Still Christmas

Christmas is over, leaving behind the remnants of wrapping paper scraps hidden under legs of furniture and the usual weariness that follows post-holiday. My belly is confused at its remaining fullness and tightness of my pants after a mere three days of rich food and celebration with family, and I’m actually looking forward to eating vegetables that aren’t part of a casserole.

My kids made me proud these past couple of days as they expressed gratefulness and excitement over their presents–exactly what every parent wants to see on Christmas morning. Today we enjoyed a day of playing and building and reading, but tomorrow I foresee a little more ‘normal.’ Laundry for sure and mopping the floor, perhaps, interspersed with Lego guidance and Bey-blade battles.

As I transition back to normal, the hollow stillness that accompanied me prior to Christmas waits again. I had never been profoundly affected by a tragedy prior to the murder of those 20 sweet children in Newtown, Connecticut, but since that terrible Friday, my mind consistently thinks of the victims, the loved ones they left behind.

Perhaps I’ve cried because I am a mother, one of my children in kindergarten, another in first grade, and I see firsthand every day the innocence of children that age. Whatever the reason, for the first time I felt the weight of evil in this world. I saw the loss of innocence for all those children who were instructed to close their eyes as they left the school building and all of us in this country as we wept for them.

As the days went on, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the season. We were preparing to sing, “Joy to the World” and proclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace(E) to those on whom his favor rests” while our hearts felt anything but joy or the promise of peace. How could such darkness, such evil live among us, and how could the words of Christmas ever speak truth?

I thought of the little babe come to save the world, entering among blood and sweat and his mother’s cries as those 20 children left the world the same way. And for the first time I felt darkness surround me and a stillness about my faith. I didn’t sing for joy, and I couldn’t feel the peace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

I didn’t question ‘why’ so much as ‘how.’ I knew my theology and believed it–still believe it–but what comfort could Christ offer any of those grieving parents? Aside for the hope of eternity, what could he do to remove the darkness now?

So I didn’t write. I grieved with the rest of the country. And I thought about Christmas.

Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day

And the more I thought about Christmas, the more I realized it was exactly the point. From the moment Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, God knew He would have to save us. The paradise He created for us was now tainted with sin, and we would forever feel the consequences. We can pass more regulations over who can get guns and what types (and I think we should), but we will never rid ourselves of evil. When Cain spilled Abel’s blood, he demonstrated the evil that dwells within us all.

To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray

Yet God still wants to save us, so we celebrate Christmas. We praise God that this mess is not our home. And we acknowledge that our feelings are appropriate–sadness, despair, hopelessness–because this world is fallen. This mess was never supposed to be. And we wait. We wait for the Savior who came as a newborn child and died as man to come once again and end our misery.

We look for glimpses of Him to remind us of the goodness that awaits–the love that we feel for our children, the satisfaction of a warm meal, the wind whipping through the trees–promises of a new creation where we will cry no more. But in the meantime, we can cry, for the pain is real. We can celebrate Christmas and the promise of joy, and we can return to our routine.

And we wait. As we look for the good, we wait.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Save us from ourselves.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy


 

 

 

I Have No Mercy for Kids With Mono and Other Tales

I found out last Saturday that my five-year-old daughter has mononucleosis. Of course like any good parent, I felt sympathy for my poor little girl who didn’t feel well. Then I felt relief. And guilt.

For the month prior, my daughter’s behavior was beyond horrible. Even asking her to put on her clothes was a battle. She would throw uncharacteristic temper tantrums, screaming that she was so tired and couldn’t do it. Her room remained a condemned area, as she refused for two weeks to clean it. She was grounded from a birthday party, the playground, dinner with the family–anything else I could think of–and yet she still refused to put even one dirty shirt in the hamper.

Hannah Grace has always been stubborn; refusing to do chores or taking forever to get ready in the morning was not beyond her capabilities, but she had reached such an impressive level of defiance that my visions of her future all involved jail time.

I spent nights crying in bed. All of my prayers started with her. In fact, I spent many nights after the kids had gone to bed walking up and down the hallway, prayer walking, casting out the demons that surrounded her room in Jesus’ name.

In fact, one night the urge to pray was so intense that I went to her room and laid hands on her sleeping body, assuming God wanted me to perform a mini exorcism. That night, Hannah Grace climbed into bed between Matt and me, and we could feel the heat emanating off her limbs as she snuggled next to us. She clearly had a fever. I figured God was giving me a sign that He was burning up the demons.

A few hours later, the fever was gone, and Hannah Grace was back to her defiant self. She said she didn’t want to go to school with venom in her voice, and I knew it was just another of her evil ploys. After all, I had already picked her up from school previously when she said she didn’t feel well, and she bounced around the house all day. We had gone to the doctor another time when she said her throat and stomach hurt, but her strep test came back negative. Clearly, I lived with a manipulative little faker.

So when the nurse called on Saturday and said, “Hannah Grace has mono,” I felt immediate relief that my daughter was not possessed by Satan. And then I felt guilt that I had thought my daughter was possessed by Satan. And guilt that I didn’t renew her gymnastics classes due to her defiant behavior and refusal to do chores.

Yep, that’s motherhood–doing my best to raise my kids well, seeking the Lord, only to realize that I wasn’t reading the signs He was giving me correctly; having to kneel before my child humbly, asking her forgiveness for not understanding.

And, yet, motherhood, is experiencing the biggest smile in my soul, the kind that runs from my stretched cheeks to my toes, as I watch my son round home plate and jog towards his dad who scoops him up in celebration. An in-the-park home run caused this little boy to run to his dad, his coach with tears streaming down his face because, as he explained, “I was just so happy.” These days are what make motherhood, life, amazing; the constant swinging of the pendulum through guilt and relief and compassion to joy and feelings that I don’t even know how to describe.

But I want to try.

I’ve know for some time what I’ve wanted to do, but, honestly, I’ve been afraid. A few weeks ago, God stirred in me that desire again. I attended Hutchmoot with my best friend Wendy, and I fell in love with the story, God’s story. His amazing Creation. His love story told through the pages of the Bible, a story that doesn’t end with Revelation but is just beginning.

I want to tell part of His story; I don’t know what part or where I’m starting, but I want to tap into the creative spirit that He’s given me, that’s He’s shown all of us by every beat of our heart, each breath that we take.

In order to write, though, to capture these moments of life that point toward God’s bigger story of hope and redemption, I have to give myself permission to let go of my blog. I already haven’t written as much as I would like, and that fact hovers over me and actually causes me guilt and disappointment.

The fact is that I want to write without the need to hit publish. I want to write and continue to write and see where my story takes me, but I can’t unless I release this need to write in this space.

These words are hard for me to type because this place has been such a significant part of my life for the last three years. I have shared my joys, my struggles–most of my heart–right here. And while I don’t have a large following, I am very aware that I have a great following of some of the most loyal and faithful readers out in this strange and wonderful world of the blogosphere. I call many of you my friends even though I’ve never seen you face to face!

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and, perhaps, one day I’ll have a more substantial work to share with you again. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll visit this space from time to time as my kids always provide the best material–after all, if I don’t write about it, I”ll forget it. And since I don’t scrapbook, my writing really is the best record of my kids’ childhood that I can provide. And now that I’m freeing myself from this space, perhaps I’ll be better at visiting each of yours.

Please pray for me that I would have the discipline to keep writing. And please continue to pray for my family–especially now that I have two kids with mono (Caleb was diagnosed yesterday…I’m hoping my tiredness and headache are just allergies)!

Three years ago when my husband bought me this laptop, I was angry that he spent this money. However, now I can only thank him. He gave me a gift that I never would have expected by renewing my passion (But please, please, Matt, do not buy me another one…even if parts of  this laptop are cracking).

May God bless each of you as you continue on in His story….


Fearless Faith

I can’t turn away from the Olympics. The clock may flash warning numbers as the midnight hour approaches, but if there is still a gymnastics rotation left in the schedule or a lap for Michael Phelps in the pool, I’ll continue to sip my caffeine until I reach the finish. We’ve made a party on our couch of celebrating the world’s greatest athletes by eating cookies and staying up so far past our bedtimes that we’re useless the next day.

Yes, I see the irony in our situation.

As I watch these men and women, young girls and boys, an excitement turns in my stomach. The former gymnast in me is driven by competition, and every four years I live vicariously through the USA’s athletes. While I remember the numerous sacrifices I made during my gymnastics career, I also realize that these athletes take sacrifice to a whole other level.

I look at my daughter as I hear the story of Gabby Douglas leaving her family in Virginia Beach to train in Iowa. Would I be able to let my daughter go, knowing that there are never any guarantees of success?

But, of course, there are no guarantees in life, no guarantee except ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ I look at the smiles and tears of those who stand atop the Olympic podium, and I know that they are only standing there because they pushed aside fear. They decided the hours of training for a chance at the dream were worth the risk that that dream could remain unreached. They ignored the fear that keeps some from even starting and pushed themselves to the finish.

photo via nbcolympics.com

Watching the Olympics these last few days jostled that something that lives inside me that wants to do more. Then a sermon at church this past weekend shook it wide awake.

After reading from Matthew 8, the pastor brought our attention to Jesus’ question. The disciples are panicked as their boat begins to sink in the midst of a ferocious storm. They are terrified for their lives as the waves crash around them, yet Jesus asks, “You of little faith,(A) why are you so afraid?”

Isn’t it obvious why they are afraid? They are going to die as a result of drowning in the storm–they had a good reason to be afraid, yet Jesus admonishes them for their lack of faith. The disciples had forgotten the most important detail: the God-man in the boat with them was greater than the storm that surrounds them.

Our pastor went on to say that Jesus requires fearless faith. We often brush aside fear as something normal, when, in fact, for the Christian, fear is sin.

Every person who made any significant gains in spreading the word of Christ had to push aside fear–the Apostles, Martin Luther, Jim Elliot, Corrie ten Boom–they each had to worship Him who is, was, and will always be greater than that which they feared,to remember why they could have fearless faith.

And that requirement for fearless faith is for me, too.

I sat in my chair at church, and my insides were a mess. I wanted to jump up and do something, but I wasn’t sure what.

Given the start of the Olympics, I thought, perhaps, the Lord wanted me to start training. After some consideration, I decided a sport where I use a gun or the coxswain in rowing are my best bets.

Over the last few days, I haven’t felt confirmation of this Olympic goal, but this uneasy, excited feeling has continued. I don’t know where God is going to take me, my family, but I know I want to be fearless. I don’t want to miss out on the life I could have because of fear or complacency. I don’t want to use my kids as an excuse or my lack of ability to do something that God is asking. I want to do His will, whether His will takes me around the globe or just down the street.

And in the meantime, I’m going to start target shooting just in case….

Have you ever equated ‘fear’ with ‘sin’? This idea was new to me. Are you living completely fearless, or do the comforts of your everyday routine keep you from questioning if there is more for you to do?

If I Were Mary

photo courtesy of lindsayshaver

The year I turned 15, Christmas took on a different meaning for me. I remember looking in the mirror and imagining myself pregnant. I rubbed my belly as I thought of how I would tell my family the news. I envisioned the walk downstairs to the kitchen and the kitchen table where I would ask my parents to sit, and I pictured the look on my dad’s face as I shared what I learned from the angel Gabriel:

Dad, Mom, I’m pregnant–but please don’t be mad. I’m still a virgin–I’m carrying God’s baby.

But of course they would be mad…and confused…and scared, much the same as I imagine Mary and her family were. Sometimes as I read the Bible, I forget that these people in the stories weren’t some special breed of holiness, able to accept anything God threw their way. They were real people, and when I was 15, I got that for a moment.

Mary had to be scared even though she trusted God completely. Her parents had to be confused, worried about public shame, and unsure as to how to treat their daughter. And Mary’s community–I’m sure they were abuzz with their own interpretation of how that baby bump got there.

When I was 26 at Christmastime, I imagined I was Mary again. I looked in the mirror and rubbed my belly, except this time my belly was round from the life that grew inside it. I was pregnant with my first child, a son, and I was full of joy and anticipation for his arrival that March.

I was also nervous. Would I instinctively know how to care for this child? Would I be a good mother? I thought about Mary, brimming with joy as she felt her baby kick inside her womb, brimming with questions and pressure as she realized her responsibility–she was the mother to God’s son. How does one prepare for that job?

Now I’m 32. I look in the mirror and find a couple laugh lines that I hadn’t previously noticed. I rub my belly that has never quite gone back to the way it was before three kids. Over the last six years, God has shown me glimpses of His goodness, His holiness, His provision, His plan; and I’ve grown as a result of struggles He has brought me through while holding my hand.

And I think of Mary, riding on a donkey as her stomach tightens and the pangs of labor prick her abdomen, while God is holding her hand. I wonder what runs through her mind as she realizes her baby is coming and she is still far off from a bed. I wonder what she thinks as each door Joseph  knocks on is opened to the news No room. I wonder if she feels His hand, this young girl who had not yet experienced the pain of sex for the first time, as she experiences the pain of childbirth on a bed of hay with cows and sheep as her audience instead of a midwife.

Because I know what I would think. If I were Mary on that donkey, I would worry. If I were Mary watching door upon door close with bad news, I would question. If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?

Looking back over the last six years, I’ve seen how I react. I get confused when God’s plan takes me through hardship. I question what He is doing. And when doors close, I despise the words of those who reply,”Well, that must not be God’s will.”

But they are wrong as I have been wrong. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that all doors fly open. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that the end result is neat and clean. Sometimes God’s will is exactly what He told us it would be–He just used different means to that end than we would’ve chosen.

He held Mary’s hand as He closed the doors to those inns, yet she had heard Him correctly. She was in the center of His will. He hadn’t forgotten that she was giving birth to His Son–He chose that blanket of hay for his baby’s bed. He chose the most humiliating way for a woman to deliver a baby to deliver the most beautiful love story this world has ever heard.

God’s Son, Immanuel, God with us, God for us. God’s son, for the lowly shepherd, God’s son for the rich intellectual. God’s son, for the old prophet, God’s son for the smallest child. God’s son, accessible to all on that humble bed of hay.

I wonder if Mary felt God’s hand, if she were able to push aside the doubt that I would’ve allowed to creep in and fester in my mind. I wonder if Mary were able to trust in the midst of agonizing pain and closed doors.

If I were Mary, I’m not sure that I would’ve. It is only now, at 32, that I’m beginning to grasp that the truths in these crazy Bible stories are also true for my crazy life. When I thought I heard God clearly only to have door upon door close, I may have been right.

I just hadn’t realized that God is preparing my own bed of hay.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you feel God’s hand as He leads you this coming year.

 

Christmas Lessons 2: The Nativity

I sighed as I took the nativity out of the box. A gift from my mother-in-law, the olive wood figurines from Jerusalem stood beautifully in their simplicity. I wanted to do the scene justice–display it in a setting of prominence, center-stage in our family room–yet I wanted to enjoy this nativity for more than one Christmas.

For the same reason the breakable nativity from my mother sets atop the T.V. cabinet, this nativity quietly hangs out on our electric piano: I fear my children.

I fear the two-year-old who ate all the candy out of the kids’ advent calendars by December 10th.

I fear the four-year-old who lost her one new pair of school shoes (how does one lose the shoes that one was wearing?)

I fear the five-year-old who discovered the razor I use on my legs can also shave off hair from his sister’s head.

I don’t want baby Jesus to go missing. I don’t want the shepherd to lose his staff. I don’t want Mary to break her face. And I don’t want the sheep to become part of a wild animal safari in the playroom.

I want them to remain sacred objects of our faith, a reminder of the beautiful Christmas story.

“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”

The story of the king sent to reign over heaven and earth, the king who entered this world not on a golden chariot but instead through the blood, sweat, and tears of a young girl. The king for whom there was no room but instead a bed shared amidst foul-smelling animals and dust and hay.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord”

The story of the God who chose to reveal himself first to a group of shepherds, the young and the elderly, those not valued by society but who caused disdain with the stench of sheep they carried. These were the first to meet the Savior of the World.

13 ‘Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace on whom his favor rests’

The story of a baby who made the angels sing. This baby, the Son of the holy God who loves His children so much that He sent His Son to bring us peace.

As my children retell this story with shining eyes anticipating Christ’s birthday, I see the nativity, no longer mere objects on my piano destined to be broken or misplaced at their hands. These objects that they caress with their fingers, the star that they turn as they sing of that silent night, holy night are living as the story takes root in their hearts.

And that story can’t break.

Linking up with Mama Kat in response to her prompt to describe my nativity scene. Come back tomorrow for another Christmas lesson, this time inspired by some of the Santa stories left by you!

*For the complete Christmas story, read Luke 2.



 


A Message in a Shoebox

photo courtesy of 'Operation Christmas Child'

God shows His love and kindness in many ways. For me, He showed it in a shoebox’s destination….

Around four years ago, I sat on the back row at church and listened to the woman on the screen rattle off statistics that I have never been able to forget. At that time, our church was connected to the orphanage in the Ukraine that this woman represented. I remember hearing her describe girls lured into prostitution after leaving most orphanages, and the majority of boys of choosing a life of crime. The number that hit me the hardest, however, was the number of young men who chose to live no life at all.

I can’t remember if I was pregnant with my second child or if she had just been born, but I know that the thought of adopting a child had not yet entered my mind given my own circumstances. But those statistics, oh, how they changed me forever. I sat in church that day with tears in my eyes. How horrible were those orphanages that these children thought they were worthless? How horrible were their prospects that these young men thought they had no hope at all? The thought of so many children taking their own lives rather than live in the world was incomprehensible to me.

Around two years later, I sat in the stands of the Gwinnett Arena and listened to the testimony of Christian after Christian who said they believed the call in James to care for orphans and widows was not merely a suggestion. They believed that God really meant we should give homes to these orphans, and they shared their stories of how they adopted children into their families.

My husband and I had never discussed adoption before, and I wasn’t sure that he would be receptive to the idea, but God had stirred some embers in my heart. I thought of those young boys in the Ukraine, and I felt I knew God’s plan for us.

But time passed. Life with my own three kids was crazy enough. Managing our finances was challenging as it was–saving tens of thousands of dollars for adoption seemed unreasonable. And as time went on, even though I truly felt God had spoken to me two years prior in that arena, I began to doubt what I heard. I still had the desire to adopt, but I also knew now was not the time to bring another child into our home. In fact, sometimes I didn’t know if there’d ever be the time to bring another child into our home, and, at times, I was okay with that idea.

My mind didn’t do well with this ambiguity. I’m the girl with the five-year and ten-year plans, and I needed to know if adoption was part of those plans. I needed to know how to plan for those plans. The last few months, however, I had the sense that I needed to stop planning all-together. The details in my life didn’t match up with the details of adoption.

And I felt crushed. Because as life often works, during this time of my life, a time when bringing another child into our home makes no sense, my desire to have another child is burning within me.

I told God I trusted Him. Maybe I hadn’t heard correctly a couple years ago. Maybe God does want me to have a heart for orphans, but maybe my role isn’t to be a mother to orphans. I would trust Him, though, trust that He would reveal His will to me–perhaps not today but when I needed to know.

In November, my son and I packed a box for his school’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox drive, and I printed out a label with a barcode so we could track it’s destination. Two days ago, I received an e-mail from Samaritan’s Purse:

Merry Christmas from Samaritan’s Purse! Thank you for participating in Operation Christmas Child and for choosing to Follow Your Box.

Your gift box(es) went to Ukraine. For photos, stories, and other information about Operation Christmas Child in this country, click here.”

I gasped when I saw the country. The Ukraine, the one place that is always in my heart, and there, a little boy would hold a shoebox full of toys and markers and toothpaste and know that he is loved.

And as I read that e-mail, I knew that I am loved. I know this post seems to be about adoption, but, actually, it’s about God’s love for me. When I read that e-mail, I knew God was speaking to me. I knew that He was telling me that He heard and hears the desires of my heart, and, as much as I care about those little boys in the Ukraine, He cares even more. He will make clear His Will to me, whether or not adoption is part of it.

All I could do was close my eyes and say I trust, Lord. How could I not trust the God of the universe who carried a simple shoebox to a place where He could speak to both the recipient and the sender?

Some might say that our shoebox landing in the Ukraine was a coincidence–it had to go somewhere–but I believe God cares enough about me to get involved in the details of life. Like a perfect Father, He knows the time to step back and let me learn and grow, but He also knows those times when I need to hear from Him.

He loves me enough to speak to me through an e-mail.

And He loves you that much, too.

 

Linking up with Michelle and Jen. When was a time that you knew God was speaking to you? How did He do it? And don’t forget to tune in this week to read more Christmas lessons. Thank you to those who have e-mailed/commented with suggestions!

Pick and Choose

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been studying how the supernatural intersects our everyday lives via prayer. I have to admit that even typing the word ‘supernatural’ feels a little funny to me.

I don’t know why. I say I believe in God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–to do so I’d have to believe in this idea of supernatural events–yet I’ve noticed that the way I pray and interpret Scripture indicates exactly what I believe.

I pick and choose.

On the one hand, I say I believe that God is the ultimate healer and can perform miracles, but I’m afraid to pray that way. Even when I do pray for God’s miraculous touch, it’s as if I’m praying with one eye open, bracing myself for the reality that that person for whom I’m praying probably won’t be healed.

There were times when I really believed, or, at least, really wanted to believe. My friend was very sick, and I woke up one morning feeling in my heart that I was supposed to pray for his healing. I did; I prayed earnestly and fervently, yet he was not healed.

A couple of weeks ago, our church set aside a special time to pray for healing in view of this series on the supernatural, and I went forward and asked for prayer for my uncle. Again, I felt a strong prompt that I was supposed to pray for his healing. My uncle is a quadriplegic due to what doctors think was a blot clot that formed after back surgery, and within the last few years his health has been on a steady decline.

A couple of days after praying, my mom told me that now my uncle is struggling to breathe.

In situations like those, I begin to doubt myself. Did God really prompt me to pray, or did I just want to see a miracle myself? Did I not pray with enough faith? Does God really heal?

I know that God really heals, but I’m afraid to ask. I temper my prayers with if it’s your will so that if someone is not healed or my prayer is not answered the way I’d like, I can say that it wasn’t God’s will.

Of course, I know I’ve stated the key–God’s will–not mine, yet I can readily admit my fear to really believe beyond ordinary.

Sometimes it’s easier to believe in the power of doctors and medicine than the power of the Doctor. And yet other times, times when I need the healing, I want to grab onto the power of God instead of the resources He’s given me.

Our pastor shared a familiar passage to me, but he opened my eyes to a fuller meaning:

13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16, New International Version)

I have read and heard this passage many times in regard to praying for those who are sick. I’ve seen pastors anoint individuals with oil, and I always assumed the function was symbolic. However, our pastor shared that the actual Greek text suggests that this anointing served a specific purpose. Olive oil was known for its medicinal properties, and this passage instructs sick individuals to essentially seek prayer and medicine.

After my third child was born, my mental health was on a steady decline for two years. I chalked up my emotions to a confused, hormonal body after having three kids in three years and nursing each of them. However, my daughter rounded 18 months, and I wasn’t feeling better.

I thought, perhaps, that my spiritual life was out of whack. I started waking up at five every morning so that I could pray and read the Bible and process through my feelings on my blog. However, any relief I felt was temporary, and I didn’t understand why. Eventually, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and I cried and yelled at my children almost every day.

During my annual physical, my doctor suggested I try medication. Two years was too long for me to deal with depression. I cried as we talked about the prospect, feeling that I was mentally weak or spiritually deficient. My wise, Christian doctor offered the most comforting words:

Scripture says that it will renew the mind. Your mind is an extension of the soul, but your brain is part of the physical body. There is no indication in Scripture that by reading the Word your body will be healed. Now, God can heal you, but He would have to heal you the same way He would have to heal someone of high blood pressure. Right now, the chemical levels in your brain are out of whack, and medication will just retrain them to produce those chemicals that you need.

Looking back to the passage in James, I see that my doctor’s words were essentially the same advice I read a couple of weeks ago in church. Pray and seek medicine. God may heal me; He is mighty and able to perform miracles, but he may want to heal me through the use of the resources I have available.

The bottom line, whether I’m dealing with depression or my uncle is struggling to hold onto his life, is that I’m supposed to pray the same way. I’m supposed to pray, not with one eye open, doubting what my God can do, but believing that at this very moment my uncle could get up and walk. At this very moment, I could wake up without the need for medicine again.

While I will never understand the will of God this side of heaven, I understand my role. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. And while I’m not righteous on my own, I have Christ pleading on my behalf. God hears my prayers, and they are effective, whether God answers them with a blazing flash of lightning or a tiny pink pill.

Do you pick and choose when it comes to your understanding of prayer? Linking up today with Michelle and Jen.


 

Writing in the Margins

I slept through my alarm every day last week. A couple of times, I didn’t even hear my alarm until it had been going off for at least a half an hour. I was immediately frightened by the realization–I had become my husband.

In the midst of the exhaustion and frazzled days of the last two weeks, I look fondly on the kindness God showed me. I had already had the conversation with my husband–I’ve taken on too much; I need to figure out what I’m going to let go–when I saw a trend I didn’t like. Each night I hit the sack a little later trying to finish that ‘just one more’ task, and each morning I woke with the need for an IV drip of coffee–and I’m not even a coffee drinker. I hadn’t spent any time in serious prayer or reading my Bible because I kept waking up late, and I was yearning for that time to focus my mind on the spiritual and not just the earthly tasks.

It all started innocently, with the best of intentions. I so looked forward to Chloe starting preschool, giving me two days a week with a few hours child-free. I made plans to volunteer in the kids’ schools, something that proved difficult previously with a baby in tow; to work out more consistently, to improve my writing with regular practice; to keep a cleaner house. As I looked at my cluttered countertops, a blog with the last entry almost a week ago, and a gym bag that hasn’t left it’s spot in a few days, I found out that by pursuing one of those items on the list, the rest quickly deteriorated.

I was so excited to co-chair the missions committee at Caleb’s school, but as 10:00 rolled around each night, it was just one more thing I hadn’t finished. I remember telling Matt, “The other chair seems to have taken over, but, honestly, that’s okay with me right now.” He laughed, and I laughed at the words coming out of my mouth. My had I changed if I was okay relinquishing control!

And that is how God showed His kindness. As I was coming to my own realization as to what I could handle, the co-chair of the missions organization called me: I don’t want you to think I’ve taken over; I just remember how hard it was for me when I had little kids. Mine are older now, and it’s really not a problem to get some of these things done.

The timing of her phone call, not even 12 hours after Matt and I spoke, was confirmation for me. I unburdened my heart, telling this lady how much I want to help, but, at the same time, I appreciate her understanding. I do need to watch to what I commit and maybe let her take a greater amount of the tasks for now. She laughed a knowing laugh and reminded me that my ministry right now, especially during this season of life, is my family. And she went on to warn that, in her own life, she saw Satan use busyness, busyness in good things, to distract her from better things.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this topic before. I want my family to be my priority, my ministry, yet I find that line can get fuzzy. After all, I volunteer in the kids’ schools for them, I volunteer at church for God and as an example to my children. I’m the secretary of our homeowner’s association for…well…that’s not a good example. And writing is for me, and working out is for me, and quiet time in the morning is for me–and I find it easier to push aside those ‘me’ activities instead of those for others. However, I’m also learning that if I don’t find those moments for me, most importantly those moments between God and me, I won’t have anything to give to them.

I’m not complaining about being busy. I’m blessed to feel busy doing things I love. But I also know that just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s good for me now, especially if I’ve used up all my margin to do those good things.

One of the hardest struggles for me as a wife and a mother has been to figure out this whole margin thing, to figure out my priorities and how those priorities translate. I want my children to know I love them and the Lord and that I want to serve the Lord with my life. And it’s going to take me a while, but I think God may be showing me that one of the best ways to start serving Him is to play a game of ‘Toy Story Connect 4″ with the kids, get in bed early, read a book, and then wake up rested.

There are too many beautiful moments, fleeting moments, and I don’t want to need caffeine in order to enjoy them.

Do you struggle with busyness and saying ‘no’ to good things? How do you achieve the proper balance in your life?

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today!

For What It’s Worth


photo by Elena Lagaria

I’m 32 years old, but sometimes I share the thoughts of that 15 year old girl that I once was. Even though I’ve gained years and wisdom and maturity, there are times when my logic engages in tough battle with my insecurities. There are days when I look in the mirror and scrutinize the reflection, days when I study my legs and my stomach and offer a harsh critique. There are days when I forget from where my worth comes.

This weekend I listened to our pastor deliver a convincing sermon arguing that we’ve let culture shape our views in regard to fashion instead of our Christian values helping to shape culture. None of the ideas were new to me–our culture screams loud and clear that the perfect woman’s body screams ‘sex,’ and no woman can actually reach the ideal that they’ve set; no matter how a woman dresses, men have to take hold of their thoughts and are responsible for where their mind goes; and we parents have to communicate to our daughters that they carry far more beauty than what the world would try to tell them and that their worth comes from their Creator, not the label on their clothing.

I have heard these teachings before, but at the end of the sermon, I had tears in my eyes. Near the beginning of the sermon, our pastor played a clip of a 15 year old girl who looked closer to 25 explaining why she dressed as she did. She wanted boys to look at her, to desire her, because it was then that she felt she was worth something. She flaunted her body because she tied her value as a person to her physical appeal, and the reaction from boys validated these feelings.

Fifteen was a long time ago for me, but I remember. I never flaunted my body or dressed seductively–I knew in mind that acting that way was wrong and that any boy who wanted me solely for the way I looked was not a boy that I wanted for a boyfriend–but I still wanted that validation. I wanted to turn boys’ heads when I walked by; I wanted them to want me. And when that didn’t happen, I doubted that I had any beauty.

And, unfortunately, sometimes I still do.

More often than not, I feel good about myself. I have a husband whom I love and loves me, children who bring a smile to my face, and I don’t desire anything more. Yet, there are those days that sneak up on me, days when I hate my reflection, days when I doubt that anyone other than my husband could find me attractive.

A few months ago, my son asked me why I didn’t wear a shirt that showed my stomach when I worked out at the gym. Initially, I was taken aback that my five year old noticed the trend of skimpy work-out clothes. However, I explained to him that I wanted to dress modestly, so I wasn’t going to wear shirts that showed my stomach (and I really didn’t want to show my stomach, either).

And I meant what I said–I do want to dress modestly–but sometimes when I’m working out I wonder if I could cause a head or two to turn. It’s not that I’m interested in anyone other than my husband, but I have moments like that 15 year old girl. I have moments when I’ve measured my worth by the heads that I’ve turned instead of by the One who gave me my worth.

I am in control of my thoughts, and I can’t blame anyone for them but me, yet the culture of which I am a part doesn’t do much to chase away these lies, either.

The other day my daughter tried on a superhero costume. After many days of my girls dressing up with their brother and their cousin in his costumes, my sister decided to buy some female superhero costumes to join the mix. The girls’ hero was Diana, also known as Wonder Woman, so my sister excitedly presented this costume to Hannah Grace. After putting on boots that were a little too high and a skirt that was a little too short, Hannah Grace looked at her appearance and exclaimed, “My daddy would freak out!” My sister agreed and returned the costume for a more modest Captain-America’s-daughter-costume.

When my sister told me this story, I had to wonder how is it that my four year old has more sense of what is appropriate for a child than those who manufactured the costume? And why do we as parents perpetuate the idea that our daughters’ value lies in the sexiness of their bodies by the clothes that we buy for them?

I know some might think that Matt and I are too strict when it comes to our daughters. We’re not fans of dressing our little girls in two-piece bathing suits nor painting their fingernails painted bright pink. Some of the outfits or accessories that we say ‘no’ to aren’t bad–they’re just not for little girls. We want our daughters to hold on to their innocence. We want them to look like little girls, not teenagers, because some day they will be teenagers. And when that day comes, we want them to be content with how they are, not striving to look ten years older. We want them to feel beautiful because God made them beautiful, and His beauty does not come in a box of hair dye or a tight shirt.

Last Sunday I had tears in my eyes at the end of the sermon because my pastor was talking to me. I know the feeling of that teenage girl wanting to look older, wanting to attract young men by looks alone. I’ve know the feeling of that 32 year old woman who wonders if she could attract anyone. I’ve known the feeling of tying up my worth in the latest fashion trends and the firmness of my muscles.

And I know that I don’t want my daughters to know that feeling. I want them to believe the words we speak into them, that they are beautiful and kind and truly a gift. And I know that if they are to believe they are worth something, their mother needs to believe that she is worth something, too.

Linking up late with Michelle for ‘Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.” These personal posts can take me awhile….

 

Have you ever fallen into the trap of tying your worth to your physical appearance alone? When you do find yourself placing more emphasis on the physical, how do you speak truth into yourself?

Joy

I’m participating in The Gypsy Mama’s 5 Minute Friday where we paint pictures with words for 5 minutes without editing–just let the words flow.

Go:

When I saw the topic this morning I felt stumped. I’m not sure why–I have plenty in my life which produces joy–but I wasn’t sure how to write about the joy I feel at certain moments. Perhaps, because if I’m writing honestly, I don’t always feel that joy that I should have. So I pondered the meaning of joy this morning as I got ready for the day. I looked up definitions, hoping that I would see a big difference between ‘joy’ and ‘happiness,’ but our English dictionaries all produce similar definitions.

However, as I brushed my teeth and straightened my hair, I pictured my friends. Friends who had lost babies. Friends who had lost husbands. Friends who had lost jobs. And I pictured my son in the backseat of the van when he told me we should turn off the news–we didn’t need to listen to three different reports of people getting shot.

And in that moment of picturing, I knew that this world was too hard–it could crush the spirit–apart from God. Finding joy isn’t about finding happiness in every moment of this fallen world. Finding joy is experiencing contentment and remembering the grace that God freely gives.

Because apart from that grace, I would see too many bleak days outside my window, but instead, I can throw my hands up in surrender to Him. I can yell, “Okay! This is the lot you gave me in life!” and know that He will hold my hand as I walk it. And while holding His hand and experiencing His grace, I can whisper it is well with my soul, even when the circumstances around my life are not.

Stop:



Okay, I can’t lie, especially when writing about God. I, again, took more than five minutes. I swear, I must have the slowest thinking brain of all you bloggers out there. Oh, well. Forgive me. And to be honest–I’ll probably break the rules again (but I still didn’t edit). How would you define ‘joy’?