Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Final Blessings in the Basics: God's Love--I'm So Glad God Doesn't Hate Me

“Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:26

I thought God hated me.  For over seventeen years, I lived in my own hell of self-loathing and unworthiness.  Somehow I didn't love myself, and I didn't feel that God loved me either.  Sometimes I wish someone would have saved me a lot of anguish, depression, and despair by helping me to see the good in myself...by helping me to love who I was and how God made me to be...by helping me understand that God's love for me was unconditional...by helping me see that God was loving and good and not just punishing and "out to get me"...and more importantly, by helping me understand what God's love was really all about!  

After 40 years, I finally "get" God's love!

But I now know that all of that was part of my own journey...a journey God used to help me understand His love!  You have your own journey too.  God wants to show you His love too!

Are you ready to receive it?

Over the past month, I felt the Lord calling me to write about being blessed in the basics---a breath, a smile, and even just plain being alive.  After battling with infertility, depression and fear and after almost losing my marriage, God has taught me to be grateful for even the most basic, simplest things in life.  And this week, I want to focus on God's love.

What a great week to focus on that, right?  I would love for you to take a minute to stop shopping...stop wrapping...stop baking...stop cleaning...stop preparing for Christmas--the gifts, the food, the cookies, the stockings, the decorations, the songs, the shows, the movies, and the traditions and start preparing for what God wants us to focus on this Christmas...His love!

Don't get me wrong, I love all the festivities and family fun that go along with this time of year, but I also know that they can be very distracting.  Warning!  Warning!  Cliché coming...cliché coming! 

They can all be very distracting from the "true meaning of Christmas." 

Seriously, though, this year in particular, after everything I've been through, I've really been in tuned to the very special reason why we celebrate Christmas!  It seems that every Christmas song makes me cry.  Like never before, I can't listen to Hark the Herald Angels Sing without becoming a blubbering mess.  Why?  Because my heart is so open, vulnerable, and truly ready to receive My King...to receive why He came to the earth as a baby...so humble...to receive why He lived in human form...to receive why He healed and encouraged and taught and prayed...to receive why He was and is the light of the world!  


Let me say it again...all along, My Father was just simply wanting to show me His love!  

It's like for the first time in my life, I get it!  I finally get it!  I finally understand the magnitude of God's love for me!  I finally understand that Christ was sent for me!  Not just for everyone else...not just for the perfect people...not just for those who don't make mistakes...not just for those who have lived a flawless life...not just for those who have it all together---Christ was sent for me. 

A sinner...a mistake-maker...flawed...and broken.  Me! 

Why?  Because He loves me!  God came because He loves me. 

Whew!  I'm so glad God doesn't hate me!  He never has...He never did...He never will.  He loves me so much.  He loves you too!   Do you know that?  Do you really know that? 

Let me share what I've learned about Christ's love to help you understand how much He loves you too...

His love for us is unconditional, unshakable, unmovable, undeniable...His love for us is full of grace, mercy, forgiveness...His love for us is beautiful, wonderful, good.  His love for us is wise, tender, tough.  His love for us is amazing, astounding, awe-inspiring! 

His love for us never changes, never waivers, NEVER ENDS!

There is nothing we can do, say, think, or feel that will stop Him from loving us!  His love endures forever! 

Through His perfect love, I am able to appreciate myself...I am able to have confidence in who I am...I am able to love myself more than I ever have before! 

I get it!  I finally get it!  Do you get it?

Father, thank You for helping me to finally understand that Your love endures forever.  Thank You for teaching me through my trials.  Thank You for helping me love who I am and for never giving up on showing me Your love.  Even when I didn't want to believe it or receive it...even when I wanted to deny it and turn away from it...even when I felt unwanted or unworthy, You never let me go.  You held me tight and held my hand through so many dark times in my life.   I am so overwhelmed right now with gratitude because I finally accept and receive Your beautiful love!  Thank you for shining Your loving light into the darkness of my life.  Help me to shine, Lord, and be even more grateful for You and Your love this Christmas season!  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

SHARE WITH ME!  Do you get God's love for you?

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Am the Face of Depression

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." 
Psalm 86:5
Look closely.  This is the face of depression.  I hide it well...
It horrifies me to think that I almost ended my own life eight years ago.  Today, I want to celebrate being alive not because it's an exciting or eventful day...not because anything really special is going on...but simply because it's another day that I'm alive. 

Eight years ago, I had been trying to get pregnant for almost four years without success.  I felt hopeless.  Every negative word you can think of, I thought it about myself.  I felt worthless...useless.  I felt like a failure...a loser.  I thought I was dried up...an old hag.  
I thought that if I wasn't able to have a child my husband would leave me.  I thought if I wasn't able to have a child, my life wasn't worth living.  
I begged God to forgive me for whatever I did that was so horrible that He was with-holding a child from me.  I looked around at everyone else getting pregnant...getting pregnant...getting pregnant. 
That's it.  I must be so awful that I don't deserve this blessing.  Everyone else must be better than me.  I must have done something so terrible...so unforgivable...that God is going to punish me for the rest of my life.
During the week, I would escape to my job as a middle school science teacher.  I would get lost in loving and encouraging my students--or as I called them "my kids".  After all, I figured that they were probably going to be the only kids I was ever going to get.  I was Mrs. Leeb or as some students called me "Coach".  I was the fun, happy-all-the-time, nerdy science teacher who loved them and who was way too excited about the Periodic Table of Elements.  I felt so good about myself in my classroom.  I loved who I was in that science room. 
I'm sure my students would have been shocked to learn that I was depressed.  I'm sure they would have been shocked to learn that on the weekends, I wouldn't get out of bed.  I'm sure they would have been shocked to learn that I would drown my sorrows in alcohol.  I'm sure they would have been shocked to learn that I avoided close friendships, cried all the time, and basically couldn't function outside of my science room oasis. 
I used my work to escape the realities of my life. 
And the realities were that I was depressed--though I would never admit it.  The realities were that at the end of the day, as I walked out of my classroom...out of the school...out to my car, I would hang my head low.  When I saw my reflection in my car window, I would hate who I was again.  I would get a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach.  I was no longer cool and fun and happy...I was suddenly overwhelmed with despair, sadness, and darkness. 
In an instant, I was the loser again...the failure...the unworthy, old hag who couldn't even do something as simple as get pregnant. 
My husband and I had gone through all of the medical testing and there was nothing wrong...there was no reason for our infertility...there was nothing stopping us but me.  It was all my fault.  I was the reason that we were never going to be parents...that I would never be able to call myself a mom...that my husband would never be able to call himself a dad...that he would never be able to play baseball in the backyard with his son like his dad did with him.   
As I drove home that day, I was done.  I couldn't take it anymore.  I couldn't keep hating myself.  I couldn't keep disappointing my husband and my parents.  I couldn't keep making everyone feel uncomfortable around me because I was the only woman in all the world who couldn't get pregnant.  I couldn't keep answering the question "Are you a mom?" with a "No" anymore.  I couldn't keep finding out that one more woman was pregnant...by accident.  I couldn't keep pretending that I was ok. 
I was not ok.  I was in pain and I wanted the pain to end.  
As I pulled into my driveway and into my garage, I left the car running.  I thought...this will be peaceful.  I will just fall asleep and all my worries will be over. 
But something stopped me.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't end my life.  I turned off the car.  I walked into the house, and I fell onto the couch and slept.  I slept and I slept and I slept. 
I wish I could say that after that day, everything was all better.  No, it wasn't.  I still thought of ways I could end my life many times, but that was the closest I ever got to actually doing it.
But I can say that after that day, I got help.  I realized how serious of a situation I was in.  I got counseling.  I began to slowly move forward.  God began to shine His light through that darkness.  God helped me to learn to love myself whether I was a mother or not.  He helped me to see that being a mom didn't define who I was in His eyes.   He helped me to understand that my life was precious.  I mattered to Him.  I was His Daughter no matter what. 
I wish I could say that I never struggled with depression again, but I can't.  What I can say is that God saved me that day, and I'm so grateful.  God saved me from the lies of satan...he saved me from myself. 
I actually began to enjoy my life again and accept myself for who I was in that moment...mother or not. 

Had I ended my life that day, I would have missed out on the rich blessings that God had for me during that dark time.  I would have missed out on the growth and the opportunity to learn more about His love.  I would have missed out on not one, not two, but three children that He had waiting for me when I didn't even realize it. 


But do you know that during that five year struggle of waiting for them, I never once admitted to being depressed?  I never once used that word to describe myself?   It wasn't until years later when I looked back on that time, that I actually confessed that I was depressed.  I actually remember saying that word for the first time and it felt weird. It was like I felt too much shame to say it out loud that I struggled with depression even though it was so obvious(honestly, even now, as I'm typing this, it feels strange to admit).  But once the word came out of my mouth, I felt a little more free...because I was finally speaking the truth.   


I was the face of depression.  I still am. 

But now I know how to put on the armor of God and not allow myself to "go there."  Now I know how to seek God's light, God's wisdom, God's truth, and God's love.  Now I know that there is no shame to admit that I struggle with depression.  I know I'm not the only one.  Maybe you're the face of depression too.
Let's put our fears of judgment aside.  Let's talk about it.  Let's not hide it.  Let's admit it.  Let's confess it.  Let's not be ashamed of it.  Let's find freedom from it! 
Let's stop pretending that depression doesn't exist! 
Depression affects more people than you think.  Depression is real.  Depression can cloud your brain and distract you from life.  Depression can rob you of your joy.  Depression can isolate you.  Depression can lie to you and cheat you out of God's plans for you.  Depression can make you lonely and afraid.  Depression can kill you.  I know...it almost killed me. 

And now you know why it's so important for me to celebrate being alive today and every day.  Now you know why each day is truly a gift to me.  Now you know why I never want to waste a day.  Now you know why I never want to take a day for granted.  Now you know why I'm so grateful to be alive today!!  
Father, thank You that You are good and forgiving and loving, and when I called upon You, You rescued me!  Help me to continue to seek You in every struggle in my life.  Take my thoughts captive and shout your truth into my ears and never again allow me to even think about suicide.  I need Your powerful presence when I feel lonely, confused, or depressed.  Help me to find joy and blessings in my day.  Remind me of your unconditional, ever-lasting love.  Every morning when I wake up, help me to feel truly blessed and truly grateful to be alive!  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

 To My brave reader--please share with me if you've ever struggled with depression by a simple "Yes" or "No" in the comments below.  Feel free to share more if you'd like.  If you do struggle, just know that you are not alone, God loves you, and there is hope!  There is no shame in getting help and talking about it!


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Blessings in the Basics Week 2: A Smile--God's Light in this Dark World

"While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world."
John 9:5
Doesn't it annoy you when you walk passed someone and they don't even look up at you?  Or worse, you smile at them and they don't smile back?  Or worse, you smile at them and they actually scowl at you?   
Maybe it's just me.

Oh wait.  Maybe you're one of those people who doesn't look at me or who doesn't smile back or who scowls.  I hope not.   

This month, I felt the Lord calling me to examine the very basic things in life.  Last week, I focused on breathing--such a simple blessing that many of us rarely think about:  Thank God I Can BreatheThis week, I'd like to take a closer look at the smile. 
At only five weeks old, my son, Ben, showed me his first smile--full of gums and drool, but it was the most beautiful smile I had ever seen.  Below, I captured one of those precious smiles which is one of my favorite pictures.  I love it.  Every time I look at this picture, it makes me smile because I know that he's smiling at me making a fishy face at him.  Every time he smiled, he lit up the room!
My efforts to encourage him to smile for the camera continued. 
Every time I look at this next picture, I laugh because of the huge smile on Ben's face.  But what you don't know is that the reason he has such a huge smile on his face is because I'm jumping up and down making monkey noises...and well...basically acting like a monkey.  Apparently, I was pretty good at it.  At one point though, I was being so silly that Ben said, "What's mommy doing?"  (We moms will do anything to get that smile for the picture, right?) It worked though. His smile lit up that entire back yard during that photo shoot. 
And then I realized just how much a smile can light up the world!   
A smile is such a basic thing in life, but it's so precious, and it has such power behind it to change things...to lighten the mood...to bring calm...to slow anger...to bring peace...to bring laughter...to bring joy...to bring light...His Light. 
From the time we are only weeks old, we can smile.  It isn't something we're taught.  It isn't something we're forced to do (even if you see someone acting like a monkey, you decide if you want to smile or not).  It isn't something that comes from the world.  It's not a skill that we have to learn.  It's not something that we are either good at or not. 
It's something we are born with.  It's something we all have.  It's something we can all do.  It's something that God created.  It's something that is just a true joy within us just waiting to come out. 
Lately, I've realized that I need to allow the joy of the Lord to come out through my smile.  
I need to let God's true joy that has been inside of me since I was a baby shine through me.  I am God's light in this world, and I believe that my smile is a way of shining His light on everyone I see.  Something changes in me when I smile.  I always feel better when I smile, and I definitely feel better when someone smiles at me! 
Bottom line...I need to smile more!
What about you?  Do you need to smile more too? 
This week, I want to encourage you to smile more.  While you're out and about this holiday season, smile more.  While you're working, playing, decorating, shopping, wrapping gifts...smile more. 

And don't ever pass up the opportunity to smile at someone else.  It's so simple...it's so basic...but it can be so meaningful.  It can be such a blessing to someone. 
You never know who might need to see your smile...who might need to have their day brightened...who might need to feel God's love...who might need to see God's light in this dark world through such a simple thing as a smile!  
And please, if you walk passed me, look up.  When I smile at you, please smile back.  And please don't scowl at me...that really hurts my feelings. 

Lord, thank You for the gift of a smile.  Thank you for using the smiles you have given my children to bring joy to my life and to remind me that You created our smiles for Your purpose...to bring Your light into this world.  Help me to use my smile to bring joy to those around me.  Help me to be Your light.  Help me to put down my phone, stop looking for bargains at the store, and start looking at each precious face that passes me by.  Help me to change the world, one smile at a time!  In Jesus' name.  Amen.   


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blessings in the Basics Week 1: Thank God I Can Breathe

"The Spirit of God has made me,
And the breath of the Almighty gives me life." 
Job 33:4
Her first breath took her straight out of my arms and into the nursery and then to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  My little Abigail entered this world struggling to breathe. 
I was blue when I was born.  I was taken out of my mother's arms so the doctors could find my breath. 

His last breath was at the age of 67 after a battle with esophageal cancer.  Just recently, I lost my "Uncle" Dick, a very close friend to my parents--so close that I called him my uncle even though he wasn't.   
My mom recalls hearing her mother wheeze and struggle with her every breath as she walked up the stairs.  My grandma lost her battle to breathe at the young age of 49 from emphysema. 
Lately, I've been very aware of the miracle of breath.    
This month, I felt the Lord calling me to go back to the basics.  I needed to take my focus away from what the world wants me to see during this Christmas season--what I don't have, what I can't afford, and if I'm honest, what I really don't need. 
He's calling me to examine my life more closely to see the blessings in the very basic things starting with the breath of life.  
I don't always understand why some people's breaths in life are cut short or are difficult or are struggles.  Obviously I know some breaths end from their own choices...but some don't.  And those are the last breaths that I don't understand.  I don't know if I ever will or if I'm even supposed to. 
All I can do is know that God is good...have faith that He is always there to comfort us...and appreciate every breath He gives us.  
All I can do is know that my grandma and my Uncle Dick are with Jesus in Heaven and are no longer struggling to breathe anymore!
All I can do is thank God that my baby girl is now an incredibly healthy three year old who can breathe and run and jump and dance and talk and giggle and smell flowers! 
All I can do is thank God that when I check on her at night and put my hand on her back, I feel it rise and fall as she breathes in and out.  In her warm, quiet room, I am so grateful for her breath.

All I can do is thank God for giving me His breath of life when I was a baby and continuing to give me breath every day...every hour...every minute...every second. 
All I can do is thank God that His Breath gives us life. 
And when I look at life from that perspective---valuing every breath---nothing else really matters.  No gift that I give or get...no bargain that I find...no deal on Amazon Prime that I buy...no cookie that I bake...no tree that I decorate...nothing.  Nothing else seems all that important anymore.   
I can breathe!  Thank you God!  As you breathe in and out today, I pray that you will thank God too. 
Are you ready to be thankful for even the most basic things in life?  Are you ready to thank God for something so simple yet so life-giving as your breath?
Father, thank you for giving me Your Breath of life!  Thank you for shifting my focus from the views of the world...buying things....getting more stuff...to being grateful for the basic things in life.  Thank you for opening my eyes to see that something as simple as breathing in and out is such a miracle...such a gift...such a blessing.  I am so grateful that You healed my daughter, and I'm so grateful for every breath she takes in this world.  I'm so grateful for every breath I take too.  Never let me take it for granted, and always help me to use each breath You give me to serve You in this world.  In Jesus' name. Amen.
Don't miss a blog this month about "Blessings in the Basics".  Just enter your email address on this blog page.  Thank you!