Estranged + Astray

God has felt so far for too long. 

He seems like nothing more than a distant relative. It's as if I know He loves me like an aunt I've only seen a handful of times "loves" me merely because we're of the same blood.

I know God loves me because I have faith in His word and His promise, but do I really believe it? 
Do I fully trust that He loves me so much that His son died on the cross for my sins and conquered death for me? 

To the Lord, it's as if I'm an estranged daughter to her father, an estranged sister to her sibling. I've been led astray by my own hurts and sadness to seek comfort in the things that entice me with the promise of instant satisfaction. It's easier to watch that show, listen to that podcast, or read that article to feel smart, clean the house to champion productivity, eat that piece of cake, drink that glass of wine... only to find that all of it is ephemerally satisfying and none of it eternally. It's harder to look inside of myself and acknowledge my mess, ask forgiveness for my wrongdoings, and lay my sin down at the Lord's feet. 

And, yet again, I know a life pursuing God will be eternally satisfying because of His word,  but am I willing to lay my life down for Him? And if I'm not, does that mean my faith in Him is actually not faith at all but a false sense of security in thinking that at least I won't be condemned to hell as long as I believe when I really don't?

I hate that I don't really know.
I hate that lately I only have questions and all of them are unanswered.
I hate that I'm clawing at the door, begging for it to open, only to find I'm at the wrong door, that God isn't there.

Where is the Father's voice? 
Where is His overwhelming peace?
Where is His love?

Where  are You, Lord?

I never wanted to be a mother.

Today marks Week 14 of our first pregnancy. I am now at a point I can truthfully and sincerely answer the question, "Aren't you so excited?" with, "I am getting excited! I'm not as anxious about it as I was." It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was dealing with so much guilt and shame, which is accounted for in today's blog post.

This post was originally a  journal entry written frantically into my phone at 2 am, about a week after we found out about our pregnancy. I was barely 6 weeks along. I thought a lot about whether or not I should edit this before posting it, or even if I should post it at all, because there are some expletives that are uncharacteristic of my writing for this blog. However, these words are my raw emotions, these words are real, and I would not be doing myself or other women like me justice by sugarcoating my experience.


Nothing like pregnancy has made me so painfully aware of how out of control I am of my life and everything around me.

Physically, pregnancy has made me feel like shit. I’m nauseated, exhausted, and all I want to do is sleep, watch tv, and eat grilled cheese sandwiches or peanut butter mashed into bananas. And none of this helps me actually shit anything out. I feel like a burden to my husband, who has taken up most of the cooking while taking care of me, and I feel like a bad wife.

Emotionally, pregnancy makes me feel like a lunatic.
I’m crying one minute, depressed the next, and then completely in awe of the life inside of me, only to feel all of the feelings all over again. It’s a never-ending fucking cycle.
I feel burdened by the possibility of miscarriage - it scares me, haunts me, and I have cried on many occasions just thinking about it, just saying it outloud.
All the while, I feel guilty about secretly hoping I will miscarry so that this will all be over.

As we have slowly started telling family and friends that we’re pregnant, people expect me to be more excited. They’re surprised by my candor - "how can you say it like it’s just something normal?" And I want to shout, "But it is normal! It's part of being a human! Should I have built up the suspense for you? Am I supposed to wave my arms around and shout, 'Surprise!' How am I to respond to your response? And how am I to respond to you responding to how I responded?" 

I am left feeling so guilty and ashamed of my feelings, wishing I'd never said anything at all.

But why do I feel so guilty for feeling all of these perfectly normal human feelings?
Why should I hide these emotions away? 
How dare others tell me that it’ll be worth it later?
How dare they tell me that having children will be so much fun?
What about me now? What about my emotions, now. What about NOW?
Do other pregnant women not feel this way? Or think these thoughts?
Am I alone?

In no way do I want to wrap this up and finish it off with a bow.
There’s nothing about how I feel that I want to package up all nice and neat and pretty.

 
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I never wanted to be pregnant.

I will never say, “Every woman must/should/has to experience pregnancy and motherhood!”
No woman should ever be made to feel guilty or ashamed for not wanting to be.

I never wanted to be a mother.

I never even pretended I wanted to be. Whenever I played “house” with friends, I always refused to be “mom”; I called dibs on being the baby or the house pet.

I’m not even sure I feel love for the baby inside of me. And maybe that sounds terrible, but right now it’s the truth. I’ve seen the sonograms, heard the heartbeat, but it still doesn’t seem real yet. And maybe it won’t be until the baby is born.

I don’t want to lie and say, “I can’t wait to meet my baby!”
Honestly, in my bare-naked selfishness, I can’t wait to just not be pregnant.

I can’t wait to not feel like a burden on my husband.
I can’t wait to  not worry about my heart rate spiking too high at the gym.
I can’t wait to eat all of the foods I love that I can’t eat or currently make me nauseous.

I just want my body back.
I want my life back the way it used to be.

And then I think about all of the women who have struggled and are struggling with infertility, those who know the pain of miscarriage, and I feel even more ashamed. I feel ashamed that the blessing in my belly seems nothing more than a curse to me, nothing more than a barrier to the things I want to do. And it all comes down to the shameful realization of how selfish I really am. The shame turns into guilt and then into fear - I am not ready to be a mother. I don't deserve to be a mother. Why have I been chosen to be a mother? Has God made a mistake?

I just want to trust God. I want to believe - no, I do believe He does not make mistakes.
However, in my flesh, I want control and have yet to let go of that control to God. But I don’t want that anymore. I want to put my trust Him.
Not trusting God is not a new thing. But now it’s amplified by my experiences of pregnancy thus far. I am hyper aware of the fact that God has been absent in my life for quite some time now - I’ve pushed Him away thinking I was fine without him.  

But is my awareness enough for me to cry out to Him?
Is His goodness and grace enough for me?

A Measure of Grace | A guest post by Julie Presley

I am an expert on grace. Nay. I am an expert on needing grace. The funny thing is that I’ve only realized that in the past couple of years, and it took an incredible journey into a dark pit in order for me to come to grips with my humanity.

You see, I know how to do this Christian life, and do it well. I am a worship leader, a mentor, and I know all the right things to say and do. I am equipped with the tools necessary to find and walk in healing, and do lead others through it as well. Jesus and I are tight.

The problem for me was that I didn’t see myself as someone in need of grace because of the way I have lived my life. When I considered the cross and what Jesus did there, it really didn’t occur to me that I was sinful enough to need a sacrifice like that. Of course I never would have said this out loud. I wasn’t even fully aware of the issue until two years ago.

 
 HAND LETTER: Ephesians 4:7 “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
 

Two years ago we left the first place I’d ever felt at home in 10 years of marriage and moved to a new city where I knew absolutely no one.

I was devastated to say goodbye to friendships and to uproot ourselves for the umpteenth time; I was lonely and weak. If there is anything that is true, it’s that those two words, “lonely” and “weak” are like an alert siren for the enemy’s attack. Temptation entered my life in a way I never dreamed was possible for me, the good little “praise team girl”. 

Temptation came in the form of an online conversation with a man who was not my husband, and I let it linger. I let it toy with me, and I even reached out for it a little because it had the façade of comfort, value and escape. 

You know how they say women are most beautiful in candlelight? It’s because the shadows hide the flaws in our skin, the wrinkles around our eyes. The same is true for temptation. Darkness blinds us to its warts and scales. 

The proverbial lights were turned on and I looked at what temptation was doing to me. I was appalled and I fought with all I had against it, but then the lights would dim and temptation’s appearance suddenly became shiny and enticing again, and I would admit that I was just too weak and lonely to do the hard thing: turn the lights back on. 

I danced with temptation in the darkness and in the fleeting moments of daylight, I saw my own warts and scales for what they really were. Soon, not even the light was enough to keep me away; I chose to ignore the ugliness that had become me. The conversation fed my starving and wounded soul.

I knew there was only one way out, but I was too weak to stand on my own two feet and expose myself. I was terrified of the repercussions. Thankfully, the conversation ended, but not by my doing. For a long time I was ashamed of that. Ashamed that I wasn’t strong enough to dig myself out of my pit. Recently, the Lord revealed to me what had really happened in that process through a hard parenting situation. We had to allow our son to struggle and attempt to come through a trial on his own before we stepped in and rescued him out of it. The Lord showed me that this was exactly what He had done for me. 

I learned so much in the midst of my failure, I uncovered so many lies that I believed to be true about myself and about my heavenly Father’s character. My faith grew as I struggled through the worst failure of my life. It seems so contradictory to say in the midst of my sin, the Lord was teaching me and growing our relationship. But when it got to the point where something had to be done and I was at the end of myself, the Lord did it. He swooped in and rescued me from my worst nightmares and He taught me the most beautiful lessons about grace in the process:

Grace is for everyone.

All you have to do is spend a few minutes reading any story in the Bible and you will see that the heroes of our faith were some of the most wicked, most sinful human beings on the planet. Peter denied Jesus. David committed murder in order to be with a woman he lusted after and knocked up. Samson directly disobeyed the Lord’s commands and yet he still has a valuable place in biblical history. There isn’t anyone on earth who isn’t in need of grace, and there isn’t anyone on earth who isn’t allowed to have it, including you and me.

Grace never shuts off.

The Lord often speaks to me in images. When I was working all of this out, he showed me a picture of how I viewed grace verses how grace actually works. In my perspective, grace was received by standing in a line with a big red bucket in front of a wall with a button and a spout. I walked up to the spout, put my bucket down, pressed the button and an allotment of water gushed into the bucket. That was my ration of grace for the day.

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In His perspective, however, there is no wall, line, bucket, or button. There is a spout. Instead of receiving an allotment of grace and standing in a shame-filled line of people, we all walk around with spouts hanging out over our heads. The water gushes over us in a constant flow with no way to turn it off.

 
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Grace is given, and therefore must be accepted.

This is pretty straightforward. If someone wants to give you a gift, you have to open your hands to receive it. Yes, it flows over us as believers all the time, but are you walking around with an umbrella to block the flow? 

Once I recognized that I needed grace, suddenly I realized that I didn’t deserve it, and then I balked against it. I didn’t want to burden Jesus with the severity of my sin, and I didn’t want to taint His presence with it. 

The truth is that the cross is our gateway into His presence and at the cross, our burden of sin is removed. Once I got that into my head, I was able to freely receive the gift of grace that God wanted me to have. I was able to walk with my head held high into His presence.

Put the umbrella away and receive the gift of grace that is being poured over you.

I will tell you that there were definite consequences to my actions. My marriage had to go through a very painful restoration process. I had to earn trust back and I had to be honest about things I never wanted my husband to know about my heart. I had to tear myself down in order to be built back up again. Ultimately, however, the gifts that I received as I chose to turn my heart toward obedience, grace and forgiveness far outweigh anything I suffered in the process of shining a light on my sin.

Grace is for you, friend, even though you don’t deserve it. It will never be taken away from you. All you have to do is accept it.


 Portrait by Keith Peeler

Portrait by Keith Peeler

Julie Presley co-founder of Dauntless Grace Ministries, is an author, worship leader and lives in Texas with her husband Rocky and two boys, Salem and Josiah. Other loves include Netflix originals, red red wine and Cadbury Mini-Eggs. She blogs candidly at www.juliepresley.com about life, writing and the healing work the Lord continues to do in her life.


Illustrations and hand lettering by Sojung Lee.

A strange & sweet collision | a study in Micah

Your burden is light and Your yoke is easy
O happy fault that gained for me the chance to know You, Lord

 
 
 
 

Strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy

I know, and I believe that You are the Lord
Help my unbelief

 


"Help My Unbelief" by Audrey Assad
From her album, Fortunate Fall

 


Its heads give judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; 
its
prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, 
“Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us."

- Micah 3:11


I have been foolish in thinking that the Lord will provide and deliver me from difficult times when I have been neglecting Him, only coming to Him in my time of need, like a child only wanting to be friends with another for the pool in their backyard, or the friend who calls only when they need something or have something to gain from you. I’ve been neglecting and ignoring God because a relationship with Him seemed like an inconvenience to me in my selfish heart, because it meant that I would have to face the realities of my doubts and fears and anxieties.

My heart said, “I do what I want,” but with my lips, I said, “He is with me.” I was walking in the name of my pride and self-sufficiency; I ignored God and followed my gods.


For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.

- Micah 4:5.


I was running around as if I didn’t know the Lord, trying to do it all on my own, saying with my mouth that I trusted in His name. I idolized the work of my hands and chose to ignore God who has His hands in everything.


and I will cut off your carved images and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands;

- Micah 5:13


In desperation, I cried out, “I don’t want to stray further away from you than I already have.” A strange and sweet peace washed over me and I saw myself reaching out for the Lord’s outstretched arm, taking steps towards Him just to graze His finger tips, so that I can get close enough to grab it and walk alongside Him. Instead of going to Him with my tail between my legs like a disobedient and guilty puppy, instead of crawling back to Him in shame, this time I am walking towards Him.

The Lord, He is a strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy.

He is just and the consequences of my self-sufficiency, self-dependence, and pride was that I was far from the Lord’s love and goodness. He hated my sin, my sin angered Him, and He was just. But His mercy brought me back to Him. With open arms, He greets me. I am no longer a prodigal child but simply His child.


He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.

- Micah 7:18-19