Sunday, November 11, 2012

We Remain Weak

It’s been awhile, I know.  Sometimes living life takes precedence over writing about it, I guess that’s the best way I can think of to explain it.  A season of quiet, but that doesn’t mean my thoughts haven’t been brewing or that God hasn’t been working.  In fact, I think it has been in times of quiet that He speaks the most to my heart. I was able to get away for our church’s annual women’s retreat last weekend and wow did God meet me!  There is something so special about times to slow down and draw near to God and other women, a chance to rest our souls at His feet and fellowship with focus over several days as opposed to the snippets we get in “real life”.  And if there had been no profound message to hear from a speaker, God would have used the mountains and the time away alone to refresh my spirit and speak volumes to my heart… but the message WAS profound, and I just have to share what God spoke to my heart.

Our pastor’s wife shared on a passage from 2 Corinthians, 4:5 – 5:21 to be exact.  I’m going to go ahead and quote the whole passage here to make it easy for youJ.  I encourage you to take a minute and pray right now before you read this, asking God to soften your heart to HIS message to you through the Word…

2 Corinthians 4:5–5:21 (NLT)“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

New Bodies
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life.  God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.  So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.

We Are God’s Ambassadors
Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit.  Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life.  He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”  For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

This passage has SO much in it.  I won’t regurgitate my whole weekend of notes for you, but I will share the main points God challenged my heart with.  I think many of us have read this passage, or portions of it, multiple times before.  But I love how God reveals new wisdom to us through the same scriptures, time and time again.  His Word never gets old or ineffective, amen?!  It is living and active!  Our speaker titled the weekend, “True Treasure in Common Clay”.  One of my favorite scriptures from this passage is 4:7 (NIV)-  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  I have rejoiced in this truth so many times in my life, that I am weak to reveal His strength, that God put His light and power in this weak, cracked pot on purpose so that it would be obvious that it’s HIM who’s doing a mighty work in me, not me being great by putting in enough effort.  But God pulled back a new layer for me last weekend.  Sara (our speaker) said something that the Holy Spirit burned into my heart and I haven’t forgotten it since.  She said, “we REMAIN weak, HE is forever strong”.  At first hearing, I think that statement can make us uncomfortable.  “Wait a minute,” we think, “isn’t He making me stronger, better in this whole sanctification (growing more into His likeness as we move towards heaven) process?”  She gave us these two equations to explain the point:
  1. God’s power + my weakness= my power
  2. God’s power + my weakness= God’s power
Sara pointed out that many of us see Jesus as an energy drink, which would be the first equation.  “just gotta drink a little more Jesus and I’ll be stronger for my tasks, better, less weak”.  But do you hear the self focus in that statement?  We have this agenda, these areas that we want to be stronger in, and so we’re asking God to fill us up for OUR purposes.  Scripture tells us something different, it’s not about us!  These cracked pots (that’s us who have been redeemed and reconciled to a Holy God ONLY by his grace, which comes through Jesus alone) will stay cracked, will remain weak, so that HIS strength, HIS power can be revealed.  We will not ever arrive in this life, and any growth and increased strength we have will not ever be because we’ve become less weak, it will only be because we’ve drawn nearer to the God who fills us, fixing our eyes on Him, abiding in Him, allowing His light to shine ever brighter through those cracks.

Friends, this was big for me.  Sometimes I find myself so frustrated and confused about why I’m still struggling with certain things, why I’m not seeing the growth I long to see, why I’m still so weak.  Can any of you relate?  But when we ask ourselves why we want to be stronger, I think we have to get really honest about why.  Could it be our reputation with others?  Our desire to do better for those we love in our own effort?  Maybe it’s a desire for proof that we really are new creations?  But here’s the promise, we ARE new creations, “the old has gone, the new has come!”  We have been forgiven, reconciled to God, adopted into His Kingdom, it is finished if we have put our faith in Christ!  And this, not because of anything righteous in us.  God’s power, HIS strength, has been put inside of us for HIS glory and our blessing.  We remain weak because He wants us to depend on Him, He wants the world to see the power of the Gospel , man’s need for Him, in our lives and know the changes they see, the joy in all circumstances, it’s not because we’re extra cool and strong and great, but because HE is.  And when we stumble and struggle and suffer, we cling to Him, fixing our gaze on the only one who can carry us through this life, so that others will see their need too.

What does this mean for us?  Does it mean we stop moving forward, stop putting forth effort? No, because if we did, we’d be ignoring the call to “live” for Him, to “walk” by faith, to “abide” in Him. These are action words. But it’s WHAT we’re living for and WHERE we’re walking (or running) to that we need to look at.

John 15:4-5 says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.””
This  passage makes it clear that fruit doesn’t come from our effort, but from abiding in Him.  And it’s always evident that, apart from the Vine, a branch can’t produce any fruit. The questions I think we have to ask ourselves are,
  1. Where does strength come from?  My efforts to do better or more dependence on Him in my weakness?
  2. Whose strength is it?  Does more growth equal less weakness, or do we remain weak by design so His strength can be revealed?
  3. For what purpose do I want to be strong, my own agenda or His purposes?
  4. Can I really be content, “rejoice” in my weakness, because “His power is made perfect” in my weakness?
Father, thank you, with flat-on-my-face gratitude, for saving me by your amazing love and grace!  There is nothing in me that is worthy of your love, but You gave it anyway, at a price I can’t fathom.  Thank you for putting your glorious light in this cracked pot, this weak clay vessel.  As I remain weak, I cling, ever tighter, to your strength!  I offer my life to you Father, be glorified as you display Your strength in my weakness.  Make me more like you Father, not for me, but for You!  Amen

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The "Main Things"

Today at my church’s mom’s group, we had one of our pastors give us a pep talk and boy let me tell you, God had the message on an arrow straight to my heart!  His theme was, focusing on the main things.  As a mother of young ones, sometimes I feel like I’m always a day late and a dollar short in the cleaning, meal preparing, busy work tasks of making a home.  I have been feeling really defeated lately, frustrated at why can’t I get it all done, just sort of grumpy about it all most of the time!  But God had encouragement for me in Pastor C’s message today and it was this, “by whose standards are you living? By what expectations are you measuring your “success” as a homemaker?”  My pastor reminded us that God clearly lays out some priorities for us in scripture and here are the top two: Loving Him, Loving others as ourselves (Husband first, then children, then the family of God, then those who are lost).  Nowhere in this list do we find “Martha Stewart house pristinely clean at all times” or “perfectly fit body outfitted in the latest clothes and hairstyle”.  Those priorities come from our culture, not from Him.  And yet it hit me this morning as I was listening to the message, these are things that most often have me feeling inadequate and defeated.  I tell my children, “just a minute” about 100 times a day as I scurry around to clean a house that never gets fully clean.  It’s like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing!  Pastor C assured us that this doesn’t mean we neglect the tasks of cleaning and taking care of ourselves, what it means is that we don’t push the more important things aside to accomplish them.  He also encouraged us in the way we greet our husbands when they come home.  He asked us if we barrage our men with complaints about how hard the day was and all we didn’t get done and need help with or if we focus on loving and welcoming him home first and simply asking for help instead of playing the poor me card to earn his sympathy.  Ouch!  Boy do I do this more than I’d like to admit.  As I was thinking about it today, it’s like I feel the need to paint a sad story of my day in order to excuse the fact that I didn’t get everything done according to MY list.  When really, Travis knows what I’m facing, he knows that we are in a weary season of our lives and that I can’t be super woman.  But I think what it is is that I WANT to be, so badly!  My own desire to be perfect at everything puts me in a grouchy, complaining, defeated mood and it’s just sin, plain and simple.  When I am focusing on the “main” things, as pastor C put it, those other things will be seen with the right perspective. 

Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

My children won’t remember how clean the house was or wasn’t, but they will remember the time I spend with them, doing things together, laughing, enjoying them, reading the Word together and praying.  But if I’m not careful they will also remember a mama who’s constantly stressing about all she has to accomplish and how she made them feel like they were always in the way of those accomplishments.  So what’s the balance?  Well, here’s a list of what I think homemaking is and isn’t.  I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but these are what ring true at the moment:

1.       Homemaking IS creating a place of refuge and peace for our families, which I think includes a certain level of cleanliness and organization.  Homemaking IS NOT, a perfectly clean and organized home at all times at the expense of lost quality time with the very family we are trying to create a refuge for.

2.       Homemaking IS living by right priorities with our time and energy, which can mean limiting or eliminating those things that threaten to take the tops spots.  Homemaking IS NOT holding ourselves to impossible standards or comparing ourselves to other moms who are gifted differently.

3.       Homemaking IS filling up our tanks with time with Jesus and His Word, praying throughout the day for His strength and perspective which will overflow into our families.  Homemaking IS NOT trying to do it on our own strength.  Our standards and priorities never work like His do and we can do nothing well on an empty tank.

4.       Homemaking IS preparing healthy, tasty food for our families.  Homemaking IS NOT nightly gourmet meals.  Gourmet chefery never makes an appearance on God’s priority list, only on the food network’s.

5.       Homemaking IS refueling ourselves with retreats of rest and joyful activities (the most important being time with the Lord).  Homemaking IS NOT feeling entitled to selfish pursuits or allowing ourselves to be completely derailed by laziness and selfish hobbies.

6.        Homemaking IS having a plan.  Homemaking IS NOT feeling completely derailed and defeated when daily life doesn’t go according to it.  God’s plans are always better than ours, even when they make us feel uncomfortable.

7.       Homemaking IS including the whole family in cleaning and the work that needs to be done, expecting that perfection will not happen, but pride in contributing will.  Homemaking IS NOT feeling like you have to do it all without asking for help.  Everyone can do something , don’t play the poor martyr by doing it all.

8.       Homemaking IS practicing hospitality.  Homemaking IS NOT needing a clean home before you do it.  Be a Mary and not a Martha.

I would love to hear your additions to this list and what God is teaching you about focusing on the main things.  Sisters, we need each other!  Not the perfect fa├žade we may want others to see, but the real us that knows fancy words and appearances will never get us to the good stuff of true sisterhood.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sawyer is Four!

Sweet baby boy!  See, how I still call you that even though you are four?  You are my only son, so I get to do that.  Son, it has been so fun to watch you grow from a toddler to a little boy this year.  Your sense of humor is in full swing now, taking these pictures was evidence of that you little stinker.  Your language grows more every day, but secretly I want you to always say "prain pracks" for train tracks and "wishin" for fishin.  You smile with your whole face prince, everyone who meets you tells me you're going to have the girls lined up.  I try not to think about it, but it's so true my handsome man cub!  You learned to ride a two wheel bike this year, earlier than anyone in the neighborhood.  You're leaning out and shooting up, it's happening way too fast.  I treasure these years with you home with me full time.  Preschool will come soon enough, so please just stay this size for awhile.  I love you Sawyer Michael, as much as any mother could ever love her only son.  You bring joy to my life in ways you'll never know.  I pray every day for your future, for the ways I hope God will get a hold of your heart and life and use you in big ways, for the wife and family I hope he will provide you, that in some small way, every day, I am pointing you to Jesus, that He is the only true fulfillment you'll find.  The hat in these pictures we got for you when Daddy and I went to Ireland this summer.  You look so cute in it I can hardly stand it!  May your fifth year be full of all things a little boy longs for, plenty of adventures and the love of those of us who get to call you ours.
Love, Mommy

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sending Them Out- Back to School

I am a regular contributor here.  My most recent post:

A lot of thought and prayer and seeking the Word went into our decision to send our children out of our home to school.  I know that most of you who read this blog made similarly agonized over decisions about how to academically educate your children, some landing on homeschool, others on different types of school outside the home.  Before I say another word, I think it’s important to remind us all that pride has no place as we talk about these personal decisions of Christian freedom.  I hope that we can keep an atmosphere of love, humility, and bodily unity on this blog.  I’m sure that what we can agree on is God’s call to us as parents to model and teach Biblical truth and the power of the Gospel to our children whenever we are with them.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9- “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
Each year, when the air gets cooler and a fresh start to a school year is upon us, when the smell of new school supplies intoxicates me (yes, I love that smell!), my heart goes back to the callings and promises of God when it comes to my precious children.  It’s at this time of year that we get ready to send them out each day, which means a huge part of my heart is not in my physical presence each day, a small taste of the launching that will eventually take place when they’re older.  As we’re mapping out the year and making fresh goals for our family, I’m tempted to fear, tempted to doubt God’s ability to give me the wisdom and insight to do this well… but as I pray, the assurance comes, that these are not MY children, they are HIS.  His love for them is far more than I could ever give, His care of them far more complete than any sheltering tactics I could employ.  He has called me to love them, to care for them, to lead them, to teach them, to train them, to steward them well, but ultimately He has called me to trust Him with them.
Proverbs 22:6- “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
I hold to this promise and hold to the promise that God has plans for each of my children according to His sovereign will.  It is my job to be an overflowing cup of HIS love, HIS grace, HIS presence, HIS word, to be craving after Him for the filling up that only He can do so that I can be used by Him and for Him in the lives of my children.  I am so thankful for the blood of Jesus, that His power is made perfect in my weakness, that it is not up to me to attain perfection in my parenting by trying hard enough, but rather to lay flat on my face before a perfect God, begging Him for wisdom, begging Him to do His work in my children through me and through whatever means necessary to give Him the most glory.
Philippians 4:6-9- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
This Philippians passage is not only a huge encouragement to my own heart, but a passage I read to my kids often, truths I want them to hide in their hearts for the times they’re not with me.  Because the One who is always with them, even when I am not, He is the one I want them to turn to, I want them to know what a personal walk with God looks like, a relationship that is their own.  And hiding these truths of God’s Word in their hearts, I think this is one of the best ways we can send them out prepared to face a world full of lies, because it is God’s Word that has power, not our “superior” parenting.  It is the Holy Spirit who convicts and inspires right choices, not our constant lecturing.  Here are some verses we’re going to hide in our hearts this year:
Romans 12:9-21- “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Proverbs 4:23- Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”
Colossians 3:23-24- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17- “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
James 1:19-27- “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 5:16- “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”
Philippians 4:11-13- “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Psalm 18:2- “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4- “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
Isaiah 41:10- “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
I know God’s Word is full of beautiful truths to hide in our hearts, so please share some of your favorite scripture memory verses for kids with the rest of us.  I think one of the most important ways we can prepare our kids to be sent out is to teach them the very reason we are to go out into the world at all.  We are called to let our lights shine in a world full of darkness, and that call is not just for grown-ups, it is a call to every child of God, every person saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ into the family of God.  In fact, this is one of the foundational scriptures that God used to lead us to our decision to send our children to school.
Matthew 5:13-16- “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
And so we pray for our children, every single day, all throughout the day, that God will protect and lead and comfort and strengthen them, and that most importantly He will use them.  We pray that His light, shining through them, shining through our family, will permeate the classrooms and halls, the hearts of lost children and families, that He might use our family in the mission field of our school, to demonstrate God’s love and mercy and power to give new life.  And when I let this charge ring true in my heart, all fear melts away.  And I take a deep breath and smile as I face this new year.  And this prayer that Paul prays for the Ephesians gives me new courage:
Ephesians 4:14-21- For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Practical Ideas:
- Love notes and scriptures written on their lunch napkins
- Verses on pretty note cards to tape inside their desks
- Praise songs in the car to get hearts in the right place as we start the day
- On the way home, when they’re sharing about their days, take the time to pray for situations and people that come up.
- Surprise them by having lunch with them some days
- Organize some play get togethers with other families in the kid’s classes
- Arrange to trade off childcare of your younger children with another family in the school so you can volunteer in your child’s class regularly
- Have regular date nights with each of your kids so you can get that precious one on one time
- Set regular times each day to pray specifically for each of your children
- Make a special after school snack and spend time sharing it with them while you have a good chat
- Don’t fill their after school schedule up too full, less is more even though our busy culture would tell us otherwise.
Please share your ideas too!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chloe Turns Six!

Oh sweet "Snooie"!  This post is much later getting written than I had hoped, but darling, it is no reflection on our HUGE love for you, just a reflection on the fullness of our lives at the moment.  We had such a fun birthday party for you this year!  We meet Tayden and Milo, Auntie Amber and Nana at Lakeside Amusement Park for the day.  We had a picnic lunch and I made you homemade carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  You were a little dare devil on all the rides and I will never forget riding the Spider with you and all our uncontrolled giggles. You started first grade this year big girl, that really doesn't seem possible.  I'm certain it was just last week that you were my rolly polly, pigtailed two year old saying, "hogeyou me mommy!" or calling the phone a "whone".  But now before our eyes is a beautiful little girl of six with a smile and laugh that are truly infectious.  Something that hasn't changed, much to my delight, is that amazing and beautiful imagination of yours.  The day you stop gathering random household items to create barns for your animals (plastic ones or your little brother making horse noises) will be a sad day in my book.  At this rate, you will be the next bestselling author and I just can't wait to read your stories!  Kindergarten was a harder transition for you, missing mommy, just getting used to the school scene.  But this year, Chloe, you have taken to school with ease.  I get to come into your class every Wednesday this year to be a guest reader, which is truly one of the highlights of my week!  You are so proud to show me off to your classmates and I just love having you sit on my lap while I read to you and your friends.  And you've found a strong subject this year, sweet girl, you are quite the math wiz!  Knock on wood, homework time is a breeze for you and your reading gets stronger every day it seems.  Wow, I'm sure going to miss the days of having you home all the time, I have some precious memories of that time we had together.  But at the same time, it gives me such joy to see you thriving as a little student, getting to hear all about your day in the car on the way home, the friendship ups and downs, the exciting things you're learning in science.  Don't ever stop talking Rooie, telling me everything, the ups and the downs, the good and the bad.  You are such a gift to your dad and I, sweet Chloe Paige!  We are so blessed and lucky to get to love you as our own as we raise you up, pointing you towards Jesus and His perfect love and plan for you.  Happy sixth birthday baby girl!  You are beautiful, inside and out!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Making Sense of the Desert Places

Perhaps you’re like me and received Jesus as a child, or maybe it was just a few years ago. Regardless, you remember the moment, maybe it was over the course of weeks or months, but you remember the joy, the butterflies as the Holy Spirit took up residence in your heart and made you a new creation. Everything was new and you hungered for God and His Word like no craving you’ve ever known. As Thumper from Bambi would say, you were twitterpated! And then life kept moving forward, and for one reason or another, the spark faded a bit. You watched the flame dwindle and despite your best efforts and desires, you couldn’t get it roaring again. Fast forward in time and a really hard life transition was upon you. Once again, you found yourself clinging to Jesus with white knuckle grip. He wooed you to Himself, showing you the emptiness of all the world has to offer , your desperate need for Him, and you were head over heals yet again.
I could go on and on, couldn’t I? I mean I really don’t think I’ve ever met another Christian who hasn’t described these waves of closeness and distance when they talk about their walk, have you? So what can we make of these peaks and valleys, of these dry desert places and abundant gardens? What purposes is God working in this pattern, a pattern the saints have walked for all of history? First let me say that I am writing these words from a desert place. With parched lips and a growling tummy, I’m processing these questions with you. I am begging God to give me insight. After all, if you’re like me, it can bury you further in discouragement to hear from someone who only USED to be where you are. Fear creeps in that we may never get out of here, that we may never know the taste again of a deep and vibrant walk. I think the following passage explains our struggle well,
Romans 7:15-25-
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
It seems like a pretty hopeless picture if we stop reading before the last sentence… but then there IS that last sentence and in it we find our answer! So who will rescue us from this body of death? Jesus! Yes, the Sunday school answer. But maybe we over complicate things in our minds so that we can’t see the simple answer. Because of Jesus, we are new creatures, the old has gone and the new has come. I think the thought process that keeps us down is the false belief that because we are new creations, we should be perfect, that if we don’t have that blissful, awe inspiring quiet time every day that we have failed and can never really be good enough so why try. We wonder what’s wrong with us. Surely everyone else is having these said quiet times and we must be missing something profound. Oh how Satan would love for us to wallow defeated in this vicious cycle. But maybe, just maybe, these dry places, while never meant to be places we stay and linger comfortably, do have a good purpose. When you think about the picture of a desert and someone staggering to find the end of it, what’s the one thing on their mind? Water! And how good does the water taste when they finally find it? REALLY good! So perhaps, just as trials serve the purpose of showing us our deep need for Jesus and of pushing us to stop seeking things that will never satisfy, dry spells can serve the same purpose. Being hungry for Him, thirsty for His presence means that eating and drinking will be all the sweeter.
So what if, as the Romans passage explains, though the thirst and the hunger and the desire is there, we can’t seem to pick up our feet to walk in the direction of the water (FYI, this feels like me at the moment)? I’m drawn back to the answer in that last sentence of the passage, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Am I understanding this correctly? Jesus is going to help me pick up my feet and walk towards the water? Maybe my prayer needs to be even simpler, “Father, help me to lift up my feet and walk to your Word, to open my mouth to pray.” And maybe those staggering, baby steps need to be small enough that I can take them on an empty tank. One verse a day could grow into one chapter a day and praying every time I use the bathroom could grow into prayer without ceasing… but only by His strength. And perhaps the lush gardens are fewer and further between than the desert places by design. As we crave towards more intimacy with the Lord, as we stagger and sway in weakness towards the only One who can quench our thirst we are also staggering towards the ultimate lush garden that we’ll never have to leave, heaven. We have the promise of such sweet communion with our God, it will make those first butterflies seem like dusty moths in comparison!
So let’s link arms, sisters, when we find ourselves in these uncomfortable desert places, and spur one another on towards the water of His Word and the banquet of His presence. “Father, we pray a simple prayer in weakness. We ask that you would help us lift our weak and failing legs to walk towards your Word, towards YOU, oh precious living water. Let us not wallow in defeat, but rather help us see these parched times as times that draw us towards you! Amen”

Psalms 63:1 -"O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Emma is 8!

Happy 8th Birthday Emma!  I may have said this for earlier birthdays too, but I just can't believe it's been eight years since I first beheld your precious 8lb. 4oz. form for the first time.  To say I was in love at first sight is an understatement, because I fell in love with you long before that.  Before God ever created you in my womb, I wanted you.  I dreamed of having a daughter of my own, prayed for you, and oh how undeservedly blessed I am to have you!

There has been something special about this eighth year of your life, something about you really coming into your own, that has blessed my socks off!  You are MY girl, yes, and you are a lot like me in many ways.  But you are also beautifully unique, the only you God has made, and I get the privilege of being your mama for as long as God will let me.  This year you have moved into your own room, something you're giddy about. Just a small reminder that you are growing up and I wish it could slow down:(. Your outward beauty is obvious sweet girl, so many people tell you so, but what amazes me and makes me smile from ear to ear is your heart.  You love others well, you enjoy serving and encouraging, reminding others of how much you love them by every means you can think of.  Homemade cards, daily "I love you more than _____"s, doing things for others, giving them gifts.  You are such a great student as well, always doing your best for your teacher, showing respect to the adults in your life, you are a sweet fragrance to every person in your life, sweet peanut!  This year you got into Centennial Children's Choir.  Your love for singing, and the way you smile at me in the audience while you do it melts my heart into a puddle.  I am so proud of you, sweet girl, for every part of who you are.  And even when you struggle, against sin and selfishness, as we all do, know that my love for you never changes, because God's love for you never changes!  He sent Jesus to die for you sweetheart, a gift you received personally when you were 7 and that you can celebrate every day as you are washed with new mercy.  It's not to earn His favor that you live to please Him, but because of His favor, the gift of your salvation, adoption into His family, that you live your life to glorify Him.  As we head into your ninth year, your dad and I will be praying for you every day, that God will continue to shape you into all He wants you to be.  He has good plans for you, precious girl, and it is our pleasure to watch those plans unfold and to love you the best we can along the way.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Fergus and Mabel

We make plans for our families, it's what parents do right?  And we get excited, really excited, about the ways we plan to add joy to family life.  It was about three months ago that I started making such a plan.  A friend of ours found out her cat, that she inherited from the previous owners of her home, was having kittens.  They were told this cat was a male, so imagine my friend's shock.  My wheels started turning immediately!  Our kids have wanted a pet forever and we keep saying "later, later, later".  Well what if this could be later?!  I talked it over with Travis and after a few weeks of thought, he said yes.  I was giddy.  I had both cats and dogs all of my growing up years, but I've never been "the mama" to a pet, you know, the one who cares for that pet from day one.  So I staked my claim, Tricia granted me first pick of the litter.  And I waited.  They were born on March 2nd.  Yes, I remember the date, because who wouldn't remember the birthday of a beloved member of their family?  And then we had to wait some more, they wouldn't be ready for 6-8 weeks.  As the pictures came in, my excitement grew.  And then we told the kids, they were ecstatic!  Chloe started a countdown, she had it down the day without missing a beat. I ordered a litter box and cat climber, dishes, a brush, toys, researched litter and got their little spot all ready in the laundry room. We picked a precious little gray kitty that stole our hearts.  We went out to meet the kittens when they were just barely walking, there's just nothing sweeter than wobbling, tiny kittens!  Travis was surprised how smitten he was, for someone who never had cats growing up.  He asked me on the way home if I thought it would be good to get two instead of one.  I loved the idea!  There were three white females with the most adorable gray ears, faces, and tails.  So we thought it over as the weeks moved on, and the night before we planned to go get Fergus, we decided to get one of the girls too, we named her Mabel.  On homecoming day, the kids were on pins and needles, asking multiple times throughout the morning and early afternoon, "is it time to get Fergus and Mabel yet?"  They bolted out of the car when we got to my friend's house.  When we put them in the carrier for the ride home, it felt official, our babies were coming home.  It's amazing how much joy playful kittens can bring to every day life, they are so entertaining to watch!  They took right to their litter box and bed and toys.  Their cat climber was a huge hit, this became their favorite nap spot.  And our love grew for them every single day.  Every morning when I first saw them, they gave me special purrs and longing looks and every evening they snuggled with  me on the couch to nap and play and purr with my petting.  I often glanced over at Travis just beaming, and he was falling for them too.  And the kids, oh my goodness, I'm pretty sure they never once asked to watch a movie that week, those little babies became their world.  But that's all we got with our precious fur balls, one short but beautiful week.  Sawyer came down with a cold a few days before we got the kittens, so when his eyes started getting red and watery, we just assumed it was related to the cold, maybe pink eye setting in.  I refused to go to the possibility of allergies in my mind because I just didn't want to believe it could be possible.  But then on Thursday of that week, after red, itchy, watery eyes off and on throughout the week, Fergus licked Sawyer on the face.  Little white bumps started to form around his eye and then his eye almost completely swelled shut as the day progressed.  I knew it in my heart then, he was allergic to cats... and my heart sank.  I called all over town to allergy docs to see if we could get him in immediately to get tested.  I got him in for a friday appointment and sure enough, he is highly allergic to cats.  He also showed allergies to dogs, horses, mice, and cluster of certain trees.  The doctor talked us through all the medications and sinus rinses she was prescribing for Sawyer and my ears tuned out, I knew what had to be done.  There was no way we could put Sawyer on a laundry list of medications just so we could have cats.  There are things we can do as he grows up to try to improve his immunity to cats and other animals, but it isn't putting Sawyer first to make him suffer in the mean time.  Oh it was heart breaking!  So I put the word out to find a new home for the kittens.  It didn't take long and a friend from my childhood offered to take them both, which was great because I really wanted them to stay together.  When we got home, we broke the news to Emma and Chloe.  They were sad and angry and then just sad.  Chloe asked at one point if we could sell Sawyer at a garage sale!  She was only half joking, the little stinker.  And Emma couldn't stop the tears, she just kept saying, "I REALLY don't want them to go!"  On Saturday morning, we packed everything up and the girls came with me to bring them to their new home.  We all held up okay while we were dropping them off, but on the way home, we all broke down.  My friend's older cats weren't too sure of these new creatures, naturally, and one hissed at Mabel at one point.  Little Mabel hissed back in her tiny his and was shaking.  Emma kept recounting how sad it made her to see Mabel so scared and that they would have had a better life with us.  And I couldn't stop crying either, I think I was so focused on how much the kids were suffering that I completely ignored how much this whole thing was hurting my own heart.  I wanted these kittens, they were MY babies!  I had been planning for them for months.  But then it washed over me, what a gift this experience was for my kids, for me, for all of us.  It was training ground for the heartaches of life, the disappointments that leave us broken and sad.  It is moments like these that are the places we have to ask where our true joy comes from, what fulfills us, what is God teaching us in the disappointments?  And my heart smiled at my Savior and He smiled back as I talked to the girls about this very truth on the way home.  And then Emma said she wanted to pray, and it was one of the sweetest, most genuine prayers I've ever heard from her lips.  She told God about how sad we are and then thanked him for promising to comfort us.  And then she went through a list of gratitude, that we got to have them for a week and that we got to give them to this new family who would now get to love them.  She thanked Him for all we DO have and asked Him to help her be grateful.  The pain didn't stop after we prayed, but our perspectives did.  And I praised the Lord for this hurt, because it pointed our hearts to Him. 

Good bye sweet kitties!  We loved you well for that precious week and we will never forget you!
Job 1:21- "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."