There’s a Fork in the Road

Friends, after talking to my publisher, I’ve decided to pause blogging and focus on finishing my book.

I’ll miss you. Your soul stories ignite me to worship God. But straddling book and blog gives you less than you deserve. I’m sad with those excited for the next post, but something even better is coming!

Soul Surgery shares God’s richest healing through my deepest wound–bipolar. Feeling worthless and exposed, God implanted unearned love, unshakable safety, and unreserved happiness.

You’ve encouraged me so much. Thank you for joining God and I in this adventure. I’ll keep you posted.

Mary Alysse   

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My Obligation Kills Others’ Passion

“The dishwasher’s stuck,” Matt said. “Something’s blocking it.”

“It’s just a really tight fit.” I stood in the basement holding the PVC pipe sticking through the floor.

“It’s really stuck. Come look.”

Idiot. I connected the wire around the frame.

“Pull it out. I have to rewire it,” I said. Nearly 7 p.m. No dinner. I was ready to combust or give up or cry. “Okay. Try again.”

“It’s still stuck.”

“Push it in straight. The linoleum is uneven so it doesn’t have any grip on the back.”

Matt pushed at the bottom with his feet. He pushed from his stomach while I stood by his feet to give leverage.

“Mary, it’s stuck. Did you check the hose?”

Crap. “We’re crushing the hose against the side of the sink. Pull it out.” Three stores to find the right hose. Now it was flattened. Finally reattached, I bent the PVC pipe in the basement to get it through the hole.

“Try turning on the water,” Matt said.

Splat in the face. I jumped.

“Turn it off, turn it off!”

Whatever. We give up. We’ll do this later. Between building a new cabinet side and finding the right hose, we’d been working on this dishwasher for weeks.

“We need to try something different,” Matt had said again that morning. “We’re fighting constantly about this house.”

“Are we gonna learn to mature through hard times, or just give up?” I asked.

“I’m unnaturally, hair-trigger irritable,” we told my parents.

“Do you want to write more?” Mom asked. “Do you think that contributes to your irritability.”

Of course. House repairs chain me to drudgery for the foreseeable future. “But that’s selfish,” I said.

“Mary, I like working on the house,” Matt said.

“I don’t. I didn’t want a fixer upper.”

“You’re just a martyr,” Mom said.

“Let me work on the house while you write,” Matt said.

I stared at the floor. That’s so lazy. I can’t make Matt do all the work, or even more than half. But it sounded like freedom.

Matt got up to go to the gym before work. “I’m gonna work on the house in the evenings this week while you write.”

So guiltily I wrote. Matt renovated and went to the gym smiling, motivated. All I did was write and say, “Do whatever you think, babe. You got this.”

The drive to finish so I could have my life back disappeared. My obligation to be unselfish, to do the right thing was killing Matt’s passion.

We’re On God’s Unstoppable Train

The Story of Justin Shrum written by Mary Alysse Dodds

13392116_1142662719088983_6012772518154448521_o“You can have unbroken access to the presence of God.”

His body reacted. He growled, emphasizing physical manifestation.

I squirmed. God, if this is what unbroken access is about, I want nothing to do with it.

But part of me knew he spoke truth, knew his experience was legitimate. God, I believe you dwell inside of me. I believe I have access to you that I should experience daily. I want that.

God’s presence surged. Like New Testament writers, I couldn’t describe my soul’s experience with the Holy Spirit. Rivers of living water overflowed from my innermost being, spilling onto those around me.

God is dwelling inside my body. Unfathomable by my mind, but overwhelming my heart. God brought himself to the nearest place of my human existence.  

Joy replaced weariness. I had been a zealous Bible school student. I begged God to come meet with me. I prayed harder with my buddies to break the veil.

14876591_1248413711847216_138600964007968573_oGod was a distant dad who wanted to visit but somehow couldn’t. Only moments of mercy in the right corporate worship broke the separation. Only the right atmosphere.

Now we’ve had Bible studies in brothels. Darkness and demons cannot touch the atmosphere that lives inside us–the Holy Spirit.

God’s spirit inside us is the source of change. He splashes over, quenching the thirst of broken women. A prostitute prayed for a client.

“You need Jesus,” she said and gave our business card.

I see people overcome cycles of addiction and abuse not by trying harder, but by experiencing the life of the Spirit.

By simply knowing, “I believe, and now I’m filled with the Holy Spirit.” Their inner man becomes bigger, and their outer man, drawn to addiction, breaks away. Souls at ease, delivered from fear, established in intense confidence as children of God.

“Joel was killed.” Loud silence. The sound of grief, heartbreak. What a waste. No respect for the brother, husband, father he was.

“Justin,” a rush to my chest where I know to fellowship with God, “the loss of Joel is a reminder of how much I care about those people.”

14079502_1199855933369661_5883774730301428655_nWithout any details of lives changed, the Spirit assured me he was involved. My brother’s murder was not in vain. If death can’t stop us, nothing can.

It’ll take a long time, but we’re gonna win because we’re on God’s team. We’re constantly disappointed. We want to see girls freed from a system of prostitution that destroys self-worth. We want to see complete restoration. That is crazy.

But if God set himself inside of us, what can stop us? We rejoice in our trials. That’s ridiculous, except God constantly shows us the best is yet to come. We experience joy simultaneously.

We’re on track to impact lives because God’s train is unstoppable.

Justin Shrum is the founder and president of The Justice Project International, a nonprofit combatting human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation in Germany’s legalized sex industry. A husband, father, and tabletop gamer, Justin’s passion is teaching, seeing people worship a God they know a little bit better now. Connect at TheJusticeProject.net.

 

All My Flowers Are Dead

The black-eyed susans belonged on my table smiling beside the crystal-vase roses. They matched the sweetness of anniversaries, the copper lights that turned on, the clarity in writing.  

Then one morning all my flowers were dead.

The roses were stinking in moldy water. The susans were hunched and catatonic. We were fighting about dishwasher walls and sentences, but really whether the other was stupid or cared.

“I’ve been practicing thankfulness, God. Why is my world withering?”

“When was the last thing you thanked me for?”

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“I journal thanksgiving daily.”

“No, the last thing you thanked me for, when did it happen?”

“Oh, well Matt bought me roses a week ago.”

“Then your thankfulness is a week without food.”

The day I pick flowers, is the day they start starving. Their cheer withers with the memory of Matt’s sweet gesture.

I guess my thanksgiving wears off like my last meal.

A couple hours later my rumbling stomach warns of shaking and headaches. I need a snack to stave off hanger.

“Mary, yesterday’s thankfulness is yesterday’s food.”

So what am I thankful for in the last twenty-four hours? I hold my pen and journal. Suddenly the big gifts are off the list. What am I thankful for in the monotony of going to work and going to bed?

Matt woke up to pray with me while I cried before work. He told me not to make him lunch, so I could stay a little longer. Greasy quesadillas with a friend made the perfect lunch. A bonfire and chats about God’s presence in struggle ended the day.

I need thankfulness to keep me full, especially in the days I cry. I eat every few hours. Of course a morning thankful list already has me hangry by the time Matt hugs me at the end of the day.

“God, help me to be more religious about thanking you than I am about snacking.”

“Goodbye Kids” is a Normal Part of God’s Bigger Plan

The story of Melissa Kreider written by Mary Alysse Dodds

13641267_1371614989521797_9058652240689035957_o“Don’t keep the kids,” God told us.

“But, God, you told us to foster. We’d be sending John and his siblings to an unhealthy foster home.”

God’s no shocked us. We finally were doing foster to adopt like God said.  

We’d been trying to have kids for eight years, resisting what felt like buying a baby or adopting just to have kids. We needed to be called, not just feeling good about rescuing an infant.

“When I’m at a family reunion watching the kids play,” my pastor said, “I couldn’t tell you which ones were adopted because they’re all my nieces and nephews.”

He’s right. I don’t feel like an adopted child of God. God loves me like I’m his, because I am his.

“I’m ready to pursue adoption,” I told Loren, surprised God had changed his nope to yes.

We cried saying goodbye to John and his siblings, but pursuing adoption was God’s gentle leading into foster care. Whole families were so much bigger than goodbyes.

13558791_1366012493415380_1101740763533272701_oFour weeks later toddler brothers bonded easily with us. It felt so normal to be their parents. Then I had toys and no kids, tears and no motivation. I’d stopped working to care for lives. Now I had laundry and dinner.

How will we say goodbye when we have kids for longer than a month?

John came back three weeks later. The siblings’ behavioral problems were too much for one family. He screamed and cried at night for hours.

“Tell him you’ll be here when he wakes up,” God said.

After a year with John I didn’t know he needed to hear that, but it put him right to sleep.

Then a 10-month-old girl and 6-year-old boy were ours for twenty months before reunification. We cried and worried. As a mom, I knew when they ate, slept, and pooped, and then I knew nothing. They went back to parents who grew up in foster care and broken families.

10603923_939752026041431_2876773033059843746_o“They need their children so I can break the generational curse of poor parenting,” God said.

God’s perfect plan is for kids to be raised by their parents, however faulty they may be. More than rescuing one child, he wants to restore families.

So we kept in touch, having kids over for weekends. We’ve surrounded ourselves with people who are willing to inconvenience themselves to see other families thrive.

The agency sent John and his siblings for weekends with potential adoptive families. John wouldn’t look at me or talk to me when he came back. His behavior was terrible.

“Why are you being so mean to me, John?”

“I wanna go back to that other lady’s house,” he’d scream. I knew he didn’t, but part of me wanted to be the kid. Fine. I don’t want to deal with you anyway.

13147268_1331325890217374_8337434042857533372_oFinally the agency decided the siblings’ behavioral issues together were too much for one family. We adopted John November 19, 2016, during six months with two sisters.

In March three-month-old twin girls were totally reliant in our arms. We were in love, and grief. Our babies had gone a month with unknown broken bones until blood in the brain caused seizures. How could a father do that to babies who couldn’t talk back?

 

Kids are such a gift. A gift God gives to some people and not others to steward for we never know how long. College, marriage, death, or reunification, goodbye is a natural part of parenting.

On May 11, 2016, John’s birthday, a 1 and 2-year-old brother and sister became our children.

What’s surprised us the most is how normal it is. People probably think it’s strange we always have a different number of kids. But they’re our kids, and we love them. We love seeing scared and angry turn to safe and singing.

Like any parent, we cry saying goodbye. They’re only ours for a season, but they’re always God’s.

12186375_1200762509940380_2628680521905507628_oMelissa Kreider is a wife, mother, and the one who makes the house feel like home when keeping new foster kids alive seems like a feat. She’s passionate about helping broken families thrive in their parenting and as children of God. She’ll tell you everything especially the truth, she’ll fight with you to see you through, and she’ll laugh with you.

 

I’m Not in Control of Having Kids or Keeping Them

 

The story of Loren Kreider written by Mary Alysse Dodds

14409440_1437086612974634_553506841598346857_oI don’t like change, but we’ve parented thirteen different kids in the last three years.

I could never foster, I thought, because I want to love kids as my own, not feel like a babysitter waiting to say goodbye.

My life was smooth and predictable. I’ll get married, wait a couple years, and then have kids I planned. But then eight years went by, and we weren’t able to have our own children.

Suddenly I had so little control over my plans, so I began asking God his plans.

“You believe abortion is wrong, right?” God asked.

“Yeah.”

“Then simply being a bystander who calls abortion evil isn’t enough. Step up and care for the unwanted children.”

1384152_746683482014954_507862165_nSo we parented children like our own, and they were ours. At first some would bolt if something scary would happen. Just run to any man or woman because daddy and mommy meant any male or female.

Then one day they’d turn and look for me. Finally I’d earned their trust. They knew where safety was. They knew who daddy was.

Then we cried saying goodbye. I was glad not to be the judge making the decision about reunification with birth parents, but I knew the real judge was God.

We’d watch our kids go back to their birth parents. They won’t do things the way we would. Oh my goodness they aren’t parenting this. She could grow up with an attitude if it’s not kept in check.

“God, how can we send our kids into an imperfect environment?”

“I sent my son to imperfect parents.”

God’s the perfect parent, and he sent his son to imperfect Joseph and Mary. If God was able to do that being perfect, so can we.

“Thank you for allowing them in our lives for a little bit, God. We’ll let go of our kids just like you let go of your son.”

The more we let go, the more we realized that we didn’t just want to foster to adopt.

We wanted to see our children reunified with their birth families, so God could transform the whole family, not just the kids.

12186375_1200762509940380_2628680521905507628_oOur kids could go home as missionaries. We could support the whole family, encouraging God’s original intention.

Loren Kreider is a husband, father, and fun-loving auto mechanic. He’s passionate about helping broken families thrive in their parenting and as children of God. He’s a loyal son, a fiery foster parent, and a lover of coffee and sweets with his wife when the kids go to bed.  

More than Permission, God’s Rooting for Me

“Love always hopes and trusts.”  I wrote that on my mini chalkboard and set it on my desk at the beginning of the year.

“I’ll be there in five minutes,” Matt would text, but I was always standing at the train station fuming.

“I’ll be on time tomorrow,” he’d say, and I’d roll my eyes and keep my mouth shut–actually it opened a lot.

I’m just being realistic, I’d tell myself. I can’t believe something that’s unlikely.

“No, love always hopes and trusts,” God kept saying. “Even when people haven’t proven themselves.”  

“I really want to kill my cynicism this year, God, but always hoping and trusting seems ignorant. But I know expecting disappointment  squishes Matt before he even starts.”

The quote sat next to my wedding picture. At first it inspired daily prayer, and then it became a rarely noticed fixture.

Still, one phrase is pretty easy to learn in a year. When I didn’t believe a promise, “Love always hopes and trusts,” God reminded me, and I tried to do whatever that meant.

When Matt had no reason to believe I’d be different next time, “Love always hopes and trusts,” I’d tell tell him.

Then I was ripping myself apart about whether to publish a book. I saw the familiar words again, and God asked me something crazy.

“Do I love you, Mary?”

“Yes, more than I ever knew.”

“Well then I hope and trust in you.”

“What! No, I hope and trust in you.” Like Dad says, you can love your enemies but you can’t trust them. Something isn’t right with the translation.

Another version says love hopes all things and believes all things. I can’t believe black is white, so what does that really mean?

img_3518“It means I’m not just giving you permission to write a book, Mary. I’m rooting for you.”

Talk about motivation. I’d do anything to prove myself to God, and now he’s cheering me to write like he made me to? Good heavens. I have no idea if I can pull this off.

But you bet I’m going to try like the king of the world is watching. And God’ll figure it out just like he showed me what love’s hope and trust really meant.

I Was Made to Breathe Water

“Come over here,” I pulled my sister’s arm. “Look at those woods.”

The Michigan pines stood perfectly spaced in soft grass. Through slender trunks the sun was setting in the valley below.

“Look how pretty that is. Doesn’t that make you know there’s beauty we were made for that’s always out of reach on earth?”

“But it’s the woods,” she said. “There’s bugs and itchiness.”

“Whatever, you think I’m crazy.”

“No, I feel that way about water. When I see water, I just want to soar over it and dive in.”

“Exactly. God made us to know this isn’t what we were created for.”

“You mean I was made to breathe water?”

We laughed, but we spent the 10 hour car ride home amazed by the clouds. I know why the naturalists believed in transcendence.

The towering clouds in bright blue made me want to take a nap in paradise. But my sister had to focus on driving, and gases won’t support me in midair.

Even in our happiest moments, there’s so much that isn’t quite right.

“Ricky laughs at me,” she said, “because when I hug him I’m always trying to get closer. There’s never enough skin contact.”

All I can think is me too. Something within me remembers the Garden of Eden, it knows guilt and clothes should never have separated us.

Wedding days and gorgeous scenery just pinprick heaven’s veil. When I realize I can’t transcend, I can’t pass to the other side, I stop and ponder.

I let the beauty fuel my imagination. I let the glimpse of love and connection sit in my heart as I ache for home.

I imagine paradise, and then I try to imagine an even better paradise. I wonder and smile because I know when I walk into heaven my imagination will look like a coal heap.

 

Stop Complaining and Ask

“Your writing seems kinda off lately,” my mom said. “It’s just not the quality I’m used to from you.”

“I know. I’ve been tired, busy, and foggy-headed.” What’s wrong with me? I need to sleep more or discipline myself better. I have to start saying no to working on the house when I should be writing. I’ll drink less coffee, eat healthier.

I spend hours rearranging a short post. My gut sinks, but my brain’s silent.

Driving to Michigan with my sisters, I complain I’m sleep deprived, my head feels squeezed by forceps, and my ears are clogging.

Back home, I’ll get back on a sleep schedule. Routine will boost my productivity. But I’m so tired the irritation keeps me awake.

5:00 a.m. I read my Bible.

“Jesus, please give me a clear head today. Give me your words to write.”

The blank page glares above the keyboard. Will the fog clear?

15 minutes later the page is full. That draft went down like ice cream. I could write another.

“You don’t have, because you don’t ask,” God said.

He’s right. I complained for weeks, but I never asked.

I whined. I told my sisters, my mom, and my husband. I tried to fix it, but I never asked Jesus.

It’s like when I complained to everyone in sight about the light company shipping me 24 incorrect bulbs, twice.

The company didn’t even know about the problem until I stopped complaining and called customer service.

“But you hear my complaints, God.”

“Of course I do. But you’d credit your sleep discipline and spiritual conversations instead of me.”

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Wow. I do. I take credit for fixing things all the time. I don’t ask until it’s the last option left.

“I’m sorry, God, for talking about you while you’re in the room but not talking to you. Teach me to ask first.”

I Am an Author!

Transcript:

$5,000 to get coached, marketed and published. Published! I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think about anything else.

But it’s so expensive. Our house could be livable with $5,000, my family settled. It’s probably a slimey marketing scam.

I asked seven authors their personal stories.

“Author Academy Elite will give you the resources to publish,” they said.

Darn. Now I have to decide. I was afraid to let my husband see me smile. It was easier to say I was terrified than to let on that I was excitedly high.

Adrenaline. I was looking what I’ve always wanted in the eye while my mind gave a safety talk.

Am I a good enough writer to invest $5,000? Am I an author or a selfish dreamer? Missionaries or other people’s dreams could use this money.

“What did you just tell Matt about your finances?” God asked.

“That we’re so blessed we should give like we’re rich. But, God, this isn’t giving. It’s keeping.”

“You’ll never give generously until you receive generously. You’re worth $5,000.”

“I am? I know I was praying and fasting when you showed me Author Academy Elite, but I need another sign.”

My gut was stormy ocean. My mind was pacing. My body was frozen. So many emotions I just whined and stood in Matt’s arms.

On decision day I was still a tug of war rope. My terror confirmed I had to, but I didn’t want to be selfish.

“To obey is better than sacrifice, Mary.” It felt like, knock it off. “Stubbornness is like witchcraft.”

“But I’m being stubborn for the right reasons, God.”

“Your sacrifices aren’t holy. You have value because I love you. You’re an author because I made you an author just like I made you a girl.”

Wow. I’m rebelling against God’s plan when I thought I was trying to be good.

Friends, I am an author not because I like writing, not even when I write well. I’m an author because that’s what God made me.

You’ve listened to the stories of God’s glory in my messy life. I’ve been honest because shared struggles encourage, and you’ve been just as real when I’ve interviewed you.

We’ve credited God in the days we drink coffee, which for me is every day and even more on hard days.

But I’ve been hiding God’s biggest glory in my life because I’m afraid to lose image. I was a crying 8-year-old who tried to earn love by being good and responsible. Then God taught me his love as a 21-year-old professional who was shaking, too terrified to sleep, lying all night next to my mother. God smothered me in his love by taking away everything I thought could earn it.

Next year, I’ll be publishing the story I’ve been too embarrassed to tell my family. I’m sharing the story of being diagnosed with bipolar because it’s God’s story. He entrusted me to give it to you.