2014 answered a lifelong question

*** This post may require a pot of coffee. ūüôā 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 Рit 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‚Äôs 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. ‚ÄúTake my life; I am no better than my ancestors.‚Ä̬†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,

‚ÄúOh, 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‚ÄĒmy joy in unrelenting pain‚ÄĒthat I had not denied the words of the Holy One.¬†‚ÄúWhat 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‚ÄĒwhether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free‚ÄĒand 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, ‚ÄúMy grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.‚ÄĚTherefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ‚Äôs power may rest on me.¬†That is why, for Christ‚Äôs 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‚Äôs will is‚ÄĒhis 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, ‚ÄúDo 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.‚ÄĚ

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‚ÄĒguilty 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, ‚ÄúWith man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.‚ÄĚ

Mark 10:27,¬†Jesus looked at them and said, ‚ÄúWith man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.‚ÄĚ

Luke 18:27,¬†Jesus replied, ‚ÄúWhat is impossible with man is possible with God.‚Ä̬†

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‚ÄĒeven 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 First Day For All of Us

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4: 6-8

Today, I join the ranks of mothers everywhere sending their children off to school for another year.  As much as I am excited about this day, it is bittersweet.  For three years, I treasured homeschooling two of my children (before that, all 3 of them attended private school).  Now, my middle schoolers are catching the big yellow bus with backpacks slung over their shoulders and offering me a smile goodbye.  My oldest begins another year of high school, and that means college is a year closer.  Be still my heart.

I’m transitioning all over again – finding my place in the world. ¬†I will have to get used to being without my kids during the day; to the quiet – which has its pros and cons.

As mixed as I feel about our new phase of life (happy for them & sad for me) I must choose which attitude I will wear today as real as I choose my clothes. ¬†I choose to look at the good in the day. ¬†The sad moments will come, and that’s okay. ¬†But, I can’t live in the sadness. ¬†God has given me too much to be joyful about that deserves to be celebrated. ¬†So, I’ll let the tears fall, but I am turning my eyes and ears to what are His gifts of joy which are meant to be enjoyed. ¬†I will unwrap each of them them slowly, thoughtfully and hold them close to my heart. ¬†And I will be thankful in all things.

Blessings I count today…

* God is with me every step on this amazing journey of parenthood.  He is always caught up to my life, so at any moment I can talk to Him and know He gets it.

* My children are healthy and have an opportunity for a great education.

* They are excited about school.

* God’s provision to send them with new school supplies. ¬†We are grateful.

* My sweet husband understands this is a tricky time for me and accepts that moodiness comes with the territory.

* My dog that will shadow me because she will miss them almost as much as I do.

* Finishing projects that have waited for years for attention.

* Caring for my family.

* Caring for others.

* My 2 new neighbors, who have quickly become new friends Рinvited me on a walk after everyone left for the day.  Fun!

* All of my friends and time to catch up with them.  They have been so tender toward me with prayers, texts, FB, emails and conversations Рknowing this school year is a new normal for me.  I have the BEST friends in the entire world!!

* Flexibility

* Rest

* Work

* Play

* Tending

* Healing

* Writing

* Breathing

* Knowing that not knowing who I am now is okay.  Transition takes time.

* Leftover chocolate chip pancakes that I got up before sunrise to make today by special request.

* The smell of my perfume lingering in the bathroom from my daughter who wanted to wear a little today.

* The sound of jazz music still playing in the family room from my youngest son who wanted it to help calm his jitters.

* The aroma of homemade pasta sauce simmering for a “comfort food” meal tonight to celebrate the completion of the first day.

* So happy that I was able to slip Scripture into each of their notebooks for encouragement.  I fell asleep too quickly last night to do it, but got it done between flipping pancakes and waking up those who overslept! (Scriptures I used РPhilippians 4:13, Philippians 1:6 & Proverbs 3: 5-6)

* Tears of joy and sorrow

* Laughter

* New beginnings

* God’s peace that is beyond my understanding.

* Anticipating my children back in the nest at the end of the day.

* Sharing all of this with my husband, my best friend.

Yep. ¬†There is much to be excited about, and I don’t want to miss a second of any of it. ¬†Think I’ll go eat a pancake. And I will be thankful. ūüôā

Respect: Cost versus benefit for parents and children

Yesterday we discussed respect and why children need to learn it.  Today, I want to touch on two main issues that can make or break respect Рfor children and adults.

Self-control and pride.

These are the muscles that either work for or against respect.  When we take away the drama of disrespect and peek underneath at what motivates someone to be disrespectful, typically there is a lack of self-control and an overload of pride.

Disrespect can be shown in any number of ways. ¬†Anyone can do it. ¬†It’s easy! ¬†We just say what we feel¬†with¬†no filter on our mouths. ¬†Or, we do what we feel like with no thought or concern of the repercussions¬†to our actions. ¬†Disrespect¬†is easy. ¬†It’s also very costly. ¬†Once a word leaves our mouth, we can never ever retract it. ¬†We can say we are sorry a hundred times, but it doesn’t make the word(s) disappear. ¬†Sticks and stones – yeah, right. ¬†We all know words hurt. ¬†It’s why we use them against people-to hurt them. ¬†Whoever first coined this phrase was spot on: If you can’t say¬†something¬†nice, don’t¬†say¬†anything at all. ¬†If everyone lived according to that the world would be a better place.

Disrespect can be shown in many ways without ever physically touching the other person.  Deliberate defiance, foot stomping, walking away, eyes rolling and rude body language screams disrespect without uttering a word or producing physical harm.  Oh, we are good.  We know exactly how to show disrespect if we want to.  After all, it comes naturally!  And for those who are closest to us, we know precisely the hottest buttons to push to show it.

When parents let a word from a child go here and there, they are in essence telling them what is acceptable behavior.  If the child says something out of line either by way of subject matter or foul language, and the parent turns a blind eye to disrespectful behavior, they have just told the child it is perfectly okay to say or do it.  A non-response is a response nonetheless.

Parents can, and should, only deal with so much at time. ¬†Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if heavy subject matter is being addressed, it is ineffective to try to correct every single thing the child has done wrong right then and there. ¬†But, it must be addressed at some point. ¬†After conflict, parents just want peace and quiet in their homes, so who wants to dredge up more issues? ¬†However, if the issue isn’t addressed, rest assured it will come up again and again. ¬†And, every time it comes up, a precedent has been set that whatever the child has said or done is permissible.

Children remember. ¬†They remember it was okay to say it, or do it, last time and they are thinking, So who’s the hypocrite now? ¬†I could get away with it before and not this time? ¬†Who’s the double standard now?

They are right. ¬†One thing I often tell my tween and teens regarding peer pressure is this – you have to have already made up your mind how you will respond to a situation. ¬†It’s far too much pressure to try to sort it all out in the heat of the moment. ¬†You have to have already determined your boundaries, that way, when the moment of decision comes you can simply fall back on what you previously decided.

It’s much the same with parenting. ¬†We have to have a plan. ¬†We must have boundaries. ¬†We must gather the courage to stick to them. ¬†Waiting until something comes up in the middle of conflict to determine how you feel about it is not the time to debate within ourselves what we should do. ¬†We should already know what we’re are going to do. ¬†It takes a lot of pressure off of ourselves to simply follow through with our standard, rather than create one on the spot.

Additionally, standards created on the spot are not reliable. ¬†Factors that affect said standard are: the offense committed by the child/teen, how angry the parent is, how¬†volatile the conflict gets, the kind of day the parent has had (what Mom or Dad’s mood is going into the conflict), and likewise what kind of mood and day the child/teen has had. ¬†All of those are centered around emotions, and emotions are fleeting and are extremely¬†temperamental (pardon the pun).

Decisions about what a parent will allow the child/teen to say must be predetermined when there is no conflict and the parent is in control of himself or herself.  It is so much easier to parent with a plan, rather than make it up as we go.

(Tip Рkids see right through a spontaneous plan, and they know how to use it against us.  I think they can smell it or see it or feel its vibe (just kidding), but they know us well enough to tell the difference when we are readily prepared and when we are winging it.)

Disrespect is a lack of self-control. ¬†We just can’t help ourselves! ¬†We know we are right, or even when we know we are wrong – we’re gonna be heard – and whatever it takes to make us feel heard, well, so be it. ¬†Yikes. ¬†This philosophy will land the growing child grounded and the adult child unemployed and most likely alone.

Self-control and pride. ¬†When I think about these two character traits, I see with my mind’s eye, the silly image we’ve all seen before. ¬†A person standing with a little angel that looks like the person on one shoulder and a little devil that looks like the person on the other shoulder. ¬†They are both debating their point-of-view into the person’s ear.

Self-control is one of the hardest virtues!  A lack of it wages war against our better judgement, only sees the moment, and could care less about long-term effects of the situation.

Pride is truly the root, the seed, of a lack of self-control – which leads to disrespect. ¬†We don’t want to admit we are wrong, and we certainly don’t want anyone to tell us we are wrong! ¬†A heaping dose of pride inhibits us from letting the other person finish speaking, choosing not to slam the door, choosing not to jump in the car and drive off, choosing not to say something we will deeply regret later.

For children of all ages, they are trying to figure this all out.  They do not have the life experience of say, getting fired from a job for yelling at the boss, or having security come remove them from the classroom for refusing to participate.

They are in a season of life of testing boundaries. ¬†It’s not necessarily always about how “bad” they are behaving. ¬†Sometimes, whether they realize it or not, they are trying to find civilized boundaries. ¬†When parents don’t teach them boundaries, how do kids know when to stop? ¬†If parents don’t have a plan, and therefore are constantly moving the boundary lines, then unnecessary confusion is created and no one is going to come out of that successfully.

There once was a study done with a group of children. ¬†They placed the children in a fenced-in yard with tons¬†of¬†fun things to do: swings, toys, slides, you know, fun stuff. ¬†The kids had a blast! ¬†They were as busy as ants at a picnic. ¬†Then, they took the fence away, but left the toys. ¬†The same group of kids meandered aimlessly around as if they were lost. ¬†They didn’t play with the toys. ¬†They just…wandered around. ¬†Fascinating! ¬†The conclusion was that when the fence was there, the kids knew they were free to do everything inside the fence. ¬†When the fence was removed, the kids didn’t know what they could do because they didn’t know how far they could roam or what else around them was fair game to play with.

The same principle applies to parenting in regards to respect. ¬†Parents must show children what is acceptable and what is not. ¬†They must use the same fence every time. ¬†Don’t move the fence around – that won’t help and will only confuse the child.

Is the child allowed to cuss at the parent?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to yell at the parent?  Yes or no. Is the child allowed to tell the parent to shut-up?  Yes or no.

Is the child allowed to storm off in an argument?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to slam doors, throw objects or turn away from the parent when being spoken to?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to roll their eyes or show other similar body language?  Yes or no.

These are the kinds of boundaries that need to be predetermined – preferably before the child is born, but it’s never too late to begin healthy, CONSISTENT boundaries.

Here’s a tough word…any of the above mentioned that the child/teen is permitted to do to parents, he or she will do the same things to their future boss and spouse. ¬†How’s that going to work for them? ¬†It won’t end well. ¬†And, for parents who are still trying to be their child’s best friend in the growing years, allowing the child/teen to get away with these things through rationalizing or justifying in the parent’s mind (oh, they’ve had a bad day, they’ve had a hard life, etc.) is going to result in the child resenting the parent. ¬†Why? Because the parent, in either spoken or unspoken terms, told the child it was okay to behave like this, but when the grown child tries to pull this stuff on the world, he or she will quickly find out the hard way the world won’t tolerate it and there is a price to be paid for such behavior. ¬†The grown child will, in essence, be baffled as to why the parent didn’t warn them. ¬†Why did the parent lead them on in something that is not reality? ¬†Why didn’t the parent better prepare the child for the real world? ¬†What will the parent say then?

Self-control, pride and respect are a threesome that cannot be separated.  A parent cannot deal with one without knowing the other two are in cahoots with it.  Again, a moment of conflict is probably not the best time to address every single last issue.  The child is not in a position to hear and process all that at once.  But, when tempers have cooled down and everyone is thinking clearly and in a receptive mood to listen, boundaries must be reaffirmed and appropriate consequences given for breaking through the fence.

We are not born knowing boundaries.  We are born trying to buck them.  Take advantage of the little amount of time we have to set up our children for a successful future.  It may mean rough waters for now, but the end result is a healthy family who knows their rules and children know their place.  The end result will, hopefully, be mature, respectful children who will esteem their parent for better preparing them for the real world.

Bottom line Рa parent will count the cost for how they parent now or later.  The parent must choose whether to work through the rough spots now, even though they are tired, have hard jobs, have hard marriages, or feel too inadequate to effectively parent, or the parent can choose to turn a blind eye, remove the fence for the sake of a moment of peace and not invest in a plan, but wind up with a grown child who has trouble with work and relationships Рincluding with the parent.

We must decide today Рtoday Рhow we will parent.  There are many great books about parenting available.  Invest now and enjoy the payoff later.

<<Check out a great book recommendation on my Books page!>>

Chicks in my nest

Yesterday was a good day. ¬†A busy day. ¬†A day especially fulfilling as a mom. ¬†We’ve had a lot going on (like most people) and I’ve felt quite pulled in many directions. ¬†However, I got to check some important boxes on my “mom list.” ¬†I got the laundry caught up, took care of some things at home, and was out most of the day shopping for basic needs.¬†We are blessed to live where food is available. I never take that for granted – especially after having been to Africa last year. ¬†Some things in life seem so unfair, and so I try to be a good steward of our money and what it buys.

I love cooking and baking. ¬†There is something gratifying about starting with nothing and ending up with a creation that makes others happy and satisfied. ¬†We’ve been pantry-pullin’ (meaning eating out of the freezer, pantry and fridge) for quite some time to stretch the budget and eat what we already have. ¬†But, there comes a point when a restock is necessary. ¬†This was yesterday. ¬†I asked my family what they would like and I made a list.

First, I went to one superstore to get the dry stuff.  After running carpool, going to the post office, etc. I made another trip to my local grocer to get the fresh stuff.  Both were long trips and I was ready to be done (but thankful I could do it in the first place).

As the kids and I unloaded the van and were putting the food away together, my daughter called me to the backyard. ¬†We’ve been tracking the progress of a Robin’s nest for a while now. ¬†The babies finally hatched (featured in yesterday’s post) and they are growing more¬†restless by the day. ¬†Their routine has been: sit quietly for a while, then frantically call for their mom who comes swooping in¬†with¬†a huge worm clutched in her beak. ¬†She hoovers in the air, wings rapidly¬†flailing, while she gives each baby bird part of the worm. ¬†Then, in an instant, she flies off in search for more. ¬†She’s extremely shy, and no matter how many times I quietly race out there with my camera, she’s gone in a flash.

In the middle of unloading everything, my daughter called to me that Mamma is back again with yet another worm to settle their veracious¬†appetites. ¬†I got there just in time to see her in action. ¬†She was so quick, I couldn’t even focus my lens before she vanished. ¬†But, for a brief moment, I watched her do her thing. ¬†It touched me in a special way. ¬†I stood silently and watched those babies rustle their feathers and squirm about in the nest. ¬†They won’t be there much longer. ¬†One baby hopped up onto the side of the nest and peered over the edge several times out of¬†curiosity.

It was then I made the connection to Mamma Robin.  She and I, oddly, live similar lives.  She built a strong nest to hatch her babies.  The walls are unusally high, and even on the top step of a ladder (yeah, I know, what was I thinking!) I still could not see into the nest.  Indeed, she built a humble home for her little ones up under the roof of the house to protect them from the hawks that are common here.  She sat with them while they were very young, and now spends most of her time and energy caring for their needs.

Oh how I can relate!  Ironically, her flying to and fro made me chuckle as I had done the exact same thing yesterday, except I drove from store-to-store.

All three birds comfy and cozy yesterday.

Baby Robin #1 left home yesterday afternoon…and landed right into our pool. ¬†My daughter didn’t hesitate to jump in after it.

It’s so scared! ¬†But it’ll be fine. ¬†It’s in good hands (literally!)

Wet, but safe!  It shakes off the water, as well as the whole experience, and runs under a bush.

Yesterday, two were left.

We can tell #2 is getting ready to leave by the way it paces and hops around.

<<Baby Robin #2 left sometime last night or early this morning.>>  We were excited to see her hopping around this morning.

The elusive mamma captured in a rare (albeit fuzzy) photo.

Baby Robin #3 is the only one left this morning.

While writing this post this morning, my kids called to me to come quickly.  I arrived just in time to see #3.  After perching on the edge and pacing back and forth, he finally gathered the courage and took flight.

Oops!  Trying to learn to fly, he landed in the pool, just like Baby #1.  My daughter rescued him as well.  Here is is wet and flustered.

The empty nest.

My mom’s heartstrings pulled as I gazed at this quiet nest. ¬†For many days it was a time of anticipation and excitement. ¬†The eggs hatched, and three adorable babies entered the world. ¬†They grew a little each day. ¬†Mamma Robin faithfully attended their needs. ¬†They began to wriggle around in the nest, jockeying for position to receive the most food. ¬†They discovered there is an edge to the nest. ¬†And beyond the edge, there is something mysterious – a ledge of sorts. ¬†On that ledge, they are able to see down to the ground and out into the horizon. ¬†They curiously looked around, rustling their feathers and boasting their chests. ¬†Mamma bird called and they jumped back into the nest. ¬†There she found them waiting for another meal. ¬†She left to hunt again, and they hopped back out onto the ledge, each time with a little more boldness and courage than the time before.

Then it happened. ¬†The first one flew away. ¬†The second one flew away. ¬†The third one flew away. ¬†The nest is quiet. ¬†Mamma’s job tending the nest is finished. ¬†She follows them on the ground for a while, still bringing them food, but no longer do they fly back to the safety of the nest. ¬†They are on their own. ¬†This is, indeed, the story of our children.

What seemed like forever waiting for these baby chicks to grow into cute, fuzzy birds, is now a mere memory recorded in pictures.

In my family, I have one chick perched on the edge, one rustling her feathers, and one pretty comfortable snuggled in the nest.  I can provide.  I can watch over them.  I can tend the nest.  But, I cannot stop time and nature from taking its course.

A bird can only appreciate her job so much.  She is, after all, a bird.  But, we are made differently.  We are made in the image of God Рwith thoughts, feelings and responses.  We have the ability to embrace the task of mothering that God has given us and do it to the best of our abilities.  I never once heard Mamma Robin squawking and complaining to the other mammas about her job.  I never saw her make the babies feel guilty for having needs.  We can learn a lot from this mamma.  Do we take our jobs to heart and show our gratitude for the blessing of our children?  Do we enjoy the time we have with them or wish it would hurry up and end?

I¬†once overheard a mother in a store talking to a friend. ¬†The mother’s middle school daughter was standing right beside her when the mother said, with great enthusiasm, “Yes! ¬†I just have a few more years and then I am FREE! ¬†I won’t have any of this anymore and I will be FREE!” ¬†Oh how my heart broke for that¬†beautiful¬†young lady who stood there with her shoulders down and face to the ground. ¬†That was several years ago. ¬†I wonder how that mom is enjoying her freedom now, because I can’t imagine the daughter ever wanting to revisit her nest.

It’s a cliche, but time is short. ¬†Make the most of it. ¬†Most mothers wanted their children when they had them. ¬†Do we truly act like it? ¬†These are harsh words, but it’s the raw reality that in a self-centered society such as ours, the kingdom of mothers can quickly turn into a whiny parade of women who can’t let life be about anyone but themselves.

Our children will grow up and fly with or without us.  We have the responsibility to provide for their needs.  But, we have also been given the privilege to enjoy the journey along the way.  I lost my mom when I was 16.  I know time is short.  None of us know how long we have on this earth.  But, you have today.  I encourage you to enjoy it.  Enjoy tending the nest.  Enjoy providing.  Enjoy protecting.  Enjoy your children Рwhile they are still children. And be thankful.

Favorite Fifteen! 15 things I love about being a mom

*** This just in! ¬†For all of you wonderful people who prayed for my mother-in-law’s surgery yesterday, she came through it well. ¬†We don’t know any of the details, but if I start getting weak in the knees I’m going back to the Scriptures from yesterday’s post! ¬†Thank you for your prayers, emails, posts, texts and phone calls. ¬†We appreciate them!

Okay…15 things I love about being a mom-in no particular order ūüôā

*  I can convince my kids to dance with me in the middle of dinner.

* ¬†“Say yes to the dress” while snuggling with my daughter on the couch.

*  When my tween son looks at me, his eyes sparkle and gleam with love that only a son can give.

*  My kisses possess magical power to heal hurts and hearts.

*   My high-school son keeps the notes I slip into his school lunch.

*  I have been blessed with this motley crew of humans that God put together under one roof who accept me just as I am.

* ¬†All of our family’s private jokes. ¬†Priceless!

*  I have dozens of pet names for my kids.  They know them all and answer to them!

* ¬†They trust me and know I’ve got their best interest at heart.

* Performing an animated solo flash-mob to my teenage daughter while the grocery store’s overhead speakers played Whitney Houston’s song, “I will always love ¬†you” in the middle of the checkout line last night. ¬†The clerk laughed as I walked out with my arm around my sweet thing serenading her all the way to the van.

* ¬†We’re not afraid to talk about the tough stuff.

*  The smell of their freshly washed hair.

*  Watching them grow into amazing young adults.  What a privilege.

*  They give me an excuse to drop everything and have a pillow fight in the living room!

* ¬†No one else but my family would want to live with me! ūüôā


So long, control freak

The warmer weather we’ve been blessed with this spring is good for both the body and soul. ¬†Joggers, runners, walkers, dog-walkers, kids playing – everyone seems to be overjoyed at the temperate climate. ¬†We, too, just have to get out and savor it! ¬†One thing our family loves to do is bike ride. ¬†Long rides. ¬†Hours-long rides. ¬†I make sure sunscreen has been applied; we check our tires for air; stock up on water and protein bars; dig out the sunglasses; make minor adjustments to our bicycle helmets; make sure everyone is wearing good socks; double-check that everyone has gone to the bathroom; grab my cell phone and a few band-aids and then set off for an adventure once Mom’s checklist is complete. ¬†I take my job as mother very seriously. ¬†While our chicks are in our nest, they are our responsibility. ¬†It’s my job as a mother. ¬†The job I’ve wanted since I was a very little girl.

One particular day, we chose to take a long ride on the less-traveled, country road versus the congested city path. ¬†This back road is quiet and pretty. ¬†There wasn’t another person or dog or vehicle anywhere. ¬†My kids and I took our time cruising along the tree-lined street. ¬†We were all well-spaced apart,¬†because¬†we could be on this lonely road – with no threat of danger.

I noticed my youngest son had lagged a bit behind, so I stopped my bike under a large shade tree to wait for him. ¬†Birds sang, the breeze blew the tall, golden grass as if it were bowing down to the sun. ¬†It was such a picturesque moment. ¬†I was about 10 yards ahead of my little guy, patiently waiting, when all of a sudden a huge, black Suburban came¬†barreling¬†around the corner. ¬†It came up behind my son like a shark locked on a target in the ocean. ¬†My heart raced and palms began to sweat, as I stood wide-eyed and helpless – just out of reach to help my son. ¬†I held my breath and said to myself, not wanting to startle him on his small bike, “Steady, steady, just don’t fall.” ¬†Right as the Suburban passed him, my son hit a hole in the road and fell into the street. ¬†I mean, exactly as the enormous vehicle whizzed by him, he fell directly into that space of road – narrowly escaping the large, heavy tires.

I gasped! ¬†Then screamed! ¬†Thankfully, he was okay. ¬†The Suburban just missed him. ¬†I ran to him, in shock of what had just happened. ¬†We were on a desolate street. ¬†Birds were singing, and we were enjoying such a wonderful bike ride, when in a split second everything changed. ¬†I saw my son’s young life flash before my eyes. ¬†Where did this vehicle come from? ¬†Why did my son have to hit a hole in the road at the precise moment the vehicle passed by him? ¬†Everything¬†happened so fast. I was¬†clearly¬†shaken – more than him.

I asked him repeatedly if he was okay – both body and mind. ¬†He was fine. ¬†I was not. ¬†He was young enough to shake it off. ¬†I wasn’t ready to move an inch. ¬†Not only did I witness something¬†terrifying as a person, but this was my son and it is my job to keep him safe.¬† I felt like I had failed. ¬†Miserably. ¬†Physically, there was nothing I could do. ¬†I was just far enough away that no matter how fast I can run, I couldn’t have intervened in the nano-second long moment. ¬†For the rest of the long bike ride, I was¬†haunted¬†by the image of seeing him fall into the street, narrowly¬†missing the large, ominous vehicle. ¬†I replayed it over and over¬†trying¬†to think of anything I could’ve done to prevent the situation. ¬†Nothing. ¬†There was nothing I could’ve done. ¬†That brought me back to feeling like a failure.

If you ask my husband, I can be a little over the top when it comes to keeping my kids safe. ¬†Although this was a freak accident, I kept thinking that it must have been – in some way – my fault, because I couldn’t stop it. ¬†Deep feelings of anxiety and angst welled up in my heart, and I nearly had to get off my bike to breathe. ¬†That’s when God reminded me that He is the One who controls all – not me. ¬†He is God of time and space – I am not. ¬†He sees all, knows all, and is in all. ¬†My job title as a mother is simply manager. ¬†His job title as God…is God. ¬†The two are not equal. ¬†This was my lesson for the day. ¬†Bad things do happen, and boy do we have stories of ER visits from school injuries, hardware store injuries, sports injuries, etc., because we live in a fallen, sinful world. ¬†No one can escape that. ¬†And I never thought I was God, that would be ridiculous and insane, but I had bought the lie that I could be the end-all, need-meeter for my kids. ¬†Clearly, I cannot. ¬†That was never written in my mommy contract. ¬†I suppose my maternal hormones kicked in when I first became a mom and I hand-wrote an addendum to my mommy contract because Mamma Bear just can’t help it. ¬†What that lie did was create an enormous amount of pressure on my myself to be the perfect mother. ¬†Not to have perfect kids, but I believed that I could always be there, every time, for them. ¬†This bike ride proved I cannot.

What I can do is release my children into God’s care. ¬†Try as I might to be their best mother, I will fail sometimes. ¬†A lot. ¬†And that’s okay. ¬†Because more than being dependent on me for every need, I want them to be dependent on God. ¬†He is the One that knew them before they were born, knew their names first, counts every hair on their head, understands their every thought, every dream, and watches their every move – both past, present and future. ¬†He is their all-in-all. ¬†He’s mine, too. ¬†Much peace returns to my heart when I remember His omnipotent presence. ¬†Below is an excerpt from the devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young.

“This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control…You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence…The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes…As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand.”

Both¬†Psalm 139: 1-17¬† and Psalm 121 roll around in my mind and speak Truth to my restless mother’s heart. ¬†When I remember who God is, I am free to be who I was called to be – a mom, saved by grace, doing the best she can. ¬†And, I have much peace knowing that God’s got my kids in His hands, even when they aren’t holding onto mine.

True Beauty

Recently, my teenage daughter and I began reading 5 Conversations You Must Have with Your Daughter by Vicki Courtney.  We were instantly hooked on this book!  It pulls no punches when discussing true beauty and self-worth compared to the false standard society wants us to believe.

The first section title reads, “You are more than the sum of your parts.” ¬†Yes! Beautiful truth poured from this book into my¬†daughter’s¬†heart (and mine, too). Refreshing. ¬†Empowering. ¬†However, less than 24 hours later, I stood speechless in the checkout line at the grocery store as one magazine cover caught my eye. ¬†It is a popular, mainstream magazine with its place marker square in the middle of the stand for all to see. ¬†What I saw on it, I wished I hadn’t. ¬†There was a woman, fully naked, donning the cover. ¬†Even part of the article title said so-and-so bares all. ¬†There was no ambiguity here…they absolutely put a fully naked¬†woman on a magazine that will sit on mainstream stands across America, and who will see those magazine covers? ¬†You, me, and our children.

I was still digesting the powerful statements and facts 5 Conversations gave us the night before regarding the value of inner beauty and the ugly lies disguised in the latest fashion trend, when there I stood face-to-face with the antithesis of the book. ¬†A fury ignited in me. ¬†How dare people subject my sons to this! ¬†We prohibit movies, video games and books that have this kind of imagery in them, and all my tween and teen boys have to do is wait with me to buy milk and are subjected to an image they ought not to see. ¬†I was angry that my sons, who work deliberately and diligently at being gentlemen, would see this. Then another horrifying thought occurred to me. ¬†What if my daughter had been here? ¬†How do I justify this magazine after reading 5 Conversations last night? ¬†Of course she knows I wouldn’t outwardly rationalize and justify the nude, seemingly perfect body and everything it represents, but if I say nothing then I am sending the same message of approval.

After checking out, I asked to speak to the manager. ¬†I told him how disappointed I was that a grocery store that advertises itself as family friendly would put this front and center of the checkout line at young children’s eye level. ¬†I pointed to the article sidebar,¬†…and make no mistake, she’s naked. ¬†The title even says it.¬†He replied that he has seven children and understands my concern, but has no control over it. ¬†I agree that he has no control of what they put on magazines, but as the manager, he does have control of what he does with that magazine in his store. ¬†I offered three suggestions: remove this issue; move it to the back of the store where the other questionable magazines are; or, if by contract it needs to stay at the checkout line, then it should have a cover in front of it. ¬†He offered to remove this issue from the racks altogether.

The next day, I’m back in the store for a forgotten item, and to my surprise, there was the magazine back on the racks of the checkout aisles. ¬†I asked to speak to the manager again. ¬†He explained that the ones he removed were still sitting on his desk and that someone else must have restocked more copies. ¬†I reminded him of his seven children, and my children, and all children, and said, For this magazine, perhaps you should check on it more frequently until a new issue comes out. ¬†He said he would remove the new ones and ask the clerks to keep an eye out for future similar problems. ¬†To my delight, my third trip to the store several days later revealed not a single issue of that magazine on public display.

Was I an annoying, high-maintenance customer? ¬†Probably. ¬†Am I sorry? ¬†No. My children aren’t the only ones subjected to these magazines staring back at us in checkout lines. ¬†As a parent, I will remain vigilant to protect my kids from needlessly stolen moments of childhood. ¬†For my sons, it is so they will not be tempted and become desensitized to what should be held sacred. ¬†For my daughter, it is to reiterate that she is indeed more than the sum of her parts. ¬†If we don’t tell our own daughters this, who will?

It is our¬†responsibility¬†to speak up and prohibit society’s unattainable, mirage-like status from becoming status¬†quo in our homes. ¬†Lives are at stake. ¬†Health is at risk. ¬†Self image becomes a slippery slope with enormous¬†repercussions¬†if not cultivated in the Truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). ¬† After all, if someone had taken the time to tell the woman who posed for the magazine that she, too, is worth more than the sum of her parts – she is a wonderful work of God – then perhaps she never would have sold her body for a fleeting photo in the first place.