Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Where was God?

You don't have to live in Southwest Virginia to have heard the tragic news. To some across the country, this is another senseless shooting. I may have been too quick to dismiss other like stories that have made national headlines, but this one hits close to home. Literally.

You've heard me say it so many times before. But now I need to make a declaration that doesn't apply to something personally happening to me. It's something affecting so many. I need to share how even now, even in the midst of this reckless and ignorant violence, God is still good. 

I had to make myself stop reading some of the comments posted by viewers and naysayers. So many feelings and thoughts, so many questions. What saddened me were the ones misunderstanding a belief in God. The ones who think God planned this. Those who accused God of this being His will. Those mistakenly not understanding God's role in the midst of such a Tragedy.

Let me explain. God didn't plan this. He didn't want this. He didn't cause it. He did allow it. Why, It's reasonable to ask. We may never know. But Him allowing this, meaning He Himself not stopping it or sending someone to stop it, doesn't take away His Sovereignty or the goodness of Who He is. His role in this, in the midst of heartache, confusion, tragedy and chaos is still God. We can't expect those without faith in Him to understand. It's naturally human to question and even blame Him. But He hasn't stopped being God, or good, no matter how great the tragedy. 

He gives peace in the midst of the storm. His peace transcends all our human understanding. His presence brings us rest. We are protected under His wing. So where was the protection for the innocent lives lost today? Did He disappear? Take it away? Not love them as much? His will is for no one to perish. But that means He doesn't want anyone to die without knowing Him because this life isn't what we were created for. We are created for Him. His glory. Eternity with Him. 

What happened is yet another example of a fallen, depraved, sinful world in desperate need of being saved. But here's the good news. Our Savior already died for you. For me. For every single person who will admit they need a Savior and exchange a sinful life for eternal life. It's a promise. It's truth. And it's for every single one of us. 

Where was God? He was there. Watching as lives He created were taken by the hand of another. Grieved by the corruption surrounding the events. Heartbroken over families hurting. He was not surprised or caught of guard. Don't mistake this for it being His will or what He wanted. I tend to think about all the people and incidents He must have sent to try to change a hardened heart. And how He must be even more grieved that all those attempts were ignored and neglected because of the free will He's given each of us to choose. And choose we must. He's asking us to choose Him. To choose His gift of life. Not the temporary life that we strive for here on earth but the eternal life He's created us for. The life with no more tears, no more pain and no more grief or tragedy. 

He's here, even in the midst of such confusing tragedy. He brings comfort even when we don't understand. He offers peace when chaos abounds. He's still God. He's still a good God, despite the fallen state of the humanity He's created. As we mourn, as we grapple to make sense of such circumstances, God is there. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Transparent

Transparent. At least that's what has been said of me today. I'm honored by this tribute but I feel as if I owe you all a complete and transparent explanation.

There I was Saturday night, 27 weeks and 6 days pregnant, staring down the third and final trimester as if it was about to knock me square between the eyes. A wave of emotions flooded me, but mostly the fear took over. "I can't do it," I sobbed to my husband. "This baby has to come out and I don't think I'm strong enough."

Never mind the fact that I had been absorbed in labor and delivery documentaries, reading and researching, spending my "unwind" time before bed engrossed in other people's sagas of their own birthing process. I saw it all. The good, the bad, the "oh my word" and the very ugly. "No more documentaries," my kind and patient husband encouraged. "You're going to be fine and I'm going to be right by your side." I feel confident that most pregnant women have had this rock and hard place hurdle they must overcome. (Don't tell me if you haven't - I'm genuinely only looking for sympathy and encouragement on this one!)

Then Sunday rolled around. An exceptionally spirit-filled service watching our children give testimonies of how God had worked in their lives at summer camp, followed by bed time emotions the night before the first day of school. We'd had some challenging moments, moments that left me stumped as a parent. Then it hit me all over again. I couldn't hold back the uncontrollable tears, feeling like a failure as a mother and praying for God to put people in his life who will love and understand him. "If I can't figure him out, how will others?" I sobbed again to my ever-listening husband. Then God gave me that verse and the blog that helped me realize the One Who knows and understands and loves him more than anyone, even his mother, ever could. 

By this morning, the much-anticipated first day of school, you can only imagine that the emotions packed on top of the pregnancy hormones were at an all-time high. So when an external frustration caused a disruption and altered our schedule, along with presenting an unwanted conflict, it wreaked havoc on my already weary nerves. Because of the added stress, we forgot his backpack. On the first day of school! Mom of the year? Not likely. My boy was fine, an angel even, and he took it better than me. I tried to shield him from the frustrations and pull myself together so as not to disrupt HIM and ruin his day. I managed to pray with him and over him the best I could. "Lord, I don't even know what to ask except for You to be with him." 

I was ridiculously late for my 28 week check up and all-important glucose test because of how the morning had gotten deterred. I hadn't had time to be nervous but I certainly knew my blood pressure was through the roof. By the time the doctor came in I simply couldn't hold it together. I turned into a blubbering mess and could barely explain why. 

You need to understand, if I'm being transparent, I don't cry. Like crying is actually difficult for me. But apparently pregnancy has changed that! I'm learning to expect this new reality that I simply cannot control or contain my many changing emotions nor the flood of tears that so easily comes. 

I'm the midst of it all, God has been there. Calming me, bringing people to encourage me. At church yesterday someone told me she had been reading my blog and hadn't been to church in awhile but something I wrote, something she read, encouraged her to come to church. Yes, tears, and rightfully so! Praise God!! This morning an early message arrived telling me that verse I had written about, the one she's read so many times before, had so suddenly hit her and was exactly what she needed to read. Yes, me too!! Even today, this undeserved honor of reading how somehow something I did years ago was a blessing to someone else. It's humbling and inspiring all at the same time but don't miss this - this isn't about me! This is about GOD! How He intricately works in the details of our lives. How He uses our words, our actions, things we may never even realize, to bless and encourage others. And now He was using these things to encourage me. 

Today was a day that I needed to be encouraged. Today was a day I needed to be able to sit down in a booth with a friend and share my frustrations and vent. Today was a day that I needed to actually be told I was going to make it. And God graciously provided exactly what I needed. 

I'm happy to report I passed my glucose test, my gracious doctor calmed my fears about labor and delivery and assured me I can - and will - in fact be able to do this, and as for the first day of school, Eli's exact words were, "I had a great day! I didn't even have to be talked to." I'd call that success! 

The reality is I don't have it all together and since we're being transparent, I have days when I need more grace than I certainly deserve. I'm going to bed tonight with an overflowing heart, ever mindful of God's working in the details of our lives and His ability to provide for us exactly what we need when we need it. There may be tears but only over the reality of how simply good He is. And that is as transparent as I know to be.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

School Starts Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the day. His lunch is packed, breakfasts for the week are ready to go, the new dinosaur backpack is all set, along with his Minion shirt for the all-important (mom didn't get to pick this one) first day of school outfit choice. I'm reminiscent of this night 2 years ago when it was the night before Kindergarten. Now he's headed off to second grade and I truthfully can't understand how time has flown so quickly.

I know so many of you tucking in your kiddos tonight, making the same preparations for a jump start on the first day of school, and battling a bundle of nerves as you send off your little ones tomorrow. I have something to share with you because I have been (and admittedly still am) that mom. 

"Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:27

I know how often I've reminded my own self of its truth - how if the very hairs on my own head are numbered, He certainly is watching out for the details of my life. Yet tonight as I was helping my son towel dry his hair I realized the very same truth applies to him as well. How could I think that I, his mom, somehow know better than Father God who created and fashioned and formed him? The very hairs on his head are numbered, accounted for by Sovereign God, and once again I'm reminded to surrender this boy - my boy - to the very loving and so much more capable hands of the Almighty. 

Oh I know - don't I know - how absolutely difficult it is to surrender your child. Especially my boy, the one who doesn't fit into the box, doesn't conform to the mold and certainly makes life interesting and challenging all at the same time. It causes my maternal instincts to kick into overdrive recognizing he's usually the kid that others might simply not understand. I throw up my defenses and quickly jump to his rescue. And yet I must remember Psalm 139:16,  "Your eyes saw [his] unformed body; all the days ordained for [him] were written in your book before one of them came to be." [I've taken the liberty to personalize this over my son to make sure I remember!] He's watching over the details of his life, the very days He planned for him even before I knew he would be mine. 

So here's to you, mamas, the ones lingering a little longer at bedtime, sneaking in a few extra cuddles and kisses and savoring some precious lasting moments that you know you will cherish (I did the exact same thing even tonight). I know how you feel and I understand your emotions - and yet I encourage you with the unfailing fact that our God is big enough to take the very best care over each of our babies. I'm trusting Him with my boy and I'm praying for you and your little ones!


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Baby Bump

admit - there are times when I walk past a mirror and catch a glimpse of my growing and now prominent baby bump and have to do a double take. It truly catches me off guard. There are moments when I have to just laugh as the reality of the growing baby inside me reminds me of how we even got here. At 36 years young (no, I am not ashamed to admit it) I am one of the "older" soon-to-be mamas of a newborn (at least for our area). Most of the mom friends my age have pre-teens and middle schoolers. We live in an area where it all happens in your 20's...but when have I ever conformed to the "standard"?!

It's funny how my feelings toward baby bumps have come full circle in the last decade. It was in my own mid 20's when the maternal instinct started to kick in and sparked the desire to be a mother. I would see an expectant mom, many of them friends of mine starting their families, and smile sincerely with full expectation of that soon being me. 

Months turned into years and frustration and disappointment grew simultaneously alongside my desire to have a baby. Baby shower after birth announcement after Mother's Day came and went and I still remained empty armed and broken hearted. No longer could I see a baby bump, let alone a mother and baby, and not be anything but cynical and hurt. "Why God? Why can't it be me?" It was a silent, lonely battle and only God alone knew my heart's cry and saw my tears. 

Eventually I reached a place where I had to surrender my plans to whatever God had in store. I wasn't quite at the point where I could share their joy, but I no longer looked upon pregnant bellies and glowing faces with jealousy and hurt. I didn't have to grit my teeth and choke back tears every time I was asked "When are you going to have a baby?" I simply replied I did not know God's timing and offered no further explanation. 

Despite the evident joy I feel and the reality check I face when seeing my own growing baby bump, I'm consciously aware that I may be the cause of someone else's heartache. I know. I get it. I've been there. I've felt it. What I know to be true is that even though I have grieved hopes, dreams, plans and desires, I've also witnessed miracles, answers to prayer and God at work in ways I simply couldn't have controlled or predicted. Too many times I've been a part of a plan that I had no part in controlling except to be a mere vessel. 

need to explain something. I was never the woman who just had to be pregnant. I wanted to be a mother and I was at peace with however God chose to make that a reality for me. My adopted child is no less my child than this child I'm carrying. There's NO difference. Even Michael sees no difference between being a step-dad and a father to a child who shares his DNA. He's never skipped a beat with parenting and loving Elijah as his own (although this will be his first experience with a baby and he's still got to learn to change a diaper but I feel certain that will all quickly come)! God puts families together in a variety of ways, and it's also safe to say our somewhat unconventional family breaks a lot of stereotypes. 

I'm sharing all this to explain how this reality still sometimes catches me off guard - not just because of my growing belly but mostly because I simply have to stand in awe of God. When I think about His plan that He's been intricately weaving together all I can do is be amazed. Never could I have done this. Never could I have put this family together. It's a reminder of how out of control I truly am and how Sovereign He is over every single detail. Things don't always make sense and the good Lord knows I've tried my hardest (failing miserably) to predict and control the outcomes of my circumstances. Yet He's graciously, patiently shown Himself faithful even when I've doubted, even when I've feared, even when I felt desperately, hopelessly out of control. The reality is I'm glad I didn't have control. I'm glad I couldn't have predicted His plan. I'm thankful to be a part of what He's doing and yet trying to remind myself how much better His plan is than my own. 

So I take baby bump photos and I am fully embracing this pregnancy, a true gift from God. I know these bump shots may be hard for some but I pray this growing belly of mine will be a constant reminder of the faithfulness of God and His Sovereign plan. So enjoy my belly, I sure am, and when you see it please remember how good our God is. 



Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dying Dreams

I know what it's like to have to let go of my plans, to watch hope fade. To experience the grief of the death of a dream.

I know what it's like to experience abandonment and loneliness. The death of the dream of what marriage should be came before the death do us part.

I had to grieve the idea of becoming a mother - at least the way God intended it. Just not how He had intended for me - at least not for that season of life. For 3 years I longed, ached, yearned to be a mother. Disappointment after disappointment coupled with lonely heartache was like experiencing the death of my dreams on repeat.

The journey to Elijah's adoption was a miracle in the making and yet also another process of dreams dying and faith being tested. There were multiple babies and scenarios all presented as possibilities and each one, while it wasn't God's plan, was another process of roller coaster emotions hoping, praying, being told "no" and waiting for God's greater yes.

I've walked through the literal fire and watched a house destroyed, taking with it pain of the past and promise of what I had hoped would be a home.

I've felt the joy and thrill of realizing I was pregnant - finally PREGNANT - only to have the sudden catastrophe of those hopes and dreams come crashing down when I learned my baby no longer had a heartbeat.

It is with full assurance of faith I can look back at each and every situation and see God's hand at WORK. Was there pain? Sure. Was it part of the process? Absolutely. Did I learn anything? I pray to God I have. Would I have it any other way? Honestly, no.

I know too many people walking through their own fires, their own grief, their own loss of dreams to not share hope with you. I can't tell you that in the midst of your trial you'll see and understand how it will all work out. But I can tell you that God is still with you even in the valley of the shadow of death. Dreams die. Our plans fail. We don't always see things happen the way we had hoped - and yet we can still have HOPE! Hope is the One who holds it all together - who holds US together - even when it all seems to be falling a part.

He promised to never leave or forsake us and I can also say with full assurance, no matter how many dreams I had to live through the death of, He has been with me through it all. Redeemed, restored, delivered. That is my story. That is the outcome of MY dreams having to die in order for God to move and work mightily so HIS plan could be fulfilled. Faith has been tested. Dreams had to die. But God's presence in my life has been worth every moment of pain and confusion, grief and mourning, to lead me to where He has me.

I'm praying for you as you grieve the death of your dreams. I sympathize with you because I know the hopelessness you feel in the middle of it all. I also encourage you to hold tightly to the One who refuses to ever let you go. I implore you to trust Him as these plans change and hopes fade. It is all part of His plan to orchestrate the abundant and redeemed life He has in store for you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Broken

There are precious moments when my sweet seven year old comes up to me and hugs me and looks up at me with his deep brown eyes and says, "I love you mama." He then, already grasping around my belly, spoke directly to his sister and shared the same sentiment, "I love you, Violet." Those are the moments I cherish, the moments I cling to. The moments that make parenting worthwhile and remind us that what we're doing is rewarding. That was this morning.

It's not a secret, and this is certainly not a complaint, but Eli can be a challenging child. By far not the most challenging, and I count my many blessings knowing I was hand selected to be his mom.

This evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal where this usually hyperactive child of mine demonstrated just how obedient and well mannered he could be. It was a scene to make any mother proud and no doubt I must have been beaming at the sight of my angelic son. We decided to stop in a gift shop that was just down from the restaurant and I gave my well behaved son $2 to spend. He immediately found a basket full of trinkets, $1.99, and now he had to decide. My son is a hoarder, a collector of all things junk so this was like finding a treasure chest at the end of a rainbow where he could pick a pet made from seashells. 
This is the turtle he chose. Only this one was broken. He had only 3 shell legs instead of 4 and the glue was exposed on top where it used to be connected to a now missing hat. I pulled several other complete turtle shell pets out of the basket trying to convince him another one was what we needed. He was determined. Strong willed, yes, but with deep conviction he would not be convinced.

"No, mom, I promised this guy I would take him home."

"But son, he's broken," I reasoned.

"But I can't leave him behind. This is the one I want."

The clerk realized the obvious predicament and even opened a new box to reveal more shiny, unbroken, in-tact turtle shell pets. My son was not going to be convinced. We were now experiencing a full blown meltdown with me arguing and him crying in the floor. (Thank goodness we're on vacation and no one knows us here.) 

We walked out of the store, he with the broken turtle and me with a broken spirit. I was exasperated at his determination and confused in this moment of parenting about whether I should have stuck to my guns and remained firm to get MY way or let him keep his broken and incomplete pet. The clerk realized my predicament and had pity, handing one of the new and complete shell pets to my mom. I showed it to Eli and explained the man wanted him to have a complete one. His answer to me was simple but profound. 

"He's cute too...but not as cute as the one I picked." 

I asked him later why he wanted that turtle so much and he explained, "Because mama, I chose him and I promised him I would pick him. He was the only one without a hat and no other kid would have gotten him that way." My son doesn't usually fit into the "mold" and rarely is he the model kid while dining out but how could I deny that after both experiences this evening what makes me the proudest is knowing how he sees the world. 

In his mind that broken little turtle shell pet was beautiful. And even as I type I cannot contain the tears at how this simple yet challenging moment has so challenged me. Catching a glimpse of beauty through his eyes and realizing that Father God must look upon our brokenness and see the same. 

Here they are. Both turtle pets, one broken and one complete. I'm kind of fond of the 3-legged guy myself! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Claim Your Prize

I heard an interesting story in the news today. Today is the day. It's the final deadline for one person to come forward. New York authorities are looking for the person who purchased a lottery ticket that happens to be a winner. The prize? A mere $7 million. For almost a year this ticket holder has gone completly unaware of his or her winnings. And now the day has come when, if he or she doesn't step forward, there won't be any prize to claim. The ticket will be null and void. 

Something that seems worthless, a little piece of paper, holds value beyond what most of us will ever have to claim. What now holds such high value is still worthless considering it may go completely unnoticed and without ever being cashed in. Who knows where this ticket holder is, let alone the actual winning ticket. Without it being turned in, without this person coming forward, the prize will go unclaimed. The winnings will be worthless. The opportunity may truly never come again. 

And yet, you know it, there's a lesson here. An incomparable prize that is ours to claim, and yet we so often let it go unnoticed and untouched. We ignore it, seemingly unaware, and often we completely miss the opportunity. 

The thing about our own "prize" to claim is we don't know when the deadline will be... For the average person, we don't know our final day on earth. We cannot usually predict our death or know the final hour, but we can make each hour and day count by claiming this gift NOW.

The gift of course is eternal salvation, the opportunity to know Christ as our Savior, to be able to claim Him as Lord and to be redeemed as His child. Please understand - this prize is everyone's to claim. You don't have to have a winning lottery ticket - the price was paid with Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The gift of eternal life is free for you and for me, it simply must be accepted. It's not enough to claim you know Him. You must accept Him, His redemption of your sin, and exchange your own worthless dirty rags for His righteousness and eternal security. 

The price to you is free. The prize to you is eternal. Eternal life. Not here on earth, but eternity in heaven with Him. The deadline may not be today - but why wait? Why risk the chance of your gift going unclaimed, unused, your life unredeemed? Today is the day to claim Him as your Lord and Savior, to redeem the gift of eternal life that has been gifted to you, and to allow Him to redeem your life.