Sister, Stronger Transformed by the gospel. Thu, 05 Jan 2023 22:37:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sister, Stronger 32 32 158362161 To: My Sister With a Broken Heart Thu, 24 Jun 2021 22:37:35 +0000 Dear Sister,

I saw your tears today. Even the quiet ones you quickly swept away. You were so brave to let them fall.

Pain often feels like an unfair mystery. It’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to not understand the story that our Father is ultimately writing through us.

In this moment, focus on what is true: you are dearly loved, and our Father is near.

Don’t be afraid, Sister. When Father picks up the shattered pieces of our hearts, he won’t leave even a sliver behind.

You are not alone.

You are not forgotten.

Your broken heart will be mended.

Just as the welder joins individual pieces into a whole, our Father is fabricating the broken pieces of your heart into a temple for his glory, perfect and complete. Don’t be afraid to surrender to the intense heat and pressure of the welder’s torch. A heart with seams is stronger than its original, unbroken form.

A heart with seams is a heart that can grow. So, let it grow.

Here’s my hand,

Your Sister Stronger

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Sister, Stronger Sat, 20 Mar 2021 01:42:00 +0000 I saw a girl, many times before,
As I walked life’s winding road.
We never spoke, but I was glad she came.
Even strangers can help lift a heavy load.
Her hair, like fine-spun copper
Gleamed in the last of evening’s light.
Her eyes, blue-green and peaceful,
Shimmered like the ocean at moonbeam’s night.
I caught a glimpse
Of a squinty smile,
The long remnant of a summertime laugh,
While she danced and ran without a worry
Of whom or what might cross her path.

This unknown girl made my life seem brighter
Each time she bounced across my way.
Her presence gave my soul relief
And I longed for her to stay.
She did not seem to fear the dark
Or the loss of another year.
She progressed as though she knew the way,
Looking back to keep me near.
She moved with ease.
Not like me!
I trudged through life, so slow.
Many trips, many falls, hoping no one saw
Yet never far from this child I did not know.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled again.
I fell to the ground and cried out in pain.
I decided to stay there in the road,
Too tired for further gain.
Soon the girl arrived and offered her hand
“Please let me help; your wounds are deep.”
“Leave me here,” I answered back,
The path is too hard and I’m very weak.”
‘That’s why I’m here!
I’ve been waiting for you to reach this very point
Where you can go alone, no longer.
I’ve been traveling with you, I’m not a stranger.
I am your Sister, Stronger.”

As she helped me up and brushed me off
I studied my curious companion.
Soon our gazes met, and to my surprise,
I saw an obvious reflection!
The same blue-green eyes and squinty smile
I once beheld in mirrors long ago,
Looked up at me as if to say,
I am not a child you do not know!
I startled back,
Then glanced once more
At this pair as different as day and night.
Could it be this child is me
Before sorrow stole my light?

“I am your Sister, Stronger
A guide to lead you home.
I am the child of God within you
For you have never been alone.
I have remained deep within your heart
Untouched by the harm of age,
To bring you back to your Father’s arms
And free you from this orphan cage.
So here’s my hand,
We’re together now
On this journey to the Son.
His cross of grace, now crimson stained
Is where your eternal life was won.”

Sister held my hand through fields of flowers.
We stopped to smell each one.
I had forgotten how lovely the passage could be
When you allow both joy and fun.
Then at meadow’s edge we came upon
A forest so dense and looming.
We both stood knowing we had to go
Though my thoughts had turned quite gloomy.
“Don’t be afraid,”
Sister smiled and said,
“When danger lurks around the bend.
Our Father sees our every need.
On him we can depend!”

I marched ahead with confidence,
Which quickly faded with the light.
The path, now covered by thorns and thicket,
Vanished from my sight.
Animals prowled and nipped my heels,
Eager for an easy kill.
I was certain this would be my end,
That darkness would prevail.
“Don’t give up!
You are almost there,”
Sister called from a tree line break,
“You must risk the grip of unwanted pain
To leave it in your wake.”

After fighting through the tangled brush
We came upon a welcomed clearing,
Where the amber sun cast a warming hue
At twilight’s first appearing.
A man in white stood patient and kind
As I cautiously drew near.
Sister nodded me on, then spoke these words:
“We are finally here.
Your Savior awaits!
He has called you home.
Now rest in his embrace.
Let him bind up your wounds and carry your shame.
Receive his gift of grace!”

His arms opened wide and I waited no more
To be held by Love so true.
This spotless lamb had endured the cross
So I could be made new.
“Welcome home, Beloved,” he softly spoke,
“You are now safe and free
To shed the armor upon your heart
And live in peace with me.
Sister helped you along
When you didn’t feel strong
On this redemption trek, so wild.
Still you answered my call to repent and believe.
Well done, my faithful child!”

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Good Friday Feelings Wed, 22 Apr 2020 16:07:56 +0000

What are you feeling today?  Lately, I’ve been struggling to answer the same question.  I know that my emotions are in there, trying to come out, but I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the sudden changes in life.  Often, in times of stress, I look at everything happening or the needs of others around me, and I realize that it’s impossible for me to do/be it all.  I begin to believe the lies that if I was good enough, I would be able to handle whatever life threw at me, and that everyone else’s health and wellbeing matters more than my own.  Anxiety doesn’t just creep in, it punches its way into my heart and mind like a wrecking ball to an abandoned building.  And that’s just the thing. . . When I get lost in these “my needs and emotions don’t matter” mindsets, I am a lot like an abandoned building.  Forgotten.  Fragile.   Empty. 

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way.  God created me with both needs and emotions as a way to draw me closer to him, the ultimate provider and comforter. 

We move towards restoration when we acknowledge where our thoughts and feelings are leading us.  Are we believing lies?  Are we trying to cope with uncertainty by shutting down?  There are benefits to every emotion, even the ones we sometimes deem “negative.”  For instance, fear motivates us to prepare, and anger helps us be honest—with ourselves, and others.  Sadness gives value to what we miss, and loneliness motivates us to seek connection.  We can trust that no matter what we feel, Christ understands and offers us empathy.

Let’s consider the very first Good Friday.  In less than a day, the disciples went from sharing the Last Supper with Jesus to seeing his lifeless body hanging on the cross (Matthew 26:17 – 27:56).  The same followers who had spent years traveling, teaching, and performing miracles with Jesus were likely feeling afraid, confused, and grieved at the unjust loss of not only their friend, but their Messiah

Our world feels a bit upside down right now.  Different, but not totally unlike how it must have felt for the disciples on the day Jesus died.  However, because of Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, we can have the Holy Spirit living within us.  He is a perfect advocate, granting us peace and rest in the knowledge that we have not been abandoned.  (John 14:15-21)

Thankfully, social distancing hasn’t totally taken away our ability to connect!  I encourage you to check in with someone today or post in the comments how you’re feeling.  Doing so will help prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Good News that’s just a few days away. 💜

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Daily Bread Fri, 17 Apr 2020 22:06:15 +0000

For the past few days, I’ve been caught up in trying to figure out how to make a 5-year-old’s birthday fun and exciting in the midst of a global crisis.  I’ve worried over everything from shopping for gifts and food to finding the right decorations.  Mostly I’ve been stuck on the assumption that my son would be disappointed that this birthday would be a lot different from year’s past. 

As it turned out, it wasn’t his disappointment that I had to work through.  Rather, I was the one struggling with the loss of normalcy, the uncertainty of provision, and the fear that what I could do for Sam on his birthday just wouldn’t be good enough.  In hindsight, I think that the birthday party was never the real issue for me, but it did serve as a warning light to a deeper issue: trust.

When Sam was born, I spent several weeks in the hospital due to complications and then delivered at 32 weeks.  It was a scary time.  However, it was then that I began to pray The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) when I felt lonely or afraid, which ended up being many times a day.  I’ve continued this practice ever since, and it has brought me a lot of comfort and peace over the years.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” has been ringing in my ears this week.  I’ve thought about the daily bread that God provided to the Israelites in the desert after their escape from Egypt.  Each morning, they woke up to fresh manna directly from Heaven to sustain their lives when everything around them was different and uncertain.  Yet, over time, God’s chosen people grew tired of it, and wanted to go back to what they had before.  They had convinced themselves that it was better to live as slaves than to be free, but totally reliant on God for their needs.  Their issue?  Trust

Obviously, there’s a lot more to this story, but I can’t help but see something of myself in it.  The Israelites missed the miracle of their daily bread.  How often do I do the same thing? How often do I long for not just daily bread, but weekly, monthly, forever bread?  Though God is capable of providing everything we could ever need all at once, I think he chooses to offer us daily bread as a way to deepen our relationship with him.  In the waiting, he’s not withholding. He’s simply building our trust.   

My trust doesn’t change our unchanging God, but instead, it changes me.  It opens my eyes and heart to the manna miracles he has given in my own life.  It also frees me to practice gratitude, which always turns that which seems inadequate into abundance.

In the end, Sam had a great birthday, and I learned a great lesson.  Do you have a manna miracle before you?  What are you grateful for today?


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The Gift Mon, 30 Sep 2019 17:22:02 +0000
Safe in Daddy’s hands.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:17-18

I struggle with deciding what to write in these posts.  I constantly have thoughts going through my head when I am in the middle of something, and then I get distracted or focused on something else.  Also, being a perfectionist, especially when it comes to writing, I get consumed with the worries of how to communicate EXACTLY what I want to say, without hurting anyone or opening up the possibility of someone mistaking my words.  It’s a difficult order.  I also do this with my feelings.  I worry about how others will perceive me or my intentions, or that they will decide that they just don’t want anything to do with me if I share how I truly feel.  So, I stay quiet, bottling up my emotions, in hopes that they will eventually go away or I will be able to forget they exist.  Sometimes, they do go away or I forget, but I have learned that my pain and shame are not the only things I leave behind on the doorstep of my heart. . .I also leave a piece of my authentic self and my ability to have meaningful relationships.

A week before Thanksgiving, Sam and I flew home to Illinois.  It was a great trip, and something my heart desperately needed.  While there, I spent every moment with family–aunts, uncle, cousins, siblings, a niece, and Mom and Dad.  I was able to introduce Sam to the Phillips side of his family, and I was also able to meet one of my nieces for the first time, as well.  I actually stayed with my cousin, Angie, and her family, while there. Growing up, Angie and I were very close in age, so we would play together a lot during family gatherings at Grandma’s house.  During college, our relationship went from that of cousins to very close friends.  I don’t know if it’s because we share a blood connection, but we are very similar in our personalities, and so we understand each other extremely well.  I also know that she loves me no matter what, and I offer her the same sentiment.  She is one of the very few people in this world that I have no problem being vulnerable with. . .I know she will care for my heart like she cares for her own.  We communicate via text on a pretty regular basis, but being there in person with her, enjoying her presence and being able to interact with her on a different level was so refreshing.  We talked about all sorts of things, but mainly about our kids.  I realized that in telling her about all that I experienced when pregnant with Sam, and then his premature birth and NICU stay, that I had been neglecting to properly deal with all the pain, fear, and shame I have regarding those situations.  Since he came home, I have been distracted from it all by caring for him and just being a mommy.  However, the instant I would start to recall some of those memories, I would suddenly feel a burning sensation in my chest, and my eyes would well up with tears.  The harder I tried to prevent my emotions from showing, the more they came–through tears, sniffles, and even sobs.

So, I’m writing this post to share my story of bringing my son Samuel into this world.  Adam and I are pretty private people, so we kept positive when communicating to our close family and friends about what we were going through, but when it was just the two of us, we were very, very broken.  I am so thankful, though, that this story does have a happy ending, because we were able to bring our son home from the hospital–healthy, and needing no other medical intervention.  I cannot forget that many families experiencing the same things we did are not that lucky.

Adam and I had been married for eight years when I found out I was expecting.  We waited so long to have a baby because our life was so full of transitions and uncertainty–jobs, moving, etc.–that we didn’t feel it would be fair to a child to experience the stress and strain of that life.  However, when we moved to Nevada, we made the decision to make it work, no matter what.  Adam’s job offered us the stability we needed to make that a reality, and I was able to step back from work in order to focus on taking better care of myself.  It seemed like perfect timing.

From the very beginning, I had a relatively easy and typical pregnancy.  I was extremely fatigued in the first trimester, felt a little more energy in the second, and moved into my third without ever having any morning sickness.  I felt very lucky, since one of my sisters had terrible sickness during her pregnancy.  My blood pressure was always normal, but I was concerned about the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, due to my weight and my family history.  I failed the one hour test at 24 weeks, and then failed the three hour test at 28 weeks.  I was pretty upset at that point, because I felt that I had not done my job to protect my baby from harm.   However, I knew that with just a few changes, I could still prevent the baby growing inside of me from having any issues due to my diagnosis.  So, I made an appointment to see a nutritionist at the High Risk Pregnancy Center to learn about what those changes would be.

The appointment was scheduled for early afternoon on March 27th.  I was 29 weeks pregnant.  Adam, who accompanied me for every other doctor visit, was having a really busy day at work, so I told him not to worry about making it to this visit, since it was just a nutritional consultation.  I arrived at the center feeling completely normal for being 29 weeks pregnant, and after waiting a few minutes in the lobby, went back to have my vitals checked.  This is when everything changed.  The nurse hooked me up to a blood pressure machine, and it read 180/110.  WHAT?!  I told her to take it again, because that couldn’t be accurate. . .I felt fine.  Again–180/110.  And again, I didn’t trust the reading, because I had had no issues with blood pressure my entire pregnancy, had no symptoms of any problems, and I had never met anyone at this doctor’s office.  I asked for my blood pressure to be taken manually, because that’s how it is always done at my OBGYN’s office, and I trusted them.  Before that could be done, my urine was tested for protein, and I was sent to a private room for further evaluation and questioning.  The nutritionist (who was also a nurse) seemed to find it hard to believe that I had no swelling, headaches, etc., all things that allude to preeclampsia.  She told me that I was likely going to the hospital that day to have my baby.  Obviously, I didn’t like the information she was telling me, and I felt like she could have been a little more sympathetic to the shock and fear I was going through just 10 minutes after arriving for my nutritional consultation.  I felt so afraid, so alone.  I gathered myself enough to contact Adam to tell him what was going on and to come as quickly as he could.  They went ahead and did my nutritional consultation, but the entire time all I could think about was if my baby would be ok.  During the session, the nurse told me that they did find protein in my urine, which was a hallmark sign of preeclampsia.  The doctor that was at the clinic that day ordered an emergency ultrasound to be done, to determine the size of the baby and his presumed health, in order to communicate to the neonatologist (NICU doctor) at the hospital.  The ultrasound looked good, and they estimated that he weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces.  The doctor prepared us for the likelihood of delivery that day, but also assured us that our baby boy looked healthy and had a very high chance for survival.  I then went on the fetal heart rate monitor until we got the OK to head over to the hospital.

Adam and I drove to the hospital, not sure of what we were about to go through.  They were waiting for me when I arrived at about 5 pm, and I filled out some paperwork and then proceeded to my room in Labor and Delivery.  The nurses began the process of hooking me up to an IV, checking my blood pressure, which had climbed to 190/110,  and administering meds to try to get that number down.  I also began regular blood draws and a gamut of other tests to gauge my health and the health of the baby.  The neonatologist met with us to discuss what issues and difficulties we could expect for our son, if he was to be born at 29 weeks.  The information we received was worst case scenario, but thankfully, the neonatologist was kind and had over 30 years of experience.  We felt like we were in good hands.  He also provided us with a bit of humor, which was welcomed in the midst of all our fears.  By 10 pm that night, my blood pressure had stabilized at about 150/90, so I was allowed to eat a small sandwich and try to rest.  I was moved to a room in the antepartum wing of the hospital.  I would soon find out that this would be my home until I delivered my baby. . .which could be hours, days, or weeks.

The goal was to stay pregnant as long as possible, without harming my baby.  My daily routine comprised of taking meds, blood pressure checks every 2 hours, blood draws, doctor visits, fetal heart rate monitoring for 2 hours/day, and total bed rest.  Adam stayed with me for the first few days, but after discussing the likelihood of an extended stay, we knew that he would have to go back to work and try to regain some normalcy while we walked this road.  This also meant that he would stay the night at home, since the hospital only offered a fold out chair as a spare bed–he needed to be able to get proper sleep, and I accepted that.  However, I was desperately lonely when he was gone, and I was also convinced that I could control my blood pressure by laying a certain way, not moving for 20 minutes prior to the next check, and breathing deeply while my arm was being crushed by the monitor’s sleeve.  For the first three days of my stay, I believed that it was my responsibility to keep my blood pressure low and to protect my baby.  In reality, I was actually perpetuating a constant state of anxiety and fear, which only did harm.  If I was awake, I was crying  My nurses were obviously very concerned for me, but they did what they could to make me comfortable.  Based on the doctor’s recommendation, we limited visitors and maintained communication with only our closest family and a couple of friends.  My heart was broken as I watched my husband struggling with the fear of not just losing his unborn child, but also his wife.  I felt as though I was also letting him down because all of this was my fault.  I felt that if something were to happen to our baby, I would never be able to forgive myself.

During that first weekend at the hospital, I had the desire to pray, but had no idea what to say.  I felt so lost and helpless, and all I really wanted to do was cry.  However, what continued to come to my mind was The Lord’s Prayer.  “Our father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”  I memorized these words back when I was a kid in Sunday School, and I started using them regularly in my prayer life a couple of years ago.  So, it only made sense to me that I should just repeat those words whenever I felt fear, shame, or heart ache.  I truly believe that God did a transforming work in me through those words.  I began to accept the reality that there was absolutely nothing I could do to help my situation, and there was nothing I was doing to make it worse, either.  Regardless of the medicines I was taking or the amount of rest I was getting, the placenta–my baby’s lifeline connecting his body to mine–was shutting down.  I realized that my desire for control was stealing my peace, which is what I needed in order to endure whatever was to come.

As the days turned into weeks, Adam and I fell into our own routines, which made coping with our circumstances easier.  I liked being able to know when to expect the next dosage of meds, the next meal, the next needle prick.  Adam returned to work, which allowed him to focus on something other than hospital rooms and painful “goodnights”.  We had several instances where my blood pressure would skyrocket, and we would be in a whirlwind of uncertainty and fear until it would go down again.  We celebrated our ninth anniversary in the hospital.  We did our best to feel normal around each other, but I think we both felt like we were walking on eggshells, not wanting to upset the other with our own fears or anxiety.

On the weekend of April 11th, I had another episode of my blood pressure reaching into the 180/110 range.  Also, during one of my fetal heart rate monitoring sessions, it was discovered that the baby’s heart rate was having prolonged periods of decline, which indicated that he was under stress.  The doctor ordered constant monitoring, which basically meant that I did not sleep for more than 24 hours.  The nurses had a hard time finding his heartbeat in the first place, since he liked to move around.  I remember several times where the nurse would ask, “Have you felt him move recently?” when she was having difficulty finding his heart beat with the monitor.  Although I didn’t say it, I knew that she was asking that because of the very real possibility that my baby would not even make it to his own birth.  It was a sobering and painful thought, but I did my best to put my trust in Christ, that no matter what, He would keep my baby safe.

Eventually, my blood pressure did stabilize, but I knew that we were getting closer to delivering my baby sooner than we hoped.  After the initial diagnosis of preeclampsia, I was told that our goal was to get to 34 weeks.  At this point, I was at 32 weeks.  The high-risk pregnancy doctors I was seeing every day began to order daily ultrasounds.  In the ultrasound on Monday of that week, the doctor noticed that the baby’s diastolic blood pressure (when the heart is at rest) in the umbilical cord, was nonexistent.  They also said that he had intrauterine grown restriction (IUGR), which meant that he wasn’t really any bigger than when I first entered the hospital several weeks prior.  They told me that if at any point that his cord blood pressure began to go in reverse, they would need to deliver, since that was a life-threatening condition.  They did say, however, that it was possible for the blood pressure to remain the same for weeks, which gave me some hope that we might still be able to make it to 34 weeks.

However, during my ultrasound on Thursday, April 16th, the high-risk doctor found that, in fact, the baby’s blood flow in the cord was going in reverse.  He asked me if I had eaten lunch, and then told me that it was time to deliver.  He sat on my bed and called my OBGYN on his cell phone to tell her what was going on and to schedule my C-section.  9 pm.  Before he left, the nurses began the initial preparations for surgery.  I texted Adam.  I shed some tears, and I repeated the Lord’s prayer several times, along with, “Dear God, protect my baby.”

Adam arrived at the hospital about an hour later, and we began the terrible process of waiting.  It seemed like everyone in Las Vegas decided to have a baby that night, as there were women laboring in the hallways, and doctors were fighting over the operating room.  My scheduled surgery time came and went, but finally, I was taken over to the OR.  As they were prepping me for my spinal, my OBGYN remarked on how calm I seemed.  I said something about how I’ve learned over the years to appear to be very calm on the outside, because I was a ball of nerves on the inside.  Before this experience, I had never even had so much as an IV. . .now I was about to experience surgery for the first time.  The anesthesiologist soon told me to arch my back, and my labor and delivery nurse told me that she was going to give me a big bear hug.  I know she was doing this to help keep me still, but the feeling of being hugged so tightly, even by someone who didn’t know me and may not remember me by the next day, brought me to tears.  I tried really hard to keep it in, partly because that’s my typical response, and partly because I knew a giant needle was being inserted into my spine, but tears fell anyway.

After the spinal was complete, Adam was allowed in the room, and surgery began.  I kept thinking, “If he is at least 4 pounds, he will be ok.”  Soon, after feeling a lot of pushing and pulling, I heard the sweetest little cry I have ever heard.  Samuel Gordon Osterloo entered the world on April 16, 2015 at 11:08 pm.  The team of doctors and nurses that were there just for him began their evaluations.  They told me his weight–3 pounds, 5 1/2 ounces, and my heart sank.  I so desperately hoped he would be at least 4 pounds.  I kept saying, “He’s so little,” over and over.  After a quick glance and a kiss, Sam was taken to the NICU, and my surgery was completed.  I made it to my recovery room just after midnight.

Because of my issues with blood pressure, I was put on magnesium sulfate for 24 hours postpartum.  During that time, I was not allowed to leave my bed.  I had been told horror stories about magnesium sulfate, so I didn’t expect to enjoy the first 24 hours of being a mommy.  Thankfully, it made me feel more like a zombie than anything else, and I only got sick a few times.  Exactly 24 hours after starting the medicine, at around 2 am on Saturday, April 18th, Adam rolled me into the NICU to see our boy.  It was such a surreal experience.  There was my son–I could see that he looked like his daddy, just as I predicted–but I could not hold him.  I placed my hands on his head and his bottom, and told him I loved him.  We weren’t able to do much more than since he was so small and hooked up to many machines, but I was thankful.  Our situation wasn’t ideal, but he was safe, and that’s all that mattered.

I was released from the hospital the following Monday, which brought along with it the feelings of both relief and dread.  I was so happy to be able to sleep in my own bed, but I hated the thought of leaving Sam behind.  It was such a helpless feeling.  Everything in me wanted to fight and say, “I’m his mother!  I know what’s best for him!”  But, I knew in this situation, that wasn’t true.  He needed medical help that I could not give him.  Once again, I was forced to accept the fact that I was in control of nothing. . .my responsibility was to take care of myself and allow the doctors and nurses to take care of him.  Some days, this was doable.  Other days, this was incredibly painful and lonely.  However, Adam and I learned how to cope with this new reality, and we did that by settling into yet another new routine.

I visited the NICU twice a day.  My mother-in-law would take me in the morning, and then Adam and I would go together at night.  Sam progressed very well, and we were incredibly grateful.  He began to eat through his feeding tube–his first feeding was 4 ml’s.  Basically, a little more than a drop.  He was gaining weight.  He was taken off of the CPAP machine, which gave him pressurized oxygen.  We were able to hold him for the first time.  We loved coming in to these good reports.  Then, he would stop tolerating feedings.  He would have a bout of apnea, which is common for preemies.  His oxygen level would be low.  He would be too exhausted to tolerate being held.  Even though these were minor issues, considering all the possible things he could be going through, these reports were devastating.  There were several nights that we left the hospital and cried together in our car.  We knew that it was best for Sam to be there, but we still wanted him home so terribly.  We would look at the pack-n-play we had set up in our room, just hoping for the day when we could see him sleeping peacefully in it.

Sam continued to progress, and after a week, he was moved to a different area in the NICU, which meant he needed less monitoring.  After another week, he was moved to the Special Care Nursery, which was the last stop before going home.  While there, he learned to drink from a bottle, he began regulating his own body temperature, and he just continued to grow.  I had hoped that he would be able to come home by Mother’s Day, which was on May 10th.  As we got closer to that day, I knew it wasn’t going to happen, since he was not taking full feedings from a bottle yet.  So, I woke up the morning of my first Mother’s Day, without my baby.  I spent the first couple of hours I was awake allowing the tears to come.  I gave myself permission to feel the sadness of waking up to an empty crib on what should have been one of the happiest days of the year.  I gave myself permission to feel the hurt and fear from leaving my baby in the hospital every night. . .knowing I could not be there to change his diapers or soothe his cries.  I gave myself permission to feel the loneliness of being so far from my family.  We went to the hospital later that morning, and I held my sweet boy, kissed his cheeks, and breathed in his scent.  Again, I was reminded that acceptance brings peace.

Sam came home from the hospital six days later, on his one month birthday.  He weighed right at five pounds.  He was so tiny that I was scared to death to have him in the car seat.  I rode home with him in the back seat, and just stared at him the entire way.  We arrived at home, and quickly settled into new routines.  We finally got to see him sleeping in his own bed.  No more daily visits to the hospital.  No more daily phone calls from the doctor.

Sam, 6 months

This boy.  This sweet, sweet boy.  Not surprisingly, he is one of my main motivations for seeking change in my life.  His birth, and the few weeks leading up to it, forever imprinted on my heart the desire to be different.  There is no way to go through an experience like this and not be changed by it.  I am simply making the choice to be changed for the better.  In order for that to happen, I must allow myself to pick up those feelings I left behind on the doorstep of my heart, and see them as the gift they are.  A gift to be valued and experienced, not forgotten or ignored.  Thank you, Lord, for this truth.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13)

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

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STRONGER Than Fear Tue, 17 Sep 2019 18:50:47 +0000 The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?  The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?  Psalm 27:1

Fear is a four-letter word.  As much as I wish it were not a common part of my vocabulary, it is.  I regularly battle fear and its ugly counterparts, anxiety and depression.  I want to claim that I have achieved complete victory over these strongholds in my life, but doing so would be dishonest.  It’s a painful battle.

Part of the wound is self-inflicted.  I struggle with fear, and then I heap on piles of shame for not being stronger.  I listen to the lie that if I were better, wiser, healthier, xyz-ier, I wouldn’t be so afraid.

However, when I dig into scripture, I see countless examples of God working miracles through people even while they were experiencing gut-wrenching fear. 

Moses was afraid that his speech was too insufficient to persuade Pharaoh. (Exodus 6:28-30)

The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were afraid of perishing in the desert, despite the miracles they witnessed to achieve their freedom. (Exodus 16:1-3)

David was afraid while being chased by King Saul.  He fled and even hid in caves to preserve his life.  (1 Samuel 18-31)

Esther was afraid of going before the King uninvited.  Doing so could lead to death. (Esther 4)

So, how do we become brave while still feeling overcome by fear?

In July of 2017, I was working for the YMCA in Seattle.  One night, right before I was about to go home for the evening, one of our building alarms started blaring.  At first, we thought it was a simple emergency exit alarm, but we quickly realized it was something more.

One of our fitness instructors yelled from down the hall that we had a medical emergency on our cardio floor.  I knew I had to respond. 

Someone handed me our AED machine and I ran.  The instant I arrived at the scene I knew the situation was grave.  I also knew that I was now responsible for attempting to save someone’s life—the machine that could do it, if it could be done, was literally in my hands.

Honestly, my initial reaction was that I didn’t know if I could bear it if someone died because my efforts to revive them were unsuccessful.  I wanted to deflect the responsibility to someone more qualified—a lifeguard, an EMT, a doctor—but those people simply weren’t there. 

The gentleman had no breath and no pulse, so the fitness instructor and I got to work.  She started CPR and I hooked up the AED machine.  We followed the prompts—cleared the body, waited for the signal that a shock was advised, and then, I pushed the button.  I shocked him.  Despite the fact that this machine was built to save lives, I was terrified that I would mess up and cause additional damage. 

The machine reevaluated and recommended more compressions.  I was trying to remember all of my training, but my adrenaline was pumping and fear was shouting.  I located the proper positioning on his chest and began.  My mind was full of thoughts like, “You’re doing it wrong!” “You can’t remember how many compressions before breaths? What’s wrong with you!” “This guy is going to die and it will all be your fault!”

In reality, this gentleman was already dead.  He had no pulse and wasn’t breathing.

Yet, fear doesn’t care about what’s true.

Before I completed an entire round of compressions, something miraculous happened.  The man’s body tensed.  I actually thought he was going to start seizing, but instead, he started breathing again and his color went from dark, bluish-purple to fleshy pink.  I began speaking to him.  Within seconds, he opened his eyes and asked what was going on and why everyone was looking at him!

I literally watched a man go from physical death to life that day.  A true miracle.  The people around me celebrated.  I broke down into a puddle of tears. 

Right after the man came back to life, a doctor, just there to workout, walked onto the scene.  He asked me a couple of times if I was sure the machine had said, “shock advised.”  I knew it had, but I couldn’t help but begin to focus on all of the things I knew I could have done better had I not been so afraid.

A man with no pulse and no breath in his lungs was sitting up and speaking with EMT’s by the time they arrived on scene, yet fear told me I screwed up.  I believed it.

The next day, after the adrenaline subsided and I was more clear-headed, I realized that fear was out of control in my life, and so I started seeing a therapist.

I learned that healthy fear keeps us safe and dissipates once the threat is gone.  Unhealthy fear is so damaging because it has no real end.  It is not based on real danger, but only perceived danger, so it doesn’t resolve naturally once the danger passes.

My struggle is with unhealthy fear, the kind that tells me I am all alone.  Rejected. That no one will understand my pain.  That my suffering will never end.

It begs me to hide from those I need the most when I am overcome.  Then, once isolated, it shouts accusations that I am unknown, unheard, and unloved. 

Unhealthy fear is full of lies.

Over and over, scripture shows us examples of those God loved and called according to his purpose being afraid, yet still accomplishing the very thing he called them to do.

Moses brought the entire nation of Israel out of Egyptian slavery. (Exodus 12:31-42)

The Israelites had sustenance during their time of wandering. (Exodus 15:22-17:7)

David became king. (2 Samuel 2:1-7)

Esther rescued her people from slaughter. (Esther 5-9:17)

These stories illustrate that bravery can only occur when fear is presentLet that sink in.  The only time I can show bravery is when I’m feeling afraid, but act anyway.  The answer isn’t in avoiding fear, but in moving forward despite it.

I now believe that there wasn’t only one life saved that Monday night at the Y.  God rescued me, too, and showed me that the only path towards relief from fear was through Him.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4: 18

When fear accuses me of messing up beyond repair, Christ’s perfect love reminds me that I am forgiven.

When fear drives me to isolation, Christ’s perfect love comforts me with His presence.

When fear tells me all hope is lost, Christ’s perfect love resurrects the promise of a future.

Do you feel afraid?  You are not alone.  In fact, you are in company of many heroes of faith, made STRONGER by the power of the Holy Spirit within them.

Christ is ready to make you STRONGER, too.  His death and resurrection made our freedom possible.  Salvation is a gift, and it is being offered to you today.  I know this is real and true, because He’s made it real and true for me. 

Father, I’m grateful today to be STRONGER than fear because of the power of your spirit inside me.  When I am overcome, protect me with your love.  Help me rest in the security of your truth, for you are who you say you are, and you will do what you say you will do.  The battle is yours, Lord! Amen.

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Carry Me Home to Thee Tue, 11 Jun 2019 15:18:50 +0000 Before the sun-lit sky stirs wake
Before the morning dove song does make
Before the ocean waves crash into shore
Your love reaches me.

Before the mountains kiss the stars
Before the moon shines bright afar
Before the black of night creeps in
Your love comforts me.

Carry me home to thee, O Lord
Carry me home to thee.
Through forests thick and rivers wide
Carry me home to thee.

For your grace is deeper than water's tide.
It knows no bounds, nor place to hide.
Your eyes see all my sin and shame,
Yet you forgive me, still.

And in the midst of trials sore
When my heart cries out, "No more!"
Your mercy soothes my weary soul
And carries me home, to thee.

So carry me home to thee, O Lord
Carry me home to thee.
Through forests thick and rivers wide
Carry me home to thee. ]]> 0 94
GROW Fri, 31 May 2019 04:22:33 +0000 “When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.  Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.  Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!  Amen.”  Ephesians 3:14-21

At times over the last six months, I have felt like I was sitting back and watching a movie about my own life, with God as the director, weaving delicate pieces of my past, present, and future together to form a plot line I surely would never have created on my own.  

Not long after I began posting on “Sister, Stronger” last year, life handed us a big setback.  My husband, Adam, lost his job a mere week before Thanksgiving. 

I was hurt, and I was angry. 

I cried often and had silent shouting fits in the shower—the kind where you let out the energy of shouting, but as if you have bronchitis and can only whisper.  It’s actually quite therapeutic, and it has the added bonus of not frightening your family.  A real win-win.

As much as I was angry, I was also afraid. 

The thought of starting our lives over, yet again, seemed unbearable.  The idea of going through another move, unsure as to whether it would lead to another, and yet another, gave me intense anxiety.  I couldn’t stand the thought of what it would take to endure another season of transition.  I didn’t feel strong enough.

Every day, I fought with despair and depression.  There were some days I emerged victorious and other days I did not. 

At some point, I allowed my urge to control to take over and decided that the only rational way to solve this problem was for me to find a job.  In reality, I wanted an escape and going back to work was a noble way to disguise my intent.

Nevertheless, I updated my resume and spent hours per day pouring over online job boards and perusing websites.  I applied for countless jobs.  I asked friends for references.  I even completed multiple competency evaluations.

Weeks, and then months passed.  No one called.  I wasn’t invited to a single interview.

The obvious rejection was painful.  Even though I knew in my heart that just finding another 9-to-5 wasn’t the answer, in those moments when I felt like I had nothing to protect me from the pain of unwelcomed circumstances, I wanted it to be the answer.  I needed to be the one in control of my time, my resources, and my future. 

I chose to believe the lie that being in control would keep me safe.  Control masks itself as suitable armor for going to battle with all kinds of uncertainty and fear.  Yet, the burden it places on the warrior is so great that she eventually collapses from the strain.  Relationships with friends, family, and self are often left even more exposed and wounded than before.

There is a better way.  It’s not easier, but it is better.  It’s called surrender.

Society has perpetuated the act of surrender as a sign of weakness.  However, I believe the opposite.  To me, surrendering and letting go of control are hallmarks of remarkable inner strength.  Surrender is a daily, hour-by hour, minute-by-minute practice.  It takes conscious effort and courage. 

In recovery (from addiction, codependency, etc.), you learn that surrender is a good thing.  Allowing our Higher Power to hold the reins to our lives frees us from the inevitable frustration and hopelessness that comes from trying to do that which is impossible for us, but possible for God and God, alone.

I had to let go of control.  

Then, I had to do it again. . .and again, and again, and again.

I realized that I had been looking at my personal challenges and hardships through the lens of maintaining the status quo, rather than that of growth. 

I wanted a clear, easy path.  Instead, God placed me in challenging situations to deepen my faith and strengthen my character.

I wanted security and comfort.  Instead, God lead me through transitions and changes to build resiliency and acquire new skills.

I wanted control.  Instead, God allowed me to feel powerless so that I would learn to surrender. 

Sister, if you or someone you love is in the middle of a hardship or a season of hardships right now, take heart.  God has not abandoned you.  He has not abandoned those you love.  It is true for you, just as it is true for me, that He has glorious, unlimited resources to empower us with inner strength through His Spirit.  We will deal with circumstances that are painful and unjust while we are on this side of heaven, but His love is wider, longer, higher, and deeper than them all.  God loves you so much that He will make you complete with all the fullness of life and power that He has to offer.

Growth is a process.  It takes time.  There will be pain, but in the end, the beauty of God accomplishing infinitely more than we might ask or think will be worth it. 

You are so very worth it. 

So, let’s grow.

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Hidden Tue, 23 Oct 2018 18:10:41 +0000 image

“For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble.  You surround me with songs of victory.”  Psalms 32:7 NLT

Do you ever want to just run away and hide from life?  I certainly do, and I have—many times.  

Not long after I wrote my first post on SISTER, STRONGER, I felt consumed by fear and insecurity.  I believed the voice in my head that insisted, “No one cares…Give up!  Your thoughts don’t matter.  YOU don’t matter.”  

That voice seems to scream at me most days.  

That’s not by accident.  There is a dark strategy at work in those moments when shouts of condemnation interrogate our souls.

A few weeks ago, I read Brené Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and so much in that text hit me right between the eyes.  I’ve had the book for more than a year, but I hadn’t read it until now.  Its message came right on time.

I believed what I read – that our imperfections open us up to what Brené calls, “wholehearted living,” which she describes as a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.  I recognized my own need to work through what was still preventing me from living life in this way.

I decided to phone a friend.  I have only known Danya for a few months, but after meeting her, it didn’t take me long to see that she is someone who is both honest and compassionate in the sincerest of ways.

When she answered, I explained that I knew I needed to work through some thoughts in my head, but I didn’t know where to start.  After about a minute or two of rambling, I finally stumbled upon the conclusion that I was working hard to avoid – I was drowning in shame.

Shame for who I was.  Shame for who I wasn’t.  Shame that can’t be escaped, no matter how hard I tried.  Shame so deeply imbedded in me that I wasn’t even capable of identifying its origin.  It’s been there as long as I can remember.

Then she asked me a powerful question.  She said, “What would it take for you to look in the mirror and love what you see?”  

A lump instantly gathered in my throat and my eyes grew damp.  My first thought was, “Would that even be possible?”  My second thought was about my weight.  I shared with her my second thought.

Next, Danya asked me if I ever ate beyond feeling full.  I responded with a simple, “Yes.”  Then, almost as if she had a window into my subconscious mind, she asked me to consider how I am benefitting from overeating, because I wouldn’t continue to do it if I wasn’t somehow gaining something from it.

Then it hit me.  I have believed that staying overweight offers me protection from getting hurt.  It’s a survival tactic.  A way for my true, vulnerable self to stay hidden, even in plain sight.  

No one notices the girl who doesn’t even notice herself.

The lie of overeating (and other addictive behaviors) is that it will somehow relieve my suffering.  Instead, it becomes the source of even more hurt and self-loathing.  The self-loathing then feeds my desire to numb my emotions, and shame buries me deeper into despair—searching for an antidote for the pain.  The cycle can perpetuate for a lifetime.

When I choose to retreat, isolation continues to inflate the lie by breeding more toxic shame, encouraging fear, and eliminating the opportunity for meaningful, healing connection.

It’s nearly impossible to see the light of truth when you’re alone in the dark.  

However, there is hope despite our present circumstances.  There is a hand that beckons us out of the shadows and into the light.  It is the nail-scarred hand of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  He knows our faults.  He knows our pain.  Yet, He wants us, still.  We must simply accept the invitation.  This is the first step towards dismantling the power of the lie.

We must believe that there is another way, a better way…”You are my hiding place.”

One of true security…”You protect me from trouble.”

That does not require me to abandon my worthiness…”You surround me with songs of victory.”

In order to sincerely live out the values of COURAGE, CONNECTION, and PURPOSE as a SISTER, STRONGER, I must accept that I’ve been hiding in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons for far too long.  It’s time to let go.  It’s time to surrender.  

I must surrender the familiar land of rejection, fear, anxiety, and numbing, and trade it in for the acceptance, peace, joy, and love available only through the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus endured the cross, not to prevent me from hiding, but because he knew I would.  Life-controlling issues like addiction are deeply rooted in our sinful human nature, and the process towards freedom is often a long and twisted road.  It’s no secret that change is hard, but restoration is made available to us through Christ.

So, if it is true and lasting victory over my personal self-loathing and addiction that I desire, I can no longer hide from love while repeating the lie that I am not worthy of it.  

Christ deemed me worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.  An act of perfect love.  

He deemed you worthy, too.  

Living as a SISTER, STRONGER does not mean I’m invincible.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It simply means I’m walking this road of life, willing to take unfamiliar paths, when necessary, to grow.  I’m not perfect, but I am honest.  I know I don’t have to chase other’s expectations or conditional validation, but I do have to allow Melissa to become who Melissa already is…not hidden, but seen.  

“Father, thank you for not giving up on us, even during those times when we have given up on ourselves.  Grant us peace where there is fear, and love where there is hurt.  Arm us with COURAGE to fight the lie that we are not enough.  Encourage us through genuine CONNECTION with our SISTERS.  Reveal to us the PURPOSE for which we have been created.  For it is by your Mighty Name that we overcome the dark and walk into the light of your truth.  Thank you for always being a safe hiding place – a refuge and a shield in times of trouble.  Thank you for deeming us worthy of your ultimate sacrifice.  Amen.”

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Sister, Stronger. Thu, 09 Aug 2018 15:17:11 +0000 John 15:12-17

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves.  Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.  You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.  This is my command: Love each other.

I have always struggled with friendships.  Early on in life, I had siblings and cousins to spend time with, and being the third of seven kids, I was rarely (basically never) alone.  However, as I got older and started school, I kept to myself – a lot.  I excelled in academics and music, but socially, I felt awkward.  I didn’t want to be a loner, but even in those tender early years, I felt like there was something about me that made people not want to be around.  I felt inadequate, insecure, and unlovable.  I felt very alone.  

In high school, I dealt with my loneliness by being involved in just about every extracurricular activity I could handle.  I also built a few close friendships, which were my lifeline during difficult times.  Still, I would describe my overall experience over those years with one word: brokenness.  I was hurting – badly – but I also did everything I could to hide behind a smile.  I didn’t want anyone to see me as someone that didn’t have it all together. 

Going away to college was an exciting fresh start.  Living in a dorm was my first experience living away from home and I enjoyed the anonymity that allowed.  No one there knew the life I had just left behind some 60 miles away.  But I knew…and I would eventually learn that there was no way to escape what I was trying so hard to forget.  

College did turn out to be a time of incredible growth for me, but I still struggled relationally.  I began to see a pattern in my close friendships – they only lasted about a year before either trailing off or coming to an abrupt, painful end.  I thought back to those scenarios and realized that I was always the one pulling away.  I was the one keeping myself lonely and afraid of sincere connection.  I was the one believing that being vulnerable would only lead to more rejection and heartache. 

I wish I could say that this realization marked a turning point in my life and I corrected the self-sabotage of my relationships – but that’s not the truth.  What is true is that, as life often does, my story took twists and turns for which I was not prepared. 

In what should have been my fourth year of college (I ended up graduating 8 years later), I met my husband, Adam.  We quickly fell in love, and he proposed to me on Christmas Eve.  We married a few months later.

Later that summer, we moved to Brentwood, Tennessee, the first of about eleven moves we would make in twelve years of marriage, going everywhere from Brentwood, Tennessee to Las Vegas, Nevada to Seattle, Washington.  At first, moving felt like an adventure, it was fun and exciting.  However, as years went by, it became more and more painful to leave what was familiar and safe.  

With each move, it became harder and harder to build friendships.  I built up walls to protect myself from the hurt of eventually saying goodbye.  I began feeling like everywhere we went was only temporary, so what was the point of getting to know people or getting established?  I retreated deeper and deeper into isolation, to the point where I had no social interaction with people outside of work.  

I knew that this way of life was not serving me well, but I didn’t know how to fix the problem.  Fatigue, anxiety, and severe loneliness were my constant companions.  I lacked the motivation to take proper care of myself – I didn’t believe I was worth the time or effort.  My physical health was in decline right along with my emotional and spiritual health.  Isolation was literally killing my soul. 

However, it was in that isolation that God began a new work in me.  Over a period of several years, a whisper turned into an idea, and then morphed into a dream.  

That dream is SISTER, STRONGER.  

SISTER, STRONGER is a safe place for women to learn how to live lives of COURAGE, CONNECTION, and PURPOSE.  I’m learning, too.

SISTER, STRONGER was born out of my own personal greatest need – to be truly known and accepted.  It is a place that values truth, faith, and authenticity.  A place that breathes life and hope into women from all ages and backgrounds.  A place of refuge in the storm.  Where dreams are birthed and rebirthed.  Where fear is cast off through perfect love.

This life was never intended to be lived alone.  

My prayer is that we, as SISTERS, will begin to see ourselves as the precious women we are, and to support one another through both joy and sorrow.  

So, here goes!  I would love to have the privilege to walk this journey with you.  Please feel free to share your story with me, and we will find COURAGE, CONNECTION, and PURPOSE – together!

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