Thursday, November 20, 2014

Full but Blessed Days

My days are ridiculously full. I come to the end of one and forget what I did at the beginning. My gas tank empties faster than it once did, and I am becoming an expert at meals on the go.  Dates with my hubby are scheduled because if it is not on the calendar, it simply will not happen.  I am surprised I haven't scheduled going to the bathroom each day.  (My husband would probably say I should given how much time I spend there ;) )

I miss my girlfriends--leisurely talks over coffee or walks with our toddlers. (YES, there is a perk to having toddlers--you can still strap them into a stroller and go. I know all you moms of toddlers are wondering if there are any perks to this phase of motherhood you're in. So, there you go. That's one. You're welcome.)

Relationship happens in the transition from one event to another while waiting for dance practice to end or Lego League to begin.  Sometiems that only amounts to making a cognitive note that my friend is still alive. And, just knowing that another overscheduled and underpaid mom has made it another day has to be enough to buoy me onto the next.

But I am living in the blessed days. I know that when I drop my kids off for speech club, enjoy a rare ten minutes ALONE in the car on my way home....and miss them. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

God's Story in My Story

My name is Briana.
It means "strong."
I am anything but.

This is my story which is really God's story where He shows His strength in my weakness, His faithfulness in my faithlessness, His love to an unlovely sinner.

I grew up in a home where my parents were believers in Jesus, took my three siblings and me to church and sent us to a private, Christian school where I received a solid education, both academically and of the Scriptures.  While not all that was taught lined up with what I "caught" growing up in these contexts, I am  inexpressibly grateful for the foundations that were laid in my heart and mind in that first decade of my life.

At five years old, it was clear that unless I prayed the sinner's prayer, I would go to hell, and hell was the worst place imaginable.  So, I prayed with my dad in our basement.

Three years later, around age eight, my "get-out-of-hell-free" card was not enough to quiet my conscience that was so easily bothered by any wrong doing.  God gave me the gift of a tender and impressionable heart--one that longed to please Him and others.

By the time I reached fifth grade, I was sure of my salvation and that I was a pretty good kid, too.  I was a good student, helpful at home and had lots of Christian friends.  I thought I understood God and how this Christian thing worked.

And then my world fell a part, piece by piece. The God I thought I knew brought about one devastating blow after another.

The church my parents helped begin experienced a split, from what I later learned was due in part to the pastor's infidelity.  My parents began to attend two different churches for a season, disagreeing on what was best for our family.

My dad eventually joined my mom at an Evangelical Free Church, and he was shortly thereafter diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Two years later, after experimental surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and a year of a relatively healthy life, my dad succumbed to the cancer and died just two months after his 40th birthday.
 I was twelve.

Within a year of my dad's death, my mom was remarried to a man, Galen, who lost his spouse to a hit-and-run while walking along a country road with a family friend.  Galen had three boys of his own who all became my step brothers.

By the time I turned fourteen, loss and heartache hung over me like a dark cloud.
I became verbally combative with my parents, and a fight for control manifested itself through an eating disorder by the time I turned fifteen. And though turmoil stormed within my heart and thoughts about what God had chosen for me and my family, outwardly I continued to profess a strong conviction in a God who loves and died and lives for any and all to know Him and be spared from His wrath, should they believe in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship. I see this now as God's strong grace at work in my life despite my weak faith.

After high school, God's Providence led me to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) where I studied Sociology and Religious Studies. The four years I spent as an undergraduate profoundly challenged my faith.  There were numerous moments I considered bagging Christianity altogether and declaring myself a spiritual agnostic but for the words written in John 6:68, spoken by Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Once again, God's faithfulness to keep me and cause me to remain His was displayed in my life.

Within a year of graduating from college, I moved forward into what I believed was God's call on my life to full-time Christian ministry through Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry God used significantly in my life as a college student.

I was initially assigned to Towson University where God filled my heart with a great sense of mission and passion for the lost and the discipleship of believers.  Though I loved ministry, I continued to struggle with God's goodness to me.  Verses like Psalm 84, "No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly," seemed to mock me when I considered some of the events of my life. What I did not want, I received; what I wanted, I did not receive.  When alone in bed at night, I would cry myself to sleep.  At times I thought about ending my life.  Though I loved the Lord of Life and Father of Light, I entertained dark thoughts of death.

With my faith so dim, His faithfulness shone forth all the more brightly as I continued to wobbly entrust my circumstances to His wise and loving Hands.

Fast forward to 2002, Lawrence and I were married,  and two years later in 2004, had our first children (twin boys).  .Marriage was not as delightful as I had hoped and more difficult than I had imagined.  Motherhood was doubly so!

Though I love my boys to the moon and back now, it was not "love at first sight" when they were born. An emergency C-section, a sucker punch diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome for Judah (our firstborn of the twins), and persistently painful and problematic nursing for five and a half months left me once again with fists in the air wondering where the goodness of God was to be found in my life's circumstances.

But, God had been at work in my life.  Just as the steady current of a stream washes over rough rocks smoothing out their surfaces, making its impact over a long period of time, so the steady washing of my mind with God's truth over several decades of my life led me to a place where I fully and finally believed in my heart that God is good to those He loves, and that most definitely included me.

I only became aware of this grace, however, in the midst of another trial God brought into our lives--the birth of our daughter, Bella.  After a natural labor and delivery of which I had wanted and asked God for, we learned that Bella was not breathing well on her own.  I could not nurse her or have her in my room. She was kept in the special care nursery and eventually transferred to Hopkins where she remained in the NICU, the only near 9 pound baby, for a week! 

 It was an exhausting week, making daily trips back and forth to Hopkins, meeting with doctors and nurses, pumping every three hours to ensure mommy's milk would be available for Bella when she was strong enough to eat, and caring for our 2.5 year old boys in the in-between time.   During that week, even in the midst of a mental fog, it occurred to me that I was not questioning God's goodness to me in light of my circumstances. In stark contrast to how I had always responded through previous trials, I was standing resolute in my heart that somehow God was being good to me, to my daughter, to my family. I believed, and as that belief was being tested, I saw that God had brought about a definitive change in my heart and mind.  

Since that time, I have floundered significantly in my performance as a mom, a wife, daughter, sister and friend. I have come up short time and time again.  Motherhood has not felt like a natural fit. Being a wife to Lawrence has proven to reveal a rather ugly side of me--an angry, bitter, controlling Briana. I have fought with The Lord many times about the roles I play most of my days as wife and mom because those roles have forced me to come face to face with my depravity, my inability to be godly and some days to just even be nice.

My failing performance, however, has best positioned me to see and fully hide myself in God's flawless performance and unfailing love. And, while there remains a bit of a constant wrestling match between me and God over what He asks of me, there is no longer the constant doubting Him about why He calls me to it; I know it is for my good.