Strength and Courage

If I’m honest, I yearn for the days of ‘easy.’ I look forward to each milestone of independence with my kids, and I hope for the days when my husband’s job will take away less time from the family. Sometimes, my eyes focus on a reality that isn’t here, imagining my life the way I want to live it if I could just tweak a few details about the present.

Last night, I wanted to read a book. I’ve been reading the same book for months as the end-of-the-school year madness left me too tired to think most nights. Unfortunately, that tiredness left me too tired to wake up many mornings, and I felt the nudge to read my neglected Bible first.

I decide to read Joshua chapter 1 after hearing a sermon on Joshua 6 that afternoon. In the first nine verses, God tells Joshua three times to “Be strong and courageous.” I couldn’t help but think that God was speaking those words to me, too.

Now, I realize I’m not leading an entire nation across the Jordan river, but I am leading three little ones every day. Many nights, I close my eyes in fear as I pray, as I beg God to hold my children close, as I yearn for Him to make me a better mother–but the words He spoke to Joshua are the same for me:

“Be strong and courageous…”

Why?

“…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9)

God is with me, no matter where Matt works, no matter the ages of my kids, no matter my successes and failures in parenting, and all He asks of me is that I am strong and courageous. I can find that strength and courage if I remember that He is the one who gives it to me.

Last night, sleep came easily, as it does most nights, but before I closed my eyes, I thought and prayed about what I had read. While I would still love to tweak a few details here and there for the future, I’m going to work harder at being strong in the present.

For God is with me.

Photo by NeilsPhotography

*in verse 9, emphasis added is mine

Where is God telling you to be strong and courageous?

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today.

 

What I Need (And You Probably Do, Too)

The longer I do life, the more I see flaws with how I’m living it. I’m not sure the blame is wholly mine, though; some of the ideas that flow through my mind seem to flood our society, as well. Somewhere along the way we got this idea that we could do it all–careers, marriage, parenting–and do it alone.

For a few years now, I’ve craved community. I’ve wanted to move past the casual ‘hellos’ and enter into meaningful relationships with my neighbors. I’ve wanted to form friendships with my small group that continue when they leave our home on Sunday night into the rest of the week. Some of those relationships are taking root, and I realize now that true friendship takes time. It can’t be rushed, and it must be nurtured.

I’m also realizing that what I desired in relationship with my neighbors and friends in my community was too shallow. I looked for companionship, friends to lend an ear or girls to sip coffee with me, but I didn’t look for help. I thought my life–my marriage, my kids, my housework–were mine alone and fellowship fell outside of that circle.

I was wrong.

An elderly woman moved next door to our family. I’ve driven her around town, showing her the closest supermarkets, and taken her meals. I check in on her when I haven’t seen her in a few days, and the kids bring her birthday cake when she doesn’t feel well enough to celebrate with us.

The other day, though, she showed me that I need her. My daughter was running around, acting hyper and disobedient, and Ms. JoAnn simply said, “Sometime, I’ll have her over. I’ll talk to her and let her paint. She’ll enjoy it.”

At that moment, a switch turned on in my mind. I do not need to raise my children alone.

I know that Matt and I are ultimately responsible for our kids, but we are not the only ones who need to pour into their lives. I don’t need to feel guilty that Caleb has learned some things at school that I never would’ve thought to teach him. I don’t need to hold onto the idea I need to figure everything out on my own.

I need Ms. JoAnn as much as she needs me.

I was given confirmation of this idea a couple of days later when my son asked if he could play with one of his neighbor friends. This friendship is new, so I walked over to the house and told the mom that her son could play at our home. The kids spent 20 minutes together that flew by in a flash, and then I walked this little boy across the street from whence we just came so he could have dinner.

His mother thanked me. She thanked me for the 20 minutes to decompress without two kids running around–she needed that time emotionally. Hearing her tired voice I understood; we need each other.

Somewhere along the way, we lost this idea. We lost the idea of a community who is genuinely involved in each others’ lives. Perhaps, the growth of our towns is partly to blame. I don’t have to see a neighbor on any given day if I don’t want to. I get in my minivan that is parked by the garage (not in the garage, mind you, but the garage could fill a whole other post), and drive to school or the store or the gym–a minivan that I need given the fact that our town has very few sidewalks, and nothing I need is within walking distance.  I come back home and enter through the garage again. If I don’t want to socialize, I don’t have to. If I want to be left alone, I can.

But we are not supposed to do life alone–even Jesus surrounded himself with 12 friends. He took 3 with him during those dark hours before his crucifixion and asked them to pray. Why, then, do I feel I must do my life alone?

It’s not that I’ve never asked for help–I will never be able to repay my mom and sister for the times they’ve babysat–but I need to change my mindset about who can help me. I need to redefine ‘community.’

I need to open my home to my neighbors when milk is spilled on the floor, and the dishes are piled high. I need to let those I trust see me when I’m on the verge of tears. And I need to call on my neighbor when my rope is unraveling and get rid of the pride that says my kids are my problem.

We all have gifts to give–it’s just taken me 33 years to realize that it’s okay to receive those gifts, as well.

Linking up with Michelle and Jen after another blogging hiatus. I’m not sure if I’m going to give all the details of this break, but just know that life at the Davis household is a little crazy right now–and with Matt out of town again, I can definitely use prayer! Have a great day!


 

 

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.

 

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?

He Danced

He danced wildly, with abandon, befitting of the red hair atop his head. Jumping and turning, landing in karate-like stances, he moved to the music. His mother stood in the back row with her infant asleep in the carrier, but he danced. Whenever a person walked up the aisle, she would gently touch his shoulder, and he would reign in his movements to allow the individual to pass. But when the aisle was once again clear, he reveled in the music.

I watched as he stood still for a moment and lifted his arms to the sky. I was not singing the words on the screen at that moment, and I wasn’t as focused on my own worship as usual. But as I watched him dance, my affections turned to the sleepy one in my lap who, with arm around my neck, stared in wonderment at this little boy. I smiled.

I could feel the Lord smiling, too, as He watched the little children come to Him.

Linking up with Michelle to share how a little boy taught me how to approach God like a child. How has a child taught you about God?

Heaven

Heaven should be one of those topics that brings peace and joy to one’s heart, but I think I’m a little strange. Heaven was the topic at church this past Sunday, and for at least half the sermon, I was squirming in my seat. I actually have given a lot of thought to heaven, probably too much, wondering how far past the clouds I’ll have to travel to get there, if the streets are really made of gold, and if I’ll get bored at some point during eternity (I know, I know–silly, right?). And the concept of eternity? Yeah, thinking about it can send me into a mild panic attack.

When I try to think about time that doesn’t end, something that lasts forever and ever and ever, I start to freak out. Everything’s supposed to end. How can something not end? And at this point in my thought process, my body gets tingly and jittery feeling, and I have to shake my head to get rid of the thoughts and take some deep breaths.

I am willing to admit I’m a little crazy.

I know I need to trust that I won’t want heaven to end, just the way that I don’t want my time here on earth with my family to end. I need to have faith that a God who is good and merciful and love has figured this heaven thing out so that when I’m up there with Him I won’t spend eternity trying to figure out how eternity actually works. And I need to trust that panic attacks don’t happen in heaven.

But apparently I’m not the only one who has issues with heaven. During his sermon, our pastor offered that most people want to go to heaven but not now. I could raise my hand in agreement. Yes, even though I know heaven is a perfect place with Jesus (shouldn’t He make it worth it for me?), I’m happy to stay down here enduring the hell of carpool lines at two different schools every day.

But why?

Our pastor suggested one reason is that we don’t live our everyday with eternity in mind. We forget that our stay on earth is really a passing through point. We were made for eternity, and we are to live with eternity in mind.

We looked at the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven…

(God’s in heaven right now and always has been)

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

(My life now should be consumed with doing God’s will here on earth)

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever…

(This life is temporary, but God will reign forever)

My life here on earth is sandwiched between eternity, but I have the tendency to live my life as if it’s the main event. Perhaps this point of view contributes to my fear of that wonderful home that’s prepared for me.

The fear of the unknown also contributes to my nervousness about heaven. Everyone has a different opinion on heaven. Some think we’ll spend eternity singing praises with the angels to Jesus. All the time. That sounds nice, but I have to admit, I’ve wondered if that would get boring (I know that’s horrible–I’m just admitting the very human thought that entered my mind).

One pastor told me that he doesn’t think we’ll have any recollection of our relationships from earth because, if we did, we’d notice who wasn’t there in heaven with us. Knowing we had family or friends in hell would make it impossible to live in joy for eternity. I guess that view makes sense, but it leaves me feeling sad and empty.

I want to remember my family and friends. I want to open my arms wide and help welcome my children one day, and I want to feel the sweet embrace of my husband again. Yes, of course I want to see Jesus, but one of the comforts that Christians find in death is knowing that death is not the end. We hope to see our loved ones again. I cling to that hope. When I think of friends who have lost a spouse or a child, I find comfort imagining their sweet reunion one day.

In the second part of the sermon when I wasn’t squirming as much, we watched an interview with Colton Burpo and his father, Todd. Colton was almost four when he got very sick and nearly died. The book Heaven is for Real is his account of entering heaven. Colton’s mother had had a miscarriage earlier but never told her son; however, he told his parents that he met his sister as well as his great-grandfather who had died 30 years before. He described them in astounding detail and counted spending time with them among some of his favorite parts of heaven.

Colton also describe sitting in Jesus’ lap as one of his favorite memories. What an image–sitting on the lap of Jesus. After hearing this little boy’s testimony of a powerful God and loving Jesus and beautiful animals and welcoming family, a wave of peace washed over me. Oh how I wanted this little boy’s account to be true!

And then I realized something. Whether or not every detail of this child’s account is exactly what heaven will look like for me doesn’t matter. What matters is that the God I worship wants me to realize that He has prepared a home with many rooms. He knew what He was doing before. He knows what He’s doing now. And He’ll know what He’s doing for all eternity.

My life wasn’t made for this earth; my life was made for communion with Him, and when I reach heaven someday, I’ll finally feel at home.

So maybe it’s best if I stop trying to figure out how long eternity actually is and how it works. Maybe I should stop trying to figure out what heaven will look like and instead focus on what I do know: God is good. God is love. God is merciful. And He will always be all of these things, even when I’m a nut. So I think I’ll take a deep breath, relax, and trust Him.

Would you raise your hand as one who wants to go to heaven but not now? Has thinking about heaven ever caused you fear? Linking up with Michelle and Jen today!



 

 

A Fresh Start

We parked the car and immediately unbuckled seat belts in our haste to get inside the church building. Caleb bounded out of the van exclaiming, “I can’t wait to go to school tomorrow!” Matt and I laughed at his enthusiasm, a new kindergartener not yet disgruntled by the institution of school.

That night as I ironed new uniform shirts, I was surprised at the familiar smell of the hot iron meeting the shirt fabric. Seven years ago I stood ironing a navy Polo shirt to wear on the weekends of Officer Training School. After so many weeks, we could earn privileges to go off base, but not without donning that navy Polo with the letters O-T-S spelled below the shoulder.

Seven years ago.

It’s unbelievable how quickly time escapes us, unbelievable that I have a child starting school. It feels like yesterday that I was starting my own adventure, but, instead, Caleb was starting his.

Leading up to this day, I wondered how I would feel. Would I cry, feeling sad because my oldest would no longer spend his days home with me, or would I rejoice, feeling relief that summer was over and a few hours of freedom for me were in sight? Surprisingly, I felt neither. Instead, I felt excitement.

Five a.m. did not come easy for me that morning, or at all, for that matter,  mostly due to the fact that all three kids had managed to worm their way into our bed at some point during the night. I slept later than I should have, so I didn’t get to write my blog that morning as I planned or spend time with the kids over a leisurely breakfast. They had trouble waking up, too.

But the excitement kept me moving forward.

Caleb was starting school. My little boy with a fountain of constant questions pouring from his mouth, holding an innocent curiosity, would start his journey of learning within the walls of the cozy classroom, full of books and bulletin boards and crayons.

That Sunday morning when Caleb bounded out of the car expressing his excitement at starting school, I sat in the cushioned chair at church reading from 2 Chronicles 14. Our church’s word for the year is ‘gumption,’ the character to commit and complete, so we looked at the life of King Asa. King Asa was an Israelite king who started his reign doing what was good in the eyes of the Lord. He turned the nation back to God and away from idols and trusted God for military success when surrounded by enemies.

However, later in his reign he sent Israel’s gold and silver to the king of Aram, requesting a treaty with him, showing he no longer trusted in God to protect Israel. And from that point on, his reign took an unfortunate turn, as he forgot who was the source of his blessing and protection. King Asa lost his gumption–he didn’t complete the plans God had for him.

My pastor asked us to evaluate our own lives and search our hearts for those areas where we have lost our gumption. I thought of a few spiritual disciplines, but the focus of my mind was on my kids. I haven’t lost my gumption–I am committed–but I want to complete and complete well.

God recently reminded me of what I signed on to do when I left my career in the Air Force to take on the career of ‘mom,’ and because of that renewed purpose, I can look to Caleb’s first big step into independence with excitement. I’m not sending him to school to wash my hands of the job–this decision came with a lot of prayer as we weighed homeschool, private, and public school options–but instead to work alongside his teacher as he embarks on this journey.

I look forward to volunteering every week and pouring myself into his education. I can’t wait to take him to a museum when I hear that an exhibit correlates with a unit he is studying. And I’ll gladly wear his school colors when we cheer on the sports teams together.

Perhaps part of this excitement stems from the realization that I have a fresh start as we begin a new phase of life. For many reasons, Caleb’s preschool years were tough for me. When other kids his age may have had a sibling come along and join the mix, Caleb already had two by the time he was three. Because most days for me were about survival, I never really felt like I could sit and treasure that time the way older moms always advised that I should.

But I won’t waste time on regret. I’ll treasure this stage and the next and the next for the different joys that they bring.

That morning when Matt and the girls and I kissed Caleb goodbye, I didn’t leave with tears but a smile. Caleb eagerly entered his classroom and barely looked at us as we walked out the door. But that’s okay. He had looked forward to this moment since he turned five, five months ago.

I can’t believe how quickly five months has flown by…or five years…so I best not get caught looking behind me. We’ve got new sight words to learn.

Caleb, I love you so much, and I’m so excited for you! Because you’re my firstborn, every new experience for you is a new experience for me, too. I’m glad we get to take this journey together. And even though I sent you to school on that first day with a smile, I felt a pang of sadness when I read “Sarah, Plain and Tall” to your sister that afternoon without you. You’re my buddy, and you make me proud.

I started this post three days ago, but I’m still figuring out our new schedule and how to squeeze in time to write. Nevertheless, I’m linking up (albeit late) with Michelle for her “Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.”  What emotions ran through you during your last transition from one stage of life to the next? Did you long for the past, or were you excited for the future?

Learning Dependence

 

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Over the last few months, my mind has been wrestling with an idea. Many times in my life, I’ve asked to know God’s presence, for Him to feel close or real. I’ve asked for His guidance or to know His will clearly. And lately, if I’m honest, I’ve started to fear my own question a little.

I look at my friend who mourns the death of her husband. I listen to the young pastor at church who lost both his mother and father to debilitating illnesses within three months of each other. I read examples in the Bible like Gideon. And I know all of them truly experienced God.

This young pastor shared his own story of loss as we looked at Judges chapter six at church on Sunday. The Israelites were hiding in make-do shelters in the clefts of mountains and caves because the Midianites had so oppressed them and ravaged their land. Gideon is in a winepress threshing wheat to keep it hidden from the Midianites when he encounters the angel of the Lord. And after learning that God wants to use him, an ordinary man from the weakest clan in Israel, to deliver the Israelites from this oppressive hand, Gideon responds by building an altar to the Lord called “The LORD Is Peace.” And this young pastor, months after losing both his parents and struggling with questions, felt that same LORD of Peace is his own heart.

I want to know that peace. I want to have that intimate knowledge of God. But I don’t want to have to depend on God.

I know that God is available to all of us–we don’t have to experience extreme loss to know Him–but perhaps we feel Him most strongly in times of suffering because it is in those times that we can’t depend on ourselves to find the answers. Our own comfort is not strong enough. In those times, we truly lay ourselves at His feet and admit we can’t weather the storm alone.

I’m not good at depending on anyone. I don’t like situations out of my control. I try to act responsibly and make good decisions, which is good, but not if I let go of the hand that guides me.

I don’t think God hides himself until we suffer or that if I ask to experience God I need to first experience tragedy, but I do believe I need to learn how to surrender in the everyday. And if I learn to surrender in the everyday, when those times of suffering come because they will come I will know to whom I should turn.

Knowing to whom I should turn is the whole battle. The God who sends His peace out of kindness and love when we feel sorrow is the same God who wants to laugh with us when we feel joy. I want to learn to laugh with Him. I want to understand dependence. I want to want to lay myself down at the altar of ‘The LORD Is Peace.’ And I know when I do, He will be there.

Have you ever clearly felt the presence of God? Are you able to depend on God in times of sorrow AND joy? Linking up with Michelle and Jen this week!