Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Why it's absolutely okay to pamper your heart

After my daughter Ellanie died I jumped right into full time ministry. I thought it was good for me to throw myself into focusing on others and their needs. But what I learned soon after, is that ignoring my broken heart to focus on other broken hearts only creates more broken hearts. If I could go back and do anything differently during that time of profound healing in my journey, it would be to take time to get away and spend some serious time on my heart.

When we have a heart attack, stroke, or any other serious medical issue we spend a lot of time and money on ensuring that we are physically well and ready to do life again, right? But for some reason, we do not invest in our hearts that way. Investing in our insides is just as important, especially when emotional trauma as great as the loss of your baby hits you like a mac truck, smack dab in the middle of normal.

The Hebrew origin for the word heart is "lebab." It means the center for physical AND spiritual life. Where your will, intellect, and feelings live. So, why then would we not invest here... wholly?

A few months ago, I got an email from a friend whom I'd never met in person, but our lives were connected through social media and our stories of loss. God was pressing on her heart to organize an infant loss retreat, biblically based, for hurting and healing mamas. Naturally, this grabbed my attention and before I knew any details I already knew the Spirit was interceding and leading.

Bevin has her own powerful, heart breaking, yet awe-inspiring story of loss (read more about Bevin's daughter Leah and their foundation here) and after attending a secular infant loss retreat to invest in her own heart, she saw the good that came from it and wanted to empower other women to do the same.

The difference that Bevin wanted to bring to her retreat is a biblical perspective and worship environment tailored for infant loss. While offering the experience to bond with other moms who have been on the same journey, she also hopes to create an environment where women's hearts can truly experience restoration and refreshment by spending time in God's Word with other Christian mamas.

It totally doesn't hurt that this is all nestled in the beautiful, serene cabins of the Forrest Hills Mountain Resort in north Georgia!

I'll be speaking and facilitating sessions on topics such as loneliness/depression, hope for new life after loss, how to parent after loss, helping others understand, staying connected to God's Word, and more. Bevin has also arranged for a professional grief counselor to be leading sessions as well, offering a year's worth of therapy in one weekend!

There will be therapeutic activities designed specifically to help spur your journey to restoration and open your heart to the Holy Spirit as He leads. Journaling, crafting, horseback riding, spa-therapy, massage-therapy, and walking trails, just to name a few. Because contrary to what I believed, it is absolutely okay and necessary to invest in your heart in this way.

If this opportunity had been available to me four years ago... oh, what a difference it would have made! I thank God that Bevin has stepped out in faith and is trusting him to make this difference.

I pray that you or a friend will consider this chance for your heart to experience healing and peace. Your heart is secure and your healing is secure when it's defined by peace. Peace cannot be experienced when you continue to walk through life, burying the pain to keep functioning and protect your broken heart. If you're honest with God and with yourself, you need to face it with other mamas who know it too.

You can register here and learn more about the (in)Complete Retreat. Please do not let finances hinder you from registering. Bevin had a great suggestion for building a "Go Fund Me" page to share with your family and friends in helping you raise the money, or you could also ask for funds in lieu of Christmas gifts this year. I have no doubt that your loved ones would welcome the chance to support you in your journey to restoration!

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (retreat verse)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

When Mother's Day is not your favorite...

Over the last 6 weeks I've written several articles for publications and ministries that speak to those walking through infant loss and Mother's Day. I have been so thankful to see these outlets wanting to shed some light on this hard subject and give others suggestions for how to minister to women. The silence is being broken and it's so encouraging.

So, in thinking about my own resolution to not look at mother's day with dread, but with joy, I wanted to offer some thoughts here on my blog that I hope you'll share with someone that needs to hear them. Because even if you've not walked through infant loss, it's inevitable someone close to you will.

This framed scripture and picture of my daughter's feet sits on my nightstand. It reminds me that no matter the pace at which life moves, I am always going to miss my Ellanie and I will always need Him to catch my tears.

Isaiah 66:13 says, As a mother comforts her child, so I'll comfort you...

I have always thought that to be amazing- that the God of creation would compare his comfort to that of a mama's. I am certain it's because He knows its one of the most powerful things on earth. He understands the great measure of it and the impact it holds.

I still need His comfort. And while I love celebrating Mother's Day with the 2 beautiful living children the Lord has blessed me with, I'm always painfully aware of the gap between my children and Ellanie. And that's okay... because He comforts...

I want to share with you an excerpt from my book, 30 Days of Hope for Restoration in Infant Loss. I pray that this Mother's Day you will embrace your identity in the King and know that as time unfolds He will teach you to be content with what he has given you and what He has not. Let His peace settle on your heart this Mother's Day and in all the days ahead...

The year my Ellanie died, the spring holidays just didn't bring with it the usual feelings of newness and hope. The first holiday was Easter, a day filled with hope and victory, and I only felt defeat. Then came Mother's Day, which was followed by my daughter's original due date. It was a painful reminder, and I often wondered if I'd ever be able to celebrate normally again. Since then, Mother's Day and I have developed a truce. I now have two living, beautiful, healthy children who fill my days, my arms, and my heart and I love celebrating with them. But I also remember what it felt like as I held my daughter in my arms and watched her slip away. And I remember what it felt like leaving the hospital empty handed, knowing I would never know life with her here. And perhaps its survivor's guilt, but despite my many blessings, I found it hard to enjoy something that I wanted Ellanie to have too.

Once upon a time, I had a plan for my life. Then one day when I looked back down the road I had traveled, it seemed very unfamiliar, nothing like the plan I had made. And of course, it wasn't. Because my plan was never the reality, except in my own mind. It was, is, and always will be God's perfect plan, which is meant for good and not for harm.

You will always be a Mother. Death cannot steal that from you. If all of my children had died in my womb, during childbirth, after child birth, in whatever way, I would still be a mother. Though it may not be obvious to the world, if the only children you have are with Christ in eternity, you are still a mother. And Mother's Day recognizes that. More than a mother, you are a CHILD OF THE KING. Your identity is not wrapped up in a holiday. It is wrapped up in the Cross.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Can't Force Peace

If there's one thing I have learned in my faith journey thus far, its that peace isn't based on a feeling. Over time, life experiences have taught this through parenting, relationships, and almost 10 years of marriage. Jeremy and I will celebrate 10 years this April and every day I am awakened to the truth that our ability to love is solely dependent on Christ. I'm completely loveless on my own!

There've been many moments in my marriage when I knew the Lord was calling me to sacrifice something for my husband and I didn't necessarily have a good, comfortable feeling about it. It may not have been the path I would have chosen if I were relying solely on my "gut feelings", but it was the best path in the end.

I heard someone say once, "Make right choices to honor God and eventually your feelings will catch up."

"But doesn't that make following God harder?," So I once thought. I am discovering though, that it makes our attitude and our hearts more in line with His, helping us to withstand whatever comes.

In other words, peace can't be forced. Its okay to be honest enough to admit that you don't want to obey whatever He is asking you to do. He will work in you to help align your heart to His will, if you'll just ask!

Philippians 2:12-13 says, Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Ultimately, He wants us to do what satisfies Him. So, if this is your prayer, even when your feelings don't want to take that step of obedience, He will eventually bring peace.

My John MacArthur study Bible's commentary on this verse says: "God energizes the believer's desires. The Greek word for "will" indicates that he is not focusing on mere desires or whimsical emotions but on the studied intent to fulfill a planned purpose."

I LOVE that! Praise God His planned purpose is not dependent on my whimsical emotions.

When we were praying through whether or not to homeschool Emmalyn, I was a mess. My emotions were all over the place. One day I was all in, eager to tackle the challenge. The next day, I was hiding in my prayer closet like a scared little kid, afraid to even think about what it all would entail.

And then the Lord brought me back to this verse in Philippians and I knew that it was a matter of obedience, not feeling. Do I follow His leading for what He's confirmed is right for my child, or do I follow my feelings, which at the time, were not confident in my ability to give my daughter what she needs? After all, I was also working a part time job, writing a book, and had a 2 year old. There's no way, Lord...

In surrendering to Him, despite my feelings, peace eventually did come and my feelings did catch up. Now, I am thankful that I said "yes" to Him and "no" to my feelings. Emmalyn is thriving, and everything I considered as a road block, the Lord removed and cleared a path for His will. And now, despite my feelings and inadequacies, my heart is fully confident this was the right direction for us. And there is peace...

Peace can't be forced.

I believe that eventually if we make enough of these right choices despite our feelings, that we'll be so close to the peace of God it'll seem as if we can feel His hand in ours, moment by moment. When your soul reaches out for God's perspective in the daily choices- big and small- and grabs hold of the certainty of His peace, rather than your feelings, your belief in God changes. And He is so pleased!

Truly, it's better to walk in obedience and eventually move toward His peace, than to live in fear of stumbling, relying on our emotions along the way.

So, Einstein had it right when he said "Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." Understanding that His ways are always best. And He's promised us He'll never let us fall.