Posted in Living this Life

Bright Embers

“We need another baby”, she said, looking up at me with her innocent, trusting 4 year old eyes.

My mind flashed back to all that had surrounded her younger brother’s birth. The diagnosis filled with words like “anomaly”, the uncertainty that pervaded my pregnancy with him, the days spent in NICU after he was born, a surgery at 3 days old, that emergency flight to a children’s hospital one terrifying day …

True, this boy’s life is inhabited by numerous miracles and the hand of God in every detail of his pregnancy and birth is irrefutable, but this mama’s heart shook a bit at those words. Another baby? No, sweetheart – our family is good with one sweet girl and her precious brother. We don’t need another baby.

Well, this 4 year old girl is sweet, but also tenacious. She didn’t argue with me – she simply went to a Higher Source and asked God to give us another baby. And it wasn’t very long before this mama got the surprise of her life.

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately – in the shadow of Mother’s Day. How I need this lesson to help me grapple with the things I’m facing now in my life! Maybe you can relate?

Let me back up a little bit here. My life at this point couldn’t have been more unsettled. Because of work and ministry situations, we were basically living in two different places – 1,100 miles apart from each other! So every 6 weeks we would pack up our kids and travel that long stretch of I-40, only to do it again 6 weeks later. We were realizing we couldn’t sustain this and were in the process of looking for a more permanent home. We were exhausted, struggling with burnout, trying to find a home in a new town while sustaining a full time ministry in another state,  and now this surprise from God filled our lives!

They say timing is everything, right? I don’t know who “they” are, but clearly God doesn’t believe in following their vague rules. The timing in this case couldn’t have been worse, and I had many arguments with God about this. He sees all things, knows the intimate details of my heart – if little girl was right and we needed another baby, couldn’t He have just waited 6 months? Like Habakkuk, I lodged my complaint with Almighty God – and the only response I got as I waited those 9 months was the sense of His divine smile and the words, “Just wait – this is a blessing from me”.

watch

So life went on. The pregnancy was long and difficult. I started waking up with migraines every morning. We continued to travel, but everything quite simply became harder. By the time God miraculously provided the perfect home for our family, we had only a month to move, and I could barely move my body – this baby was BIG and his presence was impacting every ounce of my strength. It was a messy time. People came around and helped, my mom flew across the country to pack our house for me, and we got settled in our new home just a couple months before Joshua entered our lives. And through it all, God’s voice continued to echo in my head – “Just wait…”

My daughter asked for a baby – and she got one for Christmas. Joshua – his name means “Jehovah saves”. And he is a daily reminder of that sustaining truth. His birth – filled with much drama and excitement – brought us the baby we all needed. A 10 lb, 10 oz blessing that continues to fill our days with joy and laughter. They laid him on my chest, and I wrapped my arms around that stocky, solid baby and squeezed as I laughed and cried.

J birthJ baby

A couple days later, while trying to hold him in my arms, I looked down and was caught by surprise. His arms and legs were spilling out of my arms in all directions – this baby was BIG. Laughter erupted out of me unbidden – I think it was my response to the laughter of God in my heart. He had said this baby would be a blessing – but He hadn’t told me how BIG this blessing would be! That it would be more than I could contain and exceed all my wildest expectations. And that’s when it sunk it – we may not be prepared for it, we may even complain to God about it, but when He decides to pour out His blessings on us, it will be in such abundance that we can hardly contain it. It’s the process of getting there that is so hard for us to navigate sometimes.

Sunday afternoon found me in my favorite place – lying in my hammock in the backyard. This peaceful moment lasted approximately 1 1/2 minutes – until I was divebombed by a 9 year old bundle of boy with long arms and legs and all the energy and wiggles that can be contained in a hammock. This boy fills every day with laughter. I wrapped my arms around him and thanked God once again for the blessing He knew I needed when my fearful heart wasn’t ready to accept it.

It was very fitting for Mother’s Day – and as we snapped goofy selfies and giggled in the sunlight, I found myself remembering. Remembering this story, because I don’t know about you, but I find myself back in that waiting place again. That interminable place that has no defined end and can leave you arguing with God once more. Doubting His timing. Wondering what He is actually birthing – and could He just hurry it up a bit?

These last couple months have held much richness and introspection. But I’ll be real honest here – it’s getting old. We have had reason to grieve over the last weeks, and the felt losses are starting to build. There have been alot of tears over the last couple weeks and the hurt is leaving me feeling a bit ragged. I don’t have the physical limitations I did 10 years ago while carrying this miracle gift baby, but the other limitations feel as confining.  And what does God say in the middle of it all? “Just wait…”

Could it be that His blessings on the other side are so abundant that we won’t be able to contain it? Is He really able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or imagine, as He promises? (Ephesians 3:20) Will I sink into these present circumstances, or truly stand on the promises that hold so much hope?

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

“I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more” Psalm 71:14

“The eyes of all look expectantly to You” Psalm 145:15

“You apprehend with wider sweep

with wiser eyes than mine.

My history bears the fingerprints of grace…

You remain at work, lurking in the wings,

Sifting all my splinters for bright embers

that might be breathed

                                  into more eternal dreams” -Doug McKelvey

And so I wait for this new birth in hopeful expectation.

“But as for me, I trust in You” Psalm 55:23

Posted in Living this Life

Ant wars

OK – it’s time to get really real.

Confessions of a restless heart: Something happens to a spirit that is raised on the other side of the world. It isn’t just the soil of Africa that got embedded in my soul, but the question of what else lies out there. When your normal has always been red clay soil and friends with dark hair and different skin, speaking with dialect so different from your own that you learn to read eyes and body language. You learn to feel more at home in a bustling airport than your own small town ambience. Embedded in you is the curiosity for the unexplored.

They call it wanderlust. And familiar though it is, it can become a dangerous siren call. A source of ill defined pride. A lack of contentment in what is, the beauty that is around you. There is much I can say on this, but for my own protection, my God has planted my feet firmly on American soil for many years. And every time my heart starts to wander away, He gently woos me back to this place – whatever that looks like at the moment. It is always a beautiful place – even if it just my own backyard.

You can imagine what this season filled with words like “quarantine” and “stay at home” – though productive and rich in it’s own unique opportunities – has brought out in me. If there is anything that stirs up wanderlust in a heart, it is being told you can’t.

And in this place, right here, is where I found this scene: my boys, in my backyard.

IMG_6822Watching in awe at the sight of a dead worm. It wasn’t the dead worm that fascinated them, but the lone ant trying in vain to lift the worm and carry it off. Other ants came along to help (or steal), and then left. I don’t know how long they sat and watched this display of heroic strength, but it helped my  heart rest. Because there’s this quote that has rattled around in my head for a while and it came to the surface at the sight of my boys today. It’s by the author and director of one of my favorite nature documentaries (https://riotandthedance.com/), and it helps keep me grounded when my heart tries to run away with me.

“So, we can marvel at our Creator’s abilities and worship Him for what we see, but we can also see these broken things and know that creation groans for the Resurrection… When you’re able to sit in awe of an ant war on the sidewalk in front of your own house, then the awe that you experience looking at God’s creation near you, where he has placed you, will lead you outward. It will give you a desire to see more of His work, to walk through the rest of His museum. But if you sit in your corner of His museum and say, “I’m super bored, maybe there’s something more interesting over there”—well, that’s not a healthy approach. We should not explore because we resent where we live or where we’ve been placed in the world. We should not explore out of boredom or out of numbness, but out of gratitude and excitement and wonder.  – N. D. Wilson

So that’s it. That’s all I have today. A renewed focus on finding the wonder in my backyard because it’s there. I just miss it too often, gazing over the fence into the “vast beyond”. Maybe we’ll get to explore His great museum again someday soon, but until then, let’s all find a great ant war to cheer on (and feel free to add some sports commentary to it, for those missing their favorite teams right now).

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

 

Posted in Living this Life

Prince of Peace

I was probably 13 years old. I heard them talking, and something about the way she spoke caught my attention. So I continued eavesdropping as she and my mom worked on dinner in the kitchen of her home in Duluth, MN. I didn’t know her well, she had no idea I was listening, and I’m sure as the conversation moved on to other topics, they quickly forgot what was said.

cooking

But I didn’t. I can’t tell you all that was said that day, but it planted an idea in my heart that I have pursued throughout my life. As I listened in on that conversation, I heard her talking about peace, and it made my young heart hungry. Before that day, I had always thought of peace as something you stumble across. When the weather is perfect and your heart is unbothered. When circumstances align and everything is magically “right” – you feel peace.

But she talked about it as something you could plan for. An atmosphere you could set boundaries for and pursue. The boldness of that concept fascinated me. To not be subject to the ups and downs of happenstance – to be able to choose my way into a peaceful existence was mind blowing to my young 13 year old heart… and I desperately wanted that.

 

Fast forward more years than I will put in writing … here I sit with a world spinning in chaos. An amazing husband and 3 kids later, and her words still ring in my ears. A peaceful home is a concept we have built our marriage and family on – foundational in so many decisions we make along the way.  Yet the reality can so often feel elusive and many days it can feel like a fairy tale. That happily ever after promise that never comes true.

Kids bicker, frustrations flare, and selfishness takes over. Maybe I’ll feel peace when I get my way. Maybe if my husband would just agree with me all the time and the kids play happily and quietly in the corner. Maybe when I finally get all my projects done and can rest happily in a clean and organized home with perfectly manicured flowerbeds outside. Maybe when the world settles down and we get answers to so many questions plaguing us right now. Maybe when we get clarity on the big decisions that seem impossible to make in present circumstances. Why does the Bible talk about peace so consistently when everything around us screams the opposite?

This morning I woke in the first days of a new month. A new month blaring questions without answers and uncertainty about so many constants in my life. And I read these words – some of Jesus’ last words to His disciples, as their worlds were about to be turned upside down:  “MY PEACE I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. LET NOT your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” John 14:27

Not as the world gives? Is this where I get so off track? Despite what I know, what I tell myself and others, why do I continue to look for peace from outside circumstances?   This is all backwards.  So today I make my confession and prayer.

I have tried to manufacture peace with control. I have interpreted peace as “everyone getting along with each other”. I have been frustrated when reality doesn’t match my expectations and have let it erode the peace in my own spirit. So you will understand when I read this and get spun a bit sideways.

“the fruit of the Spirit is peace…” Galatians 5:22

Fruit … fruit is a product, not an effect. You don’t start with the apple, you start with the tree. You prune, you water, you care for it if you want the best fruit. Isaiah says, The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.“(Isaiah 32:16) Fruit of righteousness? What does that even mean? That big word that sounds so alien at times. It simply means being in a right place before a holy and perfect God. Walking straight when the path feels so crooked.

And since we can’t pull it off on our own – we surrender ourselves. And let Jesus who truly did live perfectly carry our mistakes and be our righteousness – our “right-ness”. Is it enough? Can this be real? That His right-ness, can cover me and I get to experience the peace – the fruit of what only He could do? Come, get to know Him if you don’t. Really know Him – you will find Him more real than the most tangible thing you can touch.

Talk to Him and let Him carry it all for you. Let His right-ness bring you peace! And the rest of this promise – it sounds like it was written for today. I think it was…

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places… though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be…” (Is 32:19-20)

How many of us feel like our “normal” has been leveled? Do we feel blessed in the midst of all the unknowns? This disruption in our lives shows us where our true treasure lies, where we plant our hopes and find our peace. I find myself coming up short some days – still defaulting to myself and the fleeting quicksand of the blaring news cycles and circumstances surrounding me and not the true Source. I want to dig my toes into the firm foundation of our true Source of Peace.

They call you the Prince of Peace, Jesus. Come on in…