Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Big News, Big Dreams and a Bigger God



My word for the year is actually two words -- dream BIG. Countless times this year, the following verse has crossed my path:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.
Ephesians 3:20

So, I've hand lettered this verse on my kitchen chalkboard to remind me multiple times a day what this year is about for me. You see, at first, I thought it was about dreaming all my dreams and then God showing up to make them come true.

Uh, no. Not at all.

The truth that God has made very clear to me is this. I am to focus continually and intentionally this year on asking him to give me a bigger understanding about how limitless he is. 

I am to concentrate on thinking the truest thoughts of who he is and being filled with a sense of wonder about the miracle of the gospel.  

I am to surrender my thoughts, ideas and dreams to him, exchanging them instead for a deep sense of trust in whatever he has for me. I am to hand him what I have in mind and rest in a deeper understanding and confidence in who he is.

And so, I have dug deeper. Prayed more. Refocused my thoughts over and over and over.

A funny thing has happened along the way. 

The more limitless and grand and wonderful that God is to me, the more I feel called to be brave and to jump into endeavors that have felt like too much to me.

The truth is that they are too much for me.

But they aren't too much for a God who is both sovereign and personal. He is a God who is simultaneously omnipotent and intimate in the way he loves us enough to invite each of us in to his plans.

Today, I am taking a jump. It's a leap that has felt scary, thrilling, exciting, surreal and awe inspiring.

Today, I publicly announce that I have a book. Yes. I have a book with my name on the cover and you can buy it.

It's not the book that I've avoided because I couldn't find words and telling my story or any other feels daunting. 

It's actually a Scripture coloring book, filled with 50 of my hand-drawn Scripture illustrations. It's been a deeply personal project. A labor of love. And a step that I am beyond confident is exactly what I'm supposed to being doing right now.


This book has a story all its own that began 38 years ago, when I was a little 7-year-old girl. An avid reader, I began to dream of becoming an author and illustrator. From an early age, I found escape and solace in creative outlets, filling sketch books with doodles and writing stories in my head. Creativity has always been the language of my soul.


Two years later, I wrote my first “book” when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer. As he recovered from surgery to successfully remove the cancer, I was too young to visit him in the hospital. So, I began creating daily pages of illustrations and poems to send him. I eventually put my creations together in a three-ring binder that my Dad treasured.


Life continued, and my dream was nearly forgotten while I became busy with the tasks of growing up. 


Then came December 22, 1988. I've learned, like many of you, that sometimes a life-changing event occurs and its impact is so far reaching that you cannot grasp it until it is viewed in hindsight. On that rainy day, another surgery was scheduled to remove another cancer. The prognosis for Dad was good. But, as the surgeon began his work, he found previously undetected liver cancer. We were told three to six months. I was 17 and a senior in high school. I felt numb as I left the hospital to drive home. Suddenly, I was startled to see the most brilliant rainbow spanning the sky. A very certain thought filled my mind – that God would see me through this and would never leave me.


As Dad fought another battle with cancer, I created more drawings to encourage him. This time, I illustrated Bible verses. Daily at first, I would bring a page for Dad that he would tape to his hospital wall in a collection that filled the room. When I left for college, I mailed a page each week while my Dad’s battle continued. 


On May 14, 1990, my Dad went home to be with Jesus. I added the second pile of drawings to the original three ring binder. 


As I have walked through days of grief, I often have thought about writing my story. I even mentally titled the book The Promising Rainbow as a nod to that moment when I felt God’s presence so profoundly. 


This book of Scripture illustrations is the full circle of hand-drawn pictures from daughter to father. It’s the fruition of the seeds planted from tiny, uncertain offerings in my effort to give back to the Dad who had given me so much. 


This book is a baby step to tell the story of the Heavenly Father who gave his all to make us his children.  He is the Father who paints his promises in the stormiest of skies and pours out grace upon grace.

As I edited and refined and perfected the designs for this book, I prayed for wisdom about the whole project. And it blows my mind where God has led me with this book.

 
This isn't just a book for you to enjoy. It's a book that is my come back story. It's a project to redeem and buy back what cancer stole from me -- all the things that I allowed to define and distract me from all the things God intended for me. I'm done being defeated by it. I'm proclaiming the goodness that comes even from loss.

 
So I'm going to use this book for others who are battling cancer. This book is a buy one/give one product. For every book purchased through my Etsy shop using this link, I will give a copy of the book to someone who is fighting cancer.  If you purchase the book on  Amazon, I will also give a copy to a cancer patient if you contact me with the confirmation of your book order. 

Listen, for everyone who has a dream buried in doubt and unbelief, I'm telling you to be brave. I'm asking you to go for it. Join me in just taking a step or a leap or a big giant jump. Seek with all your heart to think and believe the truest things about God.

Our God is crazy-big and much more limitless than the boxes we create that constrain him.

Let's blow those boxes up. Let's blow away our doubts and excuses and just do the things that we cannot shake from our minds.

That's what this book is all about for me. 

And I'm giggling at the next things. 

Oh, friends. This book is just the very beginning and the first step. I'm already working on the next project. And, I've got a sketch book that I'm doodling in to flesh out a really "NO WAY" idea. I'm asking my "ALWAYS A WAY" God to lead me wherever he wants.

Won't you join me in throwing off the obstacles and hindrances and just running? Let's run our races with abandon, using all our talents, time and energy on this earth for the kingdom's sake.

May we dare to color outside the lines.



Photo credit: Kaitlin Simmons of Zac and Kaitlin Photography


Thursday, May 26, 2016

If Not, Would I Still Think God is Good?

"I love you!" I shouted at him as he left.

"I love you, too!" he answered, as always.

"Drive safely!" I added -- also part of our regular script -- just as the door slammed shut. I give the quick command for safety as if it would somehow meld into a force field protecting my teenage driver. I know it seems ridiculous, but I compulsively add the desire for safety every single time he leaves.

It was a split second. I mean, truly, only a split second. A hesitation in my spirit that compelled me to jump up and run into the driveway to tell him not to go. It was so quickly dismissed that I didn't even remember it until about fifteen minutes later.

When my phone rang.

And I knew. I knew when I saw my son's name on the incoming call. I knew that this was the call no mama wants to receive.

"Mom, I've been in a wreck," his voice was calm. Slightly agitated, but calm. "I'm okay. But I think the car is totaled."

"But you're okay? You're sure you're okay?" I asked, hoping I was somehow coming off as calm as he was. 

He answered in the affirmative again and then told me which intersection I would find him. I told him I was on my way. 

As I raced out the door, I hollered back directions to my daughter to call her Daddy and give him the news, quickly reassuring her that her brother was okay.

I grabbed my keys off the hook, got in the van and started the car. And then sat in utter confusion. 

Where is Main Street? How do I get to Main Street? 

I've only lived in the area for over 20 years. And my mind could not compute where Main Street might be or how to get there. During the ten minute drive, I continually corrected my route, realizing I truly was beyond logical thinking. Repeatedly, I asked the Lord for protection for my son and for there to be people who would put him at ease until I could get there. Like some broken record, I said it over and over.

The late May day was a beautiful mild spring day, unusual for Texas. A gentle breeze swayed the trees and the promise of better things was held in the flowers blooming in yards and street medians. It should have been a good day. It should have been a relaxing, sipping sweet tea on the porch kind of day.

But it wasn't. And the calm from my son's voice belied the scene I witnessed as I pulled up to the wreck. Nothing could have prepared me for it. It was the sort of horrific scene on the side of the road that makes you gasp.

Except my son was in the middle of it. There. Standing, talking to a police officer. In the middle of over a dozen emergency personnel working the scene. With three fire trucks, an ambulance and multiple police cars. And there was my son's car, just behind a small SUV that sat on the driver's side.

I was looking at the undercarriage of a small SUV. The other car had rolled to the driver side.

I could not make sense of what I was seeing. I uttered a word I would never say in church. And threw my van into park as I sprinted toward my son.

The only thoughts I had were, "Dear God. What has happened here? What trauma has my son just seen and been a part of? Are there people trapped in that car? Did everyone live?"

I grabbed him in a tight hug and then pushed him out in from me so I could look him over, head to toe. Just like the first time I ever held him and counted his fingers and toes.

Not a scratch. Not a wound. Not a mark to be found on this treasure of mine.

"Are they okay? Is everyone out?" I asked the police. I was holding my breath and deeply exhaled when the officer said it was only the driver and she was safe and unharmed.

It was unfathomable to me. This young man who will always be my baby. In the middle of the chaos. Standing strong and sure, answering every question by the officer. And reassuring me. Telling ME it was okay.

My 17 year old. The teenager on his way for a soccer workout. He was being the adult.
 
You can officially fire me now as the Mom. 

Because my son was far more composed than I was. He grabbed me close and held me by his side for a moment, sensing my need to be propped up. I was strengthened by his tight hold and it was enough to kick me into gear. I began giving direction to clear out his car of all belongings, as I called my husband and then stopped to talk to the firefighters and police to try to sort out what had happened.

My son was north bound on a green light. The other driver was southbound, turning left in the intersection at a flashing yellow arrow. She failed to yield. And my son couldn't brake fast enough to avoid the impact. He had the where-with-all to think, "if I can slow down enough, maybe I will just clip it on my passenger side." I could see the skid marks on the road where he tried to break. His airbag deployed. He later told me that he left the car running, threw it in park and then ran to the overturned SUV. He and a few bystanders tried to free the other driver. But they couldn't get to her. By then, she had huddled into a sitting position on the driver window, which was on the ground. Her vehicle rested inches from the curb. We wonder what might have happened if the car had smashed into the curb on that driver's side where she sat. The fire fighters had to break out her back window for her to climb out.

Unscathed.

Without a scratch.

Not a mark on her either.

The paramedic turned to me and looked me in the eye to tell me, "M'am, you've raised a very polite young man. He handled everything beautifully."

Oh, yes. I take full responsibility. The mom who couldn't remember how to drive to Main Street, uttered a cuss word repeatedly and then needed consoling by my teenage son who had just been in a car accident.

Why yes. I'm a rock star. I take full credit! He obviously gets his calm demeanor from his frenzied mother.

The whole situation still feels surreal. Two days later, I just cannot compute it. So many thoughts are vying for my attention.

The hardest one is that I could have lost him.

What if the call came from a police officer or emergency personnel because my son couldn't call? What if he had been seriously injured? What if the other driver had been? What if the other car had small children or babies in it and someone lost their life? And what if my son had seen that or even been the responsible party in the accident?

What if?

If not a good outcome, would I still think God is good? That is the question that is haunting me. Would I still settle in to this glorious feeling of gratitude that God is in control? Would I still look heavenward and proclaim his sovereignty? 

What if? 

I would like to think that I would still turn my eyes upward to my Father. I would like to think that I would still proclaim him good even if life was not. I would like to think I would still choose faith. It's easy for me to contemplate this situation because I have the luxury to do so. Sitting from a place of a good outcome. Holding my son near me. While some of you long for such a thing.

I cannot fathom. I cannot imagine how you feel or how you put one foot in front of the other, when stuck in the weighty quicksand of grief. 

I feel a renewed sense of responsibility to never take for granted the luxuries that I have. 

That night, I wanted to sit in a tight little circle, with each of my three children tucked safely under my arms and then refuse to ever let them go. Anywhere. Ever again.

I woke up the next day, thankful. In the aftermath of what could have been a very different outcome, I am feeling the inexpressible joy of gratitude. For things that I had pretty much ignored in my usual bustle of life. Like having him here to cook for, clean up after and assist with all manner of needs.

It's so cliche. How life is fragile and fleeting. As I wonder if I would still think God good if he had chosen a different outcome. 

I am thankful that we had the recall on the airbag fixed just a few months prior. And that the airbag worked. I am thankful that the other driver was safe and unharmed. I am thankful for the kind and friendly and amazing emergency personnel. I am thankful that no one was in front of me every time I course-corrected on the drive to the accident scene. I am thankful for bystanders who rallied with my son to try to help. 

I am just thankful.

And as I went into his room to wake him the day after, I was thankful. For the luxury that it is. To wake my son up for another day. 

I uttered the millionth prayer of gratitude.

"Thank you for sparing my son, Lord. Thank you for preserving his life. Thank you for every time you prompt me to pray for my children's protection."

Then it hit me.

God spared my son. 

He did not have to. He did not owe that to me. I did nothing to deserve such a marvelous display of mercy. I did nothing to deserve the miracle.

And this Father who spared my son did more for me than he did for himself.

Because he did not spare HIS son. He did not spare his only son because he wanted to make us his children.


What kind of love does that? What kind of Father is this? Who gave up his own son for me? For you? 

And then he pours out grace upon grace.

To protect my son and perform a miracle on a regular day in May.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We've Lost Our Sense of Wonder

We live in a shock-and-awe culture. We live in an era of extravagant displays of technology and status and wealth that is unparalleled to past generations. For instance, Yes Magazine says that "According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a new single-family American residence in 1950 was 983 square feet. Today, it is nearly 2500 square feet." 

Oh, yes, we want all things that are bigger, better, flashier and with more bling and technology than our grandparents could have imagined. Cutting edge. Not just keeping up with Joneses, but better than the Joneses. And boy, do we know what the Joneses are up to, thanks to social media.

But, there is a danger lurking.

There is trouble brewing. 

We are like a destitute beggar who suddenly comes into money. Over time, the decadent days of grandeur and prosperity begin to dull the sense of appreciation. The more time that passes enjoying excess, the less aware the beggar becomes of humble beginnings. The luxury and the "more" begins to both desensitize a sense of gratitude as well as create a demanding entitlement. 

This is us. And not just as it relates to our financial status and everyday life, but also to our faith. Particularly, in regards to our reaction to the gospel.

I know of what I speak. Because this is exactly what has happened to me. This is exactly what I am becoming ever more aware of as the blinders are being removed.

I'm a church girl raised in the pretty pews. And over time, I began to lose my sense of wonder. In fact, I now question how much I ever had a sense of wonder? Did I ever fully appreciate the mind blowing truths of the gospel? Before this Great Awakening to grace, did I ever really see myself as the destitute beggar?

Or have I always been desensitized to the profound shock and awe of the gospel story? 

Perhaps I never before had a true appreciation and gratitude for the undeserving excess of mercy that was secured for me on the cross.

This is a pitfall, indeed, for those like me who have no startling salvation story. Whose "testimony" goes something like this: I was raised in a Christian home. I asked Jesus "into my heart" at a young age. I've been a Christian all my life. The end.

Behind such a "lackluster" story comes a temptation to disregard the miracle of grace. There's an insidious pitfall to give ourselves credit in the from of self-righteousness, as if we played some part in the glorious outcome of the gospel. We, like the one who was once a pauper, look around at the riches we enjoy and somehow believe the deceit that we've earned it. Our senses are dulled as we look back and think more highly of our former status, as if we weren't really that bad off to begin with. 

We elevate our own offerings and pursue our own demands and rights. We make our own plans and dream up our own futures, and then warp our status before a Holy God by inviting him into our own ideas and asking him to bless them.

In so doing, we think much of ourselves and little of Him. We dare to steal his glory, seeking man's approval and our own status, perhaps with a twinge of guilt. Yet far from a sense of wonder at his glory and holiness that is actually so profound and so awe-inspiring that Scripture tells us that man can not fully see it and live. In our self-elevating desensitization to the wonder of the gospel, we chase our own agendas, with a nod to Christ mixed somewhere in there. 

We live our good little Christian lives believing the absolute lie that we bring something of value to the table. We walk the halls of our homes daring to believe that we've somehow earned them. We drive the cars we think we are due. We shop for clothes and furniture and things, paying with "our" money and enjoying the comforts of the lives we think we have built. We enter the church's doors on Sundays with broad smiles and a sense of pride at our accomplishments of the week and the good people we think ourselves to be.

All because we have lost our sense of wonder at the gospel. We've boxed Jesus into our pretty little frames and we stop to glance his direction with a nod or a praise song designed to evoke an emotional response. So that we feel good. We wait in eager anticipation for great displays of God's greatness and extravagant blessings poured upon us.

We forget. We have not laid hold of the truest things about who God is and what the gospel story actually tells us about ourselves.

We are the pauper. We are the dirty, shameful, homeless, sinful, wretched beggar. Who has thrown it all away and has not a penny to our name. We are rightfully cast out of the presence of a God so very holy that none should dare to seek an audience with him. We are nothing. We have nothing. We bring nothing. We are owed nothing. We are the worst of the worst. We are filled with a sin nature that continually mocks the Holy One by daring to place our sinful selves before him. 

He sits on the throne. In the glorious heavens. All that is was created by him, with the sound of his voice. He is without fault. Perfect. Set apart from all of the creation that is actually his. He knows the stars by name. He tells the tides where to stop. He commands the winds and the waves. He knows the farthest reaches of the cosmos and holds all of it in his hands. 

And we are the sinful, prideful, undeserving created beings. 

Although we have no merit, no value, nothing to offer, he is the loving father who watches for the rebellious son's return. He is the Holy One who hikes up his robes to run to us, welcoming us with a grace that we could never ever earn, no matter how "good" we are. We are in his debt and at his mercy.

And the good news is, that while we are the prodigal sons who day after day throw away our inheritance in sinful living, he still waits for us. He still welcomes us. He still kills the fattened calf and celebrates that we have come home. He pours out love upon love. Grace upon grace. Mercy unending. Loving kindness undeserved. 

He bought us back. He paid the highest price by offering his only beloved son to die the death that we deserved. To be killed in our place. To make a way.

We bring nothing.

He gave everything.

He made his son his own enemy so that we, who are actually enemies of God, could be made his sons.

That great exchange is the absolute wonder and miracle of the gospel story. And if it does not stir gratitude and humility within your heart, then you have indeed lost your sense of wonder about the cross.

If you are giving yourself any credit for any blessing in your life. If you are making any demand of God. If you are waiting for some great big pay-off to be poured out from heaven because you think you've earned it... then you have lost your sense of wonder. 

If you cannot still yourself in a humble and prostrate position of your heart before a righteous, holy God, then you are missing it. 

You are missing the freedom of releasing yourself from any hope of earning or striving to be deserving of the gift. It's a freedom to embrace how hopeless and wretched you actually are and it allows you the ability to live in speechless astonishment that you can dare to approach the throne of grace. It's a freedom that celebrates that you've been invited in. It's a freedom to revere your place at the banquet table of the Lamb. It's a freedom that is ever aware that not only has he secured this eternal inheritance, but that the Lord God Almighty knows your name and will speak with you and be involved in directing your life.

Oh, that we would look to Elijah. Who dared to stand on the mountain and declare his own accomplishments... "I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty!" (1 Kings 19:10). Is that not our posture toward the gospel? We proclaim what we have done and what we are owed. And we wait for big displays of God's power that fit our own need for shock and awe.

We think we know what God looks like and we think we can handle his presence. We look for him in the great and powerful wind. We look for him to shake the ground around us. We wait for big explosive fires and flames of grandeur in our lives.

But God is in the gentle and quiet whispers. God is in the songs of the birds in the morning, sent to remind you that he gave you another day and he sings over you with love. God is in the gorgeous sunsets that declare his glory as he parts the curtains of the heavens to give us the tiniest peek into the unfathomable.


God is in the hugs of the children and the sloppy kisses of the toddlers. God is in the embrace of a loved one when bad news comes. God is in the rhythm of each day, telling the sun to rise and to set as he keeps the earth spinning. God is the tiniest, smallest aspects of each day that are a miraculous display of his greatness.

And we miss it all. We miss these little gentle reminders of his love. Because we give ourselves too much credit and we demand the showy displays of greatness.

When really, God comes in a gentle and quiet whisper. Interacting with a people undeserving of his attention.

If we can desperately pray for an ability to think the truest thoughts of him, then they will inform us continually of our own wretched status. And the incredible, miraculous grace extended to us. This is the beginning of wonder. This is the baby step.

That we can, in that position and posture, hear the gentle and quiet whispers. And like Elijah, pull our cloaks over our faces, humbled that God would let us hear his voice. 

And hungering all the more for these tastes of glory. These revelations of grace. These moments where we remain in awe of who he is and quite aware of who we are.

Oh, that these moments would become so precious and revered that they direct all our thoughts, words and actions. As we see ourselves clearly in the mirror of Scripture to realize the truth.

We are a dirty, filthy beggar lying at the back entrance of Glory, summoning the courage to knock at the servant's door and ask for a crust of bread or a day's labor.

While the Master throws open the front door to invite us in to become sons and heirs. 

That's the wonder of grace.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

She Tells Our Story

The music played and the crowd stood. Like so many other Sunday mornings throughout my life, I found comfort in the familiar routine. The words, theologically sound and Biblically accurate. Singing them over and over again remains one of my favorite ways to rehearse the truth and preach the gospel of who God is and who he makes me. The lyrics washing over me and calming my soul. Restoring my peace and building my trust.

And so, the ritual of worship and praise on that Sunday morning was like so many other Sabbath mornings. 

But then, she caught my eye.

Somehow, in my peripheral vision, her little hands caught my eye, off to the right in the darkened sanctuary.

It took my breath away.

It was so profound and so clear and so utterly beautiful that I literally skipped a breath.

The toddler girl, being held by her father. She swayed to the music and her little precious arms were lifted in praise, imitating what she saw. Imitating what she had been taught. Unashamed and too young to be self-conscious and anything more than intuitive. She raised her little arms and worshipped. With a childlike faith.

To a casual observer, nothing might have stood out from this scene. But I knew the back story. I knew the love story that led to that moment.

And so, I stared. And drank in the sight like a thirsty desert wanderer. 

It was almost too much. This incredible visual of my story. Of your story.

It's the story of all of us.

You see, I've known this little girl since she came home from the hospital. 

Not with the one who birthed her. 

But with the ones who signed up for the job. The ones who trained and filled out endless paperwork and prayed and asked to take on the task.

They were the ones who brought her home.

Knowing they might not keep her. Knowing that her story was one of brokenness. Knowing the outcome might bring heartache, but willing to endure the pain of it all as they poured themselves out. Ready to be her refuge and her caretakers.

For the time being.

I don't know all of the details of her birth or her history. It's not mine to know. But, I've been an adoption social worker long enough to speculate on the hardships that let to this newborn being placed in foster care. 

And in this placement, she also was placed in our church family. We all welcomed her. We all prayed for her. We all held her and watched her, week after week.

No matter how loosely you try to hold a foster placement, your heart always gets tied up tightly. 

This was no exception.

Her foster parents, like so many others, realized they simply couldn't hold back. Because there is no way to love loosely when your heart becomes so attached. And so, rather than trying to "keep perspective," they just learned to brace themselves.

They loved without abandon, this little one who had, in some ways, been abandoned. This little one whose health was uncertain and whose future was unsure. This little one who had a birth mama who gave her life but didn't now how to make one for her daughter. Whose birth mama struggled against circumstance. 

With a sacrificial love that is hard to fathom and a strength born from faith, they loved without abandon. Asking us to simply pray for her best interest. Her best future. Even if it wasn't with them. Even if it broke their heart.

They cheered the birth mama on. Rallying us to pray for her to set things right and make good choices. Even though that would mean they would say good-bye to the newborn who had become an infant.



The ups and downs of foster parenting is a roller coaster ride that is not for the faint of heart. Broken systems designed to help broken people generally leave the littlest ones vulnerable to a tug-of-war where no one really wins. Someone will always lose. 

The birth family.

Or the child.

Or the foster parents.

Or some combination of them all.

Yet, these young newlyweds handled it all with grace and maturity. They loved her well, and loved her birth family. They poured themselves out, knowing that their love came with a price. But they were willing. 

Even if their part of her story was only for the mean time.

And then, just as it seemed that the final resolution was becoming clear, another road block fell in the path. Just as it seemed that she would become theirs forever, an obstacle appeared that seemed insurmountable.

Our church rallied again. Preparing to fight for them in prayer and asking God for strength for them no matter what.

It was no small thing when suddenly, the news came.

She would be theirs.

Forever and always. 

Despite all the circumstances. Despite all the battles fought. Despite all the back and forth and the uncertainty.

Her future became certain. Her life became clear. And her foster parents, who had loved her enough to be willing to love her if only for a season. They became her parents for every season.

On that Sunday morning when I glanced over and saw her worshipping, in her little childlike faith, I saw our story.

Every one of us.

We are born into uncertainty. Our lives begin with a trajectory that is riddled with brokenness. The odds are stacked against us. Our future looks dismal.

But Someone stepped in.

Someone stepped up.

Counting the high cost of love, he was willing to pay the price.

And it changed our destiny. 

It changed everything.

Because he made us his very own. He did whatever it took to be able to call us his child.

Had we been left in our circumstances, the odds were stacked against us.

But he rescued us.

He delivered us.

He came for us. 

And he held us through all the long nights and promises to hold us through all the battles.

He brought us into his arms and into his forever family.

So that, like this precious little girl, our names might change.

From abandoned to beloved.

From uncertain to accepted.

From brokenness into fellowship.

And he holds us in his arms tightly.

Just as her Daddy held her tightly.

That despite whatever we are born into and whatever comes against us, we can throw our arms up in surrendered worship and know this.

And be assured of this.

That while we might have born into one future, he loved us enough to change our course.

We have all been adopted. We have all been brought in from the cold and the pain and the suffering.

That we could be made complete and whole because he dared to love us. 

And it's a love like that of her parents.

Only infinitely even better.

A love that says stay right here with me. Let me hold you. You are redeemed. Your future has been changed radically.

You are loved.

And you belong.

So, you see... that Sunday morning vignette unraveled me.

Because she tells our story.

The story of all of us.

Brought into a family.

Held by love.

That we might throw up our arms in worship and praise to the One who changed our lives. 

To the one who secured our future. For all of eternity. 



photo credit: Sunset After the Rain via photopin (license)

Monday, April 25, 2016

10 Things I've Learned in 45 Years

This past week was indeed my birthday. Which always has me in a state of reflection about my years on the planet. And last Saturday, that anniversary hit 45. 

 
Now, when I was a teenager, 45 seemed old. I know, I know. How cruel of me. The ignorance of youth. But now, here I am. Hitting 45, although mentally, I sorta got stuck seeing myself as the 20-something that I used to be. Until it gets to be about 8:30 and I find myself yawning because I'm ready for bed. Or when I have to reach for my either my readers or my iPhone flashlight app in a restaurant to read the menu.

Yep. I own it. I'm the big 4-5, and dadgumit, I've earned every day of it so no need to lie about it.

One the most wonderful things (absolutely no sarcasm, I promise) about aging is that life lessons hit home and it's absolutely true that with age, comes wisdom. I've learned a thing or two along the way, and I'm still working hard to put these lessons into practice as I embrace who God made me and how I'm bent and other wonders of the universe.

1. I'm really an introvert at heart. This may seem rudimentary to some of you, or if you know me, maybe you're not surprised by this? Or maybe you are? Anyhow, it's been a very windy road to learn my natural tendency. I was painfully shy as a child, or at least how I remember it. A speech impediment brought bullying and life on an Army base brought no lasting friendships. So, I threw myself into creative pursuits like drawing and sewing to pass my time. 

As I grew older, I threw off this shy demeanor like it was bad fashion. I banished it and worked very, very hard to become more outgoing. I joined about every club there was in high school (not a major feat, trust me, in a little town like Lampasas, Texas). I even danced on drill team, out there in the middle of the field for all the world to see. Then, I went off to college where I knew no one and started all over again. Next, I became an adoption social worker, requiring lots of being an extrovert. Although it was hard work, I thought I was winning at it. I could stand in front of a large room of prospective adoptive parents and absolutely love the chance to educate them about adoption. It felt natural to be a public speaker. I spent all my days on the phone or interviewing and visiting clients.

I thought I conquered it. I thought I had proven that I was the coveted extrovert that I had so highly valued.

But here's the truth I'm finally just embracing with complete acceptance. Or attempting to, anyway.

I hate talking on the phone. I do. I hate calling people I don't know. I recently took a temp job where I had to cold call prospective customers. And it made my palms sweat and I was filled with dread. 

Oh, I still love public speaking and teaching, and I do love to hold the attention of a group of friends regaling them with tales that I hope are humorous. 

But, I realize that I'm actually an introvert. And that's okay. It's okay to be recharged by time alone. Shut out in my master bedroom, banishing all of my beloveds so that I can be by my own little lonesome self.

It's okay to admit that when I get in a crowded room, I feel a sense of anxiety when the people press in. I can stomach it for a while. But then I want to rock in fetal position in the corner because it stresses me out.

Taking my kids to the State Fair of Texas? Or attending a sporting event in a crowded venue?

Sacrificial acts of love.

Totally drains me after a while.

And that's okay.

2. You can't please all of the people all of the time. While this may also seem rudimentary, I am a natural born people pleaser. I want to be approved and accepted and I want everyone to be having a good time. I feel sweat dripping down my armpits when a guest in my home for whatever occasion is obviously wishing they were somewhere else. 

Let's all be happy! Let's all be peaceful and get along and sing Kumbaya.

The slightest indication of displeasure in a social setting? QUICK. Figure out how to right that before something awful happens like unhappiness or heaven forbid, a conflict or confrontation.

Look, there is no such thing as world peace at all times. I STILL have to talk myself off this ledge on a regular basis. Oh, yes, lots of positive self-talk. Or preaching the truth to myself.

Here's the deal.

I tell myself, "no one is happy or peaceful all of the time." And, "Just look at celebrities! They are all adored and applauded until they are shamed and booed. People are fickle." And I remind myself, "work heartily as for the Lord, NOT MEN, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance" (Colossians 3:23).

Old habits here die hard. But I'm stretching myself to be released and healed from people pleasing and to instead fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

It helps that at my age, I can look back to how tied up in knots I was about how people perceived my clothes, hair and abilities when I was younger. Because of experience, I can gain perspective that clearly reveals that I gave my joy away and allowed others to define me. 

Instead of allowing the One who made me be the only definition that guides me. 

3. The gospel ain't the Sinner's Prayer. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. In fact, I still attend one. And when I was four, I vividly remember saying the "Sinner's Prayer" to ask Jesus into my heart. My parents were skeptics, given my young age. So they asked our pastor, Billy Graham, to come have a chat with me. (Oh, not THAT Billy Graham). But yet, I somehow think my pastor's name gives even more validity to that decision at a young age.

Recent revelations have brought me to an incredible epiphany.

Mind blowing stuff, folks,that I'm about to reveal.

The Bible does not one time refer to anything remotely referencing asking Jesus into our hearts. Now, Revelations talks about how he stands at the door and knocks, and "if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," (Revelations 3:20).

The reality is that I've been a bit off base here my whole stinking entire life. So, if you are ahead of me, don't laugh. And if you think I'm talking jibberish right now, read on.

The gospel is not some one time prayer that you say just right and then it changes everything. Now, it can be that dramatic. It might look like that. A one time, profound experience where a definite decision to turn and follow Jesus is made. And nothing is ever the same after those little words of surrender are spoken.

OR...

...it might look more like a journey. Like reading about and exploring and checking into who this Jesus is and what this whole thing is all about, gradually. Slowly. And at some hard-to-distinguish moment, the tables subtly turned and the person begins to surrender themselves to the saving grace of Jesus.

You see, the gospel isn't a one time event. It's a day-by-day, lifelong pursuit to know God. To trust him. To take him at his word. To learn more and more and more about him. To remind yourself continually that it was actually nothing you could ever do that saved you. That none of it depended on you--including how eloquently or perfectly you recited some prayer. But the gospel means grace, that over and over and over again covers our missteps because of the blood of Christ. 

The gospel is continually reshaping our identity by realizing more fully who we have been made through Christ. It's a process of constant renewal. Involving reflection and reminders of the story of God's goodness and holiness and supremacy. And continually being humbled by the fact that I bring nothing to table and he brings everything. It's telling yourself more and more until you have the firmest grasp of this truth... Jesus, God's Son, came to earth to become an enemy of God so that we, who are enemies of God, might be made sons.

It's all him. And all glory and all honor and all praise and all worship and all that we have and all that we are simply are due to Him.

That's the gospel.

Learning exponentially more about who God is and who we actually are. And rejoicing with absolute surrender of ourselves to throw all we are at bringing more glory to his name.

4. Me time is not selfish and rest time is necessary. I'm routinely tying myself up in the ropes of expectations, either expectations for myself or the ones I perceive from others. Then, mix in motherhood, and it brings a recipe for disaster. At least when it comes to carving out me time.

I tend to seek worth in what I accomplish.

So, sitting around and resting or doing nothing is not comfortable or natural to me.

Which is why, in my teens and twenties, I almost never watched television or a movie without doing some needlework or some other busy work so that I was at least "being productive" while I sat around.

I grew up in a family where guilt trips were an refined art form. So I offer them to myself now with great gusto.

My type B husband has always encouraged me with such startling realizations like, "but resting IS being productive! It's self-care," and "recharge so that you can keep going."

And multiple times, we see in Scripture that Jesus himself "went away to a lonely place to pray."

Jesus. The sinless one. Needed some time alone. To refocus. Be filled. Focus on the Father. Recharge and renew. So that he could pour himself out again and again.

I think I'm not alone here in the mentality that "me time" comes when the kids all leave the nest and while the husband is busy doing other things. Because learning to set aside time for ourselves as a priority is not something we tend to do well in our busy world. The concept of Sabbath and rest as a regular rhythm to life is so foreign that even within the church, we have all but lost this ritual.

Who's in for reclaiming rhythms of rest? Rituals of Sabbath? Making them part of our routine? 

If you need desperate help in this area, then you can find out more from the author whose emails I receive weekly. Shelly Miller is the real deal, and she has created a community called the Sabbath Society to help us all learn to incorporate the Biblical teaching of Sabbath into our regular lives. You can find out more about the Sabbath Society community on Pinterest @Surrendering to Sabbath, and with the hashtag #SabbathSociety and #RhythmsOfRest on Instagram and Twitter.

5. Buy the fresh flowers. Life is short. Seriously. And people never lay on their death bed saying they wish they had been busier or had spent more of their time on possessions and things. People in nursing homes rarely mention how much they wish they'd chased bigger cars or prettier houses or better wardrobes. If you've spent any time with an aging grandparent or parent, then you know they have learned the value of cherishing the simple things and embracing the important moments in life.

This is how I'm translating this in my own life.

I love fresh flowers. But, they seem impractical and expensive to me, when living on a budget. It feels like a luxury to have them, so I rarely buy them, unless I'm hosting an occasion or such.

But no more.

Having fresh flowers on my dining table makes me happy. It reminds me of God's incredible creativity and I love how they look and smell.

So, whether it feels pragmatic or not, I'm buying the fresh flowers. I, in fact, have begun to keep fresh flowers in my home all the time.

Yep. All the time. 24/7. And it makes me super happy. It's just a tiny little splurge that greatly impacts me.

And, I love dark chocolate. So, I keep a bag of those little squares, and I eat a couple of them a day, savoring the moment. 

Two years ago, I began making a "vision board" at the beginning of each year by creating a secret board on Pinterest, where I pin places I want to visit, books I want to read, things I want to accomplish, creative pursuits I want to begin, and Bible verses I want to really meditate on during the next year. This sets my mind on the valuable and important things, and I look at it throughout the year to see if I'm staying true to goals or getting lost in the busy things.

I'm learning to put my phone down more and be more present with my children and my husband. While I don't love cooking during the busy week, I try to make the effort for even just simple meals so that our family can sit around the table for family dinners. And even when I don't feel like it, I try to encourage us to linger. And talk. And let our time together evolve into laughter, which it usually does. 

While I usually feel brain dead by the time the sun sets, I'm trying to live in the moment by lying down to read Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. 

Because some day, she may not want to snuggle close and giggle at the escapades of chatty Anne with an "e."

In other words, I'm working harder to stop and smell the roses. Or daisies or whatever flowers I've bought this week. And putting more effort into pausing for the moments. Despite fatigue or inconvenience or any of my feelings. I'm trying to make my motto that if my children ask for my presence, then YES. Yes. Yes, please. If they want to talk or have me host their friends or their massive life group for a youth weekend...yes. Yes. I will choose making memories every time. 

7. Be intentional about what you rehearse. What stories do you retell to others and to yourself? Over and over. What are the events and thoughts and things upon which your mind dwells? This is a very recent epiphany that I am putting new focus to learn. 

Wherever our mind dwells and lingers and repeats and rehearses sets the course of our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs and ultimately, our actions.

When I repeat times that I was offended or wounded or wronged, whether letting myself think about them continually or retelling those instances to others, I am preaching those injustices to myself. This leads to feeling how right it is that I should feel wronged. This leads to a selfish and prideful mentality that I deserved more. This actually leaves me imprisoned in the chains of these situations.

But, if I refuse to rehearse them and continually give them life by reliving them, then I am learning to free myself. If I choose, instead, to preach the gospel to myself, then I am learning and practicing freedom.

I'm soaking in the book A Gospel Primer, which speaks simply and eloquently to the practice of daily rehearsing who God is and who we are in him. In reading Scripture daily, we can let it inform and instruct our thoughts on God's character and how we are transformed and changed through the cross and resurrection. In praying back these Scriptures, we preach to our minds the truths of the gospel. In listening to praise music and hymns while we go about our tasks of laundry or cooking or cleaning, then we are further preaching the gospel to ourselves.

What we "rehearse" in our minds and in our interactions and in our conversations sets the tone of our lives. It becomes the script and the soundtrack of our lives. 

And it matters. A great deal.

8. Bring back entertaining like nobody's business. My girlfriends and I have noted that we, as a culture, have changed. There's no porches on which to gather. There's not Supper Clubs like past generations. There's not bridge nights with the same groups of friends or bowling nights. In our quest to be the perfectly pinteresting Martha Stewart host, we've just tossed out the idea of entertaining altogether. 

We've simply made things just too complicated.

We don't have to have a perfectly executed and complicated menu with matching place cards and lovely place settings.

For the love, invite the friends over. Into your messy houses and imperfectly messy lives. Truth is, theirs is messy too, so they'll feel right at home. Ask them to grab something for a potluck. Throw out some paper plates and plastic forks and sit around in the living room. Play a game and laugh a lot and don't sweat it if someone spills something.

Because we do not need perfectly executed events.

We need community that embraces the imperfections in us all.

And while we are on this subject, let your kids' friends come over. Host them regularly. Don't worry about planning things out. No need to plot out food or decor or activity. Let them figure it out. Heck, let them cook the food themselves. Let them paint and get messy and get your house messy.

Think back to your own childhood. 

What were the funnest times you had with your friends? Was it themed based parties with matching party favors? Was it a fancy Pinterest planned event? Was it plotted out activities because your mom served her position as Event Planner well?

For me, it was making forts with blankets, making up games, running around the neighborhood playing hide and seek, and other moments that were born out of boredom. Because there was room for our imaginations to be unleashed when we didn't have anything else to do.

9. Let your kids practice grown up things. For the millionth time I shall mention that my oldest launches for college in just over a year. And suddenly, I feel this panic about realizing that the kid I've been raising will, indeed, be a grown-up. He will be independent. Well, mostly. That was always the goal. That has always been the point. To work myself out of a job by letting my kids be the adults I've trained them to be.

Which means I need to actually train them. Toward adult things. Instead of helicoptering and hovering and doing for them.

Let my kids cook dinner. 

Let my kids mow the yard as soon as they are old enough to push the mower.

Let my kids drive the minute they are old enough. 

Force my kids to do chores. And learn to do laundry. All by their little lonesome. Helping out and cleaning house and learning all the things.

Making them work. I mean, at home from an early age. Yes. And for other people as soon as they can. Fill out job applications and learn to advocate for themselves at school. 

Practice, practice, practice for all the grown-up things because they will need to do them when I'm not there to watch and coach carefully.

I don't always do this very well. I admit. But, I'm working harder these days to be the mean mom and force the issue. Gulp and say yes when the newest driver asks if he can drive me. Even though this is hard for me. (why, no, I'm not a control freak....) Tell the high schoolers that they will have a J-O-B and their own bank accounts and will pay for their own gas and their own things like movies and eating out with friends. 

10. Be brave. My words this year are "dream big." While I primarily am seeking to grasp in a deeper way just how limitless my God is, I'm finding that he is calling me to bigger things. Because when I realize that I serve a God who is bigger than I have thus far believed, then I am equipped to do bigger things for him. And this requires me to be brave. 

Timid, conservative, play-it-safe me.

Brave. 

GULP.

Brave. Daring. Going for it. Learning to quit letting the fear of failure stop me and consider instead the regret of never trying. So what if it fails? WHAT IF it doesn't? What if I never give room for God to do new things because I refuse to step out in faith?

OH, that we could all be more brave. Have more courage. More boldness. This actually goes back to #7. If we rehearse the truest things about God, then we begin to thing the truest things about him. And it heals our unbelief. Quiets our doubt. And lets us dare to do that which we think is hard or difficult. It feeds the ability to be brave.

So brave I shall be. 

What do I have to lose? I accomplish no big thing and see no big dream come true when I only attempt small things.

Stay tuned... there's some things coming in this category. And I can't wait to share them.

All in all, I'd have to say that I love being 45. Or, at least, I think I will. I wouldn't go back for all the money in the world. I've loved all the amazing ways that God has been faithful. I've loved the joys and the highlights and the fun times. I've learned from the tough times and I embrace them as part of what has refined my faith and informed my life lessons. 

And to all of you, I say consider the above listed wisdom that has come with my age. Let's live brave lives filled with times with friends and fresh flowers and pausing to laugh and rehearsing the gospel over and over and over again.

And then, let's remember this.

The best is yet to be.