Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Share Your Story

A while ago, I offered to "Share My Story" on the Pless Press Amber had a great idea to get some people so share their stories on her blog each week, and I volunteered to give it a go :) To give you some background information: I am 25 years old, married to my best friend (Ryan Keith) for over a year now, and we live in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I'm licensed as a professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. Besides school and work, I absolutely LOVE the Arkansas Razorbacks (I've been a fan my entire life), and I love to travel to new places with my hubby. Family is super important to us - so we spend a lot of time with them, and we love watching movies/or doing anything that'll fit in our newlywed budget. 

When I first saw that Amber was starting this blog project, I immediately thought it was a great idea. Being in the counseling field, I truly have seen how the power of sharing a story can bring healing and encouragement. Rarely have I been on anything but the receiving end of those conversations... so actually sharing my story will be a little different. 

To start, I was raised in church my entire life. Much of my belief set (like many people) was taught to me by my family. My sister had cancer when she was 5 years old, and my brother was her bone marrow transplant donor. She, praise God, was healed from terminal cancer and is now 32 years old with a beautiful baby girl (read her adoption story here). But we were raised in a family of great faith. My parents were always encouraging... always supportive of whatever I felt like I was supposed to be doing, whether it was moving across the country to Atlanta for a summer or having a party in their house to celebrate someone's birthday in the church... they were always supportive. 

My story changes as I get older, though. I started studying different things in college, and I had some less-than-ideal experiences in my local church. My heart started to harden, and I became very bitter at the "church." I started realizing how emotionalism and materialism played into my relationship with God... it was something my church had taught me, but it was something I had also learned and accepted. There are many times that we are faced with opportunities to accept something as truth, and we do simply because we trust those in leadership above us. I've learned that skepticism can be very healthy. Ask questions. Research. Dig in. Find your own answers. Talk to other people about your thoughts. Email your pastor. There are so many ways to safeguard against blind obedience

Back to my story -- I was blindly obedient to leadership I shouldn't have been in my early 20's. I've come to a point where I don't have to push blame on anyone. I can accept the fact that I had some responsibility, and I got hurt because of my blind obedience. I don't believe I'm the only person who has been 'hurt by the church'... I'm actually very positive that I'm not. Sometimes those wounds cut so deep because we except more from a church leadership and our disappointment hits a deep low point. It's what we choose to do afterward that makes the difference.

In my case, I made some pretty rough choices. I chose to rebel. I chose to disobey what I knew was right. I chose bitterness against the church and the people in it. Those were some very rough years for me. I made decisions that still have ripples that affect me to this day. If I believed in regret, that would be the time in my life I would regret. But since I believe more power comes from learning and growth, I know that I've learned something (actually, learned many things) from that time in my life that can be used for good now. One of the greatest things I've learned is:

We are hurt and healed in relationships. 

My biggest hurts and greatest joys in life have been in the midst of relationships. My bitterness and hurt from church years ago has been healed through my relationship with Christ and also with His body. My husband and I joined a newlywed small group last year, and we've made some great friends who have encouraged us and given us some amazing community among each other. Not to mention my holy union with my husband and how MUCH of an impact that has had on my heart and personal relationship with Christ. If there's ever a chance for more conviction or more sanctification - it's in a marriage. 

I've said many times on my blog... and will continue to say it here: God writes the best stories. He planned my entire life out for me, and it brings me great comfort to know that all my experiences, decisions, low points, high points, and in betweens were all appointed by Him. My story is definitely mixed with belief, bitterness, and brokenness... but I've come to a place where I can truly say that brokenness is beautiful. It's the place where God can truly put our pieces back together the way He intended... and He still thinks we're beautiful. Some of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard were marked with pain and suffering... but also victoryVictory that only God can bring. The beautiful stories are the ones that can only be explained by pointing to God and saying, "It's because of Him." 

That's where my story is now. I look back on my life, and I realize I have made some very, very poor decisions. But I also see the redemption that has been given to me throughout my life, and I am infinitely blessed because of it. There are no "moments" in my life in the past few years that I can point to that were "turnarounds" or "breakthroughs" for my relationship with God, and I think that's significant. My relationship with Him (my story) is constantly growing, changing, and deepening. There is no "start point" for me just like there will not be an "end point." My story will continue to be written until I meet Jesus face to face, and I will continue my story with Him for eternity. 

God writes the best stories. I can't wait to live the rest of mine. 

im thankful.
carrie anne





Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Day Twenty-Eight: Something that Stresses You Out


Day 28: Something that Stresses You Out.


decisions.

decisions stress me out to the max. I remember being a senior in high school (and years before that), completely stressed about college/degrees/life... Those days seem so simple now. One of the biggest reasons that making a decision is so stressful now is because I am no longer just ME. I am a wife.
my life is now connecting to another human being, and my decisions directly impact his life as well. 

So choosing what college to go to as an 18 year old isn't nearly as stressful as making a decision to go BACK to school as a married 25 year old. Perhaps you caught on in my last blog post that some things have happened in the past few months... I've obviously been so busy that my blog has been stagnant and empty. Part of me wishes that I would have been posting so i could go back and read through some of my thoughts/feelings, and part of me is glad that this is the first time this will be said...

I have decided not to enroll in the Ph.D program this year.

Are you as shocked as I still am?

Yes. What I said is real.


I'm still grieving over this decision, but I know it's the right one. I've tried many times to explain and describe how this makes sense to me, and I hope I can do an adequate job in this post to help you understand, too.
 ((To clarify, I have notified the school and my family before publishing this post. This is simply to share my heart and also not have to explain this to everyone individually)).

I've compared the way I feel to anticipating a wedding, and I'm the bride. I was dating Regent for a while... things got serious, and Regent asked me to marry him. We set a date for August of this year, and that's when our marriage would begin. After my acceptance of this proposal, I started to doubt whether or not this marriage would be the right thing for me. I felt myself getting sick and worried over this decision, and I knew I needed to practice what I preached in marital therapy... and know that this can be undone before a "marriage" takes place. Regent doesn't deserve a half-hearted, unsure student, and I don't need such a huge commitment to something I'm not 100% sure of now.

This is almost comical to me, though... Coming home from my interviews in Virginia, I wanted this SO bad. I was so so so so so nervous waiting for the news as to whether I got in or not. Every time my phone buzzed, I jumped... I went out of town and made my parents check the mail... I got the news really really early on a morning before a workday. I RAN down the hall and starting tearing up as I got to tell Ryan that I GOT IN. I texted and called family and close friends, tweeted and Facebooked the good news... I was so excited. I felt like I was joining something so amazing, and I was so HONORED to be chosen by this university. I felt nothing else at that point. It was bliss!

Until about a few weeks later.

Maybe I was getting out of that lovey dovey phase of the relationship with Regent... but whatever it was, I absolutely could not shake it. At first, I felt that it might have to do with the fact that I didn't know who else was in my cohort with me, and I just needed some connection. Then I thought that maybe this could be me getting scared of such a huge challenge, and I needed to start preparing for this big stinkin deal. 

That's when I decided to spend some major time in prayer.

I knew these feelings and thoughts were going on for a reason, and I wanted to know why. I spent a lot of time writing out pros and cons of enrolling and not enrolling in the program... I started having an open mind to both sides... I had very deep, difficult conversations with my husband... I even went back and tried to find some sermon video that I felt like would help me with this. Over the course of time, I genuinely felt like this was something I needed to give up... even though a big part of me wanted to hold on to it. 

This is what stresses me out: trying to make the distinction between the good and better decisions. Doing this program and getting my Ph.D in a few years would be a good decision... absolutely. I believe (and obviously the faculty did as well) that I could do that work and gain a lot of wonderful things from that program... however, I don't think that's the better decision for me at this point in life. This is where 'could vs. should' come into play -- I could do it, but should I? 

And the hard part is that the Bible/God seemed to be pretty silent on what I should do with this Ph.D program. It's not like there was a glaringly obvious answer as to what I should do in this situation... I kept feeling myself pull away or avoid even thinking that this is something I shouldn't do anymore. I didn't like that... I don't like avoiding anything, and I felt some hypocrisy since that's exactly where I want people to go in therapy. I started listening to what I was "preaching" to my clients... and I went there myself. Slowly but surely, I came to realize (and eventually accept/ing) that I need to give this up.

There was one particular day when I felt this so much more than other days. Every Monday for weeks I woke up with the first thoughts being "I'm so tired. There's no way I'm doing this Ph.D program." I thought that was SO weird. There's months before the program even starts, and why in the world would it just be on Mondays and the FIRST thing I think of... It caught my attention. Regardless, this one particular Monday, I finally felt like I was ready to verbalize my thoughts that I wasn't going to do this anymore. I was driving home from a workout, and I just started crying in my car. I was (and still am) grieving the decision. I remembered a sermon I heard at CBC weeks before, and I pulled off the road into a random parking lot to pull up the video. The link to the clip I found is below.


"God is less concerned with what happens to us and far more concerned with what happens in us." 

This sermon spoke directly to my heart. My mind was consumed with, "WHAT SHOULD I DO?" instead of "God, who are You?" Once I focused on Him, my decision seemed to come rather easily. Once I grasped onto the fact that He will bring good out of this no matter if this is "right" or "wrong"... I was free to make this extremely hard, gut-wrenching decision. 

Needless to say, I bawled even more as I realized that this was the right/better decision I needed to make... and letting go would be very hard. I came home and bawled all over Ryan's shoulder and barely managed to get the words out to tell him what I felt was right. We stood and hugged (as I continued to cry) ... as it felt like a really big weight was being lifted from us. It's hard to explain, but there is peace in this decision as well. As we told immediate family, the reaction was not what I expected... they were relieved, too. I have felt nothing but tremendous love and support throughout this entire process. My family has been amazing, and this gave me even more reason to love and cherish the amazing people I get to call my own kin.

As if this blog isn't long enough already, I'm sure you might be wondering what were some reasons I changed my mind...?  Here are the big ones:

Time
Energy
Life Goals
Money
Family

Time: I've been in school full-time since I was 4 years old. The longest break I've had from school were summer vacations in between school years. I went to my Masters a few weeks after ending my Bachelor's. It's nice to have some time without school deadlines, studying, etc. It's something I'm not used to, and it could actually be more of a challenge for me to get used to NOT being in school.

Energy: Working full-time takes a ton of energy. Not to mention my recent focus on health and fitness... and my energy is always there for family and friends. My main point with identifying energy is just the fact that a Ph.D takes SO much time and energy... Energy that maybe I'd like to put toward something else.

Life Goals: It's been my dream since starting grad school to own my own private practice. That's what I want, and I want to make decisions to lead to that in the future. Trying to balance a Ph.D program, full-time work, marriage, and transitioning toward owning a private practice would be insanely hard! Plus, life will take some unexpected turns, I'm sure...

Money: Of course I had to look at this financially... Money wasn't the #1 reason for this decision, but it definitely played a part. Since all we have as far as debt goes is student loans, we would be paying off my Ph.D as I completed the program, with no loans. Things change when you realize just HOW much money that is and where else it could be going... loans don't give you that feeling. Knowing that, I realized that we could buy a nice, small house in full with the money that would be put toward that degree. Like I said, it just changes things.

Family: Before Ryan and I ever started dating, he smoked cigarettes (this has a point, I promise). At one point, he told me, "I'm not going to smoke forever. My kids won't have a dad who smokes." I felt his authenticity, but I said back, "I understand that, but maybe your kids deserve to have a dad who doesn't smoke now. If you quit now, you get to be an even better dad for them later." Again, I took my own advice here. Knowing that we want to have kids in the next few years, I need to take care of myself now so I can be the best mom for my kids later. I want to be healthy, rested (as much as possible), and prepared for children... and be absolutely READY for them - instead of planning them around dissertation deadlines and trips to Virginia. Pushing back having kids so I can cram in a Ph.D doesn't sound like I'm being the best mom for my kids now... I want something other than that. I know some people can manage to do this, but I'm choosing not to. God and family will come first in all my decisions, and this is no exception.


So there is my news. I have been holding it in for weeks now... and I can finally share it with you. I hope you can see the true vulnerability of my heart here and realize this was not an easy decision to make. Of course I'm feeling some embarrassment, pride, envy, and many other emotions... but I'm choosing peace and assurance that this is the best decision for me and my family to make at this point. I deeply value your prayers and support as I head to a very different road ahead, one that does not include formal education, that I believe will shape me into the woman I hope to become. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- God writes the best stories. I'm in the middle of one where I have no clue how it will end... but those stories are the best kind.

im thankful.
carrie anne