Sunday, October 11, 2015

Birthday Guest

As awesome as it would be to hear Charity’s birthday post about herself today (do bloggers do that?) I asked if she would give me the honor this time.  I must say she is brave since, being sisters, we know just about everything about each other, even things we wish we could forget (nothing like mooning each other via text or anything… we would never).   I guess she took for granted that I am usually nice to people and would never embarrass her on her birthday. (heheh)

When I was 10 and she was 16 (yes, she is six years older and has less wrinkles and cellulite than me, shut up) I completely idolized her. She was somewhat of a rebel behind my parents back and for some reason she trusted me not to rat her out and would tell me about her secret boy flings.  One time she was telling me about how to hold hands with a boy. She demonstrated to me the two different ways (interlocking fingers and not) and told me when you hold hands without interlocking fingers it just means you LIKE them, but if you interlock fingers it means you LOVE them.  I took this as absolute truth for many years (obviously we were home schooled). I wanted to know how she knew these important life rules,  “Duh, I read Seventeen.”  She said. (Like I knew what that was!)

When it came time for her to marry (at the ripe young age of 18!) I cried like it was her funeral. 

When it came time for me to marry, she told me things that even Seventeen won’t print and then laughed at my shocked face (what are sisters for?).

Most of you who know Charity (or even just read her blog) know that she is REAL, she doesn’t do FAKE very well. That is one of the things I love so much about her, because you always know where you stand with her. I would MUCH rather someone be honest with me than leave me wondering all the time (does everyone not feel this way?). However, only a few of us know the true depth of her scariness. We have a childhood friend who swears when we were young Charity RIPPED her dress off of her because she was mad.  I’m not sure that is true, given the source, but I know it COULD be true.  She has even compared herself to Old Yeller when he gets rabies and foams at the mouth and tries to kill his owners whom he loves. Her words, not mine. 

And while I have never actually seen the foaming (or I would have cast something out of her), I have legit younger sister fear.  If fact, this summer she and I took a day trip to the beach with our kids and during the car ride I had to pee so badly I may have permanently damaged my bladder, but I was too afraid to tell her.  Seriously. Afraid. I considered just peeing in the seat and blaming it on one of the kids. I know she will love me and love me and love me forever because that’s what she does so well, but the fear is still there (now that she knows this, I hope she won’t lord it over me). There is probably some childhood trauma associated with this fear, like her trying to drown me in the bathtub or something.  Oh wait, never mind, I’m the one who did that.  So for all of you who never knew…. She is scary. And she has my back, so don’t mess with me, or…. Old Yeller.

If you don’t have someone in your life that you can laugh with, I truly am sorry. There is such great treasure in laughter and I probably laugh harder when I am with this girl than when I am with anyone else in the world.  I have definitely seen judging eyes peer at us when we can’t stop laughing because they think we are drunk. But it’s the non-alcoholic kind of drunk. The kind that sets your heavy heart free and hurts your cheeks and wets your pants. She can put you in a good mood in 10 seconds flat. She gives the gift of laughter so freely and it is contagious. You seriously want to be her friend right now, don’t you? 

She seeks out the deep things of God and doesn’t stop seeking until she gets ahold of fresh bread from His Spirit.  And I’m just going to say, that is hard when you are 24/7 mother to 4 children who need you every single second.  It takes a lot of time and discipline, and she does it. She is the first to tell you when she needs some Jesus time, and she will actually take the initiative to GET IT, meet with her Maker and let him mold her to be more like Him. And then she takes that bread and shares it with others who are hungry for more. She leads and disciples women beyond just her church and community…. She will straight up get in the trenches with you. I’ve seen it.  While she teaches FOUR DIFFERENT GRADES every single day to educate her children. I am in awe of how gracefully she juggles everything on her plate.

She still walks with a “strut” to beat all (ask her kids to show you).

She can hold her own in the uptown, posh, civilized circles, and break out her work gloves and holey jeans to till and shovel and plant the roughest country ground.

She has swept a hundred miles around her kitchen and dining room. Seriously, the broom comes out after every meal. Who does that?

She is the hottest 35 year old I know.
 It’s her birthday.

Worldwide party!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Media confessions

This morning, after finishing 2 cups of coffee and my daily devotion, I grabbed my phone and browsed through a couple social media sites. And, because none of my kids are up for the day yet, I took a few moments I normally wouldn't, and read a few newsy things I ran across.

I blinked.

I gasped.

I clicked on additional info.

I grunted my disapproval.

I hummed my agreement.

I spent TWENTY minutes reading comments and replies to comments and replies to replies.

And by the end, I was resoundingly ticked off.

Then came the moment of reflection. (because all my kids are STILL blissfully snoozing, and moments of reflection are only possible during this time.)

Here's what the moment sounded like inside my head:

"Are you kidding me?"

"I cannot even."

"That's the biggest load of..."

"Why in the heck do people ACT like that?"

"Why in the world do people spend their time and energy on that?"

Seriously...I spent 20 minutes reading the tail end of a few news-worthy (and I use that term VERY loosely) updates, and I have nothing, NOT ONE THING, good to show for that 20 minutes of time.

Why do I even bother?

The right-wing will still be the same, whether I am educated on it's views or not.

The left wing will still express hostility for the right wing, regardless of me or ANYONE ELSE weighing in with opposing and/or enlightening info.

The right wing will return the hostility of the left wing with equal ferocity.

There will be name calling.

There will be cursing.

There will be lies and propaganda and misleading facts and half-truths.

NOTHING WILL CHANGE OR BE SETTLED.

And we are all a bunch of birds with our metaphorical wings clipped, because we cared more about destroying the wing on the other side than about anything else.

Dear God. What a waste.

What an absolute load of crap.


So, after a few moments to let the feathers on my metaphorical wings settle from their previously ruffled state, I have decided to confess, to the entire blogging community (well, the minuscule amount of it that will read this post, anyway) something that only a few people know about me. It is a multi-level confession, and will doubtless ruffle the feathers of some readers.

(And now I'm imagining everyone is awaiting my confession with baited breath...and now I'm laughing at myself for the delusional thoughts that creep in when the house is silent...)

Confession: I don't watch the news. EVER. Only the weather, and only if I can't get my weather app on my phone to work. 

I barely know who's running for president next year. I only know that because my husband told me about it. I definitely don't watch the debates between the candidates. I can't think of many things I would like LESS than spending my evening doing that.

Confession, part 2: Not only do I not watch the news...I DON'T CARE about most of the crap that is newsworthy.

Well, let me clarify: I would care about it, if I thought for one second that my caring would change anything in any way.

But I am profoundly aware of the fact that my life, my voice, my beliefs on matters that make it to the television, have absolutely ZERO impact on the issues being discussed and debated and lied about and fought over and flung about like grenades.

I CANNOT CHANGE THINGS. 

My indignity toward Obama-care doesn't keep that extra money from coming out of my husband's pay-check each week.

My irritation that models always look perfect in swimsuits and I know their photos are airbrushed and why do they have to lie ad make us all feel bad about ourselves...doesn't affect the swimsuit or modeling industry in any way.

My horror at late-term abortions doesn't stop them from happening.

My fury at racial atrocity doesn't cause bigots to rethink their slander.

The only thing that happens when I watch the news or read the news or hear about the news is that my metaphorical wing feathers get ruffled, and then I spend twenty precious minutes (quiet minutes, people...I spent twenty of my very few quiet minutes!!!) reading the angry viewpoints people are hurling at each other, and NO ONE IS CHANGING ANY ONE'S MIND.

Confessions, part 3: I don't care if you judge me for being politically and socially uninformed.

Seriously. I. Don't. Care.

You know what I DO care about?

I care about my daughter learning what it means to be a woman of character, and virtue, and kindness, and grace, and true beauty. I devote my passion to teaching her about modesty, and about sacrifice, and about courage, and about humility, and about honor, and about love.

I care about my sons growing up to be men of valor. Men who love deeply, who apologize readily, who listen compassionately, who protect their family fiercely, who serve the Lord faithfully.

I cannot do anything about the political or social climate. Trying to convince me otherwise is fruitless. I am aware of the arguments that every voice makes a difference. I just don't care.

I'm entirely filled up with caring about the climate of the four little hearts and spirits that are still, STILL, blissfully snoozing down the hall. 

THIS HOME is a climate I can affect change in. And someday each of them will have a home of their own, and they can weigh in on the issues of their home, and change can occur within those walls.

My parents shaped the climate of their home, and they shaped the lives of 5 children. The 5 of us have 14 lives we are actively weighing in on every day, which makes 19 lives my parents have affected. And when those 14 kids have kids...

You see where I'm going with this.

I don't care if you judge me for barely knowing anything about anything going on in the world. 

My world has challenges and debates and sins and hurts of its own, and that's where I'm focusing today. 

Let the rest of it go up in a ball of fire and feathers, for all I care.

Media rant adjourned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Anniversary

Five years.

It's a milestone amount of time. We celebrate 5th wedding anniversaries, and 5th birthday, and a person is officially considered cancer free if they are healthy for 5 years.

My sister has been in heaven for 5 years today.

Its strange, the way this anniversary, and the preparation for it, has affected me. It's different than the past years. My heart seemed to know it was a milestone.

All the hard memories have still flooded back, as they do every year.

The sounds of my children weeping in the living room, and remembering that I couldn't even go comfort them because my own grief would've scared them, so I sat in the hall, in the floor, trying to silence my sobs with my hands...

The pain has become more bearable as the years have passed, and while I understand that is inevitable with the passage of time...it makes me sad too. Because somehow it feels like, if I don't ache with every breath, that I love her less...or something. I know that's ridiculous, but that's only one of many ridiculous truths about grieving.

My life has changed in the last 5 years. But there are many things that are still the same.

I was wandering through the house last night, turning off lights and picking up toys and locking doors, and I had a sudden thought.

If Joy were alive today, would she be able to see all that has changed? Besides the new paint in the dining room and the fact that my children are half grown?

Would she be able to look at my face, look at my life, and see how much different I am now, since she died?

Because I am. I'm changed forever.

Some ways I wish I could undo. Like how fast I freak out when someone I know goes to the hospital, for any reason. I immediately start shaking and wondering what might happen.

But there are good things too. Things that altered my faith, and my perspective on life, in the last 5 years.

I pray differently now. I still believe that God does miracles, and when someone is sick, I pray for their healing. BUT, mostly I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit to be felt. Because that is what helped me to survive when the miracle I asked for turned out to be different than God's plan.

I view my time differently. I'm more careful and intentional about moments with my kids, and my brother and sisters, and everyone around me. Because time...it's so precious. Our every moment is ordained by God, and all our days are numbered. And who are we to say how many days and moments we will have on this earth? And I want to remember that I didn't waste my moments with the people I love most.

I encourage people differently. This week I was speaking with someone who is in a hard, scary emotional place. I reached out my hands, and grasped hers, and I said "He is with you." And I hope that she could see, in my eyes, that they weren't just words I was saying. I knew them to be truth.

I say I love you every time I say goodbye to my friends and family. Because what if its the last time I get to say it? You can never say, or hear, 'I love you' too many times.

I have lived through a storm, and I have found that He is still here with me, and it changes me, for the better, every day.

This morning I woke before 5 a.m. Which is ironic, since that's what time I woke on this day 5 years ago. Or...probably not ironic. Because I woke with another memory in my mind, and I fell certain it was the Lord.

Around 4 a.m. on this day, 5 years ago, God gave me a vision.

Of a hospital room on the other side of the world, and a girl in a bed.

But she, her spirit, her real self, wasn't in the bed.

She was standing up, in the empty room, smiling and looking around her.

Because in the room I could SEE the presence of the Lord. And I could hear every prayer being prayed by thousands of people all around the earth, and the room was filled with the voices of all who loved that girl...

And in my vision, she looked at me, her face beaming.

And I looked at her, and I smiled back.

And I said, "I love you, Joy."

Today is the 5th anniversary of the first vision I ever had.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the final time I told my sister I love her on this earth...because I know she heard me.

Yes, 5 years changes many, many things. But some things remain the same. We will miss her...always. We will ache on this day...always. But we will continue to let it change us into people who are more like the Lord...because that would be her challenge to us, if she could call us from heaven and give us pointers on living for the sake of the kingdom.

"Sing hosanna," she would tell us. "And don't blink. Until the whole world hears."

Happy 5 years in heaven, Joyful. I love you.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Promises

A phone call. Words you knew were coming, and sadness you can’t shake off.

Hastily prepared travel plans. Black clothes folded into suitcases.

Heartache that lingers. Tears that flow without warning.

Family making preparations, remembering happy times, sharing stories of laughter and love. Eyes lined with sorrow, taking comfort in the nearness of many eyes that bear the same grief.

A perfectly appointed kitchen, with all things in their place, but no one left to scurry about in it, no one to make biscuits and gravy or give lessons in the fine art of fried eggs and apple pie.

A pair of slippers in the bathroom, a housecoat hanging on the door, a bottle of perfume on the vanity…

Echoes, memories, fill every room. Nothing was untouched by her. Eighty-two years of a life, all within the confines of four walls. It seems even the guest room sheets carry her unique smell.

In my mind, I can hear her saying “Hello, sweet thing. There’s coffee in the pot.”

But there isn’t coffee in the pot. Because her voice is only an echo in my heart.

A funeral. Songs, words, memories shared.

Smiles and tears together. Flowers kept, words of comfort given and received.

Black clothing refolded into suitcases. Goodbyes. Sad smiles.

How can it be that the house will be empty now?

I will miss my early morning coffee with her. I will miss her kiss on my cheek. I will long for her hug and the sound of her laughter…

An airplane. Quiet moments staring out the window.

And then…high above the clouds, seeming out of place…

A rainbow.

A reminder.

Her Lord is laughing with her now, and she’s sharing coffee with her family that had gone before her, and she’s able to dance again, and she isn’t tired anymore.

And the rainbow…the rainbow reminds me…it reminds me that, although death DOES sting on this earth…it won’t sting forever.

And I can hear her saying to us all, “Now, look here, and don’t you forget this.”

The God of the universe can be trusted to keep His word. His promises are true.

We will be together again.

And that is God’s love for those of us left behind to miss her.


We won’t forget, Grandma.

We promise.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Never Forget

Today, July 17th, 2015, is a day I will never forget.

It's one of those days you mark in your memory. A day where, after years have gone by, you can look back and remember, because of how you felt, and how it changed you.

I have had many such days, just as we all do. The day I asked Jesus in my heart was October 10th, 1986. The day I got married was June 19th, 1999. The day I became a mother was March 27th, 2002. The day my sister died unexpectedly on the mission field was August 18th, 2010.

There are also longer times, of testing or happiness or or struggle or rest, times that shape who we are but can't be boiled down to one certain date. I have many of those as well. And today, in the early hours of the morning, I have been awakened by the remembering of one such time in my life. Almost like the Lord poked me and whispered, "Get up, we need to spend some time in the past, so that we are prepared for the present."

When I was 17 years old, I was doing a year long internship at a missions organization. I was a high school graduate, a girl who just KNEW the world was at her fingertips. And, because I arrogantly believed it might make a difference to know some answers to some future questions, I began to ask the Lord to show me the vision, plan, destiny, purpose, for my life. And, because He is all knowing and wise, He did NOT give me the answers I sought. He did, however, give me an answer.

"Are you willing to do anything I ask of you, anything at all, if it is My will?"

"Even if I ask you to never get married and to never have children? Will you choose to be devoted to Me and Me alone? If that is My plan for you?"

I won't bore you with the details of my end of the conversation. Let's just go ahead and acknowledge that it wasn't pretty, or spiritual, or even very nice. It basically boiled down to two sentences.

"Heck no. I'm not doing that."

But the question kept coming back, for months, every time I prayed.

"Do you love Me most? More than anything? Whatever I ask of you, will you open your hands to Me, and let me shape the path your life follows?"

There was a battle in my heart, let me tell you. Everything I had ever dreamed of and wanted in my entire life, I was now faced with the possibility of laying it down, giving it up, letting it die. WHY would God ask this of me? WHY had I ever asked God what His will was in the first place?

It was like being two different people. The spiritual version of myself who KNEW that God's plan and will for me were best, and FOR my best, and the version of myself that was kicking and screaming and selfishly wanting to have it ALL. God's will for me, AND all my dreams for my life.

Eventually, too exhausted in spirit and smart enough to know He had won from the beginning, I "gave in" to the request the Lord made of me. I agreed to His terms. (It's funny for me to say it like that, because I now understand that it wasn't as much about agreeing to never marry or have children, if that was what He asked of me. It was really only about realizing that He wanted my LIFE, all of me, everything, with nothing, not one thing, held back from Him. I agreed to THAT, and I am quite certain if the God of the Universe had told me what the path would really look like...it wouldn't have been a pill I could swallow.)

Those months as a 17 year old shaped me dramatically, and I knew it then, but I had NO IDEA just how that time of wrestling with God would affect the 17 years since.

It comes back periodically, that time of struggle. He reminds me. "Open your hands to me, little girl. My way is best. Trust me."

When I was pregnant with my daughter, God whispered to my heart again. "Appointed." And I knew He was talking about the baby. And so I held my breath, and I watched, and I waited, and I tried so hard to hold her loosely, because I knew God had something special for her, and that it would require me to keep my hands open. And sometimes they shook, and sometimes they closed tightly, but He has been gentle with me over the 13 years of her life so far, and He reminds me patiently that His hands are a better place for her anyway, and I find, despite my heart's racing, that my hands open slowly once again.

When we received word that my sister, my very first roommate, my sweet friend and playmate, wouldn't live through the sudden brain injury that had befallen her...my hands clenched. SO tightly that my fingernails cut into my palms. Literally. I curled my whole body AROUND my hands, laying in the floor of my bedroom, and I said "No. No. NO. NOO."

And my daughter and sons sat beside me. And they wept with me, and they watched my struggle. They saw how I didn't want His will. And my son prayed, "Lord, we really want Aunt Joy to live. But You do what's best, Lord."

And it was that little voice, so trusting, that brought the Holy Spirit's reminder. And I won't pretend that I opened my hands, but I at least remembered, in that moment, that He was still with me and still working and still sovereign and still good, and that His hands were the best place for my sister to be.

And then she died. Plucked from our hands for the rest of this earthly life, and transplanted into our futures in eternity.

And I bet, if you asked my daughter about a time of struggle and growth in her life, she would mention those months after we lost Joy. They changed her. She grew up more than any 8 year old should have to. She was burdened by her own sadness, and the self-proclaimed protector of her mama. She was so brave and strong during that time.

And, at night, she started to pray. "What now Lord? I have to do something? What do I do now?"

Today...this is the day she is finally able to step out and DO what the Lord dropped into her heart to do almost 5 years ago.

Today my daughter becomes a missionary like her aunt Joy, the bravest girl I ever knew. My little baby, my appointed child, is packed and ready.

And my hands are shaking.

And they periodically clench into fists.

And my heart is filled with panic. But also...also, my heart is filled with gratitude.

Because the Lord set a path before me, a path that would require hard things, and He began preparing me for them slowly, instead of all at once, and He has been with me even when I wanted to refuse what He asked.

And my path has been the same as my daughter's for 13 years. We've held hands through much of the journey.

But she's taking a little side path now. Her feet have been itching for this for a long time. And she's as ready as one can ever be before they step out into something new that the Lord has called them to do.

I'm not ready.
At least, I don't feel ready.
But the Lord woke me early, and He reminded me about my hands...and, metaphorically, I open them back up to Him.

Because she's safer in His hands anyway.

And the terror that grips me comes from understanding, from living through, the truth that God's plan, and His will, always require hard things of us. Because that's how we learn that He is MORE than we ever knew. The lives that my sister, Joy, would've impacted if she had lived beyond the age of 26, are far less than the lives that have been and will be impacted as a result of her death, and her story being told.

And my daughter, my Faith...she's part of that. And God knew it when He whispered "appointed" to me all those years ago. I'm glad He didn't tell me about August 18th, 2010. I'm glad He didn't tell me about today.

Today I will smile, and I will french braid her hair for the flight, and I will kiss her, and I will remind her to drink lots of water and take lots of pictures...and my hands will tremble.

But I won't tell her not to go. I'm proud of her for going. Her God asked her to open her hands to Him, and she is obeying. I couldn't be any more proud.

"Go get 'em, baby girl."

That's what I will tell her.

And she will.

And we will both remember this day...forever.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Decoration Day

Yesterday I did some decorating for Easter. No eggs or bunnies on my front lawn, just a lovely assortment of fresh flowers on the stage of our church. They smell amazing, and they are a reminder to everyone who enters that Easter Sunday is an extra special day. Several other church gals were there helping spruce the building up, and we spent about 3 hours working on it.

(You know how many hours we spent at Christmas? I don't remember, exactly, because after a while I went into a catatonic state...but it was a LOT more than 3, I am sure. And the same is true of my own home.)

I've been pondering on this strange little realization that I've had...that I spend a solid month decorating and preparing my house for Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Messiah, the Savior of the world...and I spend a few hours, maybe more if I'm searching for just the right dress to wear, preparing to celebrate the day that same Jesus Christ, Messiah, Savior of the world, rose from the grave.

Hmm. Why is this? 

Obviously, Easter is not nearly as commercialized as Christmas, and I don't want to take time dwelling on how that particular phenomenon affects our Christian celebration of the two holidays, nor do I have any intention of addressing the fact that evergreen trees and Santa Clause and candy-filled eggs and the Easter Bunny have less than NOTHING to do with the birth and death of Jesus...despite how we have found ways to intertwine them.

No, this particular musing is directly tied to...decorating. (Because, after all, I am female...which will also be explanation enough for the following two paragraphs, which seem to be rabbit trail topics, as well as totally unrelated to each other...bear with me. I'll bring it all together...I hope.)

Random paragraph #1: I often begin putting up my Christmas decorations in early November. Because I just cannot wait for my favorite season to begin. My husband judges me, and so, too, do most visitors to my home before Thanksgiving. But I don't care. I want everyone to know how very excited I am that Christmas is coming. (The stores do it too, as we all know. I'm not the only crazy person out there, and I do refrain from putting up exterior decorations until Thanksgiving weekend, because I don't mind being judged by the people I let INSIDE my house, but I cannot abide the idea of strangers driving by and judging me.)

Random paragraph #2: We don't have huge birthday celebrations in my family, at least not as a rule. I know some people throw giant parties for their kids, and invite everyone in the world, and have an enormous cake...yeah, I'm not that mom, and neither was my mom. When you come from a large family, and you have a larger than average sized family of your own, you quickly learn the value of the phrase "less is more." As a kid, I received 1 birthday 'bash' and that was on my 16th birthday. Don't get me wrong, birthday's were special...just not huge-party-with-tons-of-people special. I have adopted this beloved tradition in my own home. For my daughter's 13th birthday last week...she and I got pedicures, and went to lunch together, and I cooked her the dinner she wanted and we bought her the present she requested. That was it.

Okay, here's the moment where the second rabbit-trail paragraph ties in. :) Every year at Christmas time when I am decorating, I think about what a grand birthday party Jesus must have in heaven each December. It's HEAVEN, after all, and I always imagine God showing off His creative skills with brand new versions of...everything, just for the party. And in my head, He's walking around, nodding and saying "Spared no expense," like the old man in Jurassic Park says while showing the not-yet-eaten people his not-yet-destroyed dinosaur zoo. (movie quotes that can be used in real life are one of my favorite things...) 

Anyway, I don't think its sacrilegious or blasphemous to assume there is a celebration of Jesus on His birthday. God the Father has been giving clues, reminders, 'decorations' if you will, that He was sending His Son, through all the prophets for thousands of years. There is the miraculous conception, there is a brand new star shining in the sky, there is the angel Gabriel, and all the other heavenly host, and there is the prophecy of those things.

God is clearly excited about the birth of His Son, so it only makes sense that there would be a party in heaven. 

But...oh man, this is where I start to get really stirred up...upon further pondering, I feel fairly certain that the party Heaven throws at EASTER is twice the size of the Christmas bash.

Because when Jesus is referenced in the Bible for the first time, in Genesis 3:15, it isn't a reference to His birth. It's a reference to His victory over the serpent. 

And when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son on an altar on Mount Morriah, and then he is stopped by the Angel of the Lord, and there is a ram caught by its horns that is there for them to sacrifice instead...that is a picture of Jesus...not His birth, but His death. It's like God is hanging up a string of lights to remind anyone who is paying attention that something exciting is coming soon, and He can't wait to share it with the world. "LOOK! I am about to do something spectacular. I have made a way for My justice and My love to both be satisfied. See that sacrifice in the thorns? THAT IS WHAT'S COMING."

Abraham lived 4,000 years before Jesus.

FOUR THOUSAND YEARS.

God has been 'decorating' for Easter for a really long time.

Moses was told, by God, to use the blood of a lamb to mark the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites. Not to point to the birth of Jesus...but to His death. The blood of the sacrifice protected the people from death. 

People, please tell me you can see that decoration. It's blinking and singing, for heaven's sake. This was the first Passover, because the angel of death "passed over" the homes that were protected by the blood.

AND THEN, then the people were freed from their slavery. From 400 years of bondage and toil and sorrow and death, they walked out. AFTER the death...there was life, and freedom, and hope.

OH man...there aren't enough capital letters or exclamation marks that can express my excitement. God is decorating the Bible with His excitement about the upcoming holiday.

Not Christmas, though that's in there too...but He decorates extensively to prepare for THE Passover weekend. When THE Lamb was sacrificed. (You did know that Jesus was killed on the first day of the celebration of Passover, right? Yeah, if you don't have Holy Spirit goose bumps yet, you're not paying attention.)

I am convinced that the Easter party is the biggest one in heaven, because God could NOT keep His decorations in the attic for thousands of years. Instead, He told the Israelites to remember Passover every year. EVERY YEAR they remembered, and celebrated, what God set up as a mere precursor to what He was going to do.

I can't keep going, because it's just too good, and I'm getting too excited. So just imagine how God felt! (okay, maybe THAT is a little sacrilegious, imagining how God feels...eh, I still feel saved.)

 But I cannot help but think of the Red Sea being parted, and God, who has just strung together an entire historical event to show what He has planned, is still so pumped that He has to show off a little bit more. "Okay, people, pay attention. Not only am I sending a Deliverer from your slavery, your bondage, your chains...I am also sending the POWER by which you can overcome your enemies. The death that is behind you (the Egyptian army) and the death that is in front of you (a sea for them to drown in) are NO MATCH for me."

And He flexed His mighty arms and DROVE back the sea!!!!! And once He had His people safely on the other side, He squashed, covered, buried forever in the sea behind them, the chains and bondage and slavery.

Oh boy, now I could do the Holy Spirit jig. ARE YOU SEEING HIS DECORATIONS???

He wanted us to know what was coming, and so He gave us pictures throughout scripture. 

His love for us was so great, from the very beginning, that He couldn't stay silent and let us flounder without the hope of mercy. He gave us the hope, right at the beginning. He put His decorations up EARLY, and He left them up so that we wouldn't ever forget what was coming.

PASSOVER IS COMING. I imagine that had to be a hard reminder for God. Every time the Israelites celebrated Passover, God would remember that He had made this grand plan...but that it required blood. Pure blood, without sin. The blood only One could give. Every decoration God put into place for us to see and gain hope from...also reminded Him of the pain of sacrificing His One and Only Son. He knew what Passover meant for Him...but He also knew what it meant for all of us, for all eternity. And His love for us is so overwhelming that He continued to put out the reminders, the decorations, not of His Son's birth, but of His Son's sacrifice.

EASTER IS COMING. Now it's getting even more exciting. Remember the Israelites? Remember that the death angel passed over them? And then it seemed death was coming anyway, in the form of either a raging army or a raging sea? That's us. We are standing there.

Passover is done now...the death and the blood are done. But still we are frozen and afraid.

Because we aren't living in EASTER power. 

BUT GOD TOLD US WHAT TO EXPECT.

He decorated for this already. We only have to look to see it.

He will blow away, with His very breath, the sea that rages in front of us. He will separate us from the chariots of the enemy behind us with a pillar of fire so that we are not consumed. He will bury UNDER THE OCEAN the reminders of our slavery, our chains, our bondage. 

That's Easter morning, people. That's resurrection. 

I can't even being to imagine the way God flexed His muscles that first Easter. The stone rolling away and the earthquake and the empty tomb and the angel on top of the rock and Jesus zipping around from one place to another and the dead walking through town...all of it...it's God's moment.

"YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!"

"FINALLY!"

All the time of preparing, all the pictures in scripture...it's all for this moment.

He TORE THE VEIL IN HALF, from top to bottom, (it was 6 inches thick, by the way, and several stories tall. His muscles flexed!!!!) He accepted the blood of His Son as payment for all the sins of all who would only believe, and...

"It. Is. Finished."

Not just death, and sin, and slavery. But eternal separation.

It's finished!!!!!

We can be with Him.

God, through Jesus, conquered death SO THAT death would never be able to conquer us.

That's Passover.
That's Easter.
That's what He's been decorating for throughout all of history.

And that's why there is a party going on in heaven, bigger than any other time.

Because God "spared no expense" in order to open His throne room to us. 

Not only now, but forever.

Just look around. 

He's decorated history to show His love for us.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Infamous days...

Today is a very important day, a 'day that will live in infamy.'

I am officially the mother of a teenager today.

Gosh, I feel old. And also alarmed at the speed with which my life is moving.

I swear, I only became a mom five minutes ago.

How in the heck can I already be HERE, on the morning of my firstborn child's 13th birthday?

I remember her arrival like it was yesterday. A week past my due date, and we still waited for our girl to make her appearance. We didn't even know she WAS a she. We wanted to be surprised. So I had a bag packed with yellow and white baby clothing, and we had both a boy's and girl's name chosen.

The names were chosen for a very specific reason. Seth Daniel for a boy. Faith Danielle for a girl.

Why these specific names?

When I was only a few months pregnant with our little miracle, the Lord spoke to me. It was during church, while we were singing, and I felt the first fluttering of movement that I recognized as my child within me. At that moment, a single word from God dropped into my spirit.

"Appointed."

I knew, without any further explanation from the Lord, that the word was for my little one. I smiled and I cried, both hands on my stomach, my heart filled with wonder and uncertainty. What did the word mean? What was my baby appointed for?

I shared this information with my husband, and when the time came to search out names for our growing, 'appointed' child, we chose carefully. The name 'Seth' means appointed, so that was easy. Daniel is my dad's first name, and he is one of the greatest men I have ever known. So, naturally I would want my child to carry his name. A boy's name was easily settled on.

The girl's name was trickier. My husband recommended "Faith" and after a split second...I knew it was right. Danielle as a middle name made sense too, because it is the girl version of Daniel...and I've already expressed how spectacular I think my father is. :)

She came into the world like most babies do, wrinkled and screaming, bald-headed and chubby. Her daddy and I cried when we held her, and when I looked down into her face, I said, "Faith Danielle, God has big plans for you. I'm so excited to get to see them."

She took our lives by storm, let me tell you. And while I understand that all parents think this of their first child...I am not exaggerating when I say she was advanced, and beautiful, and absolutely the most perfect child in the history of ever.

She talked early and she walked early. She could sing songs and quote scripture when she was a wee little thing. I would say to her, "Faith, praise the Lord," and she would raise one chubby little arm above her head as high as she could, and say "paise-a-ward" with a smile splitting her cheeks.

When she was 3 1/2, she was eating breakfast at the table, and she looked at us and said matter-of-factly, "After breakfast, I think I will ask Jesus to come into my heart."

And she did. And then she called both of her grandmothers and asked them point blank, "Do you have Jesus in your heart? If not, you need to. I have Jesus in my heart now."

When she was 4, we were having lunch on our deck, and she was asking me about prayer. She was thinking hard, trying to understand this concept of asking God for something, and how sometimes we got the answer we wanted, and sometimes we didn't, and sometimes we couldn't see what the answer was for a long time...its a very confusing topic to explain to a grown-up, let alone a 4-year-old. As I was telling her stories from the Bible about how God could be seen and heard in everything we do and in everything around us, if we can only learn to hear and see Him, that little girl set her jaw and shut her eyes, and said, out loud, "Jesus, show me that You're here." And, I kid you not, a gust of wind (on an otherwise perfectly still day) swept across our backyard and blew the paper plates and napkins off the table and across the deck. Faith's face filled with awe, and when her eyes met mine...I knew God had shown Himself to her in that wind. Tears of gratitude ran down my face as she clapped and jumped up and down. The God of all creation took time to tell His little daughter that HE WAS THERE, LISTENING TO HER PRAYERS.

When she was 5 she informed me that she had asked Jesus into her BROTHER'S heart, because "He needs to learn how to be kind like Jesus wants us to." I had a hard time correcting her, because I was laughing so hard.

When my sister died on the mission field, Faith was 8. It was, obviously, very traumatic for our family. Un-beknownst to me, Faith began praying, asking the Lord to let her know Aunt Joy was okay.  And God answered her prayer. He gave her a vision of heaven, and in her vision, her aunt ran up to her and hugged her, and as Faith was telling me about it later, she wept. "Mom, she had the biggest, happiest smile on her face. She's so happy, Mom. She's with Jesus, and she's okay."

At 11 years of age, she and her baby brother took a dangerous tumble into an icy creek while sledding. It was 24 degrees outside at the time, and they were quite a hike from our house when it happened. Stumbling on nearly frozen legs, Faith dragged her 3-year-old brother from the water. She sent her 9-year-old brother, Clay, back to the house for help, and then she stripped Gabe of his soggy, wet clothes. She settled him onto the sled at the edge of the creek, and she wrapped her body around his. "It's okay, Gabe, Mommy will come. It's okay." That's what she was saying, over and over, when Clay and I arrived several long moments later. She was shaking from head to toe, and Gabe was crying, and she just kept rubbing his feet between her ice-cold hands, telling him it was okay. Long, (terrifying) story short, she was nearly catatonic by the time I got her back to the house; shivering uncontrollably, unable to undress herself, tears streaking down her face. Once she was warm and dry and calmed down, I asked her how she had known to take off her brother's wet clothes. She shook her head. "I don't know Mom. Something just told me I needed to take off the cold clothes and keep him warm. I just kept feeling it in my heart." The voice of an angel, standing beside her, giving her strength to save her baby brother's life...I will always believe that is what she felt in her heart.

She's not perfect, don't get me wrong. Sometimes she is mean to her brothers, sometimes she is disrespectful, and occasionally she's selfish. Duh, she's a human being.

But...to us, her parents, she's always been something of a surprise, this 'appointed' first child of ours. We cannot even begin to take credit for the young woman she is becoming. When people ask me "How did she get to be like this?" I answer, "I have no idea. It's just the Lord."

You know what her recent prayer has been? "God, I want to be ready to go on a missions trip. Am I ready, Lord? Am I prepared?" And God has been answering her, giving her opportunities to be stretched and prepared to take the gospel to another country.

It's only a matter of time now. That's what my heart is telling me. All her life I've seen glimpses of what God has in store for her...but now she's 13. Our time as her guardians, as the stewards of this overwhelming gift of a child, is drawing to a close far more rapidly than I am ready for. Soon she will go out into the world, and she will hear the voice of the Lord, and she will follow Him on the path He has 'appointed' for her.

I am terrified. What if I didn't teach her enough? What have I forgotten to tell her that she will someday need to know? What if her heart is too tender for the way the world really is?

I am holding all my fears up to the Lord today, and I'm asking Him to continue to carry out His plan for her, and I'm pleading with Him to help me be able to bear it, whatever it is that He's appointed her for.

Because she's my ONLY daughter. She's my friend. She's the most remarkable girl I've ever known.

Happy birthday, Faith Danielle. Every day of your life, even before you were born, God has had His hand on you. Don't ever forget that you are HIS GIRL, or that you are MY girl. I love you.




Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shells and Scars

I have always loved seashells, with their smooth or rough textures, their myriad of colors, their tumbling appearance on the shore, the way they decorate the sands.

They seem, to me, a little gift from God, straight from the heart of the sea to His people living on land, a reminder that He loves to give us beautiful things to hold and enjoy.

Recently my kids and I have been studying sea creatures for school, and I have learned many interesting things about sea shells that I didn't know before.

Did you know that the shells are actually MADE by the creatures living in them? (except for the hermit crabs, who steal them from the former inhabitants after the hard working, shell making creatures die.)

God gave these fascinating creatures the ability to GROW their own home. and the shell also serves as defense against predators.

Lucky sea critters.

I've been thinking about this lately, and I've decided that I'm jealous of those slimy little buggers.

I want a shell to protect me. Why is it that scallops and clams and all the rest get a hard, beautiful shield to shelter them from pain, and even death, and I get...nothing?

Rude.

When the hard times of life come, wouldn't it be nice to just pull our heads and hands inside our warm, weather proof shells and know we are safe?

Don't you ever wish to just escape the turmoil; the roiling, foaming ocean filled with its uncertain currents and sharped toothed, hungry predators?

 God knows I wish it. I long for armor against the searing pain. I desperately wish for a place to hide from the storm. I ache for reprieve from the battering, slicing wind and rain.

The wind lessens sometimes, and we get to take some deep breaths and feel refreshed and tend our wounds and begin to heal. But, the scars remain on our hearts, our souls, our emotions, and those scars ache anew when they are exposed to the elements the next time.

New wounds join the old ones and the scars reopen and bleed all over again.

Our hearts start to take on a battered look and feel.

You know what I mean. We've all been there.

Wounded and raw and frail and feeling as if every nerve ending is exposed and vulnerable, and no matter how tightly we curl into ourselves...we have no shell to protect us.

Our love is rejected.
Our trust is shaken.
Our failures are exploited.
Our weaknesses are preyed upon.
Our fears are realized.

Our hearts are...broken...shattered...mutilated with wounds so deep they will scar us forever, no matter how much healing we can eventually find.

Why, Lord? Why didn't we get a shell? A defense?

I asked Him that today, in a rare moment of total silence. Why all the pain?

I asked it without tears, despite the deep ache in my chest.

Tears don't come easily to me these days, which may shock those of you who know me. But its because I'm metaphorically curled up inside a shell I have constructed for myself.

It's a puny shell. It's made up of distance, distractions, and deflections. If you ask me how I am...I will tell you the truth. I will just do it without exposing my heart.

It's lonely in this shell.
But...I am certain that my heart can't take any more hits right now.

So, I ask Him my questions, but my heart is deep inside my shell, and hearing Him is hard.

He spirit nudges me, beckoning me to open up, and let Him in, so we can talk.

My shell slips a little. I hang my head.

I can't do it, Lord. I am too tired to keep getting knocked down. I can't keep getting back up. So, maybe, if I stay here on the ground, curled up in a ball...maybe I'll be safe here.

I can't take any more scars, Lord. Don't You see how bad I'm scarred already?

Do you know what the Lord said to me, today, in the middle of my fetal position conversation with Him?

"I. HAVE. SCARS. TOO."

And now there are tears falling freely.

And truth seeps into the cracks in my shell.

Jesus, this God/Man on whom I've staked all that I am and all that I do and all that I seek, He didn't have a shell to protect Him from the pain. And when the whip cut His back to ribbons, and the thorns tore his forehead, and the nails pierced Him clean through...He didn't curl up to save Himself the hurt.

Ah, quite the opposite.

He opened His arms to the pain. He stretched them out, and His mercy flowed out with His blood, and He fixed His eyes on the knowledge that HE WAS CHANGING EVERYTHING right in that moment.

His scars say something very precious.

They say HOPE.
They say PEACE.
They say TRUTH.
They say MERCY.

His wounds HEAL MINE.

I cannot tell you the way my heart leaps with His words flowing over me.

Just knowing that I am not alone, and I am not forsaken...its enough for today.

He is my safe place, my refuge, my strong tower, my shelter from the storm.

He is my shell.

And He has the scars to prove it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The fact is...

Fact: I am a mother of four children.

Fact: I home school them.

Fact: I love them to the point of bursting.

Fact: Most days I have at least one moment of legitimate desire to knock them silly.

Fact: My life is the farthest thing from perfect that it is possible to be.

Fact: I love my life.

This week started out on a really low note. At five a.m. on Sunday morning, one of our boys woke up with the stomach flu. He threw up every hour for six hours straight. Fifteen hours after he started throwing up...I woke up with the stomach flu.

Thankfully we were leaving the next day for a 3 day family getaway, so this stomach bug didn't affect us at all. (Read-dripping sarcasm) 

I spent the better part of our first day sitting on a chair, watching my kids play at an indoor water park. Weak legged and weak stomached, I still dutifully rode water slides and ate snack bar food in my swimsuit with my paler-than-death legs and flabby-because-its-winter stomach visible to the world. My husband dutifully took the bigger kids on the most stomach-lurching water rides, and when they were tired of screaming and whooping and climbing stairs to do it again, we met up at the wave pool for a while.

Time moved a bit slower, and while I was relaxing and breathing deeply and enjoying the time away, I was also watching my kids with care. Because that's what parents do when their children are in the water. They pay attention.

And do you know what I saw?

These kids of mine, the wild, crazy, loud, messy, humans that live under my roof and fight with each other so often that it makes me want to hang them by their toe nails from the nearest tree...they love each other.

So. Much.

I watched them splashing around, playing games. 

I saw the older two keeping as much of an eye on the younger two as their daddy and I were.

I observed all four of them laying on their stomach in the shallow water, talking and laughing.

I witnessed them taking turns choosing rides, or riding rides they didn't really care to, just because one of their siblings wanted a slide-buddy.

My heart filled to bursting, let me tell you.

They are friends.

Its what I always wanted for them.

Because I cherish my friendships with my own siblings so much. 

I looked at my husband, and I smiled through tears, and I said "Look at them. They love each other. How did we get so blessed to have children who are such good friends?"

And my mind remembered so many other moments. Times where I thought they were going to kill each other, or never speak to each other again, or never learn to get along...

And then I remembered still more times, when they laughed together till they cried, when they stood up for each other in front of their friends, when they protected each other and put each other's needs above their own.

I cried a few silent, heart-bursting tears.

Despite the fact that my life is a disaster pretty much all the time, one of the things I want most for my kids is already a reality in their lives. They have unconditional love, and lifelong friends, already built into their lives.

Day three of our getaway, another kid woke up puking, and so did my husband.

And so we packed up and headed home, after stopping by a store to purchase a bucket and a package of trash bag liners for it. (Just in case you were starting to worry that I was trying to paint my life in rosy hues)

Today they have had several fights.
I have bopped them all on the head at one point or another, and reminded them to be kind.

But you know what they are doing right now?
Playing, laughing, and singing, together..

It's a minor miracle, to be sure, and by the time I finish this post they will probably be back to bickering.

But I keep remembering them splashing in the water of the wave pool, grinning and playing.

And so when the next fight breaks out, and I have to remind them, again, to "treat each other with kindness, because these are the only siblings you get and they will always be with you and you will never have better friends than these people in your life," I'm going to remind myself of their faces, filled with joy and love and camaraderie.

The facts can't always be seen or heard above the cacophony of my life, and that's probably true for you too. I hope you'll take a second today and focus on something that you hoped for your children, or your marriage, or your life in general, that is already something you are living.

Aren't you grateful for it? Doesn't it make your heart fill to bursting?

My children...they are each other's best friends.

To quote one of the kids from the movies "Cheaper By the Dozen" : "There are times I want to KILL her. But I would kill FOR her all the time."

And that's a FACT.