April 16, 2014

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

"Where is Isabel?" Matt asked me while we were washing dishes together last night.

"I have no idea" I replied.

Simultaneously we gave each other the same bittersweet look.

"It's nice, you know?" he continued.

"I know" I said.

And I knew we both understood exactly what the other one was thinking.

A few days ago we babysat the darling 1-year old of a dear friend. As we chased him around the house, we were both reminded of a time when we could not look away from our babies for fear they would stick their fingers into a socket, eat a leaf off the plastic tree, or pull the dog's tail too harshly. We were always "on."

Now we are at a point in our lives when we don't have to know where in the house our kids are at all times. They can run their own bath, pick out their own clothes, fix their own breakfast! And we no longer worry when the house is filled with silence. It is welcomed rather than ominous.

But I'm still learning to accept all this.

For a long time I had a puzzle piece dated January 2011 hidden in my wallet. It resulted from a sermon Matt preached in which he asked us to write an unfulfilled dream, the missing piece in our life, and give it to the Lord to handle. Mine just said: baby.  I am an only child and I always knew I wanted more than one kid. Once I became a mom for the first time I realized I really wanted six but I was alone on that one, so we settled for three. At the time of that sermon, we had already been blessed with two.

They say women just know when they are done having babies. I have found this to be true. I have friends who are not finished after ten babies. Others have said "enough" with one in each arm. For me, three was my number. So when Matt preached that sermon I had been ready for our last addition really since the day I held my first baby in my arms.

I gave my little puzzle piece to God that Sunday and asked Him to either take my desire for another baby away or fulfill it once and for all. In the years that followed we felt led to pursue medically assisted conception once and two international adoptions, all to no avail. Yet each time we felt guided by the Lord to continue on the journey. Doors opened and "coincidences" happened. We knew we were walking the right paths but at the end of each one, there was no child.

I learned through this time that God asks us for obedience and He measures success in our willingness, not on the results.  We did as He commanded us to do and we walked down the roads He set before us. And we grew and learned and changed with every seeming "failure."

Through these years God has grown my gratitude for the two babies that I have. He has shown me the important job I have in raising them. He has taught me a thousand different lessons about being a mom of these two littles. And He has reminded me that we are in a sweet spot in our lives and that this is just not the right time to add to our family.

God never did take away my desire for another child. At least not completely. He just peppered with a heavy dose of contentment. I no longer ache for another baby today, right this minute, ASAP. But we are not saying "no" to the future. We go around the sun too many times to say never.  I don't know what our family will look like tomorrow. I just know Matt and I are not finished with little tykes, somehow.

Even in a small way, I feel like Paul with the thorn in his flesh, and like Paul, I have not been freed from my "thorn". I have just been given peace and a reminder that God is sufficient for me. To be honest, I have days when I still don't understand and my momma-heart hurts, but He has asked me to trust him daily because He knows the desires of my heart and, like a loving Father, He would grant them if they were good for me.  

So I threw the puzzle piece away a little while ago and we remain a family of four.

For now...  

March 31, 2014

No longer Thomas, the doubter

I have been David, confronted by Nathan, shamed and found out. Redeemed and given a second chance.

I have been Peter, thoughtless and big-mouthed, passionate and bold. I have denied Christ and I have been restored.

But above all, I have been Thomas. Doubting Thomas. I have walked with Jesus and I have seen his work. I have been faced with his grace, lavished by his mercy, surrounded by his love. And yet I have doubted.


I doubt.

I doubt daily.

I say: “Unless I see the wounds on his side, the piercing of his hands, unless I see them…I will no longer believe!”

And over and over Jesus shows me his wounds, tells me the story of how He died for me.

Over and over.

Day after day.

Long after I’ve been David redeemed, long after I’ve been Peter restored, I am still Thomas doubting.

And I’ve worried: will his patience run out? Will He tell me one day, “Enough already, you faithless girl!”? Will He tire of the endless cycle of my doubt spitting in the face of the endless cycle of his faithfulness?

Then He speaks.

My eyes fall tiredly upon a story I have read a hundred times before.

There is a father whose child is dying. He comes to Jesus for help and is faced with a phrase that has become familiar to us today: All things are possible  for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23, NLT).

And this father utters what is becoming my life verse:
I believe but help me overcome my doubt.” (Mark 9:24, NLT)

And with those few simple words from a man I’ve never met I have been set free.

I am free to confess my doubt honestly and openly because Jesus did not chastise the father. He did not cast him aside or called him faithless. He met this man at the point of his desperate need and healed the boy.

Such love.

Such patience.

All God is asking of me is to take one step towards him (I believe!) and admit I have no more faith to take another (Help my doubt!). He will come to me and give me grace to walk the rest of the way.

He is not angered by my confession of my need for him. Neither is He surprised. I think He is glad to know that I know that I don’t have it all together. That is not by my works or my strength that my faith grows.

My faith does not come from my own struggle to believe but by his power alone, and by his willingness to keep showing me his wounds and telling me the story of his sacrifice.

And so I learn, because of this father’s tale, that I don’t have to remain a Doubting Thomas. When doubt creeps my way and faith seems to elude me, I become the father and repeat brokenly and trustingly “I believe BUT help me overcome my doubt!

Over and over.

Day after day.

January 27, 2014

Trash Day

On errands one Saturday morning I took the kids to the city dump. I needed to throw away an old mattress, but when they asked me why we came I jokingly answered I had come to dump them off. I knew that 6 year old and 8 year old kids don't really understand sarcasm, but they seemed more amused than worried as they loudly protested, laughing.

I kept the joke up reading the names of the bins: "Furniture," "E-waste," "Wood." I asked the kids to help me find the one that said: "Children" on it and they giggled and yelled, "No!"

Suddenly I heard them gasp and tense silence filled the car.

**Today I'm contributing to my friend Christy's One Fun Mom site for "Overheard: How They Make Us Laugh." Please click here to read the rest of this short post and leave me a note to say you did. I love hearing from y'all!**

January 16, 2014

You say public school, I say homeschool...let's NOT call the whole thing off!

Lately, I have read several articles and blogs written by parents who have chosen to send their kids to the poorest public schools on purpose. The articles highlight the impact these families are having in their public schools, and how they are shaping their community by their involvement.

Let me be the first to give those parents a standing ovation and applaud their efforts. They are changing the world in their own little corner and I say to them: “Way to go!”

But it concerns me that in many of these articles, especially in those written from a Christian perspective, there is often a subtle message woven among the narrative aimed at those of us who have not made the same choice: “You are wrong not to follow our lead.” And if the message is not stated, or even intended in the article, you will definitely find it among the comments that ensue as a response.

I have also read several blogs and articles written by Christians who believe public education is dangerous for our children and that parents should homeschool or invest in private Christian schools for the sake of their future. Those people feel just as strongly in their arguments and beliefs.

Can I tell you that, personally, I think that to take either stance has too narrow a focus and possibly shows a lack of understanding about the way God works to further his Kingdom in this world?  

I get that the choice of schooling is a hot topic among Christians today, and the debate can get pretty intense on both sides. 

I understand that. 

But see, while there are certain absolutes spelled out in Scripture for us, the choice of how to school our children is not one of them. God places different calls and passions in our hearts and I’m thankful that He does, or nothing would get accomplished here on earth.

I realize that proponents of each side will say that there are Biblical nuances within each choice:

Proponents of public education discuss putting the greater good of society above personal agendas, and the effect that strong Christian families have in the public realm. 

Opponents of public school, on the other hand, talk about the importance of weaving the Word of God into our daily teaching in every area of our lives, which, of course, can’t happen in public education. 

I’ve heard just about all arguments from both sides.

The problem is that working for the greater good of our community and raising children submerged in the Word of God are not meant to be mutually exclusive. When God calls a Christian family to homeschool or to attend a private Christian school He is not calling them to forget about the needs of the rest of the community. And when He calls a Christian family to send their kids to public school, He is not calling them to disregard raising their kids in his Word and disciple-ing them daily. 

Where did we get those ideas?

Maybe your family was called to send your kids to the poorest school. Mine was not. But we are definitely both called to love our neighbors, raise godly children, care about the poor, and work for the good of the world both THROUGH our choice of schooling and IN SPITE of our choice of schooling. That is definitely an absolute with which I hope we can agree.

Can we also agree that we all have the same goal: to raise godly leaders for tomorrow who are compassionate and fiery world changers? How God has called us to do it is a personal family decision that should be made prayerfully. 

But neither public education nor private/homeschooling education are "the only way" to accomplish this goal.

Ultimately, no matter your choice of schooling, we, the parents, are primarily responsible to teach our children about the world and about the Lord. It is our job to teach them to fight racism, poverty, and injustice. It is our job to teach them to love their neighbors, no matter who that is, to take care of the world we’ve been given, and to love their God above all else. 

Our choice of schooling may mean we face different challenges in accomplishing these goals but I believe we should encourage each other on rather than judge or measure each other up.

I believe in a God who is bigger than my choice of school. If He has called me to homeschool and He has called you to send your kids to public school, it means He will empower us equally, yet differently, to raise our children according to his plan for their lives.

I don’t believe public school is evil. I used to be a public school teacher and I loved my job. We chose to homeschool for many reasons. None of those included separating our kids from “those kids,” or keeping them in a bubble. It had to do with multi-lingual learning, tailored instruction for learning issues, and many other things. But above all it had to do with obedience to our family’s calling.

If you are in the public school trenches every day and especially if you have chosen the poorest schools on purpose, I respect your schooling choice. I celebrate it even. But please don’t tell me that my choice is less worthy. Homeschooling moms work very hard and have strong convictions as well. 

Let’s cheer each other on, let’s challenge each other out of complacency, but let’s not discount each other. After all, we really are on the same side, we belong to the same family, and we play for the same team.

November 26, 2013

Because mothering ain't no small thang...

After the umpteenth time I encountered something on the subject, I finally surrendered.
I get it.
I. get. it. now.
This life, this small, insignificant life is not so inconsequential in Your eyes. I have been bombarded and attacked from every side over the last few days. Every story, every conversation, every blog, every devotional that passed my eyes spoke of the same truth:
I see you. I see what you do. I see who you are. And I am pleased.
I won’t lie. I have been struggling with feeling irrelevant. What is it that I do? I mother, I teach, I work, I write, I worship. But how does that change the world? Isn’t there something heroic I should be doing? Something exotic? Something radical? Something more?
So over the last year, five times I have made myself available to uncomfortable situations. The take-a-deep-breath-and-say “here-I-am-send-me” kind. And five times the doors have slammed in my face. Really, Lord? I was willing to do whatever.
But I’m dense.
Until last week.
**Today I'm writing over at my friend Christy's One Fun Mom. Won't you read the rest over here and leave me a note so I know you stopped by?**

October 5, 2013

The #1 Fly Killer

I was in the den working when I heard the noise. It was coming from behind the door of my bedroom. At first it sounded like the faint whine of a puppy and it continued in a slow crescendo until it reached a full, roaring scream: “mooooooommmmmyyyyyy, ahhhhhhhhh!” I would love to say I ran full speed to see what it was but I know my children are prone to drama, so I calmly walked to the bedroom and opened the door. 

I found Noah plastered against the wall opposite the window, sobbing uncontrollably, snot and tears mingling near his chin. His eyes were fixed on the window in sheer terror. I followed them and could see nothing. And then I heard the buzz. It was loud and disturbing but it was coming from a common house fly, ugly and big but harmless. 

Unless you are six. 

What’s the matter, Noah?” I asked him. “It’s chasing me!” he wailed back. I explained to him that it would not harm him and that house flies don’t bite (do they?) and to keep reading his book so I could finish my work. I shut the door and went back to the den. 

About two minutes later I heard the screaming again. This time, with much less patience and an edge to my voice, I went back and reminded him that the fly would not hurt him, that I was too busy to try to chase it out of the room, and that he was a big boy, much bigger than the bug, in fact. I firmly closed the door and left him in his little private hell. 

As I sat in front of the computer the Still Small Voice enveloped my thoughts: “He’s only six years old, you know? He is just scared. Can’t you be more gentle and understanding?” See, I am very practical. Too practical even. It was just a fly, for goodness sake! 

But at that moment the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to my lack of empathy and helped me to see the world through the eyes of my little boy. I realized I often expect my children to think, behave and understand the world like adults. That fly was a monster against which Noah felt powerless to fight and he had no hero to show him how to conquer his dragon. 

So I breathed a prayer of wisdom and patience and went back in. I held him until he stopped crying and then I told him about how a simple magazine can turn into a magic secret weapon against flies. I showed him how to use it and, while we did not kill the fly then, I left him fully armed. As I was leaving the room I mentioned in passing that if he killed the fly I would give him a medal of valor.  

I returned a few minutes later when the silence was too suspicious and found him perched on the bed, still as a statue, weapon ready. I asked him what he was doing. “I’m waiting for the fly to come back my way so I can kill it!” he said with excitement. He spent the rest of the day chasing! flies until one let itself be killed by this tiny dragon slayer. As promised, I gave him a medal. 

(The medal says: "#1 fly killer: Noah, the valiant")

Empathy is powerful. Noah needed his fears validated, not minimized. Once he knew he was heard and understood, he became courageous. Once someone came to his side and empowered him, he believed in himself. This morning he even tackled a cockroach with his daddy’s help!

Grown-ups need empathy too. We may not wail in public despair at the sight of our fears or openly beg for a friend to come rescue us. “You just don’t do that,” we tell ourselves, perpetuating a lie that keeps us estranged from each other, unable to let someone else step into our shoes.

But we are just as terrified and helpless before our dragons as a six-year old before a giant house fly. And sometimes we just need someone to come alongside to pray with and for us, and to encourage us to discover that we can become dragon slayers. No perfect words or wise advice. Just a shoulder and a friend.

And we may not completely understand someone else's fear or pain. We may think "it's just a fly, for goodness sake!" We may even expect them to get over it or to realize, logically, why they should not be afraid. To behave like we would in that case.

But when we stand beside them and face the window from their perspective we just may feel how big and ugly the fly looks to them.  That fly may just look like a dragon we recognize. And suddenly, our eyes are opened to their reactions and responses. 

And empathy happens. 

Paul understood the strength that comes in numbers. He reminds us that God’s intention for community is for us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. It’s a calling to never under-estimate the power of the words: “I understand. I am with you and you are not alone.

September 28, 2013

More than just not calling him a name...

The other morning I woke up early to spend some time in prayer. It was an ordinary morning and I began talking to God in my ordinary way. A few minutes into it, however, the conversation took an unexpected turn. It went something like this:

Me: “Lord, be with Matt today. Help him to have a productive day, to seek your will in his decisions, and to be surrounded by your grace. Give him wisdom to do his job, strength to tackle his responsibilities, and a greater desire to serve you.”

God: “Yes, child, he is a good man, isn’t he?”

Me: “Yes, Lord. Thank you for him and his love for me. And Lord, help me to be a good wife to him, a good helpmeet, and encourager.”

God: “You know? You don’t always treat him with the honor and respect that you should.”

Me: “Huh?”

God: “Yes, daughter. Sometimes you talk to him as if he was your child, not your husband.”

Me: “Wait, what? I was just praying that he has a good day and…”

God: “Listen. You know the times you ask him to fold the laundry while he watches that show and he forgets? You know how you put your hands on your hips and chastise him? He is your husband, child, not your son. That is not very respectful.”

Me: “But, but he… but I… but...”

God: “You know the times when he eats a donut for breakfast and you roll your eyes at him? Do you think that is honoring to him?”

Me: “No, Lord. I understand.”

God: “I’m not finished. Sometimes you tell him what to do as if you knew best, criticize his choices as if he was not very intelligent, belittle his opinions as if yours were the only valid ones. Would you treat a stranger in this way?”

Me: “No, Lord.”

God: “Then honor your husband. Respect him as you should. Be a wife who serves, who encourages, who forgives. Speak only praises of him before others. Make your home a place to where he wants return to every night. A safe haven from the pressures of his day. Treat him like the blessing and the treasure he is in your life. Don’t forget.”

Me: “Yes, Lord. Thank you for being so gentle in your rebuking.”

I walked away from this conversation changed and I was reminded of what I vowed to do almost thirteen years ago before all those friends and family members.

We said for richer of for poorer and we have survived times of plenty and through times of need.

We said in sickness and in health and we have made it through less than healthy times.

We said for better or worse and we have navigated tougher than tough times right to the other side.

But we also vowed to honor and respect and I guess I thought that honor only meant to be faithful and respect only meant not to call each other ugly names when we argue. And it is that...but it is also much more.

To honor means to deeply value. It means to appreciate the tremendous contribution he makes to my life, to our children, and to our family by the kind of husband, father, and leader he is. Honor means to focus on what he brings, not on what he lacks. It means to be keenly aware of what his absence would mean so I can cherish every day of his presence. 

And to respect means to be considerate of. It means to extend him the same grace to err, to fail, and to be flawed as I would want extended to me. It means to be gentle, to be kind, and to generally treat him with the deference with which I would treat a friend. 

But I'm finding that it is in the daily living, in the every day navigating of life together, that honor and respect are most important but most difficult to achieve because when you live with someone you can find a million opportunities to be aggravated by them and with them. 

And it is the continuous wear and tear of a relationship, the small, annoying, seemingly insignificant disagreements, “fussing” my father-in-law calls it, which can destroy a relationship little by little if not handled properly.

Like a leaky faucet, I can wear my husband down with my ongoing criticism, nagging, and contempt. And who can stand that for very long? He may not leave me because he is a man of his word, but what kind of marriage would that be? What kind of example would I be for my daughter?

No wonder wise Solomon once wrote how it is better to live in the corner of an attic than in a lovely home with a quarrelsome wife!

I asked the Lord to help me remember that, while I criticize Matt, I am far, far from perfect. I asked him to give me patience and humility, wisdom and humility, grace and humility to pray daily a version of the serenity prayer for my marriage that goes like this:

Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things about Matt I cannot change, the strength to change the things about ME that I can, and the wisdom to show honor and respect to my husband in every interaction that we have.