when it all sits a bit heavy

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It’s the first of February, the last day of the work week.  I realize I haven’t put up a regular old blog post in a couple of weeks and wanted to say a few words here.  January was quiet and simple for us, with a lot of sickness and thus we hunkered down at home.  With February comes some relief and hope that we will be out and about as normal soon.

I haven’t been taking many photos at home with my camera as I usually do, maybe feeling a bit uninspired and blue.  I’m sure it has to do with being sick and feeling incredibly worn out.  It’s taken every bit of energy just to keep school going for the children while I’ve been sick and wanting just to lie down in bed.  I’ve also been deeply saddened by things happening in the world around me that make me feel quite helpless: for one, the passing of the legislature in NY last week for full-term abortions and even post-delivery “abortions”, which hit me like a punch to the stomach.  I have felt nauseous over it whenever it comes to mind.  I honestly have no words to say other than I’m deeply grieved and I’m praying about ways to take action.

A newborn baby I was praying for passed away last week.  A woman battling cancer dances weary at the possible end of her fight and I can’t sleep, up praying for her, a woman I’ve never met but yet feel so burdened to pray for.

Also, those in the knitting community are well aware of the deeply divisive conversation/debate that has been happening regarding racism.  Though I am not anyone with a voice in the knitting industry, I’ve been reading along, at times very angry, other times anxious and always quite sad.  I have been surprised at how much it has affected me.  I think we can do better than this as a community, we can show more grace, understanding, and kindness.  Then I look around at my own children who squabble and hurt one another often throughout the day, and I understand.  If we can hardly get along with those we love the most, our very own flesh and blood, how much harder is it to get along with those who seem so different from us? How much harder to be kind to those whose beliefs we disagree with?  I find myself constantly instructing my children throughout the day to love one another, “be kind, be kind be kind,” to esteem one another more highly than the object their fighting over.  I weary from repeating it, yet the reminder is always needed.  Left to ourselves, this is humanity.  Even tightly-knit families have rifts and disagreements.  Maybe especially tightly-knit families.  We need to remember that peace with one another is to be treasured above being right, and is a goal worth sacrificing our own thrones and soapboxes for.  Does that mean we sacrifice truth and the fight for what is right and just?  Absolutely not.  But I do think we can stand for what we believe in and for a better world/more equality while treating our fellow man with dignity and respect, and not adding injury to insult.

Sometimes the brokenness of the world sits on us like lead.  It sits so heavy.  At times if I’m honest, I want to shield myself from all the hurt and ugliness, maybe even from my own complicity.  My hands are full of dishes, wiping snotty noses, throwing in the next load of laundry, pulling together the next meal, nursing the baby, teaching the next school lesson.  I am hidden away in my home raising little people — what can I possibly do?  I am reminded: I can pray.  We can pray — with the confidence that our prayers mixed with faith are able to move mountains.  Things that seems impossible, fixed, overwhelming, insurmountable — God is able to level them.  Conversely, when we feel like the very ground beneath our feet is shifting and the world around us rages, we can turn to God, our refuge + strength, a very present help in trouble who tells us not to fear even when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea (Ps. 46).  He makes wars cease, He breaks the bow, shatters the spear and burns the war chariots with fire (Ps. 46:9).  We are destined for a kingdom where peace will reign.

And then the familiar and eternally comforting words of Romans 8:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:18-27)

He is interceding for us continually, He is working while we sleep, working in spite of and even though our weakness.  Let us take heart and trust Him to move the mountains while we sow the small seeds of hope and faith in prayer.  And if we have opportunity to take great steps, then by all means, let us take them!

How has January been for you?  Whoever you are reading along here today, I hope you know you are welcomed in this space.  Thank you for reading my rambling thoughts, however imperfect they may be.

xo

setbacks

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It’s been hot here this week, at least in my opinion.  I’m a big baby when it comes to heat.  We’re keeping a little kiddie pool filled on our porch for the kids to play in and cool off, which they often swim in in their undies and then run around the yard like little wild indians.  We try not to appear too white-trash but sometimes you do what you must to keep kids outdoors and away from screens while it’s hot and humid.

June has been sort of up and down.  My brother and his new bride came for a visit early in the month after their honeymoon to Iceland, and we had a blast soaking up as much time with them as we could during that weekend.  Phoebe is quite attached to her new auntie.

I took Phoebe for a weigh-in recently and found she had lost a little more weight and her BMI has dropped again from 7% to 4%.  I know overall since her diagnosis we have seen her gain about 5 pounds and gain a few inches in height, but the fact that she keeps gaining and losing and not having the kind of “catch-up” recovery that the research suggests she should has me worried.  We’ve been keeping a food journal the last week and going over her caloric intake with her nutritionist and she believes we should try and get another 400 calories per day into Phoebe.  That’s NO SMALL FEAT, I tell you.  It’s hard not to be discouraged and to feel like we are facing impossibilities.  It’s hard to not grow weary in this work and throw my hands up in frustration.  But sometimes you go on simply because you just have no other option.  This is the hand that has been given us, and this is the work the Lord has given in this season.  It makes me fall on my face a lot, yet I can see so much good in it all, even though I find my soul complaining often.  Some days are good and we feel strong and capable, other days the fear rages and the weariness threatens.  I have learned to be honest with the Lord and to just walk with Him in it all.  I cannot tell you what a comfort the Psalms have been to me in this season.  I am listening to them constantly on Sandra Maccracken’s new cd Psalms and also Shane and Shane’s Psalms, Vol. 2.  I’m reading them daily in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus.  I cannot tell you how often I don’t have words, yet the Psalms somehow impart them and pull the words out of my soul in prayer to God.  His Word is like oxygen to me.  We press on in hope and trust.

I’ve been helped by Sara Groves’ words in this video as she shares some about her struggle with depression and anxiety, specifically her question “What is the Gospel that saves me?”  When the anxiety builds, I come back to this.  What is the Gospel that saves me?  Health?  Ease?  A thriving child?  These things are legitimate longings of my heart, but will my soul survive if God doesn’t give these things?  At the end of the day, my hope isn’t in a certain result, it can’t be, because that is a frail hope.  At the end of the day, my hope must be in Jesus and the promise of a secure future with Him no matter what comes on this green earth, a future where He will finally heal all disease and right all wrongs.  I am beginning to understand Jonathon Edwards’ plea: “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.”  If I can shift my perspective, usually my view of the present changes and I am able to find my way through.

By the end of the summer if we haven’t seen considerable growth in Phoebe, our nutritionist is recommending we seek a second opinion by a pediatric celiac specialist, which will entail some travel to either Georgia, Boston, or Chicago.  Pray with me for growth?  And for wisdom and endurance in the journey.

In other random bits and pieces of news, I’ve been taking a few photos for my dad and husband’s building and remodeling company for their website and also to make a little extra income.  We were out snapping pictures of a gorgeous deck they built recently, and the kids were happy to see daddy and what he was working on.  I had to snip off my little Noah-man’s beautiful curls this morning.  He needed a bit less hair in all this summer heat, and I needed to see his eyes again.  I don’t do a terribly great job, but at least it’s free and he doesn’t mind my imperfect cuts.

I still love June, even with all of its ups and downs.

grief surprises

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Last week I went with a friend and all our kiddos at our local Nature Center.  It’s such a fun outing for the kids with a lot of space for them to run around and explore, a nice interruption to our usual Monday activities.  I think my friend and I both came pretty exhausted and spent, we didn’t cover much ground in terms of sharing updates or our hearts.  We just sat together and barked occasional directives at children.  It was simple, it was good.

*

When I got the phone call back in June of 2015 about Phoebe and her diagnosis with Celiacs disease, I was literally just getting the kids ready to walk about the door for my dad’s 60th birthday celebration.  I was supposed to pick up balloons and was hurrying to get the kids and myself dressed and ready in time for the 30 minute drive to nearby Black Mountain for the family gathering.  The nurse told me the diagnosis, and I could tell in her voice there was the sorrow of having to give bad news.  The words hit like a punch and then like a wave, washing back and forth over me again and again.  I wanted to cry but it was like everything inside me just froze and I had to press hold on it all so that we could go to my dad’s celebration.  There was a swirl of emotions, even excitement and joy because we finally had an answer that made sense.  After that, I never could really seem to get to the sorrow I felt.  Over the next few days, I went into “go mode,” immediately researching, placing holds on every book about celiacs at the library, visiting many different grocery stores in our area, cleaning out cabinets and getting rid of food, washing and replacing kitchen utensils.  There wasn’t time for anything else yet.  Tears came here and there, but never a good deep cry, never the feeling that I was able to “get” down to the buried emotion.  There was mostly anxiety and a tightness in my chest that just wouldn’t go away.

That was six months ago.

A few days ago I had a really difficult day at home with the children.  It was “one of those days” (all the mommas said amen), everything going wrong, with lots of yelling and failure, and it felt like a heavy hand just trying to push me down flat.  We stopped and prayed many times throughout the day, the children and I, but the heaviness just wouldn’t lift.  After the kids were in bed, Brandon and I were talking about it, I was crying, confessing, he was listening.  Then suddenly it was like something in my soul cracked wide open and it finally spilled out.  All the grieving.  All the fear, the terror, the exhaustion, the sorrow.  The sweet release.  The letting go.

See, grief is not something we manage.  It isn’t something we are in control of.  We want to hurry our souls through our pain — but it cannot be wrangled and managed as easily as our calendars or our laundry piles.

Grief surprises.  It lays dormant for all these passing days, then suddenly it breaks open over us and we are caught in the downpour.  We process it as it comes.  We are not in control here, we are carried on this journey.  The way of the heart is a mystery.  Grief cannot be packaged, hurried, tamed.  It can be silenced — but it will have its way, eventually.

Partially I think what triggered this surfacing of my grief is that most of Phoebe’s symptoms have stayed exactly the same, even with the gluten-free diet.  We are in conversation with her pediatrician and we will continue to pursue whatever options necessary to help her, but it has not been as easy or as simple as most of the books and doctors have implied.  A simple change in diet has not really made much difference at all, at least not yet.

It’s not spring yet.  We are still in a winter.  Others might think us silly for mourning so deeply something that, compared to other’s suffering and pain, is relatively minor.  I even think myself silly and frequently catch myself scolding my own soul.  But I am learning: grief cannot be controlled, managed, bossed around.  Silly or not, it must be acknowledged and allowed its time.

Our God knows.  He knows the way He has made each of us to work, He knows how sensitive we are, how slow or quick we are to process, how weak or strong.  He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when we do not.  That can make me angry, or it can be the greatest comfort.  When He seems to apply a pressure on me that is far greater than I can stand up under, when He carves a wide open space and leaves it empty — I want to be angry with Him, and sometimes I am.  But I also believe Him.  I believe that He knows best.  I believe His ways are higher.  I believe His plan is perfect.  I believe He is good, that He is light and in Him is no darkness.  I believe He loves me.  He loves me.

He loves you.

He is a safe place for our grief.  We can lay it all out before Him, piece by piece as it comes, and trust Him to carry us through it.  To show us why it hits so hard, why it hurts so much.  He is patient with us, suffering long with us.  He abounds in mercy and steadfast love toward us.  He goes with us, never retreating from our sorrow, never trying to hurry us on without bandaging each hemorrhaging part.  If we are really confident of His love for us — if we truly believe that nothing we can do can ever diminish His love for us, or increase His love for us — then we are free to come before Him in truth, without hiding.

It wasn’t coincidence, it couldn’t have been, that on Sunday as I worshipped with my church family, I held my Phoebe close as she stood on the chair next to me, singing out the words to the song “Oceans.”  The words took on new meaning, as I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture the Lord put on my heart for the year 2016.  I couldn’t help but think of the Scripture I had read just that morning only moments earlier in the car on the drive to church, the one I scribbled in my journal:

Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.

Psalm 69:15

I couldn’t help but think of the lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

What if the great and deep unknown He asks me to walk in isn’t some romantic call to overseas mission work, or women’s ministry, or a cute etsy shop business, or any other venture that I might find thrilling and appealing, but the hard, daily, and exhausting grind of learning how to feed my daughter, nurture her, and trust Him with her health even when it is terrifying and uncertain?  What if the place “where feet may fail and fear surrounds me” isn’t the wild poverty of Africa, as I once assumed it would be, but is the place of sickness and disease in my own home?  When I pray the prayer “take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,” what if He answers that by taking me through a deep grief?  When her growth is declining rather than improving after being on a gluten-free diet as a family for six months?

“When something breaks down or does not go as planned, we are given a glimpse of our great need.  Like a vast emptiness.  We pray for solutions, crying out for immediate help, but God desires to give us more.  To give something real.  Something we can see with our eyes and feel on our skin.”
(Christie Purifoy, Roots + Sky)

God sometimes carves open a wide yawning space within us and leaves it, seemingly, empty.  As if He is content to leave us aching, hollow, and groping.  We cry out for answers, we are hungry for His voice, we wonder how this can be the abundant life He promised us.

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace.  
For I am Yours, 
and You are mine.

If you are grieving a loss of any kind today, know that I’m praying for you. Spring is coming.  The seasons always ebb and flow, like the ocean waves coming and going on the shoreline.  A wide open space is hungry ground, open to receive seed.

Behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.

Song of Soloman 2:11-12

greater things

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Just a little glimpse into our week.  We’ve been home a lot, doing tasks around the house, staying in instead of facing the cold or rainy weather, doing crafts and reading books.  In reading Emily Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday last year (“last year” sounds weird to say, still), she talks about grounding ourselves in our present moments by keeping track of what fills our days.  She does this by keeping a list called “These are the days of..”  I’ve been finding myself mentally making a list, smiling over some moments, mourning others, and keenly aware that these days will soon fade into others.  These things that are so common to me right now I will pretty much completely forget in a few years time, the way that winter slowly gives way to spring, frost melting and crocus pushing up through soil.  These days so full of children, diapers, immediate felt needs, discipline, correction, training, tiptoeing in the early morning hours so as not to wake the baby, squeezing in tiny moments of prayer and scripture, etc.

These are the days of…
the kids banging on the window while they watch brandon leave for work
vacuuming around the toys
a never-ending laundry basket
morning snuggles
usually tidy but not always clean
philippa playing dress up in the laundry basket
noah says to me, “picture this” meaning, take a picture of this.
“adventures in odyssey” playing in the car

The year is two weeks underway, and already it is off to quite a start.  Brandon and I have spent some time looking ahead and have been totally overwhelmed with some of the needs and demands this year is going to present to us.  We are facing potentially one of our most challenging years yet financially.  We are not seeing the growth and healthy response to the gluten-free diet that we should be seeing from Phoebe and have more medical work ahead of us to figure out why.  We hope to buy our first home.  We may need a new car as Brandon’s well-loved car nears 300K miles.  We celebrate our 10th anniversary in May.  We have a family trip planned in the summer that we don’t want to miss.  We have some medical needs to deal with in 2016.  Our firstborn will start school in the fall.  And other things I can’t mention.

The only appropriate response we’ve been able to muster to all that is to come is prayer.  We have been totally brought to our knees in dependency and pleading with the Lord for wisdom, for guidance, for provision, for help.

I asked Phoebe the other night what she wanted to pray for and she said happily, “I want to ask God to give me everything I want.”  I thought to correct her at first, but then found myself nodding with understanding.  Isn’t that essentially what we’re doing when we pray?  In so many ways, we’re bringing our “wants” before God, asking Him to give us all the things we think we want and need.

“Keep us safe, Lord.  Keep us healthy.  Turn the children’s hearts to you.  Provide for our needs.  Work out this difficult situation.  Help us, Lord.  Bring justice.  Forgive us.  Forgive them.”

More than teaching her to be careful what she prays for, or to somehow imply that there is a right way to pray to God, I want to teach her to be real before Him and bring her whole heart before Him.  I want to teach her that it’s the safest place for all her honest emotions.  The place where she really can bare her soul, respectfully and honoring Him, of course, but with vulnerability + transparency.  Isn’t this what He urges us to do, to bring our requests before Him, to pour out our hearts to Him and to ask for what we need and want?  The beauty of children is their innocent asking, their constant and unabashed neediness.  Yet as we age, we learn that usually getting everything we want strangles the life right out of the soul.  We learn that we don’t really know what’s best for us, even though we think we do.  We learn we can safely ask God for anything in accordance with His will, and yet we surrender all our requests to the safety of His will, knowing that even a good request, even a godly desire might be refused because He is after greater things for us.

Maybe He is after greater things than a totally safe life.

Maybe He is after greater things than perfect health.

Maybe He is after greater things than all our needs met all the time.

Maybe He is after greater things.

In our neediness, in our brokenness, in our failure, in our struggle, in our emptiness, in our loneliness–isn’t this where we grope for Him?  Where we are are most reminded of our dependency?

I read this scripture the other day in Proverbs and felt like I finally understood it.

No ill befalls the righteous,
but the wicked are filled with trouble.  (Prov. 12:21)

Really?  No ill befalls the righteous?  My life is full of ill!

Maybe the same things/events/circumstances happen to both those who follow God and those who don’t.  Maybe the difference isn’t in what occurs, but the way each responds to it.  Maybe all that the enemy plans for my harm, destruction, and discouragement, the Lord uses to drive me deeper into Him.  Maybe what could derail me instead deepens me in Christ Jesus.  Maybe that’s how whatever could be called “ill” can somehow, in the mysterious ways of God, in the wisdom of God that seems like folly to man, can somehow be called “blessing.”

When I bent to pray over the New Year in the early morning dark all alone, when I pled for Him to give me direction over this year and when I sought Him for a word over it, He clearly whispered Psalm 93 in my spirit.  It speaks of waters rising, waters threatening to swallow up, to overflow, to drown.  And yet, it speaks of Him reigning supreme.  I believe He was wanting to tell me ahead of time what kind of year I can expect to have.  I believe some things are going to come in this year that will make me feel totally out of breath, totally surrounded.  (We are two weeks in and already feeling it.)  He has spoken so much comfort and strength to me through the Scriptures.  And this is the beauty of following Him, this is the beauty of knowing Him: He promises to go with me, to go before me, to carry me, to comfort me, to strengthen and establish me.  He promises that nothing can come to me that He will not work for my good.  He promises that in the end, not even death can separate me from Him.  For the child of God, nothing is empty, nothing is meaningless, nothing is not ripe with blessing and fruitfulness, if we are willing to receive it, if we are willing to be open to it.  The blessed life is not always the feel-good life.  But what is my good?  My good is to be near Him.  To behold His beauty.  To experience the power of His presence.  To hear His voice.  Sometimes the hardest of circumstances, the most desperate of times, the greatest of griefs are what it will take for me to experience Him the most deeply.  He is faithful.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.

(Isaiah 43:2)

for the fearful + trembling ones

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“The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty;
The Lord is robed, He has put on strength as His belt.
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
Mightier than the waves of the sea,
The Lord on high is mighty!

Your decrees are very trustworthy;
Holiness befits Your house,
O Lord, forevermore.”

Psalm 93

This is how I enter a New Year.  This, Psalm 93, is the word that breaks out over it.  If I’m honest, I often begin a new year fearful.  Maybe that’s something that will change one day, maybe it’s changing right now.  The reality is, it’s the honest truth of my heart.  He knows it anyway, I might as well be honest.  He receives me, even in my frailty and insecurity.

I look back over the past year and I can’t believe the trials that were faced, the things that hit us that we could never have seen coming.  And I fear, what is ahead?  I know that no one gets through life unscathed, no one gets through a year unscathed by hardship of some kind.  I know pain is on its way to me.  Loss.  Difficulty.  And yet, joy is on its way to me, too.  Good things are coming.  Great joys are coming!  We end the year singing hymns of peace on earth + good tidings of great joy, and yet I start the year feeling like the floods are threatening to rise up, they lift their voice and demand to be heard.  But over it all, He reigns.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!

No matter what comes, no matter what threatens to come, this is the ground beneath my feet:  the Lord reigns.

It is the wonderful thing about being under His rule: it is brim-full of promise.  He works all things together for my good.  His purpose will stand and no one can thwart it.  The good work He began in me He will bring to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  He will perfect that which concerns me.  All His promises to me are yes + amen in Jesus Christ.  He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He gives more grace. He will make me happy by what His hands have done.  All that He asks of me, His grace will provide.  No weapon formed against me will prosper.  That same power that raised Christ from the dead is now living in me.  Christ in me, the hope of glory, the greatest mystery of all.

“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed,
But My kindness shall not depart from you,
Nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,
Says the Lord, who has mercy on you.”
(Isaiah 54:10)

“God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
Though its waters roar and be troubled
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.

There is a river whose streams
Shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved,
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
(Psalm 46:1-7)

This is the answer to all of my anxieties: the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.  This is the antidote: the Lord reigns.

I don’t have to hold my world up.  I don’t have to hold Him on His throne–He establishes it, He is robed in strength + majesty.

Isn’t it, in a world gone mad, in a tumultuous world where bombings, terrorism, murder + rape, earthquakes + hurricanes, failing health, failing finances, failing relationships loom heavy– Isn’t it really the truth?

The world is established; it shall never be moved. (Ps. 93:1)

It feels wild and raging and out of control.  But His word says it really is somehow all in His hands.  The bedrock beneath all of our quaking and heaving is still the same: His purposes are fixed, they shall never be moved, not even a fraction of an inch by the sinfulness and instability of man and the fallenness of the created order.  When it feels senseless, I must remember: It is all ordered by purpose.

So maybe I’m the only one who quakes a bit at the start of a new year.  Maybe I’m the only distrusting and fearful child of His that looks back over the last year and sees all the hardship that came and sometimes forgets how His grace saw me through it all.  Maybe I’m the only one who felt a bit bowled over by some things that came in 2015.  Maybe I’m the only one who feels the enemy of my soul breathing threats and lies at the back of my neck.  But I doubt it.  For anyone else who quakes a bit at the verge of a new year, for anyone else who feels like they’re standing on shaking ground, for anyone else who is staring certain hardship right in the face:

He is our constant source of stability (Isa. 33:6).  

The Lord of hosts is with us.  The Immanuel of Christmas, the one who came to be with us as one of us, goes into this new year with us.  He goes before.  His hand is upon us.  He is our rearguard.

Yes, the Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

So for you and I, the trembling ones, the quaking and sometimes-unbelieving ones:

May we know in 2016 that His throne is established, that we are His people, that He will establish us, that He will carry us, that His grace will see us through.  May He be the security of our times.

kingdom come

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The kids are napping, it’s raining (again!) and so I’ve made a hot cozy drink, pulled on my long woolen socks and sitting here in the quiet.  I’m entering that deeply pensive end-of-year state that I go into every year around this time.  This whole month has been so busy, I haven’t sat down to write hardly at all and my soul feels a bit like the ground outside.. so full and saturated with water from all this endless rain, and needing a run-off.

I spent the morning packing away all the Christmas decorations, making all the spaces seem quiet and empty.  All is tidy now, but I can’t bear to put away the tree + the last strand of twinkle lights.  I hate this part of it, the part where it’s over and now all the green and red seems obtuse and I feel sad that it’s done for another year.  I crave the clean and empty space again, ordinary life again, but the holidays really are magical and holy and happy and so chock full of celebration that ‘ordinary’ feels strange and empty at first.  Will there be any more magic to be had in our ordinary moments, our Mondays in January, where we get back to real life and attend to our lists and waistlines?

I’m prayerfully holding open hands these next couple of days, as we say goodbye to and tie up the very last strings around the year of 2015.  I’m asking the Lord to show me His work over the last year, to show me the state of my soul, to speak to me a word over the year 2016.  Ultimately our days are short, these years are flying by now, and I’m always left wondering if I’m living my days in such a way that count for the kingdom of God.  Reading in the Gospel of Luke this morning these words by Jesus:

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is! or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
(Luke 17:20-21)

In Jesus’ day, when He walked the earth, the kingdom of God was literally in their midst because He was in their midst.  Today, the kingdom of God is here because His Spirit is in the midst of us, His children.  His deposit, His guarantee, His Spirit, His life + breath in us.  Immanuel, God-with-us still with us and walking among us by His always-presence in us.

This has been my pondering over the last many months, the mystery of the kingdom of God.  The mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27).  This has been the mystery I can’t seem to explain or to shake: that His kingdom has come (upon His arrival on this terrestrial sod) and that His kingdom is still here and active in our midst because His Spirit is in us and accomplishes His redemptive work through us, and that His kingdom is still yet to come fully, awaiting His final return.  This could be the thing that gives meaning to all our moments, all our days.  This could be the magic that we find in our Mondays in January, in our ordinary moments that feel empty and unholy and unnoticeable.  This is the way of the kingdom, to come like mustard seeds and leaven, like a pearl of great price and treasure hidden in a field (Matt. 13).  This is the way of the kingdom, treasures hidden in the small, the overlooked, the everyday.

Maybe this prayer to reign supreme over 2016: Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

 

 

When Your Faith Survives

The house is quiet.  Oh, glorious quiet.  The first hints of light are streaking across the sky, the earliest birds beginning their song.  Bleary-eyed, I try to gather my wits, my scattered thoughts.  I try to focus my mind on the words I’m reading instead of letting them run in and out of my brain like a stream of water while I keep fretting over the days’ concerns.

I hear the faint creak of their door open, the hushed padding of feet over the floor.  She always runs when she turns the corner and sees me in that chair, sucking her fingers, hair wild in every direction.  Warm legs as soft as silk, long and scrawny, slide under the blanket next to mine.  We sit there like that for a long time, me reading quietly (or aloud if she asks) and sipping coffee slow, her sucking fingers and cozied up, skin warming skin.

It’s one of my favorite times of the day, I think it is hers, too.

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When I held her for the first time 4 1/2 years ago, my heart burst wide open in love.  I know I’ve probably always struggled with fear, but a whole new world of fear opened up to me when I held that impossibly tiny, wrinkly warm little bundle.  This kind of love–it’s painful.  To love this much is be wide open to a world of unknown hurts.

We had perplexing growth/feeding issues with her from the start.  She always seemed okay, never titled “failure to thrive,” but never really thriving either.  Since she was my first, I figured a lot of it was normal.  Still, the niggling fear that something could be wrong, that something wasn’t quite right kept nagging me.  We pursued every medical option that could have been a possibility, never finding anything.  I would push the feeling down.

In the dark of night, fears would loom heavy.  Please don’t allow any harm to come to her, Lord.  Please keep her healthy, help her to grow.  Please help her to eat, to have an appetite.  (It’s funny how in parenting, you have no idea the battles you will face.  Never did I expect to pray so much over a child to eat and have an appetite and to grow.)  The desperate and anxious prayers of a mother over her child would roll over and over in my mind as I would try to quell them and get back to sleep.

The feeling that something wasn’t right has never really gone away.  My second and third born children have not had any similarities to her eating/vomiting/growth issues.  Finally, at her 4 year check-up, we pursued some testing again.

It’s been a little over two weeks since we received her diagnosis:  Celiacs disease.  Finally it all makes sense.  Relief flooded in at the same time as a whole new level of fear.  I hung up the phone after receiving the phone call and my fingers flipped through pages desperate:

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Sure, in our day, we hear a lot about Celiacs, and the gluten-free diet is a current fad diet.  But to hear that my “perfect” little girl has an autoimmune disease–it shook me.  That trippy weird slow-realization that falls over you that nothing will ever quite be the same again.  A new normal will be found, but life as you knew it is over.  Part of me wanted to tell myself I was being a big baby.  This is awesome news, this is SO MUCH better than it could have been, there is so much to be thankful for.  And all of that is true!  Still, we are not ever helped when we push down our true feelings and scold ourselves for feeling that way.  No, we are to run to the mercy seat with those feelings.  We run to our God, who is a refuge for us and who urges us to come and pour out our hearts to Him, cast all our cares on Him, find mercy + grace in our time of need.  We let ourselves feel what we are really feeling about this news/trial/difficulty and we tell Him.  We pour it out in the safety of His company, the privacy of His all-knowing, already-knowing presence.  We let Him get to our hearts, tend to them.  If we don’t do this from the beginning, I think we risk hardening our hearts, cutting them off, and that is ripe ground for the seeds of apathy + bitterness to grow.

So when I was honest with myself, I felt betrayed.  We had prayed and prayed that God would work in her body, heal her body.  We had pursued multiple tests over the years.  We had fought the issue when friends + family were all saying to let it go, that she was fine, just quirky.

What do you do when God allows the thing you have plead with Him never to do?  

What do you do with that?

A few days after the diagnosis, we were driving in the quiet rain on our way to church.  A flood of words came to me, and I scribbled them as fast as I could into my journal:

Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us is the gift of betraying us.  The gift of the bad news.  The unsettling, scary diagnosis.  Because when our faith survives what we thought our souls could never survive–that is a gift worth more than gold.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  (James 1:2-4)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

We are afraid of deep waters, resistant, and of course we would be.  But our God is a perfect parent–our parent who is more about perfecting us than pampering us.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.  (Isaiah 43:2)

He will at various times in our lives lead us through deep waters.  How else can He teach us, how else can He allow us to experience His everlasting arms underneath that keep us afloat?

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.  (Deuteronomy 33:27)

We resist the fiery trial–but it is only in the fire that our faith is really tested, proved, purified.  It’s only when we come through the fire that we can know: this ground we stand on is solid.  Real.  Firm.  Unshakeable.  The mountains may move and tremble; He remains the same.

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

We cannot hope to be unaffected by the brokenness of this world.  We cannot expect not to suffer as His children the same afflictions and hardships common to man.

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:45)

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

But He will carry us.  He will not change.  He is good, unfailing.

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Look at Christ:  what hand did His Father deal Him?  He was perfect, sinless.  Yet He had nowhere to lay His head.  He obeyed perfectly, was perfectly upright; yet He was despised, rejected by men.  The very ones He created, the ones He came to rescue hated + betrayed Him, cried out for His blood.  He plead with His Father to deny Him the cross, to take away that cup, but the Father did not.  And Jesus surrendered to His Father’s will.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)

Let’s not measure His love for us by the hand He deals us.  Let’s measure His (immeasurable) love for us in the way He gives Himself to us unfailingly, continually–the way He remains with us.  The way He carries us.  The way He gives more grace.  The way He gives us JESUS–and all the rich inheritance of promises found in Him.

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

No matter what comes–our lives are hidden in Christ.  Our future is secure.  And it strikes me: this is the bi-focus of the Christian faith.  What are bifocals?  A pair of glasses containing lenses with two parts with different focal lengths.  Our focus in the Christian life must always be bi-focal: at once seeing the present and also looking beyond the present, through it really, to the future.  Let us look to our eternal future, our future grace and find strength in this moment of need.

“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
And to know, ‘Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, How I trust Him
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus precious Jesus
Oh for grace to trust Him more.