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!

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Laser-focused

Last week, our family of five plus one stopped everything to go see The Drop Box.

Our oldest was still incredibly welted, red and itchy from his allergy testing. (Who knew he was soooooo allergic to dust mites! He scored a whopping 19 where the doc said a general allergic reaction would be around .5. Poor guy.) We bought popcorn for dinner (fun parents that we are 😉 ) and settled into our seats. I told my husband I’d have to eat it quickly, because it’d feel almost sacrilegious to chomp away during this kind of documentary.

The theater was sold out, so I’m glad we got there early.

For us, even though the movie takes place in South Korea, we were instantly transported back to all of the countries we’ve served. It’s the same, heartbreaking story over and over. The despair. Helplessness. Voicelessness. But…like with the ministries we served, Pastor Lee and his wife are not without hope.

Photo credit: David Kim

No matter the circumstance, every story has the same beginning…pain. However, what I love most about this ministry is that the moment a baby is received from the drop box, Pastor Lee immediately, I mean immediately, holds the baby tight and prays for him or her. I believe that this is the plot twist that changes the child’s story.

Plot twists don’t stop with prayer. They come in the form of medical help, counseling, food, water, clothing, shelter, an education, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with, and sometimes simply knowing someone in this world cares about them gives hope for another day.

As a woman, wife and mother, I have a strong sense to nurture. This is true for most women. We want to make things better. We will do it at cost to ourselves and not even think twice. However, this leads to physical, mental, spiritual and emotional fatigue if not kept in check.

Pastor Lee understands this about himself as well.

Leaving the theater, I felt both glorious in that this beautiful baby drop box ministry is happening in our world even at this second, and I felt heavy-burdened for the babies in the world who don’t have this option. My heart exploded with feeling overwhelmed at the millions and millions of children who cry themselves to sleep every night for as many reasons as their are children.

My heart wanted to burst as the nurturer in me raised up in the name of helping.

This week, our high school girls devotion group met like we do every week to study God’s Word. The topic in our continuing journey to discover what being a woman of noble character (Proverbs 31) looks like was staying focused.

Shiphrah and Puah were the women we studied. They were brave midwives who, as part of an underground network of Hebrew midwives, defied Pharoah’s edict to kill all Hebrew baby boys at birth. We talked about their tenacity to follow God even it meant risk to their own safety.

They feared God more than man. They obeyed God more than they obeyed man.

These midwives had a laser-focused calling.

I’m jealous.

Most days I feel like I’m on a small raft in the middle of a huge ocean of need and opportunity. Waves of emotion and passion to nurture in Jesus’ name toss my raft around like a rag doll. I feel like there is no wheel or sails to steer this one soul in a laser-focused direction.

Pastor Lee and his wife have their laser-focused calling. We can name many who do.

But, I am reminded that there is a place for everyone in ministry – even if the place’s destination continues to change.

It’s my most humble honor to serve on mission. Our family is a motley crew who has no idea what tomorrow looks like. We are broken people called to go to the broken.

Years ago, I sat in a sea of preschool moms listening to a testimony from the director of our preschool. She was in the middle of battling cancer. She specifically said, “Some may wonder why I am testifying to God’s goodness now. It seems appropriate to wait until I am past the cancer to give a praise report. But I am telling you now, in the middle of cancer, that God is good. Cancer doesn’t change that.”

Her words burrowed deep into my soul and I carry them with me daily.

God is good and He is enough.

Shiphrah and Puah knew it. Pastor Lee and his wife know it. Each of us who call Jesus our Savior know it. And knowing this truth is one way God qualifies the called.

It’s why the broken can go to the broken.

We don’t have to have a perfect life to reach others. We simply point them to the One who is perfect.

I often think about the prisoners we will meet. I wonder about who they are, but I don’t care an iota about what they’ve done. Who am I to pick up a stone and hurl it at them? I’ve got a rock garden with my name on it that reads guilty as charged.

But, I also know who sets the prisoner free. And as one who has been set free, even in the middle of brokenness, there is a testimony to share – God is good and Jesus is enough.

So whatever venue that looks like (though I’m quite certain it won’t be midwifery) we will continue to go where He leads, schlepping our broken, beautiful mess with us.

I’m learning that it’s Christ’s message that is laser-focused regardless of how, when, where, or to whom He calls us to share it.

 

2014 answered a lifelong question

*** This post may require a pot of coffee. 🙂 For those who make it all the way to the end, I hope it is a blessing. Happy New Year, Kristi ***

I told my friend the other day that I am itching to close 2014. I have a trigger finger on the calendar to turn the page to January 2015. I’m not one to want to hurry life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Typically I’m faulted with trying to squeeze too much out of a day.

This year, however, has taught me some lessons that have tested the core of my faith. It’s also revealed surprises that no one could have ever expected.

It’s known that we grow through conflict. In that spirit, here are ways in which I was given the opportunity to grow and have a lifelong question answered…Does God give us more than we can handle?

* 2014 began and ended in a medical facility.

This past January, I laid on a table, fully alert and awake while 27 incisions were made from my hip to my ankle to remove varicose veins. This was after previous vein clamping in both legs, which failed in one leg. Even with the best specialty doctor in the city performing the procedure, it was the most bar-barrack, brutal thing I’ve ever experienced. Thinking about it makes me cringe a year later. I will spare the details, but suffice it to say I went into a bit of shock during it. Afterwards, I even told the nurse the wrong city I was born in, and knew I was wrong, but couldn’t remember the right answer.

In my life, I’ve had all four wisdom teeth pulled (including four dry sockets as a result) fully awake and alert with nothing more than Novocain and headphones to drown out the drill. I’ve been through three long labors, the longest being 56 hours – 28 of them with contractions five minutes apart and 28 of them with contractions two minutes apart. My tonsils were removed when my firstborn was just eight weeks old and I was still postpartum. I’ve been rushed into surgery for an emergency appendectomy. I’ve been in two car accidents that totaled my cars: one head-on in which my car flew 20 feet in the air, and one t-boned on the driver’s side. I’ve felt the punch of the air bag as well as the crack of my head slamming into the window. I’ve had food poisoning so horrifically that it required a colonoscopy. I slipped off of a playground merry-go-round in motion and my leg got caught underneath and it drug me around until both the tibia and fibula bones snapped in my leg. I can’t count the sprains and twists in my ankles (I was quite the tomboy). I’ve had five surgeries in the past six years which has left over 38 scars on my body. The 39th being a squamous cancer dug out of me two months ago.

I know something about pain. I know physical trauma. And I can tell you this particular procedure was nothing like anything I just mentioned. The procedure itself is worth the results, but not being able to utilize a tranquilizer of any kind was a war that raged against the core of my sanity. And, this happened just two months after major abdominal surgery.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Move past that brutal winter and spring bloomed.

I was taking my dog for a walk on a sleepy Monday morning. It was a beautiful, sunny day. Suddenly, my ear picked up on something that set off an internal alarm. I didn’t know what it was, but something definitely wasn’t right. I stopped and listened. What were just people sounds (which I thought were either kids playing or workmen) turned into screams for help.

The next thing I know, I was rounding the corner of a neighbor’s home (whom I didn’t know) only to find the woman rushing toward me with her arm extended out toward me. She pleaded in a deep voice with desperation I have never heard, “Help me!

She was missing three fingers.

I didn’t know how it happened, but she needed immediate help. I have never been trained for emergency response (except infant CPR when I was pregnant) and my knee-jerk reaction was to call 911. It was just her and me. She was in shock. I was in shock. It was horrible. She couldn’t give me her name or age and I didn’t even know her street number. I needed help in a major way.

She told me that the lawnmower had cut them off. I’ve never, and never want to again, see anything like what I saw. Ever.

I looked up and saw an SUV driving towards us on our sleepy street. I literally jumped in front of it (what was I thinking!) and slammed my hands on the window. I demanded (in as pleasant of a tone as possible) for the man to stop. He stared at me wild-eyed as I told him the situation. He pulled over, thank you God. I was still on the phone with 911 as instructed. Shortly after, the woman’s boyfriend drove up. So here these two men, the woman and by now another neighbor were looking for her fingers in the yard, the gutter, in the mower, while I obeyed the 911 operator’s instructions to stay in the street to help flag down the EMS vehicles which were en route. I was still trying to get her name and age.

In the minutes before anyone else was on the scene, the weight and brevity of responsibility for this neighbor who couldn’t help herself, collapsed heavily on my shoulders. I knew what could happen if she didn’t receive the medical care she needed. I knew time was not on her side. I’ve never been in that position before.

Our family has endured multiple medical crises: a Home Depot incident that put my three year-old in an ambulance with stitches deep in his forehead; our oldest son was impaled by a broken hurdle on the track at school leaving a 1×1″ right angle scar on his chin; again our oldest suffered a severe concussion while playing soccer in Kenya when on mission for which he is still being treated almost four years later; a light saber snafu between brothers knocked out our youngest’s front teeth requiring emergency orthodontics; a playground accident at school in which our youngest got clothes-lined by a thick metal bar square in the head. I could go on with sports injuries, home accidents – we basically have every medical apparatus available to the general public including surgical boots, slings, braces, every size of crutches, etc. I can’t even make this stuff up.

However, I had never been in such a moment where I was alone to deal with it. Like standing in the eye of a hurricane, I could see the urgency and seriousness of the moment swirling around me, yet inside I was calm and stayed focused on the task of getting her the help she needed – all with my dog’s leash tangled around my legs.

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After the ambulance arrived, I asked the EMS worker if there was anything more I could do to help. Thinking I was just a curious onlooker, he encouraged me to move along. Next thing I know I am walking once again on our quiet street, as if nothing ever happened. I didn’t know what to think and questioned if the whole thing even happened. I turned around and gazed at the ambulance and knew indeed it was real.

Nightmares plagued me for days. Shock numbed my waking hours. An inner tremor reverberated through my body every moment making it difficult to even hold a pen. But, I knew the thing I needed to do most was to walk by her home again. I needed to do it to get past it. So I leashed up my dog and off we went. As I approached her home I began to shake uncontrollably. But I kept walking. The minute my feet passed by her driveway I turned and stared at the place where it all started. My mind’s eye saw her running toward me all over again and I began to cry. Tears streamed down my face and I wanted to turn around. I passed by the place where the lawnmower sat and people searched. I breathed deeply and kept walking. Finally, I had passed her home that had yellow ribbons tied around her trees out of love and care for her.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Summer came and our family embarked on a mission trip to Ecuador.

A beautiful country with even more beautiful people. We’d been going on mission for three years prior, but this time was different. The other times we went with our church. I felt safe and sound, snug in the middle of a circle of capable, loving people who were veterans on mission. I was comfortable. Very comfortable even in uncomfortable, and at times dangerous, situations.

This time, however, God led us to serve with an organization we didn’t know, with people we didn’t know. It’s one thing to go myself, but it’s another thing to take our children, even if they are teenagers. The week before we left I came down with a horrible upper respiratory infection. The team leader called us from out-of-state to check in and I could hear the surprise in her voice when she heard my lack of voice. I was so so sick. As I laid in bed I stared at the ceiling asking God why. I needed to get on a plane in a matter of days and have flown with a sinus infection before – no fun. I didn’t want to get my team or those we’d be serving sick.

I crawled to the doctor for any help she could give and she prescribed for me an inhaler. I’d never used one and was wary of its side effects as other family members use them so I am familiar with them. She promised me it would be okay. In the meantime, my primary doctor was trying to figure what was wrong with me because for months I couldn’t stay awake and was known to take 4 hour naps during the day. Add that to a list of symptoms and he suggested sleep apnea. No, not me. That’s what other people have. The sleep doctor tested me and sure enough!

A week before leaving for Ecuador, still sick, I received my c-pap machine.

Touching down in Quito, the minute I stepped off the plane it hit me. Ten thousand feet of altitude slapped me right in the lungs. I’ve never been at that altitude, but thankfully had researched altitude sickness before we left.

As quick as I could, I whipped out my new inhaler and puffed away. The c-pap machine was my lifeline during this mission. Without these two things I would not have been able to stay. By the time we left Quito at the end of the mission, I felt like I was having a heart attack. The headache, tightness of chest, brain fog – it felt like a giant was slowly squeezing the life out of me in his merciless hand. It was claustrophobic to mind and body. As our driver passed by several urgent cares and a hospital, I nearly asked him to stop at one.

Instead, I sat back, closed my eyes and breathed long, slow breaths. Even though the mission was over, we weren’t headed to the airport. Our family was headed to the rain forest.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* The end of summer drew near, and on a hot, typical day our day turned out to be anything but typical.

As Providence would have it, our family was involved in a tragedy no one saw coming. Someone we know committed suicide, and our family happened to be first on the scene to comfort the man’s daughter who had literally just found him. It was surreal. Bound to an obligation I had, I sent my kids to comfort her, not knowing this was the case. I thought it was a heart attack or stroke. I was in a situation that could not pull me away, so as a juggled this situation and my kids going to the need, my heart split in two. Watching my daughter literally hold up his daughter in grief while they pulled his body from the car physically made my heart hurt. Watching a slew of EMS vehicles come and go for hours sent me into a tailspin. Watching from afar my kids be so closely involved left me numb and nauseous.

However, at one point (still tied to my obligation) I asked our youngest to get our other two. They had seen enough after an hour of trying to help. He replied, “I can’t interrupt when they’re praying.” “How do you know they are praying?” I asked as I turned around. My eyes beheld one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Our two teens were sitting on the ground in a circle with the wife and daughter, arms locked shoulder to shoulder, praying. Later, our daughter told me it was our son’s idea to pray.

I had nightmares for weeks. Gasping for air in the middle of the night, I woke up crying in a cold sweat. What we saw. What we knew. The pain of that day is inexpressible. I am without words. It rocked my faith to the core. I’ve lived my entire life based on hope that is rooted in faith. It’s how I’ve survived my own personal tragedies.

On this day, hope lost. Like watching the hero die in a movie, I kept waiting for this person we know to get up. To be okay. He didn’t. He wasn’t going to be okay. Hope lost. I couldn’t wrap my head around it for months. I cried through every worship song at church and my prayers were short one-way chats with God at best.

It would have been so much easier to turn a blind eye that day, or close our eyes in fear and ignore what was literally in front of us. I wrestled the mama bear inside me who wanted to protect and shield my kids from the harsh realities of the world.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Fall came, and it brought a personal heartache like none I have ever experienced.

It is so deep. So raw. Bleeding. I was neither prepared for this then nor now. It put me in a position I never imagined. To make decisions I never thought I’d have to make. I was forced to live a reality that I wanted to run from and hide. It was a sadness and loss like I’ve never experienced. Anger and depression warred in my soul. I became non-functioning. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or perform any daily tasks required of me. I lost purpose for my life. I felt completely untethered to this world. Like being caught in the movie Inception, but without a toggle, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore because everything I knew to be so with this part of my life revealed an opposite truth – and I couldn’t process it.

Instead of being calm in the eye of the hurricane like before, this time I was swept away with the wind and rain and lightening and thunder as it threw my heart around and around and around in its bands. I’ve never been so emotionally bruised and wounded.

I wish I could say the storm has passed, but it hasn’t. It has changed, but it’s hasn’t passed. The bands of the hurricane spit me out, and now I sit in the pouring rain among the rubble of what I thought I once knew as normal life. The rain pounds, the wind whips. I sit with my head between my knees and wait for it to pass.

Tempted to once again ignore the situation and conjure up a false reality through vices which lead to dead ends, I stay in the storm.

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What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

* Recently, our teens’ high school received multiple death threats.

It was all the talk to see who would still attend school on the day targeted by the perpetrator. The general consensus among parents at large was to keep their kids home. Social media comments I read gave the attitude of, “Good parents keep their kids home.” But, our family didn’t see it that way. First of all, we left it up to our 18 year-old to attend or not, after all, he’s a legal adult. Second, we spent hours discussing the issue. I firmly believe Psalm 139 which tells us that every one of our days were written in God’s book before any of them ever happen. If it’s not our son’s time to go, then nothing and no one in all of the world can change that. If it is his last day, nothing can prevent that either unless God changes the plan.

Here’s an even more shocking statement – I believe it was an important day for Christians to be at school, so those who don’t have a hope and salvation in Christ can talk to someone who does. They also need to be front line to be hands and feet of Jesus. Does that mean we shove our kids into harm’s way? Not at all. The FBI, local police and school system were all over this thing.  The day before K-9 units and bomb squads scoured the property. Officers were stationed on sight throughout the night. There were 20 officers posted on campus during the school day. Doors were guarded. Halls were monitored. This school was probably safer than any in the county because everyone was on high alert includes teachers and students.

Our son was adamant about going. He wanted to defend his freedom and not let anyone else dictate his life through fear and intimidation, not for one day. That morning, I prayed over him and anointed his head with oil. We read Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24 en route to school. We chatted about light stuff. As I dropped him off, it was obvious he was one of a few there. In fact, the school had a 13% attendance that day. As I drove away, I once again gave my son to our Lord as a tear trickled down my cheek.

* This week, while waiting on my husband’s shoulder surgery to wrap up as I sat in the waiting room, I thought about this year.

I am desperate to turn the calendar and close 2014 forever. I prayed that God would make sense of it all, because heaven forbid these situations that confronted me this year would be for nothing except to grate on my last nerve and send me to the end of my sanity.

Here’s the question I’ve always wrestled with: Does God give us more than we can handle?

Looking back at any of these 2014 situations, I get tangled up with the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Read Elijah’s words in 1 Kings 19:3-5,

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep…

Or Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8,

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.

David spoke often in Psalm about suffering. Psalm 88:2-4,

May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. I am overwhelmed with troubles and my life draws near to death. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.

Job also had a voice in handling the hard stuff. Job 30:15-17,

Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud. And now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.

And Job 6:8-16,

“Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life! Then I would still have this consolation—my joy in unrelenting pain—that I had not denied the words of the Holy One. “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze? Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?

But what about Isaiah 42:3,

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

Or 2 Corinthians 4:7-9,

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.

Then there is 1 Corinthians 10:13 which is OFTEN taken out of context (ug!). Can we agree to remove this Scripture from this discussion? It’s not applicable no matter how many times it’s misunderstood.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So which is it? Does God give us beyond what we can bear or not?

The answer came slowly this year, experience by experience. I have always believed He does so that we only boast in his strength. Others believe He won’t. The experiences I’ve had in 2014 pushed me beyond my limit, beyond what I could bear, so far as I knew.

That’s the key. Bob Marley’s quote, “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice” is true, to a point. So is my belief that it is God’s strength in us that gets us through the tough stuff as in Philippians 4:13,

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (KJV)

In a believer’s life, these two work in tandem. It is Christ’s strength in us, and that strength is there because of a relationship with the One who gives it. There were times this year when I was pushed beyond my limit. I came to the end of myself. But, God’s strength was there. It’s not like His strength was some turbo boost that kicked in when I needed it. It was there all along.

How? Because the deeper I relation with Him, the more He becomes in me and the less I am. So in fact it is His strength in me that is working, though it is working through my words and actions.

Like a glass filled with water (me), oil (God) slowly poured in it eventually fills the cup. The water spills out. It’s not that we lose who we are and were created to be. We don’t lose our uniqueness, gifts, strengths and weaknesses, it is that God is glorified in them and through them.

Uniqueness: Psalm 139:13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 

 And 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 27,

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Gifts & Strengths: Romans 12:6-8,

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Weaknesses: 2 Corinthians 12:8-10,

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take (the thorn) away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I am able to see His strength working in each of the scenarios from 2014:

* With the varicose vein procedure –

Romans 12:2, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

His strength produced a new mental stamina and perseverance in me that wasn’t there before. Wanting to jump off of the table and run, I remained still and let the procedure happen. God’s logic and common sense about what is best in the long run for the health of my legs, thus how much I can do with them for the rest of my life, overcame my irrational mindset.

* In the experience with my neighbor and her lawnmower tragedy –

Hebrews 13:20-21, Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

His calm made me calm. No matter how badly I wanted to run away from the situation, His love for a woman I didn’t know overpowered my selfishness that wanted to run. God equipped me for helping with this gruesome task in ways only He could have done with a love that overflowed from His heart into mine.

Driving by her home a couple of weeks ago, I saw her hanging evergreen wreaths on her windows for Christmas. It was beautiful and healing to watch her life move past the incident and see her accept change and a new normal. Having learned more about how God has worked in her life since then (even weaving this tragedy into something beautiful in her life), I can appreciate her willingness to accept change in on a much deeper level. She has been an encouragement to me to accept change in my life.  God’s hand was on her hand that day and in His own incredible way He healed us both.

* In Ecuador –

Deuteronomy 1:29-31, Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

As I laid in bed sick as a dog before we left, I felt like God had forgotten about me. Why in the world would He let me get sick a week before a mission trip we had planned for 6 months? I was angry. Looking back on it, if I had not gotten sick, I never would have been given an inhaler, which was vital to combating altitude sickness. I believe He also allowed my sleep apnea symptoms to get so severe I was forced to go to the doctor (something I had procrastinated about for months) so I would have the c-pap machine in time to travel.

There is no possible way I could have stayed on mission without these tools. The altitude crippled me – who knew?

So what I saw as two major inconveniences in my life at the time, the illness and sleep apnea diagnosis, were actually blessings in disguise. God was paving the path for me to get to Ecuador – and stay there. When we’re in the middle of a trial, it’s almost impossible for us to see any good that can come of it. We can’t, because we can’t see the future. But God, who invented time and is already in the future as much as He is in the present, sees the whole, big picture.

I learned through this to not spend my strength cursing the trial, but praising the One who I trust to bring me through it (one way or another) and can even use it for my good. How’s that for God’s crazy economy?

Second, He strengthened me for the task of serving others in my weakness so, like Paul, I can tell others who gets the glory – and it’s not me.

In addition to being able to accomplish the mission’s goals, when we drove past all of the medical help and deep toward the rain forest, God had awesome surprises in store for us. He showed off His majesty in plants prehistorically large and jaw-droppingly beautiful. He showed off His creativity in creatures we’ve never seen. The day we hiked on our own in the rain forest was liberating like no other experience I’ve had. It was mesmerizing. Peaceful. And we felt a little closer to heaven.

Serving with an unknown team, in an unknown land, and venturing into unknown territory cut the apron strings of fear that had me seeing the future with tunnel vision. Now I can look at the big wide world, and all of its possibilities, and give God open hands, willing feet and a heart ready to do whatever He asks.

* Regarding the suicide –

Isaiah 40:28-31, Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I watched our son dash away from me barefoot as he ran to help them that day. The same bare feet that used to run into the backyard to play. The same bare feet that curled up on the couch to watch Saturday morning cartoons. The same bare feet I used to wash in the sink and cuddle up into a towel. This also goes for our daughter. All the hugs we’ve given her over the years. The hugs she’s received from teachers, friends and family, she was extending to someone who needed to be held.

Our son left a child and came back a man. I saw that he was able to minister to others in their time of need. What he has learned his entire life was put into action that day. Our daughter did the very thing we’ve reared her to do – love others. For me as a mom, it wasn’t a moment of pride. It was a moment of great humility that God would allow me to see two childhoods come to fruition into two young adults who know how to, and are not afraid to, literally run to the need. I count myself immeasurably blessed to have been able to witness it.

However, I couldn’t reconcile hope losing. I understand hope loses every day in many ways. Marriages divorce. Diagnoses stamp death sentences. Job prospects fall through. Our best still isn’t good enough and we watch dreams fade into unrealized memories. This experience was a raw, unfiltered, tangible expression of hope losing. Permanent. Unchanging. Irreversible. It sucker-punched me.

I thought about my last brief chat with this man and wondered if there was anything different I could have said or done. But, without any warning signs visible, how would we know? Oh the guilt.

Trying to work through this was kryptonite to my soul until God scooped my heart up off the floor and held it in His hands. He let me grieve. He gave me time to heal. In doing so, He strengthened me from the inside out.

That strength turned into a fiery passion to helps others. To be more aware of people in my life whether family and friends or those standing in front of my in the grocery store. He strengthened me with an urgency to help in ways that show His love to a broken world. He brushed me off, tied my running shoes and said, “Run. Run to the need.” Just like my children did, without hesitation.

* Trusting God in perilous times –

Isaiah 41:10, Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

It was a normal Saturday when social media lit up like the 4th of July. The threats made against the school were flying all over the place. How does a mother allow her teenager to go to school under such conditions? Again, knowing the authorities had all hands on deck, my mind drifted to other parts of the world in those hours leading up to school.

Thoughts of Christians in northern Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, and places that don’t make the nightly news. I’ve read so many stories of Christians living 24/7 under imminent threat. Their danger is at their doorstep, yet they are not swayed.

We were faced with a possible threat. The major players were “what if” scenarios that ran through our minds like a movie in fast-forward. Taking a step back, the fact is there is more of a chance of something happening to my children on the way to and from school every single day than this far out possibility.

Our pastor (now retired) once told me a profound truth about living in this kind of fear. He said, “People will always give up freedom for safety.” That thought terrifies me because it is a vicious circle that spirals down toward total loss of freedom in the end.

This situation our family was faced with made us confront our fears of pain and suffering, loss and trauma. But in reality, every day is a risk. It’s quite amazing we all make it to midnight, frankly.

This situation made us face our own mortality and what price we are willing to pay for our Lord. It was a heavy weekend.

My strength came from Ephesians 6:12 because these threats were pure evil –

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We used wisdom, logic, common sense and mostly prayer to come to a conclusion about our son going to school that day. Doing so, we could wholeheartedly support his decision knowing he had sought God’s will and wisdom.

This, coming from an overprotective mother who would do anything for her children, was surely walking in God’s strength, not my own. My human nature wanted to lock him in his bedroom, far away from any danger.

But, can we do that? Can we prevent all danger at all times from reaching our children? No. There is trust in the One who made them and has plans for them (Jeremiah 29:11).  Letting go is the hardest thing a mother can do. It goes against everything in us no matter what we are releasing them to. At some point, parents must relinquish control and let the One who made them, lead them.

* Fall’s avalanche –

Psalm 34;18, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I could ask never-ending “why’s” about this. Everything in 2014 combined leading up to this didn’t compare to this. A landslide of the heart. A sinkhole of spirit. An avalanche of the mind. An abyss of the future.

Still, God keeps telling me, “Do it anyway. You aren’t allowed to give up. It’s bigger than you, but it doesn’t have to be stronger than you.” What does that look like in reality? How does one live every day like this? From where does one draw strength to walk this journey?

Indeed, it is this experience that has taught me the most about God giving us what we can or can’t handle. It feels like everything else were precursors preparing me for this.

And that’s the point. One experience in life leads us to the next. We will grow stronger or weaker through them, depending on whose strength we rely on. God gives us things in life that do seem too much to handle from our perspective. But to He who created us, doesn’t He know us better than ourselves? Can we trust Him to know how much we can take?

And can’t the amount of our strength change? Like in exercising when muscles get stronger and bigger, so life’s circumstances are opportunities to grow strength in us via faith in Christ who carried the weight of the world on His shoulders by way of the cross.

The tricky part is realizing whose strength it is in the moment. We are finite and so is our strength. I’ve often read Habakkuk 1:11, Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—guilty people, whose own strength is their god. It haunts me because I am often guilty of this, finding strength in my strength.

In John’s words in John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease.

As I decrease and God increases in my life, it is His strength which infuses and vitalizes me. When we feel handling life’s hardest trials are impossible, we are reminded they are not:

Matthew 19:26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mark 10:27, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Luke 18:27, Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” 

So on our own, no, we can’t bear all things. But with God, there is nothing we can’t endure. Our history with Him are stepping stones on our faith journey, and as we look back and see He was faithful, we can look forward and know He will be faithful.

Isaiah 40:29, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

And in His power, can’t God even turn our weaknesses around and make them strengths?

Hebrews 11:32-34, And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames,and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (emphasis mine)

At the end of a tumultuous year, I answer the question with a question – Does God give us more than we can handle? How do we really know how much we can handle?

It is He who knows us best. It is He who knows the why’s behind the doubts and is the strength that overpowers our fears. He gives us His strength in infinite ways – wisdom, courage, love, compassion, mercy, tenacity, endurance, perseverance, hope, joy, peace, readiness, self-control, determination, gentleness, humor, and even physical strength to face today.

When we lose ourselves in His goodness and faithfulness, forfeiting our own selfishness and self-righteousness, we find the fabric of our strength in He who knitted us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We are one. Inseparable. Forever intertwined together in a dance that lessens me and increases Him until I am transparent for His glory.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back?

1 John 4:9-10, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It’s not about who I am or what I’ve done. It’s about who Christ is and what He did for me – and you. God is love, and this love is irresistible. It makes the journey worth it. Moreover, He is the reason for the journey. He is the journey.

From the first time He said, “Follow Me,” I did so as a baby crawls on the floor with no understanding of what I was really doing or where I was going or why. Now, three decades later of following Him, I understand a little more each day what that means. Requires. Costs. But, the journey we are on together is one I wouldn’t miss for all the world.

God may test my strength, faith and endurance, but He’s also there every moment to infuse me with more of Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. We may face trials, hardships and temptations from the enemy, and the sheer brokenness of this world, but we are never alone on the path when walking with the Lord.

One unexpected place He led me to this summer was a childhood dream of visiting the Grand Canyon. This summer, nine family members embarked on a whirlwind trip to visit American landmarks. The Grand Canyon was at the top of the list.

Our family was in the middle of a mule ride on the rim of the Canyon when I looked up and saw the most amazing sight. What do you see in this photograph I took?

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I see a heart shaped by clouds and clay. Right there, on the back of a mule in the middle of nowhere, God overwhelmed with His words in Psalm 139:7-8,

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

And Romans 8:38-39,  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Psalm 23:6 assures us,

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What makes feet walk straight to the eye of the storm and not turn back? Following the Savior described in Philippians 2:6-11, 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For the rest of my life, I will continue to answer His call, “Follow Me” because He loved me first. We will do this thing together, with His strength as my own, as I wait patiently for the day I see God face-to-face and dwell in His house forever. Will you join me in the journey?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I accidentally pranked myself on Halloween!

In life, if given the choice to laugh or cry, you gotta laugh.

So I’m on the phone today with my beloved sister-in-law, one of my best friends. We’re catching up for a long time when I realize I really had to go to the bathroom. You know when you can’t stand up straight? Too many glasses of water too fast.

Instead of ending the call, I asked her to hold on. Okay, I wouldn’t do this with just anyone. It has to be someone whose already seen me at best and worst. She qualifies. 🙂

I set the phone down, hit mute and well, you know…

All the while I’m thinking, Why can I hear her so well? (She was cleaning her house while we talked.)

Once I was all set, I went to retrieve my phone when I noticed the MOST embarrassing thing – I had hit the wrong button!

Yep, I didn’t hit MUTE, I had hit SPEAKER!

Oh. My. Word.

Then I had to decide if I should say something or not.

Choosing to laugh about it I said, Well, didn’t you get more than you bargained for!!!

She laughed her head off, too.

I said, With most other people I’d be mortified. I’m so glad it was you, but you’re probably not. 😉

So there’s my accidental prank on myself.

Happy Halloween!!!!!!

Like a dog

 

 

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Our dog is my fourth child. Dog lovers know what I mean. She curled up into my heart as much as she curls up in my lap. She is such a joy. Recently, she injured herself and we have no idea how. One minute she was fine, running around and playing with her favorite toys. The next minute she had her right hind leg pulled up and was hopping on the other three legs.

What?

When she tries to walk on her leg, it looks as if someone took a Barbie doll, removed the leg and put it on backwards. She won’t bend the knee and the leg looks dislocated.

We took her to the vet and he determined it is muscular – either a pulled or strained ligament or muscle. I am relieved it’s not something worse, but it is so sad to see her struggle around the house on her peg leg. His prescription is two weeks rest and daily puppy ibuprofen.

She is our family’s dog, but truly is my shadow. She follows me everywhere – and I mean everywhere. If I leave my desk for a glass of water, here she comes. If I go to the bathroom, she’s right there (whether I like it or not). She follows me upstairs, to the mailbox, in the backyard, and all over the house.

She picks her resting spots determined by where I will be. She has a bed under my desk, sleeps in a chair in our bedroom, and has a pillow strategically placed on the floor in our family room where she can see me in three rooms at once. She stands beside me while I do the laundry and rides with me in the car.

Right now, however, things are different. She is slow. She is in pain. After lying down for a while, her leg becomes so stiff it juts out to the side. It’s pitiful.

We encourage her to keep her leg flexible, but dogs simply don’t understand why they shouldn’t run, jump and play when hurt. We carry her outside to go to the bathroom so she doesn’t have to navigate steps. We carry her to her food bowl. We carry her upstairs. We lift her up and down from the chair. Why? Because she needs help doing the things in life that need doing.

Sometimes, I need to leave the room for just a second. I look at her and say, “Stay. I’m coming right back.” And I really am coming right back. I pass by her only to hear her limping behind me. I turn and tell her, “Please. You don’t have to do this. I’m coming right back.”

Her stubborn love for me will have it no other way. She follows me no matter how much it hurts.

Although her body may be in pain, and is holding her back from her active life, her will hasn’t budged an inch. I’ve been thinking a lot about her tenaciousness toward following me and think about what this looks like in my relationship with my Father in heaven.

When our hearts are broken, our plans ruined, or we’re too tired to move an inch, how do we respond to God?

I can throw a big ol’ pity party with the best of them and am quite good at it. I can also get mad. So mad my jaw clenches shut and I give the world the silent treatment. But does the tough stuff in life have to separate us from God?

We already know that nothing can separate God from us. Romans 8:38-39 –

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But like a chess game, we can move farther from Him if we let ourselves. That’s called free will. And, it doesn’t have to be tough stuff. It can be an abundance of good things. Take the wealthy man Jesus had a conversation with in Mark 10:17-22 –

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Or how about the blessing of family? Luke describes two conversations Jesus had –

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62 

Both passages could be discussed at great length. My purpose for including them is, do we look for excuses not to follow Christ when it’s not convenient or is unappealing or uncomfortable? Do we struggle letting go of what we think is ours to have open hands for what’s His?

My entire life I have dodged-and-weaved God’s commission in one way or another. It wasn’t the right time. I had dreams to pursue. I had an agenda for life. The work seemed too big. Too small. I didn’t want to let go of things, tangible and intangible, that I was afraid He’d ask me to give up.

I took the bigger picture He was painting and framed it in a frame three sizes too small because I couldn’t see His vision.

On the more intimate side, I skirted His pursuit of me. I was used to not trusting people. Anyone. I had such a low self-image you’d have to lift your shoe to find it. I didn’t think I was worthy or worth it.

All these years, I missed the obvious. God wants fellowship with us because He loves us. Wholly and completely and unconditionally. He wants to do life with us. What would it look like if we loved Him the same way?

I’d look like my little dog who thinks I walk on water. She just wants to be with me. Nothing else matters. She simply longs to go where I go and be a part of what I am doing.

Oh that I could have a heart like that for my Savior, who really did walk on water. To be content resting at His feet; walking in His shadow; involved in what’s important to Him. Content to just be with Him because His presence is enough.

My quirky little dog is an inspiration to me. I am reminded, as I carry her through the necessary parts of the day as she heals, that God, too, will carry me by either buffering me through a situation or equipping me for it. However, even with the injury she will not be deterred. She will follow me anyway – on three or four legs, limping or not.

So what’s causing our limp today? What have we been using as a shield, an excuse? Will we willingly follow Him even when it hurts? Can we lay down our baggage so we can pick up our cross and follow Him?

And (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

I felt some of that today and, to my surprise, more than the hurt I felt His hand on me, welcoming me as His sojourner. Whatever it costs – He is worth it and His presence is the jewel in the journey.

His stubborn love for us will have it no other way.

 

 

 

Love is…

Our daughter is pet sitting an adorable, energetic lab this week. His favorite toy is an old beloved polar bear. He loves it to pieces. Literally. polar bearSo my girl has asked me to sew his broken arm because she felt sorry for him. We’re talking about the dog’s toy (and he’s not even our own dog). Well, of course I said yes because moms can be guilted into a lot of things. 🙂

Polar bear is all better… polar bear 2 It’s almost a tie as to who was more happier, my girl or the dog. polar bear 3 It was a grand reunion. He ran all over the place with his dirty, slobbery, sticky bear. And I thought to myself on a muggy Monday summer’s night, This is what it’s all about. Life’s sweetest blessings come in the most unexpected moments. A mom, her girl, a neighbor’s dog, a polar bear with a broken arm, and a needle and some thread. That’s all I need to make a good night.

Love is not only helping my girl make our neighbor’s lonely dog feel better, love is recognizing the moments in life that matter, savoring them and being thankful.