Friday, April 29, 2016

Abundance

...when it gets dark, and things look a bit hopeless, Lord, 
You lift our chins to look up at the stars, 
and whisper that no matter what's happened, what feels like burned up ashes today, You are redeeming it, You will redeem it, redemption will rise. 
Redemption is the papery ash that’s falling, 
turning, and uplifting, as sparks of pure glory...a bit like stars in the middle of the dark...
Ashes are never the last line of any of God stories.
Abundance is. - Ann Voscamp


Today marks an anniversary that's difficult to reflect upon. Five years ago fire destroyed the house I had once called home. What most people didn't realize at the time was my son and I had already been living out of the home for more than a year. It was one of the lowest points I can recall, questioning what was next, feeling helpless and hopeless and out of control of the pieces of a shattered life that I couldn't figure put back together. All of that was prior to the fire. 

Nothing prepares you for a tragedy like this. But nothing comes close to comparing the ways God reveals Himself in such times. I can look back at the days surrounding this event and recognize the abundant blessings God provided, the ways He miraculously allowed me to sense His presence, how He used hundreds of people to reach out and meet needs and provide in overwhelming abundance. 

I've seen the paper ash of redemption fall and turn into sparks of pure glory. I've witnessed the blazing fire of destruction reveal the refinement of tears into pure joy. What abundance looks like to me is an overwhelming supply of redemption freely given in the midst of heartache, tragedy and loss. It defines you. These are the places we build altars and cry out to God in praise and thanksgiving because He is faithful no matter what. 

What I need you to hear is that house fire was a turning point but more importantly it was a defining point. It was a moment I can claim in full assurance of faith that God, my God, is bigger, stronger, and victorious over whatever we may face. I stand here before you to proclaim His goodness, grace and mercy, knowing that when you're staring down the face of tragedy, crisis, uncertainty and pain, God is altogether working it out for your good. When it looks and feels absolutely hopeless, no matter what He is redeeming it. Ashes are not the end of my story. Abundance is.  



 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Answered Prayer

Here it is. Here is where I build the altar of remembrance and give thanks for what the Lord has done.

I told you earlier this week of the walls we were scaling. Claiming in faith that they would come crashing down. How can I keep from singing His praise when God has proven Himself mighty and victorious, able to conquer even the highest, most impenetrable wall?! Praise You, Lord!

This week has been filled, I mean FULL, of challenges. You know what I know about the Enemy has proven true. His fiery darts have been aimed this direction all week. A deathly ill child, a teething baby also going through a growth spurt, work obligations, church commitments, bible study, schedules having to be rearranged, and the list goes on and on. He was bound and determined to throw obstacle after barrier after stumbling block my way in an effort to trip me up. You know what I know about God is even more true because to His credit alone I never fell except to fall straight into the arms of Jesus. I've landed there several times this week - falling at His feet claiming those walls in faith, falling on my knees with hands raised in praise to Him when I saw Him answer.

Faith is my belief that God is who He says He is and He will do what He says He can do. Faith requires my action to join with Him in what He's doing. He knows me so well. Because if I could do it all myself, I would certainly give myself all the credit and glory. Yet if I wasn't even able to bear witness to what He's doing I would fall short in taking an active part in what He's doing. Faith requires me to move forward, allowing me to be in the midst of the miracles He's working in my life.

This week my faith became sight. Faith that I will admit had grown dim at times. Prayers I have prayed for so long that I started to forget to believe they might actually be answered, let alone heard. This week God peeled back the curtain of doubt and allowed me to take a front row seat to His mighty display. He showed me He hasn't forgotten, He's heard every single prayer for 3 solid years and He had a plan the entire time. He proved to me that I was to be part of His plan.

I can look at this situation and identify one resounding theme. God never leaves us. He never forsakes us. But He also allows us to wait. Not to test our patience or our faith but to give us the opportunity to be part of the miracle. Here's what I realized. Had this answer come 3 years ago, it wouldn't have been near the victory. Had this answer come 3 years ago, I wouldn't have been so emotionally and spiritually invested. Had this been simple and quick, I wouldn't have had the privilege of waiting and believing in faith while I drew closer to Him over these last 3 years.

So here we are, three years later and I am writing this blog as a testimony that God is faithful! His ways are good. His works are mighty. And He never, ever fails.

I don't know what your wall looks like. I don't know how long you've prayed. I'm not sure where your faith stands right now. But I pray this will be an encouragement to you to know that God hears, He answers and He never fails.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Walls

Sunday was a worship experience unlike any given Sunday. You see last week our pastor presented us with the "Jericho Challenge." The Old Testament story is familiar to me, one I've read to my son a number of times. One I learned myself even as a child. The wandering in the wilderness was over - except the giant wall standing between God's Chosen People and their Promised Land. How could God have brought them all this way only to land them in front of an impossible, impenetrable wall? They had their very literal marching orders: March around the wall six days and say nothing. Just march. On the seventh day march around seven times and shout and blow their horns. They weren't supposed to fight, climb or knock it down. All they had to do was march then shout and the walls would come down. With very little effort on their part, actually. All it required was faith and obedience.

Our own Jericho challenge began with a week-long process to identify and pray against the walls in our lives that need to come down. Was it something preventing intimacy with the Lord? Maybe an obstacle or trial? A wall of impossibility? I took the challenge seriously because, being blatantly honest, we are facing some giant walls. Unscaleable in my opinion. But nothing God doesn't know about and already have a sovereign plan for. I prayed. I begged God - just like I have been doing for weeks, months. There's something about writing out your requests and your prayers. Making your prayers known before God in a way that you can visualize and recognize that nothing is impossible for Him. Knowing my God CAN make those walls fall. And on Sunday morning I stood with others claiming in faith and I prayed and shouted and asked God to TEAR DOWN THE WALLS.

You know what I know about the Enemy? He is real, lurking, seeking whom he may devour. He knows exactly where our weaknesses lie, the chinks in our armor where he can target us. He can't claim my soul but he can surely attack my spirit and knock me to the ground. If I'm not armed and ready, I may be rendered useless. You know what I know about God? He is good, faithful, just, merciful, loving, Sovereign. But over all this, over everything, He is victorious. The Enemy may be able to knock us down, cause discouragement, even seemingly defeat us - but we are more than conquerors through Christ. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave is the power available to us to defeat the Enemy and cause those walls to fall.

This isn't some Old Testament fairy tale. This is putting feet to our faith. Sure, I admit I thought the Baptist preacher had gone a little Pentecostal on us because this was definitely "out of the ordinary" for our semi-conservative-somewhat-contemporary church. It was certainly a deviation from our traditional service. But it was also Spirit-filled and Spirit-lead and spiritually uplifting to publicly stand and claim in faith that we were asking God to bring the walls crashing down. In this case I was being asked to do the unthinkable. It had nothing to do with how uncomfortable I may have been to shout in church. It had everything to do with surrendering control. Relinquishing the fact that God wasn't asking for my action or involvement. He was simply commanding me to obey, trust and believe.

I stand here today and cannot tell you that I've now successfully taken possession of my Promised Land. But I can stand here today and tell you that what feels impossible has now been proven to be something God is working out for my good. The walls that have seemed impenetrable are literally falling down around me as I watch in wonder at how God is working. The rubble around me could seem like a mess but these are the stones from which I'll build an altar of remembrance to honor the way my Almighty Sovereign God has been at work. What I realized on Sunday is that the God of the Old Testament Jericho walls is the same God of my very present time of need. Today I will stand on the rooftops and shout out my praise to Him! My good, deserving, Sovereign, wall-crushing God!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Faithful

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God You are faithful

I could barely sing the words today. There's not enough blog space to capture all the ways God has shown His faithfulness to me. When I was unfaithful. When I was faithless. When I could barely muster up hope to make it through another day. And today I stood before my church to proclaim that never once, not during any of the deepest darkest pits, never in the barrenness or emptiness, not in the loneliness or brokenness, never once did He ever leave me on my own. With hands raised to Him I testified that never once did I walk alone. Not during any of the tests or trials, not across any of the roughest terrain I could ever traverse. He was there, right there, being my faithful loving God through it all. 

Did you hear me? I stand before you to proclaim His faithfulness. Yes, I admit I say this in what may appear a mountaintop season. But I assure you, we are in the middle of a season filled with unexpected outcomes and unpredictable change. There's still much to be discovered and determined and things unfolding that I am not in control of. And it is in this season of uncertainty when I stood on stage with tears in my eyes barely able to utter a note yet breathing out His praise because I know my God is faithful. I know even this isn't too much for Him. Even this He has covered. Even this is in His control. Even this. Praise You, faithful God!

I don't know what season you're in. I don't know what you're facing. I don't know if you're wondering how God could ever redeem any of this or if you're proclaiming His goodness because of the mighty work He's done. Wherever you find yourself, I pray you can know and trust His faithful love and promise. He is faithful. Faithful to complete the work He's begun in each of us. Faithful to direct our paths. Faithful to redeem our lives. Faithful to restore what the locusts have destroyed. Faithful to never leave His children. Faithful to be our shield and defense, our strength and our Rock. Never once should we lose faith because He is Faithful God! 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Wired

It was bedtime. The dreaded bedtime. I'm not sure how it plays out at your house but in ours it is a constant struggle. If you've heard one, you've heard every excuse.

"I need a drink." We provide a bottle of water by the bed.

"I'm hungry." There is a bedtime snack every night.

"I need to use the bathroom." You just went.

"I'm scared about______." (Fill in the blank, it could be any given reason on any given night.) We will pray about it.

"I had a bad dream." You haven't even been asleep yet to dream...

And the list goes on...

It often ends in tears. For us both. Because let's be honest, by this point the day had been full of trials and frustrations and I was more than ready for bed. I can't quite figure out why it's such a fight, but for us, in our house, it's much more than stall tactics. Often it's about control. And even more times than not, it's something more.

"Just be still," I said calmly as I softly rubbed his back. "Calm your body. Rest." I could tell he was trying but still wired. 

"Mom, my body is calm. My heart is calm. It's my brain! Everything is just jumbled up in my brain," he said through tears. Now my own tears were falling but not out of frustration. Out of pure sympathy because I knew this wasn't an excuse. This was real. 

It's not like I haven't laid there, frustrated, body exhausted but my racing mind preventing me from sleep. I knew it was more than an excuse tonight. The day had been long and difficult. I pray often for the Lord to help me understand the way this buzzing mind works, so different from my own, and here it was right before me. A glimpse into his world, his "jumbled up brain" that often gets in his own way. The creativity is unmatched. The ingenuity is apparent. There's undeniable gifts and talent and wit. Yet jumbled in among all this possibility is an amount of chaos that I can't begin to explain or understand. And often, neither can he. It's part of who he is and while there may not even be a definition or label for it, there is no mistaking its prevalence in his life and how it affects the world around him.

Talk about issues of control. I can't control him or his behavior and it's all I can do to control my own reactions. It causes me to lose my cool. I get so frustrated I can't see straight. Which makes me realize in my own frustration how he must feel in those quiet, calm moments when he acknowledges, "I'm different from everybody else." No, you can't visibly see differences but observe for a few minutes and then you'll notice. We're not talking about a hyperactive boy. This isn't being unruly or undisciplined. Although the cashier in Target seemed to think it was and gave me quite an earful about how I need to get control of him. I bit my tongue. The defiance is a struggle but not just because he's allowed to act this way. It's a diagnosis I have trouble wrapping my own brain around - let alone trying to get inside his and begin to understand.

Thank you, ma'am. I'll take my purchases and my out-of-control son and we'll be on our way. I will discipline him like a maniac because of how embarrassed I was in public then apologize to him through my own repentant tears because I can't help that he can't help it. I will struggle to determine if its disobedience or a malfunction in my parenting. I will pray to God for more wisdom and understanding - not to figure out his jumbled up brain but to be able to reach his heart and not break his spirit in the process.

He's wired differently than me. Not because he's adopted. Not because he's not parented or loved. It's his God-given design. It doesn't make it wrong or bad. It can be, at times, difficult and challenging. Baffling and frustrating. It can also be witty and smart, ingenious and brilliant. Just last week he figured out a contraption to shade the sun from his sister in her bouncy seat that I stared in amazement at wondering how on earth he even thought to do it. He's not just wired and bouncing off the walls, he's wired for life, for creativity, for heart-melting moments of adoration and love towards his sister, for his attempts to be accepted and act like everyone else when he was created to be uniquely him.

It's April and it's Autism Awareness month and I hold a special place in my heart for those parents I know deal with struggles and challenges I can't even begin to understand. This hasn't been our world even though we're staring down assessments and testing and results to help us figure out exactly what all this may "be." The reality is it doesn't take a psychologist or diagnosis to tell me what I already know. I have been gifted this amazing boy whom I love as fiercely as I fight for him. I fight for him to be understood, to be loved, to be accepted despite his differences but more than all this, I fight for him to be the person God sovereignly created him to be. The only label that becomes necessary is simply that, child of God. That's my boy. My amazing boy.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Pretty Princess

It was a party fit for a princess. The little girls came dressed in their princess crowns and dress up dresses. There was Anna, Belle and the birthday girl, Rapunzel, of course. This is a girl who prefers comfort over fashion, at least for now. She would much rather wear leggings than a dress to church and for years she protested having her nails painted. But this day was different. This was her birthday party and she wanted it to be special. She wanted to be special.  Now I was helping my niece put on her shiny pink and purple princess gown for her birthday. She wanted to be the bell of the ball and indeed she would be. She didn't want her hair braided. She wanted it down, long, just like Rapunzel's. She would be the embodiment of the princess she adored. 

I brushed her hair and had a twinge of excitement and nervousness at the thought of one day doing my own daughter's hair. "All this princess stuff is new to me," I told her. "I've been throwing dinosaur parties for a long time. Now I'll have to get used to girl things." She smiled and nodded, oh so princess proper, and encouraged me, "Violet won't want dinosaurs. Maybe she will like Rapunzel like me." Maybe. 


One thing is certain. I have no doubt my little girl will don her fair share of princess dresses and tiaras. As a daughter, as a girl, there's a certain femininity created in her being. She will seek to be desired, loved, adored, admired. She will wonder, just like every female, Will she be noticed? Will someone recognize her beauty? 

the king is enthralled with your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord... The bride, a princess, looks glorious in her golden gown. In her beautiful robes, she is led to the king, accompanied by her bridesmaids. What a joyful and enthusiastic procession as they enter the king’s palace!

Psalm 45:11,13-15


It's right there! In God-breathed scriptures. His word speaks of the adornment, the beauty, the adoration. It's inside each of us to be loved, adored and noticed. Some girls prefer tennis shoes over heels and that's ok, but I haven't met a woman yet who doesn't desire to know her worth. We were created in His image, chosen, royalty. So we put on our princess dresses, don tiaras and pay careful attention to the details - the way we would for our wedding day. Surely that is the day all eyes are on us as the bride - the gown, the crown, the details. Her groom waits for her. He notices her. His eyes are locked in on her beauty. Just like its described in this passage. The God who created us also knows us inside and out. He sees our worth. He knows who we are at our core because He Himself  breathed life into our being. He planned our days and adores each one of us for who we are. On our best days and worst days. When we're dressed up in our finest or lounging in comfort. 

Claim your royal heritage. You have a right to it as His child. Enjoy the privileges of royalty and know that He loves and adores you - even in your comfy pants! 

This is dedicated to my beautiful niece Autumn on her 5th birthday! You are truly a princess! 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

that's My Boy

It was just a trip to the dentist. After a long day at school. How can you ask a hyper active boy to sit still to get his teeth cleaned after he sat for 7 hours in school?! Clearly this wasn't well planned. But I digress. Because there we were at the dentist, which to a curious boy is a world of wonder. "What's this? What about that? Are you going to use this?" Every single instrument. Every single contraption. He met Mr. Thirsty, the suction that drinks the water from the hose "that's like a fire hydrant." At one point he kicked his shoes off and propped his feet on the arm of the overhead light. Yes he did. The sweet, gentle hygienist- heaven help her. "Just a few more sweetie. I've got to get all your teeth honey." And then he called her out "But aren't you doing ALLLL my teeth? Then you lied because you said just a few more." He wanted to know what was next. He needed to touch and understand each instrument being used. 

My nerves were nearly shot. "Don't touch that. Stop moving. Stay still. Open your mouth. Don't talk. Keep your hands down." Then the baby started fussing. Oh yes. She wanted to eat. Of course she did. 

I guess I looked as stressed as I felt because another hygienist came over to check on me. "He sure is active, isn't he? He just can't sit still." The observation didn't amuse me, nor did it strike up a conversation because I was over the whole thing. 

It was just a trip to the dentist. And I sat there thinking how something as simple as this becomes an ordeal. Some of you won't get it. Some won't understand at all. Some will think I'm just complaining. I'm not. But some things are just hard. 

See that square peg? That's my boy. My amazingly talented, wonderfully creative, super inquisitive, desperately strong willed, tender hearted boy. See that round hole? Well, that's where society wants to put him. And the reality? Well, you know how it goes. It just won't fit. And you know what?! I'm more than okay with it! 

I get it. I understand the expectation. I get the nature of the beast. The standardized everything that supposedly measures ability. The truth is it doesn't account for the natural inclination of the mere fact that God made each and every one of us unique in His own image. He didn't use a standardized anything. He used Himself so the only measure for success in my mind should be whether or not one's heart is after God's. 

You've heard all the impossibilities of the bible stories of old. Moses stuttered. David was a runt. Joseph was despised by his brothers. Mary was an unwed teenager. John the Baptist was homeless. Paul was a murderer. Jesus Himself was not of this world in a blended family and considered a liar and probably crazy. 

So please, for the actual love of God, don't tell me what my son can't do. Let me show you how great he is at creating something out of nothing. Take a moment to explore a mind that sees things for what they can be. What looks like trash to you (and me) is a piece of something that I promise you he will make great. 

This isn't about labels or disabilities. This is about the hands of God who formed him in utter seclusion and planned each moment of his life. Even a fateful trip to the dentist. This is about the fact that God Himself chose to bless him with such uniqueness that all of us who know and love him stand back and marvel with expectation because we just can't wait to see what he will one day do with all this ingenuity and energy. The hard days don't come without hopeful anticipation of that one day when the things that make him "different" will finally be recognized as what makes him so great. 

I know not everyone gets it. And I know some even consider his lack of falling in order as some great parental flaw. I got some of those looks today. Believe me, I've asked myself the same. Have I somehow done something wrong? Should I be doing something differently? My mind doesn't work like his and as frustrated as that can make me, I have to stop and wonder how much more frustrated he must be in his own skin when he can't communicate to all of us "normal" people how he sees and does things unlike me. He teaches me everyday. And he keeps me on my knees. But as many prayers as I pray over him each day, the most important is that he will become the person God created him to be. I don't want him to fit into a space he doesn't belong. I want him to be comfortable enough to kick his shoes off and prop his feet up and be himself. His wonderful, creative, active self. That's my boy.