When’s Your Due Date?

“When’s your due date?”

It’s the most oft asked question of pregnancy.  You answer it every time you call the obstetrician’s office. You answer it every time you stand in line at the grocery store.  You answer it for friends, relative, acquaintances and strangers.

January 31st was my most recent answer.

And yet.  She came on November 18 and I almost left this world on November 19th.

It still seems surreal to be sitting here in my pre-pregnancy jeans, looking across the room at a feisty miracle baby sleeping deep in her swing.  She is unaware of how special she is, of the circumstances of her birth. She just knows that she is here and that she is loved.

It’s been a wild ride.

twins

 

At first, there were two.  Two little lives that we loved and longed for.  Nora is on the left and Asher is on the right.  In spite of weeks and weeks of bleeding, those two hung in there.  Little hearts beating with every ultrasound.

I was on bedrest and it was hard but the prize made it worth it.

IMG_0620

 

But then at twelve weeks, Baby B was gone and we were shrouded in grief but so hopeful for Baby A.  For Nora.

The summer ended, bed rest ended and it seemed like we’d turned a corner.

IMG_1442

 

At 28 weeks, my water broke and I began what I thought was going to be a marathon of patience and endurance.  I was admitted to the hospital and there I stayed for eight days and that’s when everything changed.

hospital

 

On November 18, I began to hemorrhage.  I had a panic attack, I was so afraid.  Afraid for Nora, mostly.  I was so worried about how my twenty nine week little girl would do.

IMG_1336

 

But she did fine.  She had apgars of 8 and 9.  She only needed oxygen by cannula, did not need to be intubated.  She was 2lb. 14oz. of spitfire and determination.

IMG_1337And while she was doing so well, I was doing just as poorly.  My bleeding would not stop.

The family gathered in the waiting room…unsure of what would happen next.  My three oldest were awakened and given the news.
“Mommy has lost a lot of blood and we don’t know if she’ll make it.”

My husband and my sister who are…there aren’t words to describe what these two are to me…rallied the body of Christ.  They texted, they called, they put it on Facebook.  They called the saints to war on my behalf.

Stories of people waking out of nowhere to pray, stories of people praying like never before, stories of friends staying up to contend for hours.

And I came back from the brink.

IMG_1340

 

After a few days in ICU, I was finally strong enough to see my baby.  To hold her.

IMG_1386What a wonder she was and what a wonder she is.

I went home without her about a week later.

10 Days Old

 

Every day that first week, we came to see her.  I ignored how I was feeling and we went to Norfolk, we did Kangaroo Care, we loved on our tiny miracle.

IMG_9650

 

Then I started to feel sick again.  Fevers, vomiting, pain.  Back in the hospital I went where I was treated for seven days for, it turns out, a terrible UTI.  It was a hard, hard week.  I still shudder to remember it.  I couldn’t see Nora the first five days because I was too ill.  We were reunited and I wept.  This was such a hard journey.

IMG_1744

 

 

Home I went again and for a while, I could only visit Nora every other day.  I was weak and I was afraid of getting sick again.  But, her daddy was there every day.

IMG_1924

 

Slowly, I began to feel better and have a little more stamina.  And for a while, I took myself to the hospital every day to see my sweet girl.  Those were precious hours, she was growing bigger and stronger.

IMG_1621

 

And then, it was January 14th and it was time to bring our sweet girl home.  Eight weeks old!  It was bittersweet, saying good bye to the NICU and the nurses and all that place and those people had meant to us.

IMG_1269 IMG_1268 IMG_1270 IMG_1264

 

But oh how sweet to have her home.  I sat in my wonderful recliner that my beloved friends had gotten me to recover in.  The chair that symbolizes so much of our journey- its presence is a testimony of how people rallied together to help is.  It’s big and soft and comfy like a hug, like the love that’s been poured out on us.  It’s solid and dependable, the perfect place to get well.  I sat in that chair that means so much to me and I held my little daughter and just breathed that moment in.

IMG_1345

 

And now, here we are.  Her due date.  I feel like we’ve “done it”.  We survived a hard thing.  We are together.  We are well.  She is beautiful.  She is fearfully and wondefully made.  And while I feel a pang of grief for Asher today…and while I still shake my head in dismay at all that has happened…I can’t shake off this grateful heart.  It overwhelms.  I am so thankful to be here with Nora, with Claire, with Lila, with Chase, with Aubrey, with Julia.  I am so glad to be part of John’s every day.  To be part of my sister and her family’s lives.  To still be here with my parents and my inlaws and my cousins and aunts and uncles and all of my sweet friends.  To still be an alive and living piece of the Body of Christ.

Nora and I have a story to tell.  A story of His faithfulness and a story of how He hears our prayers.

IMG_2580 IMG_2547 IMG_2520 IMG_2478 IMG_2406 IMG_1384 IMG_1369 IMG_1330 IMG_1320 431404_10151226060538339_537140078_n 582457_10151225979138339_859734554_n 227732_10152392393090184_313481480_n IMG_2405 IMG_2446 IMG_2605 IMG_1542

 

Thank you, Readers.  Thank you Family.  Thank you Friends.  Thank you Strangers.  Thank you to every single one of you who prayed for us.  Thank you to every one who cooked, cleaned, raked, babysat, listened, called, texted, emailed, face booked.  Thank you all.

Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

One Month Old

Today is December 18.  One month ago today, I went into surgery and my beautiful little daughter Nora was born.

She is one month old.

I have changed exactly three diapers.  I have dressed her twice.  I have never bathed her or fed her a bottle or nursed her.  My breast milk was slow to come in and quick to go away, my body too traumatized to produce what she needs.  I sleep all night long, every night.  Sometimes, a whole day goes by and I’m not well enough to go see her.  Some days, the only parent she sees is Daddy.  I don’t know that I would recognize her cry because I’ve only heard it once for a brief moment.

She’s been on earth for a month…and I didn’t touch her until she was three days old…and I didn’t see her for a week while I was sick in the hospital.

Being a mom who is recovering from medical trauma, being a mom of an eleven weeks premature baby is different.

But how much I love her is exactly the same.

I see her for an hour most days, but sometimes I’m not well enough and I stay home to rest and recover.  An hour a day…so, about 20-25 hours of her whole first month…that’s how much time I’ve spent with my youngest daughter.

It is getting harder and harder to leave her behind when it’s time to go home after our visits.  It’s getting harder and harder to not worry and ponder what she’s doing and how is her breathing and how is she feeling all day long when we’re not together.

She is one month old today, but she’s not supposed to be here for seven more weeks.

kcare

 

This has been a hard and beautiful season.  Hard because it’s not fun to be unable to live your life like you’re used to.  Hard because I need so much help and getting through every day is physically difficult and emotionally rough too.  Hard because I have a newborn baby, but I don’t really because she’s in the nicu and I can’t be with her all the time.  Hard because sometimes I think this would be easier for everyone if I could do it myself…but I can’t.  The process of recovery is taking a long time and I don’t know when I’m going to be back to normal.

It’s beautiful because of the way people have blessed us.  We’ve been loaded down with blessings from others.  Strangers, friends and family have all banded together and cared for my family, my home, my yard.  They’ve been the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering kindness after kindness to us.  Nora is loved all over the world, she is covered in the prayers of the saints.  People know her and are invested in her and she is cherished.

And this too shall pass.

In another month, we’ll be bringing our baby daughter home.  In another month, I should be feeling fine again.  In another month, we should be figuring out a new normal.

And until then and even after, I just give thanks.  Thanks for my one month old daughter.  Thanks for our loved ones.  Thanks for the ones who are loving on us.  Thanks for the Presence of God that is always with me.  Thanks for Life.  For my life and Nora’s.  Thanks for every single day and every minute that passes by.

Battleworn

Last night I stood in my bathroom after my shower, scrubbing at graying remnants of surgical tape from my most recent hospital stay.  I thought about scars and how some scars you can see and some you can’t.

I have scars.  Surgical scars.  Scars from the sheath that went into my femoral artery.  Scars from my central line.  I have scars you can’t see too.  Scars from almost losing my life.  Scars from hearing the ones who love me talk about the pain of almost losing me.  Scars from fear after fear.  Scars from bearing a tiny 2lb. 14oz. baby, eleven weeks early.  Scars from being away from my family most of the last month.  Scars from near constant pain since November 18…

And I think about Jesus and I think about restoration and how He loves to redeem.  I don’t want to go through this hard, hard thing and not learn.  I don’t want to go through this surreal season and not change.  I don’t want to miss the refinement that He is sure to do if I remain open and shun bitterness.

And I do!  I don’t want bitterness.  I’m not angry, I’m not what iffy.  I’m raw and I’m emotional but I’m in love with my life and my people and God has stood with me again in the center of the flame.  And this was a big flame.

I don’t want to waste the opportunity for God to use this for good.  He will, His word says He will.  But I think we shut Him down sometimes.  We get angry and bitter at our circumstances and we miss the good He has to offer.

This morning I wake thankful.  Thankful for the daughter that has taken on responsibilities beyond what a twenty year old should have to take on.  Thankful for her happy heart as she serves her family.  Thankful for a second daughter, who laughs with me and does her fair share too.  Thankful for the sister that could run the world, given the chance.  Thankful for my husband who understands what loving his wife and children like  Christ loved the church means.  Thankful for my three little girls, Lila, Claire and Nora.  Thankful for reading stories to my little ones and watching the lights on the Christmas tree flicker and coffee with my sister and Julia and every other good gift that My Beloved bestows on me.

I’m so thankful.

And so, I shuffle because I have pain and I’m tired and run down with anemia from all the blood transfusions.  I get nauseated easily.  I fall asleep at odd times.  I cry almost all day.  (The good kind, usually.)  I’m fragile and battle worn but I. Am. Here.  I am loved.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.  And I am changed.

IMG_9650

Happy Second Birthday, Claire

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Restoration is my life song.  I believe so deeply that God wants to bring restoration to every area of our lives.  I believe he wants to do that in the practical, the here and now, in our hearts, spirits, souls, minds and in the hereafter.  He is the great restorer.  And that is why my life verse, which has spilled over onto my husband and children is this:

“I will restore the years the locusts have eaten.”  It’s Joel 2:25 and I stand on it every day and believe with all of my heart that God will do what He says He will do.

In the wake of my divorce, it was hard to see restoration ahead.  And it was hard to see what God was going to do.  Sometimes it was hard to see if he was going to do anything.  And in the couple of years to follow, as things got tricky with where I was going to live and which kids were going to live with who and hurting hearts and bitterness and anger clouded good judgement…restoration was something I longed for but couldn’t see.

I still remember the day God gave me this verse.  I was crying alone in my room during the early months of my final separation and it was one of those things…I just flipped to it in the Bible.  And God said, “This is for you.”

Many months later, a man I’d never met in person quoted it to me over the internet.

And months after that, that verse would be proclaimed as we celebrated the covenant of marriage.  John even wears that verse inside his wedding ring.

We celebrated it again on October 26, 2010 when our Claire Victoria Marie Carter was born.

 

She was a long awaited dream for John and his family. He did not marry until his late thirties and as his mother’s only child, her dream of grandchildren sometimes seemed like it might not be realized. (Of course, then all of US came along and now her house is bursting with grandchildren!) John has said he’d begun to believe he maybe wouldn’t find a wife and have babies…and that would’ve been a terrible shame because he is an excellent father. He teaches kids what matter most and he doles out unconditional love to all six and he enjoys the glorious chaos of our large family.

But it was a different sort of experience to have one from birth, one you watch grow and cry and learn and change. A baby that was half John and half me.

Claire is part of our restoration story.  Just like Peter and Asher who are in heaven.  Just like Nora who will join us in January.  Each life has eternal significance and has been a gift from God to us.

That’s what we celebrate today.  We celebrate a quirky little girl with auburn hair and a huge smile.  An assertive, bossy, little know it all who says the funniest things!  We celebrate the perfect fit that child #5 and girl #4 is for our family.  We will celebrate her Claire-isms:  Cuppa juice (which is chocolate milk), her intolerance for dirty dishes on the table (ugggghhhhh!), her deep love for washing dishes at the sink at Nana’s, her love of Dora, Veggie Tales, Yo Gabba Gabba and Barney, he affection for her shoons, especially her light up ones, the way she loves to read books like Daddy and she loves to write like Mommy, her beancy (blanket), the way she loves to snuggle up in her crib, her aversion to affection (kisses and hugs are doled out quite stingily, but she’ll talk on the phone to you all day)…and a million other things that make Clairey who she is.  She is one of a kind and she’s done all she can to keep me humble about my mothering.  Oh, and she’s left handed like me- the first of my children to be!  She’ll tell you she has fat feet, she has no problem telling the dog, “Go, Caroline!”, she bosses Sammy around and when he gets upset, she says, “Sammy!  Why you cry!”  She loves to hold her cousin Ezra and will say to Nonnie, “I wanna hold it.”  She loves to play at Meema and Pappy’s.  When Meema comes by after work, she tells Meema, “Sit on the couch.”  She sees no reason whatsoever to hold my hand while we walk to the bus stop or in parking lots but has finally, begrudgingly agreed to do so…if only for whatever bribery I’m offering.  Sometimes she does naughty things and puts herself in time out and I think maybe she just decides the offense is worth it.  She LOVES her siblings and loves to list their names and ask where each one is.  She is happiest when we are all together.  She has a special closeness with Lila and the sound of their giggles when they should be going to sleep make my heart swell.  They remind me so much of Julia and Aubrey.

Claire has been looking forward to her happy day.  She is excited for her friends to come to her party.  She can’t wait to blow out the candle.  She is hoping for balloons.

She is such a blessing and I’m so grateful that she’s ours.

Happy birthday, sweet Clairey.  We love you!

33 Children, 13 Ladies, A Water Tank and a Pregnant Buffalo

I’ll bet you thought I was NEVER going to get to blogging today, but here I am!  I’ve had a busy day and I didn’t want to dash this post off…this is important stuff.

John and I (and some of our friends) are undertaking a special project, a very special project.  A very special project that we believe God is giving to us as a gift.  A gift to give back to Him, a gift to change us, a gift to refine us, a gift to serve the world.

In a series of events, John and I began to realize that God was truly calling us to something bigger than ourselves and bigger than our wildest dreams.  We believe that God has called us to begin a ministry that we will call Joel 2:25 Worldwide Outreach.  The mission statement is this:

Joel 2:25 Worldwide Outreach exists to be the hands and feet of Jesus by bringing help, healing and hope to the hurting and disenfranchised people of the world.

We believe that  God wants to use us, that He wants us to serve the ones He loves, that He wants us to do the practical to bring hope and help to the hurting and the broken and those who have no voices and no one to speak for them.

We are in the beginning stages of creating a non-profit organization that will move resources and equip people to serve those less fortunate, here in the United States and abroad.

And the reasons for doing this are these:
1.  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
We believe that God wants us to serve others. That He wants us to care for those who can not care for themselves. We believe that He wants us to show Him love by doing this and we want to show Him love.

2.“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:37-38
We know that God is love and we know that God loves. And we know, don’t we, just  how loved we are and how good it is to be forgiven and redeemed.   How can we not share that love with others? How can we not share that freedom with others? And how can we not love the ones that He loves? We must. We must tend to the ones He loves. We must love others at least as well as we love ourselves.

3. “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25
Quite a few years ago, I was deep in despair. My marriage was ending, I had four hurting children, I had a broken heart. I cried out to the Lord and He answered me with Joel 2:25. He promised me restoration. And then one day, I met a man online and we were chatting on instant messenger. I was telling him the story of my divorce and he said, “There’s a verse I’ve always loved for situations like this.” And then, he quoted Joel 2:25. And eight months later we got married.  Joel 2:25 became our family’s life verse.  We know how He restores.
My life has been a restoration story. God has restored my soul on every level. He has restored my life again and again. He restores my hope, my heart and my circumstances over and over.
I want to say thank you to Him by bringing restoration into the lives of others. I want to be His hands and feet, offering restoration to those in need.

So, that’s where we are.  We are only just beginning, but we have identified our first project.  And that is what I want to share with you today.  We can start funneling resources to those less fortunate than ourselves  today!

We will begin with the Good Samaritan Orphan Home.

These are the children of the Good Samaritan Orphan Home in India. They come from an impoverished area. These are children who either have no parents or their parents are unable to care for them. There are fifty four and they are each fearfully and wonderfully made. Little people with eternal significance, people who are loved of God. It costs $25 per month to provide for each child- only $25 to feed, clothe and educate these precious ones. I think I spend $25 per month on Starbucks alone. Not to go all Sally Struthers on you, but it’s less than a dollar a day!

Twenty one of these children have what their caretaker calls “Foster Parents”.  These are the people who have committed $25 per day for their care.  That leaves 33 that still need sponsors. We sponsor two children,  Anisha and Nagalaskemi.

Wouldn’t you like to make a difference in the lives of children like these?

Another thing I love about the Good Samaritan Orphan Home is that they don’t just take in and care for orphans…they also take in and care for widows.  Here is what Peter Subbaiah, director of the Good Samaritan Orphan Home has to say about why they do what they do for the widows of their area:

“One of the reasons that the widows in particular need your help is because after a woman’s husband dies, she is left at the mercy of others and cannot make enough money to live on, especially if she is childless or too old to remarry.  While many programs offer aid to orphan children, ours is unique in that it also requests money to offer aid to the poor widows of India, a demographic just as in danger of exploitation and poverty, but frequently without the necessary awareness from donors like you.  Our program is devoted to raising awareness of the destitute widows of India just as much as it is to raising awareness for the orphan and poor children of our land.  We pray for funds to help these widows, as it could be able to save them from a life of hunger and pain.”

These women are in need.  In need of food, shelter, clothing and medications.  The cost to support one of these elderly ladies is only $30 per month.  As of now, there are 19 women at the widow’s home.  Only 6 have “foster parents”.

I’m asking for your help, friends and readers. I spoke with Peter on the phone today about the work that he’s doing in India. We spoke of the children and the widows and how they pray for sponsorships, how they pray for provision. You know, they don’t struggle with doubt…they know that the Lord will come through for them.

“We just pray that God will bring sponsors.”  Peter said.

I pray that too and I’m asking, will you prayerfully consider supporting one of these widows or orphans?  Or, if you can’t afford the full amount, would you commit to sending $5 per month, $10 per month, $15 per month?  Perhaps you can’t commit to a monthly gift, but would like to give a one time gift to help with some of their other projects.

Right now, they are in the process of adding bathrooms to their orphan home.  (They had only ONE!)  And they just deepened the well that brings fresh water to them all.  They now need to purchase a water tank that will allow the well to function.  The cost is 20,000 rupees.  Or…about $380.  This is an actual need, a need that you can help meet.  Fresh water for women, children and the staff of Good Samaritan.

Or, right now, the buffalo that supplies the children with all of their milk is pregnant.  Did you know that pregnant buffaloes don’t give milk?  Well, they don’t.  Peter told me today on the phone that there is no milk for the children and he is having to go out daily and buy milk at least for the sick children.  “How much would it cost to buy milk for all of them during the time that the buffalo isn’t giving milk?”  Peter’s answer was, “300 rupees a day…and that would be until January or February.”  Dear ones, did you know that 300 rupees is about $5.70.  $5.70 is all that is needed each day to provide 54 children with milk.  That’s only $171 for the whole month…or around $600 for the buffalo’s entire maternity leave.

Because you see, there are already 20 more children in neighboring villages who are waiting for a spot at the Good Samaritan Orphan Home, 20 more children who need food, clothing, education.  20 more lives that we can help change.  But Peter can’t bring them in until support for these others has been met.

Will you ask yourself if you can afford to help?  You can give through Hope Community Church two ways, one by mailing a check to:
Hope Community Church
28 Harpersville Road
Newport News, VA 23601

Be sure and write India Mission/Water Tank or India Mission/sponsorship or India Mission/Buffalo milk in the memo section.

The other thing you can do is click Here. Be sure and click the drop down menu and choose India Mission. That part’s important!

Please let me know if you’ve chosen to give. You can let me know in the comments section, you can email me at joel2twentyfive@gmail.com or you can just come on over and we’ll talk about it!

I would LOVE to call Good Samaritan and say, “We’ve got all the sponsorships we need! We’ve also got the money for water tank and milk for the children!”

Do this with me, friends! I promise you won’t regret it and that God will honor your giving. That’s how He is. He loves to see us love each other!

The Blank Page

The silence of this house is settling all around and I wish I was the sort of person who fell asleep easily and in odd places.  But I’m the sort of person who needs to be in her own bed, with the fans blowing and that’s all there is to that.  I sip my coffee and stare at this blank page, this blank text box.

No inspiration comes and I wonder if maybe I’ve written all the posts I have in me?

This past week, whenever I’ve sat down to write, something inside me  reminds me of my failures.  Failures as an awkward, immature teen.  Failures as a young woman, failures in the recent past.  I find I am plagued and thinking ill of me.  I’ve spent many a morning staring at this blank screen…waiting for the words to come….secretly believing that I have no good words to offer and that the well has run dry.

I just see this lifetime of sin and not loving well and know that I have to do better…but why all these memories?  Why now?  Why feel the sting of rejection, failure, inadequacy, judgement, ugliness again now?  I know that there is no condemnation in Him.  (Romans 8:1)  And I know it hasn’t come from Him.  I know it doesn’t come from Him.  Not now, not then, not ever.

He remembers my sin no more.  (Hebrews 8:12)

Why can’t I be that way too?

I’ve spent a lot of years trying to become comfortable in my own skin and I’m better now than I was before.  But still I struggle.  Overthinking, worrying, analyzing my words and deeds.  It’s easy for me to convince myself that I have nothing good to offer.  But I know this isn’t true.

Each one has his own gifts from God.  I have my own gifts from God.  And I am one He died for.

Discouragement let herself in the back door and whispered these things to me.  Whispered my failures, my inadequacies and my mistakes.  She is so sneaky.  She is the one who’s been saying that I have nothing of value to offer.  She is the one who points to my life’s work and only can see the bad.  She can’t see the good because there is no good in her.

But I know Truth.  Truth will set you free.

The Truth is, I am redeemed.  I am made in His image.  I have good gifts to offer.  Good for the kingdom.  And the Truth is that I will see His goodness in the land of the living and I will spend eternity with Him.

This morning, I see all of that so clearly.  I see how Discouragement has tricked me and twisted my life story to suit her purposes.  I reject what she offers and instead, I choose thankfulness…I choose meditation of Scripture…I choose the peace of Christ.  I am grateful for this quiet morning and sleeping house.  I am grateful for the memories of all my sin and failures…becuase I can see God in them.  I can see how He picked me up and turned me around.  I can see how He healed me in the aftermath.  I can see how far I’ve come, how far I still have to come, yes…but how far I’ve come.

In this house of glorious chaos, the silence is blessed.  It’s rare.  It’s a moment to look into the face of God and see myself.  To know that He loves me deep and full like no other.

To know that He remembers my sin no more, but is capable of healing the damage it left behind.  He is the one who brings restoration.

 

Psalm 45:11

I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying to figure out how to say what I want to say this morning.  In fact, what usually takes me an hour or at most two has taken me more like four hours.

Really, I’m still figuring it out.

So, I’ll ask you to forgive me if this seems ragged, pieced together crudely or less eloquent than I sometimes am.

And even more than being worried it won’t be good writing…I’m also worried it’s going to be a little too heart-real and a little too soul bare.  I’m going to share something that sums up my life’s struggle and it’s a little bit scary.

Deep breath.  And then I’m jumping in with both feet and I’m going to show you a deep, deep piece of me.

Here is the truth.  I’ve struggled always with feeling like I don’t measure up.  I’ve struggled always with feeling like I’m not enough.  It’s hard for me to receive the affections of my God and King.  It’s hard for me to believe that He’s “enthralled with my beauty”. (Psalm 45:11)  My whole life…I’ve just longed for belonging.  To know and be known and to be loved anyway…All my life, I’ve felt this feeling of restlessness and  “if only”…This restless feeling of longing to be better, to be more, to prove that I’m something, that I’m someone.

There have been so many who have loved and who do love me.  I am blessed to be loved so much and so well.  But the truth is this:  there have been a number of people and circumstances who have left me with deep wounds and left me deeply scarred.  And while I would allow the Lord to work on those wounds and scars, to soothe them with His oil and with His love…I guess I didn’t let Him keep at them until they were fully healed. I always held back enough of that woundedness to fuel my self-pity and my insecurities.  My restlessness.

The restlessness came and went.  I would throw myself into this or throw myself into that…I would spend too much time away from home doing the work of the Lord or put too much faith in this friend or too much weight to that friend’s opinion.  I would agonize over things I’d said and things I’d done…wondering if I could’ve said it better, could’ve done it better.  I would beat myself up with “if onlys” and self deprecation.  I was (and often still am) my worst critic, my worst enemy, my worst friend.

The restlessness drove me to constantly reinvent myself, to make me second guess my every move.  I lived and died by what others thought of me.  And there would be seasons where it was better and there would be seasons where it would be much worse.  On a scale of 1-10, ten being the worst and one being the best…I would go through cycles of being every single number.

Whenever I would find a place of belonging, I would cling to it hard and throw my all into it.  I would serve my heart out, doing the work of the Lord, sacrificing all else….and sacrifice is good.

But did you know?

He desires obedience more than sacrifice.

And it was only when I began to be obedient to His leading, listening to His prompting and putting what I wanted on the backburner that I began to feel freedom.

Freedom from the restlessness and freedom from the desire for the approval of others.

Freedom.

You see, I am right where I am supposed to be.  And nowadays, my service to the Lord has more to do with what happens within my four walls than what happens out in the world.  I am fulfilling my calling.  By just being present in my home fully…body, mind, soul and spirit…I am doing the work of the Lord.  I believe I’ve learned the art of contentment, at long last.

I started to make a list of every volunteer ministry position I’d ever been in…but it was a long, long list.  I spent quite a few moments on it, listing my accomplishments, my job titles, my endless hours of serving.  I found pictures to match the job descriptions.  But He stopped my fingers typing and said no to the list.

Because this particular entry is actually not about what I’ve done.  It’s about why I’ve done what I’ve done.

I’ve served for lots of reasons.

1. I love the Lord.
2. I love to do His work.
3. I love to serve out of my giftings.
4. I am a team player. I believe that kingdom work is more effective when we do it together.
5. I love being a part of something that impacts the world.
6. I need to belong. I need to be known.
7. I crave the approval of others.

And it’s numbers six and seven that begin to get me in trouble, to distort things.  All these many years I’ve lived, I have often lived according to numbers six and seven.

It’s scary for me to share this stuff.  I’ve deleted it and typed it, deleted it and typed it again.  I want the world to see that I’m whole, that I’ve got it together, that I’m okay.  But the truth is that…I’m somewhat  whole, being constantly healed and loved into His image.  That I absolutely do not have it together, but I rest in the Hands of the One who holds everything together.  That I’m okay but only because I’ve been redeemed.

And I think it’s important for you to know that this work He’s done in me…He can do in you.

Here and now I’ve discovered this side effect of dwelling in thankfulness.

I don’t need to please anyone anymore.

I don’t need to reinvent myself.

I don’t need to try so hard to prove I’m okay.

This is new to me, this feeling of peace that has replaced my restlessness.  This feeling of having good gifts to offer…but not feeling like I have to do every single thing that comes my way to prove my gifts are good.  This calm, this release…this freedom to be the me-est me I can be.  It’s new.

It’s good, my beloved ones.

I say that I think it’s come about because of thankfulness and I do think that’s true…but I’m thinking about my life now and my life during my most restless times…and there are quite a few things that are different now.

1. I live in a healthy home. My husband loves me fully and as Christ loved the church. He values me for who I am and I have nothing to prove to him. He loves me because I am me and he doesn’t ever ask me to be different than who I am and he doesn’t ever ask me to be better or do better. He just loves me, I am good enough for him…and that makes me want to be better. A Christ centered marriage…for this I am every day so thankful, so grateful and so overjoyed that I could cry.  What a good, good gift.

2. Obedience. I am living out my true calling. God has been asking me for years to put my wifehood, motherhood and stewardship of my home first. And I’ve listened for a season here and a season there but with no consistency. I love my family, I love being a mom but there were definitely times over the years when I became a ministry-aholic. A messy, messy house, kids that needed more of my time than they got and (in my first marriage) not making my husband a priority all limited, I think, my freedom from the restlessness. And it so typical of me, trying to meet my needs my way instead of His way. Now, I put John, my children and caring for my home first. I don’t do a ton of ministry away from home because my gifts are best suited to my home. I sing in the prayer room twice a month and hope to eventually move to once a week. I lead a small group of first graders at church every week and that’s it. The rest is here- at home. And I have bloomed as I’ve lived out His will for me.

3. Thankfulness. It’s teaching me to see His goodness and to see His love for me. I must believe He loves me as I am when I write out all the beautiful gifts He gives me everyday. It makes it easier for me to give and receive love because my heart is satisfied with the goodness of God. I’m no longer starved.

Here I am, just me, but beautiful in the eyes of the King of all.  I was good enough all along…because I am made in the image of the King.  I am covered by the blood of Jesus and through that filter, God sees me.

It’s so simple and I want to make it so hard…but here I am!  I’m almost forty, and I’m just figuring out so many things.

He loves me.

I read Psalm 45:11 in every possible translation and every single one was truth and we must write this truth on our hearts.  Write it on your hand, write it on your mirror.  Know it and believe it.

“Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.” (NIV)

“For your royal husband delights in your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.” (NLT)

“Then the King will desire your beauty.
Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.” (NASB)

“So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” (KJV)

“Be here—the king is wild for you.
Since he’s your lord, adore him”.  (the Message)

“So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him.” (NKJV)

What’s verse or truth can you share with us today? A verse, a truth that says who you are? Will you share it?

Look For the Joy

I am pulling out of the neighborhood to go to preschool when a huge truck on gigantic wheels roars up behind me.  My rear bumper and his front bumper are only a breath apart.

He stays on my bumper until he is able to pass me on Rte. 17 and when he passes, he roars by angrily.  He gives me a hostile glance and continues on, flying down the road much too fast.

My going the speed limit has really offended him.

Fast forward an hour or two and I’m at the grocery store.  There is a bagger there that I often see and I don’t think he enjoys his job.  He always grumbles through putting the groceries in my cart.

He continues to grumble as he wheels my cart out to the family truckster.  He tells me far more than I need to know about how corporate just doesn’t get the needs of their store.

I tell him to have a good day and he doesn’t reply.

I think about both of these men later as i’m ruminating on the day with my hands in soapy dishwater.

They were both angry at the outset.  The one was in a hurry, furious that a speed limit keeper would be in front of him on such a busy day.  The second was put upon, a victim, angry that his job wasn’t the way he thinks it ought to be.

I pray, “God, give them both something to be thankful for today.”

Truth is, the attitudes of both caused me some anxiety.  Because bitterness, grumpiness, hostility…it can be contagious.  And I’m working so hard on holding steady.  Letting God be the master of my attitude.

I pray again…”God, give those men something to be thankful for.  Give their hearts some joy.”

And He reminds me of how it was when I was looking for troubles and not looking for joys.   Some people get trapped living their lives like that- always looking for hardship, looking to be offended, looking for reasons to be put upon and disgruntled.  I was living like that.  It’s a truth I can’t deny.

And I painted it as realism, as being honest and authentic.  I’m not denying that in this life I have troubles.  I do.

Right now, I have a husband who must be away from home an awful lot each day.  He has to do this so that we have enough money to cover our expenses.  He leaves around 7:30 in the morning and he returns between 7:00 and 7:30. That makes for a long day for a family who misses him.  It makes for a long day for this stay at home mom, to be sure.  But we are so thankful for the provision of the second job.  So thankful.

We long for our sixth child but it just isn’t coming.  The project is currently on hold because my back and my joints are not at their best…Medications, pain, finding a diagnosis…this is the focus for the next few months.  But we are so thankful for the five we have and the “extras” God has given us.

And while we’re on the subject…my pain has lately worsened.  My back spasms, my joints ache, I am stiff and rickety.  I’ve got a cabinet full of medications and a prescription for an X-ray in my purse.  But I’m so thankful that I can still go about my daily routines (except for vacuuming…that one chore really gets my back hurting) and I’m so thankful for a doctor who is thorough and who is committed to getting me feeling better.

These are our challenges right now.  These three things.

My gratitude journal?  Where I’m counting out my joys?  More than three hundred things.

I wake up hopeful, expectant, cheerful.  (Most of the time.)  Because even though there are hard things, He is faithful to me.

It bottom lines to a choice- would I rather be joyful or would I rather be angry?

And it’s not about denying the truth.  It’s not about ignoring the hard things.  It’s not about assuming that magic genie God will pop out of the lamp at the right time and give me exactly What I Want exactly When I Want It.  He doesn’t work that way because that’s not good parenting.

Yesterday, I would not give Claire the desire of her heart.  She deeply, deeply longed for a black Sharpie with which to color her legs.  (This is a new passion of hers.)  I said no and I took the Sharpie away.  And, when she had a fit, she got a time out on the stairs.  She did not understand why I would not give her the Sharpie, but I know that I don’t want to have to scrub Sharpie off of walls and baby legs.  She’s not old enough for the Sharpie and she can’t understand that, but I can.

Being thankful doesn’t mean that we get all that we want.  It means that we are content with what we have.  It keeps our eyes from searching for the things we don’t have and keeps us focused on the here and now.

And some things just suck.  Being thankful doesn’t magically make my memories of my divorce sunny and cheerful.  That was a hard thing and it impacted my children and it impacted me.  It sucked a lot.

Being thankful doesn’t mean that my miscarriage wasn’t a horrible experience.  It was horrible and I miss that baby…that baby that would be close to a month old and a welcome addition to all this beautiful chaos.

Being thankful doesn’t erase the things that hurt…it just opens our eyes to the things that bless.

I had to be willing to give up “Poor Me”.  Because Poor Me doesn’t work when you’re thankful.  You can’t fit a full measure of gratitude and a full measure of self pity in the same heart.  I want the gratitude more.

Don’t you want the gratitude more?

Start today.  Read about the Joy Dare online, download the “1000 Gifts” app, get an old notebook, buy a new journal.  Start small.  Start HERE!  Name three things you are grateful for today in the comments section.

Listen to this song while you think it through and then let us know- what are you thankful for today?

Restoration by David Brymer

The Colors

Easter approaches.

And the world is waking from a winter slumber.  I see daffodils pushing up, azalea bushes blooming and the front porch is powdered yellow.  Lila coughs and sneezes and her asthma reminds us that spring is here.

A couple of weeks ago, we gathered with friends and colored Easter eggs.  Little fingers turned blue and purple and green and big kids helped out younger ones and there was laughter and joy all around the table.  The beautiful chaos of these little ones…


And at the end of all that happy laughter and egg coloring, it was time to clean up. Glitter and stickers and cardboard bunny cut outs. Spills and egg shells and little plastic cups filled with water.

This is my secret- I love cleaning up the Easter egg dye. And if you know me at all, you will find it astounding to read that I love cleaning anything.  But there’s something about watching all those colors swirl together in the bottom of the sink until they are washed away again.  Since I was a young girl, I’ve loved this moment in the process.

I asked God to teach me.  Teach me why these colors swirling and going down are so beautiful to me.

I called over the big girls- Mia, Miranda, Julia and Aubrey.  Aubrey was our camera woman and Julia mixed colors creatively where I would’ve just dumped them in.  All five of us together, watching the art in the bottom of the sink.  Watching colors blend and swirl and tiny currents flow as the water washed it all away, leaving only white porcelain behind.

We five watch and wonder.  We five stand together, full stop, watch this beautiful blending.

And it’s one of those things- like a rainbow or like a sunset…it’s beauty in photograph can not compare to the beauty in the here and now.  I think some things are just that way.  Some things, He just wants us to see and enjoy in the moment and not try and record it.  But to just be fully in the moment.

I think about the cross and sin and the great Washing that He does for us.  I think about how our sin clings to us, how we hold onto it.  I think of how our sin and ourselves are sometimes so entwined.

These colors pouring out in the bottom of the sink- it’s like our sin.  How beautiful the work of the cross.  That God would send His son and let all of our sin pour into Him on that day.  That the washing of His blood makes us white as snow, clean and renewed.  Restored.

I stand with these beautiful girls- all four of them full of promise and hope and new life.  They are each special- called and chosen.  Each one with her own gifts to bring, her own uniqueness.  Her own Mia-ness, her own Aubrey-ness, her own Miranda-ness, her own Julia-ness.  They are each one fearfully and wonderfully made.  Each one adding her own color to the mix.

These colors pouring out in the bottom of the sink- its like the Body.  We are all part of beauty.  These girls I stand with and even myself- we are part of beauty.  Julia the green, Aubrey the purple, Mia the yellow, Miranda the pink.  All of these colors blending together to make something beautiful.

My heart cries out that they would know their beauty and that they would know their purpose.  That they would see how God washes away all sin and hurt and sorrow.  That they are redeemed, restored, beautiful and purposed.

I think about saying all this to these beautiful ones.  I think about telling them how God made a way for them- but I know they know.  And I think about telling them how crucial they are to the Body…but I want them to hear it from His Mouth and not mine.  I ask Him to tell them, to write it on their hearts.  That this moment would be one that they know His heart for them.

And we stand, all five together, watching this beauty in the bottom of the sink.