Monday, October 3, 2016

Loving God's Way

Lyndsey and I 
I am finally sitting down to write for the first time in a few weeks. Honestly I am not even sure where this is headed, but I wanted to get back to writing. It has been a crazy few weeks with the start of a new school year, but we are working to get back on a schedule. This post is a little different for me, but honestly it is one I have been thinking about writing for a long time. This post includes an open letter to my sweet sister and her husband and their five children, but also goes out to anyone who has a loved one or friend who has lost a child. Beyond that it goes out to anyone who has gone through something incredibly difficult that the world we live in seems to dismiss; that maybe even a well-meaning friend or acquaintance seemed blatantly nonchalant when they said, "it is okay, you'll be fine." Let me go ahead and say out loud to you (read it aloud if you need to), whatever it is, "it is NOT okay." Losing a child, is NOT okay. Losing any loved one is NOT okay. Being cheated on, abused, abandoned- all of it and more, is NOT okay. None of it is okay and your friend, just like me, likely fell prey to the societal norms and need to avoid the tough "stuff" and did not intentionally dismiss your pain the way that it felt to you that they did.

Look at these three beautiful fairy princesses!
Lyndsey and Michael
Lyndsey and her girls enjoying the "snow" at a showing of Frozen

One of my all-time favorite photos
Halloween - the Despicable Me girls 
Look at these photos. What a beautiful family the Dockins family is! I am so blessed to say they are my family: my nieces, my sister, my brother-in-law.  I love them all and in the last couple of years I have learned that because of that love, I needed to adjust some of my attitudes and thinking. You see, my sister has had two miscarriages in the last several years. The first miscarriage, Lyndsey was still in her first trimester, hadn't been to the doctor, already had three girls, and the pregnancy was a surprise event anyway so I guess it didn't seem like that big of a deal. There were even the usual comments said by those around her or in our lives that I heard spoken to other women in her position that something must have been wrong with the baby or it just wasn't the right time or God's will. Just typing all of this almost makes my stomach turn; that I, her sister and probably closest confidante, was as complacent as the rest. A human life had ended and we (I) reacted with very little regard to that fact.

Me and Lyndsey's three girls 
It wasn't until the second miscarriage in the Spring of 2013 that I realized just how wrong I was and how my personal apathetic attitude could hurt and probably did hurt someone I care about very much. She was again in her first trimester and again there were the regular reactions of "I'm so sorry.", but this time, we were hours apart and only communicated by phone. The pain in my sister's voice was so tangible and raw, even through a phone line, something I am sure she concealed for the sake of her family and because it was Christmas the first time. I remember that Lyndsey said the hospital had said the baby was perfectly normal, nothing physical to indicate why she had miscarried, and that it was a little boy (which was especially difficult news because she longed for a son). She even told me that she had given him a name. When I heard her say that, my first thought, I am ashamed to admit, was "that is a little over the top." but thankfully I did not speak what I was thinking at the time.

You see I think I fell into the trap of the social norm for reactions to an event such as a miscarriage. Society treats it with dismissal, like little more than a pulled tooth, so I found myself with preconceived ideas and paradigms for a situation I have never actually experienced. She shared with me that the entire event was handled so dismissively from the beginning that it ripped her apart. She went from celebrating at seeing her baby on a sonogram monitor to the medical personnel saying very coldly " The baby is dead, so we need to get you scheduled for a D&C." Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, Lyndsey went from a new expectant mommy to a statistic, a simple number on a page and stack of forms to fill out. To add deep insult to injury, the hospital paperwork had various papers for her to sign, all of which included the terminology "abortion." She said it was like a slap in the face; as though she didn't so desperately want this baby. That terminology is how hospitals bill insurance and therefore for months later, she still received papers in the mail that still said "abortion" in regards to the death, the very unwanted death, of her little boy. The idea that something she was grieving so deeply could be viewed as something with a connotation (despite the medical term definition) that it was a chosen death, was almost unbearable to her.

Now I am not going to go on a long rant regarding abortion, but I will say that the views of our country regarding the idea that abortion is not an act of killing a human baby has designed a pattern of thinking that even those who are against abortion have unintentionally embraced. In order for us to mourn the loss of a baby that is miscarried, we have to admit it is a human life that died. This is a dilemma for those who support abortion, and therefore it is almost impossible for an abortion supporter then to empathize with a mom who miscarries a baby because it would contradict their stance on abortion. The dismissal of the pain and grief at a loss of a child due to miscarriage is in direct relation to the societal beliefs and stance on this issue in my opinion.

Regardless of why there is a dismissive attitude in our society, I refuse to continue to absentmindedly follow suit; I refuse to dismiss my sister's pain in this loss or anyone else's for that matter. It is real. She struggles with the loss and longs for the day when she sees her sweet babies face-to-face in heaven. As a believer and a sister-in-Christ to countless more than just Lyndsey, I will intentionally do my part to encourage and support other women less like the worldview and more like Christ. I want to be a Philipians 4 woman. May others see my gentleness, and may I dwell on things that will further His kingdom.

Philipians 4: 5-9
Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.6Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition withthanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I also hope to  be a better sister, friend, and confidante for other women in dark times. As I stated earlier, these situastions are not "okay" and should not be dismissed as so, but what I have yet to say is this: God will make something good out of it, someday, somehow, you will realize it. 

Romans 8:28 
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

One thing you must remember (and my sister reminded me of) is that when we are struggling with the things that happen to us we must know that God did not "do this to us" but He did allow it to happen. It may not be for us in this time to always know why, but He sees the beginning and the end. (not just our beginning and end but the actual beginning and end!) Lyndsey also reminded me of the limitations of our God. Have you ever thought about all the things that God cannot do and still be the God of our faith? Stay with me for just a second before you think I have lost my Christian mind. God is all powerful and could choose to do anything He wished, however, to be the Holy God of our faith, He has limitations that He will not change or cross or He would not be the Holy God of our faith. I guess technically you could say that God can do these things, but He chooses not to, but in my mind, if He did them, then He would not be God. It seems like I am repeating myself, so I'll just say, this is not a comment to diminish His power or authority, just one to speak to his personality and who God is. 

Our God cannot break a promise, and goodness does He have a bunch to fulfill. 

Psalm 89:34, TLB. "No, I will not break my covenant; I will not take back one word of what I said."

Our God cannot lie to us, for He is a God of Truth.

A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time (Titus 1:2).

Our God cannot take away our free will and therefore cannot take away the consequences of a sinful world. This means we will incur times that are a result of the fallen world we live in and either by our choice or not by choice of our own, have consequences of sin that adversely affects our lives. However, Jesus did take away the ultimate price of our sins, so even if we must deal with temporal consequences, we can have an eternal home with our savior in Heaven. 

Genesis 4:6-7English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?[a] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to[b] you, but you must rule over it.”

Romans 10:9-10English Standard Version (ESV)

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

There will be tough times and sometimes the things God "cannot" or sometimes the things He chooses not to do allow those tough times. Some of them are heartbreaking for us and you can be sure that when we hurt, He hurts for us. God is good, has a plan for what is best for us, and will work the tough things to be good for us. In all things, we have the assurance that God loves us fiercely. 

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.”

Psalm 107
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His faithful love endures forever.

So if you are currently in a devastating crisis of life or if you have been and someone like me has said something that seemed dismissive and hurtful, please accept my apology. I am so sorry you have gone through whatever it was for you. I am sorry that too often we as Christians get sucked into the societal norms and respond in a way that does not give you the Christian encouragement and support and love that you deserve; please give us a second chance to get it right. You are loved. This situation is not okay, but you will be better than you are now, God will use this in your life somehow in a good way and even if you aren't ready to hear or accept that right now, it will still be there waiting on you for when you are. God has a much larger, panoramic and beyond view of our lives and has a plan to give you hope and a future. This situation is not okay, but you are loved fiercely and my prayer is that you will feel more okay in the tomorrows when you look into the pages of today. 

If you are a bystander, an onlooker, into someone else's crisis, I plead with you to tread lightly and cover any thoughts or words in the love of Christ. Pray before you speak so that your words would be helpful for the building up of your siblings in Christ. Speak in truth, tempered with grace, when you know the person needs to hear truth that might sting instead of soothe. I would even say to not speak at all other than to give condolances or simply say you are thinking of them if you do not first have a real relationship with that person, unless they invite your insight or words. Lastly, do not say you will pray for a person in crisis if you have no intention of praying. It seems the easy way out for many is "Facebook Prayer" where they comment on something with "praying". In reality, the prayer is not a conversation interceding with God on their behalf, but a few moments of typing 7 letters without a real prayer ever ocurring. I urge you to take prayer seriously and stop and say a simple prayer for that person. Nothing fancy is needed, just a quick sentence prayer. Prayer is too powerful and too important to reduce to a comment on social media. Basically, use your words to build up, encourage and demonstrate love. If a poor choice needs to be pointed out, it is best done from a close relationship standpoint than as an acquaintance.

No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good forbuilding up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.

To my sister and her beautiful family, please accept my humble apology. I am not even certain if I ever actually said or did anything that hurt you during those difficult times, but I am sure I could have done a better job at loving you. I know my thoughts sometimes were not always what they should have been in order to be what you needed at the time, so my guess is sometimes my words and actions fell short also. Please know that I love you all and am blessed to call you mine. I pray that nothing like what you went through with the loss of both children ever happens again, but rest assured if it does, your sister will be much better at loving you through it. 

My sister and I volunteering together at a women's event in Dallas
In Him Alone

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Who Me?

Again, it has been much too long since I have written. God and I have been talking a lot lately about that. For several years now, I have felt God's call in my life to speak into the lives of other women, to share my experiences and hurts and how God has used those hurts to grow me and give me wisdom. More specifically I am being led to more deeply study the Bible and to encourage other women to do the same. 

I have a strong desire to be used by God to help women in general. Most recently, it has been laid on my heart to write a Bible study and hopefully to lead a group of women to study it with me. I am terrified of such an endeavor; utterly terrified. I have told God as much, but He is not letting me off that easily. You see God has this way of stretching us to step out of our comfort zone, out of our "success is assured" zone that we love to live in, and asks our obedience to step into the "they will think I am crazy" or "this will never work" zone. I know that is how He works. I know that He has done this throughout the Bible as well as throughout my own lif; I have been there before. And yet, I still balk at this idea. In fact just a few nights ago, I was wide awake, unable to sleep, and was talking to Him about my fears. I even posted to Facebook a little glimpse of our conversation. 

Here is the facebook post from that night:
My fear: " But what if I put myself out there and not a single person responds?"
His answer:" I'm not concerned about their response, I'm concerned about yours; do you trust me?"

God was pretty clear with me that night, and every other time I have given my sad excuses for being afraid: "Do you trust me?" is pretty much what I hear repeatedly in return. That night, one of my favorite worship songs, Oceans, played in my mind and I knew that I have yet to learn how to truly trust without borders. (My favorite line of the song is: "Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, you've never failed and you won't start now." )

Oceans (Hillsong United)
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

Here's a little insight to how our conversation went that night: 

God: " I want you to write a Bible study for women and lead them in it."
Me: "What? I don't know how to write a Bible study!"
God: "I breathed the entire Word into being, you don't need to know how. Do you trust me?"
Me: "I am not a Bible scholar. I haven't gone to seminary. I have no credentials to write a Bible study. I am not a minister. I am not even good at being consistent in my own Bible       study!"
God:"Yes I know. You will have to be more dedicated to my Word than you are right now. Do you trust me?"
Me: " What am I supposed to write about? I don't even know where to start!"
God: "I want you to write a study. Pick something. It is all mine; there isn't a wrong choice.   Do you trust me?"
Me: (then to the real issue - my insecurities) " But God, what if I put myself out there; really pour out my heart and soul and work to get this done and not a single woman responds to I mean it? What if my 'Bible study' is ridiculed and no one wants me to lead them in it?" 
God: "I am not really worried about how other people respond, I want you to be obedient. Do you trust me?" 

At that point I realized how silly I was being. God never uses the obvious ones, he uses the obedient ones.(David, Noah, Esther, Joseph, Paul, Zaccheus, Timothy and so many more!) So, I am taking a giant breath, and I am writing a Bible study for women. I chose Ephesians. I am praying daily and fervently that God will use me and this study to allow me to lead a group of women. I am hoping to either do a ladies' retreat or lead a weekly group, but we will see where God leads. 

The first day I started studying, God gave me a little reassurance through my back porch. You see, we have a squirrel feeder and two bird feeders on our covered back porch and I love watching the birds and the squirrels. I have wanted a hummingbird feeder for a while so my sweet husband, Trey, put one up for me as a surprise about 3 weeks ago. The second day it was up, I posted a status about watching the birds and wishing and waiting for my first hummingbird, but had not seen one yet. Not 10 minutes later, God sent a little hummingbird to see me! I didn't get a picture because those little dudes are lightning quick, but I knew it was from Him. I was pretty excited because I know that once one hummingbird found the feeder, others would not be far behind.

 I watch the birds and squirrels every morning, every afternoon and every evening; pretty much any time I am in the kitchen because we have big glass sliding doors to the porch. It has been 3 weeks and that one solitary hummingbird has been it; not another visit. Every single day, I usually comment about how I hope to see more hummingbirds and they have not yet appeared. 

Then I began studying and sitting every morning at the kitchen table, reading the Word, studying and glancing now and again out the windows in hopes of my elusive beautiful tiny bird; still nothing. God used their absence to speak to me. One day I looked out in dissappointment that the red liquid in the hummingbird feeder had not diminished at all and God said in response to my disappointment: "You've only had one hummingbird respond to your feeder. Do you wish you'd never put it out? Do you want to take it down and throw it away?" Of course I thought, " No! I did have one pretty little hummingbird; surely there will be more! We just need to wait a little longer." I am pretty sure God, my Father, smiled. "Exactly, Stephanie. You are only responsible to fill it up with the beautiful, bright food, and then let them respond. Even if only one responds, it is worth it to me; it should be worth it to you too." 

Interestingly, my younger sister visited for a week recently and guess what she is doing. She is writing a Bible study and getting prepared to lead a ladies' retreat at her church. I felt a teeny tinge of jealousy, but not in a really bad way. I am so proud of her and was aggravated at myself that she obeyed way before I did. The irony is not lost to me that I even remotely felt jealous about her doing something I am terrified to do and it solidified the desire to obey and do what I've been led to do by God. I am sure God intentionally used her obedience to spur me to my own. 

So I am requesting your prayers in this endeavor. I have no idea what I am doing and I am not the most knowledgeable or obvious person to be doing this; I just desire to be obedient. My heart wants to use it to lead a ladies' retreat or use the study in my Wednesday night Bible study eventually. Maybe even my obedience will spur someone else to their own.

 I also want to remind you all that God wants to use the least obvious people sometimes so that the glory is all His. I am so excited now (still terrified, but excited) and Ephesians is really speaking to my heart despite it being a book that I have studied before. If God has been speaking to you to do something, take a breath with me and let's do this together!  I am praying that faith will overcome fear for all of us. I pray that somehow my life experiences and any tiny amounts of wisdom that God has bestowed on me will somehow help another woman in her journey.  

When I feel the fear creep in, I will recite this verse: 

                Psalm 31:14 " But I trust in you Lord; I say, "You are my God!"

And when I hear the voices of my insecurities telling me that I am not worthy, I am not qualified and I am not the right person to be doing this, I will remember this verse and the words of my Lord:

1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Who's with me? Do you trust Him?

Blessed more than I deserve,