Thursday, April 17, 2014

What a whirlwind week it has been and it's not even over yet!

People have come, quite literally, out of the woodwork since my baptism -- telling me they have been praying for me all along.  People I barely know.  People I DON'T know!

Humbled.

People have been messaging me on facebook, sharing my blog, telling my story.  They have told me that my words inspire them.  That my story has touched them.  I've received emails from people I haven't heard from in years.  They are thanking me for sharing my story.

Blessed.

My wonderful friend Andy Rampulla, who happens to be Pastor Mark's dad, (and therefore, Marlee's grandfather) sent me all of the photos he took on Sunday.  I wanted to share this one since it was so critical to my story.

Remember I said that Marlee was watching?  That Marlee brought me to this place of salvation and she was right there beside me, cheering me on?


Nevermind my Alice Cooper makeup.
I love the way Mark is looking at his daughter.
I love the way *I* am looking at his daughter.
Full of gratitude.
I wonder if this child will ever fully know and understand the impact she had on her teacher.
I wonder if she will ever realize that it was she who taught me?

Grateful.




Blessed.
Humbled.
Grateful.

I'm going to start blogging more.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  I've said it before.  But I think I look at blogging as this profound PROCESS and it doesn't have to be.  Sometimes it will be  short quick blurb like it was today.  Long or short, profound or not,  I hope it makes you smile.  

I have a simple goal in life.  To make one person laugh each day.  Even in my work I have done with autism my goal has always been to just help ONE family.  To just touch ONE life.  If I've done that, I have succeeded.  I will treat my blog the same way.  If I reach ONE person... I will have succeeded.  Maybe I will make you think, maybe I will make you smile, maybe I will make you laugh if I'm lucky.

Let's find out shall we?  Follow me and let's go on this journey together. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

My own personal "Super Soul Sunday"

A lot of people are curious about how I, April Schmidt came to be baptized yesterday.  After all I've spent the last 20 years or so denouncing religion in general.  The truth is, I'm still not a major fan of "religion" but that's another blog post FOR SURE.  The thing about this wonderful church I've found, or rather was led to (more on that in a minute) is that they aren't really all that concerned with "religion" either.  All they want to do is help you have a relationship with God.  That statement alone is what got me to walk in the door.

So a bit of history.............. I feel like I have to tell the story of HOW I got to this moment.

I was teaching preK  and I had this student.  Looking back now, I can see that she wasn't "my favorite," but I was drawn to her light.  Every day I looked forward to seeing this little 4 year old angel and her smile just made my day.  I was going through my divorce, but not going through my ACTUAL divorce, the even WORSE part of divorce-- which was the year leading up to the decision to get one.  Getting a divorce is easy in comparison to making the decision to get one.   I would see Marlee's dad pick her up sometimes and just honestly, I was confused.  She told me her dad was a pastor but this guy was covered in tattoos and dressed in skinny jeans and cool hipster shoes.  "The south is so weird," I thought.  But over time and a few class parties, her mom and I decided to arrange an accidental bump in at McDonalds so I could see Marlee.  Of course LeeAnn and I ended up talking for over 2 hours and she explained to me the philosophy of their church, why they do what they do and QUITE FRANKLY I was at rock bottom (at this point the proverbial trigger had been pulled on the divorce) and I thought "Why not?"  I have nothing to lose."  And, me being me I cracked all kinds of jokes about being struck down by the devil the minute I walked in the door.  I wasn't.  In fact LeeAnn was there quite literally waiting with open arms and a seat for me.  At the end she asked if it was alright if one of the elders of the church prayed over me.  I didn't even know what this meant but I blindly followed and allowed myself to be prayed over and Pastor Steve read my mail and I cried and I cried and I cried.  And decided to go back the following week.

Be honest.  She could totally pass for mine!

Over the course of the next year a lot happened.  I became divorced officially, I broke my foot and could barely dress myself, lost my job (due to broken foot), took a job after that that nearly destroyed me.  I kept going to church and every single Sunday they would ask if anyone needed prayer and far be it from me to turn down prayer so I walked up with no shame, Sunday after Sunday, (No I'm not pretending I went  EVERY single Sunday, I did not)  In the meantime I started to develop my relationship not just with God but with other people in the church.  I made friends.  I soaked in Mark's words like a human sponge.  Here's this tattooed Italian warrior from New Jersey who is loud and has a hard time staying on topic some weeks but gets fired up and excited and talks with his hands and I'm telling y'all this man is like a brother from another mother and there's no doubt God led me to Mark's church because he knew I would listen.  And I did.  And I began to pray.  And things started to happen.  I started to listen to what was being prayed over me, about seeds being planted and big things waiting for me and breaking the chains of bondage around me.  The bottom line is, church made me feel better.  Prayer made me feel better.  God made me feel better.  God made me feel SAFE.  I started to believe what I was hearing.  I started to believe that I was loved, and worthy and forgiven and good enough and......just... enough.

Bonus!  You're getting two stories in one!

And then one Sunday I was sitting next to my friend Scott and in rolls this man which Scott introduces to me as Lee but the guy shakes my hand and says "Hi I'm Robert."  Again I think, "The  South is so weird!"  But as many of you know, Robert and I have not been apart since that day.  I wasn't ready.  He wasn't ready (just coming out of a divorce himself) but there's no question in my mind that this was all God's plan.  And suddenly, I'm happier than I have ever been in my life.  I'm happier than I ever DREAMED I could be in my life.  I'm happier than what I ever thought I could deserve.  And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God gave me this gift.  Because what happened was this.  I was sitting in church listening to Mark talk about doors opening and doors closing and sometimes you have to close one door to open another.  And yanno, the whole "doorway" topic struck a nerve with me.  And right then and there I stopped listening and started praying and asked God to help me close this door that needed to be welded shut for life.  That's all.  I just prayed for help to shut that door.  And when I opened my eyes there was the help I needed  staring right at me.
This is it.  THAT day.  The day we met and the day we had our first date.  And we had to take a #selfie because we knew we would never want to forget this moment.

That was nearly 2 years ago.  And no matter what, relationships are hard, and ugly.  And as time goes by, demons creep up.  I'm famous for self sabotage. Let's not forget LIFE.  There are 5 kids between us.  Our goal was always "Kids first, us second."  Jobs have changed, stressors have weighed us down, and quite frankly Robert and I began to struggle.  and as we struggled I questioned myself.  And as I questioned myself I questioned God.  And I stopped going to church.

I dove head first into the spiral of self loathing, shame, darkness, controlling, depression -- you name it.  I was there.  And it got bad.  VERY bad.  As my friend Michelle so aptly put it, "You're started to get that look again."  There's no true description for that look other than it is void of light and void of happiness.  And this isn't because there was suddenly no good in my life.  Quite the contrary.  It's because, as Pastor Steve so beautifully said it..... "Imagine going into battle knowing that you've already won.  You KNOW you've already won because Jesus has already fought for you.  So any battles you have going on in your life are the ones that you have created in your mind."   I was trapped, and lost in my own mind.

During a conversation with a friend earlier in the week, in which we were discussing spiritual healing, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I started to lose my way when I STOPPED going to church.

And now we arrive at Sunday morning.

I'm tired, Robert is tired, we kinda want to sleep in and then do our yard work.  I push through.  "I need church." and we rolled out of bed, I didn't even shower, I tried to slay the crazy parts of my hair and dragged myself to church.  Overall, I wasn't particularly excited about going but I was going "Just in case" it was the thing I needed.

God put a whammy on me.

It gets better.

When Mark announces that it's baptism Sunday, I turn to Robert and tell him I'm leaving.  That I don't want any part of that.

I hear you laughing, God.

You know how I'm obsessed with Eat, Pray, Love? There's a part when Liz arrives in India and she's attempting to meditate and all she can think of is how to decorate her new apartment, where she should move, etc etc.  She looks at the clock and what feels like 2 hours has been only 2 minutes.  Sometimes that's me at church.  Especially during worship because I don't sing and I'm left to my own devices which usually sounds something like "Oh that's a cute outfit!"  "So and so has a new haircut."  "Look at how big so and so's daughter is getting."  "I really like the paint color in here."  "I wonder where they got those lamps."  ad nauseum...........

Minor segue.  About 3 months ago I started doing yoga pretty seriously.  For those of you who know me you know that my extent of psychical activity is typing on this keyboard.  I don't do it.  I don't like it.   Another post for certain, but I have come to LOVE, adore, and NEED yoga.  At at a workshop on Saturday the instructor was talking about the connection between the mind, the breath, the spiritual, and the body.

Back to my wild mind on Sunday morning.  I decided to take mountain pose.  Let's incorporate some of this yoga business and see if I can quiet the mind.
I rocked this stance for about 30 solid minutes during worship.

So there I am as still as can be, hands at heart center, and.......... it worked.  I quieted my mind and I opened my heart.

And that's why when Mark started talking about baptism being a symbol of the death of one life and the awakening of another... I knew what I had to do.  I had to drown that darkness inside of me and reemerge a cleaner, lighter version of myself.  A better version of myself.

It's that simple.  I had reached a point where the only way I knew how to make a change was quite literally and figuratively drown the version of myself that was full of self doubt and hatred and loathing and wash that away, literally WASH IT OFF OF ME and be born again as someone else. 

But more importantly, I had to let Jesus fight my battles for me,  the battles he has already won.  Which means,  wait for it.........  I had to surrender the battles that were going on in my own mind.  I had to let go, and let God...... once and for all.  

I turned to Robert and asked if it was OK for me to be baptized even though I questioned some things in the bible.  He told me to pray about it.  But there was nothing for me to pray about.  I was called to the water.  I already saw myself there.  I could already see myself rising out of it.  Like the phoenix rising from the ashes I could already see myself rising out of the water.  

I was crying so hard.  Everyone else was too.  I'm so blessed to have these amazing people surrounding me and covering me in prayer.

What you don't see, is Marlee siting directly in front of me, watching on as her parents and grandparents prayed over me and her father and Father baptized me.  As Mark said, "Look at her, she is so proud of you."  


Perhaps there is something to this thousands year old practice of yoga?  I rise out of the water without realizing I have my hands at heart center, which is, of course also prayer.  

Like every woman in the world I go through periods of my life where I feel I am ugly, fat,
 too this, not enough that, etc etc etc. 
But what I know is that in this photo I have never been more beautiful, more radiant,
 more full of light, life, and love. 

After all, God is love.  And love is God.

And just like that, I decided to open my heart, to open this door to God and let him work his miracles with me.  To ALLOW him to work his miracles with me.  To GET OUT OF HIS WAY and be his vessel. 

Remember what Elizabeth Gilbert, or actually, Richard from Texas had to say about it?
"If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this (insert topic here), you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using (whatever your stupid excuse is, insert it here) to block that door. Let it go.”


Thank you to my family at Southview -- you truly are my family and I am blessed beyond words to be touched by each one of you. To Mark and LeeAnn Rampulla I thank you for creating a legacy in your daughter Marlee and giving her the light that I have no doubt I will be one of many lucky people to receive. To those of you who have watched me Sunday after Sunday standing there with my arms folded and darkness in my eyes I thank you for your prayers. There is no doubt in my mind they were answered yesterday. And Robert, I thank you for your patience and grace no one has ever needed it more than I and how lucky I am that God gave me you.