Saying Good-Bye

We all have ideas about how things in life should go.

We make plans, schedule appointments, we set goals, and every single person has expectations for others and life and how things should work, and nobody can really deny that if they’re honest.

And having an idea about how something should go is nice and all that, but you can have amazing ideas that collide with reality and fall flat or catapult into disaster.

It wasn’t my idea to have a family the way we have. When we got married that hot and sunny August Saturday, infertility and vials of blood work and health problems and miscarriage and unanswered questions and fostering the babies of women who had more than their fair share of hard knocks in life didn’t exist on our list of ideas about starting a family and what that would look like.

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I might have run the other direction if I would have known.

And I would have missed what it felt like to have my brown-eyed Cub smile and look up at me after a long day sick with a bad cold and say, “I love you, Mama.”

I would have missed losing all that sleep on those eternal nights when he was cutting multiple teeth and I would have missed how it felt to have his chubby little fist curl tight around my finger.

I would have missed the tears of toddler tantrums and the days that felt like failures I wanted blotted out, and I would have missed the joy of seeing his eyes sparkle and hearing the childish delight in his laughter.

I would have missed the fingerprints on the windowpanes of my front door and I would have missed the scribbles on the hallway wall and the poop smears in pants and

I would have missed the child wonder.

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And then, our journey took a turn we never imagined.

We said yes to a little girl that was coming.

A little girl with a drug addiction already raging in her unborn body.

That was never our idea.

I remember laying in bed one night, staring at the ceiling and wondering what she would be like and how it would feel to be a mama to a girl. I felt this heavy pause in my heart and I told my husband that I felt a little scared.

“I think this is going to be really hard.” I whispered into the dark.

He was silent, like he could feel it too. “Yes…maybe,” He said slowly, “But I think this what we are supposed to do.”

And I know that if we would have known, I would have run in the other direction.

And I would have missed the strength of a peace inside myself that didn’t come from within myself, when her body shaking all over would shudder with deep breaths and relax against me – me just rocking and singing and praying.

I would have missed the joy of of her first smile, at two weeks old, an image framed forever in my heart.

I would have missed the daily hours commuting and feeling starved for a real home-cooked meal and I would have missed how her eyes would follow me as I moved around her and how she would listen when I talked.

I would have missed her screams and cries and high demands and the exhaustion of it all, but I would have missed how she would stop crying and listen, every single time I sang to her about the angels watching over her. No other song could soothe her like that one, and I would have missed the comfort that washed over us both, singing it over and over again, for a whole hour.

I would have missed what felt like endless evenings of restless cries for hours straight, and I would have missed how the Cub got to lay on the floor next to her and tell her his stories. I would have missed the delight of watching them interact – her listening with big, admiring eyes, his wild gestures and childish stories holding her momentarily spellbound.

I would have missed the witness of her healing, how the tormented question in her eyes vanished into the sparkle of a shine that would have made any mama-heart indescribably glad. Nevaeh_snuggles

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I would have missed the anguish of saying good-bye to our life together, but I would have missed the gift of ever having a life together.

May 5 is the anniversary of our chapter closing, one year ago.

My heart is constantly pondering what we have missed and remembering all that we had, as the forget-me-nots bloom early and the late-spring breezes whisper warm.

And it’s been the hardest year of my heart, of my life.

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I hold her special blanket just a little bit longer and I let my heart feel and then I stand.

It’s time to say good-bye.

It was never my idea to let my child go so soon. It wasn’t my idea to say good-bye.

But if I stay here I know, I will miss life and joy and wonder and miracles.

So I whisper that final good-bye in my heart, to the sweetest pea that ever was in our pod, and I know I just let the most beautiful butterfly leave her cocoon –

to soar.

Carried by the wind, the very breath of God.

 

What if 2017?

Sometimes it feels like to live is to hurt.

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One cold December morning, there’s an ambulance at the neighbor’s house, and then the coroner’s van. All of this just a week before Christmas, and it wasn’t just someone in the world who overdosed on drugs, it was my neighbor.

They had just moved in a couple houses up the street. We hadn’t met yet.

Overdose happens all the time. They’re calling it a heroin epidemic.

His fourteen-year-old son woke up to the alarm beeping and he ran to find his Dad, because they would be late.

He ended up calling 911.

The ambulance came and then the coroner, and that cold December morning, that motherless boy’s world fell apart.

Sometimes it feels like living is hurting. 

You can shelter yourself from the hurt pretty good, if you want too. Live safe. Happily exist.

Let me ask you something. When do you start caring about something? When it personally affects you?

I get it. Me too.

But what if we chose to break that pattern?

What if we decided to reach out to our neighbors before tragedy strikes?

What if we decided to make the opportunity perfect, instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity?

What if we made up our minds to stop seeing the rise in drug abuse as somebody else problem?

What if the killing of innocent children broke our hearts every time we looked at our child?

What if we let it make us uncomfortable that 20-30 million slaves existed in the world today?

What if we decided to forfeit getting supper out for one night, to sponsor a poor, underprivileged child for a month? (It’s roughly about the same price.)

What if we let it bother us that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before age eighteen?

What if we started seeing faces for every statistic that is spouted off?

What if we chose to care?

Because you know it’s a choice.

Your choice.

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I started running this year. I woke up on Mother’s Day 2016 and I told my husband that I had ten weeks to go from not-running-at-all to running a 5K, and nothing was going to stop me.

Because doggone it, I knew what it was like to do life in the NICU and I had been blessed significantly through the ministry of Gradys Decision.

I was personally affected, so I started to care.

And that makes sense, right? Awareness grows significantly through personal experience. That’s a part of life and it’s okay to an extent.

But I’m just going to tell it to you straight.

It’s also a really selfish way to live.

It took my entire world getting ripped out from under my feet, to see how sheltered of a life I had chosen to live.

Get this part.

I chose the things I cared about, from how things personally affected me

Let this overwhelm you. It needs too.

You can keep on living your safe little life taking care of your world and be lost, or?

You can lose your life for the sake of the Gospel and be found. 

Stop putting your time in – at the soup kitchen, at the pregnancy center, at the youth outreach, at your local church, you fill in the blank. Put your life in – all in – for Jesus – right where you are.

To love your neighbor as yourself is not figurative.

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And remember – Jesus saves.

I’ve heard people talk about how there’s just no way we can effectively care about all the needs of the world and how coming to understand this has been so empowering.

What if we laid aside our rational effectiveness and put our life all- in, wherever we are, whatever it takes – and were empowered to care for all the people and all the issues of the world, in all the ways that we are called in our today, knowing the reality that it’s JESUS who saves.

So today, from my little house on the hill, I can sign a petition for refugees and pray for the humans being trafficked and give baby clothes to the pregnancy center and bake a pie for my neighbor and I can most importantly ask God to prepare my heart to say an unequivocal YES to love. 

What if 2017 was the year?

The year to care – about all the issues in the world.

The year to let our schedules be interrupted by others.

The year for our hearts to be broken by the ugliness of our own sin.

The year to be present with the poor, compassionate for the addict, concerned for justice, and consumed with love.

The year to BE the gift to everyone we meet.

Let’s do this. #whatif2017


 

——— > check out TOP PICKS, for some more media/literature/resource recommendations from us!

By Faith, You Can Take the Next Step

She was three weeks old on Friday. Three weeks old and eight pounds of round-cheeked, big-eyed cuteness. Three weeks old and I want her to slow down on that gaining weight, getting big stuff. I’m counting down the days and dreaming of the day her face will get kissed with winter sunshine.

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When she was born, I thought we had a 50/50 chance (it was probably more like 90/10) we’d be home in a week and I hoped real big. And then they admitted her to the NICU, where she could safely fight out her withdrawal, and I was sure it would be just two-three weeks.

And then two days before her 3-week birthday, she got her highest score ever, sweating real hard, crying real loud, shaking too much. And they said, “she needs relief” and her dose went back up – not down – and my heart panicked.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told God and I waited for Him to speak, to reassure me, to calm my heart like He’s done so many times before.

Silence.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I told Him again, my heart beating fast and my body feeling weak and my mind so tired.

Silence.

Sometimes when you feel like you need God the most, He doesn’t speak.

Know what I mean?

I felt that this week.

I cried. “People don’t get it, God. They don’t get how hard, hard, hard this is. My whole life has completely stopped. I just want to do laundry again and clean up Leo’s messes and make my family supper and greet Ryan when he gets home from work. I just want to bring my baby girl home and put a ribbon in her hair and give her a bath in the bathtub and rock her in my rocking chair and cover her with her pink elephant blanket and put her “Wild About Daddy” outfit on her and be a family with her.”

I cried and I talked it all out.

The fear – that Vaeh would suffer from developmental delays, that she’d be in the NICU for another month, that Leo would feel like I abandoned him and never forgive me.

The anger – sometimes at Vaeh’s mom, for letting this happen to her daughter, sometimes at people who don’t seem to care about her – to care that she is my daughter regardless of our different bloodlines, at unfairness and injustice and brokenness.

The weariness – of driving, driving, driving, of living so many hours in one tiny corner of one big room in one brick hospital, of eating cafeteria or take-out food, of sleeping in strange beds, of beeping monitors and false alarms and clumsy chords and security badges and locked doors, of trying to be brave.

The exhaustion – of trying to balance being a mama to Leo and a wife to Ryan and an advocate for Vaeh’s mama, and a friend and a sister and a daughter and a fierce mama for Vaeh, of trying to figure out when to be what and how to be what and what it all means.

I cried and I talked it all out and when I got all done, there was no sign from God or word from the Lord or blessed reassurance.

There was nothing but deafening silence.

I know you’ve been there before too. I know you’ve lived in a hard place and you’ve cried out from your hard place, hoping and longing that in your moment of desperation, a verse would come, a song, a message – something – anything – to make you feel heard and noticed and reassured.

 I bet you’ve been there before, sitting in that hard place, wishing for a ray of hope, waiting and waiting and the only thing happening is nothing.  

And when that nothing happens? When you don’t get miraculously healed from cancer, or miraculously discharged from the NICU, or miraculously saved from a broken relationship – you have a choice to make and it is one of the most important choices you will ever make.

You can believe God or you can not believe God, and what you choose will set your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, and there’s no middle ground here.

Job asked God a lot of questions and when God finally spoke into the silence, He said, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

It was kind of like God was saying, “Job, I made you. Why do you ask me where I am, Job? I never left you. And Job? Job, nothing happens that I don’t see. I am the Creator. I have not forgotten you.”

We’re human and we want something tangible, and when God is silent, sometimes we wonder if He’s even real.You can believe God or you can not believe God, and the difference all comes down to faith

And whether or not you believe or not believe, will not only change your course for the next moment and the next choice and the next time, it will change the entire direction of your life.

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

By faith, I know that God has brought me here. I struggle to know and to see how it will all end. Will Vaeh be healed? Will we get to bring her home? How long will we have her? How long will we know her? Will Vaeh be delayed and struggle for the rest of her life? Will she grow up and thrive, healthy and secure and loved? Will we have the chance to be a family?

In my humanity, I want answers and I want answers now.

And then there was Abel whom God commended as righteous for offering up his first fruits, and Enoch whom God commended for pleasing Him, and Abraham who obeyed God and went on a journey not knowing where he was going,  and Sarah who believed in God’s power for the impossible.

Hebrews says that it was by faith.

Hebrews says that it was by faith and that they died in faithnot having received the things that were promised, and the faith chapter eleven in Hebrews ends with saying this: And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us,that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I wrestle with my faith and I wrestle in my faith and in my flailing humanity, I don’t quite get it.

But I know that the choice to believe God or not believe God will be the catalyst in my life for how I live, how I walk and how I see.

So I’m taking the next step, and the next, weary, exhausted and sometimes fearful, because I want to die in faith and have it be counted for righteousness.

You too? I know we cannot do it alone.

So let’s do this faith walk, you and I, and let’s do it together.

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Why NOW is the Time to Speak

You gain a new appreciation for hardwood floor when you wash five hundred or so square feet by hand.

It was scrubbing the floors last week, shoving my rag into the corners and pulling out the dirt, that it came to me. There I was, on my knees on the kitchen floor, and it was there on my knees that I saw. 

I clean my kitchen every single Friday, barring an emergency or crazy, unexpected interruption. And I still missed it. The red splatters all over the white kickboard. I wash down everything (but the kickboard), every week, and in motivated haste I had wiped my cupboards clean for who knows-how-long with the sticky splatter right under my nose.

There on my knees I saw it, and isn’t that how we usually see most clearly? On our knees?

My baby just turned one and I look at baby pictures and hardly feel like I know who that wee infant was. Already there is so much I don’t remember.

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I scrubbed a little harder.

Memories of last year’s hard winter washed over me. I had no idea, back then, how totally lost I was, how robotic I had become. I was surviving, eking out existence trying to be okay and feeling completely swallowed up in the proclaimed “best job in the world”.

Motherhood.

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I’m ready to talk about it now.

I grew up one of thirteen kids and man, if anyone had childhood experience walking a colicky baby, putting children down for naps, and breaking up sibling squabbles, it was me. At seventeen, my mom would leave me in charge for a day (sometimes longer) and I didn’t just “watch the kids” – I made the meals , made sure the chores all happened and no one murdered each other, kept the house clean, kept the laundry going, and sometimes even graded the school papers.

I felt pretty experienced. “Having a baby is only as hard as you make it.” I’ve said that more than once in my lifetime. To an extent, I think it’s true.

To an extent.

But no amount of childhood experience ever prepared me for the calling of motherhood.

How you might be called to live, day after day after dayweek after week after week on five interrupted hours of sleep each twenty-four hours.

How your hormones will do a number on you in ways you never had a category for.

How much you will wade through the mommy guilt of doing things you never said you would do. Like raising your voice. Or eating a whole chocolate bar in five minutes flat.

How you will feel like you are a butt-wiping, boo-boo kissing, time-out dealing, meal-making robotic machine set on non-stop repeat.

This winter, the snow came and the bitter cold took up residence and we all froze.

And some of us froze straight through.

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I knew I had and I thought I was going insane. I have longed to be a mother. The pain of my barrenness runs deep and there are scars that vein my heart.

I felt so guilty and when I started talking, the things people said to try to encourage me only made me feel worse.

“You are doing the most important job in the world.” (Are you seriously saying that to me right now?)

“The role of a mother is a high calling.” (Thanks for telling me. Again.)

“Just leave the dishes and rock your baby. Babies don’t keep.” (I like rocking my baby, but right now that colossal stack of dishes on my counter feels like the clincher to my sanity, ok?)

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I am not making fun of this advice, nor am I trying to be sarcastic.

But really, when a mother is in the trenches of mothering, the last thing she needs to hear is all of the above (and everything else like it). The truth is, I felt like such a loser as a mom. Here I had wanted this so bad and I was sure I was creating horrific devastation with my flailing attempts.

And the worst part? (And this is the part that still almost makes me want to cry.)

I thought that I was alone in it. Because 95% of the moms I know never said that being a mom was this hard. Ok, they said it – “mothering is hard work”, “mothering is the most sacrificial work you will ever do”, blah, blah, blah.

But no one ever told me that there will be days when tears course your cheeks and you plug your ears because the baby won’t stop crying and all you want to do is run far, far away.

No one ever told me how mad you will be sometimes, for reasons you can’t even put your finger on.

No one ever told me how you will feel like you are living in a vacuum of diapers, bottles, feedings, and tears.

 No one ever told me how badly you will wish you could grab the keys, spontaneously call up a friend and walk out the door for coffee at the drop of a hat.

When a mother finds herself in the trenches of motherhood with its cobwebs in the corners, grime on the bathtub, spit-up on her clothes, and food stuck between her front teeth , she needs to hear one thing: your story.  

Because when a mother tells her story to another mother, when a woman tells her story to another woman (even if she isn’t a mom), that’s when community happens and everybody can stop singing about how we aren’t alone because everyone will start living like they aren’t alone.

This is for all women mother or not, because every struggle a woman faces has been faced by another woman, and the truth is? We are surrounded by a community of saints with stories of everyday grace and glorious redemption – God taking our feeble efforts and our disastrous attempts to do life and become and stay sane and thrive-not-survive – but we will never see until we speak.

I hear it from the moms and I hear it from the wives and I hear it from the career women and I hear it from the women in ministry.

We’re all fighting, asking how we can have joy, and it comes to me on my hands and knees scrubbing the white kickboard in my kitchen. We don’t create joy, we receive joy. We don’t somehow get- to joy, we accept joy. Happiness can be created, but joy transcends the fabrication of humanity. 

And this is why NOW is the time to speak. Because somewhere there is a mother in the trenches and a wife struggling to breach a chasm with her husband and a woman overwhelmed with the demands of her work, and none of us need to hear the clichés, but we all need to hear the stories of what He has done. How He has redeemed.

How the Source of true joy is true to His Word and how every darkness is shattered by a morning light, ushering in unspeakable joy. 

 

 

 

The Women with Numbers

She lines up next to thirteen other women. She tries to play the part but her eyes, haunted with deep, terrified emptiness, tell a different story. Ever so slightly, her shoulders tremble.

Her number is 34.

Number 34, one of many lost in a darkness she had never imagined to be possible, in all her innocent childhood play.

She was surrounded by other women and girls, some of them frightfully young, robbed of their childhood, each with a different story but a similar end. The day she saw one of the little girls ushered in to line up with the rest of the women, she fought to control herself.  She clung to the memories of childhood mirth and girlish innocence in this hell hole of abuse. The memories were her hope that maybe good really did exist in the world.  How was she surviving, the small wounded child, injured so young? Did she know that the world could be different?

Southeast Asia.

Atlanta, Georgia.

Caribbean.

Latin America.

The women with numbers live the world over, some of them right down your street, in your neighborhood.

Some of them are forty. Some are twenty-five. Some are eighteen. Some are nine.

They are women trafficked by insidious men who profit from the pain of the innocent. They are real women with real names and real stories who live in hell everyday of their lives.

I sit in my comfortable dining room staring at my Toshiba computer screen, and I’m asking myself how much I care about the fact that somewhere in this world, somewhere in my country, which is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, there are women and girls under ten lining up for potential clients, wearing a number.

“Sitting in the air-conditioned complex discussing Christian theology as it applied to relationships, marriage, family and employment practices was all very nice. In the light of what I had seen during the week, however, such debate and discourse seemed empty and devoid of any authenticity because there was no involvement on behalf of those most enslaved and oppressed within their own communities.” – Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel, page 131 

I know we can’t save everyone. I know there’s thousands of pressing needs and urgent issues that cry out for redemption and I know that we can’t individually meet all those needs and address all those issues.

It is true. We cannot be the savior of the world.

But what would happen, if the Body of Christ rose up in the power of THE Savior of this world and stood against the depraved evil of mankind and defended the innocent and recognized that as long as they claimed His name, they inherited His mission to set the captives free? 

 “What would happen if in the face of the very worst forms of depravity and evil in the world, Christians walked in the knowledge that they are the dangerous ones and the ones to be feared?” – Daniel Walker, God in a Brothel, page 135

What would happen, if we acted upon the knowledge that we are the dangerous ones and the ones to be feared? What would happen if we stopped hiding behind manicured Christian lives and dared to storm the gates of hell itself?

What would happen, if we took the dare to be the radical brave, to stand against impossible odds, scorn and every potential criticism, to make every effort to stand up for the innocent, to reach out to the lost, to invade the darkness, to BE the light?

To do all that we can, with all that we have, with all of our might –

and trust that none of it goes wasted.

All that is spent and given for Him is used by Him.

What if we lived as if we believed that?

I preach this to myself and I dare to speak it to you.

Because somewhere, the women with numbers are swallowed in a darkness that only His light can infiltrate.

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RESOURCES

http://www.nvader.org

http://www.enditmovement.com

http://www.ijm.org

http://www.thea21campaign.org

 

 

 

The Glory of Suffering

Her eyes are deep pools, sad and questioning. She came, walking light and carefree, laughing about nothing and everything with the abandon of a fifteen-year-old girl.

Who knows what triggered her silent withdrawal?

But there she sat, head buried in folded arms resting on the table, forlorn and defeated.

I rub her shoulders, “You ok?”

The shake of her head is slow but there’s no mistaking it. She shrugs. “Not really,” she whispers.

I keep rubbing. “You wanna talk?”

“No,” She rests her chin on her hands and I watch the muscles in her face, working to keep back the water rising to the surface, threatening to spill over.

“C’mon, let’s go in the other room…” I squeeze her shoulder.

“No,” She insists, shaking her head a little more emphatically.

I gently persist, “C’mon, girl.”

We walk to the other room and sit and the tears spill over and drip off her nose and I just hug her tight.

Sometimes we all just need a hug.

“You want to tell me what’s bugging you?”

She’s quiet.

“Are you missing your dad?” I know I hit the nail on the head with that question.

“I know God is real. But where is He, Miss Renee?” She lifts her head and her look is challenging. “I pray and I ask Him to help me and I keep believing, but I feel alone. I don’t even want to keep living sometimes it hurts so bad. I won’t commit suicide, I just won’t, but I think about it.”

Sometimes there are no words. What do you say to a fifteen-year-old girl who lost her father completely unexpectedly?

That unsuspecting spring day, he’d gone to the ER for random, questionable pain.

He never came back.

“I never really said good-bye, Miss Renee,” She is sobbing now, “Do you know how bad that hurts?”

I pull her close and keep rubbing her tight shoulders.

Her dad had died weeks after returning home, after a year away. There had been counseling for him and his wife and a lot of hard, hard work. And then he’d returned. Home to be the father and husband he really wanted to be, with God’s help.

“Will I ever understand why?” Her defenses have crumbled and my heart feels shredded by her grief.

“I wish I had good answers…answers that I knew would make you instantly feel better,” I pause. “But I’m not going to pretend with you. I don’t.”

She wipes her nose and nods her head. She’s old enough – been through enough – to get that.

“You know Job?”

Yeah, she nods her head, she knows about Job.

“Job lost everything. Everything. Do you know how God answered Job’s questioning?”

She shakes her head slow, “Not really.”

“Let me read it to you:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

I read a couple of chapters. “Why do you think God was saying all this to Job?”IMG_0023IMG_9992

The tears have slowed and she’s quiet. She’s thinking.

“Why did God say, “Where were you?” I press and I can see her pressing into the holy Words, thinking.

“Maybe…” She hesitates, “I don’t know…it seems like God is saying how great He is.” Her voice is soft.

“Yeah.” I’m proud of her. This girl with the short, thick hair and the quick laughter and the round eyes. “It was kind of like God was saying, “Job, I made you. Why do you ask me where I am, Job? I never left you. And Job? Job, nothing happens that I don’t see. I am the Creator. I have not forgotten you.”

Sometimes there are no answers. No formulas. And sometimes the best doctrines on suffering fall short. Everyone sits in Sunday School and tries to talk about what it means to suffer and why we suffer and everyone ends up saying almost-the-same-thing in about twenty different ways.

And maybe the question we should be asking is not “Why do I suffer?” Maybe we should be asking, “Why don’t I suffer more?”IMG_9318

This is the entitlement age.

Where people who don’t work have more {government} money to spend on food than the man working hard at the layman’s job. And everyone and their brother, including everyone who really can’t afford it, has a smart phone and cable. This is the age of working the system.

We’ll fight for every right that we determine we should have, except when it hurts.

Then we cringe and balk. We deserve so much more.

But the truth? We don’t really deserve anything.

And everything we have is a gift, on-loan from our Creator. He is gracious. He is grace.

John Piper, he said something once about Christianity being more about resolution than mere consolation.

The entitlement-people see being saved as being “safe”, so when bad stuff happens, we start shaking our fist at God, saying, “How could you let this happen?” The submitted ask questions too, but they ask them to know Him, not demand for more or better.

Elisabeth Elliot said,

“To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss.” 

So this girl I know, has had her personal encounter with the cross and she has suffered a deep loss. She feels alone sometimes, like even God has left her, and she asks God lots of questions, but she presses in deeper to know.

And sometimes, that is all we can do.

“It’s okay to ask God ‘why?’ He doesn’t mind. You won’t always get an answer, but don’t get mad. God hasn’t moved an inch, girl. Sometimes He might feel far away, but don’t be fooled. Push forward in the dark times, girl. Press in.”

I don’t have good doctrine for why fifteen-year-old-girls have to lose their daddy whom they have recently been restored to relationship with. It feels every centimeter as cruel as it sounds. I have firsthand seen this pain.

I don’t know what to tell the barren woman who sees the abortion statistics and the faces of wounded children bound from her with governmental red-tape. I fill these shoes too.

I don’t have words for the new mother who is clawing at freshly turned earth, for the baby that died so young, in the middle of his sleep. A senseless death, a piercing loss, the emptiest of empty.

But if I could say anything to the anguished heart?

God hasn’t moved an inch. 

He is present. With you.

The glory of suffering is that every second of our misery is a moment of restoration.

Redemption is happening now.

God, the Creator, is still the Creator.

And I promise you, He is creating a far more exceeding eternal weight of glory.

 Press in. Press on.

What to Do, When You’re Hanging Onto Life by a Thin Thread {the rest of the story}

You move, I said.

You move forward.into.life.

And the only way you do that is to let go.

Release.

I’ve been clawing my way through life, living at breakneck speed, furiously tearing at life.

My thin thread was once a thick rope, but I’ve lived the life right out of it, desperate to get everything I can, racing.

Racing against time.

But the thing is?

Time always wins. The hands on the clock never move slower or faster.

Time is relentless.

And the only way you stop racing and you start living is to let go.

Let go and let God, take the small offerings of a small life to make the world a little brighter, happier and more beautiful for someone else.

To make a difference.

To matter.

The truth is?

The people God uses for bigger things are the faithful in the small things. 

And the faithful are the people who rule.

All of us exit childhood and enter into life with expectations. We’re going to live a beautiful life.

The commencement of our adulthood is framed with the knowledge that life will not always be perfect or smooth sailing, but sometimes just plain down hard.

We know, but we have no idea.

No idea how frustrating it will be to spend most of our life doing the common thing of living. We don’t really get it — that our most realistic expectations about reality are still naïvely romantic.

No idea how very, very little control we have over our destiny. This, you cannot comprehend, until you experience the sifting that comes with the stripping bare of your deepest dream.

No idea how we will flounder, the innovative, energetic, exciting, adventurous, “I’ve-got-this” people that we are. We’ve got dreams, man. Ambitions.

No idea the pain that will come with the experience of realizing that a Christ-centered life does not always equal earthly supreme happiness.

No idea that sometimes when the real knowing comes, you will feel cheated.

When it comes, when real life knocks and you open the door to a suffering you never imagined and you can’t do a thing about it –

the only thing that you can do, to ever stay alive and keep breathing, is to open the door wider and surrender yourself to the beautiful reality of what it means to be alive and belong to God. 

You move forward into life, letting go of that last strand in your rope, because God’s had this one the whole time and all of your wrangling has just strangled the life right out of living.

It feels like defeat, but this is when you fully engage.

“The time has come for us to quit playing chess with God over our lives… The One who created you and set all those loves and gifts in your heart, the One who has shaped all of your life experiences (including the ones that seem to make no sense), this God has prepared a place for you that is a more than perfect fit for all your gifts and quirks and personality traits – even those you don’t know you have. Christ is not joking when he says that we shall inherit the Kingdom prepared for us and shall reign with Him forever.”*

Most of life is endless monotony and the people who want more will suffer.

At some point in life, we all will come face to face with the stark reality of what being alive and human in an imperfect world means and the moment we embrace it is the moment we awaken, coming alive to what it means to live.

This is about God. We’ve said it and we’ve known it in philosophy, but when our human expectations shatter and we’re feeling ambushed, we realize it in our hearts.

This is about God. It always has been and always will be.

His redemption is at work, and for you, the one just barely hanging on?

The truest surrender is the full embrace of the life you are called to live today.

And your greatest expectations pale in comparison to the beautiful plan He has for you – the one who dares to give up all in faith.

*Quotation from “The Journey of Desire” by John Eldridge.

Why Everyday of the Year Should be a Holiday of Love

$130.97.

The per person average estimated amount that people will spend on Valentine’s Day$130.97.

Tonight I’ll pop a freezer meal in the oven and if I had candles, I would light them for supper, but I don’t. When my husband asked me this morning what I wanted to do on the evening when most of the whole world is out dating, I shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” And instantly felt terrible.

Why does it feel like a huge monstrosity that I feel disenchanted with Valentine’s Day?

I loved Valentine’s Day as a kid. It meant that when we tumbled down the stairs for breakfast there was a small bag of candy at our spot at the table with a valentine from Mom and Dad. Juju hearts were my favorite.

The total spending that will be reached by Valentine’s Day is $18.6 billion dollars.

I feel sick.

Sick of love.

Is this love?

I’m wondering why it feels like a huge monstrosity that I don’t put much stock in the holiday of love as a married lover, but what if we all stopped in our checkout lane with our candy and cards and flowers and candles and asked if the real monstrosity  was not that we were going to eat a candle-less freezer meal for dinner, but that the whole word was buying into one of the biggest scams on love ever.

Filter through Facebook and it’s picture after picture of chocolates and flower bouquets and I-feel-so-loved statuses. And don’t get me wrong, please. 

There’s nothing wrong with chocolates and flower bouquets and feeling loved by romantic gifts.

And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Except that by Valentine’s Day, $18.6 billion dollars will be spent on well-meant but fleeting gestures of love by a world of people in desperate need of knowing True Love.

Love with shoes on.

Valentine’s Day has gone viral and nations of people are infected with the urge of expressing love.IMG_7339 IMG_8010 IMG_7193 IMG_7807 IMG_7801 IMG_9877

What if we took this holiday of love and turned it completely on its head? What would happen to this sad, corrupted earth if love became more than a commercial industry for February 14th?

What if we made Valentine’s Day 2014 a commencement not a culmination of loving? A day to commit to the law of God –

to love Him wholly and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

What if we all – the God-lovers – covenanted with Him on the holiday of love, made 1 Corinthians 13 our mantra for the year and wrote our radical declaration in the sky:

We will live to love, at the expense of every other pursuit.

What if we wrote it down with permanent ink –

That unless we’ve clothed the naked, fed the hungry, befriended the lonely, visited the prisoner, risen to meet the needs of the sick and homeless, given ourselves to a life of living love 

We better not keep adding to our bursting-at-the-seams wardrobes,

Spending money on cheap expressions of love,

Going on dates with friends to fill up our relational tanks, and

Debating theological points rendered pointless without a theological life.

Correct theology is imperative, cheap expressions of love are romantic, dates with friends are good and clothing is sanctioned by God.

Except the pursuit of it all – religion, relationships, romance and raiment –  is pointless if it replaces, ignores, or comes before living out that greatest, only commandment.

To love.

1 Corinthians 13

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.

It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The Place of Right Here

It was the day I jumped out of bed at 6:15, because we both slept through the 5:30 alarm and had to leave the house at 6:45. Somehow we made it out the door with coffee, fully dressed with fixed hair…at 6:50.

On the way home, I hit slush and the car went spinning sideways. I corrected and it spun to the right and back to the left and there I was fishtailing on a country road in the middle of barely any-man’s land with a baby in the backseat and a dead cell phone. 

It felt like I was swerving much longer than a few seconds, but it really was just a quick moment before the car was fully corrected and driving carefully straight again, the song on the radio playing, “God is holding you right now”.

A couple hours later, I try to leave for the doctor’s office and I back out of the driveway and my tires slide to the left and shrink into the snow bank. I push the gas and it’s nothing but spinning tires.

No!” I say it slow and quiet and I feel wild with desperation. I might as well be in a snow bank out in the country. The neighbors are all gone and there’s no one in sight. I start shoveling.

Somehow I get Kyle dropped off to play with Carson and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office just a few minutes late. Leo is sleeping and I’m waiting in agony for the shots to be done when they come out and tell me they ran out of vaccines.

I just sit and stare. What was the point of the whole morning, almost driving into a ditch and getting stuck in my own driveway? The anxiety and frustration and the close call?

My favorite part of the day is right after lunch. I sit and rock my baby and sing, I Love You Forever like a broken record. He stares at me over his bottle, wide brown eyes, and I watch them grow heavy and slowly droop shut. I lay him down and then I wash Kyle’s hands and face and we snuggle under his blanket with his “Little Man” and read books.

The lady who wrote Sarah, Plain & Tall wrote a short masterpiece of storybook literature called, All the Places to Love. I’ve read it many times before, but every time I’m spellbound and captivated by the true-to-life pictures and the simplistic, real-life story.

All the places to love are here, I’ll tell her, no matter where you may live. Where else, I will say, does an old turtle crossing the path make all the difference in the world?

Kyle doesn’t get it, but I want to. All the places to love are here…no matter where you may live.

All the places to love are the places right here.

IMG_4328 IMG_4383 IMG_4339 IMG_4331 IMG_4367 IMG_4363 IMG_4377 IMG_4369

Here.

Something in me tells that’s the key word.

The man slaughtered in Ecuador, Jim Elliot? He said, Wherever you are, be all there.

Be all there in the place of right here, wherever right here is.

Because when Moses looked at God and said, Who am I to do what you are asking me to do? God said, “Certainly I will be with you,” and called Himself the I Am.

Maybe we’ve got this whole thing of self-esteem downright wrong.

Moses stood shaking in his bare feet before the Burning Bush, before the Almighty God, crying out – “Who am I?” and God didn’t answer back, injecting Moses with “you-can-do-it”, “I believe-in-you” affirmation. 

He said, “I am that I am.”

I slid across the road and spun deep ruts in wet snow and said, “I can’t do this today, God!”

I hold my baby-love close and shake my head no at the thought of giving him up.

My eyes seep salty water those gray mornings after sleepless nights.

I chafe against the hard things, like an SOS pad and a pan of burnt-on rice.

I think I can but I can’t, this thing of living all there in the place of right here.

And God flies in the face of popular notions about self-respect and says, “Depend on me.”

You right there?

You can all there in the place of right here, because He is –

I AmIMG_8252

When You Wake Up and Realize that Real Life is {just that} Real

Beep. 

The librarian with kind eyes and a voice that shakes cheerfully stamps another book and pushes it across the counter towards me.

Kyle’s hopping on the stool at the desk, digging in the Treasure Chest for a sticker, and Leo’s flailing wild in my arms, bouncing.

I feel it warm, the curdled milk on my neck and across the hood of my sweatshirt. Leo looks up at me and smiles, bouncing.

“Ohhh,” I reach for his burp cloth, affectionately dubbed “the spit rag”, and start mopping myself up. Leo keeps bouncing and Kyle’s hopping from one foot to another and I stink like throw up. Again.

“When don’t I stink like baby puke?”  I think this dryly.

I’m past the honeymoon stage of motherhood and why don’t I just say it since I’m thinking it?

I’m past the honeymoon stage of life.

What do you do when your divine privilege has lost its divine flavor?

You know, you bundle up the kids in their winter clothes and make sure the diaper bag is fully packed and go banging out the front door with all your paraphernalia and the car doesn’t start?

You know, getting much less than forty hours of sleep per week and feeling so exhausted you fall asleep sitting up.

You know you can fill in the blank with your own very un-storybookish, raw tale.

Becomeamom

What do you do when your divine privilege has lost its divine flavor?

And this doesn’t go solely for motherhood. Your divine privilege is living out whatever calling God has given to you. And what do you do with that disconnect of believing that you are where you are doing what you do, by the divine placement of a sovereign God, when you just don’t feel it anymore?

What do you do when you wake up and realize that real life is actually real?

Not Pinterest perfect.

Or Anne-of-Green-Gables nostalgic.

Just real life with baby puke and carpet stains and smudged windows. Lots of laundry. Chapped hands and broken fingernails. Burnt suppers and sleepless nights.

How on this earth am I supposed to live?

That’s the question I keep asking, the one spinning through my brain.IMG_7247IMG_7342IMG_2287IMG_7252

I have no idea how other women like me have time to take care of their nails. I think I might have a nail file – maybe two or three – but some days I hardly have time to go to the bathroom.

I want to read books and I know that behind every good writer is a great reader, but the last time I tried reading I fell asleep sitting up. True story. It takes me a long time to get through an easy-read and I read fairly fast.

I see people sew really cool things like cute dresses and beautiful quilts and Pinterest-perfect pillow covers and I thank my lucky stars I hate sewing because I might be tempted to guilt myself for not having time to sew too.

Most days, these days, I have enough time to get dressed and fix my hair. The rest of the day I am wiping bottoms clean and tickling piggy toes and reading story books and rocking baby to sleep and playing truck-sound-guessing-games. I’m doing good to have uninterrupted time in the Word and sometimes I want to cry because I don’t think I pray one prayer in a day that isn’t interrupted by someone crying, the phone ringing, or someone at the door.

I’m asking what you do when your divine privilege has lost its divine flavor, but I’m thinking that the demise of divine flavor begins at the commencement of my divine privilege if I see my divine privilege through Pinterest spectacles.

It’s all about how I see. 

It’s far too easy to fall in love with the idea of marriage, and forget that marriage means forging life with another human (a man to boot) with their own set of opinions and ideas.

It’s far too easy to fall in love with the idea of motherhood, and forget that motherhood interrupts your sleep, your routine, your agenda, and your ability to go to the bathroom in privacy. It also, might mean that you perpetually stink of baby vomit. You may luck out on this one. 

It’s far too easy to fall in love with the idea of a career, and forget that a career is just like everything else in life – the excitement fades and the paint chips, driving to work every morning gets old and having a career can get just as ordinary as washing dishes.

It’s far too easy to fall in love with ideas.

So when you wake up and realize that real life is just that, real… you feel the emptiness of a life out of focus.

Your head and your heart never melded on this one and you’ve been spending your time at the surface, repairing the holes in a shiny veneer. 

Marriage doesn’t unfold like it was expected. Or motherhood. Or that career. Expectations falling short of those wild hopes and deepest dreams. This isn’t cynicism, this is reality.

Disenchantment happens to us all.

So when we wake up and realize that real life is real, that motherhood is messy, true love is gritty, a career is demanding, and all of it can often just be plain boring, how do we move forward from here?

“What made you start writing this?” Ryan looks at me with his deep brown eyes.

I sigh. “I think it’s where I’m at…” I wait for the right words to come. “I think in a lot of ways, I thought life would hold more than it does. I feel surrounded by the common things and they aren’t very exciting.”

Washing dishes.

Potty training.

Soaking spit-up out of clothing.

Sweeping floors.

Dusting the mantle.

Mopping wet stains off my hardwood floors.

Making the bed.

Cooking supper.

“But I’m wrangling through, because maybe it’s not that life holds less than I thought, but that what life holds is overflowing with more than I ever thought, if I would only look and see.”

It’s all about how we see.

Jesus came as a common man and brought His holy self to a common world.

There were no fireworks and no New York Times Bestseller lists. No Noble Peace Prize or Caldecott Awards.

Just a simple man who spent most of his life doing the common thing of carpentry, who bowed low and gave His own life for the glory of God.

Real life is real and the glory of God is man fully alive. 

All of life really is a bit of mess that manicured dreams fall short of capturing, but when we wake up and realize that real life is real with dishes and dirt, loose ends and disappointments, we awaken to all that life isn’t at the same time as realizing all that life holds.

There’s holy in the common thing, glory in the smallest form of service, beauty in the simplest act of kindness, blessed hope for the ordinary life.

Awake and embrace life for all that it is, not all that you dreamed it to be, and the deepest place in your soul will rouse from slumber and the shades will fall from your eyes.

It’s you, coming alive to all that life is – so much more than you ever dreamed.  Leooncouch