Monday, December 26, 2016

God's Answers, Not Mine

It started with a prayer.

A yelling, screaming, crying prayer.

An ultimatum prayer.

I hoped everything and expected nothing from that prayer.

Because over the past eighteen months, I've asked. And the answers I was given were always pretty simple. I felt good about my new non-denominational Christian life and the church I had found. I felt good about the things I was learning and the beauty of the worship.

It felt like I had pushed away everything that was confusing me and had found the simplicity I so badly desired.

It felt so right. 

It was a beautiful eighteen months.

It's been an incredibly beautiful year.

The best one I can remember in a very long time. 

In January, after attending Mission Church for six months, I signed up for a 6-week Starting Point class that taught me a lot of basic core beliefs and gave me an opportunity to learn more about Christianity and hear the stories of other amazing people whom I was able to connect with.

It was shortly after this class ended that I was invited to Redemption Church with a close friend and found myself drawn to the smaller church atmosphere and weekly communion.

Redemption quickly became a home for us.

We were all in. 

In May, I dedicated the kids at Redemption Church. All the more beautiful. I promised to raise them as Christ would have me raise them and, at the time, that meant worshiping with our Redemption family every week. I thought it would always mean that. 

I considered serving in the children's ministry because I had served in the special needs ministry at Mission Church and wanted to be involved but for some reason, it never felt right. And so, I continued to worship and learn and grow and meet amazing people along the way.

This was an incredible time of growth for me. In fact, all of the past eighteen months have been. I have notes from almost every single week of church I've attended for the past eighteen months.

I was happy. 

But I was still struggling. 

You see, life didn't just get easier because I had made a promise to pull myself closer to God.
My loneliness at church didn't stop. My heartache over divorce didn't stop. My worries about my children didn't stop.

But the praying got a little easier. I no longer sobbed through each prayer because of the heavy weight I felt on my chest. I learned more about the stories in the Bible and God's grace.

And as I was learning about Christianity, I was building stepping stones in my testimony without really realizing it.

My late night religious conversations with my closest friends brought Christianity and Mormonism closer together for me and although I didn't want to go back, I liked knowing that some of the things I was learning, my children were being taught in both churches (since they've been attending both churches this past year between their dad and I).

I didn't want to go back---but I wanted to do what was right. 

And a few Saturdays ago, I knelt next to my bed and cried-prayed some very deep heartaches to my Heavenly Father---heartaches having nothing to do with religion---and although I wasn't even asking for an answer of where I was supposed to be, He answered my prayer with a clear understanding of what I was supposed to do next.

Eighteen months.

Eighteen months of searching and believing that I was being open to any answer He gave me.
Now I'm not so sure. 
Maybe I wasn't ready until now. 

Eighteen months of doing what I believed I was supposed to be doing.
In fact, I still believe that. 

And then one day, I was saying my prayers---well, sort of yelling them because it was a really hard day---and as I was sobbing into my pillow, the thought came to my mind, "Did I not already promise you these things in a blessing?" 

I sat up and my spinning world had stopped in it's tracks. 

God was answering my prayer very directly. Even though I had yelled it. Again.

And I knew what that answer meant. 

When God gave me my answer, that meant starting my search within the LDS church again.


Didn't I just do that two years ago ago? Didn't I read the Book of Mormon and try really hard to participate at church? Didn't I pray and ask where God wanted me? And wasn't the answer given to me when I left the church? 
Why now? Why this answer now? Why couldn't this have happened when I was actually asking? 

Those promises He was talking about had been given to me during a Priesthood* blessing two years ago and ironically, the Priesthood was the first part of my belief system that had shattered eighteen months ago.
{*To learn more about what the Priesthood is, go here.} 

And I knew in that moment that I had to make a choice. Did I believe those promises were real and that they were mine? Because if so, I believed in the Priesthood. 

It could only be one or the other. I knew it and God knew it.

Because as immediately as He answer my prayer, I vividly remembered that blessing and how I had held onto those promises so tightly at that time.

But understanding that answer to prayer did not bring immediate comfort to me. In fact, the tears started all over again---a little bit because I was happy He had heard me but mostly because I was scared.

I am scared. 

That answer scared me because it is going to take work. It scared me because I was going to have to attend the ward I was in for 7 years and then had left. It scared me because I had struggled so much with lonely feelings because the LDS church is very family-oriented and I often felt so out of place without a husband and also without my children half of the time.

I met with a friend the day after I got my answer and cried through the whole story with her. She was so proud of me for listening to my heart. I still wasn't sure. I kind of wanted my heart to stay out of this mess.

I didn't know if I could do it---go back to the church I had left. 

I didn't know if I was brave enough. 

But then I remembered---authenticity. NO MATTER WHAT. 

My goal of authenticity this year was not a disguise. It was not a goal I had made to show everyone how happy I was away from the LDS church. It was simple. At any given point throughout this year, I have tried to just do the next right thing.

Even if that next right thing was the hardest next right thing. 

Even if that next right thing meant studying the Book of Mormon and reading through conference talks for the first time in eighteen months.

Even if that meant taking out my nose ring and my other extra piercings---something that sounds so silly but that was really sad and difficult for me.

I did the next right thing these past few weeks even though they were just as hard if not harder than the day I decided I was going to be leaving the church I had been in for 28 years.
Scratch that. 
The truth is that this was harder. Because this took more humility than I've ever had to muster up in my entire life.

Because I know there will be people on both sides, in both churches, who don't agree with the last eighteen months of my life and/or who won't agree with the next eighteen months of my life.

But I don't live my life for people. 

I live my life for God. 

So at this point in my beautiful journey, I am slapping on my bravest face and attending my LDS ward again.

So much has changed in a really short amount of time which is quite opposite than when I left because as odd as it sounds, I slowly transitioned myself OUT of the LDS church eighteen months ago. I still attended every few weeks from July-December 2015 before stopping altogether.

This has not been that way---and I think it's because I feel this surge of energy and confidence in what God wants for my family. I feel like because He gave me this answer, I will move forward each day, doing the next right thing.

And when that gets scary, I'll hand it over to God and He will help us make it through to the next right thing.

This is not going to be easy. But I wasn't promised 'easy'. 

This is the kind of 'hard' I'm willing to put in the effort for because I trust my Heavenly Father so much and know He wants what is best for us.

And as hard as it is sometimes---as stubborn as I get sometimes---I plan on continuing to live my life as close to what He wants for me as possible.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Parenting Alone

Most days, single parenting has become second nature to me.

I'm used to doing it almost completely alone, from the homework to the bedtime routine to the tantrums. I'm used to my children needing me when I'm already so completely exhausted.

It's been three years so I really should be used to this new normal. 

But sometimes it catches up to me. 

Sometimes I don't feel like I can take another step on this parenting journey alone. 

A few weeks ago, a lady I had only just met was asking about my kids and my life and when I told her I was divorced, she immediately asked if their dad was in the picture.

Me: Well, yes. He takes them every other weekend. 
Her: I just get so jealous of that! My husband travels all the time and I WISH I could have every other weekend off. In some ways, you are just so lucky that you at least get that break. 

You guys, this isn't the first time somebody has said those things to me and I know it won't be the last.
And while I know she meant well and that her struggles are just as real as mine, it feels like a knife in my chest when people say those things to me.

Because I DON'T wish I had a break from them every other weekend.
I wish our family all lived under one roof together. 
I DON'T enjoy the times they have things that I miss out on when they are with their dad.
And it is honestly so hard to be alone every single night in this house, wishing I had a companion who could tag team the tantrums and the homework and the bedtime routine.

This week, being a single mom caught up to me. 
It caught up to all of us.
And we've all been a mess. 

Major meltdowns have happened by all three of us this week.

And I'm just so exhausted. 

I'm exhausted and I am having a hard time leaving my house with a smile on my face.

I know it will probably feel better soon but during these times where it doesn't feel better---where divorce feels like the worst thing that has ever happened---I get so completely exhausted and frustrated that I am not a better mom to these beautiful babies of mine.

Friends, I hate complaining about this stuff because I'd do anything for my kids. My whole life is them.
But some nights it just hits me hard. Some nights I feel like I cannot take another step.

This is real life today. 

It is hard and messy and unpredictable. 

Real life this week consisted of one child telling me they hated me and then unbuckling their seatbelt while I was driving on a main road (Have no fear, I pulled the car over).
Real life this week consisted of another child participating in a gift exchange with friends and then crying because their gift wasn't like the other gifts (Enter the utterly embarrassed mother who swears she has taught her child better than this).
Real life this week consisted of so much more yelling and/or crying from the only adult in the house.

It's not always this hard---but right now, it is. 

And I'm not going to pretend that everything's always peachy over here. Because that just isn't reality.

And we are all about realness over here. 

The truth is that I'll wake up tomorrow, ready to be their mom again and throwing every part of myself into doing what I can for them. I already know that. I know I will never give up---even though I might rant to my friends that "I'm done!" and that "I quit!", which seem to be my go-to phrases when things feel super crappy. 

I'm never gonna quit. 

And I know life won't always be like this.

But right now, it is. 

And I just have to hold on to my faith that God knows me and will meet me in this hard place and eventually help me out of it.

Because without Him, I know I wouldn't have even made it this far and I'm grateful on these really low days to be able to look back and see how far we have come in the past three years.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Next Right Thing

I've tried to deny God many times in my life.

More times than I'd even care to admit.

But thankfully for my ever-doubting brain, I have been given some pretty distinct answers to prayers in my life---and sometimes I've been given answers to things I didn't even pray about.

The most significant spiritual experience I've had was the day before my husband left me.
I was driving my kids to my parents house and heard a voice---clear as day---that said, "Just remember that you have a really good life." 
I kind of chuckled and thought, "Duh!", because at the time, I felt like my life was pretty incredible.
But as I sat there, I took an opportunity to count some of my most cherished blessings.
And the next day, as I was driving away from the home that my husband had just let me know he was moving out of, I was hit with the previous day's experience. "Just remember that you have a really good life." And all of the things I had counted as blessings the day before? I still had them. They still existed and separation/divorce could not take those things away from me.

Did that stop me from struggling or becoming angry or feeling betrayed? No. I still had to keep my head barely above water throughout the divorce process and the years since then.
Some days, I'm still barely keeping myself and my family afloat.

Another significant experience I've had with God came at a time in my life when I was in a pit of despair and struggling through some very private and horrific events that had occurred in my life. I was so angry and although I did not deny God in that moment, I was angry at Him. I yelled at Him. I didn't deny His existence but I denied His glory and love for me.
I was laying on my couch, yelling at Him at the top of my lungs, telling Him that if He wanted me to trust Him, he'd need to hit me over the head with a ton of spiritual bricks because I was done!
And although I was not handling things in a very productive manner, He still sent me exactly what I had demanded. Instead of a clear voice in my ear, He used another person and sent me a text with a scripture from a friend that had no way of knowing just how significant that scripture was in that moment.
It was kind of incredible.
In fact, not kind of.
It was truly incredible.

Since then, my journey of faith has not been easy, nor has it been very steady. 

At the beginning of this year, I chose to focus on authenticity toward myself, in hopes that I could learn how to shut out my fears of what other people think of the life I'm living.
I wanted it to matter to myself and to God. I didn't want input or opinions on what I should or could be doing. I wanted to figure it out on my own.

My people have been incredible through this. They have watched me make choices that don't align with theirs and they've just loved me unconditionally. That alone has been one of the sweetest parts of my journey---the love that I've found in places I was afraid it wouldn't exist. 

It's funny because as I sit here tonight, I'm realizing just how much I still haven't figured out and yet, I have learned so much in the past 18 months. I have grown so much. I have been so brave and have tried to be as authentic as possible.

One mantra that I've really tried to adopt in those moments where life just feels like too much to handle is stated below.

There have been many times in the past year and a half where I've wondered what I was supposed to be doing. I'd look at the future as one big picture and get overwhelmed with how hard it all looked.

And so I started doing "the next right thing".

When I get overwhelmed or I feel like I cannot make big decisions, I listen to my heart and follow what feels like the next right thing in my life.

This might sound simple but it really isn't.

Sometimes I'll feel like something is "the next right thing" and it still looks or feels too hard.

But I've tried really hard to stay true to that motto. 

I have learned a lot through the perspective of "the next right thing". I have made some really brave, scary decisions because of this promise that I made to myself. I have taken steps in directions I didn't necessarily want to go because, when praying, I discerned that those decisions were my next right thing.

And I'm so grateful that when my "next right thing" feels to scary, I have supporters to lean on.

As this year comes closer and closer to ending, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for my New Years goal of confidence and authenticity in 2016. I think I've stayed true to that goal more than any of my previous ones---and that's saying a lot because I really do feel like I've done well with my goals for 3+ years now.

I've already prayed about my word for 2017 and chosen a path but we will get to that in a different post.

In the meantime, I will continue living my life, choosing the next right thing.