Sunday, August 26, 2012

Being Real is Difficult

Since I was a little youngster, I have always been a writer.  It has come naturally to me.  My Grandfather is also a gifted writer; however, with all natural gifts, they MUST be practiced to continuously grow and perfect.  I stalled on writing for a long time.  I have never found an identity in writing; however, I have many friends who ARE “writers.”  Their passion and continual pursuit spurred me on to open my gift again. 

First, I felt it was time to write my life story.  I’m not anyone famous, but since rededicating my life to the Lord in 2002, I always sensed He would have me write my story.  In 2009, He finally released me to do so…and it’s been hard.  I have to dedicate myself to it daily.  I am renewing that dedication this week. 

Secondly, I decided that I would write one blog a week.  It seemed like a simple goal, but I have found it to be very hard!  Here it is Sunday and although I had many ideas for blogs this week, I didn’t write one.  But, I have had many things on my mind this week.  Some things are very emotionally painful.  Others are practical mom issues.  Some are deep, cried-out prayers.  And in between all of this, is a lot of random ridiculousness.  So, below is a list of lessons I am learning this week by thoughtfulness, reading, and the Holy Spirit.  It is also a list of random, only-Dawn-would-think-isms.   Enjoy, hate, disagree, and most importantly, read. J 

*Disclaimer warning for those who don’t know me:  I’m a Christian with a crazy past, bless her heart.  So both Christians and non-Christians may be offended, bless your hearts. This disclaimer is terrible proof that I have a hard time just being real.  The problem is, God didn't make another me.

1)     Church discipline is always for restoration, for building up and not for tearing down.  If someone desires to see another yelled out, criticized and ostracized, it is not of God.

2)     Love others because Christ loves us whether or not they love you back.

3)    Girls go out and party, then somewhere between midnight-2 a.m. they decide it’s good to take a self portrait of their looking-awesomeness and post it on facebook, almost immediately making it their profile picture.  They think they look fly-eye make-up is smeared, eyes are glassy, lips lack luster.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I enjoy these pics and laugh because to the rest of us, you just look like a hot mess.  Mine have been deleted.

4)     My husband is a beautiful person.

5)     I’m pro-vaccine.  FDR had polio.  I don’t want my daughter to catch it, or anyone for that matter.

6)     I want to save a grand and buy a well in a third-world African country.  Why don’t we all do this?

7)    Sometimes the Lord prunes dead branches in our lives.  Sometimes we are the dead branch.  Don’t try to reattach dead branches.

8)    The biggest lie this generation is facing is that all paths lead to God and that all gods are equal. It’s not true. There is One True God and not all roads lead to Him.

9)     My beautiful daughter wants all my attention right now and she deserves it, so until next Sunday…

10)   Shalom

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The 23rd Psalm, Not Just for Funerals

We’ve all read it, whether we’re a believer or not, the 23rd Psalm.  It’s printed on almost every funeral card.

Psalm 23 NIV 1984
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
 in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
 my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

During 2007, I meditated on this Psalm a lot, particularly, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  I was grieving the loss of a dream since the Lord had asked me to leave The Los Angeles Dream Center after my completion of one year of Master’s Commission.  The entire year I lived in L.A. God was silent about whether I would be returning for a second year of Master’s.  I had come to peace with staying as I poured my heart and soul into the hurting of L.A.  Through a series of intense Holy Spirit encounters, I knew I was to return home to Pennsylvania and wait on the Lord to send me to Israel.  I grieved hard.  I felt like the Holy Spirit was gently nudging me saying that if I stayed in L.A. I would be sacrificing the best for the good.  I had already been accepted as a second year student to co-lead the dance team and outreach team with two of my best friends.  I was crushed, but was faced with a decision:  would I chase my dream or give it up to learn what God’s dream for my life was?  As hard as it was, I chose to wait for God’s dream.

I felt that I entered into an intense time of discipline from the Holy Spirit.  This sounds awful, but the bible teaches in Hebrews that God disciplines those He loves and everyone He accepts as a son. (In my case, it’s fair to say, “daughter.”)  It goes on to say that EVERYONE undergoes discipline, for if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be legitimate children of the Lord.  It was during this time of being under the Lord’s “rod” and “staff” that the second half of that verse came alive to me, “They comfort me.”

A rod and staff are used for protection and guidance of the shepherds’ flock, and yes, discipline if one is going astray, not listening, or on the wrong path.  The Psalmist is saying that those very items that are used for correction by our Shepherd bring comfort.  Wow.  I decided that I would allow this discipline season to bring comfort.

When I traveled to Africa in the fall of 2007 I sat at a dinner table in Meru near the end of our trip.  A bishop got up to give a welcome and a short teaching.  He taught on Psalm 23 and explained that God’s rod and staff of discipline bring comfort.  It was the first time I had heard it taught on in the same manner that the Lord was teaching me.  I was encouraged to have confirmation.

Fast forward to the winter of 2012.  I was five months pregnant with my first child and was increasingly having heart palpitations followed by shortness of breath.  I called my PCP who saw me immediately, referring me to the cardiologist to wear a Holter monitor for seven days.  When I would have the heart palpitation, I was to record it on the monitor.  Then, I called a phone number to the cardiologist and played my recording.  It would then translate to see what the rhythms of my heart were doing.  Often, I wouldn’t have the palpitations for over a week.  I was concerned that they wouldn’t happen during the time I wore the monitor and I wouldn’t know what was wrong with me.  On the second day of having the monitor, I had a small palpitation and tried to record it.  The recording came back normal.  I prayed, “Lord, whatever is happening in my heart, let it happen long enough for me to record it.”  Later that same day, I was enjoying lunch with a coworker and friend when my heart starting jumping all over the place at rapid speed.  I started recording, while it continued and I was losing my breath.  I stood up to try to even myself out and breath correctly.  My heart continued to act up and I continued recording.  I asked my friend to walk outside with me to get fresh air.  As we walked around our office building, my heart stopped its anxious pulsating as abruptly as it had begun.  It was the longest issue I had had and I recorded the whole thing.  I quickly called it in.  The interpreter advised that I had an episode of tachycardia, which is just rapid heart rate.  She said she would send the results to my PCP.  Within a half hour, I received a call at work.  My PCP was very calm. “How are you?”  He asked. “I’m well,” I replied.  He questioned further, “So, how long has this been going on?”

I began explaining the symptoms I had for the past couple years and that I always assumed it was anxiety, but now that I was pregnant, I didn’t want to take any chances.  He gently explained that I had an episode of ventricular tachycardia, it wasn’t anxiety and that I needed to go to the emergency room.  He said he would meet me there.

So, of course, what does a medical billing supervisor do when she receives her diagnosis?  Look it up on Wikipedia, of course!  One phrase with two scary words stood out to me as I quickly read over the description, “may result in sudden death.”  I had been battling fear of death my entire pregnancy, particularly the doubt that Jesus would accept me into heaven.  I was having panic of what the afterlife would hold, particular the transition between earth into heaven.  I did not want to go down any long tunnels, unsure of what was on the other side.  I went into full blown panic on the inside as I started crying right in the office, while trying to maintain a professional composure.  The women of the office started gathering around me, as a dear friend volunteered to take me to the hospital.  A believer put her hand on me and I looked her square in the face and said, “I don’t want to die.”  She said with all gentleness, “You’re not going to die.”  My boss even came out of her busy office and held my shoulders, “Dawn, you are going to be ok.”

The entire ride to the hospital, I sat as if I was calm, but inside my mind, I was panicking.  “God, why would you let me go through this knowing how scared I am of death right now?!  Please, don’t let Scott be alone!  Please don’t leave him alone on this earth!  Please, don’t take me and his unborn child!”  I thanked my ride and waited in the emergency room while my husband arrived.  I said, “Please, just read the bible to me.”  As I stilled my insides, I asked the Lord what I should read and I kept feeling the prompting, “Psalm 23.”  “The 23rd Psalm!?” My mind screamed!  “That’s for funerals!  I’m going to die!”  I refused to tell Scott to read that Psalm to me, thinking the Lord was trying to prepare me for death.  (And for those of you reading this who don’t know me, yes I am that dramatic.)  Meanwhile, the believers at work had gathered to pray for me and they specifically prayed for a Christian nurse.

God knew what I needed.  He didn’t give me a Christian nurse, but a Jewish one, who had Hebrew words tattooed on her wrist.  It comforted me, as we shared stories of our visits to Israel.  My other nurse was a wonderfully feminine man who joked and laughed with me as he took the utmost care of me.  When my doctor arrived, he advised no caffeine, and that “this is what happens to people who go jogging and don’t come back.”  Thanks, doc.

Once I was settled in my room, it quickly spread that a pregnant woman was being looked after.  The nurses on my floor were abuzz with excitement.  My husband, as always, was so caring and gentle towards me.  I cried and cried.  I had never been admitted to the hospital before!  Well, ok, once before I knew the Lord, but I was tripping on acid, so it doesn’t count.  He tucked me in, kissed my forehead, told me to get rest and spend time with the Lord.  When he left, I cried, and turned on our local Christian television station.  Wouldn’t you know, a Jewish man was playing the piano and singing…the 23rd Psalm.  God was bringing it into my life, although I had refused to read it.  Having more sense and calmness, I listened to the words.  This Psalm wasn’t written by David in the 10th century BC for all American funerals!  It was the cry of his heart to the Lord he had gotten to know so tenderly while taking care of sheep alone in fields.  What was God trying to convey to me?  What truths can I, and all of us, take from each verse of the 23rd Psalm?  This is what I sense Him speaking to me through each verse.

Verse 1:  He is my shepherd, who guides me, protects me, even corrects me, so that I will never lack.

Verse 2:  When I won’t quiet myself, He makes me rest beside a quiet stream.

Verse 3: He restores me.  He guides me along the right path because He is good.  His name is Faithful and True.

Verse 4: Even if I am faced with death, I don’t have to fear, because the Lord is with me.  He is protecting and guiding me.  He is bringing comfort to me.

Verse 5: He would put out a table, spread a beautiful table cloth on it, and make me a feast while people who hate me watch.  He would gently touch my forehead with scented oil, while I hold a golden chalice overflowing with good wine.

Verse 6:  I am followed by His goodness every single day, every single minute.  I am followed by His purest love every single day, every single minute.  I will dwell inside of God’s house on this earth, and for eternity.

See, the 23rd Psalm is not just for funerals, it’s for everyday life.  It holds truths that we so desperately need to make it through our LIVES, not to only read when someone dies.  I encourage you, meditate on the 23rd Psalm.  What does the Good Shepherd wish to speak to you?  Is He disciplining you as He was me in 2007?  Is He lovingly guiding you through a scary, vulnerable time?  No matter where you find yourself, you are not alone.  The Shepherd is with you and His rod and staff always bring comfort.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Poem-Hanging by a Thread

The spirit of this age is chasing me.
A spiraling, unfurling, dark cloud of deceit.

It chases, chokes, and blinds, while I grasp a thread from earth to heaven,
clinging for true spiritual life.

Yet, the spirit darkens and shouts lies,
"Jesus isn't the only way!
Forsake all, come out and play!
All truth is truth, so don't delay,
to join the crowds in mayhem."

But, then, I remember...
This loud fight for my soul
must mean
that I'm someone worth fighting for.
And my truth is a light worth snuffing out...

The darkness cannot overcome
while I climb my thread
grasping like a rope in gym class.

I stay desperate...
reaching for you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

WHERE WERE YOU!?-A little something I wrote in the midst of postpartum depression

Since 2009, I have had a heart cry of, “God, Where were YOU!?”  I have often felt a crisis of faith, saying, “Why even pray?  You only answer if You want.  Bad things happen to good people.” 

I didn’t always feel this torment.  And, trust me, torment it is.  I am a God believer.  I believe in the realness of Jesus Christ.  Not because I was taught it, but because I experienced HIM.  I know He is real.  Since He is real, I truthfully feel failed by Him.  I know He is big enough to handle this emotion I have.  I just wish that I could work through it and get my faith back.

I have SEEN God move mountains metaphorically.  I have traveled the world, financed by prayer.  I have prayed for people and seen them healed.  I have been prayed for and been healed.  I have seen people set free from demonic influence.  I have been set free from demonic influence in which I was NEVER THE SAME AGAIN.  This is the minimum of what I have SEEN the Lord do since he rescued me from drugs and alcohol in 2002.  No, I didn’t “find God,” because I was an addict.  People say, “Everyone finds God in jail.”  No, God runs after prisoners because He loves them.  He is always seeking, searching to reveal Himself.  I was finally at a place of brokenness after a DUI, two times in jail, terrible withdrawal, and so many evils that I’m not even discussing at this point.  I was able to SEE Him and I finally said, “Come in.”

After this intense conversion, Jesus showed up daily to reassure His realness to me and restore my sanity.  So now, ten years later, I am tormented by doubt, fear, and “Where were YOU!?”

I heard of a Christian who went through a deep, dark depression.  They said something to the effect of, “Had I gone through this when I wasn’t a believer, the days would have been darker.  I wouldn’t have made it through.  Because of God, there was hope.” 

I’m not like that.  I have the immediate reaction of, “Where were YOU!?”  I am FOLLOWING You.  Why are you ignoring me?  Why are you letting me hurt?  I AM your follower.  I believe in You.  Why are you NOT BEING FAITHFUL?”  The hurts and pains I went through apart from Him do not cause me to question Him.  It’s the hurts and pains that happen while following Him.

I’ve been seeking Him out.  Because, like I said, He is real. Denying His existence is not an option.  When my mom doesn’t give me something I ask for, it doesn’t make her unreal.  It means she said, “No.”  It doesn’t change her existence.

With all that being said, my pregnancy was amazing.  I had a few setbacks, but for the most part, and I give credit to the Lord, it was a dream.  We all have deep desires that may not make sense to others, but they are ours.  The only thing I thought of during my pregnancy was making it through the pushing pain, watching the doctor pull my daughter out from me, and handing her to me.  I imagined her messy and crying and holding my beautiful daughter, making the pain worth it.  I never considered that a c-section was an option…and I trusted God for this.

When Ella could not fit down the birth canal, as my body shook in pain and I clung to the rail on the side of the bed, I heard the words, “C-section.”  I grasped the rail with both arms, lying on my side, shaking, crying, in pain that I can’t describe.  I moaned with each contraction trying not to be one of those, “crazy, screaming ladies.”  Yes, I had an epidural, but it was turned down to a 2 so that I could feel the contractions in order to push.  The doctor told my husband that after two hours of pushing, the baby hadn’t budged and I was going into exhaustion.  It didn’t appear that Ella would come any other way.  She said, “Push for ten more minutes.  If she doesn’t budge, we’ll turn up the epidural and take you for a c-section.  Talk it over with your husband.”  I looked in Scott’s eyes with tears streaming down my face and we agreed it would be best.  I felt such sadness.  I felt such let down.  I cried and cried as my epidural was raised, while I was still going through intense contractions less than a minute apart and about a minute long.  Scott was quickly outfitted for the surgery room.

As I was wheeled into surgery, I bawled.  The doctor gently and lovingly asked me, “Why are you so upset?”  “I feel like it’s my fault.  I feel like I’m failing.  I feel like I couldn’t push her out.”  She said, “Dawn, she cannot fit.  This isn’t your fault.  Babies have to come out one of two ways.”  As I was pushed quickly into surgery, the music in the room became louder.  Three words echoed from the radio, “ I Found God..”

“Where were you?” by The Fray was playing.  I was so comforted at that point by the Lord.  I felt a Divine peace wash over me.  No, this wasn’t going the way I expected, but even in my brokenness, my questioning God, He was meeting me in His own way.  He was saying, “I am here, I am listening.  I am IN this.”  Sometimes it’s hard, because I know He can change my situation, but He chooses not to.  Knowing He is here, though, has brought comfort to me.  I know that doesn’t bring comfort to everyone, but it does for me and it keeps me seeking Him.  The chorus of the song has always spoken deeply to me.

“Lost and insecure, you found me, you found me
Lying on the floor surrounded, surrounded
Why'd you have to wait? Where were you? Where were you?
Just a little late, you found me, you found me.”

I’ve  always been one that listens to a song and let it mean to me what I feel it speaks.  I don’t read the artist’s intention, because music speaks to many in different ways.  For me, the important part of this chorus is “You found me.”  Even when I am broken, hysterical, questioning…God finds me, even when it isn’t pretty. .. even when I think He’s late.

When the song ended, and the surgery ensued, Manic Monday began to blare loudly.  Although seemingly chaos filled the operating room, I had already met with God...and I knew all would be ok.