Go, go, go!

This weekend, Jeremiah said to me, “Wow, you guys really just go nonstop, don’t you?”

And he is right.

We do go nonstop.  And as I sank into my best and most favorite and most raggedy chair for Bible study last night, I felt the busyness of the weekend in every joint and muscle.  I reviewed our crazy weekend and realized I would not have given up a thing.

Yes, we do go nonstop but it’s because our life is so bursting with blessing and relationship that we have to go nonstop in order not to squeeze it all in.

Friday night…

Busch Gardens with Michelle and Mia, Luke and Sam, Bethany, Philip and Eden and Addy.  My family too, all but Julia and Deanna.

We had a grand time. Kids got along great, it wasn’t hot, the park was mostly empty.

Saturday, we had the big birthday bash, celebrating my sister and my daughter. They are birthday buddies- Lila’s the 27th and Bethany’s the 28th. The weather was not great but that didn’t stop us.

Sunday, we went to the movies with Meema and Aunties Edna, Nancy and Debbie and all of the cousins. We saw The Pirates, Band of Misfits. Kids had a blast. We ate an enormous amount of popcorn!

After that, I had a quick visit with John and one of our Bible study friends. Went to serve the children in Kid Kraze at 4:30 then did church with so many of my loved ones at 6:00pm. I love worshipping with those guys.

We continued in that vein at home, where we ate some crazy hot vegetarian chili and had Bible study.

This was an easy weekend to count gifts in.  This was an easy weekend to feel blessed and favored.

This weekend was bursting with good gifts.

So, I don’t think we’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

 

 

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My Great Commission

My motherhood journey began when I was nineteen and Julia was born.  Four years and eight months flew by and I was suddenly a mother of three.  Julia, Aubrey and Chase.  I loved every minute of it.

For lots of different reasons, my ex husband and I decided three was our limit and he had a vasectomy.

I loved my three and we had So Much Fun together.  We went everywhere and did everything together.  And very shortly, I began to deeply regret my choice to stop at three.

You see, I am a kid person.  God tooled me with a deep love for kids…He has given me a tolerance for their messes and their silliness.  And while I lose my temper like any mom, while I sometimes long for just A. Minute. To. My. Self. Please., I think I am gifted in handling their brand of crazy.  Motherhood is my Great Commission.

The Great Commission is this:  to make disciples.

And this is my Great Commission:  My two warrior women, my strong, compassionate son and my two littlest ones…they are my life’s work.  The ones I am privileged enough to have influence on- our bonus daughter, Deanna, my sweet nieces and nephew to come, the little guys I see every day, the young people we know through our kids and church and Bible study…these ones are my life’s work.  All of them.

I was just discovering this all these years ago.

And so, there we were, quite a few years ago and Chase was one.  I began to deeply long for a large family, for more children.  I got a couple of words from the Lord about my role as a mother, how it was my calling.  I began to feel that so intensely.

My heart grieved for another child.  I begged the Lord, I begged my then husband…I cried a million and one tears.  And ultimately it was decided that we would go to Indiana for a reversal.  Eight years of praying and pleading and longing…

My pregnancy with Lila was stressful.  I had preterm labor and was consigned to bed rest somewhere around month seven.  For what felt like forever, I laid in my bed and prayed for this little girl.

Her birth was complicated.  I had an induction at week 39, amidst concerns about her size.  Completely founded concerns, as it turned out.  The last ten minutes of her birth were extraordinarily stressful and the thing I will say about that is this:

You just never know how a birth is going to go.  My first three were text book, no complications, no nothing.  Big babies that were born easily.  But my fourth?  I almost lost her…She was 10lb. and 4oz., which turned out to be about my limit for easy births.  I’ll spare you the details.

She was born, she was beautiful and she was a dream come true.  A long deferred hope that came to pass…When I held her for the first time, I was almost in shock…It was a surreal moment…here was the baby I had longed for and prayed for and prayed for and longed for.  Lila Rebekah, born April 27, 2007.

She was an early talker and a late walker. She could speak in sentences but didn’t walk until she was seventeen months old. She was serious about things and she loved Yo! Gabba Gabba!

Happy first birthday!

She was so funny, her little personality cracked everyone up. I was on staff at LivingStone House of Prayer when she turned two and we were third order workers at Living Stone Monastery. I can remember Lila dancing in prayer room, singing “You’re Beautiful” out on the patio…Such a character.

And then she was three. A few months before she turned three I married her Stepdaddy. She slept through the wedding! She began her love affair with animals that year. (It hasn’t ended yet.)

She also became a big sister in her third year.

And then she was four. Four has been a fun year. Lila is a smart girl, full of questions and a desire to figure out how everything is connected. She’s so funny, she still loves the song, “You’re Beautiful” and she is a great big sister.

Five years old today. I just can’t believe it. Our lives have changed so much in five years, it’s been a bit of a wild ride. At five, Miss Lila loves dancing to Kids Bop, she loves to pray, she still loves her animals, she loves her family- all four parents, all of her siblings, her grandparents (with four parents, she has quite a few), her cousins, her friends. She is very relational and I see that as a strength. She’s a leader, sometimes to a fault, sometimes to the good. She is, in short, amazing.

She is more than I ever could’ve dreamed when I began asking the Lord for just one more so many years ago. (And because God is who He is…He gave me two- Lila and Claire!)

So happy birthday to my miracle baby. Happy birthday to a little girl who is the fulfillment of a promise- my Samuel, my Isaac, my Lila. I give thanks for her today- for her quirks, for her strengths, for the way she loves. She is a treasure. An absolute treasure.

Five years old…full of promise…Thank you, God.

Come on, Joy!

When I was in the hospital after having Lila, I noticed that the joints of my knees and hands were very achy.  It got worse as the days went by.

In later years, it would migrate- my back, my shoulders, my hips, my ankles…with it came achy, feverish type symptoms.  It came and went.  Was worse under stress.

I saw my family doctor, a rheumatologist…I had blood tests and exams and consulted Dr. Google constantly.

Many hypotheses have been formed.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis. For several years, the doctor felt it was this…even though it didn’t show up in my blood tests. It still could be, we’re just not sure and it still doesn’t show up in bloodwork. My symptoms always did fit this diagnosis and there is a percentage of people who have it without testing positive.
2. It’s related to the Vitamin D deficiency I have. This seemed very likely until I kept having flare ups even after being on megadoses of Vitamin D.
3. It’s related to Hashimoto’s disease. I was diagnosed with this in the fall. This seems somewhat likely, though the joint pain is an uncommon symptom.
4. It’s some kind of combination of the previous three or two of the three or something.
5. We just don’t know why my joints ache.

For five years, my joints have troubled me.  And this morning finds me stiff and achy…my shoulders and neck and hips and back especially.  I shuffle instead of walk, I can’t get comfortable.  I need a heating pad for every part.  I just want to stand in the hot shower all day long.   And, there’s something else…some kind of allergic reaction or who knows what…but I’m itchy…really, really itchy.

I feel pitiful and put upon.

But I have a new life now and I have learned that I must be thankful…even in literal suffering.

So, my joints ache and burn…my skin itches and crawls…but I give thanks.

290. My little girls hugging
291. The way Claire backs into her little Adirondack chair
292. Lila counting down the days until her birthday on Friday
293. The smell of whatever Deanna cooked this morning
294. The coffee my husband made me
295. My recliner
296. Aleve

My grumpy, pessimistic inner me protested when I said it was time to give thanks.  She whined and cried and said, “I’m not thankful for being itchy and in pain and with no relief in sight.”  But we persevered.  Counting joys, counting graces, being thankful.  Seven came easy and then even more…

297.  Claire dancing to the SpongeBob theme song
298. A sunnier day than yesterday
299. A ride for Julia to Newport News
300. Chatting with loved ones on Facebook

Because don’t we all know that practicing anything makes it come easier?  It’s the same with gratefulness.  The more I practice, the easier it comes.  And it doesn’t take the pain away, but it takes the pain’s place away.

The pain was winning.  It was the biggest thing I had going this morning.  Achy joints, itchy arms…they were my predominant thoughts this morning.  It was my focus.  I was impatient and sour and feeling sorry for myself.

Naming my joys took that place of honor from my suffering and gave it back to Him- the giver of all gifts.  I had to sacrifice- I had to give up the right to self pity, the right to wallowing, the right to grumbling and complaining.  I had to let that go in favor of the higher thing.

He is good, even in my suffering.  That part doesn’t change.  He is always good.  And this too shall pass.

Doesn’t Psalms 30:5 tell us so?  Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Talking About Gratitude, Again

40.  Sunlight through the window
51. Cold diet Pepsi
52. Claire’s pride at putting on a hat all by herself
71. Sister giggles
107. Paw saying, “I sure am glad that Wayne and Teeny had a daughter named Chris.”
110. Talking baby names with my sister
115. Finding plastic animals in odd places
154. Lila and the “communication” juice
166. The joy of writing and sharing my words
179. Watching Aubrey in her play
182. That salty air smell
193. Humble words from one daughter
194. Hopeful words from another daughter
225. David’s giggles when I kiss his cheeks
230. Kind words from unexpected places
234. Paw’s face when she saw Chase today
248. Green beans cooked in butter and brown sugar
250. Laughing with all of these crazy daughter women
252. Feeling that sense of belonging
262. My bedroom fans
273. Watching the smoke from the fire lift up during worship outside at our family Bible study
282. Paw’s dove pin
288. The song, “My Soul Sings”

This is just a sampling.  Some of them are so close to my heart that I just can’t type them out for the world to see, they’re between Jesus and me.  Some things I’m thankful for two or three times as I turn the pages and I laugh at my redundancy.  Lots of things are food related!  Many of them are about being a mom.  About Bible study nights, about our home and our family.  But these are all things that:

1.  I may have missed if I hadn’t been looking for them.
2. I can now remember by reading back over them.

I may have missed the way the words of that song touched my heart.  I may have missed the way the sunlight came through the window to kiss my hand as I washed the dishes.  I may have missed the beauty in Creation that God made for me.  I may have forgotten to say thank you for the beauty and the joy and the glory He has made…just for my pleasure.  He delights in me and He gives me good, good gifts.

He gives them whether I say thank you or not.

And I may have forgotten the words Paw said to me back in January…before she was too sick to speak anymore.  I may have forgotten the way her face lit up when Chase arrived.  I may have forgotten the funny things that happen when you’re the mother of many and they are all so different and glorious…all their notes joining together in beautiful, harmonious chaos.  I may have forgotten about the night that Deanna, Julia, Aubrey and I stood at the landing and talked about life for who knows how long…but it’s written down now.  I can read back over my gifts and feel them all again…feel my gratitude again.

I can relive His love for me, over and over.

And I think about how it was before and how I tried to control my disappointments.  I went looking for what was going to go wrong so that maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much when it happened.  I expected the worst, I called myself a realist.  I told Him and I told me that I would ask for no other blessing…that His Presence and His Gift of Salvation were enough to sustain.  And yes, they are.  He is with me and He is faithful to the end.

But He also is a Good Father and He gives Good Gifts.

There’s no doubt that horrible, awful things happen.  There’s no doubt that in the world we will have trouble.  Doesn’t the Word say so? John 16:33  “In this world, you will have trouble…”

But, beloved ones, there is also no doubt that “I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

There is goodness to be seen.  I have a spiral notebook that is filling UP with goodness.  And imagine if I had been faithful to record every day!  Sometimes days have gone by and I’ve forgotten to write things down so I know that I must be missing 100 gifts, at least.

Psalm 16

5 LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Strong Love

And here are more of my joys…

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Baby Birds

Outside of our door, there is life so fragile.

In the boxwood by the driveway, a mother bird has made her nest.  And in that nest, she has layed some tiny little eggs.  Lila is fascinated by them.

On Sunday, the little eggs hatched and now there are tiny little birds…just tiny little  buds of new life.

I worry endlessly about these little birds.

Will the mother abandon them?  It’s a high traffic area there.  Kids running by, Caroline barking her head off, cars coming and going.  And we’re all so interested in the babies.  We have to constrain ourselves to checking on them only once a day.  Will they be hurt?  Will some well meaning child try to “help” them or move them?  Will some force I can’t control come along and hurt them?  A bigger animal, some weather situation like wind or too much rain?

They are so fragile, so tiny, so helpless.  I look at them and think of human hearts…how easily they are broken, how fragile and tender.

I ask the Lord to protect our baby birds.

He gently reminds me of this:  “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

He knows of our baby birds.  He knows their destiny.  He knows the plans He has for them.

The truth is, that mother bird is unfazed by our comings and goings.  She isn’t stressed about outside influences.  She isn’t anxious about weather.  She just sits on her nest and regards us with her shiny black eye.  She stands her ground, doesn’t leave her babies, but just sits on her nest….We have only really seen those fragile little buds of new life a couple of times…because that mother bird is doing her job.  She is not worried.  

Her confidence is in the Lord’s provision.  She does her part and she knows He will do His.

And then He gently reminds me of this:  “Are you not of more value than they?”

Matthew 6:26 pierces my soul and I ask the Lord to write it on my heart.  To keep it strong and fresh in my consciousness.

Because I’m not like that mother bird.  I don’t just do my part and believe He’ll do His.  I don’t dwell in the confidence that He’ll come through for me.  I worry and I stress and I strive.

I’m aware of truth.

He is able.
He is good.
He loves me.
He has a plan for me.

And I know that I am more to Him than the birds of the air.  I know that He loves me with a whole and perfect love that I can not even understand.  I know that He is with me.

But I lack the confidence to not worry.

I’m asking for that confidence today.  The confidence of Matthew 6:26.

To set aside my worries and trust the One who has promised to keep me.

A Thankful Heart

Life is so full of good gifts.

And I didn’t always notice them until I began counting them.

This weekend was chock full.

Watching Aubrey shine in her play.  Celebrating the birth of my son fifteen years ago on Saturday, celebrating the births of John’s mom and aunt on Sunday.  A weekend full of love, laughter and family.  WEC on Sunday evening.  I was overcome by His presence with me during worship and as I glanced to the side, I saw our five young people worshipping with whole hearts.  My soul sang and my mother/shepherd’s heart swelled.  Bible study on Sunday night with our kids and our friends.  We gathered outside with a campfire and lifted our voices to Him.  We watched the incense of our praises rise.

Big things to be thankful for- birthdays, special people, worship, His presence.

And He is in the little things too.  Red kool-aid, Aubrey’s ball dress in Cinderella, a warm breeze, laughter ringing out in the backyard, lime cilantro chicken, Claire saying, NO and MINE!, kids on the swings, mud pies, flowers, the baby birds, Lila’s prayer, the smell of coffee brewing, their weekend long hide and seek games…I could go on and on and on.

I said to John on Sunday night, “We are in such a good season right now.  I refuse to be afraid that something awful is about to happen.”

Because that’s where I usually go.  To WHAT could go wrong.  To what must certainly be the recompense for enjoying a good life.  Because deep down, I fear that I’m not good enough for His best.  I fear that He has given me all the good earthly gifts I’m ever going to get.

I have no trouble believing and accepting that “in this world, you will have trouble” part of John 16:33.  I understand that this is a fallen world and that Bad Things happen.  I think I subscribe to it a bit TOO wholeheartedly.  Because sometimes it’s hard for me to believe the other side of it.  Sometimes, I just stand on the fact that the only GOODNESS I am guaranteed is His presence in my life and the fact that I’ll spend all eternity with Him.  That’s enough, isn’t it?  Those good gifts are the best gifts.

But there is more to life than just persecution and trouble.  

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13

He is a good Father and He gives good gifts to His children.  Not just the eternal ones.  He is faithful to use the hard things, to stand with us when we suffer and struggle.  And those gifts are immeasurable, eternal, beautiful.

But He is also in the smell of the spring breeze, my favorite song, a warm blanket, a good dog and a million and one other things.  He is also in those moments where you think things just can’t get any better.  He is in it all because every good and perfect gift comes from Him.

And all of these little things and big things and in between things that I record in my journal day in and day out are the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Important Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s really important in life and what I’m really living for.

Lots of things are important, lots of things are urgent…we must work, take care of the house, care for the children, get dinner cooked, finish the laundry, drive this one here and that one there.  We must walk the dog, pick up kids from preschool, clean the bathroom, do the homework, get to the doctor’s appointments, pick up the groceries.  At the end of the day, we fall into bed exhausted and I wonder sometimes aloud–

Did I do what was important today?  Did I do what I enjoy doing today?

Because doing what I want to do, what is enjoyable, is a whole other thing.  We want to watch a movie, check Facebook, play Draw Something or Words With Friends, we want to nap, eat Reese’s cups, visit with friends, linger over one more cup of coffee.  We want to paint our nails or color our hair or read a magazine.  We want to sit in the sun with eyes closed.  There are so many things we want to do that don’t necessarily fit in with the urgent.

The days fly by and all I’m doing is rushing around and trying to Get Through The Day.  

And I want more than that.  I want more than just getting through the day.

I say to John all the time, “It’s another marathon week.” because we have one jillion things planned, scheduled and that urgently needed to be attended to.

But what really matters most?

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that my inner me is under major reconstruction.  God is really weeding some crap out of my heart and making me better.

This has been a painful and glorious process.

Since Paw has gone on to the Lord, my heart and my prayers have been fixed on the heritage she’s passed down to us.  The heritage of faith and family.  On Easter Sunday, my heart almost broke with love for my family, not just my immediate family but aunts, uncles, cousins.  I saw unique beauty in each one, I saw Paw in us all.  Memories and moments and quirks and strengths and weaknesses of  60 odd people coming together in the most beautiful tapestry that Paw began with her own two hands years and years ago.  This is Important.  This is Vital.  This family is full of love and life and laughter.  This family is a good, good gift.  And what better way to honor our Paw than to keep it close.  Deep inside, I hear a cry, “Do not take this good gift for granted.”

Here is the children singing their hearts out to the Lord in honor of Paw on Easter.

All the kids in attendance!

We watched “the Passion of the Christ” on Sunday and I keep seeing Jesus, beaten and bloodied and just made of love and mercy.  I want to burn the images into my eyes and on my heart and I don’t want to forget how I feel right now.  Because seeing that…remembering Him in that way…it makes all the worries that I worry over, all the stressors that I stress over, all the strivings that I strive for…it makes those things seem almost ridiculous.  And while I’m not saying that I should just stop washing the dishes and doing the laundry and only ever read the Bible and I’m not saying that I should never laugh at “Raising Hope” again…I am saying that all the things that make me crazy (or crazier) throughout the day are just almost nothing.

I’m saying that I must examine my life and get rid of the things that hinder love.

And that’s a tall order and it carries enormous implications.

But when I think of Jesus on the cross…when I think of Paw and her faithful, love filled life…I know it’s the next step.  He died for my sins and my pain.  He died for love.  And He didn’t just take too many Ambien and go to sleep…He suffered and struggled and was separated from His Father and descended into hell.  He was beaten and bloodied and bruised.  And my face was in His heart as He did this.  So was yours.

So…all this rushing around…all this stressing and worrying and panicking…all of this must go.

“Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”   Ephesians 5:1-2

Real Love

Easter Highlights and a Grown Up Son

Easter is about Jesus and Jesus is about love so here are some things that I especially loved about Easter yesterday.

1.  Serving in Wee World at Waters Edge Church yesterday.  It was really fun to volunteer with my sister in the four year old class at the first service.

2. Attending the service at 11am. It was really incredible and my heart was stirred. Watch it here- and you might even recognize a certain blogger in the video that’s shown near the beginning.
Watch WEC Easter here

3. My little family’s Easter fun. We did an Easter egg hunt in the house and the kids all got baskets FULL of chocolate. (Claire’s was less full than everyone else’s.)

4. Spending time with my big, big family. How I love them!

Claire and Uncle David, who looks suspiciously like Pappy

All the kids in attendance!

Chase and His Nonnie- he's the one who gave her that name!Aubrey and Julia

My loves

Sweet Sisters

I got to shake the tambourine- in honor of Paw

Parade time!

Hunting for eggs

5. Then it was time for Bible study, which is a blessing every week. This week, we were at the end of Matthew 6. After our study, we watched the Passion of the Christ and wept and all did the ugly cry. What a reminder of what Easter really is all about. Grace, grace, mercy, and love.

Bible Study Friends- Chase was there, but asleep!

All in all, it was one of the most blessed Easters I’ve ever had. I went to bed feeling so full…Jesus, my family, my friends, our home, His grace and love…my cup overfloweth.

And then, another one of my favorite things about Easter time- Chase’s fifteenth birthday is today.
He is a treasure, my only son and the only person like him in the whole world. I love his friendliness, his way with little kids, his compassionate heart. I expect great things from him- he’s a world changer.

Fifteen!

The Sacrifice of Praise

I think we know in our heads and even in some places of our hearts that God knows best.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying to tell Him what to do.  I often get His plan “figured out” and then I try to make it happen.  Yes, you read right.   I try to make it happen.

This is, of course, fruitless.

I think of Abraham and Sarah and how they tried to make God’s promises come to pass.

It began with this- a Holy visitation and a word from the Lord.  “I will make you a father of many nations.  I will give you and Sarah a son.”

And the two of them wanted that son a lot…Sarah grew impatient and decided they would need a surrogate.  She supplied her servant Hagar to her husband in order to get this son.  But it wasn’t a good thing…and it wasn’t really what Sarah wanted because this is not what God had in mind.

Genesis 21:12 says, “For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”
The New Living translation says, “…This happened just at the time God said it would.”

God’s timing.  He sets the times and none of our striving can change that.  It’ll happen at the time God said it would.

Last night, I made oven baked chicken with a ritz cracker crust.  It was really good but man, it was spicy.  I couldn’t figure out what was making it so spicy.  Paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, onion powder.  Why were we all on fire?

John suggested, “Maybe you mixed up the paprika and the cayenne?”  And sure enough I had.  We all agreed that it was better this way and it made me think about God.

Sometimes we think we’ve figured out His plan. Sometimes we think we know best but the truth is…

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans for a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

And only He knows when and how and all of that.  And it’s like the chicken.  Sometimes the unexpected is the most flavorful.  Sometimes we can’t imagine what His best really is, we can only see our best.  And how can we even know what the best is?  God can see the end of the story and we can’t.

I’m in a season of surrender.  I’m in a season of placing all that I try to control and manage and worry about on the altar.  To make my life a sacrifice of praise.  It’s a choice I must go back to day in and day out.  Laying down my plans for my family, my plans for my future, my dreams (this one hurts) for all of us on the altar and giving all to Him.

I want my heart to beat with His.  I want my steps to be in sync with His.  I want to walk the paths He has for me.  It’s scary to lay it all down and surrender my own will.  It’s hard.  But I don’t want to miss His best for me.  Thirty nine years in this life has taught me one thing- I am nothing without Him.  And His best is what I want.  There is joy in the laying it down.  There’s something about emptying ourselves out and letting Him fill us back up.  There’s something powerful in surrender.

He never holds His best back from us.  He gives it with no strings attached and with open hands.  But we have to be willing to release control and take it.