Friday, January 25, 2013

A New Hope

My time here in Moldova is dwindling down to just 2 days. It has felt like a non-stop ride since day one, and that can just refer to the driving here! I have met many people and seen even more faces. As we walked through the center of the city yesterday, I took careful watch of those around us. This is nothing new for me, but I noticed through the sheets of snow pelting my eyeballs that smiles were scarce. I would not for a second call the people here unhappy, but there is a hardness of life lived early.

Many of the people we meet tend to inadvertently receive American names :). They smile with a grateful heart that we are even trying, and apologize for their English countless times. That struck me yesterday. We are visiting their homeland and receiving the apologies. A lot of the young students we have met speak impeccable English. They are supposedly from a family of greater wealth and can afford private English lessons. This generation seems to be far more open minded than those previous.

The youth here are not so different from Texas. They were intrigued at the thought of bullying though. For a culture where women get raped and beaten regularly, they do not even have a word for bullying. One girl even asked me why I thought this thing happened in American schools. It was a new concept to them, something unheard of in their present day. This generation is growing strong and appears very supportive and devoted to each other. There were young people who wanted to become teachers and principles as well as those who wish to open themselves up to the arts. I even met a young man who wants to open a kickboxing studio. He is very smart and extremely motivated and, like me, he does not like the thought of working for someone else :).

I believe there is a vast stream of untapped talent and potential here. There are people here capable of things we dare not even dream. The one thing that seems to lack overall is opportunity. In America, opportunity is readily available IF you are truly willing to put in the work. I find most Americans to be people of accept somebody else doing the work. Ambition and drive seem to be thoughts of older generations in America, while these are the hopes and dreams interwoven into the fabric of this next generation of Moldova. Hope springs eternal in those who are willing to believe in such a thing. Hope is a constant choice that is made, not a destination of circumstance. Hope can thrive when circumstance overwhelms. Hope can keep us going when circumstance tries to shackle us where we are. Hope is for those who choose to believe it exists. It is not a fable or notion of old, it is something you can almost taste....if you believe.

Hope is not to say a prayer and expect that all or nothing will immediately be revealed. Hope to hold fast, to stand your ground, to not give in to the despair that may surround you. Hope can be found in the darkest corners of the world and the highest peaks in the mountains. We must begin to seek hope, search for it, pray for it, and be willing to work for it.

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord "plans to prosper and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Letting Go of the Reins

A few weeks ago my daughter was atop a large horse, preparing for her weekly riding lesson. She has been riding now for over a year and still tends to lose focus :). Her mission seemed quite simple to the naked eye of an observer: she was to guide her horse into a small frame on the floor and turn him around without leaving the frame. She was unsuccessful at this task....six times. Each time she would trot to the box she would begin to pull back on the reins. This act causes the horse to stop because the reins pull the bit in his mouth. Finally, her instructor said "Sweetheart, if you want to move forward you HAVE to loosen your hold on the reins". One simple statement that changed my perspective...

Who knew Mister John was so wise? I wrote that statement down right then as I was assured it applied to my own life. How many times have I begged God to take my life forward only to pull tight to the reins because I was afraid of what might happen if I let loose? What if people expected more from me? What if I let others down? What if I was forced out of my comfort zone? I love zones. Honestly, a zone of ANY kind is my friend. The end zone indicates my team has scored. A speed zone gives me the heads up to proceed with caution. My comfort zone keeps me safe from everything that I am afraid of in life.

I am naturally not an extremely social person. The thought of my life being forced to merge with other lives nearly makes me break out into hives. I also hate flying. Why? Um, people are too close to you, people tend to fall asleep on you (even if they don't know you....rude), the bathroom is SMALL, and you are in a big hunk of metal in the sky....with people you do not know. I'm not afraid of dying in an airplane as I am aware of statistics, I just hate flying. Cold weather does not agree with me and I would just assume keep my distance. In all honesty the temperatures of Africa are far more appealing to me than the frigid air in Eastern Europe.....So why on Earth am I here?

My entire life has been spent white knuckling the reins. I believed for brief periods that I could truly control the outcome. Even in my childhood I exhibited tendencies towards controlling behavior. I home schooled through my high school years because I endured such terrible verbal abuse in school I wanted to become a hermit. I held a job from the age of 13 and at 17 I received my early graduation so I could take care of my dying mother. I still fooled myself into thinking I was in control. Deep inside the inner pockets of my mind a war was raging for my life though.

I always felt unworthy. Please do not misunderstand this. I had a very LOVING, Christian family. My mother and father provided the world for my brother and myself and I was never without love. There was a foot hold placed in my mind by Satan that would haunt my every thought for decades though. By the time I was 18, I had already suffered thoughts of suicide and attempted to kill myself twice. Once was by drinking heavily and then purposefully driving myself around hoping to get into a wreck. The other was mixing prescription drugs and alcohol. The lowest point was one night when I was 23 years old. I was married to a handsome, loving man and had 2 very young children. I battled the voices in my head daily and would spend hours locked in the bathroom banging my head against the wall. One night I decided that my entire family would benefit much more from my total absence. So, I took my husband's gun down, sat on the floor, and placed the barrel in my mouth. Shouts emerged from my head as clear as day saying "DO IT! Everybody is better off without you! You are worth NOTHING!" As my finger tried to muster up the strength to pull the trigger, I heard a very quiet voice whisper...."Give me one more day. I am not through with you yet..."

For reasons unknown, I stood and placed the gun back, then I went to bed. I can hardly describe the following morning. My life circumstances had not changed, but my head was...quiet. The thought of being unworthy were still for once. God Himself reached down and spared my life that night. Through a series of events that can only be described as miraculous, I became who I am today. Over a year ago, I had another tragedy strike. As I mourned the loss of my third child, I laid on the floor and told my husband that I had no purpose in life. For a few weeks God was very patient with my pity party, until one day during worship I heard the same voice from so many nights ago...."Child, I love you. What happened was not something that happened to you, it happened for others. Are you done yet? Because I could use you now.."

And this friends, is why I found myself flying to a very cold place :). I have a purpose. I do not have to agree with the purpose. I do not have to enjoy the means by which I arrive to my purpose. All I have to do is be willing to serve. Yes, Jesus gave His very life to save mine. God saw potential in a very broken human being. As long as He puts oxygen in my lungs, I will follow. He saved my very life many times and He is not through with me yet. I strive not to wallow in my circumstances, but to remember the future and hope I am promised in Him. It is my very present purpose to share such hope with those who think there is none left. God decides when He is through with us. I will honor the Savior of my life and train every day to fulfill my purpose.

So, if you are in a struggle I must ask this one question: Are you done yet? He is not through with you, so do NOT give up on Him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Moldova Day 4

Hello cyber world!

I'm waking up to a new day in Moldova while my family is laying their heads down to finish their day in Texas. This trip has been eye opening, heart pounding and faith building to say the very least. I appreciate the prayers already offered as this non-flyer made it safely through 3 flights in 1 day! My longest flight was from Charlotte to Munich and the Lord blessed me with an adorable seat mate who didn't sleep on planes either! Her name was Ursilla and she has been all over the world. She was able to give me plenty of travel pointers too :)

For those who have not had the privilege of a trip to Moldova, I'll start with a few of the basic differences. The DRIVING!!!! Oh my goodness, my life has flashed before my eyes more than once in just 3 days on these roads. There aren't a lot of lines and the bigger vehicle almost always wins. Each time I get into a car I get an extra chance to talk to God :). The food is delicious and prepared without all the junk we put in ours. The Moldovans seem to love carbs and sweets just as much as Americans, but the obesity epidemic has not hit here. According to our translator, that is due to the heavy influence of European fashion. The girls here will starve themselves to be able to be in style. Oh wait, that isn't too different from America :(...... Yesterday we went to a local school for a class on domestic violence. Here, domestic violence is prevalent and many men think (and are told) that if they hit their wives it means they love them. Here, the women are considered weak and expendable.

Our translator and our guide were both intrigued and completely ecstatic when they found out what I do. They insisted that the girls needed to see me up there. We had 6 classes total and each time I got up, you could tell it was out of the cultural norm for me to be a strong woman....who likes to hit things and teaches self defense. Wait, my only lot in life isn't popping out babies? Not quite. Many shocked faces looked up at me and I got several interesting questions. "Have you ever fought your husband?", "Who is the head of your household?", "Why do you do this?", and "Why are you here?". My personal favorite was "Are there cowboys in Texas?" :) Why yes there are....

It amazed me that the thought of a woman actually defending herself was a totally new thing here. I was also asked if there were any other women like me in America, to which I replied "There is only one me" :).'s a gift. The most interesting part in this particular school was that the youngest class (16 years old) was the most open minded. They were completely enthralled by the Americans and even asked if they could get a picture with us! During the course the social worker asked questions like "If a woman provokes her husband, is it acceptable for him to hit her?". In all the other classes there were some that either agreed fully, agreed to some degree, or chose not to answer. The younger class ALL disagreed, including the boys. So, it seems as though there is a hope springing in Moldova.

Today is a late start and I am getting ready to drag my booty down for some breakfast. That too is just a little different. They ALWAYS have fresh vegetables, which makes me very happy :) I have always heard the coffee here is too strong to drink, but it's right up this girls alley. As I close I do ask for your prayers. Pray for the people here in Moldova. They are rich in heritage and are a very loving people, but there are also scores of past sins that continue to plague each generation. This cycle can be broken, but only by the Creator.

I'll see you soon :)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Living your intended passion

Hello friends!

Well, the preparation is in full swing for my very first international trip! I'm leaving for Moldova in just 10 days! I'll be joined by a fabulous group of women, all of us writers and workers for the Lord. Needless to say, this Texas girl is a bit worried about the cold, but God is timely in calming my fears and keeping my anxiety at bay. I am learning to let go of everything I cannot control....which in most situations is everything!

As I have been in preparations, I have been thinking a lot about callings, gifts, talents and so forth. All my life I wanted to be special. I had always felt ordinary or below ordinary. I was so shy I would rarely venture out of the alternate reality I had created for myself in my own mind trap...there I was special. God uses life to grow us to our calling. Through circumstances out of my control He finally got my attention and pulled me (yes, pulled....I was kicking and screaming) out of my alternate reality and into His reality. It was as though I had finally woke up. I could breathe and live like I never thought possible. It took me being willing to yes.

For as much as I thought I wanted to be special, once I began to live in my calling, I thought it was just plain weird. I tried to separate my called life from my daily life. If you have ever tried to do that then you know it NEVER ends the way YOU plan. So, I struggled. For years I would play one card at church and hide my tricks under the table. Every once in a while God would open a door, either through a ladies retreat or fellow church member. It seemed that as soon as the door was opened I would dig my heels in and place my back firmly against it screaming NO!!!!!! There was even a time I felt that God must have made a huge mistake.....I got a bum gift.

By this point you are probably wondering what on earth this gift could be right? Human nature dictates we feed our curiosity. Well, I fell into the fitness world a decade ago, completely by what I thought was accident. I lived my fitness life and my church life respectively separate and I liked it that way. I could be myself in the fitness world. I could talk about anatomy, body fat and body image without feeling like I was digging into wounds I had no place looking. Then, I found a passion. Have you ever experienced true passion? I'm not talking about the fleeting lust when you first met your spouse here people...I'm referring to passion. Spark in the eye, dry mouth, heart pounding, "I HAVE TO CONQUER" passion. This is the stuff that gets you out of bed with a pep in your step. It's the spicy sauce that makes your life worth while. And guess what? God wants you to live with passion!!!! I found mine in fighting. Yes, my name is Michelle and I like to hit things. I mean, I REALLY LIKE TO HIT THINGS!

This began as a simple request. I was working at a gym and the kickboxing instructor did not show up. I, the yoga teacher, had to take over. It was awful...but I was determined to learn. That was nearly 10 years ago. Through those years I have broken away from choreographed fat burning to true impact. I have learned how strong I really can be. There is something magical for me about a woman who has felt stripped of all she has be able to unleash a strength she never felt. Now, I train in MMA, teach self defense classes and strive to empower people to be their absolute best. I really do live the dream! My dream :)

"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 hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

We all know that verse, but have we truly lived it. For years, I lived outside of God's plan thinking that the very thing He had given me a passion for could be of no use to Him. What a way to live! I felt torn between 2 states all the time. I was miserable and never really had a true sense of self. If God gives it, He can use. Honestly, He intents to use and if He gave it to you, you had better be willing to let it be used!

"Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." Jeremiah 29:12

We often forget that verse. To me, it is even more beautiful than the first. He will listen. He wants to listen to me, He longs to make a way for my perceived "weirdness" to show His glory! He WILL MAKE A WAY. Want proof?

As we are preparing for this trip an email was sent about bringing your specific gifts to share with the girls in Moldova. Immediately I knew what that was, but promptly began to try to find something else. I thought, "Everybody will think I am such a weirdo wanting to teach these girls to fight". Honestly, I figured I would be kicked off the trip. I mean, others are bringing musical talents, craft talents, cooking talents....things they can really use. I struggled with God. As a matter of fact, when I finally sent my email about bringing my weird talent, I was almost defiant. With an eye roll and a teenage sigh I said "Your will be done" and hit send. Within a minute I received a reply saying "We need you in Africa. Let's talk about this when you get back." Excuse me? I can still go?

God dealt with me that day. I put everybody else's gifts on higher pedestals, He sees us as one. Do these girls need what I have to offer? If you have ever had your strength of being stripped from the fabric of who you are, would you need somebody to show you that you are not as weak as you were told? I have worked with women who have lost themselves. They find it behind the bag. It's not an act of violence, it is a release of all the hateful words that have been breathed upon them. They hold their head high, some for the very first time in life.

Am I weird? You bet...but that is just what God needs to make a change. One weirdo, willing to say yes.