Making peace with Mother’s Day

mothers dya blog
Mother’s Day is coming soon. Since 1987 I have wrestled over this day. For years I just couldn’t even think about it. I wanted to erase it from the calendar – or at least from my mind. I loved celebrating my mom when she was alive. But losing her at sixteen changes every holiday – especially the one in honor of her.
I went through every stage of grief after she died. My body suffered from IBS for an agonizingly long time because it didn’t know how to process such tremendous loss. Migraines. Nervous ticks. Depression. Isolation. Losing the will to live. Hopelessness. So many pebbles in my shoes on this uphill journey.
Then, one year while shopping in Hallmark (I am a card junky), I passed by the Mother’s Day card section. It’s pink. It’s flowery. It’s all-things-mom. I so badly missed participating in this day for a mother I loved and longed to simply give a card to.
It is though God whispered in my ear that, even though she is not here to receive it, I could still buy her a card in hopes that it would somehow heal another piece of my heart. So I walked down that aisle slowly, unsure of what this experience might do to me and my journey.
I read dozens of cards, each one bringing back a memory of her – of us. I pulled several and spread them all over the carpet and sat down, in the middle of the aisle. I lost myself in this moment. Time stood still. The joy of her being my mom bubbled up in my heart for the first time in years. I had the BEST time reading, searching, pondering, remembering and finding the perfect card.
There it was. The. Perfect. Card.
A huge lump swelled in my throat as I proudly escorted the card to checkout. I wanted to share this journey with the clerk. Moreover, I wanted to keep it private just between Mom and me.
This experience was extremely healing. I felt like where I had been excommunicated from the beloved mothers and daughters club, I was brought back in, on my terms.
I still have this card. I never wrote in it.
Fast forward to this week. I’m in the store looking for a few needed household items and there it was. The pink, flowery and all-things-mom card section.
Because I braved my heart’s hurt all those years ago, I am able to shop for Mother’s Day cards again. I buy them for family and friends and my treasured mother-in-law.
But this day I just couldn’t. So much is swirling around in life right now that my heart is weary. Literally, they’ve put me on blood pressure meds. (If only they had such an easy fix for our emotional heart as they do our physical one.)
I stopped and looked at the cards. I looked at the other woman reading them. I reached for a card, but before I opened it I put it back.
Today was not the day to shop for Mother’s Day cards. There will be other days, but this one wasn’t it.
As I walked away from this card aisle, pangs of guilt seared my heart. But then, I stopped and told myself it was okay. Not shopping for them today out of spontaneous convenience doesn’t mean I don’t care about the moms in my life. It simply means I’ve traveled this path long enough, and felt every possible emotion of all of the pebbles in my shoes over living with loss, that I’m in a new pace now.
A place that is much more sure-footed. Solid ground. I am not persuaded by guilt nor am I running from emotions stronger than I can face. I’ve come to a place in this journey where her loss is a part of me that softens me. A part that reminds me to enjoy life and not take the simplest of blessings for granted. To appreciate not just the beautiful, but to seek the beauty in everything.
The momentum of strength that has built over time with each passing holiday or memory that comes to mind gives me passion to fully love, fully forgive, fully embrace life and those God has put in it.
Walking into the Mother’s Day card aisle all those years ago was the best thing I could’ve done for who I was then. Walking away from it the other day was the best thing I could’ve done for who I am now. It shows just how far my heart has come on this journey of living with loss.
I’ll be back. I look forward to card-shopping for the moms in my life to let them know what fabulous moms they are. But, it will be when I’m ready and it will be joyful. Until then, I’m going to stop and take a breath on this most difficult journey and thank God for how far He has brought this baby girl who misses her mom. ❤

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

In the past week, I’ve had two friends lose their fathers and one friend lose her mother. I’ve congratulated a dear friend on his engagement and received news of a friend’s health concerns. I’ve sent our oldest child to college, and feel like I’ve sent a dozen more young friends off to begin their freshmen years. Our other two teens prepare to change schools while my husband and I seek new employment options. So much change! Thought I’d repost this as an encouragement to all who are going through change… ~ Kristi

**************************************************************************************************************

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.

Bird's nest-001

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.

???????????????????????????

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.

DSC_3123

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.

DSC_0048-001

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.

???????????????

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.

?????????????????????????????

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

IMG_2806-001

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.

IMG_2958-001

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.

?????????????????

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.

IMG_2996

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.

DSC_0481

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.

DSC_0014

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.

DSC_0106

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.

DSC_0453

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).
IMG_3405

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Bird's nest-001

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.

???????????????????????????

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.

DSC_3123

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.

DSC_0048-001

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.

???????????????

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.

?????????????????????????????

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

IMG_2806-001

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.

IMG_2958-001

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.

?????????????????

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.

IMG_2996

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.

DSC_0481

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.

DSC_0014

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.

DSC_0106

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

 

 

 

 

 

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?

DSC_0111

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Silent Night

Christmas.  A time that comes once a year.  We decorate our homes, exchange gifts, dance to familiar tunes, watch It’s a Wonderful Life and enjoy tasty treats, but there is something else paralleling this season…it is reality.

Reality is often far from the picture-perfect Hallmark cards we mail to family and friends.

There is one Christmas I’d like to share. Years after my mom’s death, on Christmas Eve, I was a young bride enjoying my modest kitchen while preparing food for the family Christmas dinner always held at my grandparent’s home.  Vegetables simmered on the stove and a pie bubbled in the oven.  Without realizing it, I let my guard down.

See, I have this wall.  It’s a wall that was created when my life as a teenager was annihilated by reality.  Forced to grow up far too soon, my coping/defense mechanism was to build a fortress around my heart.  Walls so thick that nothing – absolutely nothing – could penetrate them and ever destroy me like I had already been.

But, in this particular holiday season, I wanted so badly to enjoy the experience of Christmas with all of the happiness it entails.  I let my guard down while standing at the stove, with flickering twinkle lights on the tree in the living room and stockings hung with care beside it.

This would be the Christmas I would actually let myself enjoy as I tended to my baking and cooking.

The phone rang.

It was my sister.

Granddad’s been taken to the hospital.  Meet us there.

I felt sucker-punched.  Breath flew out of my body and I couldn’t inhale.  I dropped the large, wooden spoon I was using and immediately turned off the burners and oven.

A cold, prickly sensation felt like an electrical shock all over my body.

My first response?  The wall came up.

My husband and I raced to the hospital.  Memories of just a few days before of my granddad throwing up blood from his lung cancer, and how my husband was the hands and feet in that crisis, replayed over and over and over.

The sound of my grandmother crying out in reflexive, desperate prayer in the panic, Jesus!  Lord Jesus! haunted my mind.

We reached the hospital and found him in ICU.  The prognosis – grim.

After being there for hours, taking our one-person turn in visitation with him, we were told to go home for the night and get some rest because there was nothing anyone could do.

I sat in the ICU waiting room feeling numb and helpless.  It was Christmas Eve.  My only prayer was this – Dear God, please do not let Granddad die on Christmas day.  Please.  I beg You.  After everything our family has been through, we couldn’t handle this.  Please don’t let his death overshadow Christ’s birth for the rest of our lives.

I was the peace-maker in the family.  This time would be no different.  My husband and I went home to gather a few things.  I grabbed the Christmas-printed napkins I bought earlier that week, some muffins I had baked, the music cassette recorder/player and a Christmas cassette, and my Bible.

We dashed back up to the hospital and I laid these things on the coffee table in the ICU waiting room.  It was a cold, sterile room.  The pleather furniture was stiff and squeaked, white walls void of warmth, no windows, the florescent lighting stung my eyes, and the stale air made me sick to my stomach.

The clock struck midnight and it was now Christmas – and we would celebrate it in remembrance of Christ and in honor of my granddad.

While we took turns checking on Granddad, I played the music very softly and offered muffins on the Christmas napkins to my grandmother, husband, sister and her husband.  I read Christ’s birth in Luke.

Every hour that passed, I never stopped begging and pleading with God not to take Granddad on Christmas day.

After a very long 24 hours, the clock struck midnight again.  It was December 26th. At 10am, the nurse came into the waiting room and said two words, It’s time.

All 5 of us jumped up and ran down the hall, holding my grandmother’s hands as we hurried.

The nurse tried to explain what was physically happening to Granddad, and that he wasn’t in any pain, but I couldn’t understand any of it.  There was something much more pressing on my mind.

I wasn’t sure if my granddad was saved.

He was a good man.  A great man.  Loving.  Kind.  Respectful.  Generous.  Funny.  Never missed church.  Tithed.  Blessed every meal.  Read the devotional, The Upper Room, every day of his life.

But still, I never, ever heard him profess a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

He did all of the things a Christian would do, but never having heard him share his personal faith in any way, I didn’t know for sure where he would spend eternity.  It is impossible to earn our way to heaven.  If that were the case, none of us would ever be enough, or do enough, to be good enough to make it there.

I stood beside Granddad’s bed and looked deep into his face.

The Holy Spirit prompted me to ask him about his faith.

Oh no.  No way.  I was the baby of the family.  My family already thought I was way too involved in my faith.  It was a touchy subject and I was a bit of the black sheep in this area.

No.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m not going to stir up anything while he is dying.  I can’t do it in front my family.  It will upset them to hear me questioning his faith.  No.  Just no.

Do it.  You don’t have much time, the Holy Spirit urged me.

I just can’t!!!!!  I screamed in my heart in frustration, fear and anxiety.

Do it now, He pushed back.

There we were.  My granddad, my husband and me.  The other family members mysteriously stepped out of the room – I believe God miraculously led them out so we could have this moment.

I looked at Granddad, unable to speak, and thought about how crystal blue and beautiful his eyes were.  I rested my hand gently on his arm, careful not to disturb the I.V.’s sticking out in all directions.

Taking in a huge breath, the air caught in my throat.  I swallowed it down hard.  With hands shaking and the back of my neck sweating, I didn’t know how to ask a man of such character if he had accepted Christ in his heart as Lord and Savior.

Give me the words, God, please, I begged.

I tried again.  Granddad, I have to ask you something, I began as my heart pounded in my chest.  Would you like to dedicate your life to Christ?  I know you cannot speak, so just nod your head if you would like to.

With wide eyes, I watched for the slightest movement of his weary body.

He never took his eyes off of me, and to my utter shock and surprise, he ever-so-slightly nodded his head yes.  I couldn’t believe it!

Um, I said trying to remain calm having never been in this situation before, I will say the prayer for you, and you nod your head in agreement, okay Granddad?

He gently nodded again.

I said a prayer of salvation as if I were him, and when finished, he nodded in agreement.

Just a couple of minutes later – he died.

I stood by his bed stunned in bewildering belief that he nearly missed his chance to enter an eternity of life and blessing.

He was just a moment or two away from eternal separation from God.

Had I given into the tremendous fear of our family’s dynamics, or fear of presenting the Gospel, or any of the multitude of fears I felt at that moment, it would have cost him eternity.

It was a near miss and it terrified me.

I have no recollection of opening any gifts that year, but the best gift I received is knowing exactly where he is now.  With Jesus.  Perfect.  Healed.  Whole. Enjoying his daughter’s (my mom’s) company once again – never to say goodbye.

I am forever grateful that God honored my request and kept Christmas day about Jesus’ birth, and not my granddad’s death.

Christmas Eve and Christmas night were silent indeed.  But, they weren’t silent as in all is calm, all is bright.

All was very frantic.  Panicked.  Anxiety-filled.  All was dark.  Grim.  Hopeless for a happy ending this side of heaven.

This time of year, people are torn between trying to celebrate the season as best they can as loved ones lay dying in hospitals, husbands leave their wives, children rebel against their parents, threats against world peace fracture peace of mind, children are ruthlessly murdered at school, drunk drivers rob families of their precious ones, thieves break into homes and steal Christmas presents, companies lay people off two weeks before Christmas, medical reports come back positive, houses burn down from Christmas trees, and personal debt keeps on racking up.

It’s no wonder that depression and suicide rates leap this time of year.  Still, as I drove the streets of my city late last night picking up my child from a friend’s house, lights twinkle, inflatable snowmen wave, wreaths are hung and even a manger can be seen in some yards.

Why?

Why do all of this?  Go through all of this?  Play the role of Christmas?  No one can financially afford it anyway.  More homes are broken than not, so why try to pretend otherwise?  Marriage beds are defiled while jewelry companies advertise their diamonds as the perfect gift.  Friends aren’t speaking to each other, yet Christmas cards are exchanged between them.  People are desperately lonely and hide behind busyness to try to prove otherwise.

There are silent nights alright.  But, not all is calm and not all is bright.  The silence is deafening.  Behind closed doors parents cry themselves to sleep and husbands and wives give up and families settle for less, friends adapt to chilly relations, people avoid the credit companies’ phone calls, and most are wondering why they are even left on this planet.

Why have Christmas?

In the midst of the festivities all around me, even sharing it with my husband and children, today I stood in church singing Christmas songs while tears streamed down my cheeks.

Christmas, in America at least, has become so much about what we want that we have forgotten what we’ve already been given.

For me, my tears were because yesterday we went to a Christmas exhibit at a hotel, and I wasn’t prepared for how busy the hotel would be with guests.  It was packed with families reuniting.  Cousins, grandparents, in-laws, etc.  The little children were in their Christmas best.  One mom wanted to take her daughter’s picture by some pretty garland, and just as the mom snapped the camera, the beautiful little girl, wearing a plaid dress and hair pulled up in curls, stuck her finger up her nose.

Walking around the hotel, I felt a wave of grief hit me all over again of what I’ve lost over my lifetime.  Death, sickness, death, abandonment, death.  My heart sank.

Today in church, it was so crowded I’m not sure everyone found a seat.  Again, multiple generations sat together with grandpa’s holding babies while tired parents held each others’ hands.

So, my wishlist isn’t tangible.  Never has been.  Stuff is stuff and we can’t take any of it with us.  I miss my mom, grandparents, great-grandmother,  dad and father-in-law who are all waiting for me in heaven. I miss my husband’s family who is spread out across states, and my dad’s wife’s family who is also spread out across multiple states.

I mourn the loss of my childhood that was prematurely taken from me.  I miss the idea of having fond memories of growing up – of which there are very few.  I miss the loud homes filled with close and distant relatives and all of the craziness that brings.  It makes me want to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding again.

However, if I allow myself to stay in that dark place, I will miss Christmas this year as well.

God reminded me that I am, indeed, missing 2 important truths.

One, the day will come when I will have exactly what I have longed for my entire life – a huge family reunion.  It won’t be in this lifetime, but once it begins it will never end.  A party for eternity.  That’s worth waiting for.

Second, we’ve already been given the opportunity to make this reunion party possible.  Still, every year I almost miss the real meaning of Christmas.  I am so quick to be sad that my life doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting, or Hallmark movie, that I get hung up on what I don’t have.

What I do have is a Savior that made an eternity with my Abba Father possible.  Without Christ’s birth, He wouldn’t have been able to die in my place for my sins.  I would be cursed forever to separation from Him.  But, because Christ robed Himself in flesh and became 100% man while still being 100% God, He lived a life that led to the cross.  Every day He traversed this earth was a day closer to bearing the worst punishment of all history – and He willingly did this for you and for me because God loves the world that much.

The first silent night of Christmas 2,000 years ago wasn’t filled with world peace and perfection.  Rather, it was tainted with Roman oppression.  A crazy Herod ruled and reigned.  There was political turmoil.  Community turmoil.  Family turmoil. Personal crisis.  Christ came to us anyway.

As I stood in church today singing, my tears of sadness were replaced with a peace that I don’t understand.  My husband had his arm around me, but Jesus’ hands were holding my heart.

Without shame or guilt, He gently nudged me back to the Father’s side so I could rest in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91).  As I let Him peel away layers of hurt from my broken heart, He gave me new eyes to see the heart of Christmas.  God’s heart.  I was caught in a moment where everything was okay.  All of it.

Why?

Because Jesus reminded me He is in all of it with me.  There is nothing that separates us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39).  And, He is enough.  Every blessing in life is icing on the cake.  What we are not given, He is still sufficient for us.

This Christmas, I am choosing to look not at what is missing from my life, but what has been given – a lifetime walking with God and a future with Him that will outlast time.

And, I will appreciate those blessings – like celebrating His birth with friends who are family to us.

May I challenge you as I challenge myself?  Will you place your wishlist in the hands of the Father and enjoy this Christmas simply for what it is?  Whether our lists are made up of jobs, good health, a baby, better finances, mended relationships, a mate, a home, a meal or presents for our children, can you join with me in knowing that the gift of Christ is enough?  More than enough?  That if nothing else in our worlds change by Christmas, or into next year, we will still thank Jesus for being the best gift of all?

It’s audacious alright.  Some may even call it ridiculous.

God gave up His only Son because He loves us that much.  We can come to Him with empty hands, even if they are stained with pain, and receive His love overflowing once again.

The best part is His love isn’t only given once a year like the presents under the tree.  It’s available 24/7/365.

I wish I could’ve ended this post with a big, happy finish and tied a virtual red bow around it.  But, life doesn’t always work like that.  However, just like my granddad who is now enjoying paradise, our happy ending is something believers can look forward to because Jesus defeated death and opened the only Way to eternal life.  Until that day comes, we can be grateful and thankful for the blessings, big and small, that God gives to make the journey’s load a little lighter and rest in the promise that we are never in it alone.

Peace to you today,

Kristi

Legacy of a Letter

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. Fear the Lord your God and serve him. ~ Deuteronomy 10:17-20

I received a letter in the mail a couple of months ago.  A letter that hasn’t left my mind ever since its words lifted from the page and inscribed themselves on my heart.  We have a sponsored daughter through Compassion International.  The letter we received from them announced her impending graduation from the program.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t want to think about it.  For her, this is incredible news!  This means she made it! She has survived severely impoverished, third-world conditions and is now skilled in a job that will serve her for the rest of her life.

For me, however, it means letting her go.  As I’ve written before, I have a hard time with change, and this year has seen a lot of it.  My father died nine months ago.  Our senior pastor, who is my mentor and friend and someone I highly admire and respect, retired after twenty-one years of faithful service to our congregation.  My husband’s aunt died suddenly, and her memorial service marked a new chapter in our family’s history.  I closed a three-year chapter of homeschooling two of our children, and find myself missing my lunch buddies, their jokes, camaraderie and company in my days now.  We finally sold my husband’s car – a 1997 Honda Odyssey.  It was good to us, crossing 300,000 miles on the odometer, but it was time to acquire something that meets our current needs.  Our eBay car purchase served us well for six years. Silly, I know.  It’s just a car – especially for people who don’t place an unhealthy value on “things.”  But, it was familiar.

Perhaps that’s what’s hard about change for me…losing the familiar.

Compassion’s letter to our family was a request to write our Compassion daughter one…last…time. Ug.  My heart sank.  I kept that request on my desk for four months.  I simply couldn’t bring myself to write it.  This is the last communication I will have with her this side of heaven.  What do I say?

Compassion suggested we write words of wisdom, encouragement and Scripture.  These are the last words our beautiful daughter will carry from us for the rest of her life.  No pressure.  She who can’t ever stop talking sat speechless at my computer with our daughter’s picture smiling at me while the curser impatiently blinked on the blank page.

Dear God, I don’t know what to say.  Where do I begin?  How do I end?  Please help me give her the words You want her to hear.

As I began the letter, my mind flashed back over the 14 years she has been with us.  I remember the night we found her.  My husband and I were at a Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant Christmas concert in 1998.  During intermission, we strolled through the arena, curious as to what this Compassion thing that Amy Grant spoke of on stage was all about.  We came to a table and spread out on it were many children’s profiles.  My eyes scanned their sweet faces; many of them revealing a deep hopelessness in their expressions and thin bodies clothed in rags.

My eyes wandered to a beautiful girl.  Seven years old.  Across the sea from us in a land filled with conflict – dangerous for any female.  I picked up her card and read her story.  Her mother dead, her father removed, she lives with her grandmother and brother.  My breath caught in my chest and eyes stung with salty tears.  This was my story – this side of the ocean.  Replace the brother with a sister and she is me.  Captivated, I held her card close to my chest and knew she was meant to be a part of our family.  I wanted to offer her a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that God gave me in my darkest hours of trauma and loss as a child.

Through Compassion, we could pay for her medical needs, clothes, food and education.  Christian education.  If she couldn’t live with us, this was the next best thing.  We signed up immediately, knowing that we were committed to this for the long haul.

Over the years, we loved receiving her letters.  We learned about her culture and landscape, farming and weather seasons.  We learned about her life.  We prayed her through the dry seasons and rainy seasons.  We prayed every time her brother became ill and when she had trouble in math.  She wrote her favorite Scriptures to us and told us about her friends.

Each Christmas and birthday, we were given the opportunity to send her a monetary gift.  By American standards it wasn’t much at all, but it is reasonable for their economic geography.  Every time we sent a gift, she wrote us and enthusiastically told us what she bought with it.  It was always the same.  She bought: a new dress for herself, a goat for the family and sweets for her friends.

Her purchases sparked great conversation in our family throughout the years about giving and receiving, thankfulness and kindness.  The fact that she always shared her gifts with her family and friends touched our hearts in inexpressible ways.  She was thankful.  Can we say the same?

We told her about where we live, too.  We shared favorite school subjects, hobbies, pets and what we do in a regular day.  We shared our prayer requests with her, too.  Having a pen pal across the world was priceless to my children.

One day, when she was about 15 years old, she wrote and told us that a preacher was visiting their village to evangelize in their community.  She was asked to go along with him to preach the Gospel.  I will never forget how I felt reading her words.  Choking back happy tears, I said to myself, She’s got it.  She has her own faith and is now able to share it with others.  She’s going to be okay.

This news gave me so much joy and peace!  Despite her bleak circumstances, she accepted Christ as her Savior and knows there is an eternal home waiting for her.

When Compassion expanded its ministry to include online writing, versus handwriting, I was so excited!  Handwritten letters are always best, but not as practical as writing something online that could be sent immediately for translation.  I remember writing to her telling her this news of online writing.  I will never, ever forget her response.  I was excited that this would be quick and easy, no need to hunt for a stamp and was technologically up with the times.  Her response?

I thank our God that He has provided you a job so you can have the money to buy a computer to write me.

Talk about perspective!!!  Think about her response for a moment.  Deeply ponder it.  Without knowing it, she continually taught us so much about life, love, thankfulness, contentment and commitment.

When my husband lost his job in 2001, a week before 9/11 and in the middle of the .com crash (of which his job was directly affected), we had no idea how we were going to feed our babies 1, 3, and 5 years old.  We had no health insurance, no gas money, no savings.  We had nothing but our vehicles and our house – that we feared we could lose in a heartbeat.  We never once considered stopping our sponsorship of our Compassion daughter.  This is no kudos to us.  Through sponsoring her, we learned even more what commitment looked like and what trust in God felt like.  We could no more stop feeding and clothing her than we could our own children, because like our own children, if we didn’t meet her basic needs – who would?  We totally relied on God to provide for us, and for her, and He did.  She never knew any of this.  Her life is one of great struggle and hardship, and even in our most dire straight, we were still wealthy beyond measure simply because of the longitude and latitude in which we live.

In her last years with us, she wrote about graduating high school.  This was quite an accomplishment!  The letter came announcing she was accepted into nursing school.  Nursing school!  I remember jumping up and down and cheering with my children.

This meant, not only will she have a job she can be proud of, but she will be able to financially support herself and her family, AND it saves her from a dangerous and demoralizing future so many young women face trying to earn money to survive.  Wow!  Her future has never looked brighter.

She is truly a part of our family, and this final letter literally pained my heart to write.  How do I tell her words of wisdom as a mother, when my own mother never had a chance to speak them over me?  I feel like the blind leading the blind.  I don’t know where to go with this.

As I struggled with my letter, my heart brought to mind a very special book* by Susan Polis Schultz. This book has priceless value to me.  It is a book written by a mother to her daughter.  It is full of letters, encouragement, love and advice.  This is the last gift given to me by my mother.  She gave it to me on Valentine’s Day, 1987, three months before she died of breast cancer when I was sixteen.

She wrote on the inside cover that she had a hard time putting into her own words what she wanted me to know, so she used this book to say it for her.  In it, she starred, underlined – double underlined – words and phrases.  These are what matter most to me.  These are her words to me.  However, I have only read this book a few times in 26 years.

I am unable to express my hesitation in words.  It hurts to go back to the most painful time of my life.  It hurts to hear her speak to me through writing, because once I finish reading it, I am again left with an emptiness that she is no longer here.  The process of reading her words is emotionally draining, yet healing at the same time.  That’s the best I can do to explain my feelings.

While writing to my Compassion daughter, my mind drifted to this precious book and with my mom’s inspiration I began to write.  Space online is limited.  It took me three letters to get it all in.  Oh, I could have written more, but knew at some point, the end of the letter was inevitable – as hard as it was to admit.

I wrote how beautiful she is, and to never neglect herself as she cares for her patients.  To love deeply, laugh a lot, and stay close to God.  I quoted my favorite Scriptures and spoke blessings over her.  I gave her practical advice and (hopefully) words of wisdom.  I promised that, just as we have done for 14 years, we will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of our lives.

Wrapping up the third letter in the series, I told her:

I don’t like goodbyes.  I won’t say it to you.  Although we may never see each other on this earth, we are both Christians and will have eternity to spend with each other.  Life on this earth is very short.  So, instead of goodbye, I will say I’ll see you soon.  Whoever makes it to heaven first, wait for the other at the gate. 

I paused writing and broke down and cried.  I cried happy tears for all she has accomplished and overcome, and sad tears because the season of her life entwining with ours has come to a close.  However, Christians have a unique relationship.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ, because we are related by blood not of this world.  Christ’s sacrificial blood pumps through our spirit, and this bond is something no one can take away.  We are family indeed, and no amount of time or circumstance can separate us from one another – even if we are physically apart.

My children are still in my nest.  She is the first one to launch into the world and follow her dreams and the destiny that God has prepared for her.  I’m new at this launching thing.  I have no idea what to say.  I told her how much we love her and how incredibly proud we are of her.

It seemed that telling her how proud I am of her was a repetitive theme.  Perhaps it’s something I long to hear myself.  Both of my parents are gone and my biological father was only in my life for the past 8 short years.  Maybe I spoke to her some of the words I have been starving to hear.

Upon finishing her letter, my heart was nudged to pull my mom’s book off of the shelf.  I sat down and gazed at the simple artwork on the cover.  I gently turned the yellowed pages and read every word she marked for me.

I have felt a little lost with my writing lately.  Perhaps recovering from surgery has dimmed my creative juices, and I am physically more tired as I heal.  Ironically, my eyes fixed on one particular passage she underlined…

“Write your feelings down.  Create something based on your feelings, but do not keep them inside.”*

I soaked in her encouragement and let it penetrate my soul.  Her words were perfect timing for my life.

Through committing to child sponsorship, I thought we were rescuing a child and offering her opportunities to realize her dreams.  I hope we did just that, but I can tell you that this journey has rescued me and sparked hope for my dreams.  Even down to the last letter, when I was drawn to the words my mom left for me so many years ago for a time today when I really needed to hear her voice.

My mom left a legacy of a letter in the book she gave me.  We left a legacy to our Compassion daughter through the letters we wrote to her.  She left a legacy to us in her letters.  Her perseverance and hard work inspired us to continue with Compassion.

In her honor, we now have two more sponsored children each in a different part of the world.  They are young, sweet children who have their whole lives ahead of them.  I close my eyes and imagine the years of letters we will, Lord-willing, have to share with each other.  I look forward to expanding our family across the seas and investing spiritually, financially and emotionally into these two lives.  I smile with anticipation of all we will share.

It is easy to be discouraged from sponsoring a child because the financial commitment seems scary in this economy or we believe one person can’t make a lasting difference.  However, I know firsthand that our family can’t afford not to.  I am hopeful we made a difference in her life – but I am absolutely certain she made the world of difference in ours.  We are changed by her selflessness, love and tender spirit.  We are challenged by her resolve, strength, optimism and determination.  We will champion these same qualities in our new Compassion son and daughter.

If our paths do not cross in this lifetime and I reach heaven first, I will eagerly wait at the gate for my Compassion daughter.  I have a big hug I’ve been saving up a lifetime to give her.

The Great Sendoff

As I have fallen off the grid lately, intentionally, I have stolen a few moments here and there to just check in to see where the world is at.  A brief glance at Facebook, and I am reminded why this is my least favorite time of year.

Here they come.  Posts of friends and their sons and daughters headed to college.  Packed cars, unpacked dorm rooms and, in a few words or more, posts stream in about how proud and happy and sad parents are.

This takes my breath away.

I have endured such traumatic loss in my lifetime, I cannot bear the thought of my kids leaving home.  Naturally, I want the best for them.  God’s best for them.  But, I know the road of loss – and apart from not walking with God – it is the most lonely road in the entire world.

I read the posts and admire the photos, then the lump in my throat swells.  Eyes sting with salty tears.  My heart sinks as if it were my turn to kiss my babies’ heads one more time before closing the car door and leaving them on the green campus of their new home.

I just can’t take it.

It’s a selfish feeling, not wanting them to ever leave.  But, it gives me very small solace in understanding my issues.  Loss is extremely and especially hard for me.  Change is even harder.  I am well-acquainted with “new normals” and “survival” and “perspective.”  I get it, but it doesn’t guarantee relief in every situation.

This time of year, I typically reflect on the summer and all the memories it generously offers.  I prepare as best I can for the new school year.  Then, another wave of friends sends their precious not-so-little children to college and a tsunami of guilt and sorrow floods my heart.

I should have done more with them.  The science experiment.  The makeover.  The board games, I lament.  This is the only summer my kids will ever be this age.

The balance of my heart and head swings like a sail blown wildly in the wind.  I tell myself to give me break.  To be thankful for what we did do together.  To know that one person cannot be everything to everyone.

Then more photos and stories roll in via FB, text or conversation.

I, praise God, have a few more years before it’s our turn to post stories and photos, and on one hand it helps me prepare to hear others as they work through their grief.  On the other hand, however, knowing this is such a tender subject for me, I lose myself in unnecessary grief at the moment.  It’s not my turn, and this premature grief is stealing the joy from the moments I have with my children now.  My babies are still home.

Everyone has scars.  Everyone has a story.  The epicenter of my story is loss, and what is so frustrating is that it is something that I cannot get away from.

Loss will continue whether I want it to or not.  Change brings change.  I can only continue to try to adapt.  My kids tell me that I am one of the most optimistic people they know.  I reply, “My mom always said, ‘If you have a choice to laugh or cry…laugh.'”

I’m enjoying every laugh now, and pray it will give me strength when the inevitable tears come.

At the end of the day, I remind myself that this earth is not my home.  God is preparing a place for me, and in that place there is no sorrow, tears or guilt or goodbyes.  There is freedom and joy and peace.  That promise is what rocks me to sleep.

Hugging my kids a little tighter tonight.