Posts tagged My story with God
Grace for the "GOOD" Part 1

I have been feeling compelled to write about Grace and think I want to do a little bit of a series on the things that God has shown me and taught me. I think I want to call it "Grace for the 'GOOD'", you will get what I mean as you read on.  

I really believe I have never truly understood grace until recently, maybe the past few years, these years that I would classify as "hard".

I knew I didn't get the concept of grace because I didn't have a gut reaction to the word, I didn't have a sense of recognition in my spirit towards the word. It was one of those words that I had heard all of my life, that I understood maybe in the simple definition but not in how it applied to me, how it affected me. I am not sure that I prayed specifically that God would show me more what grace was or help me to understand it, I might have, but He has slowly taken me through a process of revealing to me in great depth the meaning of it, the layers of it, the intense beauty of it.

Even reiterated yesterday in our church service from our pastor, what need is there of grace if we are "pretty good people". Even though, again, I knew practically that my sin was no different than anyone else, it was still mostly classified as "good sin" by most people, or so I think I told myself. I didn't have this attitude in my heart that made me want to drop to my knees in utter worship because anything good in me or about me was all God, as gross as it sounds, I think I thought of myself as "pretty good".

I became a Christian when I was 6 and by that time I had not stolen any cars, done any drugs, or been involved in anything I would have considered "testimony worthy". Being the eldest child I had strong urges in me to obey, be good, follow rules, and heaven forbid get into trouble, so even after I knew the Lord these things about me kept me pretty close to the straight and narrow. I remember having the thought that I simply didn't get involved with many things high school kids might because I was never presented with the opportunity, when I think I had thought it had been my great decision making all along. Maybe had I not been a "dork" I would have made more bad choices, and I may have done or tried those things as well. God's grace was present in my life even then, keeping me just a bit different from the cool kids.

And in these last weeks I feel so thankful, so thankful that He kept me from those things and many hard choices I could have easily made and yet has still been so faithful to reveal to me His grace anyways. Perhaps there is an element of understanding that can only come in the "valley of the shadow of death", the days that are dark, hard, lonely and our smallness and insignificance become so apparent. That our ability to do for ourselves or even control anything is all an illusion, there is nothing strong or capable about us when we have come to the end of ourselves. When we are face to face with our weakness, our depravity, our deep pain, and all we can do is brush all the pieces into a pile and take it to Him, where He waits. I am thankful for these valleys because we see Him and understand in a deeper way.


I know He has been there, so near all along, before I grasped a deeper understanding of this amazing concept, and even this is His grace. I remember being maybe 10 and getting a karaoke machine from my grandma for Christmas and laying on the floor of my office room with the mic and making up songs to the Lord. (Yea see, as I wrote back then in my diary "being a dork is hard" ha ha).  For so long I think I despised this precocious and deeply feeling little girl because I always felt so misunderstood or like I didn't fit in. I knew I was not as cool and think I always had this heart for the Lord, but I certainly didn't know how to express it in a way that wasn't a bit odd. It is almost like I hated that girl, the one who never brushed her hair, never wore the right clothes,  a little too chubby, who boys never liked. I think this concept of myself has been the one I have let rule my self for many years since.

God revealed this to me, and this was some sort of root to part of my depression. I was so hard on myself because at some point I had clung to the fact that I wasn't really loveable, that I was too much, too emotional, too feeling, to intense and no one can handle that. Most of my life has been played by this play book. Being paralyzed by the depression as I was, I believe, was my psyche not being able to take much more of this abuse I was giving to myself. And so much of this abuse, came down to "being good". It wasn't so much about not doing this or that bad thing, no it was more this inner abuse of knowing what I "should be thinking or feeling" because I was a "good Christian" yet not being able to reconcile my need to be real and authentic about how I didn't feel those things and I felt trapped in my own self hatred. This inner battle between how I should be and how I felt, the truth I should believe and the lack of strength to believe it. This is the crossroads God brought me to.

When I was in Northern Ireland I feel God spoke to me that Isaiah 61 was a part of my calling as it was Jesus'. To help bind up the brokenhearted, to call those that sit into darkness into light, etc.  I saw them as "those people" that I was called to, that I was going to help. As God met me in my brokenness and that "goodness" that was no where near being good enough, 
He spoke to me about how 
 "those people". 

That being saved wasn't only about my 6 year old experience sitting on my mom's bed at bedtime.
I still needed a Savior to save me every single day of my existence. I think somewhere along the way I had come to believe that God graced me salvation but it was my job to get me through the rest, all on my shoulders, on my shoulders to get it right, to figure it out, to stay right with God. But I felt desperate and broken and my strength had totally left me so long ago, all that was left was this broken mess of what I thought I had done right or learned all these years about how life worked. I needed Him to save me, 
every day, 
through every struggle, 
through every sin, 
through every insecurity 
and lie
 that I let lead me.

 One of the greatest things I heard was about how grace is for salvation but it's also to change us, we can't change ourselves! 
 change ourselves. 

All the things that I loathed about myself, the things that I saw in myself that I hated and presumed all others hated me for as well, I couldn't change them. All this time I had put the weight on my shoulders to change myself, if I just tried harder, just had a better attitude, just chose to be more involved, more service minded, more devoted to my devotions, and I just couldn't, it was so heavy, I just gave up.

You hear the cliche's about God waiting for you to stop trying, like, "finally". But it was so true and real for me. When I understood that as I saw things in my life that weren't what God wanted,
  I just had to agree with Him, 
acknowledge them,
 and then ask Him to change me.
 A freedom started washing over me. 

My job was from that point forward was to do whatever action he was asking of me for that day, not get overwhelmed by how it was all going to work out, when it would change, or even when I would feel better. He was going to take care of all of that, it was not my job.

He gave me an analogy of this through my training for my second marathon. 
As most of you know I had dislocated my knee on the first and second days of the year, so really, training for a marathon wasn't on my agenda. When the idea presented itself I had no idea how my knee would react to this much running, but I wanted to try. He showed me that I didn't know if I would be able to run 26.2 miles 4 months from then, but that day I could run three and I finished  that three, and the next time I would do five or whatever it was next. That faith was activated in stepping out for that next task, and then four months later, I ran those 26.2 miles. He showed me how His grace is poured out in extravagance and carries you through as you do the small things he has asked of you in obedience one moment at a time, if it must be. This is obviously how I am working through every next issue, moment, step that I continually encounter, even when He has to remind me continually.

He started showing me how He loved that girl in me that I had chosen to despise. How he created me to be intense and passionate and a deep thinker and feeler. Even that 10 year old girl with the horrible teeth, the heart glasses and the chubby waist, that even this girl He loved immensely, even in her mistakes and even when she didn't feel worthy of love. He taught me to love this girl, not the girl she turned into, not the girl she was still trying to become, this girl. That for everything that I picked apart about why who I was was unacceptable, He began to show me that there was a good aspect to that as well. That who I was, was not an accident, and as He (not I) redeemed those rough qualities, I could rest in His love for me despite them.

It is in all this, all this understanding that I never knew I needed and never knew I lacked, I began to learn about grace. How His grace had been there with me all along, and now it was grace that opened my eyes.

 That I was never good enough, 
and I never would be.
 That I didn't have to be, 
because it was never me to begin with.

 The freedom in this knowledge is something that I am not sure I can really describe. This acceptance of God's pure love for me puts everything in its place, gives everything perspective. I feel grace now, I grasp it deep in my soul, it is something I could never have studied to know. It is only by God revealing it to me. It's a sense of thankfulness I have never understood, a sense of love that doesn't require to take my question of value to anyone else, it's a confidence in Him and His shoulders to get me to sanctification, to more Christ likeness. 

It's freedom.


You Need Only Be Still
It has been a crazy weekend for us with moving. We are now in my parents house and there is something nice about throwing all our stuff in storage and not having to unpack. Sure this is not our ideal situation, but I am glad we have somewhere to go at all in this hard time.

I have been thinking some in my old way, trying to "take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ", those thoughts that people are sitting quietly behind their computer screens judging why this must be happening to us, what fault it is of ours that this must have happened. Like that Anna Nalick song I like to quote "cause I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd, cause this is my diary screaming out loud, and you can use it however you want to".  But the lessons I have been learning about being myself over these past four years is outweighing any of that. That, yep, I am like Peter, a bit in your face, a bit of an over sharer at times, a bit passionate about most everything. I know those people are probably few and far between, and I also know that I am far harder on myself than others are. You can only give as much grace as you have been able to receive yourself, and this is the process I am in. Giving myself grace.

Our pastor has been working his way through Matthew and two weeks ago he spoke about the disciples, why they were chosen, etc. He wanted us to know their qualifications for being chosen....they didn't have any. What Jesus saw in them was their heart and maybe a little bit of tenacious craziness that just might keep them trusting and following when things weren't easy. They were incredibly rough around the edges, far from prepared, totally missing the point, but they were still chosen and here we are years later still learning from them. 

We are the same, all a little off in our own way, taking steps of obedience while God refines us and sanctifies our bumpy personalities to make them useful to His kingdom, to make us that little bit more like Jesus. It was their hearts that He saw, that He chose. And He is speaking to me about all this in the middle of this hard time. To be free to be myself, flaws and all, about the power of vulnerability and being real in the middle of things that don't make sense, make me scared, upset, ask questions.

During this time I feel like the Lord has given me the verse Exodus 14:14 

I wrote it out on our chalkboard at home. That there are many times when God has asked me to fight with everything that I have, with all my strength involved, but this time, it's about letting God move and I watch Him fight for me, for us.

Even moving this weekend, although I tend to get overwhelmed with things like that, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It went fairly smoothly and quickly and although we still have more to do, it was much easier than I anticipated. Carried.

I also found a small group at my church for women on Friday mornings that I decided to get involved in. I have been so hungry for community, it has been so long, but it really felt as though as hard as I ever tried to get into something it never worked out. Finally I was able to. It was like a breath of fresh air and I walked away knowing and feeling two things; I am changed, and I am loved.

I know I am changed because it has been over a year since interacting with other Christians in that kind of learning environment. As I listened to the discussion and participated I think I was even shocked myself the kinds of things that were coming out of my mouth. This bubbling passion for the Lord and feeling so much more freedom than I ever have. This deep knowing that I am loved and accepted by Him and that He has a plan and He sees me and He validates me, it removes the necessity to grasp after anyone else's approval of me. That I know that I can do nothing without the Lord, that anything that is good about me is because of the Lord, not because I have tried so hard and checked all the appropriate boxes.

This deep knowing that I am the needy one, I am the weak one, and I will boast in my weakness because then He will be shown strong. There is no need in pretending to have it all together, that we are one step closer to the Lord because we have all the right answers, when in reality we are all beggars before a Holy God. We come empty handed, anything good about us is Him and from Him. We are all in great debt to the one who has paid for our freedom, and as Steven Furtick said in a recent sermon "Passion dies when debtors become collectors". And yet, in this time of vulnerable weakness and not knowing where we will live next or any of the answers I would like to control, I feel His strength in me. This idea of making my theology a reality in my life, not something I talk about and know about but the Spirit beginning to work it out in me. That Biblical knowledge without practical application in every day life is quite pointless, He gave us His word to help change us to become more like Christ and show other people the same.

And I am realizing that it is in this hard times that the rubber meets the road. Like "Ashley, am I good or not? You say you believe I am good, you say that I am your provider, you say all these things and so I need you to trust what you say believe, I need you to trust Me". 

And this other aspect of knowing I am loved. He has shown me and been so near and intimate with me. Speaking to me so tenderly, literally getting me from day to day, filling me with a joy and hope that could only be coming from Him. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths, and do not be anxious about anything but in everything with prayer and petition present your requests to God and the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. All these things, they are my reality right now.

Maybe I have a million reasons not to understand what is going on, and I still don't, and I don't know what will happen next. But I do know that God is doing something, that He has changed me and that I am so loved.

Oh How He Loves Us {learning how God loves me through my children}

I felt compelled today to share with you an entry from my prayer journal that I wrote the day before I had Eisy. At that time I had no idea that my water would break and that he would come into this world a week early. 

As I have struggled with my depression over the past four years by the time I got pregnant with Eisy, 
{which I prayed would just happen if God wanted us to have another} 
I was ready to be done with the whole struggle. The whole thing has really been a journey and process of self discovery, but when I became pregnant again it was a whole new ball game.
I stopped the meds I was on immediately not wanting to hurt the baby and had several episodes in the early weeks of being pregnant with him, not to mention the usual nausea. I felt like I was falling apart, especially when we took a road trip to California for the funeral of my husbands sister. I was determined I needed to do something different, I couldn't keep feeling this way.
I started meeting with a girl recommended to me by a pastor and she just had me share my relationship with the Lord. How I felt about whatever I wanted, needed, to talk to her about. Like a soul care specialist. I met with her maybe a handful of times but it started opening doors to what God was wanting to say, to speak, to reveal.

God invited me to growth, and I was ready, or at least I thought I was.

There is a line in my favorite song by Nichole Nordeman that says 
"'Knock with caution at the door,' they said, 'beware of what you're praying for'"

And you always here that you shouldn't pray for patience because you won't like how God teaches you, but I think that this can apply for praying for anything.

I will glance back at old prayer journals and see what I was praying, and like Beth Moore says, "When we sign our prayers in Jesus name that's powerful, because God gives His baby son what He wants." And especially when you know they are the things God wants to do in us, but they don't always come in nice, cute little packages that we would hope for. 

God asked me to step out, step down, and spend time with Him alone for 6 months.
I was involved in at least three things at my church, but I sensed this form of striving. Striving to fix myself, striving for approval, striving, fighting, losing. I just felt so empty, like I had nothing to give, and this frustrated me and left me feeling even more guilty.

So I stepped away from it all and focused on God and what He wanted to do. My hair was dark, I was gaining weight, I felt crappy and I had no way to "make" myself feel better. Just sit in this.
I could write pages and pages of that time, maybe sometime I will, but the long and short of it is that I had this intense time with the Lord. He revealed things to me and uprooted things, I referred to it as my "dark period." At the same time I felt like the Lord was saying that He was birthing something in me spiritually the same time as I was growing Eisy. That something new would be born with him.

August was the hardest time for me, being my 9th month, that really doesn't need explaining. Especially if you have been pregnant before, it's just the time when you want it all to be over. So it was with my spiritual life. The six months I felt like God has set aside for Him would come to an end at the end of August, and I was scheduled for my c-section on September 3rd. So when I went into labor still in August I thought this was amazing, it coincided with my six months and all.

The whole time was amazing with God, yet I felt uneasy. I felt like I was trying to work for God's approval, for His love. I wanted Him to be proud of me, I wanted to be used by Him again, I wanted to stand in confidence and power but instead I felt like I was cowering in the corner ashamed of myself and ashamed of the guilt I carried with me about my depression, about letting God down, about how weak I was.

This is what He showed me and spoke to me that day before Eisy entered the world.

I was thinking about this too, about how you say we love you because you first loved us, and how you loved me even before I was cognizant of you. Before I tried to tell you I love you or tried to obey you to show you I loved you, you were loving me. Before I had a inkling that you were even there, I had dreams, or prayed-any of that- you loved me. and I understand this being pregnant. Eisy won't really have the capacity to of showing love or even knowing love for some time, but I am not waiting for him to get to that place before I love him. 
I love him even before I've met him, in my tummy. I will love him more when I meet him, see him, smell him and ponder over every intricacy of his little face. How he reflects me, or his daddy, or brother. Love him for all I have yet to see about him, but know I will experience in and with him. And I will feed him, and I will change his diapers, and I will put him to sleep because it's what is best for him-way before he really even understands who I am or can be grateful for anything. 
And we jokingly say, "those boys better appreciate all I went through" in regards to how big they are, how big they made me. But they don't and maybe they never will because they won't ever have to be pregnant, but I do go through this pain I am currently in and currently putting my body through again, because he is worth it, Ashton was worth it, and I...I am worth it to you.
Sometimes I think I may see you as having to love me conditionally, and I know that not even human mothers love is like you or yours. But its not something you decide to do based on how well I understand it or reciprocate it. It's just there, it's just who you are. And I know when Eisy starts smiling, snuggling, or first tells me "I love you mommy" my joy will be full. Even now when Ashton says "I just need you" or "can I just love you" that I love that and it changes my heart towards him if he is being naughty and makes me so proud that he is my son. And we put up with his bad attitudes and are proud when he chooses better, the right way, we still understand his age and that he is learning more day by day.
That is like me too, maybe I am seven but I wish I were fourteen, but I can't get there by wanting it or by being annoyed with myself for not being there yet. I will get there, over time, mistakes and "pressing on". Let this sink deeply into my heart and spirit. I do want you to be pleased with me, I want to be someone you can use, I want to be the kind of person that I would respect and who listens, acknowledges weaknesses and allows you to change her. I know I won't stay seven, just like Eisy won't stay an infant. I know my circustances will change eventually as well- please help me to have the right perspective and continue to trust you. Freaking out about things doesn't change them, so please help me to live in your peace. To remember that your love for me, like my love for my sons, isn't based on how fast they grow up. Actually that maybe you enjoy it, this process of learning, just as much as getting us to the other side.

That God loves us, in the process of growing, just as much as the growth. That actually it all depends on Him and not us, that is the freedom. We are just like these little babies that are loved, we fall down, we learn, we get up, we get hurt, we try again, but never for His love, never for more approval. It's just something we have to go through to get to where we need to be in maturity. There is no such thing as microwave growth.

I think of Eisy now, at 5 months, and the pure joy I get just from looking at him.

I mean come on!
How can you not smile seeing that lil face!!!

And he doesn't have to do anything.

I still do what is best for him, because he doesn't see what is best for him. He doesn't realize that NEVER sleeping is bad for him, and that he is actually really tired.

And so I hold him tight to me, and I sing to him and I rock him hard and he fights me. His eyes are having a hard time staying awake because he is so tired, and he screams and pushes against me and he's mad at me, because how could this be good for him, but it is.

And this is not unlike me, this is not unlike you...

We don't understand why God does things, or doesn't do things that we feel are so important to us. And He knows we don't understand, He is sorry we don't understand, but He still does what is best for us anyways, because He is good. As we grow He gives us more freedom, more expectations from our obedience as we gain more understanding. But I think there are still times, when we need Him to hold us tight, and we fight to break free, and He just whispers
 "Trust Me".