The Triumph in the Tombstone

We moms spend a whole lot of time worrying about our babes. Do they feel well? Why aren’t they sleeping? How can we make them like vegetables? Are they keeping up with other kids their age? What is laying around the house that could hurt them? 
 
These concerns are all normal and necessary. So much so, that if a mother was NOT thinking these things, it could border on child abuse. 
 
The hardest part for motherhood for me has been the lack of sleep. Specifically, the lack of sleep that involves my daughter not sleeping. I have tried all the tricks- cry it out, gas drops, Zantac, routine, scheduled daytime naps, extra cereal at dinner, scheduled bedtime, rocking, warm baths and thieves oil. (Johnson & Johnson claims that their three-step bath time routine helps babies sleep. And I suppose it works, because she falls asleep fairly quickly.) (The problem is that she doesn’t stay asleep.) 
 
Because it affects me so much, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with a solution for WHY MY CHILD DOESN’T NEED SLEEP. I’ve questioned whether she can be our child if she doesn’t like to sleep. That is what Brandon and I do for fun! (We got a babysitter for five hours on our anniversary. When we got done eating early, we can home and took naps. It’s a hobby around here.) I’ve become so obsessed that I talk about it with everyone, hoping they will tell me a magic something I’ve never heard before. I read all the posts and blogs and articles and books hoping to get a tip that will change everything for us. 
 
The women who traveled to the tomb early Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion were also fixated on one thing: how would they move that very large stone? They knew it was probably too heavy for them to maneuver, because the religious leaders were concerned that someone would steal the body. The stone was placed there as a surety that Jesus would stay put. Little did they know, the stone wouldn’t be an issue at all. When they arrived at the scene, the stone was already rolled back and an angel was perched up top, arrayed in light and eager to relay his message. Jesus had risen! He was alive! 
 
But the women didn’t shout or cheer. They didn’t jump for joy or quake with excitement. Instead, they were so fixated on their problem- the stone- that they couldn’t see the miracle. 
 
My pastor Scott Wakefield preached on this Sunday and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. “I am worried about so many things that are not worth being distracted or worried about. A lot of our worry is tied to an overestimate of our own knowledge and power. They couldn’t help not knowing what they didn’t yet know. But here they are, most worried, NOT that the power of sin had been defeated and perhaps was available for them, but that the stone needed to be rolled away. When it had literally physically already by been done. They were, at this moment in the text, unaware of the full weight and power of God and how much, even then, the world had actually already changed. So they get there, were worried about what to do, and BOOM, it’s done. Because— BECAUSE someone Bigger is in charge here.”
 
What if I’m so absorbed with my problems that I miss His plan? What if I’m so blinded by my concerns that the beauty around me is camouflaged? What if I miss ministry opportunities because I’m allowing myself to drown in my “misfortune”? Am I allowing small setbacks to distract me from the main mission? The measure of my parenting is not determined by how tall my daughter is, and likewise, the measure of my ministry is not determined by how much sleep I’m getting. His grace is sufficient, whether I’ve had four hours or a full night’s sleep. 
My pastor said that the angel shifts these women’s eyes from memorializing Jesus to being a missionary for Jesus. My life is not primarily about moments or milestones— it’s about my mission. My mission is to raise a child who loves Jesus. Who sees Jesus in me. To serve Jesus, despite comfort or happiness.
As it turns out, the most comfort and happiness I’ll ever have resides in Jesus. I don’t have to live a life of death because Jesus is alive. 

Soul Rest

It seems the Lord keeps bringing me back to the same concepts over and over until I have explored every crack and corner and crevice. Sometimes, it feels like a canyon.

One thing I’ve never been good at is rest. This concept eludes me. Regardless of what I’m doing, I am constantly guilty that I should be doing something else. Even when I’m working. When I’m vacuuming, I should have started a load of laundry so it can be finished before I run errands so I can hang it out to dry. When I’m cleaning the bathroom, I should have started dinner so it would be ready when my husband walks through the door. When I’m reading my Bible, I should have filled up my water so I could drink a glass while I read. When I’m eating lunch, I should have plugged in my phone so it could be fully charged by the time we headed to the store.

Now that I’m typing out these COMPLETELY hypothetical situations, I’m realizing that it might be more a quest of perfecting the multitasking game than anything. I love nothing more than being efficient, saving time and money, and killing two birds with one stone.

(Also this give you a peek into my loathing self-talk… I talk to myself like I’m never enough and what I’m doing is never enough or at the right time. That’s a topic for another…right time.)

This can also be exhausting. As you might imagine, this lifestyle leaves little room for rest relaxation, or heck, sitting down. There’s always something screaming for my attention. Something that if postponed, will wreak havoc on my life or someone else’s. It sounds dramatic, but that is not too far from the truth in my mind.

It’s no wonder the Lord continues to emphasize thoughts of rest, Sabbath, and being still into my mind. And now it pops up in the most unusual places.

I’ve read the book of Ruth a half dozen times or more, and never noticed that this is what Naomi implores her daughters-in-law to do. Ruth 1:9, “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” This struck me as crazy for several reasons.

#1 If my husband just died, rest would be the farthest thing from my mind. I’d be updating my resume and handing that baby out all over town. I’d be shopping the sales and stockpiling my pantry staples.

#2 I would be so overcome with grief that I couldn’t sleep. Unless I might cry myself to sleep.

#3 Perhaps most obvious is that she reminds them of the husbands they don’t have. After Naomi told me to go home to my husband-less house, I would want to call the realtor and move out immediately. Go somewhere that didn’t remind me of my grief day in and day out.

Naomi assumed that the only way to embrace rest was to remarry and start again. All of us know that starting over is not always possible. We can’t dump a few kids on the church steps or go live in a tent that won’t need the floors mopped or stop wearing clothes so we never have to do laundry again.

How do we then return to rest in the middle of grief and hopelessness? To cease the running and turn off the emergency mode and learn to slow our pace and focus on what matters?

It’s striking the things we think of when we hear the word “rest”. I immediately think of how many hours I’ve had on the pillow. I also think of coffee shops and quiet mornings. I long run. A giant bubble bath. These things do create environments for rest. They are tools we can use to position us to receive rest. But we can also find it in the middle of a crowded market, in our cubicle, in front of the washing machine.

Rest is the state of our souls, folks.

Naomi assumed that marriage equaled rest. “{M}arriage is called the port or haven of young people, whose affections while unmarried are continually floating and tossed to and fro like a ship upon the waters, till they come into this happy harbour.”(The Biblical Illustrator, C. Ness)

It also could be assumed that Naomi had accepted a few of the ideas from the pagan nation she had been dwelling in. In her grief, she had forgotten the character of God, and was wishing her daughters bodily comfort before soul comfort. (Geneva Study Bible, Theodore Beza.) Or, it’s possible that she spoke these words knowing her audience was two women whose beliefs were quite different than her own. Either way, she was wishing the evils away that typically accompanied widowhood. Some theologians say that she was actually wishing them husbands who would be better than her own sons who died so prematurely.

What would surprise Naomi is that Ruth not only knew more of her beliefs than she may have thought, but would also know more about rest than Noami gave her credit for. Ruth was willing to leave her house and her family and her people and any hope of another marriage to follow this woman and her God wherever He called…with the realization that she may never have another home, husband, or family.

Because rest is a state of the soul. Our circumstances can be tumultuous. Things happen that we can’t prevent, have no control over, and can’t change. But one thing that we can play a part in is the attitude of our souls and our willingness to trust our Father with the things that happen to us.

“We need not waste time shaking our fists at heaven when we can run full-force into His arms. trusting that He can redeem even us, even this, even now.” (She Reads Truth, Amanda Bible Williams). I have witnessed people I love go through horrific tragedies, injustices, and calamities. And in the face of the evil, still spoken kind words. Still reached out to help others. Still called to check up on me despite what they were going through. The only way they were able to get through this all? The still state of their souls. “He will keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” (Isaiah 26:3). And, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thansgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Naomi’s solution for rest was to escape the mess, seek restoration with a new husband, and start over.

Ruth’s solution was this: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and YOUR GOD MY GOD.” (Ruth 1:16, emphasis mine.) She somehow knew that the key to rest was in Jesus.

“Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis mine.)

No matter the stockpile of paperwork, the screaming children, the dishes in the sink, or the people around us playing Pokemon Go, we can silently connect to Home Base and find rest for our souls from the One Who breathed life into us in the first place. He is offering. Not it’s up to us to receive it.

HOW TO NOT MISS THE PERFECT LOVE OF IMPERFECT DADS

Our guest blogger this weekend is one of my favorites- Jennie Allen. Grab a warm cup and enjoy.

Jennie-Allen
(Originally posted on June 21, 2015)

There is a term you have heard… “Daddy Issues.” It certainly is a real thing. I have spent enough time with a lot of you, and there is real, sincere hurt from dads in the world.
I’ve had some of those hurts.
Somewhere in my story … I believed I was not loved, I believed I was not measuring up, I believed I was not enough.
My dad wasn’t extravagant with words (which is–I guess–at the time, what I was looking for), but now as a parent and as a daughter, I see so clearly that he was EXTRAVAGANT WITH HIS LOVE.
I write books and at times, my darling father has been a part of some of the darker seasons of my life. (Here is a shout out to all the poor parents of writers!) Early on, my dad graciously gave me permission to write about his life–and even his weaknesses–if it helps people and brings God glory.
God bless him. Writing. It costs everyone you love if you write honest and raw like I do.
So today–with Father’s Day around the corner–I would like to shout about all…
The extravagant ways my Dad loved:
1. He tucked us in… Almost every night, he got on his knees beside our bed and he prayed for us, and he told stories he made up about Ellie the Elephant and George the Giraffe.

2. He worked so hard to provide for us… There were so many times money was tight, but he never wanted us to know and he always protected us from it.

3. He was present… He attended games and plays and gymnastic meets–he had 3 daughters–and I have a hunch there were other places he might have wanted to be.

4. He created moments… Celebrations meant something around here. He and Mom wanted Christmas and birthdays to be unforgettable, and they were. I have had a hard time recovering since.

5. He was faithful… He loved my mom and he stuck by us.

6. He did his best to give us God… He led family devotions and advent (even if it was painfully awkward, because sometimes it just is), and he took us to church and sent us to camp, where eventually I did trust Christ.
And I could go on and on.
You read this and you think… WOAH! You officially have the best dad that ever lived. And you would be right.
But most of my life, I missed it…
Sometimes, we miss all the ways someone is trying to love us, because of the ways we wish they would love us.
It wasn’t till adulthood that I put words to my hurts–to how desperately I needed to hear some things from him.
And guess what? These days, it seems he is bound and determined to tell me every phone call, every visit how proud he is, how much he loves me–enough to make up for 10 childhoods.
When our dads are imperfect, it leaves room for the perfect Father. Guess what? 100% of us are imperfect parents. We are the norm, and so we save for our kids’ counseling bills, and tuck them in and lead the awkward devotion, and we do our best to push them to the only perfect One.
When our dads are imperfect, it leaves room for the perfect Father.

I talk to so many of you who have tremendous hurts from your dads, and I know some of you could never form a list like I just did–there is only pain, and there wouldn’t be enough good. (And to you, I am so sorry.)
But some of you can. And life is too short for words to be left unsaid.
Write the list, even through the hurt. If your dad is still alive, text him or email him about all the ways he loved you, and thank him today!

That night will forever burn in their memory. Waiting around, pacing the floor, nerves all on edge. The parents held their babies tight, waiting for the signal that they were safe and could emerge. Throwing everything they owned over their shoulder, they ran quickly and quietly and dared to hope that they would get out alive. That very night God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, tribe by tribe. They were still singing the victor’s song when they came to a screeching halt. Just as they received the bad news, they heard sounds in the distance behind them. Their fears were confirmed. The Egyptians had come to take them back. And they were trapped against the Red Sea with nowhere to go.

The Israelites were the most blessed children of God. They saw myriads of miracles, heard the Lord communicate with them, and observed His power close-up. He sent them a deliverer to pull them out of bondage and gave them a personal travel guide to lead them to a land that He promised they would inherit.
But they weren’t thinking about how good God was they came up against that ocean, being hotly pursued by their former taskmasters the Egyptians. They were angry. How could God allow them to escape their oppressors only to be trapped by this huge body of water? They would  either be killed, or at best, taken back to captivity.
Later on, when they were en route to the Promised Land, with nothing to eat or drink in sight, God seemed anything but good. They quickly forgot their torment back in Egypt when they remembered those melons that they loved so much. Their captivity almost seemed worth it for a bite of one of those. To make matters worse, their spies brought back word that there were giants in the new land. They thought would surely forfeit their inheritance because the giants would squish them like grasshoppers. Was this part of God’s good plan? When they failed to believe that God could help them take the land, they were sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness because of their unbelief. God seemed cruel.
But their God was looking out for them. He wanted to show them His power at the Red Sea, how He would part those waters and make corpses of their enemies. He would also drop manna from the sky every morning, fly hordes of quail so low that they could be caught, and gush water from a rock for His hungry people. With each fortress in the Promised Land, He would give them victory over their enemies one by one in unique and creative ways.
And yet, God’s children were constantly disgruntled, hot-headed, and bitter. What God had already done for them wasn’t enough. They wanted every comfort and convenience to go along with it. God loved His people too much to leave them in their complaining, self-centered state. How much He desired to show them His power and how much He loved them! In hindsight, we can see the faults of the children of Israel and mock them. They certainly were selfish and ungrateful! But we are often no different.
We, too, experience oppression and time in the desert. The way we continue to see God as gracious through thick and thin is all in perspective. Our vision is easily blurred by the fog of grief, physical needs, or emotional trauma. The key to believing the promise despite opposition lies in identity.
Knowing who God is stands as our sturdy foundation when life is crumbling around us. Beth Moore explains it like this in her book Believing God: “Over and over in Scripture, when God was about to move in the lives of His people or instruct them to reposition, He began with a reminder of Who He was. A thumbs-up of sorts.” To Abraham, He said, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur.’ and ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.’ ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob…I have indeed seen the misery of my people…So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (Exodus 3:6-8).’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’…God knew that the most powerful force driving the children of Israel would have pressing them toward their earthly destiny was their certainty that the One who went before them was who He said He was.” It ought to be enough that when He says Who He is, we take Him at His word.
Once you know Who God is, you can be assured of your divine calling in this life. We work for God. He doesn’t work for us. When we see ourselves as an island, only looking out for ourselves and our best interests, it becomes easy to shake our fist at God when things are going poorly for us. We are here for a God-designed purpose. We are blessed, forgiven, chosen, redeemed, adopted, and favored.
When they were trapped on the shores of the Red Sea, God told the Israelites this: “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14.) He said that after He butted them up against a roadblock and waited for them to ask Him for help. He was just waiting to show off for them. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We can sit back and watch Him do His thing. That’s what makes Him God and not us. Isn’t that comforting?
Even when God is the furthest thing from our minds and choices, He is always ordering things on the timeline of the universe to be the best-case scenario in the end for us. How incredibly undeserving we are!
When we view God rightly, as a good God, we realize how far from good we are. When we are tempted to think something isn’t fair, we can remind ourselves that simply by giving us salvation, He is good. If He never did another thing for us, He would be good. Redeeming us was more than He ever had to do for us, and yet every day He continues to give new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness
(2 Peter 1:3, NIV).

In the good and the bad, our Father is the treasure. Not favorable circumstances, a secure bank account, or a well-manicured lawn. Regardless of how things go for us, He wants us to desire Him above wealth, fame, or success. He is the ultimate prize. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, the world around grows dim and you aren’t distracted by lesser priorities and frustrated when things don’t go easily for you.

The good news is that He doesn’t leave us to fix our vision on our own. He gives us a power tool: gratitude. He tells us that we are to be thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18.) Not necessarily thankful for  all things, but grateful that we can depend on Him to be in control. When we choose to give thanks even when we don’t understand, He gives us the eyes to see His plan behind the scenes. Jean-Pierre de Caussade said it this way in A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People: 

You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies- though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet {God’s} beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.”

God knows that in order to recognize the good, we must be familiar with the bad first. The children of Israel would never have appreciated the Promised Land if they hadn’t wandered in that desert first. They would have taken for granted every one of those giant grapes. By allowing them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief, He was gracious in teaching them His character. They would indeed have crumbled under the weight of the giants without the Lord’s help. He needed to establish an understanding between Him and His children…that He could be trusted to win their battles for them.

The truth is that God wouldn’t be good if He gave us everything we wanted. The psalmist begged God not to give him so much that he would forget the Lord (Psalm 30:8-9). One of the reasons He is good is because there are a LOT of times He doesn’t give us what we ask for. As long as we hold onto our earthly treasures, we will never be able to receive all that He has for us. Often, in His withholding, He is releasing our grip on this world to open our hands and make room for more of His blessings and more of Himself.

When our good God is the standard for what is good in this life, then we will see everything that comes from His Hand as a good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Even the bad is good when we trust that it comes from a heart that loves us deeper than anyone on earth could.


The End is Just the Beginning

Arguably the two most significant life events are birth and death. Coming into the world and heading into the next. We generally tend to celebrate births and mourn deaths. Despite varying birth stories, life is predictable for the most part. Death is often shocking and ugly, and we can’t control or predict it.

We would rather say hello than goodbye.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of death is why it happens to some before others. Why some die young and why some live to be 105. We question because we can’t control it. We don’t like it because we can’t make it “fair”. I’ve never heard anyone ask, “Why on earth would God bring that baby into the world healthy?” We expect it…perhaps we feel entitled? The answer to that question, were it ever asked, would be because God is kind.

That’s the same answer for why God would take someone out of this world.

At any point, whether deemed prematurely or at a ripe old age, God is kind to take them. And when someone is born unhealthy? God is kind then, too. Kind to give life to someone that would otherwise never experience it. He is kind to perpetuate the human race despite our utter atrocities and failure at stewarding this gift well. When we shake our fist at God and ask Him why there is heartache, the irony is that the heartache of the human race’s rejection of God has already once in history been so great that He destroyed almost all of humanity.

He was too gracious to watch them destroy themselves with their sinful ways and wreak havoc on themselves and others. Killing them was their saving grace. You see, when He gives and when He takes… He has never been anything other than kind. For those who subscribe to the damnation and brimstone theory of God, I hear your protests. God is not only love, yes. He is also just. But I believe that even in His judgment, He is kind. He could have blotted Sodom and Gomorrah from the planet before they even had the chance to blow it. And yet He created them anyway. He made Judas, and then chose Him as His disciple, knowing his knack for dipping his hands in the money bags and his ultimate act of betrayal. He chose him anyway. Birth abnormalities, infant death, cancer…they are heartbreaking. But He creates life anyway.

Life is HARD, people. Especially when we are simply at its mercy. But we are at the mercy of a God who can control it, and He is just that…merciful. Even that very last breath we took was a grace.

And my Aunt Gina’s last breath was a grace, too.

You see, the journey had been long. The pain and sensitivity from the brain tumor had been unpredictable at times. In her last week, her quality of life was unbearable to watch. But she would never say that He was not gracious. He gave her three more years of life after her first surgery. She said He didn’t have to do that.

Would He have been more gracious not to let her even be born? So as to not experience any pain in this life? So that dying early wouldn’t have been a factor? So we wouldn’t be grieving now?

You can only grieve what was once beautiful.

To say that God would have been more gracious in refusing her life on earth would be a slap in the face to anyone who has loved Gina. There was beauty to behold in her life and even her death was beautiful. The death of His saints is a beautiful thing (Psalm 116:15). God’s calling Gina Home was the most generous. She is with Him, and that is a joy greater than any other joy that Gina would have ever experienced in this life.

There has been sorrow in this life, yes. One sorrow that Gina experienced was the Lord calling Home someone she dearly loved. Her daughter, Bethany, is no longer with us. We have never questioned where she is. Gina is with her now. But perhaps one of her greatest earthly joys was the birth of her granddaughter. Thanks to the Lord’s graciousness, He allowed the first surgery to be successful. He prolonged her days so that she could enjoy almost a full year with Akira.

My daughter was born 28 days before Gina passed away. There has been a lot of joy and sadness mixed into the last 4 weeks. It was hard to watch, pray, and wait as we anticipated Eden’s arrival into the world, wondering if she would be a healthy baby, a girl or a boy, and whether she would be {whatever we would deem} normal. It was also hard to watch, pray, and wait as we knew Gina’s time was coming to exit this world, wondering how long we would have her, how she would go, and if we would be ready to say goodbye.

But isn’t that really all we do in this life anyway? Watch, pray, and wait? We operate as if we have so much control over life when, in actuality, we have none. We can schedule and plan and prepare. However, many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21). Right now, my baby girl is healthy and happy and alive. This is grace. But one of these days, she will breathe her last here and breathe her first in heaven.

This is the utmost grace.

Eden and Akira were both promised death at birth. Health may or may not be promised. Happiness may or may not be promised. Long life may or may not be promised.

But they have access to the same Father that Gina did.

And I promise you that He is a good, good Father.

That makes me smile.

DSC_0193

 

The Face of a Thief

I was helping the last customers at 5:35. It wasn’t completely unusual to have customers there after hours, but this time I was appreciative to be making a good sale and making someone happy. As I was ringing them up, I heard the bell sound again and cringed. I had been so busy helping the couple that I forgot to turn off the open sign. Maybe they will be quick. The happy customers went out the door and the new customers came to the counter. They paused for a minute before speaking. “Ma’am, we really hate to do this….”

And then– slow motion. I saw the barrel raise up in front of my face. Somehow I saw it coming. I agreed to give him what was in the drawer. As I observed my surroundings for anything I could use to protect myself, I noticed that the other customers had left their purchase on the counter. I began pleading with God to let them come back in… anything to give me a moment to gain my composure. Those minutes seemed like eternity as the two men discussed what they would do with me. I felt helpless and so afraid.

And then I woke up.

Out of a deep sleep and yet wide awake. I sat straight up in the dark, paralyzed with fear. My eyes flitted around and I took in my surroundings to make sure my dream wasn’t any indication of reality. My heart was racing. I continued to sit and ask God what the heck that was. It was very rare for me to have nightmares, and rarer yet for me to remember any details of the dream. It was so vivid that I couldn’t go back to sleep. I questioned if this was a prophecy of some type. I decided I had no options but to get comfy. I wasn’t going back to sleep. As I sat there pondering what all of it meant, I started having the strangest thoughts barrage my mind and enter my heart.

What if this baby isn’t healthy? What if I can’t carry it full-term? What if it grows up with a stupid name? What if I can’t stay home because of finances? And they kept getting weirder: What if our house burns down and all my diapers and wipes get burned up? What will all the sweet people who gifted them to me think? They’ll be so disappointed in my poor stewardship.  

Fear is such a finicky thing. You can be fearful and not realize it. The tricky thing about it is that fear manifests itself in so many ways that it’s unpredictable. I thought back to a retreat I had been to a couple weekends prior. I could hear the verse in my head, “The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy….”

That. That was it.

The enemy had been stealing my joy. And I had been unaware of it. I had been giving over parts of my life, one piece at a time, and giving into worry, fear of man, people-pleasing, and control. Sometimes it appeared humble, but usually even that was a sign of pride. As my heart continued to race from the dream, I could feel the anger towards the thief in my nightmare surging through my veins, and it was immediately transferred to my invisible enemy. Boy, had he stolen a lot from me. Correction: Boy, had I GIVEN him a lot of ground. I felt all this worry come bubbling out of me from seemingly nowhere.

As if I could help if my house burned down. The fears seem silly now, irrational. But they were as real as my bated breath in that moment. If the baby dies, where should I donate the gifts? Will my friends be sad they gave them to me at all? I knew I should have waited longer to agree to a shower. Maybe I should cancel the rest of them until the baby is here. Who am I to think that I can carry a baby full term? Who’s to say I’m even capable of that? I don’t feel any movement. I don’t actually know if this kid is alive. 

“The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy.” The enemy was stealing my joy! He was killing my hope and my real dreams. He was destroying the faith and trust I had in the Lord to do right by me. I couldn’t even let the Lord work or speak to me because my fears were louder than His voice. The scariest thing was that I didn’t realize they had been undertones in my subconscious for who-knows-how-long. This fear was gulping up faith and doing it behind my back.

I determined right then and there that this was the end. I couldn’t determine my dreams but I could determine my thoughts when I was awake. No more would I let fears run in the background like a silent energy-zapper. I was going to tune in to what my subconscious was saying and nip it in the bud.

I was so grateful that The Lord was gracious enough to show me what was going on and to alert me and warn me. And you know what? My baby might not live and my house may burn down and I may have mold infest all the diapers and wipes and make them all useless. But until those things happen, I’m not going to think about them again. The Lord came to give me abundant life, and to give it to the FULL. But I can’t expect Him to do that in the face of a thief… a thief that I’m voluntarily allowing to coexist with me.

It’s high time he moved out.

A Thousand Stories

It’s time. Time to confess where my heart has been the last six months. I’m not proud of it, but it’s been a time of stretching and growing pains and just plain hard as I’ve grappled with some deep stuff that is beyond my realm of comprehension.

I have dealt with a lot of guilt through the duration of this pregnancy. Knowing that the Lord had taken so many sweet babies from friends of mine, I felt guilt over having what we believed to be a healthy baby. And my pregnancy has been so good that I have been afraid to tell others that I haven’t been sick. (I remember hating “those people. And that was before I was even married.) (Please don’t hate me.) The way the guilt manifested itself was that I wouldn’t really talk about the pregnancy. There was that fear that I would lose the baby. Or be insensitive to talk about it around someone who had lost a baby or couldn’t conceive. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why God would give me a healthy child when He didn’t give one to so many others who frankly, wanted babies worse than I did.

I also dealt with some anxiety about this pregnancy. Well-meaning people have said that this is somewhat normal, but I knew that this was not God’s will for His children. I know far too many people whose identity lies in their “care” for others… to the point that they can’t celebrate what God is doing in healthy people because they’re so busy tending to the sick.

I didn’t want to be that person.

Ironically, I still found myself in a position that made it hard to celebrate this life inside of me, because I had told the Lord that I wanted this baby to bring Him glory, whether that was by life, or…. not. Knowing that the Lord had seen fit to take other children, whether through miscarriage or still birth, made me feel entitled if I were to assume that I was the exception and that God would give me a healthy baby. I have seen the steadfast commitment to the Lord of the moms and dads who have stood over a premature casket. I have seen that their faith is so tangible that you could feel it across states and computer screens and blogs. They know what it is to feel Jesus in the midst of grief stronger than any other force in the universe. And their strength and trust affects people in ways that they will never forget

Deep down, I sort of want that, too. I have come to realize that there is nothing on this earth that I want more than Jesus. I’ve made marriage my god and been miserable. I’ve people-pleased myself to death and been the most unhappy person alive. I have seen parents make their children their identity, and the whole family is wrecked because of it. No person or thing in this life is more valuable than knowing Jesus. I have known Him in good times and bad, and the deeper the grief, the more intimately I saw His heart.

He has taught me a lot through carrying this baby. About how to let Him absorb my fear and anxiety. He is still teaching me how to celebrate each day I get with this little life. And as strange as it sounds, He is teaching me that it is okay if He chooses LIFE for this baby. When I told a friend that I was okay with whatever plan God had for this child-even if that meant death or disability-she said, “Well, you need to be okay with God making this baby HEALTHY AND NORMAL.”
I had been focusing on the other options more than that one.
The truth is that I don’t feel good enough. I don’t feel worthy. Because I’m not.

But the truth is that He is enough. And because He is, I can relax. I will not suddenly wake up one morning unworthy and forfeit my right to parent. I will not hit 30 years old and instantly be unqualified. Because it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him.
I forget that HE is pleased with me. That is probably the hardest thing I have NEVER learned how to grasp. Despite my blatant sin and hypocrisy, He says He delights over me. If I could explain it, He probably wouldn’t be God.
Yesterday, my friend Kristin (@kristinschmucker on Instagram) posted this on her feed, and I immediately looked up the song and just bathed my fears and guilt in its truth:
Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers
Of love in the dead of night.
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.
It’s Who You are, it’s Who You are, it’s Who You are,
And I’m loved by You.
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am…
This love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
And You call me deeper still
And You call me deeper still
And you call me deeper still into love
Because You are perfect in all of Your ways to us!
Kristin lost her sweet Sophia at 8 months along. And I promise you that singing that line–“you’re a good, good Father”– is not something she does lightly. She knows it deep down in her soul, because she has felt Him every step of the way. He became even more real to her when she rested in the “I-don’t-understand” and whispered, “I will trust you anyway.”
God has turned so much of my mourning into joy. It’s my favorite thing about Him. But I get too caught up in the fact that NOT ONLY does He take bad and make it good— but He can also take good and make it better. Don’t lose sight of Him in your journey. Whether things are heavenly or things are hell…He is there in the thick of it, demonstrating His power and glory among us.

He is PERFECT in all of His ways to us.

“Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7

“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understand and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:24

“This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those Who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30, 2 Samuel 22:31

How God Redeemed My Mornings

About a year ago, I began doing a large majority of my ministry in the mornings. (And my ministry, I mean serving the Bride of Christ and in turn, being ministered to.) (I love how those two go hand in hand.)  And as that cranked up, I started getting cranky. Not because of the ministry, but because of the time crunch it put on my day. I started lamenting that my morning routine was taking too long.

There were all of these things that I wanted to do on a consistent, daily basis, and there just was not enough time to do it. The morning seemed like the best time for me to do my devotions, to exercise, take a shower, wash my hair, pluck my eyebrows, floss my teeth, lotion up, take my vitamins, eat a healthy breakfast and pack a healthy lunch, start dinner in the crockpot, and leave my house in decent order as I walked out the door.

Are you exhausted yet?

So while it seemed like a vain prayer at the time, I asked the Lord to maximize my time in the mornings. I wanted to get as much stuff done while Brandon was at work so that when we were both home that evening, we could spend time together and I wouldn’t feel the need to be running around finishing the routine I didn’t get to in the morning. I didn’t want to be consumed with myself, either, and it seemed like the more time I spent on myself, the more I thought about myself. I didn’t like being that person. So I began asking the Lord to somehow make the morning longer, and/or to rearrange my priorities so that I could focus on what mattered.

I had no idea how He would answer.

It started innocent. My aunt came to visit and I complimented her on her beautifully curled hair. She told me it had been that way for over a week.

I was confused.

So she told me about dry shampoo, and I didn’t believe her. But I was intrigued.

I wanted to go a week without washing my hair, but let’s be realistic. Some days, I almost felt like I needed to wash it twice. My hair is so oily and would get limp and stringy quickly.

But I decided to give it a whirl. I went to Sally’s and bought some fancy dry shampoo, and it got me through the day. No one else noticed my hair being different but me. It turned out that the first month would be a psychological battle of deciding that I really looked fine. I learned that it wasn’t all about me and no one was critiquing my hair on a scale of 1 to 10 every day.

I started small, just trying to beat my last record and go a little longer. At first, I counted the hours and days until I could wash it again.

Somewhere along the line, I heard about cornstarch and baby powder. Those are what really did the trick for me. Had I had those at my disposal at the beginning, I may not have fought as much of a psychological battle as I did. The powder would actually absorb the oil and give me more volume on top.  The perks were numerous. My hair had extra volume. I used less shampoo. My hair fell out less. My hair grew faster. It kept curl and color longer. In fact, when I got red highlights two years ago, the red lasted two months. This past June when I got my hair highlighted, I STILL had red streaks from the year before.

The biggest perk was the hour (plus) of washing, drying, and styling in the morning that I gained.

I found a recipe on Pinterest for DIY baking soda shampoo. It also did wonders for me. It includes a vinegar rinse, and that smell was less than awesome. But rinsing my hair in it with cold water closed my hair follicles and added shine. I seemed to be able to go longer when I wasn’t using chemicals to strip my hair of oil with my cheap 99 cent shampoo.

I write this post not only because so many of you have asked me about it– but mainly to encourage you to talk to God about the little things. He cares about time management, and He loves to answer in creative ways. Put Him to the test and see for yourself!

Some battles I still have to choose. My eyebrows don’t always get plucked and my nails aren’t always polished perfectly. But I was able to start having coffee dates in the morning and inviting people over for breakfast without sacrificing my time in the Word or exercise. If you make Him a priority and make the Gospel a non-negotiable item in your day, He will make good on His promise to add all these things to you.

These days, I have to think hard about when I washed my hair last. But I can tell you the last time I had coffee with someone who needed to hear truth– and who spoke truth to me in return. I can tell you the last time I had someone over for pancakes and blueberries. I can tell you the last time I spent an hour in the Word soaking up God’s promises.

And I would much rather remember those things.

(Special thanks to Tara Leigh Cobble.)

How to have what all our hurting hearts want most this Father’s Day

I can’t say it any more beautiful than Ann Voscamp. Breathe in her words of healing and HOPE and whisper a prayer for the men who aren’t what you know they could be or who wish they were. Relish who God says you are, apart from the identities given to you in your childhood, apart from how loved you feel, apart from your disappointments and unmet expectations. Know that GOD THE FATHER CAN BE TRUSTED WITH YOUR LIFE. Rest in this promise. He will make evil good and right all wrongs (Genesis 50:19-20.) Let’s celebrate our Heavenly FATHER today.
I sat with a man once —

who told me about falling in love with a woman who was most alluring not in satin but in sweats,

her hair undone and falling, laughing about something long ago, her head thrown back and her neck arching bare and lovely.

That he couldn’t take his eyes off her when she was like that, vulnerable and unmasked, and maybe that’s what beauty is, the brokenness of bare exposure.

He said that’s all he ever wanted.

He wanted her and he wanted to live unafraid because what does it matter what people think of you when you know that you’re known by God?

what does it matter what people think of you when you know that you’re known by God?

 Let people have their bloated opinions — he’d take God’s bottom-line approval any old day. 

Thing was, every time he went to ask for her hand, to commit to a taking and holding gently a life like that, to daily daring to lay down for a life like that, some voice in the back of his rattling mind mocked him for thinking he was a man.

That he wasn’t man enough for a woman like her, that he wasn’t man enough for a brave life where souls lived unashamed and uncovered to each other, that he wasn’t man enough to live unmasked in a world of stiff suits and swaggering loud certainty.

So he’d gone to his dad.

He’d knew where to go — and it was back to his father.

Because a Father is the seed of your beginning, he is the catalyst of your being, the genesis of your becoming. 

Because sometimes the only way to silence the voices in the back of your head is to stand face to face with your Father.

Because when we dream of making a life, dream of making a love that will make life, we return to the beginning, and pray for a moment when our Father leans close over our hoping to breathe the warmth of His willing self into us.

That is what makes him your Father: He is your beginning.

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So he went and sat at his Dad’s table.

He looked his Dad in the eye and told him the life he wanted to have and to hold.

Told his Dad that there was something in him that said that there was something in him that wasn’t enough for her, a voice that told him that he wasn’t good for living vulnerable dreams, a voice that told him he was less than —his voice broke — that he was less than others, less than expectations, less than enough.

He’d looked his father in the eye and that was his Esau Moment.

It happens. And you don’t know when it will come, how often it will come:  Every child, every man, every woman, has these Esau Moments when everything in them wants to beg a blessing from their father.

When you want the man that began you to bless you — to say that you are one of his dreams come true, that you are what he hoped for, you are his desires and love incarnated and there is nothing he will leave behind that compares to the masterpiece of you changing the world and everything coming ahead.

Sometimes what you want most is your father to give you the greatest gift anyone can give someone: for him to believe in you.

Sometimes what you want most is your father to give you the greatest gift anyone can give someone: for him to believe in you.

So that’s what he said — He looked into the face of the man who had given a part of himself to conceive him and he let the Esau words come:

“Dad — I need you to say that I’m enough of a man.” 

I need you, Dad —  to say that I am yours and you aren’t ashamed of me.
I need you, Dad — to say that I am loved and nothing I can ever do or fail to ever do will change how you forever love me.
I need you,  Dad —  to say that I am enough of a man.

And his father turned to him and said —-

“I can’t.”

I could hardly breathe.

His father said, “I can’t tell you everything you need me to say —-

because my own father never said it to me.”

And he looked into the eyes of his own seeking father — and that’s what he felt:

For the first time in his life he felt all his wounds bleeding right there on the inner walls of his own father’s heart.

The Esau Moment of begging blessing had become an Epiphany Moment of softening—

His hardened dad was still but a broken boy who himself had never heard I love you.

His stiffened and masked dad was still a kid who himself had never gotten his own blessing.

His distanced dad was but himself a question still reaching across the chasm of generations, desperate to find something under fingers to touch, to believe in —- and pass on.

Nothing wounds like the elusiveness of love. 

But it can happen and it can be your tender miracle:

There can be an unspoken bond with the one who has wounded you — because you know you both carry the same wounds. 

Hurt people, hurt people. 

You can’t deeply love your parents  — until you grieve the deep wounds of their life.

You can’t deeply love your parents  — until you grieve the deep wounds of their life.

My own Dad looked different to me when I saw him that spring, when I saw his worn hands slipped into his Levi jeans, the way time silvered at his temples and his eyes tried to say things I knew his words never could.

I felt it like a slow thrum around the tender places —- how there is nothing stopping me from being the voice that reaches across the chasm of generations, from mebeing the whisper of what he never heard from his own dad —-but he could hear now from his own child.

I could be the one to say the words he’s always longed to hear: 

“I love you. And nothing you’ve ever done or ever failed to do will change how I forever love you. 

You’re mine and I’m not ashamed of you but I acclaim you for the battles you fought and won, for every struggle that counts as a win because you stayed in the game, you kept breathing and kept wrestling and kept getting up again.

You’ve never lost if you’ve learned. You’ve never failed if you’ve let your feet find the floor again come morning.

And if I’ve loved redemption and grace and mercy for the likes of me, how can I love anything less for the wounds of yours?

And if I’ve loved redemption and grace and mercy for the likes of me, how can I love anything less for the wounds of yours?

Love is patient and patience is a willingness to suffer — and simply, I choose to always love and suffer with you.”

And maybe there’s a way every kid can someday, maybe, get a little closer to the hope of saying that. 

Maybe… maybe there’s a hope that someday, maybe, every one of the wounded can move closer to the healing of that:

Because when you look in the mirror, there it is, in the sheen of the lit reflection, and you recognize it — a glimpse of your own father’s face.

And that face sees their own father’s face who sees their own father’s face— and the reflecting washes over you and on and on until there’s the beginning and there’s a glimpse of the face of God.

And you hear the words your longing is guaranteed to hear, your Esau Moment becoming an Emmanuel Moment, because you, your father, his father —- we all have a Father who is always with us, always blessing us:

You’re the child I imagined and dreamed about and chose before creation, whose name I etched into the palm of my hands with dying affection, 

You’re the one who I think about more than there are grains of sands on the seashorethe one I can’t stop singing love for.

You’re the one who gets what you want most, your Father to give you the greatest gift anyone can give someone: I believe in you — because I am in you so you can believe in Me.

You’re the one I made and will remake and will never forsake —

You are my child and I am Father and to love is to suffer, and I will suffer for you, and I will suffer with you, and I will carry you through till you suffer no more. 

Bear my name and nothing you’ve ever done or ever failed to do will change how I forever love you.”

You can sit with that. You can heal because of that.

And you can look in the mirror and no matter what you know of your father on earth —  you can know of your Father in heaven: A Father’s most important job is to know his own heart is secondary to that of His children’s.

A Father’s most important job is to know his own heart is secondary to that of His children’s.

And your Father in heavenbrokeHis heart for you on that Cross because His love for you is second to none.

And there you are —

You can exhale the relief of the awed grace of something you’ve longed for….

You have your Father and all you’ve ever really wanted —

the tenderest miracle of a redeeming Fatherhood at the core of the universe… at centre of all our seeking hearts.

 

 

 

Related: So God Made a Farmer — and a Mother
A Father’s Loveletter — for every one hurting this weekend. 

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That time I let my friends raid my closet…

Let me say from the get-go that I have very rarely had friends willingly participate in working holiness in my life.

For at least a decade, I have been asking people who know me well to tell me a character flaw I can work on. This exercise instead always turns into compliments. 

(This is NOT the goal.)

The goal is holiness, and I realize that I have blind spots. I love when I have the kind of relationship with someone that I can be completely honest and completely humble with them. It is an equation for success.

So, when the weekly challenge in D-Group was to give away something every day for a week, I knew I would need assistance completing this one.

Because giving gifts is one of my love languages. Doing what I do best is no challenge AT ALL.

I really prayed and debated about it. There were three ways you could give things away. 1 you could give away something you have two of. 2 you could give away something you don’t use. 3 you could give away something that owns you. 

Yikes.

Now, I would give you my last Oreo or my couch pillows or my favorite journal. I would give you my dishes. I could give you almost anything in my house, but at the thought of giving away my clothes, I almost had to take a nerve pill. 

(This was POST-PURGING, mind you.) (Meaning all that was left was what I loved.) (Dearly.)

When the Lord led me to this discovery, I knew my only option was to let my friends leave with something from my closet. I then conspired how to make this happen. I considered hiding my favorite pair of heels, tucking away a few scarves into “storage”, and considering a few of my new shirts as “dirty duds” and throwing them in the washer. 

Herein I discovered that I had a problem.

My accountability partner argued with me. “This is not a problem for you. I never hear you talk about your clothes as an idol. I think you’re being ridiculous.” 

And maybe it was a bit extreme. But I wanted it to truly be a challenge, so I set my resolve. When I announced it to my girls at D-Group, to say that they were less than thrilled was an understatement.

“You want us to raid your closet and pick something we like and take it? What if we take something you need?”

” What if we take your favorite shirt? You’ll hate us forever!”

“Ughhh….This stresses me out.” 

I realized that I wasn’t asking an easy thing. But I needed to know how it felt to give something away. Something that I loved. Something that apparently owned me. I really had to get to the bottom of this. Was it that I didn’t have a clothing budget surplus and I clung to every piece I have because I didn’t have money to replace them? Are those college clothes memories of things? I think it really came down to pride… For so long I promised myself that when I was older, I would look nice. And over a decade of buying individual pieces, I finally felt like I had accomplished that. No longer did I feel the shame and insecurity I felt as a teenager when I knew I wasn’t wearing something pretty. 

Truth be told, I just couldn’t go pick my newest purchases out of my closet and give them to a stranger. I wasn’t at that point yet. But I would be happy to see them go in good hands.

So I sent in the troops and gave them a tour. This drawer has pajamas. This drawer is workout clothes. This section is cardigans.

At first, I stayed out of my room to try to protect myself. Then I continued to hear occasional bursts of laughter and after 15 minutes I decided to go figure out what was taking so long. Either I had ugly clothes, or there were too many options to choose from. 

None of the girls had picked A THING. 

They were standing around looking awkward and making comments about how they didn’t fit in anything. So I pulled out my scarves and showcased my jewelry and even went to my closet and pulled out shirts I thought would work– surprising myself by picking some of my favorites to recommend. 

And you know what? When they walked out that night with my coat and my umbrella scarf and my ruffled sleeveless shirt– all things I love so much–I feel happy inside. I felt released from the idol of image. I still needed to downsize some more, but I still had a large wardrobe to mix-and-match. I no longer felt like my value was in any way attached to my clothes. 

God has gifted me with plenty of pretty things to choose from. 

But the real gift He gave was giving me friends who could help me re-establish my true identity in Christ. You can take everything I own for that feeling. 

You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.