Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Upheaval and Surrendering to God's Will

Not every message from God comes in the form of a happy, feel-good conversation. Sometimes you struggle until you feel you have reached the depths of your soul and then you struggle some more, all the while crying out to Him for answers. When you finally get your answer, it isn't always easy or widely accepted or in accordance with your original plan.  Over the past few months, I have truly grown to believe that sometimes you are made to struggle so deeply in one lifestyle so that you will be willing to make radical changes and so that your changes feel more beautiful and worthwhile.

I truly have lived through a season that felt so heart-achingly miserable and did not see God deliver me from it in conventional ways, or even in the ways I asked. Instead, he sent me helpers to transition me into the next phase of life. He let me struggle so that I would forego my flesh and cling to Him without waiver. As long as I am able to rely on myself, I will not live out my faith.

This college semester has been one of the most trying times of my life - my health has failed, my child has endured his own health problems, and I have grown increasingly bad at something I was once so good at. We'll go in order.

Real talk. I have been struggling with anxiety since I was a younger teen, and it is no joke. About 2.5 years ago as a freshman in college and a brand new baby Christian, I felt a call on my heart to completely give God this issue. I was healed from anxiety in that time and went through a withdrawal period as I let go of addictive medication that controlled my chemical imbalance. I believed that I would be physically healed from this condition, and I was. Praise God! Through my pregnancy, birth, newborn life, and my child's first year, I was panic attack free. I believed that I had nothing left to worry about, but the enemy had other plans.

Satan uses your most vulnerable places against you in order to do his will. He pulled out his best stops and afflicted me with anxiety and depression again, telling me that my healing had been false and that I was doomed to slip back into it -- a cycle I had seen others fall into. I spent so many days feeling absolutely out of control and unfulfilled with my life, as if there was something greater that I was incapable of attaining. Let me be clear -- My depression is never suicidal or full of self-hate, but is full of a deep longing for that which I don't have right now. It is full of an ache for the future. It is full of visions of who I will be, the circumstances I will be rid of, the children I will have, and the promises God has spoken over me. I am so enchanted by my beautiful, bright future, that my present seems dim and uninviting. I dream of the near future - my summer at home with Roman. As well as the further future - our 2 or 3 or ? number of future kiddos (they are on my heart so often), homeschooling, a real house with a yard and garage and tons of storage. This is so sinful because I am squandering the precious moment called now. I am also setting myself up for heartache as I build my future up with expectations that might not be met.

In addition to the depression and a few terrifying panic attacks, anxiety has played a huge role in my physical health. I have a very weak and sensitive stomach that is left in pain and nausea every time I am in a stressful or high adrenaline situation. I have also been getting migraine level headaches that completely break me of my ability to function like a normal person and send me straight to bed.  This is so frustrating. My body is so incapable of supporting me...oh yeah...that's the point...we will get to that.

Lastly, I have problems with my cervix that I won't get into because it's not very important, but what you should know is that I have had many biopsies, a few small procedures, have been on medication, and have paid a lot of money to keep this problem under control. The constant stress I am under with my anxiety taking over again has exacerbated this problem, which makes the stress worse. So this is what we call a vicious cycle.

Beginning this paragraph, let me be clear that I'm not against medicine. I do what I do because God has called me personally to give it to Him. My flesh is so weak. I am not good at keeping myself going. I found myself saying, I need help, after I would start feeling out of control, after I would snap at Dillon, after I would melt down over a messy house, or end up crying in bed instead of finishing a very important homework assignment. I realized that before, when I needed help (before I gave my anxiety to God the 1st time), I didn't have the One who can fix it all, so I turned to doctors. This time, I have a very real Healer who only asks that I give it all to Him. So I'm working on that. I started by speaking out truth, by defining anxiety at its root -- sin. Anxiety came into this world with sin and is a major weapon of the enemy. I don't have to accept it. This is not ME. This is not something I have to deal with. This is not something I will live with forever. What I must do is REBUKE anxiety in the name of Jesus and rise up as one who is healed.

******

My child has endured his own health problems. Ear. Infections. Are. From. The. Devil.
End of sentence. Need I say more? No, but I will anyways. Brief synopsis:
He had double ear infections for 2 solid months, during which he was given 5 different antibiotics, 1 of which was a series of 3 shots. The doctor giving the antibiotics took 2 months to finally refer us to an ENT after I basically told her nurse, you will get us that referral. I spent a lot of time in judgement of that doctor, and still struggle deeply with feelings of resentment for the lengthy time she took to give us what we wanted. 
It took a few weeks to see the ENT, but less than thirty minutes after meeting the wonderful man, he scheduled Roman for a tube surgery 3 days later. Praise be!
The surgery was flawless. The healing was typical. He retained an infection in his right ear for a little while but antibiotics were able to clear it up and due to the tubes the infection can drain instead of making him sicker, so he usually feels pretty good even if his ear is gunky. 
Days after the surgery, Roman got hold of a peanut butter granola bar. The rule is no peanut products under age 2, especially if you have a family history. As you can guess, he was allergic and we now face further allergy testing and a possible long road with food restrictions. 
I mourn for my sweet boy and his sufferings. I praise God and am thankful that they are minor. 
We are staying positive and reading ingredient labels!

******

I have grown increasingly bad at something I was once so good at. When I was a kid, I was gifted and talented in school. I was a rockstar in AP English and Literature courses. I did pretty ok in other AP courses as well. I finished 20th in my class of about 250, with Honors. I had so many scholarships to college, I was basically getting a small salary. But then the rest of my life took over and my focus slipped. My desire disappeared. School became the focus of my anxiety so that every time I sat down to work on a paper, I started having terrible anxiety, getting nauseous or headaches, and would result in tears with little to nothing done. I have missed many assignments, turned in late work, and due to mine and Roman's health problems have missed way more than the allotted number of unexcused absences for each of my classes. I hate school with a passion and I feel like I am killing myself (with the strain the anxiety puts my body through and the exacerbation on my cervical problem) if I maintain my status as a student. 

For these reasons, I have chosen to drop out of school.

I applied for my Associate's degree certificate and officially disenrolled from the University of Central Arkansas pending the completion of my current classes. I tried my best to maintain my meager level of focus on classes until the end of April, knowing that I was slipping in a few courses.

On the day of my second to last final (Arkansas History for Educators -- required for the major I will not complete), I was very unprepared for the exam. I found myself guessing on most of the answers and begging God to work a miracle. As I turned in my paper, my professor, a very sweet woman who I believe is a Christian, whispered in my ear, "Bethany, I want you to take an incomplete in my class. Please call me when you get home." I was initially devastated. I had gotten to the point of utterly and completely failing to meet the standards of this course. I had never experienced failure like this academically and it crushed me to know how bad things had gotten. I maintained my composure and called her whereupon she kindly informed me that since I had already enrolled in the course two other times previous to this (both times I dropped out quite quickly in the semester), I would not be allowed to reenroll in it ever again if I didn't complete it now. Wow. What a crushing blow. If I decided to come back to UCA in the future to pursue this degree, I would absolutely need to have this credit. She offered me a chance to complete the course over the summer by simply doing three assignments and emailing them to her. She also gave me the chance to set my own schedule. If you ever doubt that God provides for you even in the midst of your failures, please come talk to me! I am the poster child for God's redemptive love! This wonderful woman had allowed me a final chance instead of failing me like some professors would, and for that I am exceptionally grateful!

**Edit to say: The assignments turned out not to be so simple and were basically a retaking of the course, so I declined to do them since it defeated the purpose of me leaving school to focus on my health and family. I left the class as an incomplete and will cross that bridge if I ever return to school. So, yeah...

I finished my remaining 3 courses with an A in Geography, a B in American Nation 2, and a C in Music for Educators. I ugly cried when I saw those grades because Geography was the 1 prerequisite that my Associate's degree was hanging on. Through it all, my cumulative GPA is still 3.3.

This phase of my schooling is officially over and I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I will live with less anxiety and I will be in the safest places possible - In the center of God's will.

******
Now that I am no longer a student, I still have a few very important roles and I have seen God give me countless allies, examples, and encouragers in order to make this transition the best one yet. 

I am still called to be a supportive, loving, faithful wife. I am diligently entering each day with a prayerful spirit, asking God to lead Dillon on his daily walk and asking Him to prosper Dillon in his endeavors. I pray so many other things over and for my husband, but these are a few I don't mind sharing. As a wife, I know my role is to lift my husband up, to encourage and praise him, to weep with him over failures or struggles, and to care for him to the best of my ability. I know that as Dillon leaves the house each day to go to summer classes, work on his small creative consulting firm Logitivity, LTD, and to his part-time job as an apartment leasing consultant - it is my job to keep the house running smoothly. It is my job to provide him with a clean home, washed clothes, and healthy food. Regardless of current opinion held by others, I believe my role for now is to be in the home keeping things running while my husband is out in the world providing for us. 

I am definitely called to be a Godly mother in my role as a stay at home mom (SAHM). Being with my child all day is the best job I could ever think of doing. I am called to love my child fiercely and to do everything with love- from effectively disciplining him, to teaching him how to live, to setting an example for him with my countenance. Earlier on in college, I thought my calling was to be a teacher because my heart for children is so full, but little did I know, I was being prepared to take on my role as a full time SAHM and...homeschool mom. 

In Spring 2013, I was listening to my dear friend Regina preach one night and afterwards, the whole audience was praying to ourselves, asking God for direction and guidance. Regina and her husband had just accepted their role as future missionaries to Vietnam and she had called all of us to ask God what he would do in our own lives. I prayed diligently - Let me know what you would have me do God. I am open and receptive to your will. I heard his voice in my very soul - Homeschool your children. My heart began pounding and racing as He gave me a vision of sitting around a table in the living room floor with 4 children around me, listening to homeschool lessons. I began crying and accepted God's plan for me quickly, praying earnestly in thanks for His answer and His direction. Dillon was instantly receptive as well and we began to speak out to one or two friends at a time that we planned to homeschool. 

Over the past year, God has given me so many signs that he wants me to fully commit to this lifestyle. Not only did we already have friends who homeschool who reached out to us in many ways, but he began giving me new friends who had experience with homeschool and would be following that path for their own children. With each new homeschool family encounter, I thanked God for the connections He was placing in my life. I know a homeschool family at every walk of life-- from ones who grew up homeschooled and are now adults planning to homeschool their babies in the future, to families with multiple elementary schoolers, to families with highschoolers and graduates! I saw the benefits of homeschooling both for our family unit and for our children independently. He got me through many of the college classes that would really help me in my future, including a class taught by a woman who passionately teaches at a nearby Montessori school. He brought me right up to the edge of classes I didn't need and then cut me off this semester. Next semester I would have to begin going into public schools in Little Rock, then the semesters after that in various local elementary schools. I have decided that God didn't mean for me to teach in the public school setting, so He didn't need me to use my time and resources going through those experiences. It is such a blessing to have a God who knows exactly what I need and because I have a receptive spirit, I am reaping the benefits. I know this doesn't make sense to some readers, but just know that God has planned this for me and He will make it work. 

In addition to my new acquaintances, God has blessed me with the Duggar family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. Through their books, I have seen a tremendous example of godliness in every aspect of their lives - from positive parenting (discipline, character training, parents setting a good example, etc), to homeschooling (they include so many of their resources in the books), financial planning (the live totally debt free and don't struggle!), and most importantly the way they make God the focus of their home. Just yesterday, I was so deeply touched by a passage I read in their second book, A Love That Multiplies, I was moved to tears and prayer. Michelle Duggar (mom) is regaling a time when she had 7 little ones and was up at 2 am feeding the baby and doing laundry that the children needed for the next day:

"That night I stood in the laundry room crying. Lord, You must have the wrong person here! I silently prayed. I simply can't do this. I'm not capable; I feel so overwhelmed and inadequate. I'm so grateful for these precious gifts You've given me, but, Father, I need Your help!

(This passage was so familiar to me (Bethany) as I have prayed this over and over again in the past semester. I was at the end of myself and all I could do was beg God to take the burden from me and replace it with His easy yoke.)

Michelle continues:
My cry was like that of a helpless baby: the only way that baby's going to be helped is if a loving parent comes to meet it's need.
That night I felt God saying to my heart in a soft, clear voice, Michelle, it's easy to praise Me when things are going great -- when the house is neat, the dishes are clean, the laundry's done, and your children are healthy and behaving themselves -- but are you willing to praise Me right now, when it's not easy?
Immediately to my mind came these words from Scripture: "Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually" (Hebrews 13:15). 
I said, "Father, I love You, and I'm going to praise You even when I don't feel like it. With You, I am capable; without You, I am nothing. I desperately need You." Then, through my tears, I softly began to sing, "The joy of the Lord is my strength. The joy of the Lord is my strength." 


Bethany speaking again:
Oh. My. Word. Give me a shout out if that just hit you like a ton of bricks. I had just been through all of this, and will likely go through it again, but next time I will have this passage by my side. 

To sum up this wonderful, hard, scary, rewarding, fulfilling transition, I urge you to go in peace knowing that the will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you. Stay within the will of God and you will be blessed. 


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