shame-LESS

April 7, 2014 — 12 Comments

My Story Monday! Today’s story come to you from Shawn Hodges, one of our contributing photographers in Texas.  This is such a great piece for women of all ages to read.  If you have made mistakes in your life (who hasn’t?) and have a “past” that keeps reminding you of your failures, please read this woman’s story of letting go of shame. You are loved.  You have been redeemed.  And He is calling you to a life of freedom.  Read on…

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shame-LESS by Amy Jo Blanton

Shame.

It is a wave of guilt that continues to rise up over our heads trying to drown us.
It is a joy stealer and an identity robber.  It comes in, takes over and covers us like a black cloud, whispering to us that we are not who Jesus says we are.

It is a weapon used by our enemy to keep us locked in neutral with no forward motion.

Shame.

I know this because shame once ruled in my life.  It lied to me and told me over and over that my sin was too thick and too deep for my Savior to USE me.  Now understand what I meant, I didn’t say Jesus couldn’t save me.  I said, He couldn’t Use Me.  Salvation can be received, but the enemy can use this one word to keep us from experiencing the life we were purposed for on this planet. If there is one thing Satan likes, it’s a guilt-ridden Christian.

That was me.

I could write down all my shameful moments.  All my failures. But I will spare you.  I will give no glory to my sin.  That’s not what God has told me to say for now.  What he has told me to say is this one truth:

NO sin is too black, NO life is too lost, and NO past is too ugly that HIS amazing grace cannot fully recover and redeem.  No. Not. One.

I can remember a time after I had surrendered my life to following Jesus when all I could do was tell myself over and over, “Amy, if only you hadn’t done all those awful, disgusting things. If only you had listened and ran the opposite direction. But now, this is your background. Your reality. This is your ugly scar that will never go away. Your past has forfeited any hope of a beautiful future!”

That is the lie I believed.  That my past canceled out the promises of Jesus.

Thankfully one day I was told of a story of someone’s past that didn’t trump her future.

And that was the story of Rahab.

It begins in Joshua 2. And it tells of woman with a shameful and dishonorable past, a prostitute.

Rahab was seen as a “nobody.” A worthless, rejected woman whose identity seemed to cancel all of her value.  Yet God chose this woman, of all the people in Jericho. He chose her to help his people, the Israelites, take hold of their Promised Land.  Not only was she the channel through which God used to deliver His people to their inheritance, she was celebrated in the New Testament for her faith.  Hebrews 11:31 describes Rehab this way, “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.”

I had heard the story of Rahab many times. And I knew she was known for her identity as a prostitute and her bravery to defend God’s people. This amazed me.

But what God revealed to me that day was a small, little detail that I had never read or heard before.  One short verse that hit me right in the center of my dark lie….

Matthew 1:1, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David…..
(vs. 5) Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was RAHAB…”

Are you kidding me??? Rahab in the lineage of Jesus?  I sat there with my mouth hanging wide open, tears streaming down my face. How can this be? A prostitute was Jesus’s great, great, great (x20) grandmother?  I could not believe what I was hearing or what I was reading!  But there it was, in the black and white, God-breathed word.  A shameful woman a part of the redemption story.  My redemption story.

And I heard Jesus say to me in that moment, “I was not ashamed of her. In fact, she is a part of me.  And Amy, I am not ashamed of you. I am a part of you.  Shame has no place in you, my daughter. “

My past didn’t matter anymore.  All those feelings of guilt and regret, they were gone instantly.  When I realized this woman, who led a life full of shame, was called out of her shame. That she was not just used by God to rescue His own people but that her life had an even greater purpose: God desired this woman to be a part of the ancestral line of Jesus, the very Son of God.  In that moment, I felt Redeemed and New and Free!

My sister, shame will keep you from the beautiful life God has purposed for you.  Remember what I said earlier, regret over your past will keep you on the side lines.   It will cause you to never enter the race marked out before you.  It will make believe you are crippled and weak.  But you are a beautiful story of his mercy and grace. I am like Rahab. You are like Rahab. Maybe our sin doesn’t line up just like hers, but our shame can.

Isaiah 61:7:
“Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.  And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.”

I have entered the race.  Satan knows it.  Guilt-ridden, I am no more! And my joy is to tell of this beautiful life that I now live full of freedom and redemption!

 

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Photography Credit

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As a young teen, Shawn had dreamed of becoming a photographer/artist one day. Shawn Hodges Photography officially was born in January 2008. The business celebrated five years in January 2013. Shawn wants to help other woman and teens find their identity and beauty in Jesus! She is so excited to see what God will do through this ministry. She is experiencing first hand how God can restore life and value. She is planning to impact the kingdom of heaven with the hearts of many beautiful women!

 

Everybody Hashtag!

March 12, 2014 — Leave a comment

Hey there all!  Just had a fantabulous meeting last night with my friend LeeSa.  She is planning on sharing her amazing personal story with us soon, so be looking for that.  And let me just say…God is amazing :)

I also wanted to officially launch a hashtag campaign.  I’m a little late on the hashtag game but better late than never, right?  I want YOU to participate in this project.  Anytime you see something or someone that the rest of us need to know in regards to our value and beauty, post it!  And tag it #whoisbeautiful.  I have added an Instagram widget to the side of the blog and will be changing it to show only those posts with the hashtag #whoisbeautiful.  This can be someone in your life that you think is incredible or is doing amazing things for their community or family, or it can be a word of encouragement for all of us.  Be creative!  I can’t wait to see this develop!

Have an amazing day and keep Him close at heart!

Anna Bowman

Founder of Who Is Beautiful

2nd Blog Anniversary

March 3, 2014 — 2 Comments

I have been contemplating today’s anniversary for the last month or so.  It was two years ago today that I made the first post here on Who Is Beautiful.  I had no idea what to expect from it and still find myself in awe of what God did in the hearts of women through this project.  I have heard so many positive stories of God’s goodness in the lives of women.  It encourages me to see Him work visibly in us and witness the changes in individuals that have been touched by Who Is Beautiful in one way or another.

I was trying to narrow down one or two things that I’m thankful for about this project.  There are so many things I could list but I really want to say that I’m thankful for YOU.  YOU are the ones that read the articles and share them with others in the hopes of encouraging and lifting other women.  YOU are the ones who have decided to share you own very personal, very important stories with all of us.  YOU, dear ladies, are the fuel and fire behind this project on every level.  What I love so much about Who Is Beautiful is that it is for YOU and by YOU.  YOU are the reason this project exists.  So thank you….  Thank you for your willingness, obedience, and transparency.  Thank you for your faithfulness in sharing with others.  Thank you for having the courage to share your story with complete strangers.  And most importantly, thank you God for guiding us all.

Some of our contributing photographers participated in a photography challenge for the anniversary.  Below you will find several images depicting beauty from their personal perspective.  There may even be a few images in there by yours truly :)   Please enjoy their talents and be sure to leave them an encouraging word!  They donate their time to this project just like everyone else involved.  Plus they donate the images from their shoots to the women sharing their stories on this blog.  Thanks for taking the time to check it out.  Please share and be blessed!

Anna Bowman

Founder of WhoIsBeautiful

Shawn Hodges of Shawn Hodges Photography

I wonder if the creation ever feels like it is inadequate or lacking of beauty! And yet God created us above every other thing He created. He made us in His own image…How much more beautiful are we to Him?

Anna Martin of Anna Martin Photography

Generations

Generations: Deuteronomy 7:9 “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.”

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This reminds me of resting in the Father’s unconditional love.

Stephanie Housszu of Stephanie D Photography

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Erin is a mom of three young children, a drama leader at church, preschool teacher and loving wife.  She balances her busy life with daily devotions and prayer time which keeps her grounded in her faith.

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Rachel is a single working mom to three beautiful children, she finds her strength and joy during hard times in the Lord.

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Jenn is a youth leader who is expecting her first baby, a little boy.  She loves leading high school girls into a deeper relationship with Christ.

Anna Bowman

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I love the joy and reckless abandon on my daughter’s face here.  She looks absolutely free and that is what I want her to be throughout her life.  Not held down by anything.  Strong, expressive, fearless, beautiful…

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My youngest daughter.  If you know her, you know she marches to the beat of her own drum.  In fact, as I type this my oldest is telling me that she is swinging on the headboard of her bed haha!  I find her confidence beautiful.  She is looking straight into the camera and giving her best smile – bright eyed and crinkled nose.  She is untainted by any insecurity.  Happy and innocent.  The world is her playground and each new day holds endless adventures.

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A father and his son.  It is so beautiful to witness my husband teaching my son.  You can see the trust in my son’s eyes as he is listening to his Daddy.  He trusts him to teach him and not to embarrass him as he learns. Little fingers being guided by wiser hands.  What a beautiful gift a father gives when he takes the time to teach his children what he knows!

 

 

Gail

February 26, 2014 — 1 Comment

This story comes from a woman named Gail.  I met her at CFNI in Dallas.  We have both since moved but keep in touch through facebook.  She recently, and very suddenly, lost her husband.  One morning in November he was sharing at a men’s bible study.  By that evening, He had passed from this life.  She has now been thrust into an entirely new role as head of her household and a single parent to their four children.  She is in the throws of accepting what has happened and looking to her new life and what challenges/adventures it may hold.  Through it all, she is finding God and His beauty…

“My aspiration this year is to find no less than 365 scenes of beauty, not limited to physical beauty but spiritual as well. I believe that when one travels through a mountain(trial), that God places beauty around them to encourage them to keep going, and to bless them as they follow him. Sometimes these beauty blessings are obvious and other times they are hidden. It is my hope to be continually awestruck by the beauty of God in the midst of the journey, so that I may be continually drawn to my knees in worship.” – Gail

Beauty – Can I see it in the chaos? Can I find it amidst the heart ache? Is there beauty in the broken dreams? Is it lurking close by as we face our greatest trials in life?

Almost a year ago my husband and I drove our family of 6 to a little town at the base of the Smokey Mountains trying to figure out if this might be the next stop in our journey after bible school. I remember the breathtaking beauty of the mountains as we saw them on the horizon. As we assented up the mountains, we were surrounded by the wonder of God’s creation, and were amazed at how beautiful creation could be. At one point on our journey we reached a plateau of sorts. I remember being struck with how anti-climatic it was. The journey up the mountain range, was so much richer then the view at the peak.

A still quiet voice spoke to me in that moment. “If mountains are like trials, can you see beauty as you approach your mountains? Can you see beauty as you journey over your mountains?”

The question has stayed with me. Am I willing to see God’s beauty in the struggle? Is God’s beauty there? What does this beauty look like? Thinking back to that moment, I had no idea the mountain range that was stretching before me. We have lived now in the view of the Smokey Mountains, for a little over six months. On one day not so very different than any other day, our lives were turned upside down. My husband woke up early in the morning and took our oldest son to a men’s breakfast, where he gave a message. Later that day, an aneurysm took my beloved husband home to Jesus, leaving me a widow and my four young children fatherless.

So now I face a life I never dreamed of living. I feel a grief I never thought would come so soon. I know the anguish of loss, and I must hold my children’s hands as I see them experience a sorrow that no child should have to experience.

This is my mountain range, and in it I choose to seek out beauty. I experience beauty as I see the body of Christ surround me with support, and love. I marvel at beauty when I see my 10 year old dance her heart out to God, despite her struggle. I find beauty in the words of wisdom and drawings of my 7 year old son. There is beauty as my two littlest ones snuggle in close, not really understanding but cuddling anyways.

As we start to muddle our way through this next season in our lives, beauty comes in the form of tears shared, laughter that begins healing, small victories celebrated, and a legacy remembered.

And so as we continue through this journey, may I continue to find beauty.

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Anniversary approaching…

February 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

We are quickly approaching the two year anniversary of WhoIsBeautiful.  It was two years ago March 1st that I launched this project and it has proven to be such a blessing to me and hopefully to others.  God continually shows me His beauty through others and their amazing stories.  To celebrate the two year anniversary, the contributing photography team members are going to put together an exhibition of beauty as seen in their very own surroundings.  I’m so looking forward to sharing these photos and seeing the unique way in which beauty reveals itself.

For today, I would like to update you on one particular story sharer, Marla, and her photographer, Shawn Hodges.  They have had some significant opportunities to share Marla’s story recently.  Marla was asked to share her story at an event hosted by Pat Smith.  Pat, married to famed Cowboys football player Emmitt Smith, has a ministry focused on women and overcoming.  Marla’s story was a great fit!  ABC News Anchor, Robin Roberts, shared her story of overcoming cancer as well.  You can watch the video of the event below.

God is doing great things!  I am always amazed at how seamlessly he connects us….  I’ll be sharing another story soon from a woman who just recently lost her husband.  She has written a raw portrait of finding God in her grief.  Stay tuned….

Celebrating Second Chances Video

Marla’s Story

Blessings,

Anna Bowman

Founder of WhoIsBeautiful

 

I’m Back…Kind of

December 5, 2013 — Leave a comment

I am back to writing again and hopefully sharing more encouraging stories from some really great women!  Baby Cedar is doing great and the other three are adjusting very well.  We, of course, have had some incidents and some tantrums.  Charis, my youngest daughter, decided to color on the brand new cabinets that my husband and father-in-law built for our upstairs playroom.  They had only been installed for 20 minutes!  She may or may not have also walked off into the woods by our house nearly giving me a heart attack.  And, I’m pretty sure she contributed to the demise of a few of our fish.  Can’t turn your back on her for two seconds!! BUT, things are getting better :)   My oldest is like a little mother.  I think she thinks Cedar is her very own.  She dotes on him daily.  My son is just happy to be evening out the playing field with another boy.  :)

I’m not sure how frequently I can post.  Homeschooling two kids and caring for four is proving to tie up my hands quite a bit. :)   But I’m looking forward to writing again here and there.

I wanted to share this article I read today about pregnancy and motherhood.  I can definitely relate seeing as I am just 8 weeks postpartum.  There is so much pressure to return to your normal weight and shape after having a baby.  People can be quite critical and inconsiderate in their judgements of a new mom.  Every woman’s body is different and responds to pregnancy and childbirth differently.  Inevitably, you will look different after carrying a child for 9 months.  I totally agree with this writer that our culture puts way too much attention and effort trying to erase the effects of motherhood.  I’m all about being healthy and losing the weight you gained while pregnant.  What I am against is self-hatred and comparison. Enjoy the read then click on the other articles shared on this subject right here on WhoIsBeautiful.

http://themattwalshblog.com/2013/12/05/you-dont-have-to-erase-every-trace-of-childbirth-from-your-body/

Caralyn’s story

Meagan’s story

Blessings,

Anna Bowman

Founder of WhoIsBeautiful

 

Beauty in Pregnancy

October 9, 2013 — 4 Comments

I am sitting contemplating the fact that the birth of my fourth child is less than 24 hours away.  There are so many thoughts and emotions running through my mind today.  First, I have to admit, I am a little scared of the surgery.  I’ve been through this 3 times before and I think that almost makes it worse.  I KNOW what I’m facing…. Second, I can’t wait to get my arms around that little baby boy and take in all of the amazing miracle that he is.  And he is totally a miracle!  We all are.  When you think of all that has to take place to produce the life of another human being, who could ever deny there was a God???  It truly is amazing.  I am humbled by His creation and the beauty found even in the smallest details.  And to think, He already knows my son.  He knit him together in my womb (Psalm 139).  I’m so excited to add him to our family.

I was looking at my now very round belly last night and just remembering that it has been a home for all four of our children.  The stretch marks that run across the circumference of it tell the story of each of those children.  I almost can’t believe it.  Somehow my body housed four other beings with four separate heartbeats and nurtured them until they made their appearance on the outside.  There is so much beauty in that!

However, there isn’t much glamor in being pregnant. I mean, let’s be honest.  You have hair in places you didn’t before.  You possibly have stretch marks like many of us do. You sweat like a man.  Your body takes on the shape of something akin to swallowing a beach ball or watermelon.  You might get the “pregnancy mask” which could potentially make you look like you have 5 o’clock shadow 24 hours a day or make you look like a raccoon (both looks are equally pleasant).  The gas…..that’s all I will say about that.  Heartburn…..it’s awesome!  For some women, your feet grow/swell and don’t even get me started on the sausage fingers.  Your face could break out like it did when you were 13 or just be so oily that you look like you took a bath in a grease pit.  And then there are the various smells.  Can anyone say BO?  Extra strength deoderant, here I come!!

But, despite all of those unpleasant effects of pregnancy, I still see beauty.  Even though my chin has now joined itself seamlessly with my neck, making one single glorious column for which my head sits on, I still choose to see beauty.  LIFE is beautiful!  Being pregnant with LIFE is beautiful! I feel so honored to be able to play a part in bringing LIFE to this earth.  The weight gain and body changes are unimportant in comparison to the role I get to play as mother to these amazing gifts from heaven.  Who cares if I earned a few more marks or a few more gray hairs in the process?!  I am an imperfect vessel used in God’s beautifully perfect creation!

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Anna Bowman

Founder of WhoIsBeautiful

Christie

September 16, 2013 — 1 Comment

Adoption. When anyone ever shares they were adopted I always get the chills. I think its because someone thought beyond the natural need to have children of their own. I know some adopted because of fertility issues and some are lead to adopt by God. To me it doesn’t matter because anyone who can adopt a child and love them as their own are special people. Even more special are the children of adoption. The ones that grow and thrive such as Christie. Enjoy.  (Story brought to you by Crystal Nix)

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Twinkie.  That’s what I’ve been described as since I was little.  How can a little girl be a Twinkie, you might ask.  Well, some would say I’m yellow on the outside and white on the inside.  I never took much offense to the term, laughing it off with everyone who joked about it.  Being adopted from South Korea and raised by Caucasian parents was a fact of life for me.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about my parents and family.  They are the greatest family in the world. However, even despite their love, I struggled with who I am for a long time.

Young girls are thrust into a world that judges them, criticizes them, and encourages them to look a certain way.  Growing up in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class town, most of my classmates had light hair, blue or green eyes, and many were very thin.  They had boats, access to nice hair salons, expensive clothes, and what I thought at the time to be beautiful lives.  I, on the other hand, was chubby with black hair and dark brown eyes.  My family was blessed with plenty, especially compared to the rest of the world, but we didn’t live like many of my classmates.  Most people knew me as “the Asian girl”, since there were hardly any minorities in my school.  While boys chased after my friends, I sat on the side wishing someone would notice me, and maybe for once a crush would say they liked me, too.

Of course my parents always told me I was beautiful, but they were my parents and I felt they were biased.  They didn’t see what I saw when I looked into the mirror, or what I presumed other kids saw, too.  I remember one instance when I was twelve and I had a crush on a boy from Vacation Bible School.  My friend and I were invited to a pool party at someone’s house and he was there.  In pre-teen fashion, a friend of mine told him that I thought he was cute, to which he replied, “ew, the Chinese girl?”  I’ll never forget that. It planted some deep seeds of insecurity within me.  For a long time I thought I would never have a boyfriend, let alone a husband.

For most of my adolescent years, I pined for my mom’s blonde hair and blue eyes.  I thought that if I could just look like “everyone else” that all of my troubles would be solved.  I failed to see that my perception of “everybody else” was incredibly wrong.  I felt that God had made a mistake in putting me in an Asian body.  My mom would continually tell me that God doesn’t make mistakes and that I’m exactly how He wanted me to be.  Being upset with my outward appearance, essentially with how He made me, was more ugly to God than any scar or unwanted physical trait.  It was years before I actually believed her, but she was right.

Around the time that I fully committed my life to Christ, I became more comfortable in my own skin.  One day it hit me: there are a lot of different people in this world and each one of them is here for a reason.  God has never, and will never, make a mistake. He made us as He saw fit.  The real beauty that God sees is in our love for Him.  It’s whom we are deep down.  It’s how we serve the Lord with a happy heart and how we pour out His love onto other people.  It’s how God becomes the top priority in our lives and we allow all else to flow from that decision.  That’s what real beauty is, and that’s type of beauty that transcends skin color.

As the years have passed, I’ve learned that being caught up with outward appearance is shallow, and I wish I hadn’t given it so much thought for so long.  It’s difficult, though, for women and men- young and old alike- to move past this in a culture that values very shallow things.  The life God calls us to live contradicts much of what our world pushes on us.  Beauty, material possessions, financial success, and selfishness are praised, while a God-honoring life is commonly seen as “close minded.”

Recently, I’ve wondered why people say beauty is skin deep.  Why must beauty be equated with our skin at all?  Beauty is beyond our skin- it’s what comes from our hearts.  So to every girl and woman out there, young and old, who questions her beauty: please try to put your focus on what’s on the inside. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Photography Credit

CrystalNix

I am a simple girl who loves simple things. I am who God made me to be which is a raw, honest women who loves to see and encourage the good in others.  As a mother the moments that I love most are the simple days enjoying simple moments. I feel my photography conveys that in that it is simply about the family, the child and or the beautiful women I have been blessed to capture. I like to keep it simple.  www.snapshotsbycrystal.com

Leslie

September 9, 2013 — 6 Comments

Today’s story comes from my friend Leslie.  She and her sister were our childhood neighbors and have been lifelong friends of ours.  Thinking back about all those days we played together, none of us could predict the paths our lives would take.  Leslie’s story is a story of God’s miraculous hand orchestrating His will over a situation that seemed impossible.  I stand amazed at the strength and beauty she possesses in retelling the life-changing events that happened with the birth of her son, Jameson. A true beauty for ashes story (Isaiah 61:3)….

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When I was 9 weeks pregnant I heard the heartbeat of my second child. It was a wonderful feeling, but it only lasted a few weeks. On my next appointment, I had a second ultrasound to check a cyst on my left ovary. The doctor became very quiet and finally told me that my baby had an abdominal wall defect and he wasn’t sure how involved it was. He couldn’t tell me if my baby would survive and he made an appointment for me to see a specialist called a perinatalologist. I drove home from the appointment sobbing and met my husband in the driveway. We cried and tried to make sense of the situation.

I researched all the possibilities and I remember being relieved that he didn’t have the worst of these defects, which was Pentalogy of Cantrell. Two agonizing weeks later I met with the specialist. He was about two hours behind schedule. I waited for my husband to meet me hoping that my case was misdiagnosed. Instead, the doctor told me that my baby had an abdominal wall defect called an omphalocele. The O contained his liver and intestines and the bottom part of his heart. He also told me that some of his sternum was missing. He couldn’t give me any hope, but he did offer an amnio and told me that termination was an option. He also told us that the baby was a boy.

Even though I was devastated I tried to make the best of the situation. I started praying, and learning to trust God in a way I had never experienced. I felt like I had to give my growing baby to God. That he wasn’t really mine to keep. I knew God was working in my life, but I didn’t understand why it had to be this way. From there I researched doctors and tried to find the best doctor in Arkansas. I came across Paul Wendell, who I started seeing at 18 weeks gestation. He told me there was basically no chance of survival in this type of case and he sent me to more specialists, a cardiologist and a neonatologist.

At 20 weeks, our baby was diagnosed with Pentalogy of Cantrell. This was the condition that I had seen during my research. I knew what it was. The cardiologist told me this was fatal. Despite the bleak outlook I tried to learn from the situation. Everyday was a battle in my mind. I knew I had to keep going so I continued working as a kindergarten teacher and raising my 20 month old daughter. It was a struggle to say the least, with some days beginning in tears. I felt like I was on a good path and all of it was taken from me in an instant. Nothing seemed right. One afternoon while shopping with my daughter a man approached me and told me that I would need a double stroller soon. I broke down. It wasn’t the first or last time. I remember receiving a baby blanket at work and I had to leave my class. I didn’t purchase any items for the baby. I did have to ask my mother in law to buy an outfit for his burial. I could barely make the words pass through my lips. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to go into the store. It was too much to handle.

My belly grew and we named the baby Jameson. I felt Jameson move everyday. I talked to him and prayed for him and loved him more with each day. Towards the end of the pregnancy my husband and I began to look for burial plots. We found a peaceful place beside my grandparents. It was beyond hard. The casket was tiny and white. I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby, someone taking him from me hours after birth. I hated it. I remember one night it stormed and all I could think was that he would be out there all alone in that tiny casket so far from my arms. It was hard to understand God’s purpose with my tiny baby. All I knew for sure was that I wanted Jameson to know that I loved him, even if it was only for five seconds. I wanted to hold him and touch his skin to my skin and kiss his tiny head. I asked God to take him quickly. I didn’t want him to suffer.

I went into labor on June 27, 2012 and delivered Jameson via Vbac at six am. He weighed eight pounds even and he let out a small cry. Even though the doctors told us things looked extremely grim we decided to have him taken to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for an evaluation. I held him and kissed him before he left. I felt very peaceful after the birth. Kyle left and met Jameson’s doctor for his NICU team that day. He immediately made us feel more comfortable. He gave us hope that we could take it day by day.

I left the hospital a few hours later and went straight to the NICU. He had a room by himself for a few days so we got to spend some alone time with him. One of his doctors later told me that she didn’t think he would even make it through that first night. I was unable to hold him, but I prayed for him and asked everyone I knew to do the same.

He did make it through that first night and after about a week he started taking my breast milk via tube feedings. We also got to hold him. He grew stronger each day, but his heart wasn’t keeping up. He continued to have desaturations and turn blue. He needed his heart repaired. This was something the doctors had hoped to put off until his omphalocele was more stable but on October 2 we planned to have his open heart surgery. Unfortunately, someone needed a total heart transplant on the same day and our surgery got cancelled. We ended up having the repair on October 6th. I remember pushing him back into the surgery room and knowing that this might be the end for us. I prayed a lot during those first few months and sometimes I heard no reply. I wanted God to tell me why he would put my child through so much. Why was he allowing him to suffer? As a mother I felt responsible.

After the heart surgery things didn’t get better. Jameson was still having desaturations and turning completely blue. One day I walked up to a team of doctors around him with a crash cart out. This was around the time the doctors told me things weren’t getting better because Jameson had tracheal and bronchial malacia and that he would need a tracheostomy and a ventilator until he was stronger. I had a lot of questions for the doctors. My number one concern was what would his quality of life be? How long would he need a ventilator? Would he have to live in a facility if I died. I was once again faced with the question…. do I discontinue care and hold my child as his life ends or do I go forward with yet another surgery? Jameson was four months old, he liked to snuggle, he loved reading books, and he loved being rocked. I couldn’t imagine letting go of my child, but I was prepared to if it was the best thing for him. I hated being faced with these decisions. My life was so easy before. I didn’t know this side of life existed. I was surrounded by sick children everyday. I saw them struggle. Most of them were alone with no one by their side except a nurse. Their parents had to go back to work, or had other children, or lived far away. What upset me the most was the children who were abandoned in foster care and struggling. I questioned God. Why?

I had a lot on my mind, I never got to rest, and my time was split between my very sick baby and my two year old. I prayed and called my counselor. I feel that God provided me this woman. She had life experiences that helped me to deal with my current circumstances. I told her I felt like the struggle was my fault and that Jameson was here and struggling because of me. I didn’t want to put him through a hard life. I said, Jameson won’t be able to eat, or talk, while he has this machine. She looked at me and said “But Leslie, one day he will walk, he will see, he will hear, he will touch. Think of all of the things he can do and not of all of the things he can’t do.” She looked at me and told me that I wasn’t keeping Jameson alive. I wasn’t in control. She said God could take him right now if he wanted to, but he hasn’t because he is here for a reason. Wow. This made sense to me. She said “these thoughts that you are responsible for his suffering, or that you are the one here keeping him alive… these are not from God.” Wow.

We made the decision to get Jameson a tracheotomy in November. The NICU team believed that Jameson would progress and go on to live a fairly “normal” life. They strongly urged us to go forward. Jameson had g tube placed, a trach, and diaphragmatic hernia repair. One week later it was Thanksgiving day and he was stable enough for us to hold him for the first time since his surgery. He looked up at Kyle and I and smiled. This was the first time I had seen his whole face – his face without any tubes or tape. It was precious and wonderful. I prayed that he would get to come home soon. The days and weeks rolled by and he became stronger and stronger. The pulmanolgist estimated that he would be off of the ventilator by age two. We struggled a lot with tiny milestones, but I stayed focused on moving forward and we did.

On May 13, 2013, 10 months and 16 days after birth, Jameson came home for the first time. He just celebrated his first birthday. He is healthy and strong. He brings joy to everyone around him. My life is full of challenges now, but I believe this is God’s path for my life and I gladly accept it. I now spend my days taking care of Jameson, who is on a ventilator and oxygen, and my daughter who is three. Although it is hard I feel that God has given me grace. He has provided for me and my family. Jameson is a happy guy and is developing new skills every day. I don’t compare him to other children. He’s special to me and brings joy to our lives. I think about my friends with children still at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Some of them have never gone home and some of them never will. Many of the moms I became close to lost their children. I’m not sure why. I’ve learned not to question too much. I don’t know why this happened to us, or why children suffer, or why some people never get the miracle they are praying for. All I do know is God has given me peace, he has provided for my family, he loves us and I believe he has a plan that is much much bigger than our plan. We just have to trust him and go where he leads. So these days I try to focus my attention on being the best momma I can be to my children and the best wife I can be to my husband. I finally realize that its not all about me. I see others suffering and I want to be the hands and feet. I want to go where God leads. I’m not guaranteed a lifetime with my children so I try to make our lives count – have fun, not worry too much, and let go – really let go – and trust in what God has planned. It turns out, this path is way more difficult than the one I had planned for, but its also rewarding in ways I thought impossible. This is my path, a path that God gave me. I am his servant.

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Nicole V

August 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a beautiful start to the week.  I’m am currently in week two of homeschooling our children.  I’m also 8 months pregnant with our fourth child :)   Things are quite crazy at my house but are going great!  Homeschooling is both challenging and rewarding.  I’m enjoying the adventure so far. 

For those of you that have been praying about my hard drive, please continue to pray.  I’ve made no headway thus far but I’m hopeful that we can recover the info.  This is a tough lesson in backing up your drives, but I believe God is on my side and that there will be a way. 

Tonight’s story comes to you via Alicia Zinn and her friend Nicole.  Alicia has recently redone her photography siteTake a moment to check it out.  Enjoy Nicole’s story as she introduces us to an interesting concept – vertical living…

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Who is beautiful?

For months I’ve pondered this. You ask any passer by and it’s certain you’ll get a variety of answers; some poetic and sweet, others saturated with years of rejection, and bitterness. You might hear a lashing out against the mainstream media that promotes the buxom blonde with negative percent body fat as “beautiful” or a painful story of a father who’s standards were unreachable.

Who is beautiful?

That’s a loaded question.

For me it hasn’t come easy either; but I’m realizing that I’m not alone.

My story started out in a little town in North Dakota. My parent’s were divorced, not unlike many families today, and my mother, though present, was, for a few reasons, quite absent. And my father? I don’t remember him telling me that he loved me for much of my childhood; and because I didn’t receive the attention I so desired at home I searched for it elsewhere. My life was about being the leader, winning the competition, getting the gold. I joined Speech Team, Theatre, Future Business Leaders of America, Student Congress, the School Newspaper, as well as leading my youth group and church worship teams; anything to get attention…but it was all futile, because, though people were there to applaud, I never felt loved or satisfied. This continued until my Junior year of high school when our youth pastor moved and another came on. At first, I resisted; our new youth pastor didn’t give me the attention that I desired, but that was because he knew that wasn’t what I needed. Instead, he opened my eyes to something I had not even realized: that I could win a hundred competitions, and it would never fill the void inside my heart.  I was living horizontally, for the applause of the world, looking to others for my affirmation; but he introduced me to a different concept: vertical living; living for the attention of just One, Jesus.

For my teenage years I had felt like a victim, unloved and unwanted; but he showed me that there is only One love that truly matters: Jesus’ love. In that, my youth pastor took a broken little girl and brought her to the mirror of potential and said “this is what I see in you because this is what He sees in you.” Where I had been overlooked by other people in my life, where I had felt less than, purposeless and not beautiful; he showed me the potential inside of me that I had never been told existed: he showed me what God saw in me. He was honest when I needed it, and pruned me so that I could grow. Those were transformational years, and looking back I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the truth that he wasn’t afraid to speak.

Inspired by the realization that the approval of men wasn’t what I needed, I started to see things differently. Soon my distant relationship with my earthly Father opened up and we developed a relationship that I never knew could exist, because for years I had blamed him for his distant attitude. I stopped blaming people, and things and circumstances, and instead I started to love on purpose and worked to see what God saw in those situations and people. At first, it was an effort to not take things at face value but rather ask God what He saw; though after doing it for a while it became second nature. Now it’s become a mission of mine to see the life in the death, the light in the darkness, the truth through the lies; the beauty in the ashes in everything and everyone.

Now if you ask me, “who is beautiful?”

My answer would be, everything and everyone. No matter how lost and broken, all things can be restored and made new.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new. 2 Cor 5:17

You have a purpose and a unique beauty that you add to the world, and I know the perfect One that can bring that out in you and show you exactly who you are and who you can become.

I found my purpose, my life, my beauty in Jesus; in what He said and says about me. If that’s something you need to find, you need only to look to the Word of God. It’s FILLED with declarations about His great love and plans for us! Jeremiah 29:11, many of the Psalms, and of course, the message of the Gospel tell us how important we were to Him: so important and purposeful that He gave His LIFE for us. Isn’t that awesome?

There isn’t need for diversion or want for worldly attention, when we realize we have the full attention of the One who’s eyes burn with fiery passion for us, Who’s love is unquenchable and unfailing.

Who is beautiful?
I am beautiful.
You are beautiful.
This world is a beautiful place.

Nicole V

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Photography Credit

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Alicia Zinn loves all things creative, including God’s creation.  She considers it a personal challenge when people express not being photogenic.”My heart is to capture the natural God given beauty that shines out of each of us. I long to see each person as God sees them… That is why I named my studio In His Eyes!” You can view more of her work at www.inhiseyestx.com