Sunday, December 2, 2012

Breath of Heaven

Christmas... a beloved season for so many, including me.  I love the way life stops and we have permission to just be... to be with our families, to be quiet, to be merry, to be like a child, to be a believer of miracles, to be in awe of the gift of our Savior once again.

But sometimes Christmas is hard.  And instead of being, we are bent. We can't find peace because we are in pieces.  There is no wonder, but only wondering.

I know because I've been there.  I remember that Christmas like it was yesterday.  I can feel the ache of disappointment, the weight of worry, and the despair of hopelessness.

It was supposed to be a happy time.  Not just because it was Christmas but because a baby had come into the world.  My baby.  My Emma.  But her birth didn't bring the joy we had expected.  Oh, we loved her.  We were so overwhelmed by love for her but also fear and confusion and shock.   There was no warning, no time to prepare for all that we would face.  The days after her birth were filled with tests and procedures and an awful diagnosis and prognosis.

Finally, after many weeks in a hospital, they sent us home with our baby.  Just in time for the Christmas season.  Our directions were to make her comfortable.  The underlying message was that she wouldn't be with us for long.  But we were so happy to just be home.  For Christmas.

It was so hard that year.  Days were filled with appointments and nurses and setbacks and ER visits.  It was overwhelming and I remember just sitting in the dark living room holding my little 5 pound girl with the oxygen tube and the feeding tube, feeling lost and forsaken.  But just holding her while listening to Christmas music as the tears rolled down my cheeks and onto hers and I would just be.  Be scared, be thankful, be angry, be so tired.

And then came Christmas Sunday.  It was going to be an exciting day.  It was Emma's first time in Church and my first Sunday back since her birth.  We were having her dedicated.  But it was such a terrible morning.  She was so sick.  She was throwing up blood and I was losing it.  I just couldn't take care of such a sick child.  God had chosen the wrong mother.  I just knew it.  I wasn't strong enough to do this.

We somehow managed to get to church that morning.  I was pretty angry with God.  Instead of placing my baby in His arms I wanted to walk away that day.  How could He have done this to her?  To me?  Where was He?  Did He know how scared I was?  How much we needed a miracle?

And then I had to get up on the stage and sing a song that had already been scheduled into the service.  I remember singing these words...

I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now.
Be with me now.

Breath of heaven,
Hold me together,
Be forever near me,
Breath of heaven.

Breath of heaven,
Lighten my darkness,
Pour over me your holiness,
For you are holy.
Breath of heaven.

Do you wonder as you watch my face,
If a wiser one should have had my place,
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan.
Help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.

I was just trying to get through that service and that song.  But as I sang this song, Mary's Song, I realized for the first time what it must have been like for Mary.  Did she wonder, as I did, if God had chosen the right one?  Was she so scared she couldn't breathe?  Did she feel as if she could just fall apart at the seams?  Did she feel alone and abandoned?

I don't know but those words became my words.  As I sang them I could feel my heart pleading with God... Breath of Heaven, hold me together.  Lighten my darkness.  Help me be strong.  Help me be.  And in that moment I felt some healing.  I could feel Him breathing life back into my wounded spirit.  I knew I wasn't alone.  I knew He had a plan for this baby and that I was a part of it.  And I was the right one.

As we dedicated her to Him that morning I also dedicated myself to His plan.  I offered all I had to be used to complete His work in this little girl's life.  And beyond.  He was my breath that morning and every morning since.  Through the days of grief when I couldn't catch my breath, He was my breath.  The breath of Heaven.

There have been many Christmases since that one.  Many are still hard.  But I can know for sure that I am not alone.  That the miracle of Christmas is that the Savior of the world came down to be born in a lowly stable and He also chooses to breathe Himself into me.  Not because I am worthy but because I am loved.

So even when Christmas is hard it can still be wonderful.   

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't Pray for a Bushel and Carry a Cup.

I was at Diane's funeral when I heard these words.  Words her daughter had found written on a scrap of paper in Diane's purse.  I don't know where they came from.  She may have read them or heard them in a sermon or thought them up herself.  It doesn't matter how they came to her but I know God spoke them into my heart as I looked at them that night because I have not been able to stop thinking about them.  They have stayed with me the last couple of weeks.  Working in me, challenging me, changing me.

Don't pray for a bushel and carry a cup.

That's it.  Nothing flashy or profound.  Simple words.  At least on the surface.  But they have gone deep within me and made me think about my own prayer life.  In a year that I am focusing on prayer I guess they caught my attention and stayed with me. 

Don't pray for a bushel and carry a cup.

I pray for bushels all of the time.  I ask God to heal my anxiety, to bring family members back to faith in Christ, to protect my family, to do awesome works in our church. So many things that seem bigger than a bushel to me. 

But I carry a cup.  I ask God for the bushel and then hold my little cup toward Him.  My cup is small because of my small faith or  my low expectations or my unwilling spirit.  I want the bushel but I don't want to do the work so I settle for a cup. 

And I wonder... what would my life be like if I went to God with all that I am and everything that I have and offered it to Him.  Not a cup, but a whole person willing and wanting to be filled.  Nothing held back.  The truth is I can't even imagine what it would be like because it is beyond what I could comprehend. 

Don't pray for a bushel and carry a cup.

As I walked through this Thanksgiving season I was very aware of the blessings God has given to me.  Even when I only offer up my cup He finds ways to pour His presence into my life.  Sometimes I am so focused on the cup that I fail to see the bushel.   But this year I was looking for the bushel and I found it.  Unnoticed gifts all around me.

So, my prayer is that I will no longer be a cup kind of girl.  I want to pray for a bushel and carry a bushel and be aware and thankful when He fills it to overflowing.

 Because He is a bushel kind of God.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Diane

Exactly one week ago a very wonderful friend left this life and entered into the next.  It still seems so unreal that she is gone and I will not see her again until I join her in Heaven some day.  I know she is finally free from the pain and suffering she experienced in her battle with cancer and she is singing before the throne of God right now.  But I will miss her.

I had the honor of sharing at her funeral service on Sunday and I just wanted to put my words out here in the blogosphere so, in my own way, I can keep her memory alive...


There are some people who have the gift of making others feel welcome, special, and loved.  When you are with them you know that they are glad you are there and they wouldn't want to be anywhere else.  And neither would you.  Diane was one of those people.  I know that each of us here experienced that warm feeling that came from being in her presence and feeling that sense of belonging.

My friendship with Diane began as a girl in junior high attending youth camp at Whitehall.  Diane was my counselor for several years in a row and the relationship we formed at that time in my life was a true gift from God.  You see, I was the shy girl.  The one who stayed in the back of the room and watched from the sidelines.  I got away with that for many years at camp.  Until I was assigned to Diane.  She wouldn't let me just observe life from the sidelines.  She tried her best to get me to join the group and when I wouldn't, she joined me.  As she earned my trust, I slowly let her and others in and learned to love her and camp.  I became a part of a wonderful group of friends because of her leading (or maybe a better word would be pushing).

Throughout my high school and college years, Diane was a vital part of my life.  Always there to encourage and listen when I needed her.  Whenever I was unsure of myself she would always remind me of who I was in Christ and how far I had come since those days of sitting alone on the sidelines.  She never stopped pushing me to keep growing in my confidence in myself and in God.   Sometimes she encouraged me with a scripture and a hug and sometimes it was on her tiptoes with a finger wagging in my face.  She wouldn't accept my excuses or let me fall back into old patterns.   And I love her for that.

In my adult years, Diane remained a mentor to me but also became my friend. Our relationship shifted and she gave me the gift of being able to give back as she shared with me some of her struggles and concerns.  We enjoyed some sweet conversations and prayer times on her back porch that I will treasure always. 

Diane taught me so much, not just in her words, but in the way she lived her life.  I learned the art of listening and asking questions, to make people feel welcome, the importance of creating a beautiful environment, to be sensitive to those sitting outside the circle and to bring them in, to invest myself into the life of others, to stay in the Word, to be persistent in prayer, to forgive, and to speak the truth in love.  So many things.  One of the most important things her life taught me was that you don't have to be loud or have a big personality to have a big impact. 

As much as she taught me in her life though, it is in her death that I have learned the most.  She showed me how to hold on to hope while accepting what lies before me.  She put her focus on the things above.  She had strength and dignity and grace.  Amazing grace.  She trusted God's plan for her and for those she loved.  She was an example to us all of how to live and how to die... in the arms of our savior

I'll never understand why God allows some things to happen.  I stopped trying to figure it out a long time ago.  Instead, I just trust that His plan is best.  I learned that from my friend, Diane.

***I did not say this at the funeral but, Diane, please give my Emma a big hug from her mommy who misses her every single day.  I can't wait to see you both.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Freedom to be Free

There are some days when we just need to enjoy whatever road we are traveling. No agenda. No schedule. No big decisions.

Today was one of those days for me. Just me and the road before me and the blue sky above me. Just me and the colors of fall around me and the radio turned loud.

Just freedom.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Freedom from Drifting

I spent some time at a beach a few days ago, just looking and enjoying the view. I didn't swim this time, but as I watched the waves I remembered the times I have spent in the Atlantic and the way the waves can toss you around. I never really enjoyed that feeling of not being in control.

It made me think of the verse in Ephesians 4:14, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.". The previous verses are encouraging us to mature as Christians so that we can be strong in our faith and able to stand in the truth. It makes me so sad to see people who are being tossed around every which way by any new wind that blows their way.

I have encountered so many people lately who are unable to discern the truth from the lies and are following whatever the latest thing may be, until something new comes along. So much of it is based on emotion and trying to find some new spiritual high. It's gotten so that I inwardly roll my eyes when I hear the words, "God spoke to me". I have to say that unless you can show me in His inspired Word where those words He spoke to you are, then I'm not real interested in hearing it. God already spoke His truth. Our job is to grow up in that truth instead of continually seeking something new.

As I looked beyond the waves of the ocean that day, I saw some pelicans drifting in the water. Going nowhere. Just drifting along. That is what is happening to so many of us. We get tired from being tossed around and we just start drifting. We drift to a different church or different doctrines, but going nowhere in our growth. It is because we aren't doing the work it takes to mature in our faith and allow God to complete His work in us.

I don't know about you but I don't want to be tossed around or to be caught drifting. I want to grow up. I want to be a mature believer. I want to stand against the winds of false teaching. The only way I know to do that is to get into the word He already gave me and to stop looking for an emotional experience or a "new" voice. God's word provides all I need for every situation I may face today and always.

Let's grow up!!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Freedom to Change

Yesterday my sweet niece gave me a new look. We girls love getting a makeover, don't we? I know I do! There is something so fun about picking a new hairstyle, getting a manicure, or having our makeup done. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves. Kind of like we are a better version of ourselves.

If only it were just as fun and easy to change what is on the inside. Changing the things that are making our attitudes and behaviors ugly is hard work and no amount of beautifying the outside can hide an ugly heart.

Today I am thankful for a God who loves us no matter what our insides or outsides look like. He loves us but expects us to do the work along with Him to turn the ugliness into beauty. He gives us the ultimate makeover if we put ourselves into His capable and loving hands. And then our beauty is more than skin deep.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Freedom to Run Away

Blue skies. Ocean breezes. Warm air.

Time spent with people I love but don't often see.

I've run away this weekend. And sometimes we have to give ourselves that freedom.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Freedom to Remember

September is always such a bittersweet time of year for me and my family. It is one my favorite seasons but also very difficult as we remember both the birth and death of our daughter, Emma. She would have been 16 years old this year.

Sweet sixteen. I can't even imagine what she would be like as a teen. She was nine when she died so, of course, that is the way I remember her.

This time of year is hard but it is also good. Bittersweet. The sweetness is in the remembering. Sometimes it's hard to let yourself go there. And sometimes you feel uncomfortable remembering or talking about a lost loved one because you can tell it bothers those around you.

So you learn to keep it to yourself. But on those special days you have to allow yourself to feel the emotions and speak the memories. No matter who may feel uncomfortable.

She is my daughter and if she were still here I would be posting things about her and pictures of her and that would be okay. The thing is, though, that she is still here...in our hearts and memories. Her life still has a place in our family and we should be allowed to speak her name and share her life without feeling like we are crazy.

Dean and I were able to visit her grave today and I decided that I would give myself the freedom to remember. Today and always. Because the memories are sweet and keeping them hidden is bitter.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freedom to Come Home


 
Day 3
 
Home.  Such a powerful word.  It stirs up so many emotions and memories for most people.  I've always appreciated the home my parents created for us when I was growing up.  It wasn't perfect but I wouldn't change anything about it.  I loved the security and love I felt there.  It wasn't about the house as much as it was about the people and the life we lived together.  I was the quiet one of the family but I was always taking it all in and storing all of the memories and feelings away to go back to when I was feeling alone. 
 
My mom loves to tell the story about my first day of college.  They had said their goodbyes and left for the hour drive home.  When they got to the front door the phone was ringing and my mom said, "That's Stacey."  And it was.  I was scared and wanting to go home.  I didn't go home that day but I did a lot in college, and after college I lived there again for a while.  I always seemed to find a reason to go back. 
 
Until I didn't.  Or couldn't.  Or wouldn't...
 
If there was one part of my life I wish I could go back and erase and do over it would be my early twenties.  It is one of those typical good Christian girl meets bad boy and thinks she can change him stories.  But I didn't change him.  He changed me.  I became someone I don't even like to think about and I hurt my family in so many ways. Walls were built that seemed impossible to tear down again.  I left home and followed him to another state. 
 
What followed was the worst nightmare I could ever imagine.  But it wasn't a nightmare.  It was my reality.  I don't want to share details because I have made the choice to leave that part of my life behind me and not bring it into my present.  I rarely talk about it unless I think it will be helpful to someone else and even then I am very protective of my heart.  I can say that I was feeling hurt, abandoned, abused, and broken. 
 
I wanted to go home so badly.  I dreamt about it and thought about it all of the time.  But I couldn't bring myself to ask.  Partly pride.  Partly fear of rejection.  And a lot of shame and regret.  I will never ever forget that morning, though, that I called my mom and was trying so hard to chit chat but inside my heart was breaking, and somehow through all of the silly chatter she heard my silent pleas to come home.  And I will always be grateful to her for this... she didn't make me ask.  She asked me!  Do you want to come home?  The floodgates of my emotions opened and I could hardly answer through the crying.  Yes, yes, I want to come home!  I need to come home!!
 
We talked and she told me to go drop my classes (I was attending graduate school at the time) and to put my notice in at work.  So I did both things that day.  I put my two weeks in at work, dropped my classes, and started making plans for my return home.  The weight that had been lifted from my heart and mind was immeasurable.  I felt light and free and hopeful that the nightmare was going to end soon. 
 
I had no idea that my mom and dad had dropped everything and were on their way to pick me up that very day.  When I heard a knock on my door that night I was beyond shocked to see them and my little sister there!  I can't remember exactly but I think we packed up my life in like two days and they got me out of there for good.  I can remember driving my little car, packed with all my stuff, behind my dad and as I left that city I felt the life coming back into me.  I was still bruised and a little broken but I was feeling like I could breathe again.  I was going home.
 
I can't even tell you how grateful I am to my parents for the way they treated me.  It was such a beautiful picture of the prodigal son and his father.  The way they didn't wait for me to come home but came to get me and bring me home.  I really couldn't imagine that they would do that.  Not after the way I had hurt them.  They brought me home and let me rest and heal and didn't ask questions.  There were no "I told you so's" thrown at me and I deserved them.  They just let me be and I knew that I was loved and a part of the family.  It was unconditional love at its very best. 
 
After that, home meant even more to me because I knew what it was like to long for it. I appreciated everything about it and them.  And, today, with a child who is about to go out on her own path I pray that she will always know that she has a home to come home to no matter what may happen in her life.  We can never predict what is around the corner or how one choice can change the course of our lives, but we can create that safe place to return to when we need it. 
 
I can never talk about home without thinking of Heaven, our true home.  Right now we are all wandering and searching and messing up but there is a Father who is waiting to welcome us home.  He is running to us with arms open wide and asking us the question our heart longs to hear.
 
 Do you want to come home? 
 
Yes, yes, I want to come home!  I need to come home! 
 
 
 
   
 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Freedom from People-Pleasing




 
 
Day 2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I want people to like me.  There, I said it.  Is it really such a bad thing to want others to like you, to find you attractive, to want to be around you, or to admire you?  Are these desires in and of themselves wrong?  Isn't it normal to have a desire to make those around you happy?  I believe the answers are no, it is not a bad thing, and yes, it is normal.  I haven't met a person yet who has told me that they really don't want people to like them and they try to make their friends and family as unhappy as possible.  (I have met people who do this without trying but I am assuming it is not on purpose.)
 
There are times when we have to do things to please others.  When we have a job we have to do the work that is required to the best of our ability so that we can please our boss.  In a marriage we should be striving to do the things that will please our spouse and bring them happiness.  As parents, we try to please our children and show them that we love and care for them.  In our friendships we go out of our way to be there for those we love and to let them know we value them.  In the body of Christ it is part of our responsibility as followers to love and serve people.  The Bible is full of examples of relationships where people were doing things to please others.  People like Miriam, Daniel, David and Jonathan, Isaac, Esther, and Ruth.  Jesus, himself, is the perfect example of someone who laid down his life for others.  Even the care and detail that God put into creating this world for us to live in shows us that He wanted to bring us pleasure and to see us happy.
 
Making others happy isn't bad.  Trying to please people is a good thing when it is done with the right motivation and perspective.  The problem is that our human nature has a way of taking something good and turning it into something completely different.  So, how do we know when our need to please people has gotten out of control and what do we do about it?
 
I think we can know we have a problem with people-pleasing if we look at what motivates our need to please.  Our motivations are key because they show us what is really in our hearts.  To be honest, it isn't always fun to look at our motivation because sometimes what we find isn't all that pretty. 
 
One question that really brings the truth to light is, "If no one ever knew that I did this for this person, would I still do it?".  This really shows where our true motivation lies.  Are we doing it to bring attention onto ourselves and to look good or are we truly doing it out of love?  It is so easy for pure motivations to spoil when we receive praise and admiration.  Suddenly, something that started as a true act of service becomes tainted because the accolades and attention it brings to us becomes the motivation.  The praise of people can become addictive and that is when we know that people- pleasing has become an idol in our lives.  The more we receive it, the more we seek it.  And the problem is, people are fickle... their expectations are always changing!   
 
I Thessalonians 2:4 talks about the desire to please people and the trust that God has in us to do things and say things that are pleasing to Him, not to please people.  And the scary thing is, we can't hide the truth from Him!  He sees our hearts.  He knows our motivations.  There is nowhere to hide our idols with God!  So, we have to examine ourselves and ask ourselves the tough questions.  Are we truly doing this for the praise of God or man?
 
If we find that people pleasing has become an idol in our lives, what do we do about it?  How do we change our motivations?  I believe we can do that by changing our perspective.  Who are we focused on- ourselves or God? (Because when we are trying to please people it is really about us and not them.) 
 
2 Corinthians 5:9 gives us this command, "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him."  If our perspective changes from being about ourselves and how others perceive us to pleasing God in everything we do, we will find that our people-pleasing changes to God-pleasing.  Our choices are no longer about how we will look to others, but how God will see us. 
 
The real test of our motivation and perspective will come when we have to make choices that will not please people but will please God.  It is easy to focus on pleasing God when He's asking you to do things that please Him and please people.  But when He asks you to make a decision that will bring you criticism from people who don't understand then it gets really complicated.  That is when you know whose approval you are truly seeking.  I have watched my husband, a pastor, have to do this many times and it is hard.  People don't know the whole truth and you have to do what is right, which isn't always popular or fun, but it is God-pleasing.  As his wife, I have sat back and worried about what people think and who is mad and wanted to set them straight, but when I do that I take my husband's perspective off of pleasing God and on to people, and that is wrong.  It is so hard to have the right perspective when God-pleasing choices aren't people-pleasing choices but God knows and, in the end, that is all that matters. 
 
So, has people-pleasing become an idol in your life?  Do you find yourself seeking the praise of people more than the pleasure of God?  Examine your motivations and your heart and bring your perspective back to one that is focused on pleasing God, not man.  It will make a world of difference in your state of mind and bring you a peace and joy that all the praise of man cannot even touch.  When you feel the pleasure of God pouring into your life, the praise of man is just a little added bonus as a gift from Him and the criticism only draws you closer to the One who really knows you.  You can't lose when you live a God-pleasing life!!
 
 
 
 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Freedom from Comparison


Well, I've never done a link up before but I am trying to be more consistent in my blogging so it seemed like it might be what I need right now for a little motivation.  This one is sponsored by The Nester and is a challenge to blog for 31 days about the topic of your choosing.  As you can see from my cute little button at the top there, I will be posting on the topic of freedom.  I was considering all of the subjects I could spend my time and energy on and I realized that there was a common theme of the need for freedom in my life.  Whether it be freedom from something or to do something or  freedom to be something, I know that I can find the answers I am looking for if I take the time to search my heart and the Word.  So, here goes... I hope you will join me and I hope my journey will provide some inspiration for you too!


Comparison.  It has been an enemy of mine for so long.  It erodes my confidence, steals my joy, disrupts my peace, and destroys my relationships.  But, most importantly, it diminishes my calling.  I know that God has created and called me to do certain things in this world and I let comparison get in the way of fulfilling my mission.  It is so sad and it really terrifies me that I could let it defeat me and get the best of me.  And I will never know the satisfaction of completing my assignment here and doing it well.

It can be so tiring... comparing our parenting styles, our life choices, our appearances, our postions, our incomes, our giving... it goes on and on and on.  Before we know it, comparison has robbed us of ourselves.  We are so busy looking at others and what they have that we forget who we are and what we have.  And then we think... maybe that other person would be better at what we know God has called us to do.  So, we don't trust His judgement and we make our own decision that someone else should do it.  Someone else who could do it better. 

What about the opposite side of comparison?  The one where we look at ourselves and look at others and think more highly of ourselves than we should.  We look for people who make us look good and we use them.  We think we can do everything right and step in and over people to do it our way.  And in the process, we make ourselves little in God's eyes and we steal someone else's calling. 

Comparison.  It kills.  It destroys.  Why do we do it?


"For who do you know that really knows you, knows your heart? And even if they did, is there anything they would discover in you that you could take credit for? Isn't everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God? So what's the point of all this comparing and competing?" 
I Corinthians 4:7

Maybe the secret to escaping the comparison trap is to realize that anything that is good about me is a gift from God.  I didn't do it on my own.  I didn't create it.  It is a gift.  As simple as that.  So, maybe instead of comparing myself to others I should be filled with gratitude for what He has given to me.  I should protect it, groom it, and use it.  And when I look at others, I can be grateful for what He has given them and I can take joy in watching others use their gifts for their calling.  I am the only one who truly knows my heart, after all.  And when I look at myself I want to see me, not an image of someone else, but me.  The me God created for His glory and His purpose. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made...just the way I am!   









Sunday, September 16, 2012

Springs in the Valley

I had to miss church this morning because I woke up in the middle of the night with chills and nausea and all that fun stuff.  I am still feeling pretty aweful but I was able to spend a little of this rare time alone just resting and reading and remembering.  Things I never seem to have the time to do... so in a weird way I am thankful I was forced to quiet myself this morning.  I think God knew He was going to have to cause me some discomfort to get me to just stop and it is especially needed this week.

The coming weeks are always hard for me.  It is a strange and conflicting time for me as I absolutely love fall and want to savor every moment of it, yet it is also the time that I remember the birth... and death of my Emma-girl.  I have noticed that leading up to this time this year I have put a wall up around my heart, trying to block out any memories or feelings that pop up uninvited.  I've just determined I am going to push my way through and breathe a sigh of relief when October arrives and I can put September behind me for another year. 

But, because God knows my needs far better than I do, He set aside today as a time for He and I to break down those walls for just a while and spend some time together just renewing my strength and allowing me to remember and reflect while feeling safely held in His arms.  I am so thankful He knows me so well.  Though these times can be hard emotionally, they are so sweet and necessary.

I took the time to open a cedar chest that sits at the foot of my bed.  One I don't open very often anymore because when I do it is like opening a wound in my heart and feeling the pain over and over again.  This morning as I opened the lid I was overwhelmed once again by the memories and emotions as I looked at pictures, books, cards, toys, clothes, blankets...  I held them to my face and tried to breath in any smells that might still be lingering and I wound the toys to hear the music that used to make her smile.  All of these things, so precious to me because they are all I have to physically remind me of my sweet girl.  Yes, I do enjoy remembering her and the ways she filled my life with joy and meaning.  It is good to remember but it also still fills me with so many questions that have no answers. The whys and what ifs... they still haunt me.

I went to a verse that has brought me comfort through the years.  It is found in Psalm 84 and says, "Even the sparrow has found a home...a place near your alter."  I love that verse because of the special meaning it has for me personally.  We always referred to Emma as our little "sparrow"  because of the song His Eye is on the Sparrow, so when God showed me this verse one day when my grief was still so fresh I held on to it tightly in my heart.  Knowing that she had found her home next to His alter brought me comfort.  And the next verse reminded me that she is so blessed to be dwelling in His house "ever praising" Him.

So, that is where I went this morning... to the verse that comforts my heart.  I read the whole chapter several times and a couple of verses really jumped out at me in a new and fresh way.  "Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgramage.  As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.  They go from strength to strength, til each appears before God in Zion."

Several things just really stood out to me this morning.  You see, I really struggle with this whole longing for Home thing.  I am so ready to leave this world behind me and go to the place I was made for.  I know that sometimes I get a little frustrated with the waiting and feel restless for more.  That's how I feel in September especially, so the words "whose hearts are set on pilgramage" really struck me.  Yes, I need to have an eternal perspective but for right now God is choosing to keep me here in this world for a purpose.  It is a pilgramage for sure.  So, while I should long for Heaven, I should also set my heart on the pilgramage before me and find my strength in Him who goes before me.

I love the next verses.. "as they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs".  Wow, did that hit me hard!  The word Baka means "weeping" so the Valley of Baka must have been symbolic of times of struggle and grief.  So when I am passing through theses valleys in life I should be doing what I can to take these dry and barren places and fill them with springs of water.  Each September when I experience my own valley of Baka I can make it a place of life and not death.  It says, "the autumn rains also cover it with pools".  The autumn rains... the autumn rains... autumn... my time of Baka- they cover the valley with pools.  Each year when I walk through this valley I can leave behind some pools of living water, of strength and trust in God to get me through.  Oh, how I love that God led me to that verse this morning. 

Autumn doesn't have to just be about the valley of Baka anymore... but about the pools of water God provides in the desert of my grief. 

"They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion."  And it takes me right back to that longing for Zion.  It is a good longing, one placed in my heart by God Himself.  But, for now, I am still on this pilgramage and I will walk through the Valley of Baka again and again.  But when I do I pray that God will give me the strength to leave springs in the dry places so that when I come back to it each autumn I will find it less empty and barren than the year before.  I will find some pools of living water to sit beside and rest my weary soul. 

So this morning I thank God for a little sickness that pushed me to spend some necessary time in the Valley alone with Him.  I have found strength for the pilgramage before me and life in the spring of His word. 

And my sparrow... well, she is in her Home ever praising her King and God.  And my heart rejoices with her. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Life is Messy

As I was washing the dishes for the second time today and thinking that I needed to go switch laundry for the third time, I had this thought...

Sometimes it seems as if my life is just a series of messes.

Seriously, I feel like I am constantly cleaning up a mess, looking at a mess, apologizing for a mess, thinking about a mess... it feels endless and hopeless.  And I look at it all and wish that I could just, for once, have it all cleaned up and have it stay that way.  For a very, very long time.

But then I remember that those messes aren't just messes.  They are the reminder of a life that is being lived with people that I love.  The dishes that I wash were used to share a meal and conversation together.  The toys that I pick up were played with by a little girl and her daddy.  The books and papers that I am forever cleaning off the dining room table are tools to help my teenage daughter learn and grow.  The socks that never seem to make it to the hamper are worn by my husband who works hard and long to take care of his family and the ones God has placed in his care. 

 Sometimes messes remind us that life is being lived and people are being loved.

As I was thinking about all of this it occurred to me that it isn't just my home that gets messy.  My life can be really messy.  There is hurt, rejection, disappointment. And grief.  It can be so overwhelming at times...

Sometimes if seems as if my life is just a series of messes.

And sometimes I really want to run away from it all.  Run from all the hurts and disappointments and worries. I want to go somewhere where life won't be quite so messy.  My heart hurts so much from it all and it seems just too much.

But then I remember that those hurts and disappointments, even the rejection- they come from loving people.  They come from relationships.  The truth is that if you have any sort of relationship you take the risk of being hurt or rejected or misunderstood.   But the alternative is to live in isolation, to play it safe.  Relationships can be hard but they are what life is about.  For every hurt, there are a multitude of blessings.  People help us to grow.  They encourage us.  They love us in spite of ourselves. 

Sometimes messes remind us that life is about relationship and relationships are messy.

I can't avoid the fact that most of the messes in my life are the result of my own messiness.  I am a work in progress.  I feel like I am constantly cleaning up my own messes.  When I make progress in one area I realize I've neglected another.  It can be so discouraging...

Sometimes I can be such a mess.

I get so frustrated with myself for making the same mistakes over and over.  I try so hard to clean myself up and get it right.  I spend so much energy trying to improve myself.  But then I am reminded that it is impossible to fix my own messiness.  I am reminded that I am in constant need of a Savior.  He is the only one who can clean me up and make me right.  My messiness leads me to Him.  If I could do it myself I wouldn't have any need for His love in my life and what a sad life that would be... to live apart from Him.  I can't even imagine it.  I don't want to imagine it.  So, I guess I can say thank you for making me so imperfect and messy because...

My messiness reminds me that I am in desperate need of grace.



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life Giving Words

Does anyone else go through these dry spells in life?  I feel like I have been in the desert these past several weeks.  My soul feels dry and parched.  Spiritually, I have allowed anxiety and discouragement to cloud my vision and steal the joy of my salvation.  I know the things I need to do yet I do not do them.  Instead, I hide in the pit I have dug for myself.  And I wonder, why does God feel so far from me?


My heart has grown cold and surrounded by walls I have built to protect myself.  The choices, actions, attitudes, and words of others have pierced me and so I retreat.  I don't like feeling disappointed and hurt and it is so much easier to hide behind a smile.  People have told me I need to grow thicker skin but no one can tell me how to do that exactly.  Is there some sort of lotion I could use to make my skin thick?  Does anyone know?  Then again, I have met some of these thick-skinned people and I think I will stick to my thin skin.  Even though it hurts sometimes, at least it only hurts me instead of those around me.


So here I am.  Stuck in the desert and so, so weary.


And isn't it just like God to use the most unexpected source to breathe some life into my soul today?


 A little girl from church handed me an envelope and I stuck it in my purse thinking it was a note from her mom.  Later, when I opened the envelope I was surprised to find it was a letter from the little girl.  And it was full of love and encouragement and life giving words!  She shared her heart and her love for me in a way that tore down some of those walls.  I was brought to tears that God would use her tender heart to soften mine.  I was reminded of God's commands that we are to be like little children in our faith.  Her simple words were used by God today.  And I thank her.  And Him.


Her words were like water to my soul.  But more than that, they reminded that I am being watched and looked to for an example.  I am thankful she sees me the way she does and I know I don't deserve that level of admiration.  But I want to aspire to deserve it more and more each day.  I don't want her to ever look at me and see a dried up shell of a Christian.  I have to keep growing even when it is hard and I feel discouraged.  I have to do it for me... and for her.


Her words fell into my hardened and detached heart and I couldn't keep myself from feeling God reaching down and loving me through her.  It was a big reminder of how much our words of encouragement matter to others.  God uses us to breathe life into others.  But we have to follow His leading.  We have to be willing to obey and be used.  When I feel that urging to reach out it is so easy to ignore it and find excuses.  But it is needed!  There is someone who needs to hear the words God has given me to say.  Someone else is in the desert and they need to know they are not alone and there is hope.


God used a little girl today.  I am so grateful for her.  And tomorrow I am going to tell her just that and find a way to breathe life into someone's weary soul.  A child shall lead them! 



Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mothers Never Forget

It's almost Mother's Day again and I've been thinking about my own journey as a mother.  What a wonderful, scary, beautiful, painful, and surprising journey it has been!  I would never have imagined the places motherhood would take me.  And if I had known the pain I would experience, would I have still chosen to take that first step?  Yes, I think so.  Because, as a mother, you take the bad with the good and it isn't about you anyways.  It is about these little people that God places in your life and in your heart.  And, like Mary, you treasure and ponder all these lessons and memories in your heart.  And they change you and make you better.  I've been taking time to remember those special moments this week.  Even the ones that hurt.  And this post is for my three special girls.  I am so thankful for every moment I've had with each of them.  Moments I will never forget and always remember...


Allison Anne, I'll never forget the night I found out I was pregnant with you!  Your dad was being economical and instead of buying one of the "stick" tests he bought this whole chemistry set with all these bottles and things to mix and it took forever, but when we finally saw the results we were so excited!  I'll always remember your birth and when your dad handed you to me with all the "stuff" still on you and he said, "She kind of stinks."  And I held you and you wouldn't stop crying and I had my first moment of panic because I didn't know what to do.  But I just held you and talked to you and I think you knew my voice because you looked at me with those great, big, blue eyes and we had that moment together.  The one where we said, "I know you.  It's nice to see you."

I'll never forget dressing you in all your pretty clothes and singing to you and feeling my heart break because I knew there was no way to stop time and hold on to those moments as long as I wanted and needed.  I'll always remember your firsts.  And I'll never forget hearing your little feet running down the hallway in the morning to jump into bed with us and get your "rassles" with daddy.

I'll always remember when your sister was born and the way that, even as a two year old, you handled it with grace and patience.  You loved her so much and never resented the attention she got or the time we had to spend in the hospital with her.  I'll never forget the way you loved her and played with her and defended her.

I'll always remember the day I realized you weren't a little girl anymore and the way I felt.  So proud and scared.  I'll never forget all the ways your tender heart reached out to me, to your sisters, to everyone you met.  And I'll always remember how you met each challenge in your life with faith and hope and grace.  You never let all of this transition get in the way of your growth.  No, I'll never forget the love and pride I feel when I look at you and see this woman of God who is setting out to change the world and follow her own calling.  I will forever treasure all of these things in my heart.


Emmalynne Susan, I will always remember the night you were born.  Such a wonderful but horrible night.  I will never forget hearing that tiny cry, so different from your sister's loud screams, and I knew in my heart that our world had forever changed.  I'll always remember that day when we got that awful diagnosis and my heart broke into a million pieces. I'll always remember the nights I spent in your daddy's arms crying til I didn't think I had anything left.  And then crying some more.  Letting go of so many dreams.

But I'll always remember the way I fell in love with you.  Once we got past all the scary stuff I found this precious little bundle of life that needed me more than I have ever been needed, so I mustered all the courage I could and learned to love unconditionally and without limits. I'll never forget how hard we worked for each little achievement and all the scary, awful moments in between.

I'll always remember your first laugh.  You were almost one and we were visiting friends.  Allie and the girls were dancing to Barney and laughing and you were watching and I heard this little noise and I shouted, "I think Emma is laughing" and the girls spent the rest of the night making you laugh louder and louder and it was such a joyous moment for me.  A simple thing, a laugh, but it meant the world.

Oh, Emma, I'll never forget the last time I saw you alive.  You were so sick but I had to leave to go get your sister so I leaned over the hospital bed and pushed your hair back and kissed your cheek and said, "Mommy will be back soon.  I love you."  And you looked at me and I left.   I'll always remember that phone call from your daddy to come back to the hospital and the drive back and the long walk down the hospital corridor, silent and empty.  I'll never forget seeing your lifeless body lying on the bed and knowing there was nothing I could do to stop time and go back.  No way to get you back.  I'll always remember that painful moment.

But I'll never forget holding you in my arms, kissing your cheek, brushing your hair and feeling the peace in that room.  It was such a moment of knowing without a single doubt that you were no longer in that body.  All of the things that made you Emma had left this earth and I felt peace.  At least for that moment.  I'll always remember the feeling of you in my arms and the great joy and love you brought into my life.  Emma, I'll never forget you.


Anna Grace,  I will always remember the day we got our referral.  The day we had been waiting for for so long!  And there was a glitch with the email and we just kept refreshing it over and over.  For hours... and then finally this beautiful picture of your sweet face appeared and we fell in love with you.  I'll never forget going to the orphanage and having you placed in my arms for the first time.  What a moment to remember!  I'll never forget our time in Vietnam getting to know you and coming home and so many people who loved you.

I'll always remember the days spent building our relationship, the songs, the tears, the smiles, the snuggles.  It was a process but so beautiful.  I'll never forget your firsts, just like Allie and Emma.  The day Allie coaxed your first smile was priceless!  I'll always remember the energy and life you brought into our family.  I will never forget each precious stage with you.  You keep me on my toes and never let me get too comfortable in one.


I'll never forget these "princess" moments.  You steal our hearts with your tenderness and your humor.  I'll always remember the feeling of love when you say, "You my best mommy ever!".  I know you don't understand the meaning behind those words yet but they make my heart skip a beat.  I'll never forget all these lessons you are teaching me about choosing to love and accept and what it means to be a child of God.  Anna, I know we have so many moments left and I will cherish them all.  I promise.


I don't remember where I saw this but I read recently that every child is a divine appointment.  Wow!  I know that is so true with each of my girls.  I can look at their lives and know that God placed us together for reasons only He truly understands.  But I get glimpses of the big picture and I am amazed at the process.  How He is using me to shape and mold them and how they have and are changing me to be more like Him.  I look forward to the day I will see it all clearly but, until then, I am learning to enjoy the moments.  And to never forget.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When Winter Lingers

The world around me is bursting with the signs of spring!  Everywhere I look I am reminded that the winter is finally over and a new season is here. 




 The birds are returning and filling the air with music once again.




The sky is blue and warm breezes are reminding me that the earth is thawing.




 Flowers are fighting their way through the hard earth to greet me with their beauty.




The trees are full of buds that remind me that new life is here.




But what if, what if winter lingers?  What if, even when I see the bright colors and smell the fresh scent of spring, my heart is still cold?




What do I do when I look around me and my eyes can't see the beauty?  The grey of winter has found its way into the corners of my heart and it clouds my vision.




Oh, I want to come to life!  My soul cries out for spring and warmth... but I am frozen.  Frozen in time and space and buried beneath the hard surface of this mask I wear.  The one that smiles and sings even when the words are empty on my tongue. 

 It feels as if winter has come to stay.




But somewhere deep within I hear a soft voice calling me.  Singing to me.

 'Rise up, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.    For the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone.    The flowers are springing up, and the time of singing birds has come, even the cooing of turtledoves.   The fig trees are budding, and the grapevines are in blossom. How delicious they smell! Yes, spring is here! Arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.' 
Song of Solomon 2:10-12



The one who loves me the best is calling to me to come to Him.  He has spring in His hands and He wants to give it to me.  He wants to thaw my frozen heart and fill my world with color.  Oh, how I long for Him. 



He is there.  Calling to me.  It is only a matter of turning toward Him.  That is all I need to do and the rest is already done.  He will not wait for me but He will run to me.  I just have to turn my heart to Him. 

And the winter will be gone.  And maybe, just maybe, something beautiful will rise up out of the cold and grey of my heart.  That is my prayer this Holy Week.  It is my prayer for me and for you. 


That Beauty will rise.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Long Way Home

There's this song I've been hearing on the radio often lately and it is one of those that you just feel you should have written and you wish you could sing so you could share it with the world.  The words are the perfect expression of what I have been feeling in my heart for so long now.

It is by Steven Curtis Chapman and it is called "The Long Way Home". 

Home.  That's a word that brings so many emotions to the surface for me.  I have spent many years wishing and longing for a place to call home.  This journey has been full of twists and turns and changes and I grow so weary of it.  I just want a place where I know I belong.  A place to unpack the boxes and make my home.  A place where I feel safe and secure. 

And then I remember that there is no place in this world that will ever or should ever truly feel like home.  Because I know that this is not my home.  My home is still in the not yet.  It is the place I long for in my deepest depths.  The place I will finally find my peace. 

The journey is so long.  It has been full of bumps and mountains and valleys.  There are times when I am sure I am going the wrong way.  That God is leading me the wrong way.  I don't understand His plan at all at times.  I wish He would make the path smoother and, well, clearer. 

And I know that I have made choices that have made this road much more difficult.  I have followed my own foolish desires or let my fears get the best of me.  And my impatience.  I have deliberately taken some side roads that make the journey even longer.  Oh, the regrets I have carried for way too long.

Though my heart longs for the journey to be over, to take a shortcut and just be there already, I know that I am not alone.  I know that I am being led and loved and forgiven.  Every step of the way.  I will get there someday and the journey will be a distant memory. 

I can't imagine what it will feel like to finally be home.  But I know I'm going to get there.  Someday.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A letter to my husband...

When I think of the story of us I can't help thinking of all these letters.   So much time, energy, thought, and love were poured into these pages.  We didn't have texting or email to cross the miles separating us.  And, you know, I'm kind of glad we didn't.  I love the memory of going to the mailbox hoping to find one of your letters, and when I did hurrying up to my room so I could be alone and read it- again and again.  Those are sweet and precious memories.  And I am so glad I have all of those letters so I can go back in time and remember how our love began.


They are words on a page, but more than that, they are words that came from hearts full of hope and dreams and love.  Words that remind us of who we are and where we started.  They remind us of the people we wanted to be and the things we wanted to accomplish.  These words are full of the faith and truth we still stand on today.

So may words... so much love...



 Sometimes I wish we would have kept in the practice of writing those letters.  I wish that life and its busyness hadn't gotten in the way.  But the thing is, life did happen and though we don't have words on a page to look at, we still have this story.  It happened minute by minute and over days and weeks and years.  Words, not on a page but spoken and unspoken, still tell our story. 


These words are written on our hearts and in the lives of our children and the people we love and love us.  All these words that make up who we are and have become.  We can see them when we look at each other and know that the victories, losses, sorrows, and joys haven't really changed us.  We are still us.  The hopes and dreams still live in these walls. 



Yes, all these words tell a story.  Our story has been exciting, scary, messy, funny, painful.  But never boring.  And always beautiful.  Our story has had many beginnings and too many endings.  Tragedy, comedy, adventure, love... our story has it all.  And then some.  So many words...



Our story is far from over.  Though I may sometimes wish for that boring middle part, I know that will never happen.  We learned long ago that we aren't the ones writing this story.  The Author of our story has kept it interesting and full of change.  He has written His purpose on our hearts.  There are times I long for normal, I know.  But normal never has and never will describe our story.  He keeps writing it and we keep living it.  And I know that no matter happens, with His word in my heart and your hand in mine, I will not only live our story but love it too.   


So many words have been written.  So many more still to be spoken.  A story to keep telling.  And life to keep living.  And a love that will keep growing.  And it all started with a letter.  




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dreams with Wings

Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.   Victor Hugo

As mothers, don't we want to hold on as tightly and as long as we can?  We are taught and told that we need to give our children wings, but isn't that thought terrifying to you?  I know that I hold too tightly sometimes.  I know that, without realizing it, I may even hold them back.


But, fight as I might, there comes a time when you have to let them fly.  You have to let go and trust them.  And trust what you taught them.  And trust God.  And it is so scary.  I'm not ready.  I fight it.  I hold on until I realize it is out of my hands.  Something bigger and Someone stronger is calling them to do the thing they were meant to do.  So I let go with clenched hands.


And they fly.  They soar.  They find their wings.  I have already let one go and I know she is safe and whole and free.  Where she needs to be.  But, now, I have another who is ready to test her wings.  Like the bird in this quote above she has perched on a frail branch many times in her young life.  She knows what it is like to feel the wind blow and toss you about.  To hold on with all your might as you feel your world shift under you.  To just trust that Someone is holding onto you when you don't think you can do it anymore.  She knows this to be true.


But she hasn't just held on.  She has kept singing.  In the midst of the holding on and the tears and the shifting ground, she never lost her joy.  She never forgot who she is or who is holding her up.  So many times I had no words myself.  I was barely holding on myself.  But I kept praying that He would hold her and help her to keep singing.  And to find her own song. 


And how He has answered that prayer is amazing.  He has placed in her a love song for the world.  A heart that breaks for the lost, the weak, the hurting.  She hungers after Him and longs to serve Him.  She sees the need around her and her heart sings because she knows the Hand that has held her so far will hold her still.  And the song He has placed in her heart needs to be heard.
They need her song

He needs her song



It is her time to fly.  To try her wings.  Which means I need to trust her to remember the things we taught her.  To trust her to hear the song He's given her.  I can't hear it for her.  She has to hear it herself and know that it is hers.



So, it seems that the song He has given her requires much letting go on my part.  He has given her a heart for missions and I don't want to be holding her back from singing or flying.  Her dreams are hers and they are big and beautiful.


I know that the one who has held us this far will hold us still.  And her dreams will have wings.   I will watch her fly with my hands held open in front of me, letting her go and ready to catch her at the same time.  Because that's what mothers do.


You can read more about Allie's upcoming  trip to Haiti on her blog, www.becomingallie.blogspot.com.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Tet Celebration- Happy Vietnamese New Year!!

Anna wearing her Ao dai





Dean making the Spring Rolls




Our traditional Vietnamese meal

Pho

Allie made Vietnamese Iced Coffee

The proper way to eat pho