Tag Archives: miracles

Got Wine?

Is there anything more infuriating than job hunting? During my recent stint, I found myself inwardly screaming, “Serenity now!” à la Jerry Stiller an unfortunate amount of times each day. You first have to find something you’re qualified for – but not too qualified for – that you can imagine yourself doing for more hours than you spend with your family through the week. Then, when you find a match approaching that, you have to craft a cover letter in which you present yourself as strong and desirable but not arrogant, recognizing all the while that you might have just wasted hours of your life because the employer might not grant you an interview or even acknowledge your existence.

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Humbling.

After several weeks of applying and stressing and generally whirling like a dervish, I was invited to interview at a nearby high school. The minute I left the office, I knew I had the job. They even called a day earlier than promised to offer it. Then came the proverbial fork in the road.

Just a few days earlier, I had told my man that my perfect job would be writing, teaching, and counseling. So while this job offer at the high school would easily pay the bills, it wouldn’t let me go confidently in the direction of my God-given dreams, to borrow from Thoreau. More importantly, my pastor always says, “When you have to make a decision, look for Jesus and run hard that way.” I know Jesus is at that high school, but I didn’t have the sense he was calling me to join him there. And yet, turning the offer down meant passing on a tantalizing amount of comfort and safety. I prayed hard and felt like the answer was no, so I called and thanked them for the opportunity but declined.

As soon as I obeyed my Lord, the heavens opened. The day after I called HR with my answer, a local university asked me to teach writing for them this fall. The day after that, my own school hired me in its work-study program. So I turned down the comfortable option, but then Jesus gave me exact job I wanted: I’ll be teaching, writing, and studying to be a counselor this fall.

I’m not the first one to be scared because Jesus asked me to do something that, on first blush at least, made no sense. Think about those servants at the wedding at Cana in John 2. Jesus asked them to dip water out of a jar and take it to the master, knowing they could lose their jobs or lives if they displeased the boss. Imagine how terrifying that would’ve been, taking water to the master, who was expecting wine. But Jesus 1) does not always ask us to do the thing that makes sense, and 2) never lets us down. As it turned out, the master of the wedding evaluated the water-turned-wine as the very best from the whole event. Likewise, Jesus gave me the very best situation for this coming fall, the “perfect job” I described days before Jesus made it happen.

Another benefit of obedience is that it cleanses you of pride. It’s impossible to boast about a gift someone else gives you. Since it results solely from the grace of the giver, you know it had nothing to do with you. Maybe that’s the reason that Jesus asked the servants to take water from the thirty-gallon jars meant for ceremonial washing (John 2:6). Obeying him cleanses our hearts.

If you do obey the Lord, you can expect peace, knowing you did what you were asked by Someone who never abandons you. Intimacy with God is also cultivated when you know you heard from him and showed your devotion by changing your course. But another incredible result of obedience is a deluge of blessings (Deuteronomy 28:1, 2; Luke 11:28; John 10:10b). Since the servants chose to obey, they got to witness the first miracle of Jesus. Not only that, but their obedience blessed everyone around them: all the invitees enjoyed the “best wine yet.” And in that moment those servants must have felt freedom too from their fear and unbelief.

So there’s only one question left: how do we obey? Mary says it best, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Blessedly, it’s not always as frightening as turning down a job. Sometimes it’s paying tithe, exercising self-control, speaking gently when you’re angry, or choosing to spend some time with him instead of letting your Bible gather dust. Regardless of what he asks, you can trust him. He’s good, he’ll dump blessings on you like water from a thirty-gallon jar, and he will never abandon you (Matthew 28:20). Just do whatever he tells you. You’ll end up with a full glass of the best wine ever.

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Love Wins.

The church my man and I attend has real people in it – people who have excelled and fallen short in their efforts at relationships, being Christians, and life in general. In an environment like that, I shared my story out loud for the first time last Wednesday night. An unexpected thing happened: as difficult as it was to admit some of my more embarrassing mistakes, I became so proud of Jesus. So proud that my God is the kind of God who pursues diamonds in the rough. So proud that my God accepts me as I am – and you as you are – because he revels in the journey we’re on. So proud that my God is in control of the whole thing.

It’s like this. Addiction was a fourteen-year way of life for me – from 1996 to 2010 – and it sometimes nips at my heels even now. I didn’t reason my way out of it or will it to stop; you can’t treat addiction that way. Instead, I went to the office of a counselor hand-picked for me by God. For some, that sounds extreme I’m sure: couldn’t it just be a happy coincidence? But here’s the truth. I ended up finally making my decision to get help on a Wednesday that Dr. Morgan happened to be sharing the walk-in intakes, something he doesn’t always do. I arrived at the Health Clinic during his office hours, which are fewer than everyone else’s due to his research activities. He happened to be the one to take me back, even though several other counselors were available. His approach to counseling proved almost exclusively cognitive, in the sense that we looked around my brain and applied logic where I wasn’t. Given that I live my whole life in my brain, the method felt tailored for me. It’s all these reasons, and a few others, that assure me God oversaw my healing process, even when I wasn’t consulting him. He put me in the right setting to recognize what I was doing, why, and how to stop it. Then, he gave me the strength to change. If you’d ever seen me binge, you’d know: only Jesus can do that.

When I got married in June 2007, sexual dysfunction ignited my addiction, causing whatever shards of self-esteem I had left to dissolve in the heart-wrenching pain of loneliness and anger. My body was too wrong, too large, and sentenced me to a sexless marriage. Every failed “treatment” plunged me into further despair, and I looked to food with renewed zeal each time. I reached a low after my third miscarriage; not only was my body oversized, not only did it reject my then-husband, but it also made a farce of my dreams of motherhood. My destructive behavior had no limits: I binged, entered an inappropriate relationship, wallowed in self-pity and hatred, and ignored God’s invitations to surrender. I couldn’t see a way out of the dark and depression; for a while, I didn’t even want one. And even still, when I’d had enough, when I shrugged and said, “Fine, You win,” there was Jesus. Even when I’d turned Him down. Even after my divorce. Even when the old patterns lured me back. And now I can’t even see a shadow of the wife I was for so long. I have eyes only for my man, and I thoroughly enjoy him – loving him, living alongside him, sharing an intimacy with him that is exclusively ours. I have been made entirely new. Only Jesus can do that.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of lightness and joy, after the places I’ve been. I spent years destroying my body, being unable and unwilling to stop abusing food. I’ve been through the loss associated with infidelity. I’ve felt the pain of my babies fading. I’ve walked through the disappointment and rage of (supposed) infertility. I’ve tried to soothe myself, to protect myself when I felt assaulted by the storm, only to wake up drowning in further waves of pain. But I’m here – joyful, peaceful, and free. Only Jesus can do that. I am married to the sexiest, strongest, kindest man God ever created. I am mother-by-marriage of two beautiful children that look just like my favorite man. I am mother-by-blood of a 34-week-old pregnancy miracle who is about to forever change my world for the better. I am blessed to live in a lovely home with a wonderful family that makes my life a joy beyond words, beyond anything I could’ve made for myself. But even if I lost everything tomorrow, I have been shown that my God is greater than the gifts he gives and the pain I endure. Whatever I live through tomorrow, He has the answers. He meets my needs. He loves me and speaks tenderly to me and remains faithfully beside me no matter where we go. No matter what happens, there’s Jesus.

That’s all I ever needed to know, really. I’m loved, I’m of priceless worth, and there’s always Jesus.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Once Divorced, Twice Married

Vocabulary Lesson

Tim Hawkins is a comedian who has a great routine about the religious-y terminology “hedge of protection.” He makes fun of how we ask God to surround people with landscaping in a knee-jerk way because we’ve heard it so many times. His response is, “A hedge? Is that really the best we’ve got?” I think too many words in Christianity are overused to the point of being annoying, “hedge of protection” serving as a great Exhibit A. So I asked God to show me what some of these words meant.

As a result of that prayer, I can tell you that “God’s perfect timing” means something like this. My family and I purchased some fruit trees on sale at the home improvement store last Saturday morning. We hadn’t been home five minutes – literally – when a station wagon full of college students pulled up and said they’d like to perform a random act of service for our family. They had a list of possibilities within their ability, one of which was “planting trees.” Of course, my husband could have easily planted the trees. But just to prove his interest in every detail of our lives, God sent us a crew to make the work lighter. If we’d stayed any longer at the home improvement store, we would have missed them. If they’d chosen another neighborhood, they would have missed us. Various things could have come in the way. But nothing did because that’s how God works. He knew when we’d be home, knew when to dispatch them, knew whom to send. That’s perfect timing.

Similarly, I can tell you that “provision” is like this. Teachers get paid monthly, except for a five-week pay period that starts after our September check. Budgeting for a family (and on a smaller income than most with master’s degrees) is frustrating enough, but budgeting for a five-week period is intense. So when we realized we hadn’t paid tithe for September, I was sweating. If we paid it, our bank account would suffer. Yet it was a commitment we’d made to God and to each other: we wouldn’t miss a paycheck, no matter what. So that Sunday, three weeks ago, I wrote the check and gave it up. Because finances are so emotional for me, I was nervous as I watched the money leave my sight. Then, on Monday afternoon, my husband brought the mail to me in the kitchen. It included three checks that together totaled the amount we wrote the check for the day before. That’s provision and, quite frankly, perfect timing too.

And “miracle” is how the doctors with scientific, provable fact end up looking ridiculous when God bends the laws of nature. Three factors assured me and everyone else that if I ever had children, they’d result from marriage or adoption. First of all, my body wouldn’t produce progesterone. Even when we tried to artificially stimulate production with oral and topical forms, nothing worked. I couldn’t support a pregnancy if I couldn’t get my body to either produce or accept progesterone. Second, PCOS itself makes conception and full-term pregnancy difficult for many women, due to hormonal irregularities and cysts. Third, the volume and placement of scar tissue were insurmountable. If that wasn’t enough, I have three previous miscarriages to back up the veracity of the doctors’ claims. No one told me pregnancy was “unlikely”; they told me it was impossible, even if we could solve one or two of the obstacles. And yet here I am, as big as a house these days in my seventh month of pregnancy, with a brand-new life getting herself all ready for her birthday. Something outside the natural course of events has happened here. God taught me “miracle.”

If I believe in a God who sends me tree planters, checks in the mail, and miracle babies, then I can certainly believe in his love for me. He loves me in a way I don’t understand and don’t deserve. He loves me in a way that only he can. As he teaches me new words, I keep reminding myself that if I keep talking to him and refusing to worry, I will live peacefully and joyfully. Sometimes awful things happen to me and to the people I love, but we have this real, live person who is in control of the whole show and who loves us passionately, completely, eternally. And that is what I think “grace” is.

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Grace Like the Sea

You know you’re pregnant when you roll your eyes at the ringing phone across the room and think, “I just poured myself a nice cup of chocolate chips and settled on the couch. Does anyone merit my attention right now?” That only happened once, I promise. And the cup wasn’t full. And I did pick up the call, but it turned out to be Charter Communications, so I had to reel myself in from throwing the phone straight through the window. Joe the Salesman wasn’t ready for that jelly.

That is the picture of pregnancy.

Of course, there is this other picture of pregnancy that I gaze at several times a day. It’s a 13-week-and-5-day ultrasound of the most beautiful developing baby I have ever seen. She is staggeringly beautiful. She is a picture of my wildest dreams. She is grace: a gift I didn’t earn and don’t deserve that was given to me anyway, to paraphrase Frederick Buechner. A hundred times a day, the thought crosses my mind, “How did I get this lucky? I am the wife of my favorite person, stepmom to two incredible children, and sixteen weeks pregnant with a grace baby.” Big time wow. Because when I was guiding my own life, I guided myself right into disaster. Repeatedly.

Barely two and a half years ago, I was in the throes of addiction counseling for compulsive overeating, a disorder that served as my prison warden for over 12 years. I ate little around others – excepting only my best friend, around whom I felt completely safe – but binged later in secret. I lied about how much I ate and how little self-respect I had. I was terrified of painful feelings, like loneliness and rejection, so I ate to cover them up. After every binge, I felt ashamed and helpless, which often led me to anticipation of the next one. It was miserable and infuriating and dark.

Just over two years ago, my first marriage was officially ending. Confusion and heartbreak washed over me every morning, and I couldn’t find Jesus. Actually, I wouldn’t find Jesus. I didn’t really think He could help, as none of this was His problem. Everything was a mess, and I remember telling my mom I felt untethered, like my air hose had been cut and I was floating through space without anything to ground me.

I finally gave up. I don’t remember when, I just know that I did. There’s no sensational story of sobbing or snake handling or a contract signed in blood. All that happened is one day Jesus whispered, “Give me a try now?” And I said, “Yes, please,” and that was it. Peace. And now, having given up the pilot’s controls, I have been redeemed and made pure again. And there’s a life in me – both literally and figuratively – that is so joyful and so foreign that I hardly recognize it. But it is Jesus. For sure, it is Jesus.

My man and I have to rely on Jesus every minute of every day because we both have gigantic, ugly demons that don’t go away without a fight, even when the proverbial war has already been won. I would say all Christians are to some degree in this boat, since the Bible tells us Satan prowls like a lion, hoping and searching for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). But when I say my man and I have to fight for our freedom, I mean that my man and I have to fight for our freedom. And the worst part of it is that neither of us is perfect, or even holy. We have to borrow our victory from Jesus every single day. But most of the time, that’s what we choose to do. So in honor of our Redeemer, in honor of our testimony, in honor of the blessed-beyond-all-reason life we’ve been given, we’ve chosen to name our daughter grace like the sea. “Anna” means grace, and her middle name means “like the sea.” We didn’t earn her, we don’t deserve her, but her beautiful self has been given to us for safe keeping anyway. It takes a powerful, loving, compassionate God to create something like that out of the broken, nasty selves we offered him. But that’s all we had to do. And then there he was, with all the hope and joy and trustworthy love we ever needed.

Also, happy four months of married life to my strong, sexy, incredible man. Thank God for you, my love.

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Positive Pregnancy Tests

I write my baby letters. Sometimes I speak them to her* when we’re in the car by ourselves. Sometimes I type and save them. Sometimes I pray them aloud so she can hear. There’s no telling what people will say to her when she gets here, so I want to make sure she’s got nine months of truth packed into her tiny brain. I tell her how much her dad and I love her, how wonderful her family is, how she can always trust Jesus. In fact, I never run out of things to tell her. The problem is I can’t seem to write about her. I wish I could tell you how miraculous she is and how much joy and wonder she’s brought us already. But every time I try, it comes out in a syrupy, overwrought voice that doesn’t sound much like mine.

I can tell you this. For a full decade, four medical professionals (three of whom are doctors) in two states assured me I couldn’t support a pregnancy past five weeks, and my body proved them right three times. It wouldn’t produce progesterone, and artificially spiking production didn’t work. PCOS seemed to be the culprit, but no one was certain. I also had scar tissue and cysts causing insurmountable problems, such as a lack of entry to the womb and wildly irregular ovulation, respectively. After several fruitless months of trying and three losses during my five-year first marriage, I didn’t have a reason to believe the doctors were wrong.

Then on March 8 of this year, I married the strongest, kindest man I’ve ever met. And almost immediately started vomiting.

We went on the honeymoon I’ve always dreamed of – mountains, cabin, fireplace, Jacuzzi, wine. And it was good. And never did “ovulation days” cross my mind because I was so obviously, certifiably, doctor-approvedly infertile. But then sneaky things started happening. A few mornings I felt so nauseated I couldn’t get my clammy self out of bed. And with a passion unrecognizable to me, I craved red meat. As in, I literally salivated over the raw hamburgers at the grocery store one day. I might have torn the package open with my fangs and feasted if the butcher hadn’t been right in front of me, asking from a healthy distance whether I needed assistance.

Then on the 17th of April, I put on my favorite dress, kissed my husband, and headed to work. I realized I hadn’t menstruated, an odd thing since my medicine keeps me from being even an hour late. So on a whim I picked up a pregnancy test and a decaf coffee on my way. Maybe a few prayers escaped into the air as I did these things, but mostly my mind raced with menstruation math. When I arrived at my desk, I set down my bag calmly. I sauntered to the restroom. My steady hands placed the test on the sink. Less than a minute later, I peered over and saw the two pink lines that had already formed. Two. “Oh, God,” I breathed.

People have asked if we were trying to get pregnant. Of course, the answer is no; not only were we not trying, but we didn’t think we could. That doesn’t mean, however, that my baby is a “mistake.” Even though she wasn’t part of our plan, she has always been part of the Great Design God has for the planet. Our plan is short-sighted and imperfect in a thousand ways. But this baby – the one whose mother has a reproductive disorder – is the one God has chosen. He wants a person created out of our DNA, to be parented by us, to make his compassion and power visible to others. So whether the timing seems right or wrong, whether my body seems capable or incapable, whether other people agree or disagree, my man and I will love and raise our baby to bring glory to God.

I asked God one night in an overwhelmed state, “How did this happen? And why is it happening now?” I got an answer, flashing in my heart like a marquee: For my glory. So I already know how the story turns out: God’s glory will be undeniable. What a perfect reason for a baby to be born.

* I say “her” for two reasons: 1) simplicity, and 2) I believe I’m carrying a girl. The night my first pregnancy ended, which I have already written enough about, I knew I would one day have a baby girl and her name would be Anna. I believe I am pregnant with that promise.

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Stories

Everyone knows not to pray for patience. Let me tell you what else not to pray for: a story. One icy Colorado afternoon a few Decembers ago, my former sister-in-law, who is a reading teacher, and I were talking about stories as we drove to the city. She and her husband have the most beautiful love story, and I asked her why she thought she’d been blessed with it. She shrugged and said, “I guess because I asked.” Later that night, I prayed a prayer that might have changed the course of everything, if you believe in that sort of thing. I asked God for a story. I asked him for adventure, to be involved in something bigger than I am. I asked him to show his glory through my life. I asked for indisputable miracles.

As all the best writers have proven, if you’re going to set up a miraculous event, you need a seemingly insurmountable conflict. You need something way too big for humans to fix in order to validate a deus ex machina. Well, if you’ve read my sex blog, you know a source of deep pain in my erstwhile marriage. I’ve written about other losses and sadnesses, too; others I’ve kept private. And now I feel like I’m in that part that all the best stories have where you think, “How in the world will this turn out?” But light is pushing through the cracks, just waiting for the moment God turns it loose and crumbles the pain with a season of joy. For instance, my man’s spectacular daughter let me take care of her on Saturday while she was ill, and his son gave me a precious nickname. Light. Last week God sent me the same message from four people who don’t know each other—two of whom don’t even know me well—in a way I couldn’t question. Light. A student gave me a huge and by all accounts undeserved compliment today. Light. More light is coming. God is teaching me joy.

I’ve learned that the best thing about asking God for a story is that when he gives it to you, you never really have the luxury of heading back in your own direction. You can fling open the door and storm off in a huff, but then he chases you with this crazy, powerful love unlike anything you’ve ever dared to imagine, this grace-full love that is exactly the stuff you were hurting for…and you fall into his arms again. You can’t doubt the veracity of the miracle when you are the miracle, when your whole story is the miracle. The joy and freedom are too real.

I don’t have anything in my story, miraculous or otherwise, figured out except that there is Jesus. Because when I am weak, then I am strong. Someone has to be behind that. Someone has to be writing that, and doing a better job than I could. Someone has to be authoring these struggles, conflicts, and “imperfections” to bring a level of artistry and depth to my character that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Every time I reach a moment of pain or conflict in my story, whether I caused it or it waylaid me, I see more of him and more of me. He develops the character of Amie by adding layer after layer of healing. I wouldn’t give that back for anything.

One of my favorite quotes is something I read on a coffee mug—that I totally should have bought—in Barnes and Noble once: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” I find that biblical: the endgame of my brokenhearted moments will be beauty for ashes. He’s promised me, and all of us, that. And that’s all the resolution my story needs.

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