Forgiveness.

IMG_4716

I’ve heard it said before that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick.  It’s always resonated with me and I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that I sometimes have to tell myself almost daily not to drink the poison.  Sometimes, I do really well and I temporarily avoid that poison altogether – especially when I go a long time without seeing someone who I’ve allowed to hurt me.  Other times, I drink the entire vial and it’s paralyzing.

The only thing that I can do is to do what feels the most unnatural for me to do, which is for me to pray blessings over the person(s) who I’m struggling to forgive.  I want so badly for them to come to the realization that what they said or did or the way they acted (or didn’t act at all when I needed them to act) was hurtful and I focus way more on justice than I do on mercy, which imprisons nobody but myself.  I think that if they only had the “a-ha” moment and understood how wrong they were that I could finally be released from the resentment I unnoticeably embrace.

Things that don’t make forgiveness magically happen:

  1. Avoiding the person
  2. Disassociating with them to teach them a lesson
  3. Gossiping
  4. Giving them a taste of their own medicine
  5. Trying to ignore the pain

It’s easier to forgive and release ourselves from that anger and resentment when it’s someone we hardly know.  A lady on her phone cut me off in a parking lot today.  It annoyed me at the time, but I know I won’t remember it years from now, nor will I care.  It’s different when it’s a family member or a friend that you trusted and loved enough to not only give of your time, but your acts of service, your money, your encouragement over the years, your own home when they needed a place to just be, your embrace when they were sad.  Hearing hurtful words about how they feel about you or statements questioning your character or integrity are moments you don’t forget.  They are moments that maybe only took a second to unfold, but they have been stinging you for months, years, or even decades.  These types of wounds are the hardest to heal, and it seems like no amount of care will cover the scars.

I’ve been hurt before, and the only way I healed was to pray – not to pray for justice or for the other person to realize what they’ve done….. not even for them to change.  Unconditional love means we don’t give up on people – even when they hurt us.  Years ago, I got hurt pretty heavily.  For months, I let it fester.  It ate at me.  As soon as I would start to pray about it, I found myself just venting in my head and justifying my thoughts.  I had to audibly tell myself to stop and I made myself write a prayer on my for that person.  My prayer was simply for that person to experience abundant blessings,  for that person to know who they are and WHOSE they are.  I prayed for this person to have a blessed family, a happy home, an incredible life.  In addition, I prayed very specific blessings over that person.  I prayed that prayer once a day for a while and I promised myself I would pray that prayer every time I started to feel like drinking that vial of poison again.  I can honestly say that I no longer have resentment, hurt, or even a smidge of bitterness toward this person.  I don’t think about the hurt I felt anymore.  I don’t hold onto it.  I’ve been released and it feels so good.  I also have a great relationship with that person now and I consider myself blessed to call this person my friend.  Trust took some time, but that’s ok.  Forgiveness and trust aren’t the same thing, but I’m happy to say that God restored my trust in this person as time went on too.

The point of this post is to encourage us (myself included) to stop replaying the hurt in our minds.  Who has hurt you?  Who do you struggle to forgive?  What name pops in your head?  Pull out your phone, a sheet of paper, write an email to yourself, do whatever you need to do to write down a prayer for this person.  Instead of asking God to change them, ask Him to bless them.  No alternate agenda, just blessings.  See what happens to your heart.

 

Obedience

I think the word “obedience” often has a negative connotation.  We might hear that word and think of times when we were punished for breaking the rules in school, or we may hear it and associate the word with a lack of fun.  We might think of the straight and narrow, or the stern tone of the deliverer of our consequences when we weren’t obedient in the past.  I want to challenge you to think of obedience differently.  Obedience changed my life and set me on a completely unanticipated path to a very visual and life giving blessing that I would have missed out on entirely had it not been for obedience.

IMG_4671.PNG

If you are a parent, think of it this way…  Have you ever given your child a direction because you knew that if they followed that direction, it would set them up for something good?  I often think of teaching my kids to not fear the water.  There have been many times when I’ve stood there in the water with my arms out and told my kids, “Jump!”  I knew they’d be safe.  I knew I’d catch them.  I knew they’d love the feeling of the water all around them and the celebration of all of us waiting for them to trust me and leap.  If I switch the perspective to my child, they’re often scared.  Even though mom or dad has never missed and has never encouraged them to do something that would harm them, they still fear the unknown.  The water looks deep.  What if it’s cold?  What if Mom doesn’t catch me?  What if it makes me uncomfortable?  All the while, I know they’ll not only be ok, they’ll be glad they did it.  I just need them to trust me and know that I’ll be in the water with them.  Listen to my call and obey.  Jump!

When I first felt like God was calling me to offer my womb as a surrogate, there were a lot of unknowns.  But because I had a relationship with God, I knew He’d be in the water with me, arms wide open, ready to catch me.  I jumped.  Sometimes, the water felt cold.  My Father was always there in the water with me, holding me, and assuring me that I could trust Him to keep me afloat.  He called me to jump, and the experience wasn’t only a lesson for me that I could trust Him and that He is faithful, but that I’d be glad and excited that I got to jump.  I can handle the cold temps and I can handle the uncertainty because He’s in the water with me, holding me and assuring me it’s ok.  He’s excited that I jumped in and so many are standing around the water, celebrating with me.

I don’t think God is calling all of us to jump into the waters of surrogacy, but I do think He’s calling us all to jump into the water with Him and to obey whatever it is He’s calling you to do.  What’s He calling you to do?  Will you jump?

 

2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.  As you have heard from he beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”

Rejection.

IMG_4435

 

It never feels good to be rejected.  I have often let the fear of rejection determine the road I take.  Some of the earliest memories I have of feeling rejected were in elementary school, and even at a very young age, I’d let that fear keep me from pursuing something I desired.  “What if I can’t?  What if it won’t work out?  What if people laugh at me when I try?”  We have a crazy amount of opportunities to either be accepted or rejected.

Ask yourself if you’ve ever experienced any of these scenarios below.  Did any of these scenarios ever lead to acceptance or rejection?

  • Asking a friend to play with you as a kid.
  • Trying out for an athletic team or musical ensemble.
  • Applying for a job.
  • Applying for college.
  • Applying for a scholarship.
  • Asking someone to be in a relationship with you.
  • Sharing something intimate about yourself to your family or friends.
  • Being in the “in crowd.”
  • Being a part of a community.
  • Sharing your ideas with your co-workers.
  • Asking for a raise.
  • Applying for a loan.
  • Asking someone to love you.
  • Trying to adopt a child you’ve longed for.

I could’ve continued that list, but if you have ever felt rejected in any of the above scenarios or any others, you aren’t alone.  What I find comforting is knowing that people I love and admire have often been rejected too, but it does not keep them from pursuing their passion.  If anything, it only motivates them to overcome.  If we let rejection define us, we may never reach our potential and we may never experience joy that could have been on the other side.  Sometimes, the answer is “No” and it needs to be no.  If that’s the case, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we were pursuing something that would not have ultimately been fruitful and it’s time to start pursuing something that will be.  Other times, the answer might not be “No,” but it might be, “Not yet.”  It’s so hard to swallow the “not yet” when we feel like we know what would make us happy, but in reality, there’s maybe a better time or some other work in us that needs to happen before the “not yet” becomes a “yes.”

Recently, I was at a meeting for work when I heard someone say that we need to look at our obstacles as “opportunities.”  Maybe you were rejected from the job you wanted.  But, what if there is a reason…  What if there’s something better for you or a lesson you were supposed to learn in order to grow?  Does it mean you should stop searching for a job?  No.  Does it mean you should start searching for a different job?  Maybe.  Rejection shouldn’t put us to a stop.  Rejection should inspire reflection, which should motivate us to action instead of crippling us with fear. 

Don’t let the fear of rejection keep you from pursuing your dreams and goals.  Maybe  rejection isn’t your obstacle, but rather your opportunity for something greater.

Accomplishments vs. Relationships

IMG_4354.PNG

We’ve all seen the minivans with “My Child is an Honor Student,” listened to others talk about how their kid was a reader before Kindergarten, seen pictures of the neighbor’s kid winning beauty pageants, and watched our coworker’s child score the winning shot at the basketball game.  All of these things are good things and they truly are something to be excited about.  I just wonder, as parents, how much we focus on the accomplishments rather than the relationships.

We even do it to ourselves.  We’re always seeking more.  Whether we want to climb the corporate ladder or gain more “likes” on a social media post, we strive to keep accomplishing.  But when we prioritize accomplishments over relationships, I think we miss the point.

Think about it…  Who do you want to be around?  Do you want to be around someone who has more jewels in their crown, or do you want to be around someone who will listen when you’re struggling?  Would you prefer to work with someone who is always trying to surpass you, or someone who is working alongside of you?  Do you want to marry the guy who makes 6 figures and comes home and props his feet up, or the one who works hard all day making half of what he is worth, but who will give all of the kids baths, feed them dinner, and sing them to sleep while you have some much needed time out with your friends?

When you talk to your kids, is the focus on accomplishments, or is it on how to have great relationships with others?  We sign reading logs, we pay for tutors, we do all the lessons – swim, cheer, football, all of it and there’s nothing wrong with those things.  In fact, I encourage so many of them and there’s a lot to learn when we focus on these types of skills.  Determination, perseverance, grit, goal setting, reflection, and so much more all can come out of these types of intense focus.  It’s good for us and it’s good for our character.  But while we’re doing all of that, let’s also talk about how to listen.  Let’s talk about empathy.  Let’s talk about putting the needs of others before our own comforts and enjoyment.  Let’s talk about giving up our turn so someone else can have an extra turn. Let’s talk about conflict.  Let’s talk about how we respond when something doesn’t seem fair.

Let’s remember that accomplishments should never require us to sacrifice relationships.

I’ve taught a ton of kids.  I’ll never forget their faces and I could definitely write a book on all of the hilarious things they have said and done.  Some of the most impactful kids I have ever taught were not the kids on the honor roll…  They were the kids who worked well with others, who loved to play and pretend and be themselves with whoever wanted to join.  They were the kids who weren’t afraid to share their ideas, but were glad to change their way of attacking a problem or conducting a project when they heard a better idea.  I’ve taught kids who would give up their spot in line at special events so the students with special needs could see better, be closer, or get the treat first.  There aren’t a lot of bumper stickers for this kind of kid, but this kid will be happy and fulfilled.

Sometimes, I catch myself wondering what my kids will be like when they grow up.  I wonder what kind of job they will have, if and who they will marry.  I wonder if one of them will be a musician, or if one might be a runner or an engineer or a writer.  I have to retrain myself to think a bit differently.  I also want to focus more on what kinds of acts of love they might show towards others.  Instead of wondering if one of my girls will look like me, or become a teacher like me, or play the piano like me, I wonder if they might adopt a foster child that needs a home, or if they might be someone’s date to Jesus Prom. I wonder if my son will rub his wife’s shoulders when she has a hard day.  I wonder if he’ll help the elderly lady put groceries in her car and be able to make friends with the coworker twice his age.  I wonder if my kids will know how to work well with others and if they’ll put others before themselves.  I wonder if they’ll smile at the shy kid when they pass him in the hallway.  I wonder if they’ll choose the kid in gym who never gets chosen.  Instead of wondering so much about the accomplishments they might achieve, I want to wonder more about the character they will have and how their lives might impact the world around them.

What do you want to accomplish?  Goal set and do it.  But more importantly, what kind of relationships do you want to have and how will you leave a legacy for all who know you?

 

 

Validation

IMG_4284.PNG

Technically speaking, validity relates to measurement.  You might cook a meal for your family that you think will need more of something.  Let’s pretend we’re talking mashed potatoes (those sound heavenly right now.) One way to test this would be to allow a family member to taste a sample of the potatoes you’ve whipped up to validate whether or not the mashed potatoes are satisfactory the way they are, or if they will indeed need some doctorin’.  If your spouse puts that spoon of potatoes in his mouth and says, “These mashed potatoes are better than Paula Dean’s,” we often swell up with a sense of accomplishment, and boom!  We have validation that we did it right.  If he takes that bite and says, “They’re ok.  I don’t usually like them this chunky,” we oftentimes feel an immediate letdown and our heads are filled with whispers like, “I can’t get anything right.”  That’s validation that we’re no good.

In the emotional and spiritual realm, we often look for validation from those we interact with in order to satisfy us.

During my first year of teaching, I was a mess.  I loved the kids, but I often questioned whether or not I was impactful.  When I didn’t receive any feedback from a particular colleague, I did not feel validated.  I felt like I wasn’t measuring up and it was a constant guessing game in my mind on how I might win this colleague’s validation or approval.  I kept looking for affirmation from her.  I never found it.

I remember singing at church when I was younger and how several adults told me how pretty my voice was.  I felt validated.  I measured up.  A few years later, I sang again and nobody said anything.  I immediately started questioning and doubting my abilities.  Was I not good anymore?  Are they not saying anything because they are trying to be polite by not saying anything negative?  I decided I wasn’t a “solo” person anymore.  All because I was fearful I wouldn’t be validated.

When I had my first child, I went from being described as “glowing” in pregnancy to getting told that if I REALLY prioritized my child, I would find a way to stay home with her rather than going back to work.  Validation during pregnancy that I was a glowing ray of sunshine followed by a feeling of judgment and inadequacy as a first time mom led to me not feeling validated.

When I used the approval of others as my stamp of validation, I always ended up feeling like I was falling short and I never felt good enough.

At one point, I went through a very personal challenge with a relationship that caused me to question where I received my validation.  What tool am I using to measure my satisfaction with myself?  How was I determining if I was enough?

I remember hearing someone say to me in a sermon, “Know who you are and WHOSE you are.” 

What exactly does that mean to me?  That means that I’m designed for a specific purpose and God created me uniquely.  My purpose was so important, that in this world of billions of people, He created me with a very specific idea in mind.  I was physically and spiritually designed to fulfill a calling much more meaningful than what someone else’s desires or expectations might be for me.  I’m not meant to live up to everyone else’s expectations.  It’s kind of a relief to know that I no longer have to live up to the expectations of others, but that I can trust God to equip me with the skills I need in order to fulfill my purpose. 

  • If you feel like you aren’t enough. 
  • If you feel like you can’t measure up.
  • If you feel like you always fall short. 
  • If you are exhausted from what seems like taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back.
  • Where does your validation come from?

Lately, I’ve been asking myself the following when I need to make a decision:

  1. Is it healthy?
  2. Is it life-giving?
  3. Is it a blessing to others and nourishing to my soul?

When I sense that someone is dissatisfied with me:

  1. Is this MY problem?
    • If yes, then how can I learn from it and be better?
    • If no, then how can I release myself from the need of pleasing someone while still being loving and kind?

It’s easier said than done, but know WHO you are and WHOSE you are.

When we let other people define our worth, we will constantly question ourselves and doubt our worth.

Needing validation from others sneaks up on me more often than what I’d like to admit.  I have to remember though, that Jesus Himself had haters.  (That was my attempt at sounding cool while referring to Jesus.)  And as Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.”

Know where your worth comes from.

Strong Women Stories

I’m lucky.  I have been surrounded by some pretty strong women my whole life.  I want to start a movement where we showcase the strong women in our lives.  I’ll show you what I mean…

10570422_10201655287218752_6226627991813959178_n
My memom, grandfather, and my dad when he was a baby.  1950’s.

This is my “Memom.”  I know it’s not a typical name for a grandmother, but she wasn’t a typical grandmother either.  She was a mother of 5 kids, my dad being the oldest of the 5.  When my grandfather was 40, he passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack, leaving my memom alone to raise 5 children, ranging from ages 5 to 17.  Not long after he passed, my memom invited anyone she knew who had experienced a loss in their family over for Thanksgiving.  She was a widow herself, yet she served each of the families who came to her home and every family left with a pie.  I didn’t know that story about her until after she had passed.  My other grandmother had lost her 18 year old daughter and was one of the women who left that Thanksgiving with a pie on her lap from my memom.  A piece of my memom lives on.  I bet that life wasn’t easy for my memom, but it didn’t keep her from rolling up her sleeves and serving others.  I’m thankful I come from people like her.  She was strong, even when she must have felt weak.

So, who is a strong woman in your life?  Let’s start sharing their stories.  Join my challenge!  Here’s how:

  1. Post a picture on Instagram of a strong woman in your life.  Tell us what makes her strong.
  2. Tag me on instagram using rachel.removetheveil
  3. Use the hashtag #strongwomenstories
  4. Follow me on Instagram.
  5. Search  the hashtag “strongwomenstories” and get ready to be inspired.

 

3 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Becoming a Surrogate

I recently had the opportunity to be a surrogate mother for my sweet little niece, Adalyn.  Soon, I will write a lot more about that whole journey, but for now, I wanted to share a few things about surrogacy that I wish I had known ahead of time for those of you who are curious or possibly interested in beginning that journey as well.

 3 things surrogate

  1. It’s not a quick process.  Signing up for surrogacy is not like signing up for an exercise class at the Y.  It’s definitely a long process which includes a long list of requirements before you are even approved to become a surrogate.  I had to do a physical assessment of my female anatomy (including a bit of an uncomfortable procedure called “Saline Infusion Sonography”), a complete medical history review which required me to have my current doctor’s office to fax over a large stack of medical information, lots of blood work, a personality assessment (around 500 questions), visits with a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and working with an attorney to write up and sign a very long surrogacy agreement (which had to be notarized.)  Not only did I have to go through many of these steps as the surrogate, but so did my husband and the intended parents.  We all had to talk to the psychiatrist, sign legal documents, and have blood work.  My husband and I both had to take antibiotics prior to the procedure and we both had to be trained on how to give intramuscular injections.  All of this had to take place along with waiting on the embryos to be fertilized and ready for the procedure.  Often times, there are many setbacks.  For example, if the egg is a fresh egg (not frozen), the baby’s mother (or egg donor, depending on circumstances) has to go through the egg retrieval process, then the egg has to be fertilized and implanted.  If the egg is frozen, it has to make it through the thawing process before it can be fertilized and depending on whether or not a viable embryo is created, this process could have to be repeated.  Long story short, I began the process in August, thought I was going to go through the transfer in October, but didn’t get to transfer day until January.  Although the wait was frustrating at times, in the end, I believe the timing was perfect and everything happened exactly as it should have.
  2. IVF is not easy, but it is humbling.  I gained an entirely newfound admiration and appreciation for women who go through IVF.  Ladies, it is HARD.  I took hormones that gave me crazy moods and my emotions were on a pendulum swing.  I gained weight due to all of the bloating and I had lots of nausea, cramps, and headaches.  I will never forget the first time I had to give myself a shot in the stomach.  It was the day I took my 4 year old to the hospital to have her tonsils and adenoids removed.  That morning, I grabbed the skin on my stomach and injected a syringe of Lupron into my belly.  Shew!  I could do this!  I did this every day for weeks while also taking oral hormones and rotating 2-4 patches of Estrogen on my belly.  Shortly after, I also began doing the dreaded progesterone in oil injections.  They go an inch into your muscle, but the worst part is the heaviness of the medicine going in.  I would have bumps the size of golf balls on my hips and bruises as big as my palm.  My husband gave me these shots until I was 12 weeks pregnant. Two times, we hit a blood vessel and would have to start all over.  One of those times, I fainted.  Here’s the thing…  do not feel sorry for me.  This taught me a huge lesson and gave me a huge respect and appreciation for women who desire so deeply to be moms.  There are women who go through this process 6 times before ever having a child to call their own.  Some never succeed at all.  Pray for these women.  I can remember being at the IVF clinic and getting my blood drawn.  There was a lady next to me getting hers drawn too.  I could hear her sobbing the whole time.  Was this her 4th time with no luck?  Was she just scared of the needle in her arm again?  Were they determining if she had miscarried?  I didn’t know, but I did know that so many women who sit in that chair have heavy grief and that I’m lucky I get to do this for a woman who gets to be a mom now.  My discomfort was temporary.  The woman I carried for endured cancer, intense cancer treatments and surgeries, and infertility.  Now, she gets to be a mom.  The shots don’t seem like such a big deal when you put it all into perspective.
  3. Not everyone will be supportive, but so many others will be.  My sister in law had colon cancer.  She can’t carry her own child.  I offered to do this for her and her husband without any expectation of compensation.  I did a good thing.  I’m proud of that good thing and each and every time I get to see my little niece with her parents, knowing I held her in my womb so they could one day hold her in their arms is absolutely worth it.  I care what people think.  I want to inspire people and I want people to see what I did and believe they can bless others radically too.  I cannot let others opinions and worries keep me from carrying out a calling.  There were whispers, comments on social media, and so many opinions shared.  Ultimately, what mattered most to me was being obedient to a calling I had on my heart.  I had to choose not to let the nay-sayers hurt me.  I wrote a prayer on my phone and every time I felt attacked or upset, I would open up that prayer and immediately feel at peace and confident in my decision to carry Adalyn. There were also tons of people – people I saw daily, people I didn’t know at all, who brought us so much encouragement.  These people touched me in a way that I can’t describe.  I didn’t really grasp until now that impact is measurable.  I felt so much love and peace during this journey, and a huge part of that was knowing that my calling was making an impact on lots of people.

 

So, there you have it!  Being a surrogate was a huge journey for sure and one that I never dreamed would become a reality for me, but I’m so thankful it did.  Even with all of the obstacles, I would do it all over again for them.  I’ll never forget watching my sister in law become a mom for the first time as she got to experience a love she once thought was impossible. 

 

What other questions do you have for me about surrogacy?  I’d love to answer them!  Leave a comment below!