This So Isn’t Me – Battling Anxiety

I have been after Macy to write a guest post for almost a year now.  There is something about the way she shares her heart that always convicts and encourages me, and I was excited to share that with all of you.  What she ended up sending is a collection of snapshots into her battle with anxiety, and I believe that God will use her struggles to give those of us in similar places hope.  I pray that you will be encouraged by her heart!

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I’m not sure how to pull these thoughts together with an introductory paragraph. To me, they are all connected with a common thread that I apparently can’t put to words. Let’s just introduce it as a collection of snapshots into my battle with anxiety.

Last year, Joe told me that he has had to relearn how to be married to me. This was after we had one of our biggest fights to date. It had to do with me sharing a creative idea with him privately and him sharing the idea with others and running with it before I’d had a chance to speak up. He argued that I had never before cared about taking credit for an idea, preferring to remain nameless. And he was right– but It wasn’t so much about the recognition. It was more about the ownership of my participation in the world around me. My tendency is to mesh. To blend. To let things pass by me, through me, even. This all stems from fear, of course. Of being misunderstood. Of being disliked. Of being wrong. But I am learning to spend less time trying to perfectly portray myself to people and more time just getting in there showing up and learning and contributing. That’s where vulnerability happens. That’s where connections are made. That’s what has the power to break that enormous barrier between me and others that I feel I have been timidly tapping on my whole life, afraid of calling too much attention.

I told a friend a while back that anxiety, to me, feels like I’m trying to navigate through life with someone screaming continuously inside my head. The screaming isn’t even words, just constant “white noise” muddying up my ability to be completely present in whatever it is I’m doing. I still haven’t figured out how to turn the noise off completely but I am learning to dial back the static and focus on the life going on around me.  My comfort zones are tiny spaces, with the white noise bouncing off the walls and amplifying 1000x over. But I think if I can break that barrier, just shatter it and live in bigger spaces, maybe that noise will actually have some space to dissipate into.

I was recently bawling my eyes out because I felt so incredibly inadequate to do a certain thing. I couldn’t see why I had been trusted with it in the first place. Joe asked me “Macy, are you solving more problems than you are creating? Then you’re good.” That really hit me hard.  I am never never never going to get to a place where I do it perfectly. No matter what “it” is. I think I was trying to maintain a perfect record by doing nothing at all, but what an unfulfilling life that ended up being.

I’ve been pushing myself super hard lately– working full time on evening shift, giving up some of the social life I feel like I only just built, taking on a leadership role in the piano hub @ my church. We are in major debt payoff/house savings mode, I’m going to the gym regularly (mostly haha), and we’re hoping for a baby for too many years in a row now. It all feels like chaos a lot of the time and I crave a giant pause button.

I have found myself saying so much lately “I don’t feel like myself!!” “This so isn’t me!!” as I am forced to do things less than perfectly and not be able to hide it or dwell on it. I think “I’m not a speeder. I’m not ever late. I’m not insensitive. I’m not careless. I’m not unorganized. I’m not unprepared!!” But, I am those things. I am human and flawed, but I used to avoid pressure to keep those flaws from surfacing. What’s coming to the surface now is a whole lot of ugly and broken and I’m doing my best to take it apart & let it be rebuilt better, and it has been super cool to realize I am surrounded by beautiful people who are okay with my awkward unfinished parts.

Because taking credit for my own ideas, and actively contributing to things that I am passionate about despite being afraid, and connecting with a variety of people on a regular basis, and finding my way through the fog, and yelling over the static…. well, those things “so aren’t me!” either. But I am discovering that yes, indeed, they are.

 

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Contentment in Brokenness: Sexual Impurity and the “Good Christian Girl”

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Women seem to have so many things to hide: zits, wrinkles, gray hair; mood swings, anxiety, depression; exhaustion from working overtime or caring for a sick loved one or staying up all night with a collicky baby; we desperately try to hide anything that shows our imperfections or weakness. We’re often ashamed of our weakness, but perhaps most hidden and shameful of all are all of the sexual impurities that have left their marks on our bodies and our souls.

I was seventeen and naively confident in my sexual activity. Only, I wasn’t really that confident, but the older man abusing me at the time tried to make me think that I was. I carried the secret of my shame for the next two years, even after he was long gone and Christ had become King of my heart.

I kept silent out of a twisted concern for the man who had taken advantage of me, but also out of fear that my new Christian sisters would label me a freak and a sinner and an outcast. “Good Christian girls don’t do those things,” Satan whispered, “and they certainly don’t talk about them.”

Don’t we all believe these lies? That we are alone in our suffering, abnormal in our struggles, and despicable in our secret sins? That we’re ruined, unlovable, and unforgivable? I know I believed them, and still do sometimes. But the truth is that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1) and “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the even better news is that our God is not a God who can’t relate to our suffering and struggles: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3); and “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

How gloriously wrong I turned out to be about these lies! My sisters loved me MORE, not less, when I broke down and spilled the secret that had been poisoning my heart. They spoke the truth of the gospel to me: “You have been redeemed! You are a new creation! You are the bride of Christ!” And what a beautiful truth it is, that Christ suffered and died and rose to new life that I may die to myself and be made alive in Him. Even the confusion over that man’s sin and my own sin in it is covered by grace, much to my constant relief.

So why are so many women, especially Christian women, still hiding? Partly because of the stigma that “good Christian girls” (whoever they are) need to be pure in every way APART from God’s grace; that they need to be whole BEFORE they come to the cross.

But the cross is for broken people: the sinners, the abused, the outcasts; the girls with zits and wrinkles and anxiety and depression and every kind of weakness or temptation. And if the cross is for people like that, then I am content to be broken that He may restore me to new life, made whole only by His indomitable grace.

*If you have been physically or sexually abused, the No More website (http://nomore.org/need-immediate-help/) has helpful resources and hotlines.  I also urge you to find a trusted Christian friend or mentor to talk to. Feel free to contact me, as well, at christianc@dm.org.

**If you are wrestling with your own sexual sin that is controlling your life, check out Harvest USA (http://www.harvestusa.org/), a Christian organization aimed at caring for sexually broken people in Jesus’ name.

Contentment in Chronic Illness

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Perhaps the title sounds like an oxymoron to you? To me, this has become a reality. But contentment was not always a familiar place in which I resided.

During my mid-twenties, I was a young wife and mother and had it become quite apparent to me that something was clearly wrong with my physical health. I was in constant physical pain and had chronic fatigue, among other confusing symptoms such as memory loss, migraines, and insomnia (just to name a few). Finally, after almost 5 years of personal research, countless doctor’s visits, and a plethora of prayers, I was officially diagnosed.

The main offender was recognized as Fibromyalgia, along with a myriad of co-existing conditions which accompany this syndrome. As you may conclude, I went through a grief process, for I had permanently lost my good health at a young age. That being said, I do believe that if and when God chose to heal me that He indeed could do so. I was quite familiar with the fact that Paul did not have the thorn of his affliction removed even after he asked God three times (2nd Corinthians 12:1-10). Not to mention, God’s own son — who was perfect in every way — suffered not only physically, but emotionally as well (1st Peter 4:1-19). Therefore, if I was a follower of Christ, should I expect anything different than this?

I suppose before I go on, I should let you know the definition of contentment in which I subscribe. This is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

contentment — an internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances

Okay, sounds like a goal in which a good Christian should aspire to, right? However, how does one attain such a lofty goal?

As mentioned earlier I did go through the stages of grief as I mourned my physical health, future goals, and ideas of what the perfect mom and wife should look like. The first stage is Denial. I must admit I did not spend much time here, due to the fact that I had a few years to mentally prepare myself before my official diagnosis came. In fact, strangely enough, it was a relief and validation that I was not losing my mind. Indeed, something was amiss with my health. Moreover, one of my favorite verses has always been Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; and in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

I knew whatever was happening to me was no surprise to God and He would always be there for me!

The second stage of grief is Anger. This is not an emotion that I personally feel comfortable with, especially in light of trying to represent Christ. I know anger in and of itself is not sinful, yet one can sin due to anger. Thinking back, I believe a more precise way to describe this phase of grief for me would be disappointment. I found the medical community to have very little information at the time about this relatively unstudied syndrome called “Fibromyalgia”. Also, at that time treatment for Fibromyalgia consisted solely of dosing with pharmaceuticals. This was contrary to my personal beliefs of achieving a healthier body. I looked to God again, knowing that He had the answer if any improvement was to be had. I let go of any unreasonable hope I may have placed on the medical community. This helped me to move onto the next stage.

Bargaining is said to be the third stage of the grief process. I found this to be a non-issue, for as I stated above, I was trusting God’s plan even if it was not mine, uncomfortable, or even downright painful. If you find yourself stuck in the chains of bargaining you will not know the beautiful freedom Christ has given you. Christ paid the unfathomable price of His precious life so you would no longer have to find yourself trying to work for (or bargain) your way into better circumstances. I recommend reading 1 Peter 4 as one way to have a proper perspective. There are many more scriptures on suffering; just take a look in your concordance.

Now before you think I have just breezed through all of the stages like some super-saint, here comes the cold, ugly truth of my personal struggle: Depression. This is the 4th stage in the process of grieving. This has been my Achille’s heel since I was a young child. Now, this is a common symptom for anyone who has a chronic illness or is in chronic pain. That being said, God has a way to free us from this as well.

I have found the books of Psalms and Philippians to be a soothing balm for this condition. If you want to free yourself of this sad state — start praising and thanking God for His goodness as soon as your eyes open in the morning. Repeat this process throughout the day and pray away any negative thoughts from the enemy as soon as one enters your mind.

I would like to say that this step was a once and done process for me, but unfortunately I have moments, (sometimes seasons), where I struggle. For example, my husband was a youth pastor for about 7 years and during these years I was unable to actively participate in various events. One such event was a mission’s trip to Kentucky. Our own teenagers were going on, and I really had wanted to go with the group. Unfortunately, due to the  nature of the trip and lodging I would not be able to physically withstand the conditions. Did I feel like throwing a pity party? You bet!

However, I knew that was not the attitude or actions God wanted me to have concerning this trip. No, instead He humbled me and showed me that I still could be a vital part of this mission’s effort. I remained at home with only God and became a prayer warrior for our youth group’s missions trip. The trip went well and the now-young adults still talk about the life changing events that occurred on this trip. God is good!

Now we come to the last stage of the stage of grief: Acceptance.  Much like depression, I have my moments or seasons where I question if my condition actually is Fibromyalgia and not another condition such as Lupus or Lyme’s Disease. I do accept I have a medical condition — I am just uncertain about the actual diagnosis. I suppose in reality it may not matter much what one calls this condition — rather that we trust the One who is sovereign. Jeremiah 29:11 says:

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

May you and those you know struggling hold on to our only true hope.

While this brings us to an end on the stages of grief, it does not necessarily bring us to the next stage of our Christian life. That is becoming what God has planned (in spite of what may seem like impossible circumstances). Yes, we have hope eternal in Him and He has given us gifts and opportunities no matter the challenge. If He wants us to do something we have our strength through Him! (Philippians 4:10-20)

One of the ways He has me dying to my flesh is looking beyond my suffering to help others in need. I find this distraction from self to be beneficial. Try it and you will see how He fills you with special joy, comfort, and peace. If I can encourage you in any way or answer any questions, please leave me a message below. May God bless you!

Having a Bad Day

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When my kids were younger, one of the books I loved to read to them was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. This classic book chronicles one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, and gives hope that there are days like that, no matter who you are or where you live.

It’s easy to forget that everyone has days like that, even kids.

When I was starting seventh grade, my dad left the family. We moved to a different house, I began attending a new school, and pretty much every day was a bad day. I don’t recall many things, but I do remember how my Math teacher was named Mrs. Sunshine (really!) and that was my last class of the day and I didn’t like math to begin with. I would end up in the counselor’s office regularly instead of being in class, but I had no words for why I was having a bad day.

Children often do not have words to describe what is happening but the right book often speaks to their heart. That difficult year I discovered “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo; a massive tome of tragedy bearing little resemblance to the Disney movie. I don’t remember much about the book, but I devoured it — the desperation of the mother who lost her child to the gypsies, the degenerate church leaders, the deformed bell ringer who loved the gypsy girl who was tortured and eventually hung. It took me out of myself and gave me a bigger perspective on life.

Bad days are not measured by the type of things going wrong, they are measured by the size of your world.

This is why a child can have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when they are in a loving environment where they are safe and sheltered and fed. Their world is small because they have no experience outside their own. This is why Job finally realized his string of bad days paled in the presence of the Creator who loved him.

Job had his perspective on life expanded to the max.

Tears and frustrations are useless if we fail to see what Job saw and realize that dark days and nights are part of life, but they do not define the limits of our experience. I think one of the most important things to learn from our dark times is compassion for those who cannot yet see outside the circle of their perspective.

God Weeps With Us – Tears of Joy

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Read the first part of Amanda’s story God Weeps With Us – Tears of Pain

Grief is different for everyone, and everyone goes through the stages in their own time and at their own pace.

I cried myself to sleep for months and it was well over a year before I stopped having nightmares. The doctors had run some tests but couldn’t find any reason why I went into early labor. They also said that whatever had happened was a fluke and shouldn’t happen again. We were pretty anxious to get pregnant again, not to replace William, because no one ever could, but it left a hole in us that we were hoping to ease with another baby.

I also strongly believe that going through something like this will either make or break your marriage. It made ours stronger, no one felt my pain the way that Seth did. He was such a comfort to me. But as the months started to pass us by we both began to get pretty discouraged. We realized that it may not be easy for us to get pregnant again, and seeing other people get pregnant without even trying kind of hurt. It was no one’s fault that they got pregnant easily, they just did.

Seth and I didn’t know what we wanted to do anymore. We needed to be alone together, to grieve, and to seek God’s direction for our lives. We had saved up a good bit of money, and so we both quit our jobs and moved 5 hours away to my mom’s hunting cabin in the woods. The cabin had electricity but no running water, but that didn’t bother us.

We spent four months there over the winter. We slept, prayed, chopped wood, fetched water and watched movies. We prayed for direction and a baby but most of all we prayed that we would do what God wanted us to do.

One day while Seth was cleaning his guns I asked him if he had ever consider being a gunsmith. He was very passionate about them so why not? We looked up gunsmithing schools and there was one located in Pittsburgh that was one of the top three schools in US. We applied and Seth got accepted. We could both feel God leading us and we knew without a doubt that Seth was meant to go there. Seth’s school was full time for 16 months long and boy, was it hard. With his school and both of us working, we were under a lot of stress, and we both still battled with the loss of our son.

I distanced myself emotionally from a lot of my friends with children. I hated myself for the feelings I had. I wanted to be happy for them but there was a part of me that wasn’t. I would listen to them complain about how hard it was, how they couldn’t take another sick or screaming kid, that they never got to go anywhere or that they never got any sleep. Sometimes they would say how lucky I was because I could do what I wanted and wasn’t tied down.

Inside, I was screaming. I would give anything to be tired because William kept me up or deal with the millionth poopy diaper and runny nose. In my mind, they were the lucky ones.

One day after another friend of mine told me she was pregnant, I went out to our truck and I screamed at God. Why would he give me this desire to be a mom if he was never going to fill it? Was it a cruel joke? A punishment? After I finished yelling and crying I felt God give me peace, just like he always has, and again I prayed for him to give us a baby in his time.

Seth still had a couple more months of school left when I heard that a Jane, a friend of my family, was pregnant and possibly looking into putting the baby up for adoption. I talked to Seth about it and we decided it couldn’t hurt anything to send her a message, so I wrote to her that if she was seriously considering adoption Seth and I were interested. She quickly responded, thanked us for the offer but said that she had decided to keep the baby. I wasn’t too upset because we hadn’t really gotten our hopes up.

Months later, I received another message from Jane. As I started reading my heart began racing. She told me that she had decided she wasn’t ready to be a mother and asked if Seth and I would reconsider adopting her baby.

I sat there in my chair and cried, completely overwhelmed by the rush of hope. I called Seth at work and told him the news, then asked if we could adopt her. Without any hesitation Seth said yes!

October 8th, 2012 was when we found out that we were going to adopt this little girl, but she was due Dec 12th which meant that we had only two months to get ready for her. I didn’t know how in the world it would happen, but I knew that this was God’s hand moving and he would work out all of the wrinkles.

My best friends set up a Facebook page so people could donate, our church threw us a money tree baby shower, another friend held a fundraiser for us and my sister gave us a crib, a swing, a car seat and clothes galore! Money poured in from all across the country, much of it from family and friends that we hadn’t seen in years. My father-in-law was able to get us an amazing lawyer who took our case for a really good price. It wasn’t long before everything had fallen into place.

We had met with Jane and everything seemed all set. She had already named the baby Samantha Rayne. She said we could changed it if we wanted to but she would love if we kept it. Samantha means “God has heard” and Rayne means “a blessing from above”. I don’t think there is a more perfect name to describe what she is to us! God truly had heard us!

Jane went into labor in the wee hours of the morning on December 11th. We arrived at the hospital and waited in the waiting room. I couldn’t believe the time had come, we were only moments away from holding a baby that was going to be ours! Jane was amazing and so brave. I will always be thankful for what she did for us.

When they brought us Samantha, Seth held her first, so perfect and pink. She weighed 6 lbs 5 oz and was 19 inches long. She had dark hair and dark blues eyes. I got to hold her next and I couldn’t believe that I was holding my daughter. There had been years that I thought this moment would never happen. I was holding a miracle in my arms, proof that God heard my prayers.

Two days later we got to take the precious baby home with us. On the drive home I was looking out the window and kept seeing lights shoot across the sky, but I brushed them off as just reflections from other cars. When the lights didn’t stop I asked Seth if I was just seeing things, but he said no, they were shooting stars. There were dozens of them. I felt as though God was putting on a display just for us!

We had always joked that if God wanted us to adopt he would literally have to drop a baby into our laps, and that was what he did. We couldn’t have planned a better scenario ourselves. I sat in the car and cried softly, not tears of sadness but tears of joy as I rejoiced in God’s goodness. His love never fails and I am so thankful he never let me go, even when my faith was gone and my heart felt broken.

We may never know why we lost William, but we would not have been in a place to adopt Sammi if we hadn’t. God’s plan is perfect and he truly makes broken things beautiful.

God Weeps With Us – Tears of Pain

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It was a normal Wednesday morning.  I got up early, packed lunches, got Seth out the door and then finished getting ready myself.  I was almost ready and just had to run to the bathroom quickly. But when I went to wipe, I instantly knew something was wrong.  It felt like I was holding a water balloon between my thighs.

A million thoughts ran through my mind and though it felt like years it took only seconds for me to realize what it was: it was my water.  I remember screaming out loud, “God, no! Don’t take my baby!”

It was too early. I was just under 21 weeks pregnant, he wouldn’t survive if he came now!  We hadn’t found out the sex but Seth and I were both convinced we were having a boy.  I dug my phone out of my pocket and called Seth.  I tried my best to explain what was happening, but saying it out loud made it all too real and when I hung up the phone the tears started coming.  As hard as I tried to stay calm I couldn’t and my whole body started to shake uncontrollably.  Then my worst fear happened: my water broke.

Seth had just gotten back, and he ran next door to see if his mother could drive us to the hospital.  Within minutes we were sitting in the back of my in-laws mini van.  We sat there in a state of shock and numbness, what would happen now?  Was there even a chance we could save our child?  We started calling family and close friends and they started a massive prayer chain.  We needed all the prayers we could get.

After being admitted to the hospital they did an ultrasound and we got to see our baby.  His heart beat was strong and he was moving around a lot, so besides my fluids being low he was as good as could be.  They told us that if there was no infection I might be able to stay on bed rest until it was safe for me to deliver. But, if there were any signs of infection, it would be better to deliver him.  My mother- and sister-in-laws went straight to work cleaning our little apartment in the hope that we could wait out the next 4 to 6 weeks in bed.  In that moment we clung to the smallest drop of hope even though we both knew it was a long shot.

A little later they came for my blood.  I have never had a nurse successfully get blood out of my arm, and after three failed attempts she gave up and drew it from my hand.  When the doctor came back with the results they weren’t good; my white blood cell count had started to rise.  I felt as if my entire world had been ripped out of my hands.

They continued to take my blood every four hours. Each time it was a different nurse who tried to take it from my arm and then would give up and take it from my hand, which was now turning purple from being bled so frequently.

I started to get cramps and after a while I realized they were contractions.  They started coming every 2 to 5 minutes.  The nurse hooked me up to a machine to try to read my contractions but it couldn’t really pick them up.  Even though the machine didn’t register them, it didn’t stop them from hurting. I didn’t mind the pain, it felt good to feel something.  It made me think a little less about the agony that had taken over my heart and emotions.  As much as I almost welcomed the distraction I knew what it meant: my baby was going to come and there was not a single thing I could do to stop it.

The contractions slowed and then stopped after about three hours.  Again I clung to the hope that my slowing labor brought me, but as they continued to take my blood it only brought me more anguish because my white blood cell count was still rising.

We tried to sleep but it was impossible.  By morning Seth was looking pretty terrible, he was still wearing his work clothes from the day before, his eyes were red and he definitely could use a shower and nap.  I told him to go home and at least put on some new clothes, it took a lot of coaxing but he finally did.

Shortly after he left I had to go to the bathroom, and because I couldn’t get out of bed I had to use a bed pan.  The nurse helped me get set up and then she stepped out of the room to give me privacy.  After a few moments something felt weird, so I reached down and realized that I could feel the top of my baby’s head.  I started yelling for help, for anyone within earshot.

A million thoughts ran through my head: “God, no!  God, why?  Not me!  Not my baby!  My baby can’t be born in a bed pan!  God, help me, someone, anyone, help me!”

My mom came running in the room and dropped all the food she was carrying.  She confirmed what I already knew and then ran out into the hall to get somebody.  Instantly, there were nurses everywhere and the doctor was there seconds later.

I yelled for my mom and told her to call Seth.  He needed to be here.  I couldn’t believe that I made him go home.

Even now, that is the only thing in my life that I regret doing.

It all happened so fast, and before I knew it the doctor handed me the smallest and most perfect little bundle.  It was a boy!  We had been right all along!  He was so beautiful and my heart was so full of love, and yet so full of pain.

He didn’t move or open his eyes, but I could see his heart beating and every few minutes his little chest would heave as he tried to breathe.  He couldn’t breathe.  My perfect, beautiful baby couldn’t breathe, and there was nothing that I could do to save him.  I was so angry, I was supposed to be able to take care of him, protect him and keep him safe, but all I could do was hold him as he lay dying in my arms.

I knew he would recognize my voice, so as calmly as I could I told him over and over again how much I loved him and how beautiful he was.  I told him that I was sorry I had to let him go and how much he meant to me.  I kissed him over and over as I clung to him.  Seth arrived shortly after he was born, just in time to hold his first born son before he left us.  Seeing Seth hold William is a picture that will be forever engraved in my mind.

Our little William.  William Stephen Lebo born May 14th, 1lb 1.4oz, 10 3/4 inches long.

He had a little bit of dark hair, his daddy’s earlobes and his mommy’s long fingers.  He had Seth’s jaw line and my “thunder thighs” as Seth likes to call them.  He was perfect!  Seth sat on the bed with me and we just cried.   We held him until his little heart stopped beating and we cried even more.

Rain fell gently against the window pane, it was as if God was weeping with us.

I felt as though the pain would never end, but given the choice I wouldn’t have given up our brief moments with him for all the pain relief in the world.  In our arms laid the purest and most innocent little baby.  He was tiny – oh so tiny!  But he touched us far greater than anything else ever could.

In that moment, I felt so many different emotions. I felt sad, angry and hurt, but above all I felt God’s strength in me. I knew it was not mine, I didn’t have any more.  Everything in me wanted to give up, but God gave me strength and he gave me peace.  The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  I don’t know why and I may never know why.  It will never take away the pain, but with his strength I found a resting place in the peace he gave me.  God is in control and he uses all things for his glory even though In the moment it is impossible to see it.

Amanda’s story will continue in God Weeps With Us – Tears of Joy.