August 21, 2015

For When Evenings Find You Exhausted

Wake up early, get a shower, get dressed, clean up the bedroom, wake up kids, make breakfast, prepare for the school day. It’s only eight, and I want to go back to bed.

Come to me you who are weary…

Spend the morning teaching Isabel and Noah, Bible stories, math, reading, writing, science, spelling, play time, piano, make lunch, clean up. By noon, one day feels like two.

Come to me you who are weary…

In the afternoon answer e-mails, manage my online students, grade their papers, placate colleagues with questions and requests. By four pm I think I have nothing left to give.

Come to me you who are weary…

Soon it's time to make dinner, to welcome my husband, to eat as a family, to talk about our days, to pray as a family, to clean up, to do dishes, to bathe children, to brush their teeth, to read one more story, to pray once again. Twelve hours after breakfast feel like a week.

Come to me you who are weary…

Then the house is quiet, so it’s time to do the laundry, to pay bills, to sweep the kitchen, to wipe the counters, to spend a few minutes with the man I love, to get ready for bed.

Come to me you who are weary…

But the rest my pillow offers will not satisfy or take away the heaviness this day has left over me. I am bone-tired inside and out. My body aches and my mind is racing. 

There is only one place I can go to find the respite my mind, body, and soul desperately need.

So finally, finally...

When I surrender the busy-ness of the day and at last quiet my heart enough to notice, I hear the words the Spirit has been trying to whisper to me all day long as I rushed through each task:  

Come to me you who are weary…and I will give you rest.

And I breathe a sigh of release, of freedom, and of gratitude. I let go and unburden my shoulders of the weight of the world.

The days are heavy and long and weary. But I don't have to carry them alone.

I pray tomorrow I will remember this before my feet first hit the floor.


August 14, 2015

For When Sorrow Threatens To Drown You

There are days when the weather is cold and my skies are gray; when I'm feeling vulnerable and raw from some recent, difficult situation.

In those days, present circumstances and voices from the past mingle to make it feel like the weight of everything that has ever gone wrong in my life is threatening to crush me.

Childhood hurts, adolescent mistakes, adult heartbreaks all pile on these thin shoulders and bend me over until I look 100 years old instead of 37.

All the people who have spoken words of discouragement and condemnation to me resurrect from their tombs in my history and speak again, even more vilely.

All the wrongs I've endured, all the unfair treatment, all my own errors and the apologies I have had to make crack open the scars they formed in my heart and bleed anew.

In those days, I cover my eyes with my hands and let the tears flow freely.

But then...

Then I do the one thing I have learned will keep all that explosion of grief from turning my heart bitter and hard:

I pray.

No, I don't really just pray.

I pour, I expel, I purge.

On my knees, I let Jesus have it all.

It is too heavy, too dark, too...much.

A few minutes later I'm still crying.

Just as hard.

Ugly, wracking sobs.

And I still feel as heavy and bent over.

But what is crushing me now is the relentless weight of all the beauty He has created out of the ashes of my life:

The infertility that turned into adoption.

The mistakes I made which turned my heart towards compassion and empathy for others.

The pain that pushed me to deeper, more meaningful relationships.

The rejections that taught me to forgive freely and to understand grace.

The losses that showed me how to love better and hold on more tightly. 

And my heart is then thick with thankfulness it can't contain within itself.

So I continue to spill, to pour, to return.

But this time in praise, not sorrow.


August 5, 2015

For Those In Need Of Strength

We know King David as one of the most famous men in the Bible, but there were many people who did not like him. And most of the time it wasn't because of anything he did but rather a product of his circumstances. 

King Saul hated David because God anointed him as the next king. David didn't ask to be king. 

The Philistines despised David because he was a good warrior. David was only following God's instructions into battle. 

His wife, Michal, felt contempt for him because he danced before the Lord in praise. David was only responding to the joy he felt. 

Nathan chastised David harshly for committing adultery and murder...Ok, that one was on David's head. 

And because he was hunted by Saul like a dog and there was a price on his head, David lived on the run and in fear for years.

The Bible tells us that David was envied, mocked, scorned, spurned, and misunderstood plenty. Many of the Psalms he wrote tell of his anguish, his fear, and his frustration with the people and the situations around him. 

In 1 Samuel 30 we find yet another moment in which David was afraid for his life because of a situation over which he had no control. 

He and his men were living among the Philistines, enjoying the friendship of King Achish. The king decided to fight against King Saul and the Israelites and demanded that David and his men accompany them into battle. So David and his men followed the Philistine army. 

When the other Philistine soldiers saw them approaching, they rejected them and told King Achish that David and his posse were not welcomed, so David and his men had to turn around and go back home.

When they arrived home they found that the Amalekites had raided their town and taken everything, including their wives and children. The men were heartbroken, bitter, and angry and began to talk about stoning David. As if it was David's doing! 

And it is in the midst of this situation that we find a very short sentence that, I think, defines who David was and why he was called "a man after God's own heart." 

Facing the unfair wrath of his men, who were threatening him with murder, the writer of 1 Samuel simply states: 

"But David found strength in the LORD his God" (1 Samuel 30: 6b). 

The story tells us that David asked God what to do and went on to rescue all that was stolen from them by the Amelekites.

Maybe you find yourself in the middle of an unfair situation today. Maybe you are being accused of something you didn't do. Maybe you are despised for things you have no control over. Maybe you feel misunderstood, misinterpreted, or mistreated. 

Even in the middle of God's will, even while doing His work, even while knowing we are right where we need to be, there are times when, like David, we are mocked, scorned, spurned, and envied.

How should we then respond? Should we strive to defend ourselves, to set things right, to show the world how wrong they are? 

Perhaps

Perhaps there is a time to defend, and a time to set the record straight, and a time to speak up. Even David proclaimed his innocence before Saul in many occasions. 

But I think 1 Samuel points us to a deeper truth, a failsafe response regardless of the situation in which we find ourselves. Scripture directs us to find our strength in the LORD our God. 

Our strength does not come from talking to others about our situation, or setting things right our own way, or getting back at our attackers. Our strength to face the difficulties that come our way comes from the LORD our God. 

The simple question is this: 

Where are you looking for strength today?


"I look up to the mountains;
    does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
    
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
(Psalm 121:1-2, The Message)

March 9, 2015

The sparrows, the lilies of the field and the parking spot.

Last weekend I was driving to meet a friend for coffee downtown. As I was nearing our meeting location, she sent me a message that she has arrived but that downtown was terribly crowded and parking was proving a nightmare to find.

I panicked a bit. Most of the parking on the streets of our downtown is parallel and I will admit right here and now that I don’t know how to parallel park. It’s not that I don’t like to do so. I don’t know how. I did it once to pass my driving test more than twenty years ago and have not done it since. I go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it, actually.

Lately, God and I have been having an ongoing argument, debate, screaming fight, conversation about trust. It has way too many layers to be dissected here but let’s just say that I have deep trust issues and that this can make a relationship that is, at its very core based on trust and faith, difficult. So we struggle on. Him telling me that He is trustworthy and me saying, “Yeah? Show me.”

The morning of the parking situation we were not at our best, God and me, so I sarcastically prayed (can you be sarcastic with God?): “Ok, God of the parking space, Lord of the parking lot, find me a spot.” I had always secretly sort of smirked at people who would give God public thanks for finding them a good spot to park. “God surely has better things to worry about than you not having to walk a few more steps, come on!” was my very Christ-like thought towards those people.

Not 1o seconds and a half a block later I saw a car pulling out of a parking spot which was at the end of the line (no parallel parking!), less than 20 feet from the coffee shop where I was to meet my friend, and there were even 40 minutes left in the meter. Score!

I’ll be honest. With a world full of hunger, wars, slavery, poverty, pain, and suffering to care for I have a hard time understanding why God would hear my sarcastic, inane, seemingly irrelevant prayer for a parking spot on a Saturday morning. But He did.

He remains a mystery to me in so many ways. But as I continued my dialogue with Him that day (this time much less sarcastically) a thought began to emerge clearly in my heart:

God cares.

And no, I don’t think that God will always help me find a good parking spot. This is not about a parking spot. It is about a God that finds ways to say: “I love you. I see you. I hear you” wherever we are, in whatever situation we find ourselves. Big or small.

I guess I can compare it to walking by my daughter on my way to the kitchen and stroking her cheek gently. It’s not much. It’s a simple gesture, really. But it is an easy way to let her know she is loved.

That morning, the parking spot was holy ground. I turned the car off and, before I got out, felt a stroke on my cheek: “You are loved.” I breathed a prayer of thankfulness to the God who cares about the sparrows, the lilies of the fields…and me

December 25, 2014

This year in review and a bloggy-Christmas Card.

Twenty fourteen was the year of surprises, joys, and sorrow.

January found us celebrating Isabel's eighth birthday. She has officially entered the "tween" years and she knows it. She is a joyful, kind, loving, creative, moody, passionate, stubborn, and determined child and we are enjoying discovering the wonderful girl God has created her to be.


February was Matt's birthday. As Matt's year as a Clinical Pastoral Education resident at Self Hospital in Greenwood was nearing to its end, we began considering our options. One option was to pastor a church again. Another one was to seek a second year of CPE residency to gain more experience. The third option was to apply for a position as a student in a supervisory program (SES), to eventually train those entering their own CPE residency.


We prayed, searched, and talked and we decided that Matt should apply to the SES program at Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC. He interviewed closed to his 41st birthday and received a call in early March that he had been the one candidate accepted from among many applicants. I was so very proud.



In April I had a birthday. We'll try to forget about that as I'm nearer to forty than to thirty now.


In May Matt graduated from his residency at Self and we began to make preparations to move to Columbia, about an hour and a half away. We put the house on sale and started making weekend trips to find a place to live in our new town.  We also traveled to Kansas to visit my mom and step-dad. Turns out it would be our last visit as my mom moved to Pensacola, FL a few months later and Gene is soon to follow.



In June we loaded a truck with one third of our belongings and crammed them into a two bedroom, one bath apartment in Forest Acres, Columbia. Bruno, our 12 year old dog, had the hardest time adjusting to all the changes but he rallied up and eventually learned to tolerate living in a tiny apartment with no yard.


July in Columbia is hotter than in Greenwood but we fought valiantly with snow cones and pool-side, the best feature of our new abode. The kids and I worked on making friends, getting to know the city and preparing for a new school year.



In August our Noah turned seven and started second grade. He is my little engineer, hilariously funny, affectionate and thoughtful. We joined a new Classical Conversations, Swim and Gym at a new Y, found a ballet studio for Isabel, and started the school year in a new setting, while Matt worked on finding his place at the new hospital.



September brought the most difficult Monday of our married life. A phone call sent us rushing to the hospital where we met the rest of Matt's family to say good bye to his dad who passed away suddenly that morning. The rest of the week was a blur of funeral arrangements and tearful conversations we did not expect to have.


In October we celebrated Halloween with our new church, Columbia First Church of the Nazarene, by participating in a huge Trunk-Or-Treat they do for the community surrounded the church. We also buried my sweet father-in-law in his final resting place in Oconee, GA, next to his beloved father and mother-in-law.


November saw us back in Oconee, for our traditional Thanksgiving with Matt's mom's side of the family, still trying to adjust to holidays without Grandaddy, which will never be the same.


And here we are in December. We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary and today we are celebrating Christmas with Abu and Abu Gene in our tiny home in Columbia. 



This year brought us the surprise of a move we didn't know we would make, the joy of a new career for Matt and of discovering a new town for our family, and the sorrow of losing someone we loved beyond words. Through it all, though, our Jesus' presence was clear and strong around us, before us, and behind us. His hand guided us, encouraged us, soothed us, and comforted us.

We pray 2015 is filled with His love in your lives. Thank you for walking this journey with us, for your prayers, your good wishes, and your love. And, as the song says, "may Christ find a dwelling place of faith in our hearts" next year (Dwelling Place by John Foley).

Merry Christmas, dear friends and family all over the world!  

November 25, 2014

For When You Feel Less Than Good Enough

I can be a hypocrite of the worst sort.

Whenever I hear my children belittling each other or, worse, themselves, I am quick to instruct. I tell them to never forget that they are God’s design. That they are His masterpiece. And that when they talk badly about each other or themselves they are calling God a liar, telling him that He made a mistake when He created them, and tearing down God’s beautiful work.

And yet, I often talk as if God made one big mistake when He appointed me as their momma. I set expectations for myself that are impossible to meet and then I berate myself at the end of the day for not meeting them.

I didn't realize how much this had become a pattern until a night, not long ago, when Matt became angry with me. He does not get angry with me very often. He usually has infinite patience with my crazy but that night I saw frustration in his face and heard it in his voice.

“Would you allow anyone to talk about your best friend like that? How about your daughter? Why do you talk about yourself like that, then?” he asked me, clearly irritated with me.

Someone asked me recently what God has been teaching me lately and I didn’t have to think too hard or too long about this: shortly after Matt’s challenging question we were listening to a masterful preacher’s sermon. He stated that most Christians believe IN Jesus but precious few actually believe HIM. He asked us to pray and ask Jesus what promise of His we were having a hard time believing. 

I knew right away: that I am a good enough mom for my children.

The story of how my children came into our family leaves little doubt that they were placed with us by God. When they found themselves in need of a family, God chose Matt and me to raise them. I know that from the depths of my heart.

And because I am so deeply conscious of this I take the responsibility very seriously. I did not grow up in a Christian home; raising children God’s way is something with which I’m not familiar. So I read parenting books and blogs, I pray daily for wisdom, I ask Matt to help me find my blind spots. 

I am doing the best I can possibly do to be a good mom and I know that…in my head.

But my heart has a hard time believing it, especially when I have a hard day and feel like I've blown it as a mom. Then my doubt and insecurity manifest themselves in ramblings about my shortcomings and questions about my ability to parent well.

Which is what I was doing, out loud, the night Matt lost his patience with me. I guess I was going on and on about what I had not done right as a mom that day and wondering, out loud, if these children would not have been better off with a different woman. 

And then Matt raised his voice and shut me up.

So, the afternoon of the sermon I prayed for the faith to believe Jesus’ promise that I am the right mom for my kids. That He does not make mistakes. He talked to me about grace and reminded me that grace is hardest when it is self-administered. 

God is more interested in my obedience than in my skills. He has made this clear in many areas of my life in which He has asked me to serve when I felt less than equipped. 

Mothering is one of them.

None of us are perfect mothers and I think that is by design. Knowing that I have to rely on Him for the wisdom, strength, and skills that I need keeps me sensitive to His promptings and His guidance.

This is true.

But...I’m learning that there is a great difference between being realistic about my limitations and my need for His help, and focusing so much on my shortcomings that I forget that He has chosen me to parent my kiddos. 

The One who made me, who knows all my virtues and my flaws better than I know them myself, thinks enough of me and trusts me enough to place these two treasures in my care. 

And still often I don’t offer myself the same grace I would offer any of my other mom friends to be…well, flawed mommas in need of Christ.

The night of the tirade Matt had had enough of hearing me talk about how I blew it that day. He asked me to tell him some of the things I had done well as a mom instead. 

I was quiet and he was sad. 

He told me that what he sees is a woman who loves her children, who works hard at raising them well, and who has much to offer them and teach them. And that God sees me that way as well. 


It is not by accident that those children are mine and I am theirs.

Extending myself grace can be a struggle, especially on the days when parenting seems the hardest, but with Jesus' help, I'm working on seeing my efforts with the same love-filled eyes with which He sees them. 



October 21, 2014

You're no good, you're no good, you're no good, baby, you're no good.

One rainy afternoon a few years ago, I gave each of my kids a puzzle to complete. Noah had picked out a Spiderman puzzle and promptly set the box before him, ready to study it. Brow furrowed, he tackled the work starting on the corners and the edges like a good left-brain thinker. Isabel, my right brained child, started with the most random pieces, singing as she worked, and when I tried to show her the box so she could be guided by it she exclaimed indignantly: "No, mami! I want to be surprised!"

I should have known then what our journey through homeschooling would be like. Isabel draws on every paper and she devours books. I can't keep the bookshelves full enough for her. Noah sees everything as a problem to be solved and categorizes the world in terms of which parts of it can be built out of Legos. She is all creativity and he is all logic.

It is not surprising that math has been a struggle in our house from the beginning. One curriculum did not challenge Noah enough, while it brought Isabel to tears of frustration daily. Finally I had to choose two different curricula, which can be challenging, but it has restored the peace and love for learning in our home.

I still have to sit with Isabel and work through the math lessons. She and I spend a good bit of time each day hunkered down over the math book, playing with manipulatives, drawing the problem out, and such. With Noah all I do is give him his work and send him away to do it. He comes back if he has a question but for the most part he only comes to show me what he did and get his many check marks.  

Which is why I was so surprised a few weeks ago when they came home from church with a little "About me" quiz in which one of the questions was: "Are you good at math?" Isabel had answered "yes" and Noah had written "no" and I was utterly confused. That is until I thought about our math journey and had an "aha" moment.

I know Isabel struggles with math and I know how discouraged many girls become about their math and science skills by the time they hit middle school. So I have been telling her day after day how good she is at math because she does not let it defeat her. My mantra to her has been: "You are good at math because you work hard at it!"

I realized that while Isabel hears this day after day, I had not told Noah he was good at math because I assumed he knew this to be the case since it comes so naturally to him. But because I did not spend as much time working with him and telling him how proud I was of his efforts, he thought he was not any good at it.

So we re-defined what "good at" means in our home. You are good at something when it comes naturally to you, but you are also good at something when you don't let it beat you, when you work at it until you master it, when you don't give up. We decided you are not only "not good" at something when you don't even attempt it.

This morning I found an article that resonated with me and with the approach we've been taking. Here is the link for the article in its entirety: http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/11/struggle-means-learning-difference-in-eastern-and-western-cultures/

The author talks about the difference in Western and Eastern cultures' understanding of struggle.  In our culture we think of struggle as a mark of lack of skill or intelligence. If you struggle with something then you are obviously not good at it. Eastern cultures view struggle as a "predictable part of the process of learning" (Spiegel). You're supposed to struggle. Everyone struggles some time. In fact, their academic lessons are designed slightly above the pupil's skill level. They believe it builds character and emotional fortitude.

And I'm beginning to agree.

I don't think there is anything wrong with telling your children they are smart, but when it comes to academics our family does not value being intelligent as highly as we value being persistent, hard working, teachable, and giving your best effort. A child who is willing to work hard and do their best, even if the work is difficult, will learn much more than a a child who is smart but refuses to do anything that does not come easily to them.

We are not filling our kids' heads with the song: "You are good at everything!," thus creating children who don't understand their limitations and have an unrealistic sense of their own selves. We are simply teaching them that just because something is hard they should not stop trying with the excuse: "I'm just not good at it." Of course our kids attempt, almost daily, to get out of something by whining: "This is haaaaarrrrrd!" I guess they expect me to say: "Oh, my darling, sweet baby, then you don't have to do it, my love" But they have learned it just does not work with this momma.

We understand that life and God will have a way to help the kids hone their interests, discover what they are particularly skilled to do, and put them in the path they should follow.  But while they are under our care, we will not put confines to their potential and dreams by pigeonholing them into only pursuing what is naturally easy for them to do.