Friday, April 14, 2017

From Death to Life- My Easter Story

This is my favorite week of the year.  Liturgically,  it is known as Holy Week.  It all begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Resurrection Sunday, what we all call Easter.  Even as a girl, Easter was the biggest holy-day of the calendar year. New dress and shoes and tights.  Egg hunts.  Church breakfast after sunrise service. And while most Sundays I was just distracting myself with coloring or my imagination during the sermon, Easter was the one week that I paid attention. It was the week the pastor brought the message of Jesus in a big way.  I would tingle with excitement over his words.



I grew up and I rejected God, though.  I still believed in him,  I probably even went to Easter service and felt some stirrings inside, but I was not a follower of Jesus. In February of 1999, though, my brother started bugging me to go to church with him.  "This place is different," he said.  He bothered me enough that I finally agreed to get out of bed one Sunday morning and go.

Walking into that church, which didn't look like a church, I immediately knew something was different.  It wasn't just the informality of dress, or the lack of pews.  I sensed that people wanted to be there. When the worship music began, to a full band, it was easy to join in and sing- and sing, they did. They raised their hands in worship.  It seemed to me an alternate universe compared to the churches I had grown up in- and yet, it was also familiar. I remembered how to find books in my Bible. I had heard some of these songs here and there. I had heard the Bible passage many times. The strangest thing was this:

A young man I had grown up going to church with was passing by and my brother stopped him. This kid, he and his brothers had gone wild and crazy in high school. They had gotten into drugs and had a punk band. I had heard the rumors.  All three of these guys were in church.  My brother asked this youngest one, "Have you decided if you're joining the army or not?" And his reply? " I don't know, man. Whatever the Lord wants. Whatever the Lord wants."

This blew me away.  Left me speechless.  I had never heard anyone talk this way, let alone an eighteen year old.  Whatever the Lord wants?  What is that?! What about what you want?

The teaching from the Bible was different, too.  The pastor taught with power and excitement. I could tell he knew his stuff and I liked that.  What he said was interesting. And I was compelled to come back to this alternate church universe. I went again that night. And from then on, I kept going Sunday morning and Sunday night. I sometimes went by myself.  Each time, I was getting more and more convinced in my heart that I needed Jesus. And I really, really wanted him, too.  There was this incredible balance of conviction of my sin, but also the depth of God's love for me. That Easter Sunday, April 4th, 1999, I left the service having made my final decision. I was following Jesus. No turning back.

Perhaps that's why, still, this time of year means so much to me.  I look back over my life and see the Lord's fingerprints in so many ways. He was drawing me to himself, luring me, wooing me, stirring in my empty heart and making me long for him.  I tried to fulfill that longing in so many other ways, but when I found the real Lover of my Soul, I was all in.  Not that I didn't fail and mess up and still look back over my shoulder now and then, but he always gave me the power to turn back around and follow him.  My life today is what it is because of Jesus. Plain and simple.

This time of year, especially in Maine, we start to see the dead things around us come alive. Spring is so glorious and so appreciated after the long, cold winter.  I love that Easter happens at this time of year.  Because that is what Easter is all about- the dead being raised to life!  First, Jesus was crucified and died.  But then on the third day, he rose from the grave.  And because of that, he can bring us who are spiritually dead to life!  I have experienced this first-hand and when I go back to those months when I was falling in love with Jesus and to that Easter Sunday when I decided to wholeheartedly follow him, I truly can weep.  Not out of lingering shame or sadness, but out of incredible, awe-filled joy.  He loved me as I was.  He was wooing me my whole life. He never gave up on me even when I rejected him. And when I finally responded, his arms were wide open.  That is love like I had never known.


I turned eighteen this year.  So spiritually speaking, I'm an adult now?  Laughable.  I have not forgotten what it was like to be "reborn".  This is a song I love, one that takes me back and reminds me of how I came alive eighteen years ago as a twenty-year-old.

What was I waiting for?
I came alive when I let go.
All I had was a broken heart,
then he held me in his arms.



Thursday, March 9, 2017

Called to Obscurity

I creep out of bed early each morning, so as not to wake the little munchkin lying beside me in bed.  I crave some solitude the first few moments of each day, some time to read my Bible and sip my coffee leisurely with just the crackle of the wood fire going.  As I tiptoed down the stairs this morning just after six o'clock, I whispered a prayer. "Just a half an hour Lord, please!"  As I rounded the corner, the sliding glass doors came in to view, along with the most breathtaking bright pink sunrise in a thick stripe behind the tree line.  It stopped me in my tracks and I blessed the Lord for it, the words of an old song in my mind, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world."

Truthfully, the world isn't always wonderful.  The past few weeks have been particularly dark for some people we know and love dearly.  We've had our own challenges, too.  A bright pink sunrise painted across the sky is obviously beautiful. Death and heart sorrow and disease, not so much.



Today, in my Bible reading (and I got more than that requested half hour!), Psalm 50 said several times that God desires our thanks. 

 "What I want instead (of your sacrifices) is your true thanks to God." vs 14. 

 "But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me." vs 23



Over in Mark 13, another chapter I read, several times Jesus reminds us he is coming soon.

"You can be sure that his return is very near, right at the door."

"And since you don't know when they will happen, stay alert and keep watch."

"So keep a sharp lookout! For you do not know when the homeowner will return... Don't let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning... Watch for his return !" vs 35-37

I often wonder, how should we live in these dark days?  I see the signs all around me that our world is falling apart, that Jesus really could return at any moment.  And I tend to feel  so helpless and useless when I consider this.  Who am I saving?  Who am I pulling from the fires of hell?  The world out there is lost and dying, and I spend most of my days never even leaving my home.  Often, my only engagement with the real world is via Facebook (and, boy, that can bring you down and remind you of the total depravity of man).  I do feel insignificant most days and long to be a light to the world.

Recently, another passage from Mark ministered to me.  In Mark 9, vs 30 and 31, it says "Jesus tried to avoid all publicity in order to spend more time with his disciples and teach them."  For 30 years, Jesus lived an obscure life in a little village of unknown people. He was a carpenter.  He cared for his widowed mother, went to weddings and funerals, celebrated the holy days, all of it as a regular guy, no fanfare, no miracles, no glowing head signifying his Deity.  And even after he began his earthly ministry, even with only three years to teach and perform miracles and healings and tell the good news of the Kingdom, he still tried to avoid his paparazzi.  It was important to him to get away and be alone with his disciples, the twelve guys that would carry the message of the gospel long after he ascended to heaven.  He wasn't about the Jesus Show, all the outward manifestations of his power and glory.  He was about people.  Teaching.  Discipling. Being faithful to train up the ones he was given.

This blesses me.  I've got my own little brood of disciples and more and more I realize how little time I have left with my oldest one.   Five and a half years at home, and then he may be gone.  The others will trickle out of the house, too, and this is good.  But it sobers me.  As I think of watching and waiting for Jesus and the possibility of his return at any hour, and wonder what on earth I am doing for his kingdom as I live in obscurity within my own four walls, I am heartened as I look at the life of my Savior.  I realize that my life is following a similar pattern.  The needs outside my walls are pressing, but this is the work I have been called to do right now: get away with my little disciples and teach them.



We have recently been laying all our commitments out on the table and taking each one to the chopping block, so to speak.  This is hard, as we do many good things.  There are many things we are not sure of, but there are a few callings we are positive of.  And one of them is to disciple our children.  The Lord has called us away from some of the good things we have been doing in order to minister to our family better.  It is what he has called us to do for now, as we watch and wait for his return.  Even to us, it seems a little counter intuitive to leave some ministries behind, but he continues to confirm it to us.

And back to Psalm 50, and giving thanks.  As I watch and wait, maybe the simple, but perfect, answer on how to live is to be continually thankful.   Even that can be a sacrifice and offering for it does not always come easily.  How do we thank him for broken relationships and death and illness? For war and prejudice and evil?   These things, like no other, certainly make me thankful that he is returning soon.  But how do I thank him for the banana thrown on the floor (again) and the bickering among my children?  I'm not always sure in the moment, but as I look back on my years as a mom, I see that even in these frustrations, something beautiful has grown.  I have learned to loose my hold on "perfection" because it is not here yet.  It belongs to another time and place.

For now, I am called to a holy life of little but great things, and to a life of thanksgiving through it all. No great blog following or teaching ministry or book deal.  But when I finally hear those little feet hit the floor and come thumping downstairs, and that little voice calling my name, whether I got my half hour or not, I know the sweetness of obscurity.  And I do give thanks for it.


Photo note: These photographs were sent to me recently, on Baby B's second birthday, by my girl Sara, taken back in October.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Today's Soundtrack: Crazy Normal (or Crazy and Normal)



Christmas is over.  It was very nice, a little more calm with fewer gifts.  I was able to enjoy it more and savor the faces of my little ones.  Josh did a stellar job as usual choosing my gifts, though he did not stick to the one gift rule we (I) imposed this year. He says my standards are too strict. How can I fault him for spoiling me?

It's a strange thing to wake up the day after Christmas to a mess of boxes and shreds of paper still scattered on the floor.  To still need to make breakfast and dinner.  Life returns to normal rather quickly, though the bonus of this week is that my husband is on vacation.   I got up early, he slept in.  I savored my morning quiet with my giant cup of coffee and then started working on the Christmas gift leftovers.  Kiddos were sleeping in and then lounging about on their new devices.  We didn't even plug in the tree.  We are fading back into normalcy.

But there is something really wonderful about that.  I like schedules, routine, normalcy. Being able to count on my kind of coffee in the morning and the water pressure in my shower.  I like making menus and lists of things we need at the grocery store.  I like our hum-drum, routine days as much as I like our holidays.

In all the Christmas gift wrapping, I noticed we had a severe shortage of gift bags.  We had some giant ones, but very few in the small to medium range.  And planner that I am, one of my burning desires the day after Christmas was to hit up the 50% off sales somewhere and stock up on bags for next year. Yes. I am one of those people.

As timing would have it, in life in general and the day in particular, we have a responsible 13 year-old son and a little guy who was just going down for his nap.  So it was the perfect opportunity to turn this holiday clearance shopping spree into a date.  We even stopped at Starbucks for a coffee, which made the date official.

Josh is one of those rare guys that enjoys shopping. In fact, he once told me that his favorite thing to do with me is go shopping because we always find silly or crazy things to laugh at. We just have a good time together, no matter what we do. I love that our conversations don't get interrupted on these dates.   We are goofballs and take silly selfies that nobody ever sees (except our best friends in Florida who get these via text). We just love spending time together, even if that time is spent at a department store buying toilet paper and gift bags for next year.

I say this often, but it's true.  When we said "I do",  I didn't realize I was marrying my best friend.  Sure, I love the romantic moments, but I just love spending our everyday days together, too.

Currently on our life's soundtrack is this totally relatable song.  If you've never heard Ben Rector, you are missing out.  All of his songs are a treat.  This is a favorite, one for those of us who live crazy, normal lives.




Wednesday, December 21, 2016

God (Still) With Us

At night these days I fall into bed and think of Aleppo.  I am safe and warm in my home.  My children are nestled snug in their beds.  I have had too much to eat, the sweets abound, and my coffee stash never runs dry.  I think of the faces I see online of regular, ordinary people like me who used to fall asleep to the same things I do, but now they run for their lives. They leave all their comforts behind.  It's funny the images that can impact you the most.  For me, it's a photo of a man, presumably a daddy, cradling his child in his arms, a child of about two perhaps.  I can't see the child's face, just her chubby little baby fat legs, brown skinned, dusty.  Such sweet little legs of a child being comforted by her father.

I pray for Aleppo at night.  I sing a song at night for Aleppo in my mind, an old one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written against the backdrop of war between the North and the South.

And in despair I bowed my head,
"There is no peace on earth, " I said,
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
of peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men."

I often sing the first of these stanzas, for the hatred in this world can be so overpowering. It can leave you hopeless, it can bring despair that just can't be overcome.  Until I sing the next stanza and I remember that it is true.  God is not dead, nor does He sleep. He sees every person in Aleppo.  He cares for each one.  Somehow, even in all this evil, He is at work.  The wrong will eventually be dealt with.  His righteousness will prevail.  He sees them.

And he sees me.  In the shadows of all this violence and evil, here I am in my warm home, well-fed, wealthy compared to the greatest percentage of the world.  It makes me feel so small, so insignificant to affect change when I think of those chubby legs, so like my own little guy's.  I am prone to feel guilty for this life immediately surrounding me, and to feel that all the Christmas preparations are so trivial, the gifts so ridiculous, the food so lavish- all so wrong- when half a world away, the world is falling apart.  I tend to think our celebration is a mockery of the very real crisis going on.

But I think it is no accident that this happens right now,  this time of year.  As Christians, and even those who do no claim to follow Christ, turn their hearts toward this idea of a baby being born a few thousand years ago, a baby who was God, and as we celebrate this miracle, it is not surprising that evil seems to overcome it and steal our joy in this:

That God is with us.  He did leave his throne and come as a baby.  He was born in poverty.  He was born during the reign of a cruel government.  His parents had to flee for their lives from a demonic king who wanted all little boys to die.  He did live a very normal and hard life and he died the worst death imaginable. But came back to life, by his own power raising himself from the dead. And he returned to his Father in heaven, sending us his Spirit to be God With Us.  Even today.


Christmas does still matter.  Because the story of Christmas is the most real, magical story there is.  And it lives on today as God shows us he is still with us.  Stories are coming out of Aleppo that God is there.  More close to home, our friends had their Christmas deliveries stolen this week - but they are being replaced by the company.  God is with them.  Last night we had Taco Tuesday with all our Bible study families.  We sang a few Christmas carols and worship songs.  We got in the Word of God. The kids were kind of wild and crazy.  As we turned out the lights and fell into bed, we just marveled at all the Lord has done in the four short months since we began the study and how our five lonely years here are suddenly changing.  God is with us.

Christmas is creeping up on us so quickly, and I do still struggle with how frivolous some of this seems in light of Aleppo, but as I wrap the gifts and curl the ribbon, I think of how the hate and the wrong will not prevail in this house.  We will celebrate the birth of our Savior and find him everywhere we go and in everything we do.  We will not let hate make a mockery of the peace we have with God and his goodwill toward all of us.  We will not let it keep us from loving those within our power to love.

We will continue to pray and give and seek to see that God is even in Aleppo.

We will remember, in the words of another beautiful carol, that "in all our trials, He was born to be our friend". (O Holy Night)

We wish you a Christmas that is refreshed by the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  May you know His peace, experience his goodwill, and enjoy his sweet friendship.

Please pray for Aleppo, and if you feel led to help, there are many wonderful ministries helping the refugees.  The one closest to the front lines seems to be The Preemptive Love Coalition.  Above all, please pray.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Why I Do What I Do

I have swept the flour I-don't-know-how-many-times today.  And there are still crumbs, and probably some stray pinto beans Little Guy threw from his high chair during dinner.  Someone will step on them and squash them later.

The sofa was covered with laundry today. I did manage to get it folded and I did take a basket full upstairs. But there it remains.

I discovered the playroom was a disaster area.  As were all three kids' bedrooms.

I'm grouchy and weary from chatter, one child's constant stream of ideas bombarding me every moment I try to focus on something else.  I just want some quiet tonight, time to recharge my depleted mind.

It's all so cliche. The messes. The dishes. The laundry. The chaos of kids.  It just seems so... over-stated.  Every one of us moms talk about these things.  It's just the way it is, with kids.  There is nothing special about my situation, my frustrations, my exhaustion at the end of the day.  So it feels foolish to even write about it. It's all been said before. By me and countless others.

I am so tempted to think that what I do doesn't really matter.  Because most of it will have to be done again today or tomorrow.  It's regular work, that's for sure.

But I take pride in it.  Being here at home with my children, day in, day out, being a homemaker, a home educator.  I do really believe that this matters.  I could be doing anything, but I chose this.

I do what I do for good reasons.

We started a new book today. The Green Ember by SD Smith.  I kept hearing about it and it was free for Kindle one day.  It's not the type of book I typically enjoy reading aloud (fantasy) and would rather get the audiobook. But, again, it was free for Kindle.  So I read five chapters aloud today.  I utilized the highlight feature a few times.  I'm thinking this will be a good book. But I'm not all-in yet.

Until Brown-Eyed Girl asked me tonight, as I wiped down the stove top; "Is the author of The Green Ember a Christian?"  "You know, I think he is." I said (and it may be that SD Smith is a woman, ha!).  "What made you think he might be?" I asked her.  "The part about the king." She answered, and walked off.  King Jupiter, the best king there ever was... reminding her of The  Best King There Ever Was... Jesus.

This is why I do what I do.

All four kids are squashed on the couch watching something on Netflix together, one blanket covering all of them.

This is why.

My little one clinging to my legs.  Or his tight grip around me as I carry him. His legs clenching around me because he doesn't want to be put down.

This is it.

Sipping caramel tea out of yard sale tea cups and dipping graham crackers in it as we sit around the table together with a good book.

Yes.

All those questions they ask that I get to answer.  About sex, why people do what they do, about beauty, truth, good and evil.

It's the best.

Watching them fill their bellies with good, healthy food, mostly, and hearing the occasional "thank you" for it.

I do what I do for them.

I know, know, know that it matters more than I could ever really know.

That may be cliche.  Along with all the messes and chaos and crumbs.  But it is still very, very true.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Doors

Sometimes, love just walks through your door. It's true.  Most of the time, the very best things that happen to you just... enter in.  Without fanfare. Without you even knowing that this moment will be life changing.
 
For a little while, before I officially met him, I watched the man that would become my husband. He wore t-shirts from triathalons he was in and Umbro shorts and regular department store jeans.  I didn't know who he was. But one Wednesday night, I saw him walk through the door, pushing a wheelchair for a young man who had never been able to use his legs.  And I thought, that's the kind of guy I want.  Someone kind, a servant.
 
I didn't know I would marry him less than a year later.
 
One Thursday night, I opened my front door with a baby on my hip.  It was the third week of the Bible study we had begun in our home and a bunch of people had come out of nowhere!  They were singing in my living room, and I heard the doorbell ring.  I carried Mister, just three months old, down the stairs with me to answer the door, and in walked Sara.  Eight months pregnant.  The most talkative total stranger I had ever met.
 
I didn't know that we would be the best of friends thirteen years later.
We would add more babies to our bunch.
The babies
 
Our husbands would become best friends, too.
We would vacation together.
Have countless dinners and movie nights and shopping trips.
 
 
This isn't just a story of how I met my husband and my best friend.
It's a reminder.  Mostly, to myself.
 
To ask and keep asking.
To seek and keep seeking.
To knock and keep knocking.
 
Love really does just walk in sometimes.
You can't plan on it.
Or make it happen.
You pray.
And you open the door.
 
  
Thirteen years of friendship- what a gift!
  So glad Sara came to my door all those years ago.
 
 
 
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
Matthew 7:7

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

On Sixteen Years

Sixteen years ago, I married my best friend, and I didn't even know it.  We were babies.  Just twenty- one and twenty-four.  After a whirlwind courtship (three weeks!) and a speedy engagement (three months!) we committed to a lifetime spent together.  While normally I'd say this was a recipe for disaster, in our case, it was a match made in heaven.  There was no doubt then, and never have I doubted since, that it was the Lord God who brought us together.



I was musing today about what I would do differently if we had to plan our wedding again.  I would pick the same dress, handmade by my mom, and wear a veil, but no tiara this time.  And my hair might be a little closer to something  natural (smile).  I wouldn't change a thing about the service- the church, our wedding party (my brother stood up with me and Josh's sister with him), the music, not even the thunder storm that messed up the sound equipment.  We got married in the era before digital photography (we are ancient) so our portraits would be more touched up and with much less formal posing.  Oh, and I'd smile real big cause I've had braces since then! We would still have an evening reception, but catered to make life easier for our families, and we would most definitely have dancing if we did it again.   To all the songs that have since become the soundtrack of our sixteen years together.

But even if it was just two people standing at an undecorated altar, him covered in wood pulp and paper stock from a messy day at work and her in an everyday pony tail and a quick coat of lipstick, I would make the same choice, say the same vows I said back then.

I'm still learning a lot about marriage and us.

Namely, we are so different.  Sometimes we want totally different things, things bigger than steak vs. chicken (but we'd both pick steak given the choice).  Sometimes the things we want are the things people part ways over.  But because we're not so different on the important stuff, the other stuff is just an opportunity to grow, broaden our horizons, learn something, or sometimes it's just an opportunity to die to ourselves.


What we've got is something others wish they had.  Maybe they don't want our four kids, or to be a one-income family, or drive a rusting Suburban, but when we look at each other and our fingers intertwine and we laugh together over some inside joke and then our lips meet... yeah, they want that.  The stripped away part of who we are is really good stuff.

At some point, even in a really great marriage, it's going to be something you have to fight for.  And the battle isn't against each other, the battle is with ourselves.  Very early on I learned that even if I was "right" in a situation, there was still some selfishness there if I demanded being "right". And selfishness is the battle for me.  It's wanting things my way.

You also have to fight for time together, for meaningful communication, for laughter when life just stinks. You have to fight for intimacy when you are both exhausted from long days on the job.  You have to fight to keep your marriage relationship number one, somehow, when the needs of your children really do take over and when other responsabilities must take up your time.  Marriage is real life, not a perpetual honeymoon.

But I've learned the power of second honeymoons. Third honeymoons, Fourth, fifth, and on and on.  What a powerful thing to get away together, even if it's just for a night (but a few nights is better!).  It's another thing you somehow have to make happen.  It's not spending, it's investing.

And on that note, monogamy rocks.  Enough said.  Blush if you must.

As Josh's wife, I have this incredible power, that could lead to absolute destruction if wielded wrong.  He cherishes and respects my thoughts, feelings, opinions (and I am FAR more opinionated than him), and because of this, I could be the one in control of this marriage.  But I have learned that while I have freedom to bare my heart, soul, and strong mind to this man, I also have the great blessing of leaving it with him to do what is right and good.  I know he would never do anything to hurt me or our family.

I have the power to make or break his career, ministry, reputation, and all sorts of things and that is a fearsome thing. I long to do him good and not evil all the days of my life, but there have been times I have failed at this.  I have always loved the quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants." There is a lot of truth in this, and I want to be careful to turn his head in the right direction.  Josh has always been my biggest fan. He's been on my side, even when I was wrong. He's been patient, kind, faithful.  In so many ways, he as been the making of ME.  Wow, love this man so much.

We aren't the babes we once were and I'm so grateful for that.  I love how we have grown together the more we have grown toward Jesus.  I love the laugh lines on his face, the graying hair around his temples. I love that I have not yet found a gray hair on my head.  And that if he has, he has not pointed it out to me.  Yes, I love him.

Marriage is such a sweet gift.  Sixteen years a gift to me.  And I still have so much to learn. But if it means spending a lifetime together, I'm up for it.