If I woke up sixteen again, I’d most likely do these things differently…

Any revision that would alter my children or my husband being mine was off limits! However, I’d be lying if my mind didn’t wander with other events or even some rather questionable choices. So, I began to play around with some tweaks here and there of what I would do just a little differently. Here’s what I came up with in absolutely no order of sense or occurrence;

I would hurt fewer people.

I would not put the edible underwear in the freezer, in plain sight, by the ice cream with young children in the house. (I know!)

There are a majority of life events that I would never alter, even some very painful choices, losses and lessons – because those molded me into who I am today. Truth be told, I’m proud of who I am today. I’ve never been one for regrets. I firmly believe the path I chose, tested me purposely, and grew me intentionally. Without God’s grace and mercy, I wouldn’t have found the path he made for me in the wilderness I created.

Any revision that would alter my children or my husband being mine was off limits! However, I’d be lying if my mind didn’t wander with other events or even some rather questionable choices. So, I began to play around with some tweaks here and there of what I would do just a little differently. Here’s what I came up with in absolutely no order of sense or occurrence;

I would hurt fewer people.

I would not put the edible underwear in the freezer, in plain sight, by the ice cream with young children in the house. (Gag gift, but still, I know!)

I would fight harder in certain situations but less in most.

I would not act on every impulse praying it was God, knowing it wasn’t.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral even being disowned.

I would not take the position at the jail.

I would save myself, value myself and respect myself more.

I would not go to the hemp festival, or eat that ganja ball, or wear that shirt without a bra pretending to be a hippie. Actually, I’d probably go without the bra again! (Oh, the days before breastfeeding babies.)

I would beg no one to stay. Ever!

I would not sneak out that one time and go to that one party.

I would be more diligent in washing my face. (random I know, but dang it Jessica!)

I would not cheat, lie, marry, forgive or trust him.

I would know my worth lies in God’s hands, not anyone else’s.

I would not skip reading the instructions before using a tampon for the first time. (Okay, younger than sixteen but still… a necessary edit!)

I would re-do a majority of 2008-2009 with heavy edits, a diet and a healthy fear of God and a improved conscience.

I would not let a man ever lay hands on me, or stay with him after he did.

I would find and use my voice much sooner.

I would not leave my mustang with a manual transmission, in neutral in the mall parking lot – while I went shopping.

I would be more spontaneous.

I would not join any AOL chat rooms and talk with anyone who’s screen name was whippedcream24/7. (If you’re shaking your head, I am too – don’t worry!)

I would be a single mom much longer, and a stronger mom who focused on her kids being loved instead.

I would not say that “thing” I said at a softball game once, to his new wife.

I would apologize less for who I am and celebrate myself more.

I would not see trauma, abandonment and failure as a weakness. I would see a therapist and focus on healing as a strength.

I would let her keep him.

I would not drink warm Blackberry MD 20/20 behind the school gym during summer school.

I would stand up for others more in highschool. Including myself, especially during my senior year with those awful girls who cornered me in the bathroom. (If only I was who I am now, then!)

I would not attend a girls’ night in that rural city where a backyard holds too many secrets.

And, the final thing I would do differently if I woke up sixteen again, I’d get up at 2 am and join my dad in the kitchen for a grilled cheese sandwich.

What about you, what edits or additions would you make?

Does God Still Perform Miracles?

We don’t know why God saves and heals some and not all, but he knows why he does and that is enough for me. Faith, that feeling deep in my heart, tells me that healing doesn’t always mean life being breathed back into a body here on earth. Healing means freedom from pain, it means restoration and peace, and sometimes that only exists in heaven. And sometimes loss heals and restores those left behind.

Yesterday I sat and listened to Pastor Jason Noble speak about the power, blessing and thankfulness for a God of fresh starts.

A fresh start is a beautiful gift that allows us to join the fight, to align ourselves with God, believe in his purpose for our lives and throw our plans out the window. Blind faith takes risks. Blind faith trusts God. And, blind faith believes for miracles.

We take risks in moments of desperation, when the only thing left to hang onto is your faith and trust in God – because God wants your heart. He wants to make a way for you to come to him. Desperation finds the lost and leads them to salvation.

The pastor told us of a story of a twelve-year-old girl who was life flighted to a Missouri hospital. Her father wasn’t actively seeking the lord, but he had asked for the pastor to come in and pray. The next morning he was on his knees in tears, giving his life back to Christ. He whispered to his daughter that Jesus is a much better father than he could ever be and that he would be okay. An hour later she died.

Weeks later at the funeral the Pastor learned that this mans daughter who had died, had been praying for her father every Wednesday night at church. The children’s pastor shared that she would pray these words, “God whatever it takes to bring my dad back to you, do it.” At 12 years old. And, on this day, the day of his daughter’s funeral, her father was praising a loving and good good father.

We don’t always know why people die, especially children. Personally, I can’t imagine that loss and pain. It made me think of Olive Heiligenthal, the two-year-old daughter of Andrew and Kalley Heiligenthal. Kalley is a worship leader at Bethel Redding and a songwriter. They believed God for a miracle; they stood firmly rooted in the belief that God would wake up their daughter and bring life back. They withstood criticism, negative publicity and controversy yet never wavered in their faith and belief in God’s word that with him we can heal the sick and raise the dead.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

People all over the world stood with, prayed alongside and online using the hashtag #WakeUpOlive, the church as one body, united all over the world believing for a miracle. I prayed. I prayed knowing God could absolutely breathe life into dry bones if it is his will. If you have watched the movie Breakthrough, you know God is still a God of miracles, a God who saves. I know that prayer changes things, and a mother’s prayer can restore life. Not just her own child, but lives all over the world.

Whether you disagreed with the Heiligenthal’s beliefs. Maybe even questioned why their child was more deserving than another. Or wondered if suffering a loss of this magnitude had the parents thinking unclearly for an impossible breakthrough restoring life, I say, it restored life. Just like the story above about the twelve-year-old girl who prayed for her father, just like the 2015 true story of Breakthrough, Olive Heiligenthal’s story and her parents’ faith restored lives all over the world. She did not wake up, but others did.

We don’t know why God saves and heals some and not all, but he knows why he does and that is enough for me. Faith, that feeling deep in my heart, tells me that healing doesn’t always mean life being breathed back into a body here on earth. Healing means freedom from pain, it means restoration and peace, and sometimes that only exists in heaven. And sometimes loss heals and restores those left behind.

To answer the main question of whether or not God still performs miracles, the answer is without a doubt, yes!

Why I added my stepson into an old photograph.

This photo now shows all that it had before and so much more. It isn’t just the addition of another person; it showcases life. Real, down to the nitty-gritty life in all it’s glory and differences. It shows dedication, commitment and choosing each other – even on the really difficult days. The days when people who have been blessed in not experiencing the blending of two families, will almost always misunderstand us. The days when I’m told I will never be his “real” mom because he has a biological mother already. The days he is told he is not my “real” son because I didn’t give him life. Those are the days we choose each other more and now we are very much mother and son.

The photograph below was taken on my 34th birthday and it has been a favorite of mine for many years. When you look at this photograph you see a mother, son and daughter. When I look at it I see protection, love and strength surrounding our little family of three.

THREE PEAS IN A POD

Sweetly tucked just under my wing, yet still standing on her own is my daughter Gracie. Her beauty has always taken my breath away and her independence has always tested my strength while educating me simultaneously. This girl differs from the rest. She is an original. I see a young girl who loved softball and had dreams of becoming a lawyer and attending Harvard.

On my back is my son Gage. Just look at his sweet face and how he’s proud to wrap both his arms around his momma, but is still held up by me. He loved his momma more than anything and his sissy was a close second. Baseball and basketball were life, and he had dreams of being in the MLB or NBA.

Then there is me, proudly standing on my own two feet. No matter how many times I fell down, I always got back up. I became well-versed in God’s redirection and going back to the drawing board, editing and revising my life until I became a better woman and mother. I see a woman falling in love with herself for the first time and making her children proud. This photo became my life’s mission statement a visual anthem that said together, we had everything we needed and could make it through anything.

It is crazy how much history and memories a single photo can hold. On this exact day my boyfriend was preparing a surprise birthday party for me at my home. We had started dated seven months before and he had a son from a previous marriage, Cole. Cole and Gage knew each other from school and introduced us because Cole’s dad was the boys baseball coach. I was in a stage to push everyone away and pull my children closer. I was fine with a boyfriend, but not marriage, and most definitely not another son.

His son. That is what Cole was, he was my boyfriend’s son. He was unique and unlike my children. I struggled to understand and connect with him. He wanted to be just like his dad and their bond was unlike anything I had ever witnessed between a father a son. There was no room for me. If we walked beside each other, Cole would come in between us. He liked me but he didn’t like me having any attention that could be his. It was difficult to navigate and I won’t lie and say I didn’t get frustrated, cry and want out.

After a year of dating, we moved in together. Things were still challenging, but I loved his father, so we committed to making it work. Cole desperately missed having a mother, and I wanted no part in that. If you read my post, No, you already have a mom, then you know the story already. He’d ask to call me mom, and I’d say no. Yet, I did all the things a mother would do for her child. We spent countless hours at the dining table doing homework, working with teachers, reminding him to brush his teeth, to change his underwear, doctor’s appointment’s and everyday mothering. He had everything he needed. I just left the loving part to his dad. I couldn’t bring myself to be his mom plus he had a “real” mom, and I had my “real” children too. It was us three plus them two and it didn’t equal five. It equaled three and two.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

One day by the grace of God, things changed, my heart softened and became protective of him. There was a moment when I could no longer sit by and watch as Cole was let down and hurt. I realized that the person letting him down was not the only one; I was letting him down too. He had not stopped asking to call me Mom, and it was clear he needed me to say, yes. Maybe, I needed to say yes too, so I did.

From that moment Cole became my son, my real son. He didn’t become my son when his father and I eventually married three years later. Or at a point when he was more pleasing or easier to love – he became my son in the middle of messiness and a storm. He became my son the day he chose me, the day he asked me to be his mom, and the day I chose him in return. God placed us together knowing that storms make trees take deeper roots and two trees intertwined were stronger than one.

For approximately six months I’ve looked at this old photo of my sweet babies and I, knowing and feeling that something was missing. Each time I would share it, I felt a twinge in my heart that something was missing. Then I realized the something missing, wasn’t a something, it was a someone.

In a world where stepparents are cropping/editing out or even just leaving their stepchildren out all together, I wanted to add in mine. Luckily I have a dear friend who helped me re-create the first photo with the addition of Cole. My heart (and possibly Cole’s) needed him in this photograph that reminded me occasionally of who I am today as a woman and mother because he is just as much a part of who’ve grown into and become over the years.

ALL MY BABIES IN ONE BEAUTIFUL PHOTO

This photo now shows all that it had before and so much more. It isn’t just the addition of another person; it showcases life. Real, down to the nitty-gritty life in all its glory and differences. It shows dedication, commitment and choosing each other – even on the difficult days. The days when people who have been blessed in not experiencing the blending of two families, will almost always misunderstand us. The days when I’m told I will never be his “real” mom because he has a biological mother already. The days he is told he is not my “real” son because I didn’t give him life. Those are the days we choose each other more and now we are very much mother and son.

When I look at this new picture, I still see my beautiful and independent daughter who now has made room for another brother and wants to be a Science & AG teacher instead of a lawyer. Gage is still on my back, still smaller than most and loves his momma and basketball, but now wants to be a Veterinarian. Right in the middle where he belongs is my other son, Cole. I see a handsome young man who loves with a very open, gracious and giving heart. I see someone who selflessly spent hours every day for at least a week if not longer making me a Christmas present that no other parent received. I see a boy who came into my life scared of losing his father to a woman he thought was trying to take his place when all I wanted to do was share it. And, who just wanted a normal family with a mother and father – like I did. Cole is who I needed to become a better woman and mother, and I like to think I am who he needed to help him become a better man.

Being a parent has zero to do with biology and 100% to do with love and choice. Sometimes that choice is not ours to make but Gods, and he reminds us that while it may not always be easy, it is always worth it and for our good. Three plus two now equals a family of five. A real family.

Comparison

God wants you to know that you are not disqualified, that he never compares you to anyone else because he created you to be set apart and unique on purpose. There is not a person, career, monetary amount, sin or any other factor that can disqualify you for his love and purpose. God is not in the business of crushing dreams or hearts, he is in the business of crushing us into position to bear the fruit he planned for the purpose of his glory. There is no glory in heartache, only in love and multiplication.

This year I went to a Christian women’s conference, it was the first one that I had ever attended, and to say I was excited was an understatement. As I opened the flyer to read about the speakers, I did the unthinkable; I compared myself. It was unintentional at first, I was searching for any connection – something that would validate my past. Reading the snippets of their bios beside their head-shot, I stopped dead in my tracks. All I could focus on was their qualifications. The things that qualified them to be a speaker, to stand on the stage doing exactly what I want to do and what disqualified me. And, it is ironic because I am very aware that God does NOT work through “qualifications” and that the enemy was leading me to believe the lies that I was disqualified.

Each one of these women stood up on stage and shared stories of vulnerability, stories of fear and stories of how God had shaped or changed their lives. Truly beautiful and honest accounts of transformation in some form. The trials they had suffered were difficult, terrifying and significant. As I sat there listening to them 75% of me admired and respected them and the other 25% told myself “your dream is over, sister! You can never do this. You have too many.” Too many of this, too many of that – just too many!

They had been married for 10 to 25 years. All appeared to have a godly marriage, no mention of divorce or remarriage. There was not a testimony of addiction, sexual sin, anything that would carry a sin-shock once revealed. What would my bio read? Jessica Griffiths. Married & Divorced. Re-married & Re-divorced Again. Blended Family. Sex before marriage … oh ya, I can see the empty arena now. No thanks, I am good!

What impacted me the most though was watching one woman in particular ramping herself up to share her most shameful truth. It was crushing because of the heaviness of her shame, the things that made her feel unworthy or fearful were so minor in comparison to my own past. It showed me that we are so unforgiving of ourselves for the slightest infractions. And, that even someone with her qualifications, her education, status etc. was still fearful to some degree of judgment.

Sitting there impatiently waiting for her to work up the courage to share whatever carried such humiliation and embarrassment for her, I prayed. I prayed for her past to be even the slightest of something that mirrored my own. Is that awful? It sounds terrible to me to pray for something like that – but it was for a good reason, kind of. I wanted her to say something that would pull me into her heart, something that screamed – you’re one of us and welcome here. My need for it to be significant, something that would whisper “I’m just like you” was vital to feeling human, and still worthy of being a christian.

I prayed she would share something that proved that I was not disqualified. That I could share my story with other women, encourage and motivate them, become an author and not just be a flawed woman. But when she shared her truth and testimony, it was nothing like my past, and nothing I would have ever faulted her for nor condemned. In fact to me I would not have even categorized it as a sin. I honored her vulnerability, but dishonored Gods promise to myself. I ended up leaving the conference feeling disqualified. And, my heart broke.

For the next week I wrestled over my feelings. I wrestled with the idea of truly being disqualified. Would God call me to write and share my testimonies if I were truly disqualified? And as soon as I said that out loud, I realized I’m not sharing my testimony. I’m sharing how I survived, how I am saved by Gods grace and how he loves me. But I haven’t told you my actual mistakes. I’m safely tucked behind a computer, a quote or a blog post saying, “I’m a Christian”, “God is real” and that I know that I’m forgiven but I’m not sharing why or how I know this.

Here I am dreaming of the day I am able to speak life into women who are needing validation, desiring acceptance, and deserving of forgiveness – and I am already letting them down because my testimony is incomplete. And, God called me on that, right there in my car. He said, “Show them why and how YOU are NOT a disqualified Christian. Show them what disqualified you before the grace of God. Show them what qualifies YOU and THEM in my heart and that my mercy never fails.”

It was in that moment my heart softened, that overwhelming feeling of clarity and joy overflowed and replaced any ounce of doubt I had. It was in that moment the enemy was silenced and the series – The Disqualified Christian, was created.

There are times what God speaks to us it not meant for sharing, but there are also moments when it is meant for others to know. God is very active and alive within me and I would be disobedient if I did not share this with you today.

God wants you to know that you are not disqualified, that he never compares you to anyone else because he created you to be set apart and unique on purpose. There is not a person, career, monetary amount, sin or any other factor that can disqualify you for his love and purpose. God is not in the business of crushing dreams or hearts, he is in the business of crushing us into position to bear the fruit he planned for the purpose of his glory. There is no glory in heartache, only in love and multiplication.

 Romans 12:6 (MSG)

“Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” 

It is okay to love God.

WE ARE ASLEEP people. We are not even showing up to the battle because we are sleeping right through it. We will complain about a waitress who didn’t serve well, an employee who doesn’t show up or doesn’t work hard, yet we aren’t serving, we aren’t showing up or working hard either! We break down the people who are busy building a better life, a better world, better children, better environment – because we’re not up to par. We need to up our game. It is okay to LOVE GOD.

okay that may be taking it to far – but it got your attention didn’t it. I wish I could apologize to every person I thought was annoying, trying to save me. Because, I get it now.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Everything felt new, exciting and as if you had this renewed sense of purpose. Any topic could be related to this new love in some way or another. You would think about this person non-stop all day long, and you would find creative ways to say their name just because you loved the way it sounded.

You were kinder, gentler, slow to anger because you were truly happy from the inside out and as cliché as it sounded, you felt complete. This is how I feel about God right now, but instead of sharing with the whole world excitedly, I was quiet at first, and walking on egg shells even.

When I first started talking about God, I caught myself whispering. I prepared myself for people to think that I had either lost my mind, or was about to. I’ve become overly conscious of offending someone, and preparing for the death of dearly loved friendships. Why do you ask? Because God is controversial, because sin is universal, and nothing divides people more than church and state.

The offenses run rampant and the offended are looking for someone to blame for their transgressions, anger, heartbreak and their loss. And, God is usually the one taking the fall. In our society today one breath out of context can be held against you, and the world wants inclusion while excluding one thing, God.

No one is unfamiliar with the amount of (removal) of God in our society today. Teachers teach evolution and can’t speak on religion or beliefs. Court rooms don’t all use the bible anymore. Classrooms rarely say the national anthem before the day starts, praying in public is more offensive than breastfeeding used to be. And, breastfeeding is beautiful!

We condemn, we separate and the world acts on how they “feel” and assume that is enough. Someone saying “Have a blessed day, God Bless you, or Merry Christmas” at work or in public, is risking their livelihood, but to the brave ones, they know their livelihood is in Jesus’ hands.

Who is the one person who has never let you down, never left your side, never not loved or accepted you? For me that only qualifies as one person. God. He is always where I left him, when I walked away. He is always forgiving and loving, and while his lessons may be hard, and his timeline askew from mine, everything in my life has connected as it should.

WE ARE ASLEEP people. We are not even showing up to the battle because we are sleeping right through it. We will complain about a waitress who didn’t serve well, an employee who doesn’t show up or doesn’t work hard, yet we aren’t serving, we aren’t showing up or working hard either! We break down the people who are busy building a better life, a better world, better children, better environment – because we’re not up to par. We need to up our game. It is okay to LOVE GOD.

I allowed Satan to make me think my sins, failures and brokenness prevented me from being whole again. And, let me tell you, the second God forgave all my sins, and I accepted that forgiveness, I became whole again. God uses broken people, because they are loud, unafraid warriors who are used to going against the crowd, used to walking alone and making their own path and there is nothing stronger than a broken person being made whole again, by God. A unafraid, exuberant baby Christian.

I’ve been cracked wide open to show that inside the center of every living being is raw and unedited goodness. All those days I spent in shame over what I had done in my past, but had already asked God for forgiveness years ago, was because I allowed the negativity and judgment of people to take over. When I realized God already knew, god had already forgiven me, it clicked that what you think of me, doesn’t matter.

It has no effect on my walk with Jesus, or the validity in the goodness of my heart. Your need to condemn me, that is something you must address personally. There is a reason you feel the need to point out the failures and judge others, and it is not because you are a Christian and God tells you to, because we know that is false. True and good Christians do not get even and they do not keep score. They simply love.

When you honor God during times of trouble, you shame satan back to hell. That’s what we need to do every day. Did the Tenboom Family stop hiding Jews in their watch repair shop from the Nazi’s, to keep themselves safe? No. Did Jesus drop the cross, run and hide away so that people would stop being offended by his message? Nope. Did Martin Luther King Jr turn off his microphone during his speech, so he wasn’t too loud for the people in the back? Not one bit.

So why in God’s name would I? It’s time to up my game.