Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Glory of God

"Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.

And He said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Lord, come and see.' 

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, 'See how He loved him!' And some of them said, 'Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?' 

Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' 

Martha, the sister of him who was dead said to Him, 'Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.' 

Jesus said to her, 'Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"

Days are such interesting things. You can have thirty pass without even realizing it, and then there are times in life where a few days strung together seem to literally drive your life out of one season and distinctly into a new one. I love those days. I've been blessed to have so many of them. Going to college, meeting Chad, getting engaged, getting married, each and every birth of my children. We start a day with this certain capacity and end with a new one. Hours might as well be years, as you're charted away into new waters. 

The past seven days represent a marker in our lives forever. We will not come out on the other side the same. Even the first few hours in, somehow, my mind was processing that fact. This will change us. This will change me. 

At the close of 24 hours, together alone in the surgery waiting room of a children's hospital, Chad and I sat hand in hand, processing together in hushed voices. "If I could tell anyone anything," Chad said, "it would be to start spending time with Jesus every day." It sounds so simple. But cultivating a friendship with Jesus, really knowing Him, has changed everything. The veil between earth and heaven in those hours was so thin. I don't know how our feet carried us from one point to another. It is blurred in my mind, those details seeming to run together and bleed like water spilled on a painting. But there are other images, other details from these past seven days, especially that first 24 hours that I will treasure all of my life. I have felt the richness of God's love and the presence of Jesus more in these days than ever before. 

I used to hear stories like this, friends finding themselves standing in a sudden and terrible storm, and feel that kicked in the gut, breathless, sobbing, horror. The kind where I didn't know what to say, I fearfully hugged my children, rocked them and cried and thanked God I wasn't going through the trial. To be on this side of it, to have stared down the barrel of my darkest fear, I am so relieved to know it was nothing like I imagined it to be. 

I will not dishonor the gift of God's love by iterating any traumatic moments, taking you through every detail. Those details, laid out on paper, or internet paper, do not convey the grace we felt and the love that covered our every move. I will not magnify the fear. I will not give attention to it. 

I will boast that right away, as I stepped out of the doctors office and heard words that would have made me shudder and vomit all at once from the outside, I felt the strings of fear tied to my heart suddenly be clipped by the Holy Spirit. I felt a holy roar echoing in my chest, an utter confidence that God is good. God is life. The fingerprints of God are life and resurrection and healing and hope. As I scanned the concerned faces of the office staff and nurses, I turned to Dee and said, "Dee, do you know Jesus?" She said she did. "Good," I said, "because He loves Cade." 

And sitting in the ER, clutching Lily to me while Chad and a surgeon had taken Cade back for initial scans, while tears streamed down my cheeks, I knew I had to use every opportunity I could to speak about the triumph of God's nearness any chance I had in this unknown journey. 

It makes me sick to think anyone would hear of our story and use it as evidence against trusting God. That anyone would hear it and be afraid of Him, as if He is the author of disease or illness or delights in hurting His own. How dare anyone take my story and twist it. Because my story, Cade's story, Chad's story, is fully and inseparably bound up in the goodness of God. 

I slept that first night and woke up realizing we had found this just at the right time. It was like a holy gasp, a precious gift of a realization. The first of many convictions that God was and is orchestrating Cade's healing. As my friend Heather and I sat by Cade's bed processing the events while he slept peacefully, we realized that years ago, while I was in junior high or even earlier, our surgeon was spending hours studying and sleeplessly fulfilling rotations so that he could be ready to labor over my son's body in his hour of need. A surgeon who we prayed with, who we later learned loved Jesus, and was only on call that night at the ER but told his fellow that he could NOT let our case pass to anyone else's hands because there was something about us that compelled him to take care of it. Years ago, God began the work of deliverance for my son.

As I have processed with different people, sharing the promises, the verses, the text encouragements, the prophetic words over my sons life, I have literally felt angels hovering close. They're amazed at the mysery of the love of God. I have felt a hospital room, beeping with lifelines and pulsing with IV fluids and pain meds, become infused with hope and peace and an inexplicable joy. I have found that down in the depths, there is joy. My God illumines my darkness. As Psalm 139 says, the darkness is not dark to Him. To Him, it shines like the day. 

Our final day in the hopsital we walked Cade up and down the post-op unit, and heard him pray for every baby he saw. Just a simple prayer. I laid in bed with him every night, and one precious night we talked about Jesus loving Cade, and Cade's salvation was illuminated to me in new ways. What a gift. My son is 4. He knows God. 

We have a list of things we are thankful for from this past week that is ABSURDLY long. It's not embellished. It's truth. We are overwhelmed with thankfulness. We have asked friends to contribute to it. Hearing our community thankful for this with us has TRANSFORMED the darkest moments. 

Some people have texted and remarked about my strength- which makes me laugh. Guys, I'm about as strong as an infant most days. I feel shaky at best on my own. For about two hours I thought I was strong, then the Lord reminded me that I'm just a mom. I'm scared of everything. Helmetless drives in convertibles, words like disease, unknown futures. He is strong. He is in me. He makes my way perfect and enables me to stand on the heights. HE LIVES ON THE HEIGHTS. Ground level living is terrifying- and I know I've reverted there by the nausea I start to feel and the trembling. But if I let Him give me hind's feet on high places, I can stand with Him on the heights. THE GOD OF PEACE WILL SOON CRUSH SATAN UNDER YOUR FEET. When I stand with Him, I have perfect peace. 

Chad and I have collected some of our favorite moments over the past few days. Life is a gift. Trials are a gift. I would not choose them. But God is good to His word- He is a man acquainted with grief and unafraid of coming close. He sustains us when we fix our gaze on Him. 

Don't get me wrong. Cancer is from hell. It's a result of sin. It's not God's assignment. The Son of Man came to destroy the works of the enemy, and He spent most of His ministry healing. He wasn't healing what God had inflicted. He was healing what sin and death had sown into the earth. I am convinced Cade will be healed- and between us, I'm convinced it will be THIS side of Heaven- "I would have lost heart had I not believed that I would see the goodness of God in the LAND OF THE LIVING." 

My whole life I have loved the Word of God. In enneagram testing, I am a seven. Sevens HATE pain and hate deprivation. Sevens like a party. Sevens realized at a young age that they were too sad. In my mind, I was pensive as a kid and absorbed everything and the only thing that got me out of myself was reading the Bible. Y'all, God SET ME UP. I have been eating up promises people are texting, pouring over my minds memory of verses, hovering near the Bible. It's like a treasure hunt every day. So, were you to ask me for advice I'd say- READ YOUR BIBLE. 

Second, I'd say get into a community of crazy people. I have crazy friends all over. Crazy friends who had a prayer hour during my son's surgery. Crazy friends who hosted a prayer and worship night Sunday night in honor of Cade. Crazy friends who text us, show up at the hopsital bearing Lara bars and starbucks, refuse to let us give up, and weep with us WITH hope. I saw a stunning quote this week from my girl Havilah Cunnington that said, "Courage does not happen in isolation. It happens in community." TRUTH. Courage has welled up in our hearts every day a new because people are praying. THANK YOU. Do not give up on friends, do not give up on churches, or small groups, or sharing even if its uncomfortable or seems routine or silly. And find crazy people. People who believe bigger than you, fight longer than you, and love you way more than your deserve. Truly, our hearts are being held by friends. 

When I found out at 40 weeks pregnant that Cade had a cleft lip, and we waited a hard week to see whether or not it would involve his palette and many surgeries, we labored in prayer. We both came away with promises, but one that Chad shared with me that felt especially poignant was this verse out of John 11:40 "Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?"

We marveled over that verse then, little knowing that only a few years down the road, that verse would take on new flesh for a promise we need. Over the past seven days we have revisited the promises we got when we were pregnant with Cade, including his name: Cademen "wise warrior" and Joseph, who said to his brothers, "what you meant for evil, God meant for good". We are finding that God was initiating with us even then for this moment. Years before we knew. And thank you Lord we didn't know.

I want to write this, even though right now I feel tired and mentally and physically ready to sleep, only because I think the audience of people praying for and carrying us HAVE to know that on the other side of your deepest fear stands Jesus. Always. Only Jesus. I am seeing Him in a whole new way. 

My Bible reading plan had me begin Revelation this week, and I was struck with the comparison to when John, one of Jesus' closest friends, the one who reclined on His chest and was the beloved disciple, saw Jesus in His glory, he fell on his face. The familiar Jesus, who he'd seen work countless miracles and watched wake up from sleep and broke bread with and wandered countrysides with, had suddenly taken on such a new and glorious shape, John literally couldn't stand up in His presence. I feel that. I feel like this has taken the Friend I've always known, the one who sat with me in every childhood transition and calmed my fears and stilled my insecurities and navigated high school with me, has suddenly transformed before my eyes. All authority on Heaven and earth belong to Him, He holds the keys to death and hell, and He is living to make intercession for me, living to make intercession for my son. As Psalm 34:4-5 says, 

"I sought the Lord and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed." 

Y'all, for me right now I'm learning that the same rules apply in trials as do in good times. Right when we walked into the ER I just knew resounding in my heart was a gut desire to do this well. Whatever this may look like. Why? Because on the other side of every pain is reward. Chad's uncle prayed over Cade that the Lord would exact a penalty for Cade from the enemy for every day we dealt with this. The enemy is the accuser of the brethren, and he would love nothing more than to tell God what a whiner I am, how mad I am at God, how disappointed I am. But Jesus LIVES TO MAKE INTERCESSION for me. I have screamed into the air in my car this week, " I AM NOT MAD AT GOD. HE IS FOR ME. HE IS WITH ME. I LOVE HIM. I TRUST HIM." I am so grateful Chad initiated us walking in thankfulness- so I do not complain like a little bratt. As Bill Johnson said in that awesome sermon I linked to instagram, when we said YES to God, we lost the right to call the terms of what trials we would walk through. Heck, even if you don't say yes to God, NO ONE controls their own life. So this is my goal: the enemy will not get one single victory here. I will cry out to God- and that means crying, screaming, talking, whispering, whatever else- but it does not include muttering, grumbling or complaining. I will, by the accountability of friends and family and the Holy Spirit, choose to see what God has done, look to what He has promised, and cling to Him in hope. 

I want to infuse you with courage as you read this. I want you to hear about this journey and stand up where you are and scream with joy. Even in the tension of waiting, in the cloud of unknown, you can thrive. You can find God. His nearness is our good. It truly is. He is closer than a brother in times of trouble, and my siblings and I are pretty close. I used to hate reading Job. Remember, I am a seven. We hate pain. But I've had to read it the past few years in my Bible reading plans, sometimes even twice a year (WHY). I see it differently now. James 5:11 says, "As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is FULL of compassion and mercy."  

In about five minutes emotionally I could be bankrupt again, but I am so glad my circumstances and my emotions do not determine God's character. If there is anything to take away from this story, it's that God is good- and as people of God, as psalm 34 says, we go from STRENGTH TO STRENGTH, each of them appears before God in Zion. Y'all, just hold your breath for the glory that is going to come from this. As Jesus said to Martha and Mary right after he wept (because he fully partakes in our pain with us), "DID I NOT TELL YOU THAT IF YOU BELIEVE, YOU WILL SEE THE GLORY OF GOD?" Let's believe together. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

What You Are First

Let me begin with this brief but necessary statement: I am not an expert. Looking back at my last post, I guess that's what most bothers me about A LOT of people getting access to platforms, big or small, and presenting opinions as truth and using their lives as a sort of cornerstone from which we all should build ours.

But I'm less fired up today so suffice it to say: God is not a copy and paste God. Truth never changes. But in order for us to work out Truth in our own lives, we have to stay close to the Holy Spirit because it does NOT always look the same.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
2 Timothy 3: 16-17

This diversity in how we walk out our callings carries a very beautiful tension in it. I rub shoulders everyday in friendship with women who are living by the same Truth and the tasks we are called to are very different.

I got a phone call with a friend this weekend that my heart didn't even know it needed.  She'd called wanting clarity on something that recently God had been talking to me about but I hadn't had time to fully process. God's sneaky like that. He knew I needed to rehearse those same truths, and I was not going to do without impetus from somewhere else.

Her initial text said this:
"Hey Charis, I remember you sharing a few years ago how sometimes motherhood is hard for you because of the different dreams that were on your heart. I am totally in the throes of that right now and I'm really wanting to learn how to find peace in this season."

In all honesty, deep into this fourth kid business, my dreams have shrunk to both the immediate and practical:
to have empty laundry baskets and a floor that cleans itself,
to teach Cade to aim when he pees,
to work out in peace,
to literally be in a hut on an island where there's a whirling fan, a massive bed with white linens, and I am told to sleep for as long as I like- and since my quality time bucket has a hole, Chad can be there too but he has to be watching football on his ipad with earphones in and my kids can be playing in another room being supervised by my favorite highschooler Chloe.

But while we talked, I grabbed my journal and went to an entry I had written just a few weeks before that I'd almost forgotten about.

About a year ago I was asked to step into a role at our church that felt so out of my comfort zone and gifting zone (to be honest) and while it's not a part-time or full-time job, it requires a lot of my emotional and mental space some weeks. Ever since I accepted it, I've had this new wrestle in my heart. Is this "yes" stealing from my kids? How can I possibly be a good mom and a good anything else right now? Can I do both things well? Did call me to be a mom, or to be this?

I am not sure if men deal with this struggle. I've never heard Chad consider quitting his job because he thinks its taking him away from the kids. He has never once said he felt guilty for leaving them with me. Maybe some men do feel guilty. In our home, that's not the case. So Chad hasn't really understood me when I'm anxious for my children, wondering if they'll look back on their childhoods and not think they were truly epic. And if it wasn't, could it be because Mom was distracted, irritated over a million other things, and half-hearted? (Because somehow in my messed up thinking, if I didn't have this "job" to think about, I'd be Mary Poppins. Surely, right?!)

I took all this mess to God. I have so many friends who work part-time, full-time and feel CALLED to what they're doing. And I don't doubt them. But the wrestle is real. I was trying to sort through my own callings, leadings, promptings, purpose, designs, etc. As I journaled, I felt like God said it all boiled down to one question:


As Bill Johnson says, when God asks a question, I don't assume I know the answer. So I wrote out what I felt like He was saying.

First, you are a daughter. This teaches you worship, and identity. You are not an orphan. You are not a victim.
Second, you are a wife. This teaches you love and faithfulness. You were created to be a lifelong companion to Chad, equal in worth, suited to best walk out life with him.
Third, you are a mother. This teaches you leadership, how to champion people, and how to cover them well.

Everything else is fruit of those roles. I learn who I am by prioritizing being a daughter of God. I don't have to fight for my giftings, for my advancement, for my recognition, for my "time" in the spotlight. I can trust the Father with all my dreams, island get away and all.

In my life, the second role I received after being a daughter was being a wife. I learn how to love and how to be consistent and helpful, truly useful and practically beneficial by creating a safe place for my husband. It is a gift to walk with him. It is a privilege to know him. It is good to tell him that I believe he was created to lead our family well, and he doesn't have to be passive. Eve showed us all what happens when we take the reigns from our men. NOTE: IT DOESN'T END WELL.

And after I was made a wife, I became a mother. I learn how to lead others, how to believe in others, how to forgive, how to fight on behalf of others, how to inspire others, how to make others great by being a mom. Motherhood has taught me self-forgetfulness in the truest and sweetest ways. I am not jealous of my kids giftings, I am not trying to vicariously live through them, I am so proud of who they are and what they're like and they haven't even begun to try and impress me.

If I can be a daughter, then be a wife, and then be a mother, in my heart first, I can take on other roles without getting them confused. Being anything else doesn't take away what I am first and foremost in my life. I don't know what roles you'll walk in, what things you're taking on, and I don't have a cut and clear vision for what to say yes to and what to say no to. It will probably shift for so many of us all throughout our lives. Women's lives are so seasonal and transient that way. But staying connected to the Father, staying connected to what we are FIRST, as a daughter, teaches us how to live everything else out.

"So friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter. May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech." 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 MSG

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Buy the Truth, and do not sell it

Yall. My writing lately. I just want to say I have four kids and I haven't slept through the night in four months. I am hanging onto threads of sanity some days and mostly resemble that hamster that teachers keep in elementary classrooms. AM I MAKING ANY PROGRESS? IS IT JUST ME OR DID I LITERALLY JUST LOAD ALL THIS SAME CRAP INTO THE DISHWASHER YESTERDAY? HOW IS LAUNDRY DAY AGAIN? Lest that sound like I am complaining, I am actually a very happy hamster. I run the wheel and I like it. So there. But, it's still hard to measure my actual progress. Thank you, Jesus, for GRACE.

Onto the actual purpose for this blog: 


What a lovely command that is from Proverbs. I want to purchase the Truth for my life and never ever let go. But I am tempted to ask the age old question today, what is the Truth? And what does it look like to purchase it? To spend my life on it? Because I certainly do NOT want to waste time and money buying opinions and preferences. 

 I am feeling pretty angsty today. It's going to translate into this blog and in all of the all caps words...can't help it. Angst will come out even if only through punched out letters on a keyboard. I was up several times last night feeding a tiny human and reading chapters of a book written by a popular Christian author and I've had so many debates in my head with this author (who shall remain nameless) that I am now feeling like a two liter of soda someone shook up all day. SOMEBODY LISTEN TO ME. 

This is my real issue with most Christian books: we are mostly opinion. Even when we quote a lot of verses, how we apply them can be opinionated. We can maneuver and manipulate and try to project on our audience the lens through which we see life. The problem is, nobody else has the exact same experience or mentors or childhood or factors that make up that lens. So I'm really bothered by this book because I wish the author would have started out something like this: 

"Hey, these are my humble attempts at making sense of life. I am trying to read my Bible every day, stay in a healthy community, and process with the Holy Spirit on all of these issues. But most of this book is what I am learning or have learned and so it comes with a lot of opinions. Please don't use me to create a theology around. Please keep your brain intact the whole time. Glean where you can, leave what you need to. Feel free to disagree with me. Because, after all, the Truth is not a methodology, a systemized list of rules, or even a philosophy. The Truth is a Person and His name is Jesus. He asked in John 14 for the Father to send the Spirit of Truth to us, and so you have to consult with the Holy Spirit and ask Him for truth. I am truly sorry if my opinions on the following pages are presented as fact. Please be discerning and take what bothers you to people you trust and the Holy Spirit. Enjoy reading my thoughts." 

This introduction would help me so much. It would set me up with expectations, and a careful filtering system. I wouldn't have to dislike the author so much. I wouldn't get so worked up. Oh, you just totally disarmed this whole firing squad in my head. You are not God. I am not either. Your experience with life isn't threatening Truth. We are not against each other. We are working this thing out side by side and we don't have to see everything perfectly alike to move the same direction. I can hear you and not have to think if I keep reading you are going to slowly dismantle all of my history with God. Thank you, boundaries. 

Do you ever try to reduce all your learning into once sentence? Like when someone asks how you've been or what's on your heart and you're scrambling not because you don't have anything but because HOW DO YOU SUMMARIZE EVERYTHING.
If you and me were to strap all the kids in some double joggers and take a walk this is what I'd answer to that question:

I am learning that we can be on the same team and not have perfect agreement on every topic.

 Like, I actually have ZERO friends who see life just the way I do. My own husband is on my team, he is so for me, he is my biggest encouragement. But he doesn't agree with every thought process I have or have to feel all my feelings or think all my thoughts. 

Sometimes in conversation with Chad, I'll be mystified when he doesn't come to the same conclusion that I have. So I spend the next day and a half presenting the situation from a bunch of different angles, helping him examine it just the way I do and am always disappointed that he still has a different conclusion. He has original thought. His brain and my brain are really different. Different used to mean division. WHAT?? YOU LIKE RAP MUSIC? HOW DO WE SHARE THE SAME BATHROOM?? 

Do you know how glad I am that Chad and I are different? I am so glad he doesn't share my tendency to overdramatize, overshare, overprocess. When something happens that sends me reeling, I am so grateful to ask him for his thoughts because his reaction is usually so wise and centered and so NOT MINE. Thank You, Jesus, that opposites attract. 

I am also realizing lately how much I assume people agree with me. In regular conversation, I am tempted to alter certain phrases, swap out words, add in a few sentences so that what someone else is saying is actually what I wish they'd say. Like, how can I convince myself we perfectly agree so I feel peaceful with you? But maybe the whole point isn't that my closest friends and I would automatically agree on and think the same things. Maybe listening, and hearing what people are saying is more important than agreeing with them. We can actually have a conversation where we disagree and neither of us tried to persuade the other one. What a revolution that would be. 

Do you know what is the scariest thing? GOD DOESN'T AGREE WITH ME. (I almost wanted to add 100 percent of the time and now I'm laughing out loud. WHAT IS MY PROBLEM.)

I am so obsessed with being right. Maybe that's not your bent. But it's for sure mine. I think it's actually RIGHT that I never use garlic from a jar but I press my own garlic cloves and my hands smell like it for days, and I've actually been offended that my sister overcooks her egg whites in front of me because softly scrambled eggs are gospel truth. I cannot believe it when a friend likes a hoppy beer or unsweet tea or gas station coffee (why is this all revolving around food?). I guess the point is, I think even how and what I eat is right. 

Opinion can so easily feel like truth. Preference can feel like truth. But that doesn't make it true. Are you ever amazed when one of your closest friends can watch, read or listen to something you hate? Or are you ever genuinely stumped when they are friends with someone that you just cannot seem to get into? Being different is so exciting and terrifying at the same time. 

I guess the point is, it would be worth the time to sort through our opinions and truths and figure out which is which. Is it true that everyone should do this and this or is that just my opinion? We'll actually have to crack open the Bible and weigh our thoughts- " A JUST WEIGHT IS HIS DELIGHT". I love how Psalms says that God stores up sound wisdom for the upright. I can ask Him what He thinks. Truth is not at the mercy of my opinions, or anyone else's. We are so dreadfully impatient to figure out where the boundaries are- to push for rules and codes and bedrock so we can justify our lives and our thoughts. I am so glad that the gospels don't disclose what kinds of food Jesus ate or what His hour by hour day looked like. I am certain that what we have in the Word is enough to build a life on. The other things, the opinion things, can be left as opinions. We can have them and celebrate them and share them, but we cannot make other people obey them or absorb them or adopt them. 

Thank you Jesus, that YOU are the Truth. The living, breathing, forever reigning Truth that we all so deeply long for and crave. Reveal Yourself today. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

On Being A Mom

How to be a mom and retain my patience, peace and personality

How to find sustainable rhythms in motherhood- getting used without getting used up. I'm three kids deep, the fourth nine(ish) weeks from being born. 

I homeschool one in kindergarten. I only just stopped nursing a kid a few months ago and a few months into my fifth pregnancy. I miscarried a baby in July. I am training up a little man warrior, and will get to walk with three little women. I grew up with nothing more on my agenda than being a wife and mom- and being a missionary to Ethiopia. I've fulfilled the first two. And yet the life goal of motherhood has stripped me of my pride like nothing else ever has.

I am still constantly frustrated and ashamed at my own lack of patience, lack of time management, lack of foresight, lack of enjoyment in the mundane and daily tasks that motherhood entails. I get so busy cleaning up after them, I forget to enter into play with them. I stress over sleep patterns and eating patterns and wonder if I should or shouldn't vaccinate, what health tips I am totally missing. 

Motherhood for me can oftentimes bring my greatest failures to the surface, just asking me to try and overcome them. But God.

How do I meet God here?
How do I juggle three little lives and still try and retain my own joy, my own personality? How do I be a mother and be me?

I never want to NOT be inspired by my friends who are moms. None of us do it exactly the same. I learn stuff from moms of one and moms of seven. I learn how to do laundry, how to travel, how to discipline, how to not fight every battle, how to laugh, how to educate, how to feed, even how to birth children from my other mom friends. But there's a fine line between inspiration and comparison and shame. I struggle with finding peace in my lane of motherhood. Am I doing this thing right? 

I think the short answer is no. I'm not doing it all right. I'm imbalanced in so many areas and probably missing a lot of the pieces on the way. It reminds me of a Melissa Helser thought- she describes how when she first started parenting she was asking God about it and felt like He said "teach your kids to need me. There will come a day when they will outgrow their need for you, and that's a good thing. But they will never outgrow their need for me." 

If I've ever known my neediness for God as a human, it's in motherhood. Nothing lays my heart bare like mothering, nothing pushes my buttons more, nothing makes me more defensive or feels more personal or jeopardizes more of my love or takes up more of my thoughts. I have to ask my kids forgiveness a lot, and together we have to go before God and let Him bring peace. My kids watch me repent- almost daily. But I'm believing even that is a win. 

Its my finiteness that will press my kids to know Jesus. Where I fail, He won't. My kids don't need a mom who did everything right, they need a mom who knows how much she needs Jesus. They need a mom who demonstrates for them what to do when they reach the end of themselves. They need a mom who can say, guys, I am going to let you down- but JESUS won't. I don't have all the answers, but Jesus does. 

Me pretending to be a mom-goddess wouldn't benefit my kids in the long run. They'd think and expect perfection from themselves was Gods idea. They'd have major dilemmas when they got on their own and realized they also fail at the very thing their heart loves to do most. 

Where my imperfection and motherhood meet is the perfect launching pad for the Holy Spirit. It is the breeding ground for actual salvation. My kids need to see me in need of grace, and receiving grace, and activating grace so they will know how to do it in their own lives. So, scary insecurities about motherhood, I don't have to listen to you. Fear of messing up, I won't bow to you. Lies about my own personality getting reshaped, I'll reject you. My kids are seeing first hand what happens when Jesus walks with a human and stoops low to make her great for the millionth time. They're going to know Jesus isn't afraid of, intimidated by, or disgusted with weakness. They're going to know He "gently leads those with young". 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Ever since we moved into this house, I've become enamored with nature. Eden and I have named the trees in our front yard, we've discussed the ancient legends of dryads because of a twisted maple that looks like she at one point might have been a dancing human. I've spent hours, literally, in a hammock strung between two trees just looking up at the leaves and watching nimble-bodied squirrels make terrifying leaps from branch to branch, and my children and I have squatted low to spot tentative chipmunks, examined empty carcasses of cicadas, caught lightening bugs in a ball jar, and of course, gathered too many earthworms than is right or reasonable after a rainstorm. 

I've locked eyes with a bandit-faced baby raccoon, and watched at midnight while one attempted to use MY rocking chair as a hoist to get back onto my roof. I've had an encounter I don't want to repeat with some sort of fishing spider the size of my hand, and we have a groundhog that visits our backyard when he thinks we are away. But of all the critters we keep, my very favorite makes an almost daily appearance. She is never comfortable with us watching her, but by now she only glances back at us for a few moments before she continues doing whatever it is she came to do. I've found such courage from observing her. Cade sits in front of my bedroom window as long as I'll let him when she comes, and he thinks she is always happy to see him. His muted hello's through the windowpane don't do much to bother her, but she always turns around and looks him square in the eyes. 

I can't really process deer hunters after having encountered her so many times. She is so graceful, so agile, so precious, and I know it sounds ridiculous but she seems like she is a real live person. Maybe that's just because Eden and I have been immersed in the pages of Narnia for the past few weeks, but I really wouldn't be surprised if she started speaking. If she were a human, she'd be an author of self-help books and an inspirational speaker. But she's a deer, so really I'm not sure if anyone but myself has the chance to celebrate her beating the odds. I saw her for the first time last year when we first moved in, and I was mesmerized watching her. 

Either she was caught in a trap at one point or attacked by a predator, and she now only has three hooves. Her fourth leg is missing at least six or seven inches, but when she runs its impossible to tell. Even her walking limp is something like "poetry in motion". I could watch her forever, just because its so amazing. Last fall I saw her with three baby does, their picturesque little bodies covered in downy fur and spotted with snowball white spots. That was one of my first sightings of her, and she watched me defiantly while they snacked on some sort of overgrowth in our backyard. She was measuring me, letting me know that she was aware I was there, and clearly communicating that she wouldn't let me near her babies unless it was over her dead body. I remember my husband speculating that she probably wouldn't make it through the snowy winter, with her disability. Knowing so many hunters who love to hunt in neighborhoods like ours, where lots are nearly an acre of dense woods, I couldn't help but agree with him. I felt a sense of sadness for her, like I wished I could invite her and her babies to live under our deck for the winter. 

I forgot about her until early this year, somewhere around February, when she came sprinting back into our lives. Several full grown deer stood around her, and she stared back at me through the kitchen window, her breath puffing out in circles around her as if to say, "I survive." I felt a new respect for this courageous animal. And when in June, new baby does were tracking her heels, I made the whole family come and watch. She has led those little ones who are growing in lightening fast speed, much like my own children, all summer long back and forth across our lawn. And anytime I spy her, she looks right back at me. I'm so glad she made it. And was fruitful. 

One of the many catchphrases in our house that I always put into use when we've got a new baby around, is that I want us to "thrive, not just survive." It's so tempting to let the chaos of life swallow us and let the daily grind of disciplines and chores squelch our ability to be grateful and live with so much joy in the moment. Parenting is such a gift, but its the kind of gift that requires constant work and attention. The more kids we're blessed with, the more I realize that parenting is no longer a side job, it is my full time, full blown, around the clock job. It's the best thing I can invest in right now. 

But so often, in parenting, I feel like I've got a bit of a handicap. Its a different handicap depending on the season, sometimes its just a lack of patience, of a constant feeling exhaustion, or relational discord taxing my compassion and storehouse of wisdom; sometimes its morning sickness from another pregnancy, or the demands of life outside of our home. I feel like I'm hobbling around, and my little ones are trailing behind me, looking up to me like I'm their biggest hero. And it's so humbling. 

When I spotted my deer-friend  this morning out front, we all were eating at the table and so we crowded around the front windows and just watched her. She had a friend with her and between the two, they had five children following them. Her tell-tale limp sets her apart, and so I always know which is which. And for some reason, when I was watching her today, I felt so encouraged. I don't know a mom that doesn't feel like they are walking without a limp- and I know some AMAZING moms. Whether they're dealing with a deployed husband, or a husband who travels several nights a week, whether they've moved across the country and are isolated in their homes loving on little ones with a heart as homesick as ever, or they are walking through divorce and remarriage and step-parenting, or they've got to juggle jobs and motherhood, or walk the always courageous and never simple life of single motherhood- I know amazing moms who don't always get to choose the handicap they're dealing with, if ever. Something in our lives causes us to feel "not-enough" no matter the season of motherhood. But this fierce deer momma always has her limp, and yet she always has her children behind her. I want to be like her- and despite whatever handicap I feel like I've got, I want to thrive. I want to love my kids in the middle of it. 

That's the invitation of God. Despite the issue, the working out our salvation, the beating back of all the flesh we've got, the struggle to not be bitter or jaded or disheartened, to still lead our young. To still love. To still be fruitful. What if my deer friend had just decided to quit after she was first injured? What if she had laid down in the forest somewhere and just fallen asleep, given up, realized her handicap would always make her limp and figured it was better to just NOT try? We have the option. We can let our handicap become our identity and let it bleed over into every bit of healthy thing in our lives. Or we can keep moving forward, keep loving, keep producing, keep dreaming, keep pouring out. Yes, we might walk with a limp and it might even be noticeable to people around us. But, when we run, when we get momentum on a gifting or a dream or an area to pour out, its no longer decipherable. 

"but we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
" 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

Friday, May 30, 2014

Trust The Promise

"Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him." Proverbs 30:5

I just finished a book by Brennan Manning called Ruthless Trust. As with all of his books, I was moved and frustrated with myself and hopeful and eager by the end. The journey of life with Jesus is all about trust, at least for me and Brennan. I'm so glad he understands it too.

I read just yesterday how easily Jesus' disciples deserted him in the garden when the soldiers came to arrest him. Matthew gives them no flattering moment of indecision, he just lays it out there: "Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled." (Matthew 26:56)

One minute I think I've eradicated fear from my life, and the next I realize how easily I succumb to its miserly lies. I fail just as many times as I successfully rest in Him, but my heart is growing more and more desperate. Every time I choose to walk in fear, I hate it even more. The self-protection that used to comfort me now only smells like betrayal of Jesus to me, and I guess that's a step forward. A small, seemingly insignificant transition.

I read this verse this morning and loved it. "Every word of God is pure." In my Bible, it explained that the word pure could also mean "refined, tested, found to be pure". In the commentary, it explains the word actually means to refine by fire, as a precious metal. Every word of God has been put through the fire.

Isn't that an encouraging thought? When I am at a precipice, so close to the edge where only fear and depression rage like seas beneath, and the only hope is a ragged looking promise from God's word that I pray can bear my weight- I can take comfort knowing that this particular promise has been tested by those who went before me. The words have proven able to carry the forerunners of our faith, and what appears only a few words on a page is actually the very lifeline that others have clung to and found able to carry them out to a resting place. And we know that resting place on the other side of faith is a glorious place, according to Isaiah 11:10.

I've had conversations with a few friends recently who confess that they are afraid to lean their whole heart on God. Total surrender, in their minds, is equated with painful trials and loss and grief. It's such a slippery place, that moment before we choose to give it all to Jesus again. The enemy comes in trying to convince us that God is capricious, cannot be trusted, and has some sort of sick need to snatch away our happiness like the character Gru on Despicable Me, who makes a kid a balloon dog just to pop it in the end. Our minds start racing, asking over and over, "What will this moment cost me?"

If only we had a correct view of Jesus, we'd happily just throw everything at His feet for the joy of Him. Of His love, of His face. I love how Graham Cooke says, "He's the happiest person I know." Little children flocked to Him, prostitutes and sinners and the most hopeless of men felt pulled to His side because of the magnetic hope that emanated from His very heart. There is no shifting shadow in Him, He doesn't bait and switch. He IS True. His name in Revelation 19:11 is Faithful and True.

I had a moment this week in Psalm 84, reading one of my favorite verses about how a swallow and a sparrow find a nest for her young near God's altars, and it hit me suddenly that God's Old Testament altar was a holy place, one only priests could be near, and yet little sparrows and birds, skittish under normal circumstance in anyone else's presence, found His presence to be so restful and life-giving that they built their homes there, and He allowed them to. He is a good, generous Father. If they can build a home in Him, certainly so we can we, for " you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows!" Matthew 10:31

I love Heidi Baker. A few months ago Bethel released a documentary about her and her ministry to the orphans of Mozambique, "Compelled by Love". I watched it one morning with tears literally streaming down my cheeks as she continually talked about what a joy it was and is to give everything she has and owns to Jesus, and she knows that when she arrives in Heaven, she'll wish she had more to give, because He is so worthy. And yet she doesn't look pinched and uncomfortable, she looks radiant. She looks full, she looks ALIVE. "Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces will NEVER be covered in shame." We will not be ashamed when we make the decision to cash it all in on Jesus.

When we reach our end, and the chasm of emptiness stretches before us, where only a promise from God's word about His character can offer us a way across to the other side, we can trust it. That bridge has borne many a faithful soul before. And we do not want to miss out on being among them, on the other side. Some else's fire has tested that promise before. It will not fail us. He cannot fail us.

"Therefore since we are surrounded by SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us RUN with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:1-2

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Exchange

So for a few months now I've been writing with word limits on other blogs. I'm just going to admit it: today I didn't put a word limit on myself (nor did I attempt to really be linear in my thinking here). Tada. 1300 words straight from my heart to yours. You're welcome. 

One of my dearest friends texted me today to tell me she is doing much better, in general, than she was a month ago. I told her it's hard to do poorly when the weather is such a gift. And I mean that. For me, when spring finally starts to beat back the icy hands of winter something in my heart sighs in great relief: I made it through another one.
The older I get, the more plainly I see spiritual truths woven into the fabric of our daily, physical lives. Last July, I felt the Lord close a door on a winter season of my life, and I could barely believe it when He promised me, "I have loosed your sackcloth and girded you with gladness" (psalm 30:11). I can remember the way the chalk felt in my hand as I wrote that verse out on our driveway the day He said it, and I felt hope bubbling up. 
As I was sweeping our kitchen today I felt the familiar pull to fear, that temptation to fear what trial is lurking around the corner. And I had to confess it to Jesus, just like 2 Corinthians 10 says, taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ and being ready to punish any disobedient thought. But when I get to the heart of that fear, I'm not as afraid of the trial as I am afraid of my soul's inability to muster up courage to hope again in the MIDST of the trial. I am not so scared of what it is that may come, as I am scared that I'm not as resilient as I think. And to put it simply, I am afraid that as I grow older, I will let life squeeze all of the childlike wonder and hope out of my heart. 
I've seen it happen over and over again to women, and I've watched how time wears on the shores of our hope until we are depleted of it. And we end up these bitter, old women who assume that God has nothing good to give, so we keep our hands tucked into our pockets, criticizing anyone who walks unhindered and unafraid. We call our reticence so trust "wisdom", and our reluctance to try anything new "experience". But what if I resolved, at age 26, to say once and for all: everyone I love will eventually hurt me and fail me at some level. And on the flipside, everyone I love, I will disappoint and fail. What if I just lived with abandon, and knew that at some level, the peaceful homeostatic phase of life will ebb and flow, but that there is always a reserve of joy for me?
I read today about a little 3 year old boy who died. I don't know his parents, and I don't know his story. But it was enough to unearth me. What would I do? My baby girl I just tucked into bed, the one I pray gets a long life and many good days (Psalm 34). Because we live in a fallen world, we experience the ache of it. If all creation is groaning and longing for the sons of God to be revealed, we surely get our share of groaning and longing as well. There are gross tragedies. They exist. I cannot ignore them, and I do not want to, because there is no merit in singing songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20). 
As I was working through that moment, and literally had tears running down my cheeks, I turned on a song by Bethel called "Wonder", and it talked about never losing the childlike wonder of looking at the face of Jesus. And I saw that little boy scooped up in the arms of Jesus, and I realized that it's we who remain who struggle to maintain our wonder. His will never be thwarted again. But we must fight to retain joy. 
I read Nehemiah today, just the first few chapters. Nehemiah's heart is breaking over his city, Jerusalem, because it literally lies in ruins. The walls are broken down and burnt, and the temple is destroyed. And he asks God for favor with a king, and gets it. He returns to Jerusalem, surveys the state of its brokenness and resolves to build it again.
It's a hard thing to honestly look at the rubble life leaves. It's painful. It's not an easy task. But for Nehemiah, he had to know how broken it was so he could decide how to rebuild. And it took time. It took many hands and laborers, and they received so much opposition. At one point, their enemies ask, "Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble- burned as they are?" (Nehemiah 4:2)
Some seasons burn up the fruitfulness we thought we had, and scorch our most precious possessions. We feel bereft and empty. Naked and exposed and broken down. 
As they begin the slow work of rebuiling, Nehemiah has families stationed together to fight and oppose the ones who would hinder their work. For some reason, this makes me think of my job as a mom. It's my job to stand in the gap for my family and fight for joy. If I grow up and let life squash all the life out of me, it would be a sorry scene for my children to witness.
It's easy to be carefree when you have no cares. But as life stretches on, the voices of cares get louder and louder. How will we pay for this? What will you do if you get sick? What will you do if your husband gets sick? Who will be your friends? What if your children rebel? 
But I want to be less burdened as life goes on. The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like little children because the little children don't concern themselves with matters too great and too lofty for them. It's a lie to think I can shoulder half of the anxieties the world tells me to carry. I love in Matthew how Jesus asks, "Which of you by worrying can add even a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27)
When Jesus rebukes Martha about her frustration with Mary He says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about many things. But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part and it will not be taken from her." Mary wasn't doing anything except sitting at Jesus' feet, listening. What if the more life screams at me to pay attention to its demands, I just sat at Jesus' feet? Listening. Hearing. Receiving back the courage the world wants to leach from my heart. Pouring out my love on Him, telling Him He is worthier than my fears. One of my favorite Grace Livingston Hill quotes says, "Better hath He been for years than all thy fears." 
Some of my favorite Old Testament stories are the ones where God has the people worship before a major battle, and how that worship either breaks down insurmountable walls of Jericho or scatters the enemy like in 2 Chronicles 20. Or the story about Paul and Silas worshiping in prison, and suddenly God causes a giant earthquake to shake the prison, open the doors, and shatter everyone's chains. There is something powerful in the weapon of worship. After Nehemiah begins to rebuild the wall and sets up families to fight, he says this incredible line: "Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water." Nehemiah 4:23 
He stayed in a constant attitude of readiness. Ready for attack, in season and out of season just like Paul charges Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2. And as I was being tempted today to anticipate what the next trial might be, I think the Lord's answer to my heart was that if I would keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, and keep my heart in a place of openness towards Him, I'd be ready. The store of courage, the vat of hope would never run dry, "even in darkness light dawns for the upright." psalm 112:4
Until we get to Heaven, our lives are a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. We experience both. But the invitation is to have the Holy Spirit, the one who has been summoned to our side and to our aid, walk beside us, guiding us into all Truth, giving us comfort, granting us wisdom, steadily pumping joy back into our limpid hearts. As one of my favorite friends Nancy says, we are constantly given the option to make an exchange with the Holy Spirit: our crusty, dry faith for His fresh hope, our depleted strength for His fresh anointing, our short-sighted eyes for His clarity and focus. Holy Spirit, I choose whatever You have in Your hand for me today.