Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First and foremost, let me warn you that this is going to be a brutally open and honest post, so if you can't handle some intimate details about my life, please leave now, as your negative comments are not wanted.

Can I be honest with you?  Looking around our sex-driven society, I have a hard time knowing what direction to turn in raising my beautiful teenage daughter.  I want to encourage her so much to dive deep into her relationship with God and to let Him be the one who fills her soul and fulfills her every desire.  I want to teach her to truly guard her heart, her body and her purity.  Yet I look back over my own life and wonder if the ways that I have screwed up will cause me to not be credible enough to her, or if they will really help her to see how much I desire for her to wait.

Let me explain.

There are days when I wish I could rewind time.  If I could, I would go back and truly listen to the advice that my mom gave me, as it likely would have helped to steer me more clearly in the path I was intended to go.

I have previously mentioned that I have known that I wanted to be a wife and a mom since I was nine-years-old.  As you can probably imagine, this meant my husband search began at the ripe age of 14.  I was certain that I knew exactly what I was doing, as I had a list of criteria that my future mate had to meet.  Number one on that list was that he had to be a Christian.  I'm honestly not sure if that was on my list for me, or if it was on there for my family; after all, they would never approve of me dating someone who wasn't a Christian (not to mention the fact that they would never approve of me dating at all at age 14!).  Beyond number one, I really don't know what else was on that list.  It was probably something like he would have to be a good provider, love kids ... oh, and he would have to be good-looking.  That one was essential.  *wink, wink*

Yes, at 14-years-old, I had life figured out.  So when I found my first boyfriend and was "dating" him at 15-years-old (and by this I mean we had the "title" of boyfriend and girlfriend, and saw each other at school and church, but that was it, as I was not allowed to date that young), I assumed that we were definitely on the right path.  He was a Christian (a pastor's son, even!) and I just knew that we wanted all of the same things out of life.  Yes indeed, this was the guy I was going to marry.  We would write letters to each other talking about our future, when we were going to be married and how many kids we were going to have.  We wanted to go into ministry together.  It was beautiful.

We dated off-and-on for two-and-a-half years.  The "beautiful" of that relationship truly was beautiful from the outside looking in.  From the inside looking out, however, it was painful.  We were in different places emotionally and hormonally, and while I was looking for that pure and perfect relationship, he was fighting teenage hormones that constantly drove him to pressure me.  He wanted to be alone, to be kissing and cuddling and touching.  The more that he pushed, the more I retreated.  I wasn't ready and my heart was fighting a huge battle, knowing that this wasn't the path that God had for me.

It was for this very reason that we broke up.  Thankfully, we never did go "all the way", but the scars left behind from that relationship are brutal.  It's something that God and I discuss several times a week because I am still having such a hard time walking in forgiveness.  It really does still hurt that deeply.

I was 17 when we broke up for good.  He was away at college at that point, which made the breakup much easier.

I had a void in my heart that I desperately wanted to fill.  A void and a major need to be loved.  I couldn't figure out the reason for the void.  I could blame it on several different things, such as my parents' divorce (which was happening during my teenage years), but I think I wasn't willing to admit the true source of the void: I had wiped God from my life.

Fast forward to later that year.  I had met one of my brother's college friends (we'll call him George) and had been instant messaging with him off-and-on for awhile.  I planned on visiting my brother at his college that weekend.  When I arrived there on Friday, my brother was not there (due to extreme circumstances).  He had not been able to get a hold of me before I left to visit him, so I got all the way there and ran into George while looking for my brother.  He informed me that brother wasn't there.  Ugh!  So I called brother from a pay phone at the school and tried to figure out what to do.  He told me that I should drive home.  It was already late in the day and getting dark, so George offered to go with me and brother was going to meet him at our house and bring him back to college later that weekend.

Long story short, George ended up coming home with me for the weekend.  My brother never did make it home as planned, so we arranged another ride for George back to school on Sunday (with one of my friends who also went to school there).  I didn't think much of it at the time, but allowing him to come home with me was one of the stupidest decisions I would ever make.  You see, I really liked George.  He complimented me, he told me he thought I was hot - yes, he was just WONDERFUL (or so my 17-year-old self thought).  Unfortunately, I thought that George was helping me to make that void in my heart go away, so when he wanted to have sex with me that night, I never told him no.  For the record, just typing that sentence makes my skin crawl.

I gave up my virginity to someone I hardly knew, just because he temporarily made me feel good about myself.

The irony about that fact is that I felt terrible about myself once he had left.  We really didn't contact each other anymore.  I felt cheap and dirty and the void within me was growing larger every day.

I tried to fill that void with everything in me.  I dated guys (again, I use the term "dated" rather loosely, as it just means I went out on dates with them).  I drank (even though I promised myself I would NEVER touch alcohol).  I partied.  I tried to forget.

Then, when I was 18, I met someone who really did care about me and really did treat me well.  Someone that I thought I truly loved.  Because I was in love with him, it was only natural to say yes when the issue of sex came up.  We eventually were engaged to be married.  I moved into his house and planned our wedding.

Yes, all of my dreams were finally coming true.  Until the day that I realized that I was entirely dependent on him for everything - for my happiness and security, for my well being and for filling that void that I had been convincing myself was gone.  I was 100% dependent on my fiance' and I didn't know what to do.

So I ran.

I broke off our engagement and moved to the cities to live with my sister and her family.  I started attending church and really getting my life back in line.  I got a good job and was starting to hang out with the singles group at church.  However, I never took the time to address that void within my heart.  I sought out the really cute single guys, the really stable ones and made the decision that I needed to know them.  Yes, I was still determined to control my own destiny.

Through a series of decisions and job changes, I moved several times after that.  I also allowed myself to be in a relationship with someone who would never allow me to call him my boyfriend.  By this time I had been so emotionally beaten up that I truly was a whiny, needy and clingy woman on the inside, but portraying myself as the tough and independent woman on the outside.  I needed someone to love me.  What I didn't realize was that it was God's love I needed to accept.  While this guy told me that he loved me, his actions spoke volumes louder than his words.  I can honestly say I wasted a year of my life in a "relationship" with this man.  I didn't value myself or him enough to know that we weren't truly committed to each other.  I so desperately wanted to be loved and so desperately wanted to have someone to call my boyfriend that I compromised myself.  I once again allowed my happiness to be dependent on another person.

Though we never pushed the relationship physically, I emotionally gave so much of myself to him that there wasn't anything left of me.

I moved again, this time living with my brother and his wife.  I found a new group of friends and began spending a lot of time with them.  One of them happened to be a guy who seemed interested in me.  We became close friends and then became sex-friends.  Once again, I was emotionally (and this time physically) involved in a relationship with someone whom I truly was not in a relationship with, all because I needed to fill the void in my heart.  I would have thought that my brain, my conscience, SOMETHING would have told me to walk away from that a lot sooner than I did, but unfortunately I spent months in that "relationship", only to walk away feeling broken and hurt.

That seemed to be the pattern.  Only each time, I was a little more broken and a little more hurt.  I no longer had respect for myself.  I no longer had confidence in who God said I was.  Sure, on the outside I portrayed a very confident, secure woman - but I was dying on the inside.

Remember the singles group I started going to when I was at my sister's church?  I met a friend there, named Steve, who played a crucial role in the change in my life.  See, Steve and I had maintained a limited amount of contact over the years, which really gave him credit in my eyes.  Steve was a good friend who I could count on.  I knew that (and still know it to this day!).  So, when he invited me to a new church that he was attending along with some other friends, I took him up on the offer.

It wasn't instant, but it was dramatic.  God got a hold on my life.  God taught me how to rely on Him.  God filled that ever-invasive void in my heart.  Through going to this church and spending more time with a group of friends who constantly reminded me to rely on God, to turn to Him and were offering prayer and support when I needed it, I really learned what it was like to give my heart, my life and my ALL fully to God.

The thing is, God really wants to fill us up!  However, He is also a complete gentleman.  He doesn't force Himself on you.  He asks you to first seek Him: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you .." James 4:8a.

The one thing I learned is that God really had all the tools to fill that void that I was experiencing WAY back in my teen years, but I just didn't give Him the opportunity.  He always saw me as beautiful - it was me who had the vision problem.

If I could take back all of the times that I gave myself physically or emotionally to a guy before I sought out God's love and His will for my life, I absolutely 100% without a doubt would do it.  The Bible tells us to "seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:33).  As an adult, one of the many things I've learned about God is that He tells us things like this because HE KNOWS what we will need in life and HE KNOWS how to fulfill those needs.

I just don't get why we continually think we know better than God.

This is why I wish I could rewind time and make a do-over of some of life's events.  I would absolutely choose to rewind time.  I would listen to what my mom told me.  I would change my decisions.

It is because of the path I have walked that I have such a passion for today's teens.  I want so badly for them to know that the pain you experience is not worth trying to fill those voids yourself.  I want everybody to know my story, as personal and hard to tell as it may be, in hopes that they don't make those same decisions and they don't walk that same path.

I had to tell this story to Monte before we were married.  It was not an easy thing.  I know that I broke him deeply when he found out that I didn't care about myself enough to wait for him.  It is something that had a big impact on the start of our marriage.  Praise the Lord that with God all things are possible, because we have walked side-by-side in our marriage and have worked through these things and can walk in forgiveness, but if there's one thing I want people to hear, it's that it wasn't easy.  It's not worth it to make those selfish, instantly-gratifying decisions.  The ramification of those decisions lasts a LONG time.

Not one part of the path I chose was easy.  It was damaging to me.  It was damaging to those who were watching me, giving me advice from the outside as I let it run in my ear and right back out.  For that, dear sister, I am sorry.  Please know that your loving advice truly was appreciated, but I was so stubborn and so certain that I was finally filling that void that your advice fell on deaf ears.

I praise God for His forgiveness and His healing power.  It is only by Him and through Him that I live, move, breathe and have my being.  He truly is my Rock and my Salvation and it is my desire for today's teens to truly flee sexual immorality and cling to God.

So you see, this having been my story, I'm certain you can understand my concern for my own daughter, for my nieces, for the teens I have mentored and for all teens!  I want so much for these girls (and guys) to know that they can find themselves wholly complete in God alone, and to show them the path to seeking and knowing Him more completely.

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

Desperately, exhaustingly quickly sinking sand.

Lord, please keep these teens from that sinking sand.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

There are many promises I make that I don't keep.  Most of them are promises that I make to myself.  Like my current promise I'm avoiding: get the laundry done today.

There are promises I make to my husband, too, that I shirk around doing, like putting away the pack-n-play that is still folded up on the floor in our bedroom (and has been there since Friday).

However, there is one kind of promise that I make that I always keep.  It's the promise to pray for people.  So often when I'm at the computer I read blogs or Facebook updates of people who need prayer.  If I respond to them saying that I will pray for them I do it immediately.  Right there in that very moment I take time out to pray.  I think it's incredibly important to honor that promise.

I know when I ask people to pray it's because I truly have a need that I want lifted before God, and I love to know that I have friends and family who are lifting that need up with me.  I can't imagine having someone promise me that they will pray and then not doing so, especially when the request is for my children!

Don't get me wrong, I understand completely about forgetfulness.  I am a mom, I also experience mommy brain.  When this happens, or when someone gives me a request that I want to truly spend lots of time in prayer about, I take my sister's advice and write their request down on a sheet of paper (along with other prayer requests).  That way, when it comes time to sit down in my quiet time with God, I have those prayer requests ready and will really spend time lifting them up.

If I have promised to pray for you, I guarantee you that prayer was lifted up.  If you came to my mind again, that prayer was lifted up again.  As often as I think about you, I pray for you.  I really am a believer in the fact that God brings people to your mind because He wants you to pray for them.

Last Friday I called my mom because she had been on my heart and my mind all day.  I had been praying for her and wanted to check in with her to see how everything was going.  The ironic thing about that is that I had also been on her heart all day, and she had been praying for me, too!  I was feeling stressed out about a big event we were hosting at our home that evening and I guarantee that her prayers helped to bring me down to earth again.  She had had a rough day at work that morning, so I'm certain that my prayers helped to bring her peace.

Prayer is a very powerful thing.  So powerful that it's something I don't ever want to forget to do.

So I'm wondering, if you are promising to pray for others, do you do it immediately?  If not, how do you remember those prayer requests?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This past Sunday, April 3rd, we formally dedicated our sweet Ethan to God in a service at our church.  For those who are unaware, we believe (and our church believes) that baptism is a decision that you make when you're old enough to really comprehend it, as opposed to doing infant baptisms.  Instead of a baptism, we do a dedication.  This is where we, as his family, promise to raise him in a house that honors God and teaches of a true love relationship with our Creator.  It was a beautiful dedication and it brings tears to this mama's eyes when I recall the promise we made for our sweet baby boy.

This is our family standing in front of the church as Pastor Dave was explaining the dedication to the congregation.

Passing my sweet little Ethan to Pastor Dave (who is looking at Ethan on the big screen above us)!

Praying over Ethan's life.

 I really like this picture - I think it's cool how my sister captured us on stage and on the big screen.

 After the dedication we chilled outside and enjoyed some of the great weather we had that day, as well as tried out Ethan's new sun hat (which is WAY too big for him, by the way)!

It was wonderful to be able to dedicate Ethan's life to God, to be able to share in the day with my family and my sister's family and to know that my sweet baby is abundantly loved by our Creator and by so many people in his life.  God truly is good ALL the time!