"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Deeper Still.

I’ve been putting off this post for awhile. Not because I don’t want to write about it but because I find myself having a hard time putting it into words. It’s actually been in the works for almost 6 months now.

When we moved back to Illinois I was able to go back and volunteer as a nurse at the pregnancy center. I love that place and those people. It is definitely a highlight of my week to be there. Anyways, I was introduced to Judy, who was new since I had left a couple years before to go to Little Rock. From first introduction, I really liked her. She started to tell me about an abortion ministry that they were starting up called Deeper Still. Her and the nurse manager, Margie, were telling me about it and then asked me to pray about being a part of the team. At first, I was just excited to be asked and then I was hesitant to what I could offer. So I prayed about it and felt like God wanted me to say yes, so without fully understanding how I would be able to help or what I could offer, I told them I was onboard and excited.

I was given a training manual to go through to help me understand what Deeper Still was and to be trained in what happens at a retreat. I cannot even express how good this manual is. I was supposed to be reading it so I could be a leader but felt like God was teaching me so much through every session. He was beginning a refining in my heart that so needed to be done.
We had team meetings and continually saw God provide for our needs or answer our unknowns as we pioneered on. If all that I was able to do was to just sit in on these meetings and nothing else, I would have been immeasurably blessed and changed. These women and one man have blazing hearts for the Lord and are so intentional to bring Him glory. I love being in community with them.
So one day I get a phone call from Judy and she asks me if I would pray about doing the strongholds/soulties session of the retreat….GULP. PAUSE. Me? Lead that session?! Does she really know who she is asking, like she might regret this. I told her I would pray about it while I was in 
Texas that next week and then get back to her.

When I was in Texas I so vividly remember sitting in the kitchen with my sister in law. She was chopping vegetables for dinner and I cupped my coffee in my hands. I told her about Deeper Still and then I told her what Judy had asked me followed quickly by “But there’s no way I am going to say yes, I am too much of a mess myself to get up there and teach others about stuff that I am working through myself”. I’ll never forget what she said, she stopped what she was doing, looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said “That is exactly why you have to say yes. You get up there and tell them you are in this with them and that you don’t have it figured out yet, be vulnerable and transparent- that is the most powerful thing, you have a story to share!”.

Later that day her and I were sitting down reading during the girl’s nap time and I got to a question in the book I was reading that asked “What are you passionate about and what would you tell the world about if you knew they would listen?” Without hesitation I wrote, I am passionate about justice and freedom from strongholds. Then God was like, AHEM!, go back and read what you just wrote you are passionate about…isn’t that the very thing you were asked to speak about at the retreat?  
I still wrestled with it because I doubted that I could do it well and wanted to do it well for the participants at this retreat. I didn’t want them to get shortchanged by some amateur who was still in the woods herself. I asked God to direct me to something in His word to confirm for me this was what He wanted. He led me to Isaiah 42.

“I am the Lord; I have called you[b] in righteousness;
  I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.”

To open the eyes of the blind. To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, those who sit in darkness. That is what it is like to be controlled by strongholds- to be blind to freedom and a prisoner, to sit in darkness. Scared, alone, stuck. To make something else an idol other than God.

God continued to lead me to saying yes to Judy. I was nervous but a building passion was awakening in me and I couldn’t deny His voice. I told Seth that I just really wanted to tell Judy my story, my past, before completely committing, just so she knew everything. I sat down with her one afternoon and told her I felt like God was telling me to say yes but that I wanted to tell her my story. To what I thought might be a roadblock, I was met with the most compassionate embrace and encouragement over me.

So we were a couple months out from the retreat and hitting planning mode in full swing. The more that we gathered together as a team to share our stories or pray or plan the more God was deeply knitting our hearts together. I LOVE this group so much and have told Seth over and over again what incredible, unlikely community they are to me.

Finally we are at the week of the retreat and getting all of our last minute details together. It was a CRAZY couple of weeks before that. Gracie and I had just moved into our house about 2 weeks prior that Seth had been pretty much living in, working like crazy. Plus I was very newly pregnant and starting the debilitating all-day-morning-sickness-fun. I was pretty nervous I would feel too sick the whole retreat but enter in Zofran, a nauseated pregnant momma’s bff.

We each had prayer warriors we had asked to pray for us every day and outside of that we had watchman on the wall praying around the clock surrounding the retreat and during. We knew the enemy would attempt many roadblocks but we also knew God is bigger.

Finally the day arrived that all of us staff members were to arrive at camp to beautify and make it feel cozy and welcoming.  I had a few last minute things to pack and then the plan was for me my mom to get there around lunch time to watch Gracie so I could head out. I woke up to an obnoxious and irritating beeping that wouldn’t stop. I had no idea where it was coming from (keep in mind we just moved in 2 weeks prior, I’m still learning the place!). I picked up my phone to call Seth and he told me to look in the basement. I opened the door and screamed. We had growing water everywhere and our smoke detector was floating in it- hence the obnoxious beeping (thankfully). We still had so many boxes, photos, books, and tubs we had stored down there to slowly unpack. I threw on my rain boots (thank you Arkansas for persuading me to buy rain boots) and grabbed as many frames and items that I could. Thankfully, Seth came home and we had family rush over to haul all of our things back upstairs to try to save as much as possible. Miraculously, only a few books were ruined. I ended up leaving much later than I planned and exhausted. I remember crying on my way to camp feeling so defeated that I was already so drained of energy and was running so behind.

The moment I pull up I’m greeted with hugs and help and am told to just jump right in. God covered my exhaustion and my sickness as I realized I forgot to even take my zofran (seriously, my miracle pill at the time). The place looked amazing- quilts on every bed, flowers and couches and comfy chairs we hauled from our homes in a couple trailers. Verses everywhere you looked- on doors, mirrors, in the kitchen, etc. We wanted Jesus to be so obvious and so felt when they walked in those doors.

Thursday night was team night. We prayer marched around the whole camp, inside and out. Praying down any evil thing and inviting the Spirit to reign freely. We worshiped and had a time of feet washing and encouragement. We ate together and prepared for the next day. It was incredibly unifying and honestly an incredible blessing.

Friday morning we woke up and ate breakfast and finished any last minute preparations before our participants came. We were so excited to meet them and welcome them.
That afternoon they began to come, one by one. Beautiful women, scarred by wounds of their past. Women just waiting to be freed and told they are forgiven and beautiful. Ready to work hard and go deep. Some with hearts guarded- not sure what the weekend would hold or what it would be like. Or would they sleep well? Or was it a mistake they came? Or would they connect with anyone? Or would they leave feeling the same? Or maybe they didn’t deserve to be free?- all of these and SO many other doubts, thoughts, fears swarming through their precious minds. But in great courage and strength of God, they arrived.

That night we broke into groups and shared our stories, all of us. As one team member put it- “I may not be abortion wounded, but I am something else wounded”. We can all share something not so pretty, something we’ve struggled with shame/etc. with. I was amazed at how quickly these ladies jumped into their stories and how deeply they went. We cried & shared together and then prayed over them for sweet sleep.

Saturday was a hard day. They had to work really hard this day. We call it spiritual legal work. Working through unforgiveness, hurts, pains, regrets, sins, strongholds, the Gospel and the love of Christ. There is A LOT that happens this day and by the end of it you’d think everyone would be completely and utterly exhausted- which is true. But at the end of the night God brings renewed energy and we broke into worship. And I mean WORSHIP like I personally had never experience before. Unbound, completely free, intense, beautiful, healing, sweet worship. I had a hard time explaining it to Seth except to say that I think I got a glimpse of what Heaven is going to be like one day. Women who had come merely 24 hours earlier, bound and imprisoned by their wounds were dancing and crying and shouting “I am free!!”, unabandoned, embracing forgiveness, and free for the first time ever.

Sunday was an incredible day as well. The last day of the retreat. We had a memorial service this day- a chance for the women to memorialize their children in a way they never were able to before. To honor them and cry over them and mourn them but also to celebrate that they are in the arms of Jesus. What an important and significant thing for them. Without going into details about it, it was a truly breathtaking and beautiful ceremony of healing and restoration.
What. A. Weekend. There is SO much more I could say. I am so thankful to be a part of this. It has changed me.

Our second retreat is actually this next week- the 23-25th of October 2014. If you or anyone you know has been wounded by an abortion, please know we would so love to have you join us. It’s not too late. And if you can’t make it this time, there will be one in the spring. God is calling you to healing and a breaking out from the shame and darkness and the secrets that have possibly been in control for too long. Go deeper still with us, you are SO welcomed here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

our pinterest fail maternity photo shoot :)

So I am at that point in my pregnancy where certain things become suddenly urgent. By urgency I mean like when I have an idea it has to be done NOW otherwise I might cry. Okay it's not always that bad, but sometimes it is...anyways I have a super gracious husband who, to the best of his ability, tries to accommodate these ideas/needs/wants/whatever they are. Today I decided to hang some pictures and didn't want to wait for Seth to get home to do it correctly (the things I have learned about hanging photos since being married to this guy!). Some of the frames didn't have hooks to hang them with so I had to get creative because I didn't want to run to the store to get proper photo hangers so I went to my craft shelf and found a safety pin and some tacky glue and applied to the back. The result- epic fail...but Seth gave me points for creativity. 

This weekend it was pictures. I have this incredible love for photos and making sure we capture seasons of life. We are planning to get maternity photos taken by a dear friend but in case I go early or we don't make that happen I wanted a few pictures with Gracie to capture this season. In his spare time my handy-house-remodeling husband also is a photographer on the side, didn't you know? :)

I had pulled up pinterest and had these PERFECT poses in mind where Gracie would PERFECTLY cooperate and my hair would look perfect and the weather would be perfect and it would just be...perfect. haha.

We decided to try before church on Sunday. It was cold, really chilly actually. It was super cloudy, we forgot our chair to use as a prop, Gracie started bawling right away and wanted nothing to do with the photo-shoot, we couldn't get her paci away from her....it was a pinterest fail by definition for sure but it was real life and I love that. Combined with a few pictures we took after church I think we managed some really awesome pictures to capture this pregnancy and to show the true personality of my spunky, sweet Gracie Mae. 

Here are a few that I edited, Enjoy!

Blowing bubbles

To me it looks like she is listening to a "secret" from little brother :)

I just love this sweet girl so much.

Her expression says it all about how she feels about this photo-shoot idea

One of my favorites- it looks like she is yelling at her little brother already!

I LOVE this. "Don't worry guys, I'll teach him all I know"- said by an ornery 22 month old.

Belly Picture!! :)

I love love this. Just a mommy daughter moment.

typical. :)

So I asked for a kiss and went in for it. What I got was a slobbery wet one. :)

I love the story these pictures tell...the spunky-ness, the sweet moments, the anticipation, the season we are in and the one we are about to enter into. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

our beautiful/not-so-beautiful mess

The Getaway:

In the middle of our swirling craziness of life right now, Seth and I got away last weekend.

It. was. awesome.

We usually try to go somewhere for our anniversary because we feel like marriage is something to celebrate. This year I was telling Seth that I just really needed a retreat, to go somewhere un-busy and slow-paced. For a few reasons: one- I am major pregnant right now and going going going did not sound fun, two- life at home has been hard with our spunky, spirited, defiant, but oh so sweet almost two year old. I am WORN OUT, three- our quality time together has been especially slim between work, parenting, *finishing* the house, and other things we have going on.

So we searched a bunch of awesome recommendations from people (thank you to you who recommended places on facebook or otherwise to us, they all looked awesome!). Due to the fact that we basically had ONE good weekend left to do this before this baby comes, we had little options as far as making reservations. We knew we wanted a bed and breakfast...well I knew we wanted a bed and breakfast. We stayed in Galena for our first year anniversary and decided to try to find a place there again, and God SO provided the most amazing retreat we could have picked.

It was soooo nice to be able to have uninterrupted conversation that wasn't about parenting or house renovations or work. We spent the weekend sharing our hearts and talking about our marriage and the things God has done in it these past months and year since we've moved back to IL and years as a whole- the good, the bad and the ugly. We had slow, un-rushed mornings and ate delicious food that we didn't have to scarf down or cut into little pieces. I'm telling you- it. rocked. We went hiking, which was sort of humorous, considering that Seth had to basically push my 33.5 week pregnant self up the steep parts...but it was beautiful in the midst of changing leaves and pretty fall weather. It was just what we needed to refuel before our little boy enters the world and a welcomed refreshment in the midst of the "terrible twos" of our little Gracie Mae.

The Backstory:

To be totally honest...we have, in the past 6 months or so, gone through a complete demolition and rebuilding process of us individually and as a couple. It. has. hurt. But a good kind of hurt.

This past year has been especially hard for us, moving back to IL. The combination of moving, moving with a baby, living back and forth between parents and a rental, buying a new/old house, financial stress, a new pregnancy, finding a church, finding community and friends, and the super bitter cold winter we had were just some of the things that made it difficult.

Yes, these things definitely did not help. But they were not the problem. They didn't cause our fights or the dark season in our marriage. The baggage and the traumas we brought into our marriage definitely have impacted the way we handle/view/feel things but they didn't cause these things either.

We did. Us as individuals and our own individual sin habits. And our idols that we've built over time. And our pride. It's with a shying-away expression I write those ugly things. We went to a Biblical Counselor and begged him to tell us what the root of our issues were. We told him we just wanted to get to the root of what was causing these conflicts (and truly both thinking it must be something in the other person that just had to change). We sat across from him in his office and in the most loving and genuinely compassionate way he could, he looked directly at us and explained that the root of our cycles, our conflicts, was our own individual sin and that we cared more about ourselves or our idols than we did about worshiping God.

Ouch. Raw Truth. My mind wanted to automatically begin to justify how this wasn't really completely all that true. And that is when it really started to hurt...as we walked through what this looked like, how it had been hurting each other and mostly how it was idol worship. It was such an intense pain as God tore down/continues to tear down all of our comforts, securities, refuges in anything but Him. The pain seared and felt unsafe and unsure at times. Oddly, it was the best kind of pain we've ever felt.

But at the same time He tore down, He built. He added faith to believe that He is the only real safe place. He added grace upon grace that ripped down walls of perfection. He added love that blinds out the ugly nature of criticism and judgement. When we decreased, He increased. When we obeyed Him at His Word instead of performing or doing something for a specific wanted outcome, He gave a supernatural peace, even in the midst of deep rooted pain.

This has been and is one of the the hardest things we have ever done. Learning to really and truly deny ourselves for God's glory. Denying what makes me feel safe when I feel completely terrified. Denying what I want and, this one is especially difficult for me, denying hopes and expectations that- even good things at times- have become an idol for me instead of just a desire. The whole idol building thing happens so silently and so easily.

Without basically writing everything we have been learning and relearning (which may happen eventually), we are in a season of rebuilding the foundation of who we are in Christ and what marriage is really about and how it really is supposed to work. I think we are still on the foundation of this thing- no walls yet or a roof, definitely no decoration yet. We don't want to rush it, we want it to be solid and full of Him.

So to sum all of that up: We learned that the root of our "problems" is our own sin and pride. "We do what we do because we want what we want"- this has been an often repeated quote in our home and even in our parenting. We finally realized that the other person isn't the problem, we are. If we individually don't change and break the chains of pride and idols then our marriage will not get better. It can't be up to the other person. But for so many years we were convinced it was. It's still a hard lesson and will continue to be as we continue do do marriage and life and parenting. But we've been promised everything we need is in Christ, so we can do it and we can do it right.

It's messy and there is a whole lot of need for a whole lot of grace and forgiveness and confession and redo's and humility and love, truly loving rightly.

So this year we celebrate 6 years of mess and heartache and complete joy and healing and freedom.

As we go into year 7, I told Seth I hope for a year of "settling" and "establishing". We will be rounding out the major projects on our home renovation, we hope to get involved with community and a small group, we want to open our home to anyone who wants a place to come and talk or wants a warm meal- even if it is canned soup :). We want to establish who we are as a family and be a family growing through the mess ups and the unpretty moments.

So, Seth Braker, let's continue this crazy, faith dependent, grace filled, messy, beautiful and real journey together!

Here are some pictures from our weekend, be warned- they are mostly all selfies of us.

33.5 weeks

On our hike that I barely made it!

My awesome breakfast date both mornings

The view from our porch, it was soo pretty.

Our "anniversary" dinner, I had maple pecan salmon over sweet potatoes and veggies and seth had coffee rubbed skirt steak with tomato verde sauce and roasted potatoes- SO good.

The same place we hiked to 5 years before for our first anniversary. 

Let's go on many more adventures together :). 

***We have dear friends that gave us the gift of transparency into their lives, into their freedom journey. It taught us that we so often live isolated, neat looking lives when so many times are falling apart or at the very least struggling on the inside. The more they shared, the more we drank in and learned the beauty of be real and authentic and the healing that can come with that. Noone lives a perfect life.We continue to share our story in hopes that God will use it to reach someone else's struggle. So to tag onto this, there is a song that I've been listening to lately that encompasses what i'm trying to say. We aren't meant to live this life alone. 

It is called "No Man is an Island" by Tenth Avenue North.

and to end it, here is a video of my girl dancing to it :)