Mar 6, 2012

Tuesday SHINE...

Today's Reading: Romans 17

Happy Tuesday, SHINE girls!

Guess what we have in store for you today?

SHINE girl spotlight! Yay!

Get ready to be blessed, girls. Alison shares her sweet, sweet story. Grab your coffee, sweet tea, hot tea, or whatever you prefer and read her beautiful testimony.

Last week's SHINE girl spotlight, Marsha, introduces our SHINE girl.

Marsha's Introduction:

Upon arriving home from the hospital with each newborn son, my husband and I would place that child upon our bed and pray a blessing over him.  One thing we asked of the Lord and continued to pray through the years, was for our Father to bring a
godly wife into our son’s life. Above all, we desired that she would be a woman after God’s own heart.

In May of 2009, my youngest son, Stephen, married his bride, Alison Watts.  Alison is the answer to our prayers for Stephen.  I feel confident that Stephen would say Alison is the answer to his prayers, as well!  When I think of how the Lord has responded I’m reminded that He is able “to do exceeding, abundantly beyond all that we can ask or think.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

Alison has partnered with me to lead young women in Bible study.  She is gifted to lead; yet she has such a servant spirit.  Her love and compassion for people led her to counsel/mentor at our local Pregnancy Crisis Center, a Christian ministry.  Everyone on staff there was in awe of Alison’s ability to reach the young female clients she served…true evidence of the Holy Spirit indwelling her. That love for people and children led her to the Zambian mission field.  Babies and children are drawn to Alison—I’ve seen it over and over again.  The Lord provided her with employment as a nanny to twins.  And the beauty of it is, I do believe the parents of these two children realize how blessed they are!

In 2011, Stephen responded to a call to ministry.  Obedience meant leaving family, a home, and many material possessions to go to seminary.  Alison exhibited such a strong faith and incredible support to her husband.  The fact is, God was calling them both to ministry.  So they left Georgia to go to North Carolina and have experienced God’s faithfulness as never before!  I’m blessed beyond measure that this young woman is a part of my family.  She loves the Lord with all of her heart, soul, mind and strength.  She loves God’s Word and there is no doubt that she loves my son!  I love her, too…

Alison's Story:

Hey ladies! Let me just say how blessed I feel to have the opportunity to share with you today! I have been so humbled by the faith of the other women who have shared their stories in the Shine Girl's Spotlight! I had NO IDEA what in the world the Lord would want ME to share with you when my sweet mother in law, Marsha, first asked me to do this! I am just a messy work in progress but then I was reminded of one of the verses that she shared with y'all:

 “...Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “          2 Corinthians 2:9b
Isn't that good? So ladies I will tell you the absolute truth about all my weaknesses so that my Savior's power is made all the more evident to you, so bear with my rambling story and seek to see the goodness of our God!

            I prayed about what the Lord would have me share: my battle against anxiety and fear, the hardships of our marriage, my struggles with infertility and adoption hopes, my tendency not to walk by faith but by my own crazy planning or how God has brought about a radical transformation in my life in the past year, but I'm sorry to say I never did get a peace to write about any of these single topics, but rather, felt the Lord leading me to share it all! So I'm sorry this story will be quite long, but it's the one God has made out of my life!

            It feels like I have known of the Lord all of my life, but I have not always known Him intimately, and ladies, that makes all the difference! At some point in my life I began to wake up in the middle of the night, crippled with fear. I would question whether or not I knew the Lord; was the Lord even real, could He really love me, and just the thought of eternity scared me to pieces! This went on for months. Later that year I realized that I was not a follower of Christ, I was just a fan. The Spirit led me to accept Christ as my Lord and Savior and to set out to follow Him. Dear friends, if you have not done this, I would love to pray with you and talk with you about how you can know Christ!

            I thought for sure my fears would cease, and for a time they did!

            In my junior and senior years of high school I went on mission trips to Zambia. I stayed on the grounds of Global Samaritans Children's Home, though we worked outside of the orphanage too. I had never been out of the country before and I was completely blown away by Africa! I loved it! I loved the people. I loved the wide open spaces, the smell of the clean air, the sky more full of stars than I had ever seen! I loved the sound of the African voices singing! I LOVED it! I know most people say when they come home from trips like that, that they were overwhelmed with sadness for the people because of poverty or loss, and there are certainly things that I saw and learned that still hurt my heart for those dear people, but mostly, I wasn't sad. I know it sounds crazy, but I was so entranced by the beauty of Africa and joy of the people! I remember in the vastness of Africa, all I could think was: our God is so BIG! I did not want to come home. The Lord had awoken a passion in me and I wanted more. One of the many things that the Lord opened the eyes of my heart to during those trips was a love for orphans! (Now ladies, bear with me, I will come back to this later!)

Then I went off to college and I never would have guessed it, but all my old fears came back. I woke up almost every night with sickening fear. I mean literally sickening. I would cry to the point of physical illness just out of fear that there wasn't a God or at the very least He could not love me! This always only happened to me at night; there was something about the darkness. I will never doubt that there is constant spiritual warfare taking place that we cannot see because I have felt the presence of evil weighing down on me in the dark of night. It is terrifying! In the light of the day, I could so easily cast aside all of those fears and trust that God was there and cared for me. It is still so strange to me! I was told that I had an anxiety disorder, though now looking back I believe it has always been more about spiritual matters!

            During this time, as the Lord would have it, I began dating a man who would one day become my husband, Stephen.

            Now a little story to make you laugh: In high school I came to know my husband who was a college graduate (yes, my husband is good deal older than me) and I developed a HUGE crush on him. I'll never forget riding in the back seat of his car, on the way to a small group social, listening to him talk to his front seat passenger about a date he had the previous night! I thought, “Lord, please let me melt into this seat and right out the back of this car!” It was killing me, and I felt like my disappointment must have been written all over my face!!! Have any of you had a time like that? Well, time went on and my crush did melt away, somewhat. I realized Stephen was an incredible friend who taught me many things about the Lord during our time in a small group together, but that it wasn't love, it had just been a crush and I was over it, ha! Poor Stephen, this was just about the time he was realizing this former high schooler turned college student wasn't so immature anymore and maybe he'd like to take her out on a date! So he asked me out and we had a perfectly great lunch date... from his perspective. But to me....not so much! I thought, “Oh boy, this is not the guy for me, it's like dating my brother, haha!” It truly makes me laugh to think about it now. But y'all, I had dated a lot, but I had NEVER dated a believer! So I had no idea what to think of Stephen! He didn't treat me like any other guy had ever treated me and so I thought he must not really like me or he just doesn't have a clue what to do with a girl! The Lord has been so gracious with me! He sent along a dear friend and mentor to encourage me to give Stephen a few more dates and pray for the Lord to show what He desired my dating life to look like. I did, and I fell madly in love with Stephen!!!

            Shortly after starting to date Stephen, I knew I wanted to marry him, and I wanted to do it right then! I did not want to wait on the Lord's timing, I wanted my timing! I didn't want to take time to seek the Lord and cherish my singleness, I wanted a husband. I remember thinking if I had a godly husband lying in this bed next to me, I would not wake up terrified at night and if I did, I'd wake my husband and he would make everything all better! I thought I'd be suddenly godlier when I became a wife to a godly man. I thought I'd be raising godly children with Stephen in no time flat...

            Well ladies, many of you probably already guessed where this was going: you stick two sinful people in a house together and you don't get two perfect people, you just get more sin! I was shocked! This is NOT what was supposed to happen! We were supposed to be all lovey-dovey; this was the newlywed phase after all, right? Right?! Our first year of marriage was SO hard. I was blindsided by the fact that being close to Stephen, who I had always admired as an incredibly strong and together disciple of Christ, didn't magically fix all my struggles in faith. Even more I was shocked that being madly in love didn't translate to peace in our home! Who knew? Plenty of people I'm sure, but I wasn't one of them! I still woke up some nights paralyzed with fear and Stephen in the bed next to me didn't make it disappear! I was so devastated, and instead of looking inward at my own relationship with Christ, I looked to the closest person I could find to blame for why everything wasn't working out the way I had planned.

            Can I confess to y'all that I was just a flat-out mean wife? I won't go in to all the details with you but I will say that it is such evidence of God's grace pouring through Stephen and on to me that we were able to survive that year. In the midst of that entire struggle, God ordained that we would go down an additional heart-wrenching path together. That February, I unexpectedly became ill; I would soon find out that I had miscarried a pregnancy I hadn't even known was there. The doctors were so casual about it because it had been so early and it was related to a problem I had been diagnosed with as a teenager. They began to flippantly talk to me about fertility treatments and options for when I decided to have children as if I should have already known or maybe shouldn't care that I wouldn't be able to carry a child naturally with the ease of other women. It was so painful to me... the loss was overwhelming and the future was... devastating. I had dreamed of a house full of children and now I was questioning if it would ever happen for us!

            So what I haven't told you, but maybe you've guessed is that even though I knew the Lord, loved the Lord and wanted to follow Him, I was still running from Him. I was seeking to find my identity in anything and everything else. In high school, I found my identity in popularity, my appearance, my grades, volleyball, guys, and so on. In college, much of the same. And now I wanted to find it in my marriage and in being a mom, but wherever I sought to find my identity it would always just slip away or fail me! I couldn't find my footing and I was really hurting!

            I need to tell you that I wasn't lost (meaning I was not without Christ and going to hell) and I wasn't completely without spiritual growth or fruit, but I was NOT allowing Christ to be everything to me and I was deep in sin! I want to tell you that ladies, because you may know the Lord and you may be putting up a good front for everyone else (I was a deacon's wife, a Bible study facilitator, and a Sunday school teacher) but you may be really hurting in a pit of sin and in desperate need of help!

            After that first year of our marriage, the Lord began a work in me that changed everything. Through our trials with infertility, we began talking about adoption more and more. It was something we had both thought about before because we both had a passion for orphan care. Stephen had gone on a mission trip to an orphanage in Honduras while we were dating, and remember, way back from the beginning of my story; I had gone to an orphanage in Zambia. The Lord saw fit to use our infertility as such a huge blessing in my life! As we talked about adoption together, I began to study it. I'm a planner by nature y'all. I have to know everything about everything before I take a step forward (the Lord is definitely teaching me that is not faith and He has called me to live by faith)! I read everything I could get my hands on and the Lord was so gracious to lead me to Adopted for Life by Russell Moore. Through that book, and that book pointing me to the Bible, I started to see that the adoption I wanted to happen for us to have children was just a small picture of the adoption I had already experienced through God.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7

We are adopted into the family of God through the blood of Christ! Though we were once His enemy, He now calls us sons!!! Does that blow your mind?! It should!!! God doesn't just like me and want me hanging around the house like a friend of His Son's, I am His child! There is nothing that could take me away from Him! All that the Lord has (which is EVERYTHING), I am now an heir to because He has called me his child! Y'all, that is good stuff! As I read more and more about adoption, I longed more and more to cling to my Father!

            Around this time Stephen sensed that the Lord was calling him to full time ministry and that we were supposed to go to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.


Now I had everything planned out: we owned our own home, we had good jobs, we lived 5 minutes from both of our parents, we had 4 bedrooms for me to fill with children, and I had a perfectly wonderful plan for starting the adoption process the upcoming May. Well, turns out, I don't get to make the plans, God does.

So we sold half of our belongings, packed up the rest, and put our house up for rent. Less than a week before we were supposed to move I found a 2 bedroom trailer out in the country near Wake Forest for us to rent. So we loaded up the U-haul, piled our dogs in the car, and moved to Youngsville, NC with less than $500, no jobs, and no plan! As you can imagine I was scared to death, but in those days leading up to the move the Lord had proved Himself over and over to me. He provided a place for us to live and with each time that we needed money (for the U-haul, the rent deposit, etc) He provided literally just at the right time, just the right amount!!! I was blown away with how He showed up in our lives! So scared as I was, crying and praying, gripping the steering wheel the whole way, all I could do was trust Him.

The move was perfect for us. The Lord stripped us of all our worldly security and left us with nothing to rely on but Him. He led us to an incredible church family in NC that is teaching us so, so, so many things. He moved us far away from friends and family, so all we could do was hold on to each other! And then He gave me such a huge gift: though He has called me to wait for children, He gave me an incredible job! I am a full time nanny to a precious set of twins that I love to pieces! Isn't God so good to care about us so intimately that He would provide a job for me where I get to love on not one but two babies all day long from the time they came home from the hospital!

The Lord also put us in a care group at our church and within a very short time of knowing them, Stephen and I felt like they were our family, we bore our hearts completely to them about the trials and struggles of our marriage and they began to counsel us. There has been so much healing in our marriage! As we have learned to cling to Christ and forgive each other as God forgives us, we have grown a whole new marriage! It's crazy, but this post is not about marriage so I'll save the details of that story for another time. But in addition to marriage counseling, I began to meet regularly with some ladies through our care group and through that time God showed me something incredible: Christ could and should be my EVERYTHING! (May I recommend Because He Loves Me by Elyse Fitzpatrick? It is so great at pointing this out!) Christ is where I find my identity, like I had been learning through the teaching on adoption: who I am now is a CHILD of the living GOD, the creator of all things! That is who I am and that is where I can put all of my hope. I cannot seek my identity in anything else! Christ is my everything! He is my best friend, provider, protector, redeemer, teacher, groom, savior, and the list goes on and on and on!!! Knowing this has changed everything to me!

For the past few months I have prayed this every single time that I pray: “Lord, teach me to love you. Transform my heart to long for You more than everything and everyone. Father, help me to love you most!”

Maybe it sounds crazy to you to pray that God would make me love Him, maybe you feel love should come naturally, but if I've learned anything from the struggles of my marriage it's that love is a constant battle against our sinful flesh! So ladies, if you are struggling to love Him (maybe you are struggling to love Him more than your husband, or your kids, or your job, or yourself) ask Him to help you. Y'all, He has been so faithful to answer this request!!! I love Him more and more every day! I do not boast in myself but in what the Lord has done, but y'all, there has been such huge transformation in my life! I truly love the Lord more than everything else and sister, you can too if you just seek Him!

Now, I am still a work in progress but I trust that the Lord is not done with me yet!

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

There are still days where I just don't understand why it seems like everywhere I look, there are pregnant women and God won't even let me start the adoption process yet! And also there are days when I am tempted to expect my husband to be Jesus to me. But God is making those days fewer and fewer! Praise the Lord! And just the other night I woke up again with that old familiar fear, but instead of looking for an escape or help from my husband, I prayed out loud to my Father into the darkness, and call me crazy, but I could physically feel the weight lifted off my chest and the spiritual darkness flee the room!!! God is my defender! Praise the Lord!

So ladies I want to encourage you to look and see where are you finding your identity? If it's not in Christ and Christ alone, it will fail you! Run to Him, HE is ALL YOU NEED!!!

I love you Shine Girls!

Alison at the orphanage in Zambia in 2006

Alison and Stephen early in their dating days of 2007

Alison and Stephen at the birth of their niece Emily in NC!

Alison with their dog Dexter (1 of 3 dogs) in the only snow Youngsville got this year!

Brady and Colt, the twins Alison nannies! 

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