10 things I won’t do as our son leaves for college

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Lately I have been stuck on an emotional roller coaster. Life has been changing at warp speed and most of it is out of my control. What I do control is how I react respond to all of it.

I was involved in a high-speed chase today. While driving to the grocery store for a few simple dinner items, a tsunami of disjointed thoughts racing through my mind chased me down and caught up to me at a red light. Next thing I knew I couldn’t remember what I went to the store for and was inundated with a million fractured thoughts, snipets swirling around me like a tornado about our son leaving for college, employment, new schools for our other teens, and a thousand other things. I felt unglued.

That’s when it hit me. I had to get a hold of my heart and my head. I decided, for the sake of my sanity, I would set up boundaries for my thoughts and feelings during this changing season as I prepare for my firstborn to leave for college.

10 boundaries of what I won’t allow myself to do:

  • I won’t replay regrets of what I did wrong in the past as a parent. If forgiveness was necessary, I asked for it and we both let it go. It helps no one for me to hang on to something both of us already put behind us. If it was just my own unattainable bar of expectations that let me down, I will let myself off the hook and realize I am a super mother, not Superwoman. 😉
  • I won’t beat myself up for what I didn’t do as a mother. I didn’t try every art & craft project online. I couldn’t attend every single function in which my son was involved. I didn’t always know what was trending about the latest and greatest everything relating to parenthood. But, every single night as I laid my head on my pillow I knew I had given the day everything I had. Whether that everything was 10% or 105% I had to give that day, I gave it. Did I do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But I tried my best and that’s the best I can do.
  • I won’t let the busyness of this rapidly changing season rob me of stolen moments of what matters. If our son walks into my home office and spontaneously needs to tell me how much he’s going to miss his family (like he did yesterday), I will stop what I’m doing, look at him and listen (which I did). The little things are the big things, and a never-ending to-do list will not hold these precious moments hostage. I will put what who matters most first.
  • I won’t compare my family or my mothering to anyone else. At this stage of parenting, it’s easy to look around and judge myself by using others’ lives as a measuring stick. That only brings everyone down. We aren’t the same as any other family out there, nor should we be. It’s the uniqueness of family that makes life interesting. Instead of comparing, I will remember fondly all of the moments, days, weeks, months and years that write the story we call family.
  • I won’t stop the tears. It may happen in the canned vegetable aisle, while driving or walking by his darkened bedroom, but make no mistake I will burst into spontaneous tears. Part of my heart is being ripped out of me and moving to another state. To pretend that doesn’t hurt is not being authentic with myself or anyone else. No, I’m not fine right now, but I will be – and every tear shed out of love over missing my boy will help me get there.
  • I won’t stay in the pit too long. I’d love to say I won’t even go into the pit, but as our firstborn flies away, this mama needs to go down into the valley for a little bit. But, I will also be kind to myself and not stay there too long. I have a husband and two teens who need me to not stay there too long. And, I have a future that God has planned for me, so be patient with me. And if I’m having a hard time finding my footing climbing out of the pit, I will ask for a helping hand.
  • I won’t miss the beauty of this season. The fact is, our son graduated high school and is taking a giant step toward becoming an independent adult, a productive member of society. This is, after all, what the plan has been since he was born. As much as this transition of him sort of being on his own and sort of not is uncomfortable and painful for me as his mother, we are blessed to have made it this far and will celebrate that victory! I will look forward to watching him continue to grow and will continue to celebrate all the milestones we have ahead of us as a family.
  • I won’t try to do this alone. I am a lone ranger by nature, but this is too much to process by myself. I will allow myself to be vulnerable with those I feel safe and let my guard down about how I’m really doing. I will link arms with those who love me and we walk this journey together. After all, if they love me then they are probably grieving him going away in their own way as well. Together, we will be a strong team for each other.
  • I won’t stop laughing. Life needs laughter. Hearts need laughter. The body needs laughter. In the midst of grieving our beloved son’s new opportunity, through the tears and “new normals” of him not being at home, I will purpose in my heart to see joy in life. I will keep grieving in its place and welcome the moments in life that make me snicker, giggle, laugh and laugh some more. There is a healthy balance in allowing grieving and laughter to share the same soul.
  • I won’t be hard on myself if I fail everything listed above. I am a hormonal, middle-aged woman. I am a mother whose firstborn is leaving the nest. I am emotional. I have a lot on my plate, my mind and my heart. There will be days when I’ve got nothing. No words. No sense of humor. No logical thought. No feeling percolating in my soul. Life is like that when we miss someone so deeply. Sometimes there aren’t words or actions, thoughts or feelings that make it all better. And that’s okay. That’s why, Lord willing, there is always tomorrow. ❤

If you’re going to carry it…

 

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At the Lord’s command through Moses, each was assigned his work and told what to carry. ~ Numbers 4:49

Six weeks before leaving for Guyana, I reached into a closet and upon standing up my disc between the 4th and 5th vertebrae herniated and ruptured in an instant.

I have never felt that kind of painful sensation, nor ever been that scared of a physical issue. I was completely immobilized, frozen in debilitating pain.

Every breath. Every twitch. Every movement of my body shot agonizing pain through my lower back.

My very first thought…Oh no! Guyana!!!

My daughter and I had literally just returned from getting her four wisdom teeth extracted and she was on the couch unconscious and nonsensical. I could not pick up her pain meds at the pharmacy, change her gauze or even walk over to her.

It was one of the most helpless moments of my life.

Bounce around between a couple of urgent care visits and doctors and fast forward to the epidural spinal injection. That was new. Not a fan of the procedure, but it was well worth it.

All the while, time is counting down to our departure for Guyana. The plane ride, handling luggage, the long boat ride each way to the prison, countless hours squeezed into a van with over a dozen people, and stairs at the hotel all made me concerned I wouldn’t be able to physically handle this mission.

Each doctor gave me different pain meds, muscle relaxers and oral steroids. I was left with a bag full of prescriptions that I didn’t know what to do with, so I made a phone call.

Between the myriad of pills and reservations about physical limitations, I wanted to talk face-to-face with a spine doctor. I wanted his full attention.

I met with the doctor who gave me the spinal injection, carrying my bag full of prescriptions in tow. We went through each one and talked about plans A, B and C for using them in Guyana should the need arise.

We discussed physical scenarios and how to handle them. Then he said something that seared itself onto my heart. He was talking about my back, but as he was speaking, the Lord used those same words to talk to my heart.

Two voices were speaking to me at the same time, and as laser-focused as the steroid was injected into the tiny cavity around my disc, so God’s voice flooded my heart.

God had my full attention.

The doctor said, “If you’re going to carry something heavy, don’t hold it away from you like this. (He extended his arms straight out in front of him.) Carry it close to your heart, like this. (He brought his arms to his chest, hands pressing into his scrubs.)

I understood what the doctor was saying about the proper way to carry something heavy, like lifting with our legs and not our back. But, God used his words to teach me how to correctly carry the weight He has called me to carry- His burden for this world.

This was a much needed lesson.

I am a very guarded person – and not proud of it. What I’ve thought of as coping skills all these years is really a defense mechanism. The secret? Make the wall around my heart strong enough to withstand anything. Anything.

There is a cost to building this wall, I keep people at arm’s length. If I don’t let them get too close they can’t hurt me.

I’m all smiles on the outside, but inside I’ve got wall after wall locked down.

Don’t let anyone get close enough to hurt you, is what I’ve told myself for decades. It is a real struggle even with family and friends. When someone gets hurt enough as a child by caregivers and family they are supposed to be able to trust, it changes them. We don’t want it to, but it does.

However, God has given me His heart for missions. He took a broken, fearful, distrusting soul and poured His unconditional, insatiable love for all colors and creeds into this ol’ heart that I had lost hope would ever be whole.

Who knew that the glue God would use to put the pieces of this Humpty Dumpty back together would be His faithful, tender, merciful love.

His love for this world has become my love for it.

His passion to reach the unlovely, unwanted, and opposing has become my passion to share with them the Christ who came for all.

His energy and enthusiasm is the strength I rely on to complete the task.

His mercy makes me blind to baggage and regrets of those I serve.

Still, I wrestle with how close to let people in. My heart and soul are like a labyrinth that changes unpredictably depending on how emotionally safe I feel with someone.

But this time. Oh, but this time. God called me out when He called me to serve in Guyana. He exposed this raw nerve in my heart and called me to take a chance – not on those I would serve – but on Him.

Just let go. Open your hands. Open your heart. After all, you’re giving My love through you. It is I who has taken on the risk of being hurt and rejected. Not you, God seemed to say.

For the first time, His thought process made sense to me. It’s like I’ve known it in my head, but my heart couldn’t separate people’s rejection of God with their rejection of me.

My Father called me to obey and hold the burden of missions right up against my heart, not at arms length like I’ve always done.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2

The result? I am a puddle. I melted in a way I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable with others before. It may not have always shown on the outside as we moved through our tasks of serving, but inside a new work was rapidly multiplying in my heart. I will never serve the same old way again. I am changed.

And as for family and friends, well, if we love others the way Christ loves the church, then it’s the same principle. If we are accepted, it is Christ in us that is accepted. If we are rejected, it is Christ in us who is rejected. I get it now.

Head knowledge only goes so far. God had to saturate my heart with His love for others to make me see what living in community really means. What giving of ourselves really looks like. What the cost of following Christ really feels like.

I am so grateful for a back injury that led to heart healing. For the rest of my life, I will never forget this lesson every time I carry something physically heavy, the right way.

Is His call to missions worth the risk? Absolutely. Is it overwhelmingly heavy? Absolutely.

I can’t get the faces of those sweet children, tired moms, skeptical teens and hungry prisoners out of my mind. I see them constantly. I can’t stop feeling the burden of their needs and the needs of the other countries we served.

Yes, the burden for missions is extremely heavy. But, when we carry it the proper way the load is lighter. When we pull the people’s needs close to our chest, we feel God’s heartbeat pulsing as His love sustains us in the task. It is the right, good way. It protects us and gives God the glory.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:29-30

My husband and I have surrendered to the call of missions, whatever that looks like, for the rest of our lives. It is a choice we’ve made to answer His call, pick up the heavy load and let it become part of our weight. Then again, what other choice is there really but to share Christ with others who are starving to death for Him standing right in front of us?

I am thankful God saw that I needed to learn how to carry the weight like David prayed in Psalm 86:11, Teach me your way, Lordthat I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. 

Amen.

Their idols were refreshing

Strange blog post title for a Christian to write. Allow me to explain…

While driving through the country of Guyana, it’s easy to see the differences between this country and America. For one, they drive on the opposite side of the road. Second, all traffic signs, etc. are merely suggestions. There are tons of small mom & pop shops – no Wal-Mart or Target to be found.  Dogs, donkeys, horses, cows, goats and chickens meander through the city and countryside at will, sometimes even in the road, with no fear.

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One huge visual that stood out was the architecture of the homes and buildings. There is both a Hindu and Muslim presence in Guyana. I didn’t see much of an overtly Muslim influence, but the Hindu influence was eye-catching.

After barraging our leader with a ton of questions (he was very patient with me), I learned some interesting things about Hindu homes. First, the small building in front of the home that looks like a security guard’s station is a prayer house. This is where the Hindu priest comes to pray with the family.

Second are the large statues of the gods those homes worship. Some are small and easy to miss. Others are very intimidating. Several of them made my eyes grow big and catch my breath. The time and craftsmanship put into these structures is enormous and detailed. These pavilions and idols are truly works of art.

One in particular, which I was unable to photograph due to poor weather, was massive. It was a huge pavilion at least two stories tall, and in it was an enormous statue of a terrifying-looking god. Completely black, with daunting white eyes and grimacing expression, it was an idol not to be missed. It stood far above the other houses and their gods.

I asked our leader if the size of the statue meant something, as in trying to please that god with its grand size. Or, was it just to impress neighbors.

He smiled and said, “It’s just to impress.”

Hmm…

In addition to the pavilions and statues (some homes had multiple statues in their front yards) were flags and poles. Again, I asked him what they meant and he said they also represented the gods that house worshiped.

Some homes had two flags, some had ten or more. Even businesses had them.,, 

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These statues were at least 6 feet tall and their pavilion dwarfed the home. At night, the spotlight illuminates the garments’ sequences and sparkling rhinestones. At first glance I thought they were real people standing there shining so brightly.

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I stared out the window (with camera in hand) on our many driving expeditions as we whizzed passed countless homes. At first, cold chills ran down my back when I saw these gods. They were daunting, larger than life, and not what I am used to seeing on a daily basis.

But, as the days went on, I had a different thought, “At least I know where these people are coming from. At least we have a starting point for discussion. ‘So you serve this god or those gods. Got it. Let’s start there.'”

Back in the States, Christians stare eyeball to eyeball and say without blinking, “I don’t have any gods. No idols here, I’m good.”

Really?

Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble! For you, Judah, have as many gods as you have towns. Jeremiah 2:28

Let’s talk about what’s parked in our driveways, our children, our jobs, sports, technology, vacations & entertainment, our relationships, accomplishments, achievements, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, our work, our play, the size of our bank accounts, our social media, our hobbies, friends, family, church, our worship, what we watch, what we listen to, our volunteering, people’s approval, our fears, toys, plans, our talents and strengths, our agendas…and even ourselves. Even our faith can become an idol. And, the bigger the better!

…Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.  Psalm 115:4-8

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

“Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
    guilty people, whose own strength is their god.” Habakkuk 1:11

I’m not throwing stones lest I be hit by them. Trust me, I’m right there in the thick of dealing with my own stuff.

Seeing these homes, without ever seeing a person who lives in them, I already know who, or what, they worship. In the U.S., we deny deny deny with a confident smile on our face.

We are so blind to the fact that our schedules, properties and lives are littered with idols of every shape and size.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. Psalm 135:15-18

We. Are. No. Different.

Because there is one Almighty God, any god/idol we have in our lives has the same craftsman of the one who inspires gods/idols of all other religions in the world. Just because our idols fit conveniently into our lives, seem practical or deserved or earned, doesn’t make them any less of a god.

Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Daniel 5:23

Call a spade a spade. Call an idol and idol.

For Hindu people, that’s what they do. Back home, gods are fashionable, trendy, popular and useful. They are time-savers, little (or big) indulgences, and passions gone wild…but we would never call them gods or idols because that would be wrong in the Christian faith.

I came home with a whole new respect for pastors in America. How frustrating and draining it must be to stand at the pulpit week after week, month after month, year after year, trying to break through the idols – when for some the very building, pew, service hour, friends or worship songs are giant idols glaring back at the pastor from the congregation – while the people who make up the congregation sit silently and smile and insist there isn’t a problem.

So, yeah, their idols were refreshing because I know where they stand and that is an excellent conversation starter. Believers need to take a serious inventory of our lives and call out the idols right in front of us.

Oh that God remembers His children are made of dust and casts a broad net of grace over our lives. But make no mistake, if we do not surrender our idols/gods, He will come looking for them. He shares the throne with no one and no thing. He is a jealous God and commands we put no other god before Him.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. “‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe.’

The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’” 

Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”

So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord. Joshua 7:10-15, 19-23  

It’s a lot easier, and less painful, to surrender idols ourselves, rather than God having to root them out of our lives, prying them from our hands. But, He will because He loves us that much.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6

Dear Almighty God, please give us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to accept Your Truth, truth that sets us free. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Father’s Day Hangover

Sunday was Father’s Day. A thousand times I thought of writing this post, then stopped.

Just let the day pass quietly, I thought to myself. You’re not unlike millions of others who don’t like this day. Just get it over with and move on already.

Then it dawned on me that it is because so many of us share the same feelings about Father’s Day that I decided to post.

Fast-forwarding through the dramatic story of an unstable, fear-filled, anxiety-ridden childhood, here I sit as a wife of twenty-five years and mom to three teenagers. I glance back at my life and think about how some dreams became reality just like I had hoped – and others haven’t.

The father thing being a big one.

My stepfather walked out of our house and out of my life when I was twelve. It was the first time I felt safe in my own home.

My biological father and mother divorced when I was a baby. I met him when I was twelve, spent two weeks with him and his family when I was thirteen, then proceeded to have years of anger, bitterness and all things negative toward him long after I buried my mom when I was sixteen.

As a grown adult I told him, You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.

In my world, I had no use for a father. None. Fathers were unreliable.

Unloving.

Selfish.

Unkind.

Scary.

Hurtful.

Monsters.

Mean.

Promise-breakers.

Unpredictable.

Unsafe.

Over-powering.

Aloof.

Unstable.

Untrustworthy.

Liars.

Fronters.

Self-serving.

Forgetful.

Stingy.

Inconsiderate.

They were the bad guy.

I know what it’s like to live with the enemy while wishing for a hero to rescue me.

I also know what it’s like when that hero doesn’t come.

Yeah, my whole life I’ve had no use for fathers.

To give credit where it is due, God performed a miracle between my biological father and me. There was an unspoken truce between us, but no healing. That’s when I told him about not being a father to me. After all, I was far too old to be his little girl. That window closed a long time ago.

However, on one particular visit to our home, my father, his wife and I talked deep into the night. We agreed on one thing – we can’t do this relationship on our own. We’re too emotional. Too human. We kept getting in the way of ourselves.

So we prayed together and gave whatever relationship we had to God and asked him to be the foundation of something new between us.

Like a master surgeon, God healed our hearts. We had eight great years together before my dad died from cancer.

I often think to myself, If I had to choose between eight great years, or a lifetime of surface-level mediocrity, I’m thankful I got eight great years. Many people never get that with their fathers.

The day before he died, I sat at his bedside in the hospital and got to tell him that I loved him. Not everyone gets that opportunity. I am grateful.

But here’s the thing, Father’s Day never gets easier. More than a day on a calendar and endless greeting cards about tools and grilling and ties, this father thing is really hard with God.

This past Sunday, while responding to a text message I typed God, but my phone auto-corrected it to dad. That has never happened before, and I thought it was very ironic it happened on Father’s Day. My heart skipped a nervous beat.

My mom once gave my grandfather a plaque that read, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.” Que sweaty palms over Siri’s mistake.

The Bible tells us over and over that God is our Good Father, Heavenly Father, Abba Father.

That’s like telling me, Sure, the last time you touched fire it was hot and burned you, but this fire is different, it won’t burn you. 

Seriously?

Fire is fire, right?

Fathers are fathers, right?

What’s more frustrating is that I totally know better. I have been walking with God since I was fourteen and have loved him since I was a little girl.

I should get it by now.

Hence, the feelings of self-imposed guilt drive a wedge deeper between God and me.

I am so sorry for the times I have said, in not so many words, the same thing to God that I did to my biological father, You can be a Father to my children, but not to me.

You can be Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Potter, Friend, Provider, Redeemer, Rock, Refuge, and my God. But Father? Here comes the list I named above of just some of my opinions about fathers.

I desperately don’t want to lump God into any of that because I know it’s not true. But my heart stings, even all these years later, over the topic of fathers and to avoid insulting God I exclude him from it.

Then Father’s Day comes around again and here comes the plethora of Facebook posts. Ug.

It seems everyone else has the best father in the world!

I tried. I really tried to be happy for them. I “liked” throwback photos of daddies and children (now my grown friends) doing all kinds of fun things together.

I “liked” heartfelt, borderline poetic, sentiments from my friends to their dads.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t look at one more smiley photo of warm embraces or read one more post about all of the unconditional love and support their fathers gave them.

My toes inched dangerously close to a line I try not to cross – the why me line.

I really try to live my life thankful for each day and for all of the blessings I have been given. But, never having a healthy father-child relationship messes children up.

Contrary to what this broken society wants people to believe, there are lifelong repercussions for children whose fathers walked away from their families or never showed up in the first place.

I’m not talking about illness and death and things out of people’s control. Rather fathers who choose to not engage in their children’s lives, even if they share the same home address.

Silence is deafening. Absence is suffocating. A lack of effort on a father’s part is like a sucker-punch to a child’s gut – to matter their age. Rejection from a father, spoken or not, intentional or the result of a lack of words or action, is indescribable.

We were created for family. It’s how God designed this world to keep spinning. And fathers have a unique role that fills a unique place in a child’s heart.

When that hole doesn’t get filled, children look for other things to fill it.

It must be filled.

For me, after realizing nothing tangible in this world can fill it, I looked to God. But again, that’s where I start blurring the line and transpose everything I feel about human fathers onto God and the next thing I know I’m running from him, too.

I read blogs that have happy endings, or at least an end with some amount of closure.

This one is open-ended. It seems a bit depressing because we’re used to life’s biggest problems being solved in a thirty-minute sitcom.

But life is more than splices of thirty minutes and there certainly isn’t a laugh track to fill in the awkward pauses.

I’m just saying that Father’s Day is hard. Seeing God as my Good Father is hard. I don’t have this figured out yet and feel I’m not alone in the journey.

The days since Sunday seem to pass in slow motion. I’m hard on myself for not having this all figured out after so long. I’m jealous of those who have had great relationships with their fathers. It leaves a gnawing in my heart and a pit in my stomach that is only relieved by the thought that it’s over for another year and the hope that by next year I’ll be different, changed, healed.

I resist the pessimist in me which reminds me that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, I intentionally stay open to the truth that God is my Good Father. I choose to not have a hard heart toward him. I continue to learn about him and his character.

Mostly, I daily rely on his mercy and grace and understanding as I wander through this desert.

Deep down, past the walls and barriers and fortresses I have locked my heart behind, I know God is the opposite from the list above. But believing it and living it out are two different things.

With everything God is to me, and knowing he is who he is despite what I may feel, a flicker of hope remains in my heart that one day I will fully accept him as my Good Father.

Through it all, I am forever grateful he unconditionally accepts me as his child.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. ~ Psalm 68:5

 

Photo source here

The last, best gift my mom gave me

It’s Mother’s Day. A nationally recognized holiday in America since 1914. For me, it’s a bittersweet day, celebrating the children I have and remembering my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who have passed away.

I lost my mom to breast cancer when she was 44 and I was 16. That was twenty-eight years ago. Right now I am the same age she was when she died.

This age brings new somberness to my yearly mammogram. I wrestle with thankfulness and guilt from tipping the calendar to a new season of having outlived her.

Her battle was short – eleven months from diagnosis to death. One minute we were like countless single-parent families squeezing out a living, sharing laughs and tears along the way. The next minute I am standing beside her coffin in a borrowed dress, not sure where I would live or how I would survive.

In those last months, my mom gave me three gifts I hold more dearly than anything else: a book of poetry written by a mother to her daughter in which my mom underlined words and sentences that she could not speak to me; a “Sweet 16” birthday angel, an annual tradition since my first birthday; and the last night of her life.

It was Valentine’s Day, 1987. My boyfriend at the time made plans to take me to dinner and a movie. My mom and him had a great relationship, once she got passed the fact that he was six years older than me.

She was alone on Valentine’s, with cancer. Neither my boyfriend nor I could reconcile that, so we invited her to join us. He brought each of us a bouquet of flowers. Those are the last flowers she ever received. We enjoyed a nice dinner, then a movie, in which he sat between us and put his arms around both of us. I was so appreciative of his compassion and thoughtfulness toward her. After the movie, he took the sides and top off of his Suzuki Samurai and took her on the ride of her life. I sat in the back, smiling and savoring every squeal, holler and giggle she made as he took her on a joyride down quiet, street-lit streets.

It is a night I will never forget, because it was the last time I saw her let go and really enjoy the moment.

She always gave my sister and me a little something for Valentine’s Day, and this book of poetry is something I would grab if my house ever caught fire. It’s her last words to me. I am thankful and grateful that, although she couldn’t speak them to me, she left them in print so I can read them whenever I want or need to, studying the lines of ink that she drew under special words and phrases. No one has ever seen this book except me.

I am passing down my collection of birthday angels to my only daughter. On her most recent birthday I gave her the last one, the Sweet 16 angel. I’m not sure what I’ll do about year seventeen and address this struggle in my post Sweet 16.

The last gift is one I’m not sure at the time she would have thought of as a gift. She was very sick, but I had plans to go out with some friends. Don’t judge. It’s an impossible world to live in for a teenager – trying to be everything to a dying parent while still trying to live like a normal teenager. Straddling the two is impossible and only winds up tearing the teenager in two.

My family didn’t have the heart to tell me that she wasn’t expected to live through the night. I had no idea, so I kissed her on the forehead, looked into her pale blue, jaundice eyes and whispered, “I love you. I’ll be back.” My grandmother stood crying a few feet away. What a burden she must have carried knowing a reality that she couldn’t bear to tell me as the sound of the oxygen tank rhythmically rumbled near Mom’s Hospice bed.

It was only a few weeks before that I came home from school and knew something had radically changed in Mom. We were living at my grandparents’ home by then, as Mom was unable to care for herself. I made my way to the back of their small, ranch home to the bedroom where Mom was resting.

She had spent weeks listening to Dr. Freddy Price’s cassette tapes on healing. She was the hardest fighter I’ve ever known – in cancer, as a single mom, and in countless ways that no one outside the family knew.

On this day, however, I walked into her room and saw a small cardboard box sitting on the floor by the dresser. Glancing down, I noticed all of Price’s tapes stacked neatly in the box, ready to go.

At sixteen, I didn’t know how to talk about what I saw, but I understood what it meant. She had given up, or accepted that, she wouldn’t be miraculously healed.

My childlike perspective couldn’t wrap my head around it. To me, Mom was still invincible and death was nowhere near an option. She had to heal. She had to live. She had to finish raising me.

On what would be her last night, I returned to my grandparents’ home late with a friend who was spending the night. Looking back, I can’t imagine having a friend spend the night in this situation, and can only reason that my grandparents were trying to protect me from the truth about her impending death and were completely numb at the whole situation which would be why they allowed this.

She and I were sleeping on the living room floor when I awoke at 2 a.m. and had to go to the bathroom. I stumbled down the hall, trying not to squeak the parquet floors which had been damaged in three separate floods from past hurricanes.

I went to the bathroom and as I left I looked to my right. The door to my mom’s bedroom was within arm’s reach. I wondered how she was doing and thought it would be good to check on her.

I pressed my ear to the door and heard the familiar rumbling of the oxygen tank and grasped the doorknob to enter.

Suddenly, I heard the strongest, most fierce “NO!” I’ve ever heard in my life. I couldn’t tell if I heard it with my ears or in my mind. Stunned and sleepy, I stood there for a second, paralyzed to move or make a decision.

This NO! was so sure, so concrete, I could do nothing but obey it.

I released the doorknob and crept back to the living room and went back to sleep.

At 7 a.m., I was awakened by the sound of an ambulance and fire truck. Groggy, I sat up and tried to collect my thoughts. Next, I heard the sound of heavy footsteps of men in uniforms walking in a group on the squeaky parquet floors, headed toward Mom’s room.

Right then I knew she had died.

Later, our beloved youth pastor told me that at exactly 2 a.m., his wife sat up in bed and said, “Alice just died.”

How could she know that?

I spent years processing that night – the guilt over going out with friends; the guilt of having a friend spend the night; anger at my family for not telling me how sick she really was; and the strange events of 2 a.m. I am thankful for counselors who sojourneyed with me through the grief and pain of her loss.

There was a time in her battle with cancer when Mom looked at me and said, “I’m only living for you and your sister. Ya’ll are the only reason I am living.”

I had to work through the irrational logic that told me at some point along the way we became not worth the fight and that is why she gave up and died. That voice didn’t sound at all like what my mom would do. She gave everything she had to raise us. She sacrificed her time, energy, and money to pour into us. This couldn’t have been what happened.

A few years ago, God unraveled the mystery of that night for me.

I knew that night it was God’s voice who told me NO! but I had no idea why. To me, I was simply going to check on her like I did so many times in the evenings at the hospital where I did my homework after school, often falling asleep in the hard, pleather chair by her bed.

But I had heard that voice once before. I was fourteen on a youth retreat with my church. God called me to Himself in an unexpected moment. His voice was so loud, so clear, I turned to my friends to see if they had heard it, too.

His voice is like no other. There is absolutely no mistaking it. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, my palms sweat and commands full attention of my heart, mind and soul. There is one God and one voice, and once it is heard it is unmistakable.

As sure as I write, knowing my mom and my God, I know exactly what happened at 2 a.m. in that bedroom. He had come to take her home…and she didn’t want to go.

She was the kind of mom who cheered for, fought for, laughed with, protected, nurtured and loved us. We had already survived two broken marriages, one of which was extremely scary. She endured a dead-end job in an oppressive atmosphere to put food on the table. She volunteered for any position that kept her involved in our lives. She hid her personal agony from us so we wouldn’t bear her pain.

I know my mom. She would never have given up without a fight.

I also know my God. He is caring and compassionate. He is trustworthy and faithful.

I can only imagine that conversation between the two of them. I would love to know what He said to her to convince her to leave us without a mom or dad and me still in high school with no money or anything tangible to survive on.

Something happened in that bedroom at 2 a.m. Something so extraordinary, she (who had told me we were her reason to live) had permission to die.

That something is her last, best gift to me. It has a name.

Faith.

What I believe with all my heart is that she wrestled with God over staying in unfathomable pain and suffering for us, or leaving with God, trusting He would care for my sister and me.

I do not believe she hopped the first plane to heaven, finally escaping eleven months of pure agony. She would still choose to suffer today if it meant she didn’t have to leave us.

But, whatever God said, whatever He promised, she believed. She chose to have faith that He would watch over us. He would be our Heavenly Father. He would care for us. Provide for us. And, knowing Mom and how much of her time and herself she gave to us, He promised her He would stay with us.

Could she trust God with us? Could she surrender to His plan to heal her in heaven and not forget about two daughters left on earth?

Could she inhale one last time, knowing her next breath would be in a supernatural body? Could she accept the fact that she would miss the majority of our lives – my high school graduation, our college graduations, our weddings, the birth of our children (her grandchildren), and all of the joys and triumphs, falls and failures in between?

The only way a mother, who is wholly and completely committed to her children, could leave them is if she trusts the hands she is leaving them in.

She chose to have faith in God and His promises in the most difficult, painful moments of her life. When He took her home, I’m not sure if the cause of death was cancer or her heart literally breaking for all she was leaving.

But somewhere in those moments at 2 a.m. she chose to believe God and trust Him.

Being a mother myself, I would have fought Him with everything I had to stay for my children. It would not have been an easy battle. I would have gone kicking and screaming, at least proverbially if not literally.

However, I hold her faith in my hands, her last gift, and think, “Could I do the same? Can I trust God that much to step out of this life, believing He is already here walking with my children?”

Can I have that same kind of faith that surrenders to God and trusts that He is trustworthy?

I can because He fulfills His promises to her every day. He has never left me. He holds me in the hard moments. He picks me up when life kicks me down. He laughs with me. Cries with me. Fights for me. Stays with me. Tends to me. Shows me mercy. Celebrates with me. Calms me down and talks me off my ledges. He loves me with an everlasting love and goes out of His way to show me in the most creative, unexpected and timely people, places and experiences.

He is fulfilling His promise to her. I know that full well because I am the receiver of that promise. I am living proof.

So on this Mother’s Day, I think about what gift, what legacy I am leaving my children.

I want to leave them the gift of faith. Not just some sense of a trending spirituality.

A timeless faith. A faith that has been fire-tested, tires bald, rode hard and hung up wet. Faith that has gotten dirty, been stepped on and doubted. Faith that does not swerve with circumstance and will not be diluted with false doctrine. Faith that stands its ground in the face of adversity and persecution. Faith that protects. Hopes. And overflows with joy that cannot be shaken.

My mom was strong. She was beautiful inside and out. She loved to laugh. She put others first, to a fault. She never stopped trying to help, to please, to give.

In all of the moments that made her the best mom in the world to me, it was her last night at 2 a.m. when the culmination of her life and belief in the One true God intersected and she chose to respond to Him in faith.

This is the last, and best, gift she gave me. I carry her inspiration in my heart and seek to have that same kind of audacious faith in God in my own life.

More than anything tangible I could leave my children, my heart’s desire is to leave them the legacy of faith in God through Christ Jesus because He is faithful and trustworthy. He’s proven Himself to both my mom and me. He is good all the time, especially on Mother’s Day.

I love you, Mom. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong – and beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who came behind the crew to clean any missed spots of mold or dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring, while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our “squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

bird nest 2014 with eggs-001What could be better than two eggs? Five eggs!

birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the destination and dead-set on sticking to the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only a vast, sapphire sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad! The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven had stolen this adorable nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over – or the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch – a small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds – not so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen.  This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in brokenness that we are made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as beautiful as what we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s children were gone, but  Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past – but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet (John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant, magnificent sight. To the world His work in our lives may not look appealing (and some may try to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has fresh or scarred hopes and lives that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined when life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s deepest blessings be yours today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10