All Things for Good

Recently, I was asked by my friend Christine Opperman to tell my story for her online podcast.  I was blessed as I remembered many of the things God has worked in my life over the last two years, and reminded that again, He is the author of our stories, and is so faithful even through pain.    If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know our story, but in case you don’t, you may enjoy listening here.

Just last night, I was listening to My Story by Big Daddy Weave, and these lyrics,
If I should speak then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in
Oh to tell you my story is to tell of Him

struck me as being so true in my life.  I think the heart cry for every Christian is that God would be glorified as we walk out the details of our lives.  The kids and I were talking recently about Romans 8:28.  Near and dear to our hearts are our favorite chocolate chip cookies, and I used that very tangible (and tasty) illustration as we talked about how the flour, eggs, salt, vanilla, etc., wouldn’t taste good alone, but together they make a delicious treat.  So with the details of our lives.  Taken individually, some of those details are a bit hard to swallow, but, true to the character and promises of God, He works them together for our good and His glory!

If we are faithless,
He remains faithful;
He cannot deny Himself.
2 Timothy 2:13

Guest Post: On Big and Little

When I received this email from my friend Molly (she doesn’t blog but sends out the most insightful and thought-provoking emails on a semi-regular basis), I knew I wanted to blog it.  She is the beautiful and joyful mother of three energetic boys and one delightful Pinkness, with another blessing on the way, and the way she practices gratefulness and focusing on Jesus throughout all of life is a continual inspiration to me!  

On Big and Little

When you are one of a posse of boys, the words ‘big’ and ‘little’ and where you fit on that scale are of great importance. The Youngest Rooster prefers to not be called ‘little’. He refers to himself as ‘little-bit-big’. Or, sometimes, you can be a ‘big-little’. Little is for little sisters. Fully big, like his oldest brother, means almost too grown up and full of importance to imagine.

One cold afternoon this past week, Mother pulled out the toy nativity set. Pinkness was captivated at once by Baby Jesus. Young Rooster by the camel.

“Jesus started off little,” Mama mentioned to her brood, “but then He grew big and…”

Here she was interrupted matter-of-factly by her next-size-up Rooster. “No, Jesus started off as a Big. Then He came here and started off as a Little. And now He’s a Big again.”

And Mother saw – this is the heart of Christmas: great Grace that would shrink down from Biggest of All, too full of importance to even imagine, to Very Little (even smaller than a little-bit-big), looked down on by all the rest…Such humility embraced so that God Himself could walk this day with her.

“Oh, come! Let us adore Him!” Biggest of Big! Worthy of all!
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Join her email list by contacting her at bobandmollyk at gmail dot com.

 

 

 

Guest Post: What I’m Learning About Life in Christ

Five Christmases ago, when life was quite different in all sorts of ways, I read this post from my dear friend Miranda, who blogs at sippycupsandfingerprints.com. It impacted me then and has stayed with me through the years, especially the picture at the end of the post.

This year, it’s even more meaningful and I wanted to share it.  Miranda is a wonderful writer and I’ve been so blessed to see her walking faithfully through the challenges of mothering, choosing to notice and rejoice in the little things! She is truly one of my heroes in this season of my life!!

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What I’m Learning About Life in Christ

Recently, I desired a reading additive to my daily routine, something quick to read but powerful on impact.  I thought I knew exactly what I was looking for and judging from it’s title, a current devotional favorite sounded like the answer.  I ordered the book online and when I received it, it did nothing for me.  I didn’t find it interesting, let alone challenging.  Everyday was short and sweet, kinda mamby-pamby and feel good.  Maybe it just wasn’t the right time, but it certainly wasn’t what I had in mind, so I returned it.
I decided to pick up an old faithful devotional that I hadn’t used in years.  The very first day God used it’s message to open my eyes.  Reading something that truly speaks to your heart is something you have to re-read over and over to fully grasp all that is being said.  I have gone back and re-read that first day at least 5 times.  I thought I’d share, because this is where I am.  My food for thought, that I’ve desperately needed over the past week.

November 22

Shallow and Profound
“Whether  therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do,
do all to the glory of God.”
1 CORINTHIANS 10:31
Beware of allowing yourself to think that the shallow concerns of life are not ordained of God; they are as much of God as the profound. It is not your devotion to God that makes you refuse to be shallow, but your wish to impress other people with the fact that you are not shallow, which is a sure sign that you are a spiritual prig. Be careful of the production of contempt in yourself, it always comes along this line, and causes you to go about as a walking rebuke to other people because they are more shallow than you are. Beware of posing as a profound person; God became a Baby.
To be shallow is not a sign of being wicked, nor is shallowness a sign that there are no deeps: the ocean has a shore. The shallow amenities of life, eating and drinking, walking and talking, are all ordained by God. These are the things in which Our Lord lived. He lived in them as the Son of God, and He said that “the disciple is not above his Master.”
Our safeguard is in the shallow things. We have to live the surface common-sense life in a common-sense way; when the deeper things come, God gives them to us apart from the shallow concerns. Never show the deeps to anyone but God. We are so abominably serious, so desperately interested in our own characters, that we refuse to behave like Christians in the shallow concerns of life.

Determinedly take no one seriously but God, and the first person you find you have to leave severely alone as being the greatest fraud you have ever known, is yourself. 

 ~My Utmost for His Highest

I don’t know about you but isn’t it encouraging to know that God cares about the shallow, is in the shallow?  And it is also convicting to know that I often try to live beyond the shallow to impress others by being profound.  I am a fraud.
My life is full of shallow living, the cooking, the laundry, the dishes, the dirty diapers, the repetitive chores and responsibilities, the children fighting, their need to be trained, to be redirected, to be educated, to be loved and cleaned and clothed and fed.  Shallow life is meant to be refining but is also can be frustrating and all for naught if I’m not focused on God.  If only I will open up my eyes to see it, my heart to accept it and my pride to acknowledge that I am not perfect, I am a failure.
I give myself too much credit.  No, I really don’t think I’m perfect, and I know I’m not Wonder-Woman, but I really do try my best and when that is not enough I get angry.
Over the weekend it was brought to my attention that I had been a grouch.  I refused to believe that I had been and was convinced that I had been wrongly perceived.  I immediately resorted to justifying how terrible I had felt physically and if this person only knew how much I had persevered, they wouldn’t even question my attitude or take it personal.
As I’ve thought about and reflected a couple days, I finally admit that God wants more of me and I really shouldn’t resent Him when I feel I have done everything I possible can, and it isn’t good enough.  I am constantly in need for more of Him and His strength and that is the lesson I so often fail to see.  He wants me to live in the shallow, dependent on Him, eyes wide to see the lessons and heart humble to acknowledge that without Him I am nothing and have nothing to give.  Doing my best will never be enough, how prideful of me to not strive for His best and trust that His strength is enough to get me through trying days of pregnancy and mothering and being a wife.  It is not acceptable to simply say, “I tried my hardest.”, if my hardest didn’t include consulting God for help and acknowledging that without Him I am a failure.
The truth hurts and I came face to face with the fact that my bad attitude is a sin and is inexcusable.  Period.  End of story, it’s not okay to be grouchy because I don’t feel well or I’m overwhelmed by my to-do list or because I’m exhausted with my 4 children and 1 growing inside me.
Truthfully, I don’t know how to overcome this completely and that is the point, I never will without God.  I must become humble and acknowledge when I mess up and when I fail, confess my sin and ask forgiveness.  Forgiveness from God, my kids and my husband.  These are big words for me, scary even.  For some reason it is easier to deny my sin than acknowledge it, because I know I will fail again. The lie of Satan is, don’t ask for forgiveness until you can truly mean that you’ll never do it again.  Life with Christ isn’t about being all you can be for Him, it’s about Christ being all He can be in you.  Sometimes I really do think it’s about me being all I can be for God and that, my friends, is full of pride and self-promotion, it has everything to do with how others see me and nothing with how they see God.

We started decorating for Christmas.  I asked Joseph to pick all of the Little People Nativity pieces off the floor that Brady had slobbered and scattered everywhere.  I later found them all sitting on the piano bench, situated in a way I would have never put them.

They were each huddled, circling close and facing Baby Jesus, their backs to everything else.  Usually I put them all on display, turned slightly toward Jesus but definitely lined up, facing outward.  I immediately saw myself, I usually think of myself as on display for all to see me standing next to Jesus.  Instead, I should be looking at no one other than Jesus and turned completely toward Him.

Season of Beauty

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One of my pet peeves are blogs that endlessly declare the wonderful and exciting things that are happening in a given person’s life. I would read those glossy, glowing reports of all the fun things somebody was doing and feel like my life didn’t quite measure up … indeed, never would. I always came away feeling deflated and grouchy.

Naturally, when I started this blog, it wasn’t to broadcast the exciting events going on in our lives, but rather to keep friends and family updated on the status of my dad’s cancer. After he died, I didn’t expect to write again. Then, in a very unexpected turn of events, God used that very painful experience to bring a Godly man who also knew pain and grief into my life and I married and started a whole new life. I wondered if I should go on blogging in a different vein. However, I had discovered again and again at the beginning that God seemed to lay specifically on my heart things to share; I never wrote from some endless well of my own wisdom for sure. And in this new season of life, I am discovering that it doesn’t seem to be that season of writing and sharing any more. Now and then there is something I have on my heart, but always it seems more of a personal matter, some “daily bread” that God sends my way just for that moment, and it never spills over into something “blogworthy”. I can’t write the way I want to, my thoughts trip over each other, and I never get very far.

With that in mind, I sit down hesitantly to attempt to write. I’m not sure if this will come out how I want it to, or if I will be able to convey what I am trying to say – or if I convey it, will it mean anything to anyone? Will it simply seem to be glossily broadcasting all the good in my life or will it illustrate something deeper?

The summer has gone by for us with many new and exciting things, including selling our house and being in the process of buying a new one and getting settled again as a family. All through the summer something has been in the back of my mind, something I marvel to see happening before my very eyes. Something that makes my heart swell with joy too big for words. If I chose a single word to describe it, it would be “Provision”. If I chose a phrase, it would be, “He makes everything beautiful in His time.”

May I explain?

For just over a year now, I’ve been a new parent to two children who lost their first and very dear mother. Prior to meeting them, of course, I met their daddy, a Godly and strong man who amazed me with the level of simple trust and lack of bitterness in his life despite losing his young wife to cancer. One of my biggest concerns after meeting him was, should our relationship actually move toward marriage, how would his children mesh with me and I with them? Because oh, how I didn’t want to be in a stepmother situation where the children resisted me and I was endlessly frustrated with our lack of connection.

Yet from day one, it was anything but that. I was amazed and delighted to see them connecting with me, trusting me, opening up in beautiful ways to a new person in their life after such emotional trauma. I love to tell the story of how God made us a family because I feel it illustrates how God is truly able to bring beauty from ashes, and this part of how the children – my children – and I have connected is one of the very sweetest details.

For they are my children, and I am their mommy.

In the most inexplicable, most beautiful way – a way that many times leaves even me, who have lived through it for over a year now – speechless, they have fully embraced me as their mother. We often talk about “Mommy Sarah”, we have pictures of her hanging in their room, and always think of her when we see purple flowers, as purple was her favorite color. It is strange, I think, how every memory of her is precious and losing her would have been and is so difficult, yet they do not resist me at all. To me it is a sweet testimony of what a special person she was to them … they were absolutely safe with Mommy. In this world where very few places are safe, and where they at young ages tasted the reality of our broken and sad world, she still made life for them a little haven. With Mommy they knew no fear. (I say, “with Mommy”, because Daddy’s job means he is consistently away for days at a time, so in those times their lives revolved only around her.) When she died, they did not lose that trust or that feeling of safety, as evidenced by the fact that when I came along, they transferred it completely to me. They didn’t distrust or fear a new mommy, because “mommy” meant safety and security personified.

In one way, it is bittersweet. For all the details I know of their life before me, it is still vague and shadowy. This summer, we celebrated 8 and 5 year old birthdays, and I found myself grieving for all the time I’ve missed with them. Yet in other ways, it is beautiful! We hold hands and walk to the mailbox. We work on school together, learning new things and making endless trips to the library. We make cookies. We rollick through the Little House books on audio again and again and again … so much so that they have them practically memorized as well as I did when I was their age and loved to read them repeatedly. We read from the Bible together after teeth are brushed and jammies on at night. Some accounts, like Elijah at Mount Carmel, call for loud voices and dramatic presentation, and they listen with rapt attention and eager questions. They often fight goodnaturedly for who gets “the lap” (mine) and love to snuggle in the mornings if they catch me in bed. Hannah peppers me with kisses and Micah loves a close hug when he’s not teasing me to chase him down and tickle him until he doesn’t have any breath left. Legos have a prominent place in our living room décor and many is the house … or castle or airport or town … we have built and torn down together. Oh, there have been times of firm instruction, attitude adjustments, necessary corrections, and “food wars” (as I call them with mild frustration) as we mesh different tastes and cooking styles, but the challenges are few and far between compared to the precious beauty of blending together as mommy and children.

Why do I say all this?

Early on, perhaps two months after we were married, on a field trip to an historic village, I met a lady who had five children and I watched her from afar, fascinated. I guessed perhaps she homeschooled and we met later in the day and introduced ourselves. I shared my story, eager for all the help possible in my sudden advent into homeschooling, and she shared that she had had cancer in her early 20s as well. She had come through successfully and went on to have children, but said that always in the back of her mind was the fear that perhaps it would come back someday, and who would care for her children? It is the fear of every mommy. It was such a comfort to her, she said, to see how God had provided for Sarah’s children by bringing them into my life, answering prayers on both sides: I for a husband and family and they for a mother again.

This new life has been beautiful, I don’t know any other way to say it. I hesitate to say it, though, because what I’m not saying is that everything turns out good in the end. It may not. No amount of beauty in my life will bring my Dad back into my Mom’s life; she is having to learn a different way of life without him. My sweet, sweet sisters haven’t had someone wonderful come into their life. Not every needy child gets a new mother. Not every second marriage turns out as unified as ours has been so far.

Exactly what do I mean to say?

Only this: that God cares. He knows the need, the cry of your heart. He is mindful of your pain. He is at work. He will not leave you alone. Sometimes we get to see this quickly, as in our story. Many, many is the day that I look around me with wonder and think, “Why me? Why do I have so much good and others still don’t?” More often in life, it seems, the present is still full of pain and bewilderment, as it was for Joseph in the Bible year upon endless year, despite his dreams of greatness and fulfillment. Or David, who had God’s promise of kingship and yet for years lived the life of a hunted and driven man.

It is tempting to lose heart when nothing seems to change, except, perhaps, for the worse. Desires are not granted. Dreams are shattered. Pain and suffering are constant and wearying companions. I remember days, seasons, years of this. When time spent with God was often laced with tears and so rarely with joy. When the future looked very bleak. Nor do I begin to think that just because this season of life right now is precious and sweet do I not have trials ahead of me … perhaps sooner than I want to think.

In these times, where do we turn for hope? J.B. Phillips, in his translation of the New Testament, captures it exactly in Romans 8, starting in verse 26:

The Spirit of God not only maintains this hope within us, but helps us in our present limitations. For example, we do not know how to pray worthily as sons of God, but his Spirit within us is actually praying for us in those agonising longings which never find words. And God who knows the heart’s secrets understands, of course, the Spirit’s intention as he prays for those who love God.

Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons.

In face of all this, what is there left to say? If God is for us, who can be against us? He that did not hesitate to spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—can we not trust such a God to give us, with him, everything else that we can need?

He has met our greatest need already in Christ: that of reconciliation to Himself through the perfect blood sacrifice of His Son. Everything else that we can need is also known to Him.

To all of you out there that may look at my life and the life of others in those glowing blogs or Facebook pages and wonder with painful uncertainty if joy will ever come again for you, know that He cares!

My prayer is that you, too, will see Him make everything beautiful in His time!

He Who Is Mighty Has Done a Great Thing

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Mother’s Day Blessings

 

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Just one short year ago I was single.  But in God’s great plan (that continues to amaze and delight me), this Mother’s Day I celebrate one of His greatest gifts to me … two beautiful children that love me more than I deserve!

They love to cuddle with me in the mornings, fight for who gets to sit on my lap, and listen while I read aloud the books I loved when I was their age.  We make cookies, build legos, play Clue and Candyland, fold laundry, sweep floors, and listen to Adventures in Odyssey.  We finished reading through The Jesus Storybook Bible for bedtime devotions and now we’re slowly making our way through The Action Bible.  I love the way they listen and remember what we’re reading … it makes my heart so happy to see my children “walking in truth.” (3 John 4)

Micah is doing well in 2nd grade and Hannah Karis is learning to read.  As for Mommy, she is learning to juggle the various responsibilities of her new job as Assistant Home Executive … and dropping more than a few balls along the way.  (Just as a side note, Loving the Little Years is a wonderful book that I’ve been encouraged and inspired by lately!)

All in all, we’re learning and playing and laughing together and every minute is a beautiful gift from our faithful God!

Rejoicing in His goodness to me this Mother’s Day!

From the lips of another happy mother:
“My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and, after this, all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women! The one who can do all things has done great things for me—oh, holy is his Name!”

Luke 1: 46,47 (J.B.Phillips)

2015 Winter Fun 337

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Stepping Out of My Boat

our front yard

Mornings are one of my favorite times.  I’ve always been a morning person, and the thought of watching a sunrise, getting a hot shower, or enjoying a warm breakfast definitely gets me stirring.  There have been some mornings recently, though, that when I wake up, I find myself wondering who I am anymore?!  Life has changed in some huge ways in the last year, and I wake up marveling at the change and the beauty and the challenge of all that life holds now. There certainly are parts of this new life that overwhelm me, and I find myself continually in need of the Lord’s perspective and wisdom regarding marriage, mothering, and homeschooling.  He has brought me again and again to the story of Peter walking on the water.

Because there’s a pretty good guarantee that some of you who might read this are also facing big things in your lives as well, I wanted to share some of the things God has strengthened me with in hopes they will encourage you too! (All references are from Matthew 14:22-33.)

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side …”

Jesus sends us forth, into newness, into life changes. He has a plan, but we don’t know what it is. Sometimes we may feel like He’s sent us away from Himself, but every circumstance is so that we can come to know more of Him and His sufficiency.

We find that even when we’re in the very center of God’s plan for our lives, we often face challenges: “the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.” Middle of the sea? Tossed by waves? Contrary winds? (That word “contrary” caught my attention. It’s defined in the dictionary as: “Perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired.”) Sometimes we are in the middle of God’s will, and He knows where we’re going, but we don’t know what to expect, and often it looks different than we thought.

Somewhere in that scary ride, Jesus comes to his disciples. When He begins to show up in our lives, at first our response can often be fear: “they cried out for fear.” He comforts them, though, and He wants to comfort us and meet us in our pain and confusion too. He doesn’t change the waves just yet, only assures us of His presence in them: “Take courage! It is I.” If we are to walk through life with any level of strength, we must remember that HE IS WITH US in our journeys!

Peter’s attitude is the one I want to have … not, “Make this stop!” but “If You’re in this, if this situation is really of You, call me out! Let me do the impossible thing You’re doing. I want to share Your victory!”

And Jesus always tells us, “Come!” He doesn’t allow storms randomly. His goal is for us to gain new strength through them. So He looks straight at Peter and says, “Come – to Me.” The goal isn’t just to do something, it’s to meet Jesus in this place where our faith is stretched.

So off Peter goes. Out of the boat. And isn’t it funny how our perspective changes? Because initially, caught in the storm, the safest place was back on land. Now, facing the new challenge of Jesus’s call to walk on water, it could have been easy to cling to the boat. Was the boat safe? Not at all. But we tend to cling to what we know instead of stepping out. Peter risks, though: he steps out … and he walks on water!! With every step into new territory, I want to remember: walking on water is possible! If there’s one thing I hope this story God is writing for Shannon and me will illustrate well (besides the face that God can take the brokenness of life and make something beautiful), it’s that in the impossibilities of our lives, walking on water is possible!

But it’s only possible one way, and that’s with eyes fixed on Jesus. We can’t look at our own goodness, our own adequacy, our performance, our failings, the waves, the winds, or the sheer impossibility of what’s before us. Look at Jesus. Look at Jesus.

He is willing to meet us in all the storms and uncertainties of life. He plans to meet us there. Granted, we may have to ride the waves for a bit, whether they are waves of grief, personal challenges, health crises, or whatever. But when Jesus puts us in a boat and sends us out, He’s got a purpose. And that purpose is for us to know Him – His strength, His ability, His person, His care – more. The waves won’t stop His purpose. The storm won’t. Even our lack of faith won’t. All we have to do is listen for His voice, be willing to step out of our boats, and keep our eyes on Him.

We have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being of ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient …”

2 Corinthians 3:4,6

These songs have been powerful to me lately.  I know I’ve mentioned Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) before on this blog but the commentary before it is sung on this particular recording really caught my heart.  Also At Your Feet by Casting Crowns is beautiful expression of trust while the end in not yet seen.  Lastly, Make a Way reminds me that we’re not in this alone.  God is very aware of the things we face and is at work in the midst of them.

Counting our Blessings

I came across this poem recently and it captured my heart! I taped it to the side of the kitchen cabinet and each time I see it, I’m reminded that there’s so much beauty and blessings to be found when we look for them. And when we have eyes to be looking for them, joy fills our hearts as we see all the good things God has done for us!

Look for Things

Look for things to be thankful for:
A dear old face at an open door,
The table set for the family meal,
A husband’s love that is true as steel.

A cushioned chair that you fixed yourself,
Your favorite books on a nearby shelf,
A green-hued twilight that sort of glows,
The clean, fresh smell of a brier rose.

The lovely odor of lemon peel;
A humble man with a flaming zeal
For a worthy cause that he thinks is right;
The feeling of warmth on a winter night.

Look for things to be thankful for:
A braided rug on your bedroom floor,
A dormer window with curtains drawn,
A bluebird singing across the lawn.

So much to be thankful for these days,
So much to enjoy and love and praise.
Edna Jacques

Lately, I’ve been grateful for…
~morning sunshine streaming into the kitchen … brings a happy joyfulness to my heart!
~”Children’s faces looking up, holding wonder like a cup” (Sara Teasdale)
~warm chicken and rice soup on a cold winter’s night
~my hand held securely in my husband’s
~visits from family
~my long-held red Fiesta dishes glowing on our floral tablecloth
~praying together with my husband and children before bed
~waking up to a snowy Sunday morning
~having fun in the snow with the kids
~hot cups of chai tea
~fresh baked bread
~pleasant music filling our home
~changing out the quilts on our bed
~a heated mattress pad … oh-so-wonderful on chilly nights!!
~jars marching in an orderly row across the kitchen countertop, filled with spices and ingredients for our morning smoothies
~sharing happy glances across the supper table
~Shannon getting a new job with a major airline instead of a regional: a huge answer to prayer!
~the satisfaction of getting one more thing organized as I continue to explore new solutions for our house
~learning together with Micah as we do school each day … half of our first year is  complete! God is good!
~reading the Little House books aloud as a family … I loved reading them as a girl, and sharing them with my new family and watching them enjoy them as well delights my heart!
~knitting sweaters for stuffed animals … and knitting hearts as we mesh as a new family unit
~Hannah Karis’s simple prayer one night: “Dear Lawd, thank you for giving me a new mommy!”
~daily wonder for  this new life God has given to me: marriage and motherhood continues to amaze, delight, and stretch me, and I am so thankful for it!!

And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name!
1 Chronicles 29:13

 

Facing our Losses

It’s been a long time since I blogged last. And in that time, our family has celebrated (if such is the word) the anniversary of the deaths that tie us together. Odd, isn’t it, that death should bring anything but death?

In November, my children and their father relived the day in which Mommy Sarah went to be with Jesus. And in December, my mother and my siblings and I spent the day talking about my Dad.

I often find myself lost in thought about these losses. I can’t believe Dad is in Heaven, and I’m sure it must feel the same for Shannon and our children. Without Sarah’s death, there would have been no need for me in this picture. And without Dad’s death, I would have never met this strong, godly man that has come into my life. Why is it that there must be two deaths for me to finally arrive at marriage? I ponder it often. And to be honest, I wrestle with it.

I love the life I’m living now. There’s so much to be thankful for … a husband (after many, many long years of praying for one) who holds me, makes me laugh, shares the little things of life with me. Two wonderful, sweet children who have adapted very well to a new situation and a new mommy. The opportunity and delight of “making my nest.” Daily, abundant provision.

Yet, underneath the beauty on the surface, there’s pain. The children and I talk about Mommy Sarah often. Things she did. What she was like. Places they went. I ache for the loss of this sweet woman that my husband knew and loved and walked alongside for 14 years. And then buried.

I think about my Dad often. He was certainly human, but he really was larger than life to me and missing him is hard. Loss is loss no matter how it comes. And grieving is not easy.

I realized recently that I’m avoiding God a little bit. Being civil but not being at ease. Relating to him at a distance. Because I don’t understand why.

Why do I think He owes me an explanation?

Do I explain everything to my children? Could they possibly understand if I did?

But it would make so much difference if we could see meaning behind these losses.

Yes, it would. But it would also take away trust. It would turn love into a business partnership. Do I want my children to love me only when nothing is a mystery to them? When I have spelled out in contract what I expect from them, why, and what they’ll get in return? Is it not precious to my heart when they come to me when they are hurting and curl up in my arms, a warm and tearful bundle, simply because they trust that I am a safe place for the pain in their heart?

I’ve been thinking over the stories of Joseph and Abraham lately. People who endured pain, without getting explanations.

Joseph’s story astonishes me. That someone could go through rejection, disappointment, his name drug through mud and hung up for all to see, unjust accusation, and a long prison sentence, and remain useable – not bitter – always grips my heart.

I really want life to be easy. Not hard.

I want things to go well. Not be turned upside down.

I’m scared of the unknowns yet to come in my life. Of my children growing older and wrestling with questions themselves, and coming to me for answers.

Reading over Joseph’s story this week, I realized that he had to wrestle with some things as well. We can go on with life, we can look put together, but sooner or later, we have to deal with what we’ve gone through. We can’t ignore it. I want to avoid pain: to box it up and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t work.

Joseph went through unspeakable hardships and came out on the other side. In a “coincidental” occurrence, he is set free from prison and overnight he is promoted to a leader in Egypt. Later he marries and has two sons. The first one he names Manasseh, meaning “forgetful”. “Because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house,” he says. “I’ve moved beyond the pain. I’m going on with life. Why the dreams? Why the rejection? I don’t know. But it’s all behind me now. I’ve forgotten it.”

Really?

As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them … then he remembered his dreams about them … he turned away from them and began to weep …” (Genesis 42: 7,9,24)

Can you imagine the waves of emotion that he was experiencing? Feelings he hadn’t had in years, washing over him with the relentless pursuit of a stormy ocean. Everything he thought he’d forgotten, all the pain he thought he’d dealt with, bitter and gritty as sand in his mouth.

For three days, he threw his brothers in prison. The Bible doesn’t say, but I’m sure he was dealing with anger, pain, agony. Why, why, why?! I thought this was done. But it’s all as fresh and raw as a blazing desert sunrise.

You can find the whole story in the latter part of Genesis, starting in chapter 37, and I won’t go through every detail here. But something began to stick out to me as I read through. What it meant was just beyond my reach, yet becoming more clear, like the last unreachable drops of honey slowly coming down the sides of a jar: “He turned away from them and began to weep … Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there … and he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him … he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept … he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.” (42:24, 43:30, 45:2, 45:14, 46:29)

Tears are often a sign of being broken. Of a life with some painful realities. Of things we don’t understand, can’t handle, run from until we come back around only to face them again. God says this about our tears, that “every one is collected in his bottle.” (Psalm 56:8) God is a father who doesn’t fix every bad thing before it happens to us. Yet He is not unmindful of the pain we are facing, of the things too big for us to wrap our finite minds around. And tears are for our healing.

When bad things happen and I find myself drying up inside because I don’t know what to do with this pain, how will I respond?

First I have to be honest. Honest about my heart’s response, which is never pretty. Honest with God about the way He knows my heart is. Honest that though I think I have forgotten, there are things in my heart that God is going to bring again to the surface, and I don’t need to avoid them. I need to look at them with Him.

Second I have to be okay with not understanding. That hurts my pride, because I’d like God to explain things to me. I like to think I deserve that. But God is God. I’m not. He really is working out a far bigger, far better plan that I can realize.

Third, I have to trust God’s goodness, in spite of what I see or experience.

After the death of Joseph’s father in chapter 50, his brothers come to him, afraid of retaliation. Whatever Joseph may still have to deal with in his heart, he’s come to the conclusion that God is God and he’s not, and he responds, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is being done, the saving of many lives.” (50:19,20)

Joseph never got an explanation for why the story had to be so painful. For the years of hardship. Couldn’t God have done it differently? Perhaps. Yet He didn’t. Joseph learned to rest in God’s leadership and his own frailty, and found peace there.

That’s what I want. Peace. It comes when I come to my Father and curl up, warm and tearful, in His arms. Trusting that He is my safe place. Trusting that He knows what He’s doing. Trusting that He’s making something beautiful. Trusting that one day, He will wipe away every tear from every eye.

Joseph had two sons. The first he named Manasseh: “forgetful.” But the second he named Ephraim, and that means “twice fruitful.” That’s what I want to remember as life goes on. Our stories are all still being written. We may think life would look one way, and that picture gets shattered. We’d like to forget the pain, to close ourselves off because we can’t handle it. But God’s plan is never to leave us in broken places. His gracious intention – the plan He usually has to work out in spite of me – is fruitfulness. Not simply to endure. But to thrive. I don’t get there on my own, only with Him. Only by acknowledging my need and His abundance. By coming with the simplicity and trust of a child.

The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”
John 6:37

He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces …
It will be said in that day,
Behold, this is our God;
We have waited for Him, and He will save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for Him.
We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
Isaiah 26:8,9

The Pursuit of Perfection

I planned to get married around 22. By then I philosophized that I’d gain a little wisdom and grow a little bit more than age 18 and 19, when my parents got married (Mom has told me often with an amused smile that neither of them knew anything then). Besides, the right guy wasn’t around when I was 18, so yeah, I’ll settle for early 20s.

But I turned 22 very single and very unsought for.

And 25.

And 28.

And 30.

And all the while I puzzled. And prayed. And practiced being the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect whoever I was, so that one day I could be the perfect wife. That was the goal. MY goal. But maybe not God’s?

Because 33 came, and I got married.

And I’m not the perfect wife.

I look back to my early 20s and wonder who I would have been then if I had gotten married. I would have been totally obsessed with perfection. With the way things “should” be. The way kids “should” be trained. The way I “should” act. The way life “should” work.

The years took some of that out of me.

But I’m discovering, the job didn’t quite get finished. I still get obsessed with perfection. With “should.”

I find myself, at 33, in a whole new life. New town, new church, new friends, new house, new husband, new kids. And I’m trying to “do it right.” Trying to juggle it all well. Trying to perform. Trying to be perfect.

I still haven’t got it through my thick skull that life isn’t about perfection. God is perfect, but the odd thing is, He doesn’t expect perfection from us. Instead, He offers perspective.

I’m not perfect. I never will be.
My husband isn’t perfect. He’s incredible nevertheless!
My kids aren’t perfect. I love them anyway.

So does God.

He just loves us. And journeys with us.

Through sorrow.
Through joy.
Through failure.
Through triumph.

I’m on a journey. God is with me. He’s being so faithful to teach me right now that it’s not about my performance. It’s about my focus. And as long as I’m focused on Him, He’s going take care of the rest.

So wherever you are, just taste your moment.  And here are a few of mine …

Maybe you need a good cry. Take it. Because sometimes you don’t need to hold it all together.

Leave the dishes unwashed and the house messy and play with your kids … and don’t feel guilty about it. They’re only young once.

Sleep late. Honestly, you don’t do this every day. And sometimes some extra sleep will do wonders.

There will always be laundry to do. Take a walk instead. And not one for exercise, either. Stroll. Breathe. Savor.

And the best one for last … rest in the love of Jesus Christ for you.  For YOU, an imperfect person. Really relax. Collapse. Rest.

He bled and died for me and you. Our sin mars our performance, and we’ll never really “do it right.”

So He did it all right for us.  He reminds me (sometimes through a sister, like this:) “As you look at ME, I will shape you into the person I want you to be – perfected in My likeness.  It’s not in all your efforts to ‘do better’, ‘be more’, ‘act right,’ it’s in looking to ME.  As you look at Me, I will shape you.”  I find that as I focus on the one thing – looking to Jesus – I find peace.  If I’m focusing on the million issues I’m failing at I will never accomplish perfection.  Because perfection isn’t in performance, it’s in a Person.

And as I trust that, and trust Him, I’m empowered to go on. To live life with purpose.

Even if my life isn’t perfect.

“But the path of the just is like the shining sun,
That shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”

Proverbs 4:18

“Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do.  The Bible certainly does have some rules in it.  They show you how life works best.  But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing.  It’s about God and what he has done.”

Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible

Our Story, Part 3

(You may want to start at Part 1)

Prior to this time and this situation in my life, I had come to other major crossroads where I really wanted to get God’s direction. It didn’t happen often, but in those moments of desperately needing guidance, I would take several days to get away and seek the Lord and had always seen Him come through for me. Not with a literal voice from heaven, but with a certainty in my soul that enabled me to go forward in confidence. I told Shannon I wanted to take that again. I knew God didn’t owe me an answer, and certainly didn’t have to move on my time scale, but I told him that I wanted to take time alone without texting or talking, and in two weeks or less I’d let him know what I felt like I should do.

It was some days of much heart-searching, lots of journaling, and lots of praying. I knew that if this situation was God’s will for me, I wanted to move forward regardless of feelings, trusting that God, who is the author of love and romance, would create and build all that HE could do, in His time. I so enjoyed relating to Shannon and there was volumes about him that I appreciated and knew would add together for a good marriage. Yet there was something in my heart holding me back. I didn’t feel like I could move forward knowing this was God’s will for me. I wanted to be able to move forward with no hesitations. I talked to people I trusted, and they gave me truth. Truth like, “Love is a choice based on commitment, not on feelings. Feelings are often a big player in Western marriages, but divorce rates show that feelings are not a good foundation.” “Getting married – to anyone – will include sacrifice and joy.” “Physical attractiveness (as defined by the world) fades in 100% of people including you. ‘Chemistry’ as the world defines it ebbs and flows in any relationship. Your spouse can be as fun-loving as possible and there will still be moments that aren’t fun. Knowing that is part of maturing as a person and as a believer and believe it or not, it’s part of what makes marriage wonderful and special.” (Last quote is from Scott Croft on Boundless.org.)

At the end of 2 ½ days, I felt more like it had been the entire two weeks, because so much had gone on my heart. In the most unexplainable way, I felt a knowing deep inside that this was God’s will, that I could go forward with strong confidence. God had given me several specific things to stand on. Whatever emotions might knock me off in the future, I knew that I’d be able to look back and know that yes, God had led me into this. The wonderful thing was, I could actually feel a growing excitement inside! I knew I wasn’t making it up; I had already tried that and it didn’t work.  This was from the Lord.

I knew that Shannon had a flight trip coming up and then he was going to fly down and spend several days at a camp meeting in GA with his family. I realized that if I was going to tell him I was ready to go forward with confidence in person (like I wanted to), I had one window of opportunity: that afternoon. It seemed crazy and impulsive to jump in the car and go tell him, yet there was that unexplainable confidence inside. It was a knowing I can’t explain, diagnose, or prescribe, but I knew that I knew that God had spoken to my heart. I decided to go anyway, in spite of the craziness. 🙂 So I called Sue to beg for a bed that night, packed some clothes, and took off. The whole drive, I felt like I was on cloud nine. This was it! God was at work, things were moving forward, and I knew Shannon would be excited to see me, and to hear what I had to share. Sue had texted him to make sure he was home, saying only that they might stop by later. Shannon had texted back, “You don’t have bad news, do you?” (What a jerk I’d be, to be cowardly enough to send them over to tell him I wasn’t going to go forward, I thought as I drove.)

I pulled in almost breathlessly and parked where he couldn’t see me. I knew exactly what I’d do. I’d walk up to the door, knock, and when he opened it, I’d just say (referencing Micah’s innocent question earlier), “Sometimes they do just knock at your door.”

So I did.

Shannon opened the door. The kids were playing in a back room and it was the two of us standing there. “Sometimes,” I said with a grin so big it almost split my face, “they do just knock at your door.”

Shannon stared at me, with absolutely no response.

A little hesitantly, I tried again. “I came up to tell you, I feel like God has given me 100% confidence to go forward.”

No response. Absolutely none. He stood there like a stone statue.

I was feeling just a bit nervous. If Sue coming over to say that I didn’t want to continue the relationship would be bad news, I thought that surely me coming to tell him I did would be good news. Right?

Very hesitantly, I asked, “Can I come in?”

He opened the door wider and stammered, “Can you tell I’m speechless?”

I laughed a laugh of relief. “Yes, I can!!”

He went to get the kids and it took him probably 20 minutes to fully recover from the shock. Twenty wonderful minutes of playing with the kids and sharing glances and smiles over their heads. Twenty minutes of realizing, I’m falling in love with this man.

The awesome thing was, if it had all started with emotion, I would have always doubted myself. I know marriage over the long run isn’t easy, that it stretches you deeply on every level. In those moments of stretch and pain, I would have wondered if I’d jumped into marriage out of desperation, if I’d simply taken the first thing that came along. This way, we both been able to work through major things with a clarity of mind that doesn’t often accompany a romantic relationship. Then, when God had clarified things for both of us, He, the author of romance, created the feelings.

We all went out to eat that night: the four of us together. Shannon invited me to come to GA with them the next week and meet his parents, so I did. The way God continued to confirm that this is Him was astounding. The messages at the camp meeting seemed preached just to us. We met a lady whose story parallelled ours with astonishing similarity: married 1st time in her 30s to a widower with two young children whose first wife had died to cancer, and then she homeschooled the children. Her name was Anna, and I had to laugh because of all the hundreds of people present that we might have sat behind, we ended up behind Anna (so similar to my name) and just happened to start talking, not about where she was from or what her job was, but her story. She didn’t expect life to be like that for her, she said, but the contented light in her eyes told me she didn’t regret what God had done.

The trip was a memorable one for many reasons, but the last night we were there, Shannon and I took a walk around the grounds and ended up at the large open-air auditorium. It was quiet and dark and we walked up to the altar and prayed together about this new life God was opening for us. When we finished praying, Shannon turned to me, took my hands, and asked me to marry him. I was thrilled to say “YES!”

I ‘d like to close this story (this impossibly too-long story!) with something I journaled during those days of seeking God. When I wrote it down, it was almost like it just flowed out of me, like I wasn’t thinking it, only writing it. As I finished, I felt like it was a gift God had given me, to remind me that “this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.”

I’m thinking life is a just a big story – and we’re living it and writing it and it’s writing on us and all in all God’s really writing it and maybe nothing matters as much as I think it does if I’ll just respond to God in the middle of it all.

There’ll be the tired husband, the exasperating kids, the empty fridge, the messy rooms – and there’ll be the hand to grip and the shoulder to nestle on while you watch a movie in a messy living room.

There’ll be the curly head to frumple up and the little nose to kiss and the sticky, smelly little bodies that love to crawl in bed with mommy because they love her.

There will occasionally be the meal on time and there will be cookie dough to stir and eat and Bible stories to read together.

There will be bottoms to spank and noses to wipe and hearts to cry and pray over.

There will be a voice on the other end of the phone that makes my heart happy to hear. There will be eyes that light up when I start a subtle flirt in front of the kids. There will be hands that hold me and hands that rub my shoulders and hands that touch me and make my stomach flip. There will be someone to ride to church with and someone to meet at the door with kids that are happy to see Daddy.

There will be bills to pay and a God that is faithful.

There will be nights of tears and uncertainty and a Rock to run to.

There will be trouble all around and yet moments of finding peace and knowing God is mindful.

There will be difficult times and stressful visits and moments of pain and God-who-redeems.

There will be pent-up emotions that just need to cry … and realize all over again that it’s my story and in the end, God is writing it, and it is good.

The End…

(… of that story, and the beginning of a bunch of new ones!)