Monday, November 5, 2012

Front porch visits in pajamas

I love the era of the 50's. Front porch visits and neighbor helping neighbor seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.

Today, we live in our little compartmentalized 4-3-3 with rear entry garage. Forget neighbor helping neighbor. Forget the front porch conversations. There are days on end I don't even see the front of my house from the outside unless I am the one going out to get the mail!

It is sad that in our neighborhood we know the families who live directly on either side of us. That's it. Out of 15+ homes on both sides of the street on our block. Two families.

Oh sure, our family talks all the time about how we should take cookies to the new neighbor that moved in across the street. She appears to live alone and has maybe a daughter and grand kids that come to visit on the weekends that we watch from our window as we eat dinner. We even went outside once to talk to the kids. Well, actually that was Ray Don yelling at them to quit throwing rocks at my mom's car, so that might not really count. Anyway, we are going to do that, soon. (She moved in 5 months ago.) We talk every year about how at Christmas we want to make homemade bread loaves to randomly deliver to our neighbors to introduce ourselves. (We have lived here 5 years.)

We talk...a lot. We do..a lot less.

However, recently, our family was unexpectedly able "to do."

On Halloween this year, our 12 year old was with a friend celebrating his birthday and due to an eye infection our 6 year old had, we were not able to go to our church's fall festival. So, the plan was to simply let Hope dress up in her Snow White dress and help answer the door for the trick-or-treaters.

After getting her ready, she says that she at least needs to go to our neighbors and trick-or-treat. Ok, I can handle that. We know TWO. This should not take long!

So, her Daddy and I take her to the first neighbor's house. They aren't home. So, she asks if we can go on down the block. Sure.

We quickly began to figure out that Hope trick or treating on our block was just possibly Divinely orchestrated. You see, the other doors began to open. And a funny thing happened. Introductions naturally flowed. Conversations happened.

We met a sweet school teacher that we had no idea lived four houses down and across the street.
We met a young man that lives almost directly across the street that we have watched come and go for years.
We laughed with neighbors at their spastic dogs that helped to answer their doors as we walked up.

Then we met L.

I will call her L, in case she wouldn't appreciate me writing about her without her permission. She is a lady probably in her 70's that lives across the street and just three houses down. Hope rang her door bell and waited. We could see through the open blinds the TV was on and the back of someones head sitting in a recliner. We waited, and waited, but no one came. So we went on. While at the next house, I look up and see a slow-moving elderly lady in a night gown. She is waving something in her hand.

She says, "Come back!" in what I think was supposed to be a loud voice, but was more of a gentle raised tone. So, we do. As we walk up, she is eager to give Hope two packages of orange crackers with peanut butter in them. She starts apologizing because she forgot it was "candy night." Hope says thank you, and we introduce ourselves as her neighbors.

Then her next words I could not let go of...

"Oh, and I'm sorry if I don't seem neighborly. I am partially disabled and don't get out much. I wish I could."

As we stand outside, L in her nightgown, my daughter dressed up like Snow White, and me in sweats and no make-up (because I wasn't really going to see anyone) I realize this ~

I can get out and be neighborly. But I choose not to. L doesn't have that choice anymore.

I do have a choice.

We finished the block and made it back home. It took less than 45 minutes, but it was the best Halloween ever.

And, for the record, neither of the two neighbors we did know were home.

So, I can sit and dream of an era of yesteryear, lamenting over the differences of this generation from that one. Or, I can make a choice to bring a bit of yesteryear to today!

Our family WILL make that bread this Christmas.

I will sit on my front porch and lend a hand to my neighbors.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Colored Pencils in a Gray World

She colors her graphing blocks on the second half of her math paper.  As she works I simply say, "Hope, isn't it wonderful how God made our world so colorful?" Expecting an answer that only carries the insight of a six year old, I am surprised by her response.

After a pause, she looks up from her coloring and stares deep. "Wouldn't it be sad if I was gray? Just gray. And the ground was gray? And everything else, too?"

She put her coloring pencil down and carefully chooses a different color for the next row.

She continues, "That would be a world without God."

She resumes coloring in the bright blue she has chosen, not realizing the places touched in my heart by her words.

This made me pause. Truly pause. As I looked out the window at the still-green tree in the yard, the crisp blue sky, the little yellow daisies that have recently reappeared in the flower beds, and the browning grass ~ I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am overcome with gratefulness for a creative and saving God!

How often do I walk through my day muddled by the gray of the world? The shades of dark and drab that are the sin not only in the world, but especially the sin in my own life. My sin that holds me back from experiencing all the vibrant love and joy the Lord offers me.

And even more painful in this moment is the reality of how easy it is for me to ignore the gray that people who don't know my Savior live in? Not only in the moments of each day, but it could be their eternity. The thought of this kind of gray breaks me. The gray my sweet Hope speaks of. The gray of a "world without God." No color. No real hope. The hope of the light that only He can bring into the gray.

Today, I will see the colors, because I will look. I will open my eyes in gratitude for the fact I don't have to live in a gray world, and rejoice in knowing that neither does anyone else. I will choose to do my part today to share this colorful Truth with new urgency!

Thank you Hope, for sweet, much needed reminders.

Thank you Lord for the beautiful tan-skinned, brown haired, pink toenail-painted (with sparkles) little girl sitting next to me who continues to teach me so much.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Worn out shoes and tattered bibles

Sometimes I think I notice odd things.

For example, I notice shoes. Not because I am a fashionable person, the opposite would definitely be true of me. My soul seems drawn to people with worn shoes.  Worn shoes represent miles walked and days lived. They may represent a hand-me down that were loved enough to know they would be used for the good of someone else. They may be scuffed from hard, honest work.  It may be that they were dirtied while playing outside with the kids. Or, they may be tattered because there are hard times, and comfortable and familiar are all that can be afforded right now. And that is OK. I love worn shoes.

I also notice and deeply adore worn books. A tattered page from being turned so many times. A binding creased from being laid open often. A softened cover from being repeatedly held.

I am especially comforted and encouraged by a worn Bible.

I was watching a sermon online earlier today and what struck me even more than the teacher's words was the close up shot of his beautiful red-covered bible. It is a large bible, much like my study bible. Its pages were worn and the leather on the cover was softened obviously due to being often-used. To me, that was as much of a testimony to the message as his words were. He loves the Word. He loves the knowledge that comes from the Lord's word.

This image of this bible made me look at my own bible.

It has its own tattered edges and worn cover. This makes me smile. As I thumb through the pages I see all of the pink and yellow highlighted passages and penciled notes written in the pages to the side of the scriptures. This is a culmination of years of reading and studying and praying to the Lord. This represents something learned.

But at the very same time, this represents something failed. There were too many days I also chose not to go to the Lord for refuge, wisdom, or comfort. This makes me grieve. Grieve for lost moments. Grieve for missed Joy.

But, my God is gracious, and loving, and the best way. He is always wooing me back to Him. His Word is always true, and ready to be used for my good.

With this fresh in my mind, I slide on my worn, comfortable slippers and walk to my worn, well-loved Bible. I turn the delicate pages to the book of Hebrews. I find the familiar scripture I was seeking:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double edge sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. ~ Hebrews 4:12                    

"For the word of God is living and active." Thank you Lord for this.

Thank You for worn bibles and the encouragement they bring, Thank you for the legacies in families an open and loved Bible can change. Thank you for each beautiful person today walking hard paths in worn out shoes. Thank you for being a God than sent his son to live in the flesh so that I may simply know that my Saviour understands me. My life. My circumstances. My worn out moments.

Thank you for all things beautiful found in things seemingly worn out.

(Photo credits Holy Bible, my Bible, Hands and Biblel)

Friday, October 5, 2012

A pull-apart cookie dough kinda girl

"Mommy, can we please bake cookies?  The kind where you have to mash them down with the rollie thing?"

This is what my six year old daughter asked me last Tuesday morning.

She was referring to homemade cookies rolled out with my wooden rolling pin.  I'm sad to admit I wondered how she even knew what this kind of cookie is, since she has never made them before.  She was referring to a rolling pin we had unfortunately never used together.  You see, I am of the "pull-apart cookie dough" life style.  If I bake cookies they are from store bought dough that comes out of a package.  You pull apart the square dough, plop them onto my cooking stone, and 12 minutes later, voila!  Fresh baked cookies!  Good enough for me.  But, maybe it shouldn't be. 

I stopped when she asked me this, and my first reaction was to say, "Not today honey.  We have so much to do, especially since Mommy just got out of the hospital and 'lost' a few days."  I had just been home a little over 24 hours and felt the burden of making sure the kids completed their schoolwork, I get my work caught up from my work-from-home job, and conquered the list of household chores still waiting.

But that was not my answer.  Since I had just spent three days laying in a hospital bed reflecting on what is truly important, that was not my answer.

"You know what?  Let's finish our math lesson and then we will bake homemade cookies!"  My sweet Hope's eyes lit up.  Such a simple thing.  Such joy as a result.

So, I did what any pull apart cookie kinda girl does...I hit Google!  I googled the highest rated sugar cookie recipe I could find and then thought, "Let's go crazy!  Let's make icing, too!"

We gathered up all of the ingredients and was thrilled that we already had everything we needed.  And we baked cookies.

We worked together, Mother and Daughter, kneading the dough.  We talked and giggled while the dough chilled.  Hope picked out just one cookie cutter she wanted to use.  The Star.  She said we were making Sea Star cookies, in honor of the beautiful ocean she was able to see for the first time this past summer. I listened.  I found out how much she loves the ocean, just like me.  She chose blue food coloring for the icing.  Ocean blue.  We licked our fingers free from wonderful sweetness. She said we needed sprinkles.  Just because everything is better with sprinkles. She asked if we could take pictures of us making cookies. 

 As the last of the cookies were set aside for the icing to set, Hope wrapped her sweet little arms around me and said this was the "best day ever!"  She ran off to play, and as I stood in my kitchen watching her skip off, I began to weep.  Truly weep.

How many of these moments have I missed out on because I was "too busy?"  Because I was preoccupied.  Because my priorities were messed up.

As a Momma that works from home and homeschools my children, I am almost always with my kids.  But, how much of that time am I truly present?  How much of that time am I really there?

You know, there are absolutely times when it is necessary in today's world to be a pull-apart cookie dough kinda girl.  But, I truly desire to be more of a "mash them down with the rollie thing" kind of mom.  One of these are quick, convenient, and less messy.  However, I think there is so much joy missed by that choice.

Thank you Lord, that you prompted me to say Yes.  Thank you for the blessings that came from choosing in that moment the more time consuming, harder to get to the reward, and definitely more messy route. Thank you for my reward of Joy!

And, thank you Lord for little brown-eyed girls and sparkly blue Sea Stars.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Resting in the back of an ambulance

Last week I wrote about needing to stop doing and start listening.  The Lord made sure that happened.

The stopping part started with a ride in an ambulance.

I found myself last Thursday night about 11:00 being put in the back of an ambulance and on my way to the hospital.  Numbness and tingling in your left arm and a sudden onset of your throat closing up are a couple of signs that the best place you could be in that moment is in the back of an ambulance.  As I was driven away from my children, my husband, and my home I could do nothing but pray.  Pray, and listen.  Listen for the Lord's calming voice.  Listen for reassurance that even this is a part of His plan.

The next few hours are a blur.  I know that my speech was struggling.  I couldn't lift my left arm or squeeze the neurologist's hand.  I couldn't swallow correctly. But, I could look at my husband and feel safe.  I could feel my oldest son's hand on my shoulder.  I could silently pray and feel calm.  I didn't understand most of what was going on, but I did somehow understand that no matter what, all of this would be ok.

As that night turned into the next morning, I found myself being admitted for further testing and observation.  After several hours, and many tests, the doctors ruled out a stroke. However, by Friday afternoon I had been told that my MRA had shown a small brain aneurysm.  I needed another test.

So, we waited.  And waited some more.  It actually took until Saturday morning to get the next test completed.  And then, we waited some more.  Waiting is usually very, very hard for me.  However, this time, I just felt calm and peace.  I could do absolutely nothing but Stop.  But Pray.  But Listen.  And the funny thing is, the more that all of these things were my only option, the more I trusted.  Trusted in a God that was in control.

Late Saturday, the "Neuro Guys", as we affectionately called them came into my room. We had not expected to see them until Sunday morning. They were smiling. This was good. They showed us how the original MRA had found the aneurysm. Then they showed us how the new test did NOT show an aneurysm.  Praise God.

We now knew I did not have a stroke and I did not have an aneurysm.  Still, no one knew what I did have.  I was told they would check on me in the morning to see if my symptoms had improved, so just to try to rest.  I sent Ray Don home for the night to sleep in our own bed since the poor guy had been sleeping on a couch in my hospital room half the size of his body for the previous two nights.  I settled in for a night alone in the hospital room.

I realized a couple of things as I laid there in that dark and quiet room.  In twenty years of marriage I had never slept away from home by myself while my husband was at home with the kids.  Ironically though, I felt completely safe and at peace.

I still did not know what was wrong with me.  I still had numbness, heaviness, and tingling in my left arm.  I was still having some heaviness in my left eye socket. But, in spite of everything I didn't know, the things I did know were becoming so very clear to me as I laid there in that room alone.  I know that I have a Saviour that loves me more than I deserve. I have a God that was not surprised by me laying in that hospital bed in that very moment. I have a Creator that made every intricate part of me. And I choose to have faith in this same God that uses everything for His glory, for my good.  In this I can rest. I rested well Saturday night, truly not at all alone.

I woke up Sunday morning feeling so much better. My left arm was still a little "cold", but I could freely move it and the tingling was gone.  The heaviness around my eye socket was gone.  His mercies are new each morning.  After consulting with the Neuro Guys late Sunday afternoon, they felt I was not in any danger that would be caused by releasing me. (This could also be due to the fact that every part of my insides had been looked at and I was told I was one of the healthiest people they had seen in a while from the inside out.  Basically there was nothing left to test!)  In the end, it seems I may have had an extremely severe adverse reaction to a medication I had been given a few days before this.

I may never know exactly what happened. And, completely out of character for me, that is ok with me.

My family is experiencing a season of many things that we do not understand right now. Some of these things feel like we can't see an end in sight. These are the things I am struggling with saying it "is ok with me" just yet. But, God is patient. God is teaching me and molding me.  God loves my family more than I ever could.

God is good.  God has a plan.  God is faithful.  These are all things I do know.  And because these are truths I can rest in, I am slowly learning I can rest in them ALL the time...even in the back of an ambulance.

(I am participating in something called Walk with Him Wednesday's at the blog site A Holy Experience.  Please join Ann Voskamp and others for encouragement as we learn to walk this path of suffering together.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stupid Pumpkins

I woke up this morning truly missing writing.  I haven't written in this blog since the spring.  I haven't really even written in my journal for a month.  It may not seem like a big deal to some, but to anyone that journals your most personal prayers and writes for release you will understand.  I stopped early this morning and tried to figure out why.  As I did, oddly enough a very old memory came to mind.

One day in first grade my teacher, Mrs. Matthews, had given us a worksheet with pumpkins on them.  She had given verbal directions regarding the way we needed to color those pumpkins that had overridden the actual written directions on the paper as she passed them out.  I didn't know this because I wasn't listening.  I was too impatient.  As soon as I had the paper in front of me I read the directions and colored those pumpkins.  Row one - color two purple pumpkins. Row two - color four red pumpkins.  Row three - color one green pumpkin.

I was coloring beautifully, staying in the lines, so proud of myself.  Mrs. Matthews walked up to my desk, took the paper from me, gave me another worksheet and told me to "listen next time".  She walked away.  What?  What had I missed?  I looked around thinking she must be crazy.  Needless to say, since I had been so intent on following the paper in front of me instead of hearing the voice from across the room speaking to me explaining that she wanted all of the pumpkins simply colored orange for a cut and paste activity, I was lost.  So, in confusion, but with determination, I again picked up the purple, red, and green crayons and went to work.  I never even made it to row three this time.  Mrs. Matthews walked over, picked up the paper and said, "Kimberly, go sit in the hall.  Next time you might choose to listen so you will know what to do."

OK, sitting in the hall in the 'old days' was pretty harsh.  In elementary school every kid knew the principle walked the halls just waiting for kids to have to explain why they were outside the classroom instead of inside. I NEVER had to sit in the hall.  What was wrong with my teacher?  Did she not like me? All over some stupid pumpkins.

It makes me laugh that this story is the one that came to mind this morning. It is funny that something that happened 35 years ago can still come to mind as if it happened yesterday.  It's not so funny though how often I find myself living life like this, especially in seasons that are full of chaos, busyness, hardships, and uncertain future paths.

I find myself so busy trying to just get things done, just take care of those I love, just following the directions and expectations of myself and everyone around me that many times I forget the most important thing...

to listen...especially to the One that matters most.

I think this is why I have stopped writing.  You have to listen to hear yourself think, and most importantly to hear the Lord speak.  I have stopped being still enough and quiet enough to listen.  I have felt I haven't had time to write.  Or even worse, I haven't listened enough to even know what to write, and sometimes even pray.  I have stopped listening to a lot of things that really matter.  It is time to stop planning, stop doing, and just listen again.  

In the words of a very wise woman, "You have to choose to listen to know what to do."  

Oh, the things we can learn from a first grade teacher.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life Happens At Home

Where we live, you know that Spring is rolling in when at least once a week you can leave your back door open and the crisp breeze of fresh air can blow through the screen right into your home.  You can look outside at the blooms popping up everywhere! 

And, my kids also know (and probably dread) this is the time when the dust rags for deep cleaning come out and Momma goes on a rampage aimed at every dust bunny I can find in our home.  This is when our saying of, "If you haven't worn it/used it in the past year, then it's not going to get used and should go somewhere where it will," gets put to use!  This is when it hits...the spring cleaning bug!  

I like to be organized.  I work better in an organized environment.  Honestly, I relax and simply breathe better surrounded by organization and cleanliness.  So, how in the world do I find myself frequently surrounded by something that more resembles a scene out of the movie "Twister"?

I think the best answer to this is simply ~ Life Happens at Home.

Life that includes two dogs, one cat, and three children still at home.  Life that has led us to homeschool the two youngest of our children, while the oldest is in his first year of college.  Life that includes my part-time bookkeeping job that is done from home.  And oh, did I forget to mention, my husband also works from a home office?  Like I said ~ Life Happens at Home.

And I wouldn't have it any other way...most days.

Most days it is an incredible blessing to have us all here under one roof!  You can't trade for being able to call Dad in to help with a science project, especially for something like a dissection of a worm that Momma may be just a tad squeamish about. Or, to be able to rejoice with an ice cream bar outside on the hammock in the early afternoon to celebrate mastering multiplication of fractions. These are the great moments.

Then there are the not-so-great moments.  The moments of frustration when the phone has rung for the tenth time, and every time it rings my kids think it is a recess bell.  I find they are much quicker to dismiss for recess than to come back in when I call them to resume their school work! Then there are the moments when a child has not put a necessary reading book back on the shelf the day before and then spends twenty minutes looking for it when she needs it next.  This is only to find it exactly where I suggested it might be in the first place, but maybe she just assumed I didn't know what I was talking about twenty minutes earlier.  The moments where I look up and think to myself, "I would love for my kitchen to look like a kitchen and not a science lab!"

However, it is in these not-so-great moments that the greatest lessons usually come. These are the ones, if you allow yourself, that you can learn from.  This is where I have learned what curriculum works best for our family.  For me, it was one that I didn't spend days creating on my own when I can use one I love that someone else organizes for me!  This is where I have learned what schedule works best for my family.  For example, when I let go of this for one week to intentionally see what my kids would do, I found my 6th grader started setting his own alarm for 7am to get up and accomplish all of his independent work before breakfast and Bible time!  And another not-so-great moment filled with overwhelming clutter was where I figured out that my kids actually liked being organized, too!

One day, not too long ago, I looked up in the middle of the day and saw chaos. Instead of nagging at my kids to help pick up,  like I usually did, I simply began to quietly pick up and organize our work area on my own.  A funny thing happened...the kids followed.  And then, the best thing 6th grader, as he was cleaning up next to me says this, "Mom, I sure can work better when things are in their place to start with."  Wow. 

Spring has sprung.  The beginning of a new season.  The opportunity of a fresh start. Spring cleaning. Cleaning of the messes and clutter of our home, and with it, the picture of the messes and clutter I often carry in my own heart.  That clutter that only Jesus can clean up and make new.  I am thankful for this. I am thankful for lessons learned.  I am thankful for Spring.  

I am thankful that...Life Happens at Home!  No matter the season!

Monday, February 27, 2012

This crazy call of homeschooling

It is another Monday morning.  The house is quiet.  The kids are still sleeping.  I sit at my kitchen table with a small remnant of coffee left in my cup as I linger here after my quiet time.  Out the window I look to see the sunrise, but instead see the incoming rain clouds.  Inside the warmth of my house this makes me think of the proverbial calm before the storm.

We are in our second year of homeschooling our two youngest children, Hunter and Hope.  In a short while I will be at this same kitchen table (full of scratches and scuff marks from books and pencils being slid across it) trying my best to teach a kindergartner how to read and a 6th grader how to compare fractions by converting them to decimal form.  I will do my best to lovingly teach them about grace and patience, mostly by trying to live it out with them daily.  And, I will often fail.

Don't get me wrong, we have some great moments of accomplishment. 

And then we have some moments of just, well, yuck. 

Raised voices, bickering kids, an eleven year-old's frustrations over those fractions, or a five year old voicing a concern over a silent 'e'.  Hope explained it this way to me: "Why in world did someone think it was smart to put a silent 'e' on the end of a word to make an 'a' make its sound it should already make!  That 'a' has too many sounds.  It should only get one!  Aaannnnd, that's not fair that the 'e' doesn't get to say anything in that word!"  I tend to agree with Hope on this one, especially when you are the one trying to defend the silent 'e'. 

Then there are the even harder days where the teacher is the one lacking motivation.  There are times where I start to allow Satan to creep his crafty thoughts into my head.  Thoughts like, "I would have so much free time if the kids were enrolled in public school.  I could get soooo much done.  I would be such a better friend.  I would have the house clean.  I wouldn't be doing my work at 6 am in the morning. I...I....I...."  And that is the hardest lesson of all in this homeschooling journey for me ~ it's not about me.

It's not about me.  It is about God and the journey that He has called our family on. It has always been about Him.  This is definitely not something I ever thought we would be doing a mere two years ago. We didn't even know of anyone that homeschooled their children two years ago. But, little by little, God has been faithful to provide families for moral support and a community of pioneers that have gone before us if we need help in the future to teach the "hard stuff" if we get stuck.  Or I should say, when I get stuck.  I know that Chemistry is going to eat my lunch! It is about me sharing a Bible story with the kids prepared to answer their questions, and walking away from it with me being the one challenged or encouraged by the Word.  It is about me growing in Him and learning dependence on Him in a way I never even knew I needed.  It is about our kids watching us prevail and fail and how, either way, the journey makes us press that much more into our mighty Creator.  The One that knows what we need and how we need it, well before we do.

And that may come in the form of an unexpected surrender to a crazy call...oh, maybe like...homeschooling. 

So, I humbly say...Thank you Jesus for the scratches and scuff marks in my table.  Thank you Jesus for the scratches and scuff marks in my life.

One day at a time. One storm at a time. One Monday morning at a time.

Bring on the storm!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

To See, To Serve, To Feel

"What do you want to do in light of what you've learned?"

This is a question on the last page of the Beth Moore study I have just completed on the book and life of James in the Bible (James:Mercy Triumphs).  What do I want to do in light of what I've learned?  The answer I wrote to that question was this:


I want the eyes of God, the hands of Christ, and the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit.

I want to see the broken and the poor the way God sees them.  As His beautiful children. I want to really see the needs of people that I simply drive or walk by every single day too busy and caught up in my own life to take the time to really look at them. I simply say, "Hi!  How are you today?" knowing full well that I will smile, make small talk, and possibly even move toward the door while talking because I am more worried about what I have to do next. Really? What is more important than the child of God that has been placed in front of me in that moment?  I am ashamed.

I want to serve the way Jesus, our Lord in flesh, served. He fed the poor, held the meek, comforted the broken, encouraged the downcast, touched the leper, and even washed the feet of his friends.  And yet, I have a hard time even thinking of getting out of my comfortable home to work in a comfortable ministry building on a Saturday morning to help feed the poor in my community.  I am lazy.

I want to grieve, rejoice, and delight in the things that grieve, rejoice, and delight the Holy Spirit.  I desperately want to be broken over the afflicted of the world to the point that it will make me take action in His name, all for His Glory.  I want to be so overflowing with gratitude in the Lord's triumphs that I sing and dance in freedom of His Goodness.  I want to be so in tune to the desires of His heart that I unmistakeably  hear, and  more importantly follow through on, His promptings to take part in the plans that have already been set out before me.  But, a lot of times, I am instead selfish.

These are all the things I want to do in light of what I learned from James, the half-brother of Jesus.  But, I can do none of these things.  However, my Lord can.

God, my Creator, can transform me to see the way He sees.

Jesus, my Savior, can teach me by his example to serve the way He serves.

Holy Spirit, my Comforter and Intercessor, can guide me by His promptings.

Thank you James for reminding me of the necessary "rubber meets the road" moments.  Thank you James for challenging me to pray hard, transforming prayers.  Thank you James for your devotion to our Savior and in turn, your example to me.  Thank you James, for encouraging me.  Thank you James for reminding me that although I may be ashamed, lazy, and selfish...most importantly...

I am forgiven.

Lord, continue to break me. Humble me. Use me. All for your Glory.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

86,400 Moments

Every morning. Tick. Tick. Tick.  A little rhythm I hear as I rise each day by the seemingly small clock next to my bathroom sink.  Tick. Tick.  It's a subconscious reminder that a new day has begun.  Minute by minute. Second by second.

I have 86,400 seconds every single day to either use or waste, depending on the day and the perspective.
Tick. Time is so fleeting.  

However, as I woke this morning, there was just silence.  The seemingly insignificant little clock next to my sink was silent.  No sound. No rhythmical reminder that a new day is upon me.

As I woke from my sleepy fog and it began to register that something was quiet, too quiet, it took me aback to realize that something so seemingly small took me by such big surprise. The silence. It was almost uncomfortable.  I had this overwhelming desire to have to quickly make my way to the laundry room for a new, refreshed AA battery to replace the cavity holding the worn out, dead one.  There.  There it was again. Tick. Tick. Tick.  Steady.  Familiar.  Safe.

As I started to walk away from this small keeper-of-time, I began to realize how deeply I am desiring reminders of being alive at this point in my life!  Maybe it is my age.  I embraced 40 last year and as time keeps flying by I am reminded more and more of the words of James, Jesus' half-brother:

What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

And the words of Job as he cried out in his afflictions:

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath. (Job 7:7a)

Yes, the older I get, the more I realize these truths, and the more I crave to find ways to make time stand still.  This is probably why I am loving my newest interest and hobby of photography.  I can capture a moment and truly time can stand still.  For one second.  It is completely captured. One second, out of 86,400 in a day.  Or even better, one second out of 31,556,926 in a year.  Wow. Overwhelming. Overwhelming in good ways, and challenging ones.

Don't get me wrong, I am truly loving the age I am and the place God has me.  I am old enough to know better, and learned from the years where I didn't.  I love more freely because I am learning to embrace not caring as much what people think and working hard to value first the opinion of my Creator. I have lived long enough to know that I have to appreciate each moment.  Because they are gone, in a moment.  Each laugh. Each triumph.  Each challenge.  Each tear.  To appreciate each moment.  It is learned.

So, as time marches on, to the rhythm of a tick, tick, tick, I will rejoice in the moments.  I will choose to capture and freeze as many I can. I will choose to look forward to the next one.  I will choose to embrace the rhythm of the clock.  I will choose to rest in the very next verse in James (4:15):

Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."

Let's see what the Lord has for our next 86,400 moments...tick, tick, tick. Lord willing... 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

God's grace flows to open hands

Closed-fisted.  This is my general approach to life.  I enter each day tightly grasping on to the things I know.  The things I love.  The things I have.  All of these things only allowed to be mine by the grace of a loving God. And even then, never really mine at all.

This has been learned over 17 years of being a Christian.  And I am a slow learner. The older I get, the more I watch my younger children and long for the ability to rejoice in simple, untainted, faith. The kind of faith that has them pray with their hands open wide.  Open to blessings they believe in faith will be there.  They haven't yet been weathered by the storms.  Storms of broken families, broken people, and a broken world.

The storms.  They are there.  They come. Satan laughs in triumph when I close my fists and cling to what I have because I want to hang on to the little bit of good in today for fear of the storm of tomorrow. The Truths of scripture tell me better. But I still choose to keep my fists closed.  In pride.  I can do this. I can fix this.  I can control this.

I can't. So simple.  But so freeing.

I was talking to a friend this week and we were praying through some struggles in our lives. Struggles so familiar to us both.  And familiar to others I have spoken with.  It was freeing to be honest.  Honest about how insecure I am.  Honest about how much time I waste in this precious life worrying about what other people think.  Honest about the truth of this quote:

"If I focus on humility, I look inward to assess if I'm sufficiently humble, and in the very act, humility darts and I'm proud, self-focused.  It doesn't work." ~ Ann Voskamp

It is a struggle.  Pride.  Pride in self-sufficiency.  Pride in family.  Pride in talents. Just stupid pride. Where is the balance?  Where is the line drawn?

How do you find the difference in rejoicing in thankfulness for the provision the LORD has provided and not on your own means to provide? How do you rejoice in gratitude over the gift of family the LORD has given you without making your spouse, children or grandchildren idols?  How do you use your God-given talents for His glory in humility without it becoming a stumbling block for yourself?

I can't.  But the gift of daily grace for me can.  Thank you Lord for the gift of a new day.  Thank you for your mercy!

The faithful love of the LORD never ends! 
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning. ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Thank you Jesus for your good and perfect gifts.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of children that can so vividly remind me how to love freely, laugh often, and pray in faith.  Thank you Jesus for the gifts you've given me (and every believer) that are to be used for your glory alone.  Thank you Jesus for conviction of heart, whether that comes from a small, sweet prompting or the spiteful words of another. I will choose to give you glory. All of this will break me to come to you and beg for humility of spirit.  Praise You for open hands!

You Alone are Good.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Darkness to Hope

Ever since I allowed myself to write a few days ago, I have been extremely weepy.  I have cried more the last few days than I have in 8 months.  I am crying at everything.  Happy tears. Sad tears.  Just because tears, which are maybe really cleansing tears.  I am realizing I am feeling again.  I think in a lot of areas I had been going through the motions of life for a while now, and didn't even realize it.  As I have been reflecting these last few days and allowing myself to embrace what it feels like to be emotionally raw, I have been shown scriptures that have to do with remembering.  God remembering his covenant with Noah through the symbol of a rainbow (Genesis 9:15). God commanding his people to "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." (Deuteronomy 5:15)  And as I've been reading this, I feel God calling me to do some remembering of my own.

There was another time in my life that was marked by a darkness.  It began shortly after the birth of our second son in 2000. I was completely blessed with two step-daughters that I gladly claimed as my own (the oldest lived with us), our seven year old son, and now our newborn baby boy.  We made the choice for me to have a tubal ligation during my last cesarean.  Our family was complete.  

However, within a month of having this sweet, baby boy my heart began to ache.  Truly ache for a little girl we would never have as husband and wife.  It became a completely frustrating situation.  I could not even begin to guess how many conversations I had initiated with my husband over that six year time frame about "never having a little girl" and all the things I would "never" do that ended up with me in tears.  He would just simply say with the saddest look in his eyes for me, "I'm sorry."  And that is where it would end.  It had to end there.  There were no options.  God, please just make this go away.  I am so selfish.

But, this feeling didn't go away.  And the more I prayed for God to relieve me of this overwhelming desire, the more suppressing it felt. I lived in a private world of complete heartache and isolation that I could not explain.  I didn't think I could share my emotions with anyone that I mourned the loss of a little girl that I never had.  Even the thought of it sounded ridiculous.  I was blessed with four children through marriage and births, and yet I was having nightmares about empty pink cribs. There were three different times over those years that I walked into the local grocery store only to leave a full basket of groceries and walk out in tears because I had been so overwhelmed by watching a mom push a little brown-haired girl in a cart while they giggled and smiled.  This same image was a frequent of my dreams at night.  It was always a brown-haired little girl. I could never see her face in my dreams, but I could always see that she had long brown hair, sometimes pulled up, and sometimes I would hear the sweetest, most infectious giggle as she threw her head back in joyous abandon while I smiled.  They felt so real. 

Then, finally. An answer, or so I thought. I had to have a complete hysterectomy in March of 2005. Relief and rest in knowing that the thoughts in the back of my mind to ask my husband to support me in a tubal reversal were gone.  No turning back now.  Right?  Wrong.  Again, the darkness quickly came back. 

I was so selfish. I had friends dealing with infertility, so what right at all did I have to desire more? What was wrong with me? Weren't my boys enough? That was the question I feared the most. I struggled to put into audible words what I was feeling for fear of this single question. Why weren't they enough?  

However, one moment can change everything. I hit a point where I could not breathe.  I finally cried out to my husband on that summer day in August of 2006 and through gasps for air and a flood of tears, I said out loud what I had been burdening alone for six years. I read him my journal entry from that day.  I don't think at first he knew what to do with me, let alone with what I was saying. I just knew I was to a point that he had to make it better.  He had to make me better.  He had to help me get out of this pain I had been carrying around in secret.  Even though I feared all of this probably made no sense to him at all, he had to do something.

He did.  God had prepared my precious husband's heart for this moment.  He stayed very calm and I could see in his eyes he understood.  He processed my cry for help for barely a moment, and then looked right at me and stated with the confidence and clarity that I so desperately needed, "We need to adopt a little girl." Wow.  Why had I not thought of that? That is honestly what I thought.  I am sure partly I thought this because in fourteen years of marriage, we had never talked about adoption, at least not for us.  Through all of the years of desolate heartache, I never allowed myself to think that we could adopt.  Why would I?  It made no sense with four kids (couples adopt that couldn't have children), where would the money come from (we already supported four kids), and we are older (at the time my sweet husband had barely turned 42 and our oldest daughter was married).  It didn't make sense.  But it did.  To God it did.  To God it always did.

You see, in that moment, God allowed a new journey to begin to overcome my darkness.  One that my husband, not me, would lead.  One that showed me in an instant how God had required me to carry an unrelenting burden for a little girl I did not know to force us to do something to "make me better" which in turn would lead us to her.  One that showed me that it was NEVER about my boys not being ENOUGH, but it was ALWAYS about the fact that our family really wasn't yet COMPLETE.  

Praise God for never forgetting us, and being willing to always remind us to remember Him. Always. In all things. Even the darkness.

And so, our journey to overcome this darkness began on August 19, 2006.  Little did we know at that time that our daughter was about to turn four months old.  

What a blessing it is to remember a journey from darkness to Hope...

PS~This is a re-post shared on Ann Voskamp's site A Holy Experience for Walk with Him Wednesdays.  Please join her and others for encouragement to find Joy during times of suffering.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Too long

My 5 year-old's reading lesson this week includes three new sight, too, and two.  She understood the concept of two (the number) and to (in the direction of) pretty quickly.  It took a bit more to understand the word too.  Too - also or very.  As I was trying to give her examples of how to correctly use this word, I kept coming back to "too long" as in, "it has been too long since ____" and she would fill in the blank.  Later that evening, my mind kept coming back to that phrase.

It has been too long.  Too long for many things.  Too long since I have allowed myself the freedom to write in the quiet moments.  Too long since I have slowed down enough to appreciate the gray that is being added to mine and my husband's hair that represent wonderful years together.  Too long since I have sat back and just listened with contentment to my children laughing.  It has been too long since I have eagerly embraced whatever it is the Lord may be doing, knowing full well that we should count it all joy.  It has been too long since I have counted it all joy.

It has been almost a year since our family began a journey of new ministry, adoption, and surrender to whatever the Lord had planned on those journeys...with great excitement!  However, just because you seek hard after the Lord and follow Him, doesn't mean you are going to end up in the place you thought He was leading.  Excitement turned to heartache, overwhelming sadness, and a brokenness unlike anything experienced before in my life.  For too long there was a darkness over our home due to a failed adoption of a sibling group.  Friends and family did not know what to do with us during this time we now just simply call the "darkness."  So, instead of saying the wrong thing, they just didn't say anything at all.  We felt abandoned.  They felt abandoned.  Guilt is heavy. You get up every day and put one foot in front of the other because you have to not because you want to.  Darkness is thick.  Isolation results.  But then, in a moment where you feel your next breath just might not come, something happens.  Something stirs.  It comes in a whispered prayer from your broken husband late at night.  I didn't want to hear it because in that moment, months later, I realized I was mad.  At family.  At friends.  At God.  But, God loves me.  A God who won't relent.  Thank God.

After that late night prayer, for the first time in months, I reach for the Word.  This was my gift God gave me in that moment.  I reached for my phone on the bedside table as I begged God to let me know He had not forgotten me and saw me in my darkness.  I pushed a bible ap and the random reading for the day shows.  This is what it read (highlighted in yellow on my phone!) I am worn out from my groaning.  All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.  Psalm 6:6

God heard my prayer.  God had not forgotten me.  God saw me.  Even though it had been too long since I had trusted Him as the Sovereign God he is.  As I awoke the next morning, for the first time in months, I knelt beside my bed and prayed out to Him.  I could hear the pages of my bible turning on their own by the force of the fan while I talked to Jesus.  When I finished praying, in the middle of the page, already highlighted in my familiar worn yellow, were these verses - "But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me." Psalm 13:5-6  Restoration is such a beautiful, overwhelming thing.

God is Sovereign.  He can do what he wants in the way he chooses to do it.  But, it is all good.  It is all right.  It is all for our best.  It is all because He loves us so very much.  I am so incredibly humbled that the God who created the universe loves me enough to speak to me in my darkness even when it had been too long since my heart had been open to Him. 

Praise God that He doesn't consider it EVER too long.