Passing The “Stress Test”

Stethoscope Heart Shape
Stethoscope Heart Shape

Today was a fairly pivotal day for me. I had the unique opportunity today to see if my heart would pass a stress test… twice! To give you a fair picture of what I’m talking about, I need to back up a bit.

A little more than two weeks ago I started experiencing some minor “heart” symptoms. It kind of felt like there was a big weight sitting right in the middle of my chest. That pressure was accompanied by some mild anxiety. Initially, I paid no attention to it, as these symptoms sometimes appear in my body when my hormone levels get a little goofy. I know what it is, and know how to effectively make it right. No problem! But this time the symptoms didn’t go away like usual.

Just a few days ago, I awoke to a pain so severe right between my shoulder blades that it actually knocked the wind out of me. The pain radiated through my chest and did not subside. Naturally, this happened as I was home alone with my two youngest children. I thought I could just ignore these symptoms and they would go away. So I got up and made breakfast for the kids. But not only did the symptoms not subside… They actually got worse. I tried to call my husband, who was away at softball practice, with no success. At this point I had gone into full out panic mode. My heart began racing out of control. That, combined with the back pain and chest pressure, led me to believe I was actually having a heart attack. Not knowing what else to do, and not wanting my children to see their mother fall to the ground and die right in front of them, I grabbed the phone, dialed 911 and ran into another room where my kids couldn’t see me. The nice man on the other end of the phone talked me through the panic and pain. He graciously stayed on the phone with me until the paramedics arrived.

After running a battery of tests, the EMT’s determined that there was no immediate threat. I was not actually having a heart attack. They did, however, strongly recommend that I go straight to the E.R.. The paramedics stayed with me until we finally got a hold of my husband, Neal. Within a short time, he was home. Taking the EMT’s advice, Neal took me to the emergency room. We spent the greater portion of the day there having multiple tests done, only to be told after several hours that there was nothing wrong… go home. The instructions were to follow up with my primary care physician… Which I did. My primary doctor ordered a nuclear stress test for me. And that brings me to the present.

While the pain in my back had subsided quite a bit over the past few days, the chest pressure hadn’t. I could barely sleep last night, because I was so nervous about taking this stress test. You have to know that this is one test you don’t EVER want to fail. My nerves were absolutely getting the best of me. With frequent episodes of panic and anxiety, it was really too hard to tell if what I was experiencing was in my heart or in my head. Either way, I was mentally preparing myself for the worst. I made sure to pray over my kids and give them extra big hugs and kisses as I shipped them out the door for school this morning.

While experiencing yet another bout of anxiety, I heard God speak very clearly to me. “What are you so afraid of?”

REALLY GOD?!? Have You NOT been paying attention to what’s going on with me lately?!? What am I so afraid of?!?

It was quite obvious what I was afraid of… What if I die? What if Neal has to raise the kids without me? What if God wasn’t willing to help me because I did this to myself? I opened the door to fear and allowed a stronghold of the enemy to manifest more powerfully than I was believing God’s stronghold on me is. What if, what if, what if!?! There are so many “what if’s”. Too many to count. That, God, is what I’m so afraid of.

And then I heard it again… “So what are you so afraid of?”

I thought about it for a bit. If I tell Him what I’m afraid of, and He asks me again… I must be missing something. What if I die? Well, I’ve received Jesus as my savior. So I’ll be in the most magnificent place with the most magnificent person. I’ll be in Heaven with Jesus. What if Neal has to raise the kids without me? Well, Neal is an amazing, attentive, smart, loving dad. He’s totally capable of doing a spectacular job of raising them. I have total confidence in him. What if God wasn’t willing to help me because I did this to myself? I opened the door to fear and allowed a stronghold of the enemy to manifest more powerfully than I was believing God’s stronghold on me is. Hmmmm… ouch. What if that’s true? I’m in big trouble.

It became apparent to me that this was the true root of my fear. What if Satan was stronger than God? Oh, make no mistake. I know he isn’t. But what if he is, only in my world, because it’s where my faith was. I was crossing my fingers, praying in tongues, quoting scripture, and doing anything else I could think of to make things right. None of it seemed to be working though. My faith wasn’t in any of those things. My faith was in the devil’s ability to walk right through the door I opened for him. After all, if I didn’t have a reason to question the health of my heart, the devil couldn’t convince me it was broken. Right? So this is my fault. I deserve whatever I get.

A couple hours later while sitting in the waiting room at the hospital to have my stress test, as yet another bout of anxiety was settling in, I prayed. I admitted that I was sitting in that room questioning the health of my heart because I had taken the gift of this temple and made light of it. I admitted to succumbing to the lies of the enemy that I deserve the struggle. Someone has to pay for my past mistakes. I was ready for God to look at me with a “Yes you did, but maybe I will clean up your mess… again” kind of look. But that’s not what I saw in my spirit. I saw Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress

Nothing but Grace. Nothing but love. Nothing but comfort and assurance. Of all the lies I had believed, one was actually a half truth. Someone did have to pay for all my past mistakes. That someone was Jesus. Paid in full.

Today I had two stress tests to pass… The first spiritual and the second physical. I am happy to say that I believe I’ve passed both. J The anxiety I’ve been experiencing has all but disappeared. I won’t actually have the doctors’ report about my time on the treadmill today for a few days yet. But it doesn’t matter. God is my refuge and my strength. He is my ever present help in trouble. I will not fear. I will be still and know that He is God.

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Just For Me

just for me

Just the other day I heard one of my favorite songs play on my computer. The song is “Precious Lord” sung by Mike Farris. Precious Lord is a nice song in its’ own right. But when Mike Farris got a hold of it… woh! That song totally rocks! It’s especially wonderful because God orchestrated that song with that artist just for me. It’s true!

My husband and I had each grown up with a smattering of religion. But thinking back to when we were new Christians, it was our first go at taking Jesus seriously. Saying yes to Jesus was the easy part for both of us. The tough part though, especially for Neal, was finding our way in this new world. We were both a product of secular living. So breaking up with the world didn’t necessarily come easy.

I immediately took to the local Christian radio station. Little by little, Christian music was replacing the secular stuff, until I wasn’t listening to anything else. I couldn’t seem to get Neal to switch though. It wasn’t a dislike of the Christian message in the songs. It was a pure dislike of the top twenty playlist that the one and only local Christian station would play. For a few months I did my very best to expose him to as much Christian music as I could. He really wasn’t having any of it.

…So I prayed.

I gave up trying to force Christian music on Neal. Instead, I prayed that God would provide some Christian music for Neal that he would actually want to hear. I wasn’t really sure how that could happen, since the local station kept primarily to their top twenty list that my husband did not like! Neal and I have always had different likes when it comes to music. I was into Barry Manilow… Neal was into some band called the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. (Seriously… what kind of name is the “Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies” anyhow?!?) Not exactly the same styles. But it was no longer my problem. I gave it to God.

One morning, as Neal was flipping through the radio stations, he heard something that made him stop. The local Christian radio station was playing their “pre-morning show song”. He liked it so much that he tuned in more than once to that station in the morning as they would play it each day. Finally, Neal decided to find out who this one and only artist was that he liked so much on this station. Guess who it was…

Mike Farris, formerly of the “Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies”, singing Precious Lord.

Turns out that Mr. Mike Farris went and got saved and recorded some AMAZING Christian music… which our local Christian station used a track from for their pre-morning show song… which happened to be playing at the very moment Neal scanned through the stations… which was all perfectly ordained and coordinated by our God who answered the prayer of a wife who wanted her husband to be blessed, but was blessed in return by now having a new household favorite that everyone, even our kids love to listen to. See… I told you… Just for me. J

Finding Favor

Have you ever had those moments that seem like a nuclear explosion of chaos in your world? I have joyfully, respectfully, and gratefully taken on the responsibility of leading a team of twenty people from three different states on a missions trip to a children’s home near Kingston, Jamaica. This is my first experience taking on such a role. Coordinating this team, although not without its’ challenges, has actually been rather fun for the most part. I have enjoyed the challenge of recruiting and coordinating team members and all we need as a team to make this trip successful. But recently I came upon a situation that would make even the toughest cookie feel like crumbling… I tried to purchase airfare.

I’m sure purchasing airfare seems like such a simple, even boring task. I mean really… How complicated could it be? I needed to coordinate airfare for twenty people out of three different states, getting them all to Kingston, Jamaica at the same time. But this is 2014. We are not without multiple resources to get it all done. Even still, I first decided to let a travel agent help me out. After about two full weeks of not getting much from her, despite my phone calls and emails, I finally received an email back with some travel options. A bit disappointed with the results she gave me, I did some research myself. I was finding the very flights she sent me at significantly lower prices! I called my travel agent, and in a respectful and much nicer tone than I wanted to have, I showed her the great deals I found in only five minutes of searching… as opposed to her two weeks. (I left out that last part… But I was thinking it!) I asked if she would be willing to book these new and better flights for us. Of course she said yes… for a fee of an extra $30 per person! Ugh! I respectfully declined and decided to do it myself.

Since we have so many people going on this trip, we qualify for a “group” status. What that means is that we can reserve all twenty tickets without having to pay the full amount up front. We also have the flexibility to change names on the tickets if needed. When dealing with a big group who are still trying to raise funds, these options are pretty important. I called the airline and spoke with a gentleman who quite obviously spoke English as a second language. I let him know our circumstances and asked if I could book our group tickets with him. He was certainly willing to help… for a $25 per person fee! Once again, I respectfully declined. I know those fees may not seem like a big deal. But when you’re raising funds, every penny counts. I need to be responsible for what monies I have been entrusted with.

Not wanting to lose the decent flight deals I had found, I figured I would just go online and book them all myself. The bad part of doing things this way is that the tickets would be officially purchased and issued… No refunds… No changes. If anyone had to back out at this point it would be too bad. The money would just be lost. Before making such a significant purchase, I needed to get all twenty team members to agree. It didn’t take long. In less than two hours, most everyone responded in agreement. I logged on to the airline website only to find the prices of the tickets had jumped up… significantly.

At this point, more than half of my day had been spent dealing with these tickets. When I saw the new, higher price, my stomach did a gigantic flip flop. The current price of our tickets were almost $100 more than our budgeted amount. Had I remembered to eat lunch, I easily could have lost it. Brain swirling, eyes hurting, feeling anxious, nauseated… *DEEP BREATH* “Be still and know that I am God”. As I heard that, I couldn’t help but wonder if God had been paying attention to my day so far. Ok… one more deep breath. I prayed for God’s favor as I picked up the phone and called the airline back.

Hallelujah! A sweet lady who spoke perfect English answered. I explained the unfortunate price jump to her. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do about that. Just as it seemed there was nothing she could do to help me, I felt prompted to tell her where we were going and why. She placed me on hold for a minute or two. When she came back on the line, she offered to waive the $25 per person fee and book the tickets for me with the “group” status. Although the ticket prices were still higher than they were earlier that day, at least we’d get the tickets reserved before prices potentially jumped up again. One of the other benefits of group status is the flexibility in the tickets. If prices drop, I can call and have our price lowered. She also gave me contact information to get free baggage vouchers for everyone in our group! With the savings in baggage fees alone, that brought our cost below the price I had found earlier. Amazing!

At the end of my conversation with this sweet lady, she told me that her hometown is actually Kingston, Jamaica. She wanted to express how thankful she was for what we were doing for the children in her country. That is the favor of God! No amount of my efforts, anxiety or frustration achieved anything. But one deep breath, a quick prayer and stepping back to let God do His thing did it all.

Letting go of control is so hard. Things couldn’t have looked worse when viewing the situation through human eyes. Only by letting go… by being still and knowing HE IS GOD, was I able to see His perfect grace in my little nuclear explosion of chaos. Compared to Him, I guess it doesn’t seem that big a deal after all.

Dreams

Can you remember back when you were a kid? Of course you do. What I actually meant to ask was, do you remember the dreams you had as a kid? Think about it. Your initial reaction may very well be to say yes. But if you take some time on this, I think you’ll agree that it may just be an automated response. While you might remember some of the ambitions you had, have you ever pondered why you wanted what you did?

It seems that everywhere I turn, the topic of dreams has been coming up. Admittedly, I haven’t thought about dreams in a long time. I’m very happy with my station in life. I love my husband and kids. Oh sure, there’s always something I’d like to change, have, get rid of, do differently, etc… But all in all, I’m good. So why is this topic surfacing like crazy to me? Experience tells me that there are no coincidences. God must want me to pay attention.

As I think back to some of the dreams I had when I was younger, I remember that I wanted to be a star on Broadway. I wanted to have at least six kids (all before I turned the old age of thirty, of course). I wanted also to be a psychologist in my spare time… You know, in between Broadway productions and raising kids. I had some dreams! They sound pretty ridiculous, right? Perhaps not as ridiculous as you might think.

What was it about those things that I really wanted? What did they mean? Why was it important to God to bring me back to those dreams? Surely it wasn’t to point out how I’d failed at reaching every single one. (ouch!) I never made it to Broadway. I only have three kids… The first of which I had at the age of thirty. (FYI – Three is enough!) And despite how I love to try and fix the world’s woes, I never did become a psychologist.

I knew it was God bringing me to this place. So I asked myself the question, “WHY did I want those things”. Well, after really pondering it, it was pretty simple. I wanted to be loved. That’s it. Nothing more. I would have fans who would love me for what I do, children who would love me for who I am, and patients who would love me for how I help. Love.

The next thought I had was not about how I failed in accomplishing my dreams, but rather how I succeeded. I am loved. There are people who love me for what I do, who I am, how I help, etc… But most importantly and unfailingly, that’s how my heavenly Father feels about me. He loves me not only for all those things in me, but even more, because He sees Jesus when He sees me. It feels good to be loved. It feels good to be successful. It feels good to be covered in the Grace that allows me both.

Don’t Be So Surprised (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I wrote about having witnessed God’s miracle healing. It was an incredible boost to my faith. But it was also an “in your face” reminder that not everyone was experiencing this miracle. Why? What was the difference between my situation with Faith’s chicken pox and anyone else experiencing, or not experiencing His healing? There had to be a reason.

I had been in church long enough to see people getting prayed for over and over again for things they never appeared to be getting healed from. As a new Christian, I just assumed that meant that sometimes God wants you healed… And unfortunately, sometimes He doesn’t. Maybe there was a prayer quota that God required… Like signing a petition. Then people could be healed. Or maybe it was getting the right person to pray. Surely a more “seasoned” Christian would have a better shot than someone who wasn’t as passionate about prayer. I wasn’t really sure why people weren’t getting healed. God was a slot machine. Pull the lever… Come on Jesus! Seven… Seven… Rats! Not a winner this time. Pull the lever again. Maybe have a friend pull the lever for good luck. Rats! Not a winner this time either. Healing was a gamble. And a bad one at that.

I spent the next several years witnessing and even experiencing the miracle of healing from God. Unfortunately, I spent those same years also witnessing and experiencing the let down and disappointment of not seeing miracles happen. Praying for healing became more of a ritual than an expectant hope. It was just something we did. The bigger the sickness, the more people we’d get to pray. Where were we going wrong?

I became more and more familiar with healing scriptures. One of my favorites, and probably the most well-known and used scripture is Isaiah 53:5. “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed”. This verse was practically stamped in my brain. Over and over I would quote it whenever the slightest symptom would rear its’ ugly head in my body or in my family. I had incorporated God’s Word into my “sick time ritual”.

Surely there must be some sort of consistency to God. He can’t really be as wishy-washy as the track record showed. If I was ever going to have a trusting relationship with Jesus, I had to make the decision that God’s Word is true. Profound, isn’t it? I decided that if God was real, and I knew He was… And if He is the one who breathed every word into the bible, and He did… And if I had received Jesus as my savior and become a joint heir with Him, and I did… Then what God spoke was for me… every time!

I’m believing God. I’m believing His Word is for me. Why were people still getting sick? I don’t know. But what I do know is that God says I’m healed. So sickness is not from Him. Sickness is not His will. There is never a time when God doesn’t want you healed and living in that perfect health. Scripture says that Jesus bore all our sickness and disease. You are not the sick fighting to be healed. You are the healed, resting in the promises of your creator and redeemer, resisting the weapons formed against you by the enemy. God promises that no weapon formed against you shall prosper. He never said no weapon would be formed. So when the ugly weapon of sickness or disease shows its’ ugly face in your presence, fight the way Jesus taught us to fight… “It is written”.

Don’t Be So Surprised (Part 1 of 2)

“Don’t be so surprised”. As long as I live, I will remember those words… I was a fairly new Christian, having only been a church-goer for less than a year. My husband Neal and I had three very young children. Garrett was two, Eddie one, and Faith was just a baby. One Friday afternoon, as I was washing up the kids, I noticed a few little red spots on Faith… and then on Eddie. Within a very short period of time, they were multiplying. One conversation with the doctor later and it was confirmed… Chicken pox. Ugh!

At that time, I was a member of the church choir. So Sunday morning, after changing one more round of diapers and checking on the state of the chicken pox, I headed off to church to perform my choir duties, leaving Neal at home with the kids. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember what songs we sang that morning. I don’t even remember what the topic preached during service was. But I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine in the hallway outside the sanctuary after service was over. We were talking about people getting, or rather not getting miraculously healed by God.

As my friend and I stood in the hallway chatting about this, I looked at her and said, “If I ever saw anyone actually get instantly and miraculously healed, I’d be SO surprised”. She nodded in agreement and added that we shouldn’t be surprised. But the unfortunate truth was that we would be.

After the morning church activities were over, I went home to relieve Neal of his nurse duties. I picked up Eddie and changed his diaper, checking on the chicken pox. Thankfully, there were still only fifteen or so spots on him. His case was so mild that he was able to handle the chicken pox really well. Next was Faith’s turn to get her “once over”. I took her diaper off. No spots. I took off her jammies. No spots. I took off every stitch of clothing she had on. No spots. They were gone! I searched her skin from top to bottom. That morning when I left for church, she had at least thirty or so spots. Just a few short hours later… zero. There wasn’t even a faded mark where the spots used to be. Her skin was as perfect and beautiful as God created her to be. I was so confused, bewildered, and otherwise shocked. And then I heard this voice resonating somewhere in the center of my body, “Don’t be so surprised”.

God had healed my daughter of chicken pox. I was finally witness to God’s miraculous healing power. There was absolutely no denying it. Faith was healed. And there was no explanation outside of God. I made a promise to God at that moment that I would never be surprised again at seeing someone get healed. I would always be amazed… But never again surprised.

Fat

fat1

“Terri, you just wouldn’t be you if you lost weight”. Those were the words I heard from a very well-meaning friend after listening to me grumble about how much I hate diets. I know that what he meant was probably something like, “You’re loved just the way you are. Don’t sweat it”. But what I heard down to the very core of my being was “I define you as fat. Fat is not what you are. It’s who you are”.

I remember, even as a child, I had an uncle who would make up songs about how chubby I was, and sing them to me regularly. The intention was to be funny. But the result… “I define you as fat… and that’s funny”. My dad, in a gesture of strange pride and even encouragement used to joke to family and friends how he loved taking me to a buffet as a kid, because he “always got his money’s worth”. Keeping up with my dad at dinner was one way that I knew (or believed in my young mind) that I was meeting his expectations and earning his love.  I know all my dad meant was “isn’t it cute how my little girl can pack it away”. (*note to parents… It’s NOT cute. It’s unhealthy*) What I heard was, “I define you as fat… You’re good at that”.  As a teenager, I helped out occasionally at a nearby horse farm. One afternoon, as I was riding one of the horses, the man who owned the place came over to me and said “If you lost a few pounds, you’d look amazing on that horse”. He knew I had been trying to lose weight. What I’m sure he meant was “keep it up and you’ll achieve your goals”. What I heard was, “I define you as fat. If you ever become not fat, you may be attractive. But right now, you’re fat”.

Like many others in my situation, I’ve got a whole list of other examples I could share. I’ve spent my entire forty-plus years of life being defined by fat. I fought it for many of those years. Somewhere along the way though, I quit fighting. I’m not sure when it happened. But at some point I subconsciously agreed with that definition of myself. It is who I am.

A few nights ago, my seven year old daughter and I were having a “girl’s night out”. We went to the mall, got her hair done, enjoyed a super delicious gelato… And to end our evening out, we went into one of those little instant photo booths. We waited excitedly for our strip of pics to pop down out of the picture chute. Finally, there they were. I almost gasped out loud at how ugly and grotesquely fat each close up of my face was. My daughter, of course, looked beautiful. But me? Most definitely not! My face became flushed and my eyes quickly teared up in embarrassment. I felt a sense of pity for my gorgeous daughter for having my fat face ruin our strip of pictures that we were just moments ago so excited to see. All I wanted to do was rip them up.

But then… My little girl grabbed the strip, looked at the pics with a gigantic and recently toothless grin, and said “These are awesome Mom! Can we pleeeease put these on the fridge where everyone can see?!?”. She loved them. She didn’t even flinch at the sight of them. Not once did she even offer a bit of sympathy and say, “don’t worry mom… they’re not that bad”. Nothing. She was looking at those pics as though they were beautiful… Because to her, they were. She wasn’t defining me as fat. She was defining me as mom… and everything beautiful that “being mom” represents.

Later, as I prayed about this situation, I heard God speak directly to those wounds created with the words I had let define me all my life. “I do not define you as fat. I define you as all the beauty I created you to be… wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, Child of God… Made in the image of beauty and love Himself. See yourself as I see you.” I asked for God to show me just exactly how He sees me. Having a bit of bible knowledge, I fully expected at this point to be led to Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs… depending on your translation). This was where God was going to say flowery wonderful things to me. Or perhaps I would even be led to Proverbs 31. I know I’m not superwoman. But maybe God was about to reassure me regarding all my good efforts to be the best wife and mother I can. Nope. Not this time. I prayed and prayed for a scripture. Nothing was coming. Then I turned to look at my daughter. My beautiful, precious, perfect beauty… My princess who totally has my heart… My daughter who I am eternally proud to claim as mine… My child who needs only to ask, and I would give her the world, were it in my hands.  And then I heard, “And that, my sweet Terri, is how I see you”.

While this revelation feels at the moment like a great healing, (and I’m sure it is), I get the feeling this only marks the beginning of my path of restoration. But by the Grace of God, as I am led by the Holy Spirit, I’m willing to redefine me. What or who defines you? Broken words or words of life? I choose life. I choose Jesus. I choose restoration. I choose Grace.  Grace that looks at me and sees love… not fat.

by Terri Sorenson

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