Thursday, January 29, 2015

Meet Nicole : powerfully changed from death to life

Nicole Gallagher - changed by God
Last week, many were reflecting on the Roe vs. Wade decision and Sanctity of Life Sunday. Rather than entering the conversation in an abstract or hostile way (which is sadly often the case), I asked my dear friend to share her personal story of God's work in her life--how he led her to choose life when it would have been much easier not to do so. Many women are aware of the obvious effect on the child, but rarely is the fuller picture of how the abortion will affect the mother discussed. I asked Nicole to speak to this issue as well. Her passion for God is evident from the moment you meet her! It was such a blessing to get to know her when we attended church together before moving back north. Our Presbyterian church needed her 'Praise Jesus' and Hallelujahs' and many were moved by her tears of thanks to God during the services (and still are, I'm sure). Read on, and may you be blessed and encouraged by Nicole...

I want to begin by saying that my story is not at all one of how I found Jesus, but instead of how Jesus picked me up out of the literal pit of destruction and set my feet upon a rock.
I was 27 years old and had already been on the path of destruction for seven years, before my eyes were opened to the consequences of what I was doing. I had been going hard all day, every day, getting high on crack cocaine and doing everything I was grown enough to do to support my monstrous five hundred dollar a day habit. Which sadly was most easily funded by street prostitution. Prostitution was an epidemic in Sanford at the time, the city I had run away to when I was 21. I hated what I had to do to get high, but being young and pretty made everything I needed readily available. This included being shacked up at the drug house, with the dope dealer’s brother, who also got high and loved the cliental I brought his way. This was the place I called home for the majority of the seven years I wasn’t in jail. At that point, I had frequented the jail more than 30 times. 
I was appalled when I found out that I was pregnant; who was going to want me if I was pregnant?? This was really going to put a damper on my everyday activity. So I asked one of my sugar daddies to pay for an abortion. He said he would, but only if I went and talked to someone first. I remembered how painful my first abortion was, as well as the promise I made to myself that if I was dumb enough to ever get pregnant again, I would give the child a chance. It is one of the worst physical pains I have ever experienced. Also, now knowing the infinite love of God for both me and the child I aborted, I realize that it is a spiritual pain that breaks the heart of God and leaves a scar on your soul.

I highly suggest that any woman who made the choice to abort a child, as I did, seek counseling through any pregnancy center in her area. When a woman (or man) comes to know the depravity of the sin of abortion, she will need healing and deep restoration. There is loving forgiveness from the Father in heaven, who can heal any pain that sin has caused. Seek the opportunity to honor that child's life through sharing your pain with someone who can help you. To any woman who is considering abortion, please know that you have other options for this child's life, who God has created on purpose for a purpose. Please also be mindful of those who cannot have children and would consider it the blessing of a lifetime to teach and raise your child.
The day I walked into the Sanford Crisis Pregnancy Center, which was oddly enough on the very same corner where I worked as a prostitute, I was greeted by a warmth and kindness that I will never forget. The ladies at the center told me that "life or death" was a choice. How could they be so kind to me after watching me jump in and out of cars with different men on a daily basis? I remember the words that Andrea spoke to me even today, “Why should I judge you Nicole, you just sin differently then I do."
I spoke with these ladies and let them know that I would be open to adoption, but made it very clear that I had absolutely no intent to stop doing what I was doing. I had no idea that from that moment, a spiritual war was waged concerning whether or not I would continue to self-destruct and possibly destroy the life inside me. I had no idea that I had been befriended by warriors in the kingdom of God that specialized in saving and preserving life in every form.
After meeting with the couple that would adopt my child, I wondered why such a nice Christian couple would want my baby, knowing that the father was African American and that it would possibly be born with some defects because of my selfishness. I had no idea that my blind eyes would be open to Christ’s love for me through this child's birth. Annalise was born on December 25th, a bit premature as an effect of my rampant drug use. Miraculously, she was not born with any defects or addicted to drugs and alcohol; Annalise was born with a 100 percent clean bill of health!!

It was three more years before I would be supernaturally delivered from addiction, and I have my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to thank, as well as the ladies at the crisis pregnancy center. The women continued to encourage and pray with me every time they saw me outside, and the adoptive parents of my daughter funded me to go to a rehab facility. Andrea, the director of the center, three years later continues to encourage me in who I am in Christ. She is my biggest cheerleader in every moment of victory that I have in my new life in Christ. Truly He makes ALL THINGS NEW!!

A couple of final notes from Ruth: Though I do not know your story, dear reader, and how your life may have been touched by abortion, I know you can find comfort in Jesus, the Friend who will walk with you every step of the way. He is WITH US and FOR US.  I will also add that having recently experienced an ectopic pregnancy, I was assured by many that this is one of the few situations where there is little to no chance for the baby to survive (and that the mother's life could be at risk). Thankfully, I did not have to choose to end my own child's life, though it was quite painful to experience the natural loss of our child. Because of my own struggle with infertility, I can relate to Nicole's encouragement that a mother consider adoption when she does not feel able to care for the child ...and am saddened by the many who do not know about or consider the women who can not carry their own child to term.

One last story... when I attended a prominent church in Colorado Springs, I was in a college and career group with a brave single woman who had been raped and yet chose to carry her baby to term! She humbled herself and moved back in with her parents for support during the pregnancy. I do not know if she put the baby up for adoption or raised the child herself, but I will never forget her testimony. She always said that it 'was not the baby's fault' and she did not want to add a second wrong to the first wrong.  

Additional resources for your encouragement or to share with a friend:

Focus on the Family Dignity of Human Life video
Article on how Abortion Harms a Woman's Health from FRC
David Crowder - Come As You Are - worship song

May God shower you with grace as you walk the road ahead of you...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Belief in God's love {our fuel for the joy battle}

Weary in many ways, we walked into the church service yesterday and were greeted by a group of precious elementary aged children singing Jesus Loves Me. It had been so long since I'd heard those words, or rather, since I'd really listened. Their sweet introduction led the congregation into Tomlin's worship song with the same title, and I fought to hold the tears back. Sometimes life just feels like a fight, and without the proper fuel and armor, we are left naked in the battle. I was fueled by that simple reminder of God's love, and ironically, didn't hear much more of the service because I was not feeling well. God knew that, of course.

In her new book, Fight Back With Joy, author Margaret Feinberg drills down to the source of the joy we all long for, especially as we face trials: 

What is the genesis of this joy? I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us….When we embrace this love and cultivate an awareness of it, our hearts are filled with joy. Such awareness strengthens our resolve that no matter the fight, we face it confident that God is with us and for us. When we fight back with joy, we no longer size the character of God according to our circumstances, but we size our circumstances according to the character of God and his great affection for us… When we fight back with joy, we embrace a reality that is more real than what we’re enduring and we awaken to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, joyful children of God."

I couldn't agree more! I have fought this battle to embrace God's love. In fact, it's at the core of my story. Letting go of my perfectionistic tendencies, and finding my hope and help in Christ, rather than my own abilities, has changed me body, mind and soul. No longer must I find my confidence in what others think of me, my achievements, or any other shaky ground. The firm foundation of God's love is the basis for the joy I experience now, and that can never be shaken.

I am a firm believer in the holistic nature of our body, mind and spirit, and passionate about encouraging women (and men) to pursue health and vitality that will encompass every part of their being. Joy is no small part of this pursuit towards wellness. The author knows this quite well, as she details in her book. She chose JOY to lead her fight against a cancer diagnosis, and surprised many at what a profound impact that choice made. We are not guaranteed health and wellness simply because we follow Christ, however, choosing to fight for joy can be one part of the remedy that leads us back to health in body, mind and soul. 

God finds delight in us, and delights to show up in our daily mundane schedule, often in remarkable ways. I have experienced the delight of this daily joy hunt over the last few years, and have seen what a profound impact that has had on every area of my life, health, relationships, and faith. Are we looking for God to show up? Are we creating, gathering, and spreading joy? This is part of 'cultivating an awareness of God's love', as mentioned in the quote above. I'd argue that self-care is part of that cultivation as well (but more on that in another post.)

Many of you may not believe that joy is a struggle for me, as I'll most likely greet you with a huge smile and a big hug, and have been told on numerous occasions what a joyful person I am. Hearing those comments brings ME joy, because it doesn't come easy. For any of you who have faced painful trials, you know the real depth of darkness they bring. I am not a stranger to that darkness. Perhaps you are in that place now, whether it is brought on by physical issues, life circumstances, or a struggle of faith.

It is so easy to give in to despair when life is hard, instead of seizing the day or rejoicing in the Lord, as the Word commands on numerous occasions. A former pastor often reminded us to avoid the Eeyore - Christian mentality (Eeyore is the pessimistic, stuffed donkey friend of Winnie the Pooh, if you're not up on children's literature :). In the words of C.S. Lewis, "Joy is the serious business of heaven." Our response to what life throws us will not only affect our lives, but those of onlookers. But don't take my word for it... pick up Feinberg's book, and dive into the meat of her search through hundreds of Scriptures on joy.

As Feinberg says, "Joy is more than a feeling; it's an action. We don't just sense joy; we embody it by how we respond to the circumstances before us." If you're facing any kind of darkness, or know someone who is, I'd highly recommend you pick up this book! Let that be your first action in the fight for joy. And then join me (and the author) in spreading that joy everywhere you go... it's contagious and irresistible!

Find Fight Back with Joy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Or click here for the 6-session DVD Bible study, sure to encourage and inspire!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Adjust your expectations, Miss Piggy!

I have to admit, I haven't laughed as hard as I did watching Muppets Most Wanted on Christmas Day... in quite some time. Not sure what that says about me, but there you go, think what you will! :) Regardless of whether you see the movie or not, you really MUST watch this music video. HI-larious, as my family would say! Paul and I got a good laugh out of it for days, really :) The movie and this video in particular got me thinking though, what have my expectations been lately - for myself, my marriage, my life, my faith, etc? Are they healthy, godly expectations, or are they self-centered worldly expectations? Okay, I'll be honest, a little of both. You too?

When we were newly married almost four years ago, Paul and I read Paul David Tripp's book, What Did You Expect? {Redeeming the Realities of Marriage} together, and it was revolutionary for us. I suspect Miss Piggy has not read this book (and Kermit is wise not to pop the question until she does! :) Expectations are tricky little boogers. Unfortunately for most of us, we don't realize we even have expectations for a certain relationship or situation until we find ourselves disappointed with the realities we are facing.

This time of year, I think it is safe to say that we are all faced with expectations for the new year before us. Whether those are positive, healthy expectations, guilt-ridden expectations, or simply selfish expectations, that's for you and God to evaluate...sharing with a friend is good too. Expectations are not inherently wrong, and in fact, can sometimes be helpful. Healthy expectations can help us make wise choices, enjoy the blessings around us, and dream about what God could do with our gifts and talents, among other things. Selfish expectations can do the opposite, often robbing us of joy, leading us down fruitless paths, and distracting us from God's best for our lives. As we move forward into our year, might we consider what our deeper motivations and expectations are? Why are we doing/planning/hoping for the things we are hoping for? Are our goals and expectations informed by truth, selfless love, and joy in Christ?

I've also seen that my dreams and expectations can be too small, as well! God-centered hopes and expectations are fixed on the person of Christ, HIS goals in the world, who we are in the image of God, and His power that can make all things possible. Only God knows if our hopes/dreams/expectations for ourselves this year are what HE would want. Have we asked Him to lead us in this area? Are we more focused on changing someone else, than being focused on surrendering to the amazing things God wants to do in and through us this year?

For added encouragement on this topic check out Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live or Holley Gerth's You're Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for You, as well as the Paul David Tripp book I mentioned above.

Please consider leaving a comment with your favorite book or resource on the topic! I'd love to learn from your experience. I'm also curious about the new movie Into the Woods, as I've heard it displays the down side of getting what we want. Have you seen it? What do you think?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thoughts on the new year...from my desk :)

It's been a great start to the new year in some ways, and a humbling reminder of my brokenness in other ways! So thankful for friends coming to visit, and thankful for a marriage that can hold the ups and downs of life with grace and truth. I've had just a bit of time to see bloggers and friends posting their new year's thoughts, goals, and dreams online, which is both exciting and intimidating!

I was once that girl. You know, the one with the color-coded, sectioned off goal sheet for the new year, complete with step-by-step subgoals and pictures. Go ahead and roll your eyes, my family certainly did! Thankfully, I've learned to give myself (and others) quite a bit more grace since my pre-teen years, and making new year's goals is not as overwhelming and oppressive to myself and others. I went through the phase of not making goals for a while, but instead determining new habits to focus on (life goals), and I've also tried making quarterly goals. Both have been great! I think I might do a little combo of that this year, but I'm also adding the ONE WORD challenge to my list. 

True to form, I've waited for the 'one word' phase to become a little less trendy, but I couldn't help myself this year. As I've spent time in prayer and conversation with friends over the last few days, the word PEACE keeps rolling around in my mind and heart. Not just peace, but the deeper and all-encompassing Hebrew word, SHALOM, the world and everything within it being made right, whole, complete, and as it was meant to be. For weeks and months, this word, shalom, has been popping up in various places...a sermon preached at a church we attended only a few email from my sister...the Spirit's prompting...a deep desire for shalom in our lives and the lives of unrelated conversation with a friend, etc. Okay, so you get the point, and I do too! God is up to something and I just need to pay attention. Isn't that really what it comes down to so often? God is doing something in our lives, we just need to surrender and embrace it. 

I'm still working on my quarterly goals, but I might just resurrect some from last quarter...that I didn't quite master. That still counts, right? Here you go: 

~ Eat something green every day
~ Keep water with me at all times (and guzzle it!) Best beauty habit ever.
~ 20 min reading / 20 min writing / 20 minutes yoga & meditation daily

And some new ones, considering it is a new year (quarter):

~ Finish the Tribe Writers course (next course starts in June, if you're interested!)
~ Emphasize conversation and interest in others on social media
~ Can I say it? Read through the Bible this year...Okay, so now you know and I have to do it! 

I'm excited about what She Reads Truth is doing to help us out with this, and optimistic that with community support, this last one might come to fruition. Whether you make this your goal or not, please do check out SRT. Great site! I will say that God is renewing my desire for the Word, and I'm only approaching this Bible-in-a-year goal by His grace and not in my own strength. Maybe chewing on the book of John is more your style?

Getting back to habits/life goals...take a look at Jonathan Edward's resolutions. Does it get any better than that? I'm pretty sure I can't master even one of them this year, but I plan to look them over regularly and ask God to help me move in that direction. Another idea is to write a vision statement, but I'll talk about that in another post, when I'm feeling a bit more motivated. It's not something to take lightly, and to be honest, it's been a while since I re-wrote my vision statement. Maybe it's time... maybe next quarter? :)

One more thing, a question for you, dear reader... could you take a moment and email me at I want to hear what topics would be a blessing to you this quarter/year! My overall focus is wellness + spirituality, but anything within that umbrella is an option. You can add this to my goal list : serve my readers well! I'd be happy to lift up any prayer requests as well. Just drop me a line! 

Hoping with you, for a new year and new quarter that is filled with the goodness of God, because no matter what happens, HE IS GOOD! 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Embracing the joy and mystery of Christmas {even when life hurts}

Emmanuel, God With Us, is inviting you into His mysterious joy...
I'll omit the apology for not writing in a while, because honestly? It's been a very challenging season of trials and this last heartache left our hearts bleeding and crying out for Christmas joy like no other. I'm not gonna lie, if any one of us is needing joy, I'll be the first in line! As I've cried out for comfort and leaned on friends in new ways, I'm finding that the things I'll share here are making all the difference. Perhaps this isn't exactly a picture perfect Christmas for you either? Well, stick around, because you and me, friend? We've got front row seats to a Christmas miracle and the tickets are FREE!

I've asked God for a special reminder of His presence and love, and the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel has sprinkled crumbs on the trail to His glory and grace. My worship-leader-treasured-friend reminded me that most Christmas songs are written in a minor key, and you might be asking why? Longing. We are all longing for the hope, peace, and joy that the people of God craved before the first coming of Christ. They weren't just waiting for months, or a couple years, we're talking hundreds of years since there had been any prophetic revelation from God.  Take a nice, slow read of a few stanzas in the song at this link.

Do you see the longing displayed in those words? These were some seriously dark times for the people of God, friends. May we find encouragement in knowing that we are not alone this Christmas, and God is again this year bending low, humbling Himself and giving His presence in the midst of whatever circumstances we are facing.

Emmanuel, God with us. He is the friend like no other, who will sit down with you in the middle of your mess. He'll hold you, he'll cry with you. In fact, He came to share the sufferings of life with you. He is the gracious and compassionate High Priest. My mind is struggling to wrap itself around the simultaneous truths of God's goodness and sovereignty, yet again. No need to feel guilt over that if you are there too. But regardless of whether or not you are able to embrace those mind-bending truths, you can confess your doubt and struggle to believe Him. 

My mind turns to the beautiful young Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. Because of her humble faith, we are able to enjoy the embrace of our Savior in hard and happy times. When we don't understand why God is allowing difficulties, or when we are equally astounded at undeserved blessings that come our way (as we should be), we honor God by entering the mystery of His grace with the humble faith Mary had. She did not understand exactly what God was doing, but she chose to praise Him in the midst of it and she chose to embrace HIS plan for her life. It was certainly not an easy road for her, in many ways. I'm asking myself this Christmas, how can I embrace where God has me, both the good and bad, and praise Him still? How can you?

Though He will always come to find us, humbly entering our mess, we can bring Him glory by moving towards Him in faith as well. 
Remember, He wants to be WITH YOU in your pain. He is not asking You to wash up and put on that cute holiday dress before you can show up at the ball. He takes your hand, and invites you into His presence anyway. 
I'm still learning to dance, but here are some steps I'm taking towards His embrace this Christmas...

Honesty and humility - Nobody likes platitudes, but sometimes speaking the truth as a bandaid over our pain (whether it's our self-talk or the words of others) helps, and other times, the wound just keeps festering underneath. I know, because when the pain is gushing out bright red, your sweet little heart feels like it just might explode and who wants that? Being honest with a few friends, my husband, and most importantly, God, has been vital to surviving this recent loss. It is pretty humbling to have to admit how much we can struggle to believe (especially when that word is plastered all over ads and commercials this time of year) but no one can really help if they don't know what you're going through. 

Friends like Philemon - If you don't have friends like Paul had in Philemon, who encourage your heart and stand with you in the battle, start asking God for them. But most likely, I'd be willing to bet there is at least one friend or family member who is wanting to be there for you. Will you let them in? I can totally empathize here, as asking for help is again, humbling, but thankfully the people who love me are patient, and I'm certain your support network will be too.

Moving towards the pain, not away from it - Ouch. I know, I had to bring this up, right? Hiding in bed is pretty comforting too, but we've all got to face the day at some point. The pain and grief you are facing won't go away, and maybe you are not ready to deal with the issues right now, but the longer we put it off, the slower the healing will be. Give yourself grace, but take some small steps every day to look at the wounds, allowing the Healer to bind them up and comfort you with His word.

Forgiveness - If nothing else in this post has spoken to you, I'm guessing maybe this one might? Unforgiveness is such a huge obstacle to joy at Christmas time, considering all the people we are mingling with. Small talk won't cut it if there are years of misunderstanding that need to be dealt with. What if you had that talk you've been putting off for so long? Have you considered forgiving yourself too? The Gospel is Christ coming to earth, entering our mess, making a way for hope, joy and PEACE with Him and others for eternity.

Tears of worship - Remember those friends I mentioned? Another lovely friend comforted me with the fact that our tears are precious to God (He keeps them all in a bottle, the Word says, but it's okay if you need that Olympic-size swimming pool next to mine :) When prayer is hard, friends seem absent, and you're just not ready to deal with the pain, tears are enough. He is WITH us, and willing to walk with us, wherever we are today, whether we are ready to heal or still curled up in a ball.

I hope you can find comfort in the mysterious joy of Emmanuel this Christmas, regardless of your circumstances. Remember that dusty, dirty stable where Christ was born? It's okay if that's what your heart, your home, or your relationships are looking like this Christmas. Jesus did not demand a perfect situation for His arrival on earth. He humbled Himself and came in the most vulnerable way. Wherever you are this Christmas, He wants to be WITH you there. Will you let Him in?

For additional encouragement, check out Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) by Chris Tomlin and Hope is Alive by Ellie Holcomb. I've had the second on repeat lately, it's that good :)

UPDATE: Great encouragement for the suffering in this broken, hostile world from Ann Voskamp (don't miss the spoken word video at the end!)

Amazed by Grace,


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The wellness secret that will change everything

Fall snuck in the back door, and just as quietly, is about to leave, replacing brilliant colors with serene and peaceful landscapes.

Long, quiet, lonely days prompt me to pick up the lens and capture moments of joy to remember the beauty right outside my door. So too, is the choice to be thankful... a lovely guest that sits out in the foyer waiting to be welcomed in, but is often ignored while the pesky and burdensome Discontent distracts and dazzles.

Making the choice to really see the beauty we're surrounded by is strangely difficult. Thankfulness is the mortar that holds together the joints and marrow of our souls, giving our lives shape and meaning.

This stony path is littered with beautiful surprises and one small secret spurs me on when my faith lags...

She told me during another rough time that what God was giving me in that season was His best for me...not an afterthought, a punishment, a manipulation to get me to 'behave better'.

And so I turn the key and open this door to a beautiful surprise, the gift of joy. Realizing that because God gives what is best, I have what I want (who really does know what one's soul deeply needs?) rather than wanting what I don't have. What I have is all I need for today. Perhaps tomorrow, a need or desire will arise, but for today, my soul can be full if I slow down to chew and enjoy the feast of today.

I see light ahead, showing only the next step towards Home. I wipe the dust of fear and doubt at the welcome mat of His throne, and whisper thanks for Him, for my hard-working man, for the simple joy of snapping beauty all around. And I feel His smile and embrace as we warm by the fire of joy.

For further meditation: Matthew 6:25-34, Psalm 30:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

By Grace,


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Gluten-free banana chocolate chip oat muffins

Hey friends!

Here's a quick and easy treat for you, complete with the option to try the muffins dairy and gluten-free if you so desire!  I whipped these up in less than 20 min with about a 25 min bake time, so no major fuss. I've decided that I will try to cook gluten-free when I can, but not spend an inordinate amount of time or money trying to do it. These muffins can be made by quickly grinding oats into flour, without having to buy expensive and hard-to-find flours. Cooking and meal planning need to be enjoyable and not too demanding or it is easy to just give up and go back to bad habits. Better to make a few healthy improvements, stay within budget, and enjoy food that your family won't total reject :) I've tried the vegetarian, gluten-free, and organic eating habits, and being too legalistic about it doesn't really help the healthy living cause in our home :)

So enough chatter.... here's the original recipe from A Mama's Story with my notes below

To make your own oat flour.... It's as easy as measuring about a 1/4 cup more oats than the recipe calls for in oat flour, and blend away in your blender! Wa-la, your have your own oat flour. Be sure to measure the flour again, because it's not an exact science. You also want to check that you are using gluten-free oats if you have a major gluten allergy, but I've read good sources that say oats really don't have that much, if any, gluten. Do your research. I used the olive oil the recipe calls for, but I might try coconut oil next time for a change and a little added flavor. I didn't have chocolate chips, but a chocolate bar chopped up worked just as well. My muffins were a tad gooey at a 24 min bake time, so depending on your oven and your preferences, you might want to consider that.

Enjoy your treat!