Undone {Against Our Will}

If you ever want to see the sovereignty of God on display in your life, proclaim to Him that “one thing” that you would never ever do – under any circumstances… no matter what.

It has been six months since my last post. Those six months have felt like three lifetimes in reality. Long story short, September and October of 2019 were a gauntlet of challenges and “closed doors” in our household.  Things we were once moving toward with utter assurance were now suddenly crumbling down around us. We had to abandon a home build unexpectedly because of construction issues beyond our control. We received some painfully honest advice from Ashley’s Lyme doctor about what might be slowing her lack of progress toward remission that left us shaken about our future in Eastern North Carolina. I had to leave a job I loved after only eight months – not just a job I loved, but also a group of people I truly loved working with. We had to move out of our little rental condo due to concerns about how the environment there might be adversely affecting Ashley’s health.

In my pride and sense of self-entitlement, I became angry with God. Hadn’t we already sacrificed enough? We had already sold a house we loved. We had already sold or given away most of our “stuff” that we used to place so much value on. I had already left a good job and gone through some very unpleasant circumstances on the way out. Why was God not happy with that? How could He possibly want MORE from us?

It is always easier for me to become angry with God – to “buy the lies” of my enemy that God is playing some sort of game with my life – than to reflect and pray on what God is doing in my circumstances. As I looked deeper and prayed more intentionally for God to reveal what is really going on, He revealed to me how often I tend to fall back into an “Old Testament perspective” of sacrifice. If I give you a sheep, God, then you wipe out my sin and disobedience. Only today, instead of sheep or cattle, we tend to offer up our “stuff.” We offer up to God things like television, phone, social media, possessions – things that bring us comfort or a sense of identity.  

Instead of feeling sorry for myself during the last six months, I could have spent that time searching myself for the true reason that I felt so entitled to a sort of preferential treatment for my obedience. I was reminded of the verse in 1 Samuel 16:7,

The Lord does not look at the things people [the world] looks at. People [the world] look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

My problem is that I expect God to reward my past obedience with fewer struggles in my future. God revealed to me that I have been treating our sacrifices over the past year as a “one and done” trade-offs toward future fulfillment. It was transactional. I know better. God is honored by obedience that comes from the heart – not out of a sense of obligation or an expectation of some return on sacrificial investment. 

The preceding sixty days of trials and tribulations with houses, jobs, and illness had brought us to our breaking point. We felt God moving us out of our current situation, but had little to no clarity on what was next. All we knew to do was to trust God and take a step. The first step was packing up. The second step was hitting the road. The third step was taking some time to be still and listen. I would be dishonest if I said that, at the end of our respite, we were disappointed that we hadn’t come out on the other side to a burning bush or some sort of writing in the sky. All we had was silence – and time to pray and talk things over with God and the Holy Spirit moving within us.

And then, after a few weeks – completely unanticipated – God spoke. He didn’t speak audibly, but He spoke through a conversation we had with our mentors from our home church back in North Carolina. During the course of our conversation, we were explaining to them that God had laid it on our hearts *NOT* to move to a place we expected, a place like Colorado or New Mexico. Initially, those were the places we both felt that we would surely move to.  After all, both locales seemed to have positive impacts on Ashley’s Lyme symptoms, which was a primary factor for us. During our time there, however, God had not given us a sense that either of these were the place for us. Upon hearing our decision, our mentors simply asked what other options were in front of us. The only option seemingly left to us at the time was to return home to Oklahoma, a place we had previously proclaimed we would only move back to “over our dead bodies.”  God heard that declaration, and I believe He laughed.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.” -Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

In the subsequent days that followed, God reminded us through prayer and quiet time that both of us had unaddressed issues and hurts that we had honestly been running from for the past 15+ years since we left Oklahoma in our rearview mirror. Neither one of us had really ever looked back – never even wanted to. It was easier to be far away.

…and God laughed.

Needless to say, here we are in Oklahoma. God continues to shape our story. There have been so many amazing instances of God’s provision and guiding hand since we returned home a few months ago, but those are for another day.

In the meantime, I want to ask you a couple of questions:

What might God be calling you toward? What might He be calling you away from? Are there people/places/things you have closed the door to in your life that God may be nudging you to re-open and reconsider?

If He is, I want to be the first to encourage you that moving toward those things – not away from them – is always for your good. “For we know that, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him; who have been called according to His purpose.” -Romans 8:28

In Him, HB

Undone {Along the Wall}

If I’m honest about how I’m feeling right now, I’d tell you that I feel like I’m treading a familiar path. It feels like I’ve been here before, but how could that be? I’m working so hard to move forward. Over my shoulder, I can feel the breath of my enemy as he whispers his lies that I’m never going to actually get where I want so badly to go… that I’ll never set foot on the soil of my dreams.

Lately, I’ve made a commitment to read through the Old Testament – such an important but often misinterpreted and underrepresented part of God’s Word to us. However, against the backdrop of my aforementioned feelings, one doesn’t find much solace in the stories of the likes of Moses. How disappointed do you think Moses was with how his life turned out? Is it safe to say he peaked early?

Saved from slaughter, sent on a death-defying journey downstream and plucked from the river by people who should have probably left him for dead. Quite a start to a young life. Follow that with receiving a divine calling from God, challenging arguably the most powerful human on the planet in his day, and leading thousands of his brethren on a harrowing journey toward the promise land. The start of Moses’ life was the stuff of action novels… and then what?

He wandered, tired and weary, through a dessert with a group of ungrateful and imperfect people until it was ultimately revealed to him that it would not be him, but his “understudy” Joshua, who would get to take the ball into the end zone. Moses himself – a chosen man of God who physically interacted with our all-powerful Creator – never himself set foot on the soil of his dreams – the Promised Land of the Israelites.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this story of Moses as I’ve been reading John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go. I received the book as part of a Bible study that ended up being postponed, but it was clearly the Lord’s plan that I receive this book early and have it as I navigate this season of my life. The book is essentially built around God’s message to the church in Revelations 3, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut… (Rev. 3:8)” Ortberg’s premise is that our God is not a God who sets out for our life a single “correct” direction, or a God who conducts a “right/wrong” test when putting choices in front of his children. Our God is a God of open doors, and each door has its own challenges and rewards behind it. Regardless, God is with us as we walk through through doors and experience what is on the other side. 

Ortberg’s interpretation of this age-old struggle has been formative in how I view my relationship with God, and about how I approach discerning His will for my life. It has also challenged my previously-held notion that there is a “best yes” or a specific direction I am supposed to take, like his words below.

“I did not realize for many years that what I was looking for wasn’t so much ‘God’s will for my life.’ What I was really looking for was a way to be relieved of the anxiety that comes with taking responsibility for making a difficult decision.” -John Ortberg, All the Places to Go

That one hit me deep.Have I truly been seeking “God’s Will” for my life? Or am I simply searching for an easy way out of  a hard decision?

Toward the end of his book, Ortberg got me in the feels again. In expanding on his thoughts around open doors, he touches on two books titledThe Door in the Wall,one an award-winning children’s book and one by H.G. Wells. The books don’t matter as much as the concept – often, in our journey through life’s open doors, we discover an unexpected wall instead. If you think about it, walls and doors are only valuable because the other exists. A wall needs a door to seem important, just as a door lacks importance without a wall to guide one toward it. 

That thought brings me back to Moses. Early in his life, Moses walked through God’s open door to deliver his people from the grips of Pharaoh – and how valiantly and obediently he did walk through that open door! That door opened right into the Red Sea. Walking through that door was unlike any door you or I could likely ever imagine. Upon crossing through that door, however, Moses ran head-long into a wall that cut through a desolate dessert wilderness. Moses followed along that wall for forty. LONG. years. 

And then what, you ask?!

Well, he found a door. As it turns out, this door sat on the banks of the Jordan River. Through it, you could see the Promised Land that had been foretold by God. There was only one catch, though.God wasn’t going to open this door for Moses. This was a door for his successor, Joshua. Moses spent the last years of his life not as a God-ordained hero galloping through open doors in glory; he spent the last part of his life as a wanderer, feeling his way along the wall between the doors of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. He finally found the door, and he essentially dies at its threshold. Not an inspiring story at face value…

And yet, we can rejoice.We can rejoice because of the simple fact that open doors exist in our life, thanks to God. He opens doors and is just as joyful as we are when he sees us skip through them and take hold of what he intends for us on the other side. We can be thankful for open doors, for it says in His Word that “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open.” (Rev. 3:7). Open doors can only be opened by God; they are a gift to us in this lifetime, even if those gifts don’t always make sense at face value. Just ask Moses.

In closing, pause for a moment and consider what that same door meant in the life of Joshua, who walked with Moses along the wall.The door that Moses discovered at the Jordan was opened by God for Moses’ successor, Joshua. Through that door, the young prophet delivered God’s chosen people into the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. On the other side of that open door, the walls of Jericho would fall, and great kings would be defeated for the glory of God. Even though Moses never got to walk through it, this was a door worth finding. I can’t imagine that Moses wouldn’t back me up on that.

Therefore, let us be encouraged. For when we find ourselves along the wall we can smile and journey forth knowing that another door is bound to be ahead, and that God is walking with us in joyful anticipation of what He has placed just down the path.

In Him, HB

Undone {and Conflicted}

If I had to express one word out of the pit of my soul at this very moment, it would be ‘conflicted.’ For some reason, I can’t take the win. I can’t seem to sit still in the presence of God and all He is doing in my life. I find myself – in the midst of this moment I have been seeking after – still glancing down the path to see what is next – or worse, grabbing at my grand plans to try and dust them off so I can add another set of goals and objectives. So I can make sure things end up where *I* want them to.

I struggle with whether my natural bend towards planning and pushing is a spiritual gift or an obstruction… a mirage placed in my path by the enemy in an attempt to keep me from ever fully realizing the peace and rest that God desires for me to experience. I can’t seem to find peace in busy-ness… or peace in rest. My soul is conflicted.

That conflict seems to so easily spread throughout all corners of my life, like a massive wildfire that starts as a result of a single match thrown out of a car window. That fire has been raging since Ashley’s last blog post several weeks ago. 

The enemy must not have been very happy about that blog; not long after Ash’s last post about her being firmly anchored faith in Christ, he retaliated. Ash, after having several great months of progress toward her recovery from Lyme, had some devastating set-backs. After having regained a sense of hope that there was light at the end of the tunnel… the goal posts were seemingly moved, causing doubt and, ultimately, leading yet again to a place of unbelief in God’s supreme goodness and mercy. How quickly we both went back to that place. 

Wherever there is faith in the Lord, the enemy will be trying to sow seeds of doubt. Wherever there is assurance in Him, the enemy will try to make things seem so uncertain. Whenever we start to draw our strength from God, there is an enemy working to play on our fears.

Newton’s Third Law of Physics says that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In my faith journey, part of that seems to hold true as well. Every time I act to move closer to God and His plan for my life, the enemy seems to react by attempting to fill my mind with fear and doubts. Thankfully though, unlike physics, the forces of our enemy are nowhere near equal to the unceasing and boundless powers of God. There is no end to the love, grace and mercy He pours out on us.

Over the last few weeks, Ashley and I had lost hope. We had believed lies. We had made agreements with the enemy that God had forgotten about us or was punishing us. Thankfully, that entire time, God was there surrounding us with his love and patiently reminding us that hope only comes from Him. 

If you’ve ever lost hope, or if you’re feeling like you are in the midst of a dark season, take heart. No matter what this world throws at us, He has already overcome it (John 16:33). 

Everyone stumbles. Everyone doubts. Everyone gets down. No exceptions. When we stake our hope in Jesus and give our life over to Him, we inherit a sworn enemy. When we take the side of light, the forces of darkness will oppose us. Thankfully, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Following Jesus never ensures me of a life free from pain or struggle, but it does guarantee me a seat at the imminent victory celebration banquet. The battle is already won, friends. Our day is already dawning. In the meantime, stay strong in the shadows.

In Him, Heath

Undone {but Firmly Anchored in Him}

God finally gave me an answer to my prayer…in His time

After all of the doctors we pursued came back to me empty-handed, with no answer or direction to offer me, my loving, caring Mom took it into her own hands to find an answer (she, my Dad, and Heath were just as consumed with finding an answer and a cure as I was).  She completed countless hours of research and stayed up many a night in search of a solution. She was convinced I had Lyme disease and encouraged me to pursue a Lyme disease diagnosis. It took a lot of convincing because no doctor even mentioned Lyme disease as a possibility over the years and certainly did not test for it. But, we reached the end of a long line of doctors and still didn’t have a solution, so why not?

After much searching for a Lyme-literate doctor (it is a process, and there are very few doctors who specialize in Lyme disease), God blessed me with a Lyme-literate, holistic physician in Oklahoma City. She pursued a treatment-first approach, in which she treated me for Lyme disease since my symptoms supported the theory, and if it worked, we could assume I had it (at that time, the blood tests available for chronic Lyme disease were not very accurate and there was a strong possibility it would come back as a false negative). This was not exactly the clear-cut answer I had been praying for, but I’d take it. It turns out, my mom was right! She found the answer I had been searching for all those years, an answer no doctor was able to give me! For the first time in years, my health improved. I started to get my life back. I started to get off of the couch! 

Just as I was making good progress – and in large part because I was making good progress – we took a leap and moved to North Carolina to begin a new chapter. We really felt God calling us here, so we came, and now looking back, we’re only beginning to discover the many reasons He has us here.  Y’all, I can’t say it enough…God is always working, and He is always good. After we settled into our new life on the East Coast, it became increasingly difficult for my physician, who was now half the country away, to effectively treat me. I’m not gonna lie, when she told me she could no longer treat me and asked me to find a new practitioner in my area, I felt abandoned and let down—hopeless yet again…but not for long…God was at work again!  

A new friend of mine introduced me to her friend, who invited me to a conference that I uncharacteristically agreed to attend. At the conference, I “just so happened” to sit next to a woman undergoing Lyme disease treatment with a holistic physician she loves and has had great success with. Hmmm…sounds like God at work, huh?! This woman gave me her doctor’s business card, and low and behold, I became a patient of hers too!  This practitioner is an incredible Christian woman who is in tune with the Holy Spirit, who speaks Truth to us, and who prays with us!  Since I’ve been seeing her, I have gotten even more of my life back, and in November 2017, I finally received the official diagnosis I had been praying for for 6 ½ years—Lyme disease plus 5 co-infections of Lyme (ticks are nasty little bugs that don’t just carry 1 disease), all of which were still active and wreaking havoc in my body. 

For the first time in a very long time, I have hope for remission, and I have 6 months to 1 year left of treatment to get me there.  Even if true healing never comes, and if how I’m feeling now is my “new normal,” I’m gonna be okay because my hope is anchored in Jesus. I believe that He is good, He is love, He is faithful, He is working everything out for my good, and therefore, all is well.

Unanswered prayers aren’t a bad thing at all.

My unanswered prayers for all of those years have produced incredible fruit in my life. I understand now what Paul meant when he said in 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10: “…and then He told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” (MSG)

Along the same vein as the above verse, have you heard the Scarssong by I Am They?  It is beautiful, and I highly recommend listening to it!  I just heard it yesterday on the radio, and something in my Spirit told my ears to perk up. Have you ever had that happen…you’re driving down the road listening mindlessly to the radio and then all of a sudden, the words become so clear, and God speaks a sweet word straight to your heart? He does that for me through music, and He did it again with this song yesterday. I was touched deeply by the song, so I Googled the video with lyrics.  Here’s the first verse and chorus:

“We came up to a new sunrise

Looking back from the other side

I can see now with open eyes

Darkest water and deepest pain

Wouldn’t trade it for anything

‘Cause my brokenness brought me to You

And these wounds are stories You’ll use

So I’m thankful for the scars

‘Cause without them I wouldn’t know Your heart

And I know they’ll always tell of who You are

So forever I am thankful for the scars”

I bawled like a baby listening to it again and letting the words wash over me.  Taking this time to process my last 8 years (something I honestly haven’t taken the time to do because I haven’t wanted to for fear that it would be too painful) has been so sweet. I’ve had the opportunity to go beyond the pain, the dark days, the hopelessness to see, remember, reflect on, and be thankful for all of the good things that have come out of my illness.

I want to share a few of them with you.

If it wasn’t for my illness, I would’ve missed out on countless opportunities to see and experience God, to let Him be my provision, to let Him show up and awe me, to let Him love me and care for me as His adored daughter!  Y’all, God is our PERSONAL God, and He delights in us!  What He allows to happen shapes us, molds us, transforms us, draws us closer to Him.  

I never would have experienced the power of prayer—there is nothing more sacred or powerful or holy than someone interceding for you while holding your hands and entering into your pain. There is nothing more special than someone believing healing and miracles for you when you didn’t believe them for yourself. Because someone did that for me, I’ve been able to do that for others.

I never would have learned how God’s strength can become my own if I hadn’t been ill.  I am reminded of the story of the Israelites in the desert after fleeing from Egypt (Exodus 16). They had to rely on God DAILY for manna, for nourishment, for His provision. Like the Israelites, daily, deep dependence on God became the norm for me just to get out of bed most mornings. But you know what?  He came through for me, day in and day out. He heard my cries and my prayers. His strength truly became my own. I often found myself driving home from work or at the end of a long day thinking, “Wow!  That wasn’t me…that was God! Only HE could’ve gotten me through today!” 

I never would have learned of His incredible provision for me had it not been for my journey. Jesus provided for me every day, not only strength, but resources and people.  He provided ways for us to pay my bills that poured in—through the generosity of family and friends at work who graciously held fundraisers for me. He provided me with the love of family and community—people who were wiling to pour into me, even when I had nothing to give back to them. People brought meals (my sweet sister and friend Heather were the best at creatively cooking around all of my various dietary needs of any given day!) and sent cards and care packages, prayed for me, cried with me, sat with me and encouraged me. My parents sacrificed so much to take me to appointment after appointment all over the country and were there for all of my surgeries and the ugly aftermaths of them. It killed them not to be able to cure me or make me well or find the answers, but what they’ve done for my soul and heart are beyond words and beyond my gratitude. My sister and her family provided pet sitting for every trip we took while I was sick. They gave us peace of mind to not have to worry about our fur babies when we were worried about everything else.  My sister even drove hours to pick up our pups and to bring them back to us.  And Heath—he’s more than held up his end of our vows for the last 8 of our 11 married years. He has done things for me and seen things and experienced things that no husband should ever have to. He stuck by my side and showed me true love, unconditional love, a love I am so blessed to know. He’s shown me deep compassion and dedication. He was there for me every moment, every appointment, every trip, every surgery. He joined me on the couch night after night when I didn’t have the strength to go out. He cried with me in the middle of the night. He prayed with me when I was scared. He bathed me when I didn’t have the strength to move my arms. 

I never would have grasped the idea of “anchored hope” or of true joy. This is the most valuable lesson Jesus has taught me through my illness, and a message I want to proclaim to you: our hope should be in NO THING and NO ONE other than JESUS!  He’s the ONLY ONE who will not let us down. Waves can crash over us, life can crumble all around us, our bodies can fall apart, medications can make us sicker, doctors can come up empty-handed, but if Jesus is the HOPE that ANCHORS us, these things will not phase us like they did me during my illness. So if I can offer one thing to you, it’s JESUS!  Keep your eyes focused on HIM and Him only and you have nothing to fear, nothing that can let you down, nothing that can leave you utterly hopeless.

I’ve been writing this post through tears streaming down my face, through ugly cries and gasps. Looking back at all of these moments, memories, hard times and good, I truly am thankful for my scars. I am thankful for my journey. I am thankful for the good fruit God produced from a seemingly terrible situation. God showed up and showed me His heart. 

And thank You, Lord, for Yourtime and not mine.  As you can see, if I had gotten my way 8 years ago, I’d still be the same person I was back then, unchanged, my heart untouched, and without this testimony to share. Although in those years things got dark and looked bleak, my situation appeared hopeless, and I often wondered whether or not I’d make it though, God knew what He was doing all along. I’ll leave you with the chorus of the Defendersong I mentioned last week, which speaks of God’s goodness and sovereignty and of His heart for us (even when what we perceive is bad and painful):

“Hallelujah You have saved me

So much better Your way

Hallelujah Great Defender

So much better Your way” 

Thank you for taking the time to read about how Christ has undone me. If my journey sounds like something you’re going through and I can be of help to you, please let me know! I would invite you to click ‘Connect’ at the top of the page so I know who you are. I would love to come alongside you, as others (and Jesus Himself) have done for me.

Anchored in Him, Ash

Undone {on the Bathroom Floor}

Where do I begin?  How do I tell my story?  How do I put the last 8 years into words?

I sit here trying to think of what to write, how to share my story, and I keep thinking about Heath’s recent posts regarding unanswered prayers. I have been sick since June 2011, and for the first 6 ½ (long!) years of my illness, my prayers for an answer and a cure went unanswered. I begged, I cried out to, I pleaded with, and I bargained with God to take my illness from me, to give me an answer and a cure, and when that didn’t come, I pulled away from Him, angry, upset, feeling let down, abandoned, and alone. I felt like Paul probably did when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-8 “At first I didn’t think of it (my handicap) as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that…” (MSG)

Hindsight is always 20/20, and now looking back on the last 8 years of my life, I can see that God was always working and that He always had a plan for me all along, even when I couldn’t see it or feel Him. He was doing in me through my illness what He promises all of us in Romans 8:28 “…we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (MSG)

He always had me in His arms, in His sights, in His heart. He was using my illness to do a work in me, in my life, in my heart—to shape me into the person He created me to be. He was pulling me into deeper relationship with Him. I am not the same person today that I was in 2011 before my illness. I am forever changed. I have been given a testimony, an opportunity, to share God’s goodness with you. No matter what you are going through, whether it’s illness like me or something else, don’t ever forget that God is good, He is working, He is love, He is faithful, He’s in control, and that what we want isn’t always His best for us. We have to trust Him and His ways—that what He has in store for us, although it may be incredibly painful in the moment, is infinitely better than anything we could have asked for or imagined (Ephesians 3:20).  

Jesus Met Me on the Bathroom Floor

My illness began with what I thought was morning sickness. It turns out I wasn’t pregnant, and my initial symptoms were just the beginning of a growing list of symptoms. Like a ravenous lion with a gazelle in his sights, I chased down an answer and a cure. I went to multiple doctors in the area I was living in at the time. When they couldn’t find an answer, they referred me to doctors at the state hospital. When they couldn’t find an answer, they referred me to a team of doctors at the Mayo Clinic, and when they couldn’t find an answer, I went to a doctor down in Houston. That entire time, through all those years, I felt increasingly desperate, and I was willing to undergo whatever the doctors told me to to try to find an answer. I underwent 5 surgeries, tried numerous medications, visited nearly 70 different doctors, had so much blood drawn that I can’t even feel the needle anymore, and endured countless tests, scans, and procedures. And after all of that, nothing. No answer. No magic pill. No cure. No hope. I was done. I was spent. I was depressed. I felt all alone. 

I became so consumed with my illness and finding a diagnosis and treatment that I lost who I was. My identity was tied up in my illness. I quit dreaming, and I lost my passion, my zest for life. What did I have to live for? Another appointment that would disappoint me? Another pill that would only give me another symptom, rather than take one away? Another test, procedure, or surgery that would leave me feeling more ill than when I went in for it?  Another blood draw that would reveal that something was wrong but couldn’t specify what? 

I found myself numbing my mind with Netflix show after Netflix show. I watched more Netflix in a few years than anyone should watch in a lifetime. In fact, I wore a nice little dent in our couch cushion; it was so deep it couldn’t be fluffed out. We sold that couch in a recent garage sale because Heath didn’t want that daily reminder of some really bad times looking back at him in our new place. Mind-numbing was easier than facing what was happening to me, not only to my body but also to my heart. My Bible sat at the bottom of my bedside table for years, unopened, collecting layers upon layers of dust. What was the use?

Then, just when I found myself at the very bottom, at the end of my rope, utterly hopeless, completely undone, and in so much pain, Jesus met me on the bathroom floor. The end of me in that moment was just the beginning of Him…

I had gone out to dinner earlier that night with Heath’s family, who was in town visiting us for the weekend. I began to feel so sick after eating a very savory meal and was in pain beyond managing with what medications I had at the time. An undiagnosed illness is a hard thing for so many people to grasp—“but, you look fine” people would say, or “if the doctors can’t find anything, maybe it’s in your head”—and at the time, his family didn’t understand what I was experiencing, enduring, silently suffering. So, instead of going home after dinner, which is what my body desperately needed, we ended up at a new museum that had recently opened. I didn’t get to enjoy this family outing; instead, I went straight to the bathroom, where I sat in the stall, in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out in pain. 

Eventually, we made it home, and the germaphobe in me convinced me to take a shower before collapsing into bed. Well, I physically couldn’t endure it. I didn’t have the strength. So after just a minute—long enough to become soaking wet but remain dirty—I inched my way out of the shower and onto the bathmat. I was empty. I was broken. I was in desperate need. I cried out to Jesus, and y’all, He met me right there, on the bathroom floor. I could feel His presence as if He was physically right there with me. I could feel His arms wrapped tightly around me. And of course, when you experience something like that, you just crumple into the arms of Jesus and bawl even more, but this time, not out of pain or suffering or depression or emptiness, but out of renewed hope and joy and strength, knowing that you are the daughter of The King, cared for, loved, cherished, not forgotten or abandoned. 

Two things come to mind as I relive that sweet, unforgettable moment…(1) the lyrics in the song Defenderthat are so true for me and my life and for that special instant:

“When I thought I lost me

You knew where I left me

You reintroduced me to Your love

You picked up all my pieces

Put me back together

You are the Defender of my heart”

And (2) the words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.” (MSG)

So, verse 4 is my new hope—that God uses me to come alongside others going through hard times so that I can comfort them just as He did for me.  What an incredible opportunity and calling for those of us who have been through some stuff!  What a gift God places within us to not let our suffering be in vain!  We have been given a testimony, and we get to share God’s goodness with each other, to encourage each other, to remind each other of the hope we have in Jesus, to help each other find joy in the daily struggles. 

I’ll leave you, friends, with this beautiful picture of our loving Jesus and what He does for us amidst our trials. I can’t think of a better stopping spot. Next week, I’ll reveal His answer to my prayers and the fruit that God has produced in my life through this illness. I look forward to sharing with you again!

Anchored in Him, Ash

Undone {and Unanswered} – Pt. 2

(This one is long, but worth it. Promise.) 

Trusting in God is not my default setting.

When my prayers go unanswered, my first instinct is often to blame God – or, worse, to believe the lies that God doesn’t care or isn’t paying attention. In the valley – the deep, dark places where life is crumbling around me – I can pretty quickly convince myself that God is distancing himself from me. It feels at times like He has taken a “spiritual leave of absence” from my life. How can He see me – or others I care about – struggling and still refuse to throw out a life preserver?

When those thoughts creep into my mind, I often find myself forgetting three critical truths about who God is: 

  1. God never meant for us to experience such a level of suffering in this lifetime. Much of the pain and loss we feel is a result of living in a fallen world. The truth is that our God promises never to leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:8).
  2. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, so it is not only spiritually impossible to be separated from God… it is also physically impossible. The truth is that God has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell inside of us (1 Cor. 6:19). 
  3. Although God is able to do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20), there are times when he chooses not to – for reasons we cannot always understand. The truth is, even though He always can, He sometimes doesn’t.

My understanding of these truths began in the Summer of 2011. Ashley and I were packing boxes as we prepared to move into our first “real life adult house.” A house we would own and not rent, as we had been doing up to that point in our young lives. As we were packing up, I started to notice that Ash was a little “off.” I asked her what the matter was, and she explained to me that she was feeling nauseous and was experiencing some stomach pain and cramping. My first thought was, “Oh my gosh… we’re having a baby!” Immediately, my mind jumped to becoming a father. We were having a baby, moving into a real-life house… in an instant, I was pretty impressed with just how much “adulting” we seemed to be squeezing into that particular season.

That was what I wanted to see happen. In reality, that was not even close to what was just ahead of us. 

We weren’t pregnant. At first, the doctors thought it was endometriosis, a condition in which tissue that normally lines a woman’s uterus instead grows on the outside of the uterus. There was an exploratory surgery, followed by some initial relief that they did, fact find some tissue where it wasn’t supposed to be. That surgery was followed by recovery, a lot of hoping and praying that this was it. Then came more unexplained pain… and the inevitable let down that we were not at an answer. 

The pain in her abdomen continued, and now there were other pains – joint pain, muscle pain, bone pain – on top of a crippling fatigue. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a joyful chapter in our life together as man and wife was instead transformed into a living nightmare. The new home where we envisioned all these happy moments turned out instead to be my wife’s personal infirmary.

Ash had more surgeries, more tests, more scans, more biopsies. So many theories emerged – lupus, heart problems, rheumatoid arthritis, various syndromes and diseases I had never even heard of. We went at first to local specialists and doctors who were hopeful and drew up different treatment plans. Inevitably, though, they got frustrated by the contradictory examinations and testing. They gave up, not knowing where to turn. So, we were sent packing. We were referred on to the regional hospitals, then the state hospitals, hospitals out of state, and even up to Minnesota to visit the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. More theories, more ideas, more scans, more tests, more surgeries, more pills… but no relief. 

No answered prayers.

I began to lose faith, not only in God but also in the “experts” who I always believed would hold the answers. My hope was put in these doctors and it was badly shaken… eventually shattered. Meanwhile, there I was. Watching my vibrant, healthy, upbeat wife slowly turn a shade of greyish green. Seeing her atrophy on a couch (at one point losing nearly 60% of her muscle mass, according to one of her doctors). She was slipping away from me, and I was powerless to stop it. 

I was having conversations with myself that I never would have imagined having in my mid-to-late twenties. “What happens if I lose my wife?” “What if the family I’ve always imagined having isn’t going to be with this woman, the only woman I’ve ever loved?” “Who am I, if I’m not with her?” God seemed so far away… like he was stubbornly silent in my misery and despair.

Weeks of illness and pain turned into months and then into years. I can’t tell you the number of nights I went to bed hearing Ashley’s gentle sobs as she dealt with her intense pain. I can tell you from personal experience – no amount of melatonin will help you sleep when your best friend is lying awake next to you in unspeakable anguish. That is a truly dark and hopeless place to be. When I close my eyes and imagine what hell might look like, those are the memories and experiences that come to mind. That was life from 2011-2015. For four years, I woke up every day, accepted the disappointment of yet more unanswered prayers and put my head down to try and survive. It felt more often than not that we were just grinding out the clock. 

Yet, here I am today… eight years later. As I sit here writing this, Ashley’s battle continues. However, thanks be to God, in recent years my wife has slowly begun to reclaim the ground of her former life. She has a “new normal” in many ways – new diet, unconventional doctors and complex routines – but she is coming back to life. In 2017, six years after our journey began, Ashley was finally given a formal diagnosis of Lyme Disease, most likely from a tick bite at a summer BBQ back home in Oklahoma years ago. 

Since then, she has been on a holistic treatment plan with a fantastic doctor and we can finally see some light at the end of this tunnel. It has been awful, but yet we both today count this chapter in our life as one of God’s richest blessings. I have never been prouder of my wife. I have never been so inspired by her strength, courage and faith. I have never taken her less for granted.

It was only in her moments of pain and suffering that we arrived at a point where we had to fully rely on God to get us through. It was in our deepest anguish that He brought some amazing people to our side to help us through – people like Ashley’s parents, Gary and Terry, who literally put their life on hold to accompany us to countless appointments, road trips to clinics, and surgery recoveries. They were with us through everything.

In the midst of so many unanswered prayers, God was writing an incredible story for us to tell – and giving us a deep empathy and heart for so many others we have since met who are navigating such similar struggles in their lives.  God could have made Ashley better at any point throughout these last eight years. We both believe that 100%. But He knew that doing so would have cheapened the blessings that have flowed from this season of our lives. 

In reality, Ashley’s illness has been a Holy place in and of itself, teaching us so much about the character and steadfast Spirit of God, instilling in both of us a concrete understanding of our complete and total need for Him every day. It has simultaneously been the worst and best thing to ever happen to us.

My experience with all that Ashley went through was from the perspective of her caretaker, her husband, her best friend. As much as I have wanted to take her suffering away, I have been stuck on the sidelines of her suffering. All I could do was to try and help keep her comfortable and make sure she knew that I was by her side, through thick and thin. She lived through it from a much different angle, and her story is similar… but also very different. 

That is why I am so excited to let you know that Ashley has agreed to share her story on Undone next week as my first-ever Guest Blogger. Hers is a powerful testimony to the strength and endurance that comes from a deep and daily reliance on Christ in the midst of incredible uncertainty. I cannot wait for her to share it with you all.

Until then, may you continue to be reminded that God is in control, and He is FOR US in all things, whether those things are what we are praying for… or the exact opposite. What we go through doesn’t change who God is and what He has done for us. Ever.

In His Love, HB 

Undone {and Unanswered} – Pt. 1

I will be first. I will be the best. I will stand out. I will prove them all wrong. I can’t trust anyone. The best course for me is to go it alone. I don’t need anyone else.

Growing up in brokenness, those are just a few of the agreements I made with the Enemy. Those were just a few of the lies he whispered to me in my childhood that I chose to accept as truth… that I let develop into a stronghold in my soul. Those lies were the compass I oriented the map of my life around. My start in life was unfair, and the only way I would ever feel vengeance or achieve validation would be to out-rank, out-earn, and out-achieve all of those who had doubted me… who made me feel I wasn’t worthy or didn’t belong.

I convinced myself that this was called motivation… drive… ambition. In reality, I was creating a spirit of vengeance and independence. I let lies control my life and shape my path. For a good two decades or more, I ignored God’s plan for my life entirely. 

I put God on pause for a while so I could settle a few scores. It was my time.

Of course, that was all a mirage. Earning a graduate degree didn’t help. Buying a big house didn’t help. Achieving the title of President/CEO didn’t help. Earning a six figure paycheck didn’t help. None of those achievements and accomplishments ever made me feel vindicated or avenged; none of it addressed the true need I had. The “victories” I achieved from my own work somehow just felt hollow. After the celebrations were over, I still went home hurting… unsatisfied. Does that sound familiar?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus addresses this same emptiness in a conversation at Jacob’s well with a Samaritan woman. Both Jesus and the woman are at the well to satisfy a real and immediate need they have – it is hot and they are tired and thirsty. However, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the woman that – although we are able to seek and find things that may meet our immediate physical needs or desires – there is only one who can truly quench the thirst we have inside of us for something deeper. Jesus is the One, and He offers us not just any water… but living water. “Everyone who drinks this water [from the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).”

In accepting the gift of forgiveness and salvation that Jesus offers us, he gives us something we can’t give ourselves – grace and mercy.

Accepting the grace of Christ has healed much of the damage I inflicted on myself early in life. For example, growing up believing lies about myself, I made an agreement with the Enemy not to let other people get close to me. I kept everyone at an arm’s length. I would only share so much. I would only be so vulnerable. In most encounters, I would offer up the standard fare – work, weather, sports, travel – typical “surface stuff.” What I have realized since recommitting my life to Jesus is that, in order to fully live out His true calling for my life, I need His help to break down my learned defensive mechanisms. My old ways and instincts have to be undone. 

At 34, I am re-learning how to be vulnerable… how to be myself.  

That work doesn’t only happen in private behind closed doors. Christ calls us into community with other believers. I am learning to live out my vulnerability and brokenness in front of others. It is happening in real time with people I love and care deeply about… and it has been amazing. The Lord has brought some incredible people into my life and the relationships I have been able to form with them have been so much deeper and so much more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. In being honest and open with others, I have discovered so many similarities between my story and the stories of others. It has been a healing experience for me and it has also given me a front row seat to the awesome power with which God can move in peoples’ lives.

So what happens in those relationships when God chooses to let our most heartfelt and sincere prayers to Him remain unanswered, or when we get the opposite of what we believe to be the best outcome? Next week, I look forward to continuing this story and sharing about the biggest unanswered prayer in my life to date. It has taught me so much about who God is and it has revealed to me so much about His plans for my life.

Until then, I pray that you will have (or continue to have) the courage and strength to be open and vulnerable in your relationships with others. Doing so gives God the power to show you His complete purpose for bringing people into our life or across our path. You will be glad you did.

In His Love, HB