Monday, July 9, 2018

More Than Conquerers

7:48 AM 0
Guest Blogger: Camryn Williamson

Change. College. Death. Heartbreak. Grief. Depression. Anxiety. These words can be used to describe the last two years of my life. I graduated high school in 2015 at the top of my class, ready to take on the world and everything that would come my way in college. My dad had been battling Esophageal cancer for the past 6 years, and I knew the end was in sight. That summer he was put on Hospice care after needing surgery for a feeding tube because he wasn’t able to eat. I came to Kansas State University in the fall of 2015, walking on to the Women’s Rowing team, with my sights
set on Athletic Training as my major.

October 9, 2015. My world changed forever when my mom called me at 3:45 am to tell me that it was time for me to come home. She put my dad on the phone, and all I could hear was, “Cam? I love you. I love you, ok? I love you, Cam.” My brother, his wife, and their 2 month old baby lived in Manhattan (Kansas) at the time and we loaded up their car to drive home. We were halfway there when my mom called again, and I just stared out the window until we arrived. My mom and older sister came out of the house when we pulled up, and the 5 of us just cried in this group hug. It was the
strangest thing walking into my house with all these people there already. Manhattan is 4 hours away from my home and I immediately felt gypped that all these other people were here to see my dad leave this world, while I was stuck in a car. But I put a smile on my face, hugged people, ate some food and chatted about school before someone said, “Are you ready?” I have never cried like that before or since that day. I honestly feel sorry for those people who were in my house, because I’m sure it’s a sound that they probably won’t forget either.

College can be a challenging time for many, as you learn to navigate the real world, and make decisions that can affect you for many years to come. But college is also the time where you can have some fun by going on adventures, learning new things, and making new relationships. My first semester was full of a lot of emotions. I was learning a new sport and trying to balance school, workouts, responsibilities, and spending time with my new nephew. I put my grief on a back burner because I didn’t want to think about it. I was determined to make the most of my life, because I knew
that’s what my dad would want. He loved life, he loved people, and he loved the Lord. That’s how I wanted my life to be. So I applied to be a Camp Counselor at Camp Chyoca in Calhoun, Louisiana for the summer of 2016.

I had the time of my life. I found myself again. I absolutely loved every day. Under most circumstances, I am not a morning person. But I had no problem getting up at the crack of dawn to start my day at camp. Those 6 weeks were exactly what I needed. I learned so much about my own strengths and weaknesses, and how to handle different situations. The days were long and summers in Louisiana are HOT, so of course I had my moments when I wasn’t full of grace. I’m also semi allergic to mosquitos, yet they love me and at one point I counted upwards of 30+ bites on my
legs! But oh how much peace and joy I had in my heart. The other counselors were amazing and life long friendships were made.

But then my grief caught up with me. I tried to transfer schools at the end of the summer, but it didn’t work out. I was so afraid to come back to school. School was full of bad memories, and to make matters worse it felt like I had not made any friends at all. I was REALLY bitter. I would take every opportunity I could to make it known that my life was worse than somebody else’s. It wasn’t because I wanted their pity, it was to inform God once again that he had abandoned me. No wonder no-one wanted to be my friend, I had an awful attitude 95% of the time. Grief has this awful way of distorting the real image and stealing your joy. Your view of life becomes veiled because that’s
the only thing going on in your little world. It’s hard for other people to understand what you’re going through or why when you’re in a room full of people, you want to cry because it feels like you are alone in a dark hole.

Because of that bitterness and anger, I didn’t really care about anything. I stopped working out, I stopped eating healthy, I didn’t brush my hair, sometimes I didn’t shower for a while. I just let my body be an all consuming pit of despair. I fell into the trap of sin that enslaved me many years ago. Then I felt even more awful, but I didn’t hold myself accountable with that awful feeling. I stopped going to church, not really seeing a point in why I should.

This past summer, I chose to work on my family farm and had a lot of time to think, reflect, and talk to God. I found a lot of peace, plowing back and forth on fields for many days, but there was still a since of solitude. At the end of the summer, I tried to transfer schools, again. It didn’t work out, again. This past year I have battled depression and anxiety as my form of grief. It has been hard. I have struggled with medication that messed with the chemical balance in my brain and made me want to end my life. I started thinking of how I would do it. That scared me. I thought for a long
time that if I was depressed, it would be like the nail in my coffin, that I wouldn’t ever be able to get out of it. That scared me, so I just ignored what was going on in my heart for a long time, not wanting to deal with any emotions. So then I stopped being happy. I lost my joy. I was so angry. At God, at my family, at school.

Last week in church, our Pastor was preaching a sermon on talking to God through our series, “Questions for Everyday Faith.” He starts out in Romans 8. Immediately, I’m thinking “Oh yes, this is gonna be gooooood!” Y’all, the first sentence sets a tone for the entire chapter: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” WOAH. Verses 31-39 are titled
More Than Conquerors, and I want to challenge you to read the entire chapter, but I’m going to focus on the last two verses. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angel nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from he love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do I struggle with depression? Yes. Does that define who I am? No. Does that separate me from my Heavenly Father? No. Does that keep me from becoming whom God has called me to be? No. Does it separate me from the Father’s love? Absolutely not. Will I be able to look forward to each day with confidence in strength and without fear of the future. Yes, a thousand times, yes.

I am a conqueror. You are a conqueror. We are conquerors made through the prefect love of our Heavenly father who gives us the strength to tackle each day, each hurt, each broken heart. He has called us for more. He has called us to speak truth into each day, and spread the good news of the gospel.

My now 2 year-old nephew is the cutest thing, and he has recently started saying the phrase, “You ready?” but is sounds more like, “Youu reaaay?” And I think that’s God’s way of telling me that he’s got something bigger in store for me. And I want to be ready when the time comes.
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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Be the 1%

7:47 AM 0
Guest Blogger: April Estes
April Estes attended Freed-Hardeman University and is a graduate of Mississippi State University.  She is wife to one (Jason Estes), Mom to four (16, 14, 10 & 7). She is the author of two books (Seeing the Father Through a Dad and The Pearl of Great Price, 2017) and enjoys writing christian & country songs in her free time.
The past 5 years were hell on us. Within that time our son had unexplainable tummy pains that stunted his growth & development, I (a mom of 13,11,6 & 3) got cancer that required 6 rounds of chemo & radiation across 6 months in a town we had just moved to with no family.  In addition to having a learning "disabled" child that I pulled out to homeschool....not to mention all the other "normal" life things... At one point my goal was to get the kids to their first day of school so I could sleep for three hours straight after my second round of chemo. After flopping down and sleeping for a solid 30 minutes I got a phone call. All four kids had lice (!!!) and I had to go pick them up. Trials, tribulations, disease and pestilence all at once (The only Silverlining being that was the week my hair fell out so at least momma's not getting lice). You know things are baddddd when your silverlining starts with "at least I'm bald now". I look back now, barely out of the storm, and ask with wide eyed wonder "how in the world did we ever make it?"
     
I'd like to pull out my Disney card and say we made it because we are best friends and soulmates and nothing can separate us. But that's not true. We made it by piggybacking off all the prayers of our friends, eliminating the fluff in our lives (did you know Europeans only bathe every other day? Just sayin...), my oldest two taking charge of the youngest two and going into "survival mode", the generosity of church family who provided meals, rides and playdates for my children, and God's grace and protective hand. It was longgggg silences because sometimes silence is better than screaming temporary truths that cause permanent wounds. (There WAS yelling sometimes because yelling IS at least communicating and long text responses because when your wife is drunk on chemo sometimes that's just the best way.) It was long separations from the house for mom because she was in danger of being a raging lunatic jacked up on so much steroids so dad had to cover everything after running a factory all day.

At one point I remember we had had a fight and later (still in the thick of it ) I told my husband I was ready for our date. He asked, surprised, if we were still doing that and I said "Yes! Because we are not going to come through cancer and all the other stuff we've come through to lose our marriage because of "lack of communicating" (this was said in yelling fashion with a pointy finger LOL). It was real and raw and ugly most the time - far from the feel-good stories we hear on Christian radio many times. 

I found the stats & my engineering husband did the math and found that the chance of our marriage surviving was literally 1%. If you factor in the fact that all of these things happened at once we are probably most definitely a walking miracle!

So what's the secret?  God's grace & grit. It's praying for continual protection because there is a whole spiritual realm we can't even see fighting for our families. It's listening when you're tired and making time to understand different points of view. It's not getting everything you want and finding contentment in the discontent. It's forgiving a person when you can't even understand their point of you and really just want to punch them in the throat. It's making comparisons to women in marriages 200 years ago and reminding yourself that if he doesn't beat you and has a job he's a great catch (and him reminding himself that A wife is a blessing from the Lord even if she has cancer and is out of her mind half the time lol). It is humbling yourself to talk to friends and ask for prayers for your embarrassing needs. It is choosing to stay when you want to run. It's bringing your spouse coffee in the morning without spitting in it. It's realizing that most of your "needs" are really just "wants" and being flexible enough to accept what "is" instead of what you "want things to be."  It is spending a sixth of your bring home pay on many months of counseling and learning new ways to communicate after 20 years. It is so very hard. It is not fun. 

But it is worth it. 

If you are in a season right now where your spouse is not only not your "best friend" but feels more like the enemy, dont. give. up. 

The devil wants us to believe that The trials will last forever but they don't. The Bible says God "sets an end to the darkness" and "hold us in his mighty right hand."  

It also says sometimes he chooses to build something new. Do you know what's involved in building something new? Thoroughly Demolishing the past "thing". When people are restoring a house they have to take it down to the brass tacks. If they are about to lay a floor, there can't even be a pebble in the way because it will mess up a whole new foundational structure and cause the tile to crack. Sometimes the master Restorer has to take US down to brass tacks to rebuild something NEW that is possibly better than we could ever imagine. 

Don't give up. Remember: God is not the God of statistics he is the God of the individual ! Grit and Grace!  Be the 1%!!!

 And coffee. Always bring your spouse coffee.
April Estes

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Who Am I

8:59 AM 0


             Guest Blogger, Kristian Ward
My name is Kristian Ward. I am 23 years old. First and Foremost, I am a woman who strives to love the Lord with all of my soul, mind, and strength.  I am also the wife of Brandon Ward. Although we are young and far from perfect, we are comitted to serving the Lord and helping others to be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.

Yes, I have had a hard life. My mom and dad divorced when I was 9 months old. He left the picture. My mom struggled to find her self-worth, and it always ended up coming from a man. She had more partners than I could count. She dropped out of school and could not keep a steady job; therefore, we were constantly moving. I went to 9 or 10 different schools, and I lived in 5 different states.

When I was 5, my mom dated a man who I thought was good enough to call dad. He was not good. He was depraved. He would have outbursts of anger, and he would beat my mom and I. One day while my mom was away, he raped me and continued to do so whenever she was not home. I can’t accurately describe the fear, hurt, and shame I felt at 5 years old. We got free of him, but the constant partners did not stop. My sister lived with her dad most of our young life, and then my mom had my brother, my world. Because my mom was working, I took care of my brother. I fed him, bathed him, and made sure he was taken care of. I raised him.

This way of life kept on until high school. Somehow, I was a junior in high school, and I’ve never had a boyfriend or done anything inappropriate with a boy. (That was only because of my father in heaven protecting me.) I met Brandon Ward my junior year. He was cute and funny, and he swept me off of my feet. We were obsessed with each other. We spent every possible second we could together. I put him on the highest pedestal. He was everything to me. Because he had an equally hard life and his own insecurities, he had no clue how to be a man or how to treat women. Neither of us knew real love. He eventually dumped me. I was shattered. I had put all of my value into what he thought of me. I was so hurt and lost. This life I had been given left me feeling worthless. All the pain and shame from my entire life compounded until I felt as though I had no value at all.

A few months before this, a friend of his invited us to go to church at WFR. I went to appease him, but I didn’t buy this God stuff. I had never really given God a thought until I was so broken and lost. After Brandon broke up with me, I had nothing and no one else to turn to. I decided to give prayer a try. I broke down on the floor sobbing and asked God to help me. If this was all there was to life, then what’s the point? Was I put on this earth only to suffer? Did my life have any value? Who is God, and what does that mean for me?

That was the day I gained a father; not just any father, the perfect father. A father who has an infinite amount of love and grace for me. A father who loves me so much he sent his son to die to save me, even though I spent my whole life not caring about him.

Yes, I have had a hard life. Psalm 71:20-21, "You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again." God is so much bigger than any past, present, or future hardship. God has done so much more than comfort me; God has completely transformed my life. God has blessed me with an amazing family. He’s blessed me with people who love me no matter how broken I am. These people love me for who I am, not what I can do for them. God has most certainly blessed me with a husband; the same broken boy who dumped me, is now a man who loves God and pursues him daily. A man who leads by serving. A man who leads me towards God. Above all, God has given me absolute value. I am a daughter of the king of kings. God has molded me and shaped me so much that I do not recognize the old Kristian who was defined by the hard life she was given.

Why would I choose to be a Christian? Isn’t that just a bunch of rules and regulations of what not to do? Being a Christian has nothing to do with following rules and being perfect; if it did, I would be thrown out. Psalm 71:15, "I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words. I will praise your mighty deeds, O Sovereign Lord. I will tell everyone that you alone are just." This speaks directly to my heart. Trying to be perfect and trying to make myself do everything right does not work and it leaves me with nothing but failure and emptiness.

1 Peter 1:8-9, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving an end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." This is not a weak faith. This a faith knowing that even though Jesus is not here in flesh, his holy spirit dwells within me; the Holy Spirit is powerful. The Holy Spirit sets us free from the law and allows us to grow infinitely in truth and love with the Lord. True Christianity is about being madly in love with God and because of that, he changes every part of you and your life. "Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." Colossians 2:7. I do not want to live a life trying to, in vain, pay for my salvation; I want my life to reflect how thankful I am for what God has done for me and who He is. I want to live my life trusting that God is exactly who he says he is.

Pursuing God, letting him move through me, and letting him change my desires to match his not only fulfills me but makes my spirit overflow with joy and passion and love. The difference between the life I’m living now and the life ruled by pain and fear is nothing I have done; the difference is also not a hard life and an easy life. I still go through trials and hardships. I still mess up and sin. God has made us in His image. God has made us to glorify His name. The difference between my old life and the new is God. I now have a hope and a peace that passes all understanding. I now know who I am. I have been fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of all things. I now know what I’m worth, an infinite price. Giving my life to God and praising him through all things is who I was always meant to be. God is restoring me with his love and grace daily. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
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