purse using her WIC coupons, or you see that man talking on his iPhone at the social services office, try not to judge. For many, needing help is a temporary situation they never expected. Even if they sold their phone or pawned their nice purse, it wouldn’t be enough to fix things anyways. Sometimes, when you’re living on so little and going without so much, it’s those little things you hold on to that help you believe you can get back there someday. They may be remnants of an old life, where the budget more than provided for them. They may be a gift from someone better off, someone who can easily afford to spoil a good friend.  And for some, the harsh reality is that they may always be struggling, no matter how hard they work or how much they try. For those people in particular I would pray our hearts would have compassion over judgment, and would recognize than when your whole life is spent in a position of sacrifice, you need to have some small comforts, some little joys to make life worth living.

fear and faithAs far as the Tait family is concerned, I trust that God has a plan for this desert season we find ourselves in. One thing for certain is that when we receive food stamps, or a donation from a friend to help pay the bills, it’s so much easier to directly recognize God’s provision. When we have a good job and collect those paychecks? Then it’s so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we earned it ourself, the pride that a sense of ownership and well earned entitlement can bring, and its too easy to forget who our provider really is. When you have no choice to remove yourself and your hard work from the equation, the first thing to go is that pride: the illusion is shattered, and you see each and every cent for what it really is – mana from heaven. We are immensely blessed, and we trust that God will keep providing for our needs in ways we never expect or imagine. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s scary right now – its downright terrifying. But real faith exists only in the presence of real fear. When we’re sure of our next step, its not faith that guides us, but common sense. Faith and fear aren’t mutually exclusive. No, faith and fear live in a beautiful intimacy, totally intertwined until you cant tell where one begins and the other ends.

So for now we focus on living authentically, and being open about wherever God takes us in this story. Perhaps an incredible new job is just on the horizon. Perhaps the lean times will continue and Gods miraculous provision will keep being displayed in unexpected places. I wont pretend I know the plan, in fact I will openly admit I dont have the foggiest idea what it is at this point, but I don’t have to know it to trust it. I know HIM, and I know His promises, and thats enough for now. Every time I look at the tattoo on my wrist I’m reminded of this verse which keeps us moving forward each day in that trust:

“And to Him who is able to do IMMEASURABLY MORE than all we ask or imagine according to His power than is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)

 

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**UPDATE: BOBBY WILL BE STARTING A NEW JOB ON 4/13! PRAISE THE LORD FOR HIS PROVISION!!!!**

Guest Contributor: Christene Logesky

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Grace. Oh, this word grace. I always thought I knew what it meant. Grace is the whole message of Jesus and the price He paid! How could I not know what grace means? I look back to one year ago and I see the shift. It was like the Lord grabbed my hand and said, “I want to take you on a journey. This journey may be painful and it may be uncomfortable, but I want to reveal what grace REALLY is.” Sometimes I think if God would actually tell us what He is going to do, we would just run! I think He knew I would run in this case. I would have said, “Never. Not for me. I can’t. I won’t.”

AndrewChrissy_Port_0141Last year Andrew and I took a huge leap of faith and decided to take a trip to California to train together for our business. We knew this would be crucial for our future and the investment would be more than worth it. It also meant we would have to leave our one year old daughter for an entire week. That alone was a huge leap for me! Our finances were short every month and Andrew had just received news of a pay cut. Though everything seemed to be screaming “no” to us, we knew that this was something we just had to do. We had peace that God would provide and He did (that is for another story though)! While attending the conference, I learned about another conference in Georgia. I also found out the PRICE and immediately thought “absolutely not!” We just took this HUGE leap of faith to get to California and now I am thinking about going to another conference? I remember saying to Andrew, “Earth to reality! Yes we are in California right now, but life is not always paradise. We can’t afford it!” I also remember telling myself, “You don’t even like women! Why would you go to a women’s conference?” Women gatherings have always made me feel uncomfortable and I have never been able to relate to them. I have always been the girl who had a million guy friends and enjoyed football over fashion and beauty. So why would I want to attend this conference?

The day we get home we find out my car was broken down and needed several hundred dollars of repairs. We received Andrew’s first check with the pay cut and life came crashing back down as we walked back in the door from our trip to paradise. My husband persisted that I enroll for the conference. He kept saying, “You should go!” Usually he is the one that is saying, “Heck no sister. We have no money!” This time, faith was rising in him and he believed deeply. So I put Emlyn down for a nap and after his persistence I agreed to go look at the website and figure out the bottom dollar. I remember plopping down on my chair and slamming the mouse down. I was mad. I was angry that I had to feel guilty. How could I spend money on a conference when we needed to fix our car? We need to put food on the table! What will our life look like with a pay cut now? I felt so selfish! And lastly I thought maybe this is my way out of it. Maybe I shouldn’t go because I wont have fun anyways! After all, this is a women’s conference! I remember thinking, “I am awful. Get it together! You need to get over this and go! Lack of money is one thing to worry about but get over being uncomfortable!” My computer started to load and all of the emails started popping up one by one. The last email came up on my screen and paused. It was like time had stopped. I felt like that little notification window was up for 2 minutes straight. My mouth dropped! Why was the founder of the conference messaging me? How did she get my e-mail? I just heard about this conference a few days ago! I hurry to open the email and my eyes immediately swelled with tears! Someone had paid my way to the conference! That’s right. Here I am arguing with God and He says, “No, you should go!”

Walk Through November Headshots-Walk Through November Headshots-0087Fast forward to September and I am in absolute awe! I am at this conference for free, soaking up the Georgia sun and sipping on sweet tea. At this point I realize have traveled to California and Georgia all in the same year and it was all by God’s grace! While I am there, I hear a message from Mary Marantz about the lies we believe about ourselves. I wrote down my lies. The same lies I have told myself since my eighth grade teacher blurted them out to me: “I am dumb, I will be rejected, and no one will listen.” For the first time in my life I started to tell myself the truth. I started to tell myself what GOD said about me instead of that quiet, but nagging voice. It wasn’t but a few months later that I was riding in the car to capture a wedding and I told Andrew, “I think I love to write. Like, I actually would like to start a blog.” I don’t know where it came from. It shocked me even when I said it! I said to Andrew “WHO AM I?” and laughed it off. What shocked me more was his response. “You should do it!” Ok, again I am always an idea machine and he usually gives me the crazy eye roll with a “Here we go again!” and instead I get a, “You should do it!” I started to process this thought more and I realized that because I believed lies about myself……then my mind could never travel farther than these lies. If I thought for a minute about writing anything, my mind would quickly travel to, “You are too dumb! This is not for you!” and then move on. When I focused on the truth, the mental road blocks in the way of my dreams came crashing down. I realized that previously I had always thought my brokenness was my only reality. I thought those roadblocks were as far as I would ever travel. I thought I was living in grace before. I always thought I don’t have to like women or work with women. I don’t have to ever write. I just will stick with this right here and skip the rejection. Can you believe I thought that was grace in my life?

The Lord quickly showed me that instead of muttering my frustrations to Him about women, I needed to realize that the reason they rub me the wrong way is because I know there is grace for their brokenness. I have always had the attitude towards women like, “Suck it up! It is not that big of a deal! Why do you complain so much?” This made me think that I was just not cohesive with other women. Instead, in this moment, I realized that what I was so frustrated with was a lack of understanding His grace in their lives. I KNOW that they don’t HAVE to walk in the lies they believe. I know that they CAN be brave! HE quickly revealed to me: “Chrissy, I want you to write. I want you to make a place that will reveal to women MY grace. I want you to get over yourself and realize that I have revealed something to you FOR MY GLORY and not for you to get angry about. I want you to create a place that will show them WHO I say they really are just like I am doing with you now.” That night we drove home and as I looked up at the stars in awe of this revelation, it came to me  -“Gracefully You.” I cried as I looked at the beauty of the sky. How is it that the God who just poured grace on me like a giant waterfall was already calling me to walk out His grace? That night was the first time in my life I believed I was more because of grace.

As I look back over this last year, I realize He had taken me all over the country on a journey. One year ago I was clueless to grace! I didn’t know that grace would set me free from never feeling “enough.” I didn’t realize that my disconnection with women actually stemmed from my own brokenness. I didn’t realize that the things that rub me the wrong way are actually the things that God has given me the grace to do. Not only that, but they are the things He has made me to do! The Gracefully You Project was birthed out of His grace. It is the easiest thing I have ever done because I have allowed grace to FILL me. I no longer apply grace like a Band-Aid but instead I let it be the very thing that overflows from within me.

I encourage you to rest in the fact that Jesus loves you right where you are! He listens to your muttering and complaints…. and He sheds grace. Don’t let the lies you believe hold you back any more. Are you struggling to find purpose in your life? Ask yourself: “What are the lies I believe about myself?” Don’t stop there; find out what God says instead. Find out the truth – that is His grace in your life. He knows who you really are and His grace loves you WHERE you are. More importantly, His grace is so good that it promises not to leave you the way you are. It overflows in you and silences your deepest inner critic. You are worth it. Your dreams are worth it. Go remove those roadblocks and travel further than you ever have because of grace.

Gracefully Yours,

Chrissy Logesky

Christene Logesky is one-half of Andrew and Chrissy Photography. Her and her husband Andrew are full-time youth pastors in Greensburg, PA as well. She is also a mommy, blogger, and public speaker. Her newest venture is The Gracefully You Project. She plans to reach and empower women by sharing women’s stories of honest struggles with “BUT there was grace” moments. She hopes to create a community full of grace for women to come be themselves and to be equipped with bravery to fight for what they were made to do!